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When Shen Yuan examined his newly grown, freshly shaved face, he was relieved to see that, as planned, it looked nothing like Shen Qingqiu. In fact, it looked very much like the face he was born with. Even if the face he was born with looked a little petulant and consumptive, he'd been used to for two decades of life. With an immortal cultivator's constitution, his cheeks were a bit less sunken, and the shadows under his eyes were gone. He patted his face in satisfaction.

The aggressive growing schedule he and Shang Qinghua had committed to helped him stay calm in the face of Binghe's return two years ahead of schedule. Even as he'd been whisked off to the Huan Hua Palace Water Prison, he'd known the freedom of a new, anonymous body waited for him. 

When Binghe had asked him about his regrets, and his reasons, knowing it might be his last chance to resolve things, he'd explained what he could.

But in the end, Xin Mo had won over Luo Binghe's burgeoning forgiveness. Even though Binghe had helped him escape, in the end, Shen Qingqiu had to publicly self destruct to suppress its power.

And now there was no question of returning to Qing Jing Peak. With this foreign face, he could only take on a new life as a rogue cultivator.

Step 1? Saving a damsel would do.

Well, actually step 1 involved using the money he'd stashed by his new body to buy a change of clothes and rent a sword. 

But step 2 was leaping into the fray when he saw Liu Mingyan ambushed by demons. Her veiled figure and graceful sword forms were unmistakable and all in all, she needed very little help beating back the attacking demons, who limped away with resentful expressions as though they are the ones unfairly bullied.

Still, she invited him to rescue some fellow cultivators she'd been tracking, and he agreed. It's his first independent adventure! So of course, it's when things begin to go horribly wrong.

☆ (•̀o•́)ง ☆

"Ling-er, you can't just kidnap cultivators," Liu Mingyan was saying, as she unlocked a cell with three identical, blue clad nuns. Weren't they supposed to marry Binghe?

They were already gone. 

Sha Hualing crossed her arms, long nails digging into her own skin, and frowned at Liu Mingyan, "I don't see why you need to get involved!"

"You kidnapped my brother's disciple!"

"I did not!"

"You did, sorry. Hi, I'm Yang Yixuan." A young man waved from one of the cages, looking sheepish.

"Oh for—fine, he can go."

Liu Mingyan was already undoing his binding cables, her white fingers swift and graceful.

Shen Yuan felt completely unnecessary. The initial fighting had felt good! He'd blasted a few demons across the cave with huge bursts of spiritual energy, his new body like a self-recharging battery, but even though Sha Hualing had stared at him with narrowed-eyed interest and a hint of a threat in her curled lip, she'd called off her minions as soon as she noticed Liu Mingyan.

Apparently they were… friends?

This was so far from canon it was painful. Was this the butterfly effect? It didn't seem possible, he must have misread the situation.

"Will I still see you for book club tomorrow?"

It was possible. What the fuck.

Sha Hualing was pretending to examine her nails, but she still nodded, despite her full-lipped pout.

Shen Yuan was so dazed that he was letting Qiu Haitang free before he realized it. Oh well. She couldn't come after him anymore, right? 

Shen Yuan separated from Liu Mingyan and Yang Yixuan after a traumatizing night at a nearby inn. Next time a random man tried to turn his life into a romantic drama in front of him and a wide-eyed pair of disciples, Shen Yuan swore he'd punt him into the street. After that harrowing encounter, he was glad to set off on his own once again.

Clearly it was a mistake to socialize too much with cultivators from Cang Qiong Mountain, if he wanted to avoid getting tangled up in old affairs.

He was free now, after all!

☆ ( •᷄⌓•᷅ ) ☆

He was bound head to toe in immortal binding cables, inchworming away from where Luo Binghe and Sha Hualing discussed their villainous plans for him, when the System once again crackled to life.

[Updating… 5%... 15%... 78%...]

[Updates to the System have installed successfully. Welcome back <USER>!]

Uninstall, uninstall. "Where is the uninstall button?"

[Conditions for uninstall not met!]

"I'm so fucked," Shen Yuan moaned.

[Conditions for "f***ed" have not been met. Current status: Protagonist's Anger Points are 5 times lower than Protagonist's Heartbreak Points. ☆Congratulations!☆ You have unlocked the OC function! Please select an account to bind to your save file!] 

Two glowing options appeared in front of him: [Peak Lord Shen Qingqiu] | [Original Character Peerless Cucumber, Rogue Cultivator]

Hahaha if he was going to reclaim his old account, he wasn't as much of an idiot to do it right in front of Luo Binghe. He headbutted the Peerless Cucumber button.

[Congratulations!! Initiating questline ♡MYSTERIOUS NEW LOVE INTEREST♡! Please give it your all!]

The System blared a final cheerful chord, before subsiding, leaving Shen Yuan to once again question all of his shitty life choices. Love interest? Whose?! What the fuck was this useless new account?

"You can't keep relying on those Huan Hua Palace cultivators! Dividing up the demonic and spiritual energy saves their cultivation but it still leaves them all weak once a month! What if your enemies discover that? It's a huge vulnerability!" Sha Hualing continued to plead with Luo Binghe, who was looming over them both threateningly, the corners of his mouth hinting at a smirk.

"And you think that," Luo Binghe pointed insultingly at Shen Yuan's bound form, "is going to replace thirty of my loyal disciples?"

Shen Yuan had not died twice to lay here and listen to this. He closed his eyes and reached deep into the now nearly endless pool of spiritual power within him and flooded the cords binding him until they burst from it. Then he pulled a kamehameha attack on both of the startled demons—thank you long years of anime viewing!—before leaping onto his rented sword and flying off into the night.

Leaving Sha Hualing in the dust was easy—she didn't have a sword. Escaping the protagonist was another story.

Shen Yuan, unlike most cultivators in this universe, treasured his ability to fly. You could not get more badass than soaring through the air at top speed on a motherfucking weapon of death, holding on through spiritual ability and grim determination. He'd diligently practiced at Qing Jing Peak, but the lofty immortal Shen Qingqiu had a reputation to protect, so he could never really go as far out as he wanted. 

Rogue Cultivator Peerless Cucumber had no such restrictions.

He whizzed between tree tops, slinking between narrow spaces that would hold back the bulkier frame of Luo Binghe, and scraped a few feet of extra distance just as Xin Mo was catching up to him. Shen Yuan grinned into the wind, crouched low, and grabbed the edge of his sword, mimicking an old skateboarding move to take a sharp corner along the edge of a ravine, urging more speed from the rented blade.

Xin Mo still gained on him, and Shen Yuan missed Xiu Ya with a sharp pang. 

The ravine had been carved by a small, stubborn stream over millenia probably— the rules of geology persisting even in a world as unscientific as Shang Qinghua's Proud Immortal Demon Way . As the ravine opened up, the stream emptied into a mirror-bright lake that stretched for kilometers. Shen Yuan dipped down to skim the surface, kicking up a constant spray to impede Luo Binghe's vision. 

Despite his efforts, Binghe caught up with him as he was flying over the shallows, sending him toppling off his blade into a thick cluster of lotuses. He was picking the leaves and stems from his hair when Luo Binghe alighted and stalked toward him, Xin Mo pointed at him threateningly.

His long black robes were soaked and clinging to him, and droplets of water shone in the curls of his hair. He looked exactly like the dashing hero of a stallion novel, and Shen Yuan shamelessly took the opportunity to stare at him, at the changes five years had wrought in his once-student.

He raised his hands supplicatingly, "I'm surrendering."

"Good," Luo Binghe smirked, "because I'm done chasing you."

In one motion, he sheathed Xin Mo, and grabbed the back of Shen Yuan's sodden robes, tugging him closer. 

Shen Yuan stumbled against the weed clogged bottom of the lake and fetched up against Binghe's chest. It wasn't dissimilar to the clumsy adolescent stumbling Binghe was once prone to, and thinking of it, Shen Yuan immediately tried to push away. Binghe's hand was heavy on the back of his neck, though, and he remained pinned.

He noticed faintly that Luo Binghe's chest was warm, even through layers of wet robes.

"Let's see how useful you really are," Binghe said, his voice low with the promise of suppressed violence.

Shen Yuan shuddered as demonic energy flooded his meridians, flushing his own clean and cool spiritual energy out into Luo Binghe. Binghe's eyes faded from red to black, and he let out a pleased, soft sigh, even as Shen Yuan struggled with the sensation of the mingled energies, electric sparks seemingly lighting up his spine and scalp. He hoped his hair wasn't standing on end. 

And that his cultivation wouldn't be ruined by an imbalance of energy. 

But even as demonic incursion began to feel excruciating, it subsided as his body pulled in more spiritual energy from the abundant natural sources around him. 

He slumped a little, the cessation of pain like a drug.

Binghe chuckled, "Yes, very useful, Sha Hualing wasn't wrong." 

Shen Yuan had stopped looking at him. Shen Qingqiu had been tall, but his original body and his new body weren't. Neck strain was a concern, ok?

So he didn't understand what was happening until Binghe's thumb pushed into his still parted and panting mouth, rubbing hard against his tongue accompanied by the strong metallic taste of blood.

Shen Yuan immediately tried to spit it out. No more blood parasites! What happened to his hard won freedom? But he couldn't spit around Binghe's thumb. And Binghe's other hand was cupping his jaw, tilting his face up until he had to meet Luo Binghe's eyes.

"Swallow it."

☆ (꒪⌓꒪) ☆

His second trip to Huan Hua palace was weird. It had the same decadent, vaguely BDSM vibe, but it also had Liu Qingge playing weiqi with Gongyi Xiao in the main hall. WTF. But the surrealness of the situation was what kept him from running to greet his shidi. Maybe it was fortuitous?

Liu Qingge stood up when Luo Binghe swept in, his cloak billowing behind him with Darth Vader panache, and drawing Cheng Luan, challenged him to a duel. 

"That body does not belong to you," Liu Qingge said.

"I'm happy to prove that it does through combat with you once again." Luo Binghe replied.

Shen Yuan wanted to jump in between the two, and demand they stop and explain… but he didn't have that right anymore. Still, his heart was in his throat as he watched anxiously.

The battle occurred right in the hall, the courtiers scattering discretely to the sides with no evidence of concern or surprise, as though this was a regular occurrence. And for all the ferocity of the fight, it was evident that neither man was attempting to seriously injure the other, and the overall duration was short.

Liu Qingge was pushed back soundly. Even if he was the War God of Bai Zhan Peak, there was only so much he could do against the protagonist of Proud Immortal Demon Way in this universe where genre conventions were practically divine law. Accordingly, he only sulked a little before returning to his game, Gongyi Xiao patting him on the back in commiseration.

Then Gongyi Xiao turned to Luo Binghe, who was barely out of breath, and asked, "My lord, it has been a month, should I make the arrangements?"

Shen Yuan assumed he was talking about Binghe's monthly power cycling, and was surprised that he would mention it publically, even obliquely. 

But Luo Binghe didn't even appear concerned. "No, our new friend here will be fulfilling our needs in that regard. Please find some room for him." He waved his hand at Shen Yuan dismissively.

Being casually dismissed by Luo Binghe was a new and not entirely pleasant experience.

"Of course." Gongyi Xiao gave him a cupped hand bow, and then bowed to Liu Qingge as well. The smile he gave along with this was soft, and Liu Qingge's mouth twitched as though he might consider returning it sometime ever.

"We're leaving, Mingyan," he said, not looking away from Gongyi Xiao, so it was only by the rustle of movement that Shen Yuan noticed Liu Mingyan amongst a gaggle of yellow clad Huan Hua girls.

Her veiled face turned to Liu Qingge, and then she was pressing a stack of volumes into Qin Wanyue's arms and waving goodbye to a blushing Sha Hualing, now disguised as a simple cultivator.

There was something deeply wrong with this scenario.

He had to introduce himself to Gongyi Xiao as Peerless Cucumber, and though Gongyi Xiao looked a little startled, he was as polite as always and didn't say anything about it. To deflect the lingering awkwardness, Shen Yuan asked him about his relationship with Liu Qingge, noting that they seemed close.

Gongyi Xiao agreed, "Ah, Peerless Cucumber is very observant. We are somewhat more than friends. It is a challenge to start a relationship with someone, when you only see them under these kinds of circumstances."

"I'm not really sure I understood the circumstances, to be honest," he prompted.

"When they're trying to get their first love's body back from your boss," Gongyi Xiao explained, "But I'm making it work," he continued blithely.

Shen Yuan almost tripped on thin air, and was just glad they'd left the main hall by this point.

What body? What relationship?! While it was good to hear that Proud Immortal Demon Way had some kind of diverse representation among its cannon fodder characters—beyond the 'lesbians' who inevitably ended up in Binghe's harem—the rest of the words out of Gongyi Xiao's mouth sounded like the b-plot of a bad drama.

Shen Yuan declined to ask further questions.

☆ °˖✧◝(⁰▿⁰)◜✧˖° ☆

Gongyi Xiao dropped him off in a plain room, bare except for the most basic of furnishings and dusty enough Shen Yuan sneezed. It was too much to expect Luo Binghe to keep up with cleaning, now that he was running Huan Hua Palace, but Shen Yuan had subconsciously expected it. He wasn't going to clean it himself.

The door banged open and before he realized it, Shen Yuan was being spun around like the heroine at the end of a romcom.

He beat Shang Qinghua with his fan until he was put down. 

"Sorry bro, you just have no idea how happy I am to see you! And your OG body is seriously smol. Couldn't resist."

"How did you know it was me?" Shen Yuan asked, worried he'd given himself away.

"Did you not tell everyone that your name was actually 'Peerless Cucumber' just so I would know it's you? Because bro. There is literally no other explanation."

"I only told Gongyi Xiao," Shen Yuan muttered sadly, "Anyway, I panicked."

Shang Qinghua winced in sympathy, "Ok, I know that one. Still, I didn't find you as quickly as Luo Binghe did, huh?"

Shen Yuan dragged his hands down his face. "I had a day, maybe? At least this time he wants me for my body instead of like. Revenge or whatever."

Shang Qinghua laughed so hard he fell off the side of the bed where he was sitting. 

Shen Yuan coughed, realizing what that must have sounded like. "I didn't mean it like that! I meant 'my body' as in all the spiritual energy it's brimming with. I guess it's got just the right amount to suppress Xin Mo, so Sha Hualing basically wrapped me up like a present and gave me to Binghe."

Shang Qinghua made a choking noise from where he was lying on the floor. "So business as usual," he wheezed, "great. Nothing's changed."

Shen Yuan kicked him lightly, "That can't be true."

"Yeah, five years is a long time. But also not really a long time, right? Uh, what happened after you died? Luo Binghe was kind of outed as a demon, obviously, and everyone knew that he'd busted you out of jail, but weirdly Huan Hua Palace didn't seem to mind? Or maybe the Old Palace Master did, because he disappeared pretty soon after you ‘died.' People lay even odds on Binghe killing him for trying to blacken your rep, or the Old Palace Master trying to kill Binghe for being a demon. Either way, no one except the little palace mistress really misses him."

"What about Cang Qiong Mountain?"

"Came out of the whole thing looking pretty good, but everyone was absolutely miserable over you, and I couldn't tell anyone—"

Shen Yuan motioned for him to skip over the angst.

"Oh yeah. Well, initially they blamed Luo Binghe, but since Yue Qingyuan saw everything that happened, he helped to smooth things over. After he let Liu Qingge beat on Binghe for a while. They were pretty tight-lipped on the specifics, though. You want to clear up what exactly happened?"

Shen Yuan covered his mouth with his fan as he gathered his thoughts, "Well, you know Binghe brought me to Yue Qingyuan once he realized the Water Prison might not be entirely safe, right?"

"So it wasn't to ask for your hand in marriage?"

Shen Yuan swatted him with his fan, "Do you want me to tell you, or do you want to start ridiculous rumors?"

"Haha, start!" Shang Qinghua coughed, "Please continue."

"I'm not sure where things went wrong from there. Binghe didn't seem angry with me anymore, but then Yue Qingyuan said something like he'd make sure Huan Hua Palace sect never saw me again, and Binghe got angry. I think that's when Xin Mo got involved, because he started asking me if that's what I wanted too. Of course I said yes. But then he accused me choosing Qing Jing Peak over him." Shen Yuan shook his head sadly, "It went downhill from there. You saw the rest."

"The whole mountain saw the rest, bro."

"I blame you for giving him abandonment issues," Shen Yuan poked Shang Qinghua in the chest with his fan.

"Fair," he shrugged.

"I have to say, this isn't what I pictured when Luo Binghe takes over the sect in the book." 

"It's not that far off. Luo Binghe spends most of his time in the Palace here, and Mobei Jun runs the demonic side of things. But I'm constantly going back and forth between everyone and it's exhausting. I barely have time to write!"

Shen Yuan felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. "You're writing again?"

Shang Qinghua wrung his hands. "I'm a writer! I can't NOT write, I've always got stories playing out in my head and it's like. If I don't write them down, am I snuffing out these universes before they had a chance to exist? Or am I just seeing things that are happening in a parallel dimension?

And! And then if I die in this world, what if I just jump to the next story? But if I haven't written it, what happens then?"

Shen Yuan felt calmer the more worked up Shang Qinghua became. "Good, at least you're taking it seriously."

"You have no idea how serious. I can't even kill off useless side characters now, because what if that's me, or you, or some other hapless transmigrator. And forget a tortured, blackened protagonist!"

"Aww, bro," Shen Yuan patted his shoulder sympathetically. As Shen Qingqiu, he had to be above reading trashy novels, but he still loved them. He just didn't want to live them. 

☆ (✿◕‿◕) ☆

The next day, Shen Yuan was testing the amount of freedom he was allowed in Huan Hua Palace—first by roaming around aimlessly—and then by heading to the last place he'd stayed, the Water Prison. 

It was empty. Probably a good thing, because he would have been tempted to free anyone in there just in solidarity.

He watched the waterfall around his former cell and remembered the sad urgency in Binghe's voice when he'd asked Shen Qingqiu if he'd regretted it.

"Yes. I regret that it was me. I regret it everyday, that I pretended to hate your demonic side, instead of telling you straightforwardly why you needed to go into the abyss."

"So there was a reason?" Binghe asked, a thread of hope in his voice, "Is it related to what you once asked me? What I'd willingly suffer to become stronger?"

Had he asked a question like that? 

"Yes. You unlocked the demonic side of yourself, and it has made you stronger," Shen Qingqiu said, looking at Xin Mo, "Only someone with your steadfast heart and your powerful lineage could hope to master it."

"Why didn't you just tell me?" Binghe cried, tears swimming in his eyes.

Ah, he wasn't far from his emotional little bun, was he?

What had he been thinking? During all the years leading up to the Immortal Alliance Conference when he knew what was coming, when he'd had time to plan, why hadn't he considered simply telling his obedient disciple what to do?

"The situation is bigger than you and I, Binghe. Sometimes what should be a choice is fixed," he explained, choosing his words carefully, thinking of the System, and of the original novel, "Immutable. I ran out of time to explain, and if you'd refused, I don't think I could have made you go."

"I wish you had tried."

"So do I."

Binghe had embraced him then, crying on his bared shoulder, soaking the torn fabric of his robes. And then they'd run. 

Looking back on it, even his explanation had been so superficial, Binghe had to take everything on faith, and yet he had. It made Shen Yuan feel like he'd never really stopped being the scum villain the System had cast him as.

He was still dwelling on it when he left the Water Prison for the warm sunlight of the Huan Hua Palace gardens, until he heard an excited murmur of voices.

Intrigued, Shen Yuan approached the women, who were sitting under a magnolia tree at the end of its bloom. Qin Wanyue, was reading from a book with a bright yellow color. There was a bench a few feet away, on the other side of some bushes that was just within earshot. Shen Yuan had always been shameless for a good book, and he settled in to listen, slowly fanning himself to make the most of the breeze and the abundant floral scents. They were in the middle of the story, but it was a classic scenario, easy to pick up, and he was quickly absorbed in it. 

"'And then he said—' you know, you can join us, if you want to listen to the story," Qin Wanyue said, blinking innocently up at him. 

Shen Yuan—who at this point was deeply invested in whether or not the heroine's husband would appreciate her work on the estate's accounts, or spurn her yet again for the concubine's seductive wiles—startled rather badly. He didn't exactly fall off the bench, but it was close.

"I didn't want to intrude," he replied, stiffening his face and getting up to leave. 

"Don't be stupid," Sha Hualing said bluntly, “Book club is the best thing to do here besides fighting. Since we don't have to lock you in the dungeon, you might as well take advantage of it.”

Shen Yuan took her insinuation as a warning that she'd seen at least the last part of his explorations, and flushed. She hadn't stopped him, but maybe his leash was tighter than he'd thought. 

"Thank you, Sha Shijie," Qin Wanyue said, "Please do sit with us," she continued insistently, "you won't want to miss the next part."

Shen Yuan sat. It couldn't hurt to feign the appearance of someone peacefully settling in, he rationalized.

And he wanted to hear the end of the story.

Afterwards, Qin Wanyue extended an invitation to join the future sessions.

"Ah, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt, I was just hoping for a bit of entertainment, and I like to read, so…"

"I didn’t think you'd like these books, Huang Gua," Qin Wanyue replied primly, “But of course anyone in the sect is welcome to listen.”

"I apologize, I realize I was intruding, so I’d only hoped that you will consider lending me one or two books when finished with them," he said, the words more open than usual, prompting him to hide his warming cheeks behind his fan.

The women's gaze softened. 

"We're almost to the end of this one," a girl he didn't recognize said. "But come by tomorrow an hour earlier, and we'll be starting a new one."

And so he joined the Huan Hua Palace book club. Liu Mingyan was apparently an honorary member, and supplied more than a few books, but rarely attended due to the distance between the sects. Gongyi Xiao and Sha Hualing also turned up occasionally, as their duties permitted. 

Shen Yuan, who had no duties other than loafing around, joined daily, and contributed both raw enthusiasm—all the novels were Xianxia novels!—and his biting commentary equally. The girls seemed to find this funny and would gently pat his arm when he became particularly vicious.

Whatever… The author they were reading kept killing off the queer side characters in increasingly improbable and tragic ways just as he was getting invested! They deserved every last invective he could think of!

It shouldn't have been surprising that the next work the girls chose was a long gay romance about a demonic cultivator, who came back from the dead to reunite with his upright and star-crossed soulmate. Shen Yuan freely admitted the plot was very interesting, which sent the girls into a bewildering peel of laughter when he praised it.

☆ ( ˘ ³˘)♥ ☆

A month passed as Shen Yuan became closer to the people from Huan Hua Palace, save for Luo Binghe, who he rarely saw. He joined in on night hunts, read novels, and one memorable time allowed Qin Wanyue and Sha Hualing to put makeup on him. 

He could almost have forgotten his purpose, except then Luo Binghe appeared in his room radiating unstable demonic energy.

Shen Yuan dropped the book he'd been carrying, a thin volume with a luridly purple cover. One of the girls had pressed it on him with the explanation that they'd all read it a month ago, but she was sure he'd really like it.

A roiling cloud of black qi emanated from Luo Binghe, who was looking every ounce the Proud Immortal Demon as he lounged on Shen Yuan's bed.

The room was small, with only one chair at a surface that served as both a desk and table. But there was a chair, so why was Luo Binghe sitting on his bed. Wasn't this kind of intimate?

"It's been one month," Binghe said, in a tone of voice that implied it was time for Shen Yuan to earn his paycheck. 

Hah, joke was on him—Shen Yuan didn't get paid for this shit.

There was, unfortunately, no way to maintain the kind of skin-to-skin contact necessitated to fully cycle Binghe's qi from the chair, but Shen Yuan gave it a yearning look nonetheless.

So as with Shang Qinghua, he sat on the bed together with Binghe. However, sitting with Shang Qinghua felt companionable and comfortable, triggering nothing from their modern sensibilities. Sitting with Binghe, on the other hand, felt electric and awkward. Shen Yuan braced himself to keep from sliding towards Binghe as the bed dipped under his more significant weight, but had to let go as Binghe grasped both of his hands.

Shen Yuan held his breath, waiting for the burning influx of demonic energy, but it didn't come. 

"The last time a single person tried to help me," Binghe said slowly, "he died. Are you certain you can do this safely?"

Shen Yuan shuddered, remembering the feeling of his spiritual energy imploding, and it seemed like answering the question would unlock every secret Shen Qingqiu locked away. 

"My lord did not ask this question last time."

"This lord was… somewhat provoked last time. And waited too long for reprieve."

Shen Yuan mentally adjusted his concept of how much of Binghe's aggressiveness was innate. Between the abyss, his demonic heritage, and Xin Mo, tracking the source of the changes the years wrought in the little sheep of an apprentice he remembered was difficult. Did Shang Qinghua even know how much of his original character's blackening was caused by external influences?

Pushing it from his mind, he thrust out his hand, palm up, for Luo Binghe to take. 

Shen Yuan replied, "It's fine. I am willing."

Binghe's hand was heavy in his, the callouses from his sword and instrument still familiar. This time the flood of demonic energy was a tingling heat, like stepping into a steaming, newly drawn bath. Shen Yuan squirmed as it pooled around his core.

"If you'd been here to do this five years ago," Binghe said, but didn't continue. The corners of his eyes became red, and he swallowed hard.

Shen Yuan froze. He knew his death would affect Luo Binghe, but he had never wanted to cause him grief that would last five years. Maybe make him feel a little guilty for going along and blackening his reputation, chasing him around from one city to another. But he had never wanted to see Binghe cry over him. 

Binghe's hand was still in his as their energies cycled slowly back and forth between them. He squeezed it gently.

"I think the sacrifices people make for us are something we should hold in our hearts, but not linger over. Otherwise there's the chance of resentment… on either side. And you should not blame yourself for needing help sometimes." 

He adopted the same gentle and soothing tone he'd always used when Binghe needed reassurance, and was glad to see it still worked in the sudden slump of Binghe's shoulders, in his relaxing posture, muscles uncoiling like a cat in the sun.

And then Binghe leaned forward and bit his mouth.

True confession: Shen Yuan had owned a Luo Binghe body pillow before he died, and would never, ever admit that he had absolutely, 100% kissed the screen-printed lips. 

He was theoretically bisexual, though in practice he had never been sure, both because he was rarely attracted to anyone, even the most sculpted, godlike body, unless they had a sort of something that was impossible to describe and almost harder to find. So the rarity of his attraction combined with his occasionally prickly temper, and his illness essentially extinguished any and all romantic opportunities.

All of this to say: even for Luo Binghe, there was a limit to what he was prepared to accept!

While Shen Yuan's brain was impersonating the confused lady staring at math equations, his body was more or less offline. Binghe mashed their mouths together, his grip had moved from Shen Yuan's palms to his wrists, and the energy made his pulse itch.

And then suddenly Binghe pushed him away, sending him sprawling across the bed.

Binghe flushed tomato red and stammered, "Oh no! That was my first—I'd saved it for so long, and now! You!" 

illustration of the kiss and then the push

illustration of the Binghe's horrified reaction

Art by Lynn

Shen Yuan scowled. Just exactly whose first kiss was stolen by who here? Did this fake White Lotus get to claim virginal innocence after grabbing at his body and planting one on him? 

"Do you expect me to apologize for, what, my brazen seduction, when all I did was sit here and hold your hand?" Shen Yuan angrily scrubbed the back of his hand over his mouth. 

Binghe scowled, "You know what you did!"

Shen Yuan scrambled up from the bed and yelped, "I didn't do anything!"

"Your eyes got all big and shiny! And then your energy got all," Binghe made an incomprehensible gesture with his hands, "warm!"

"Oh ho, so you can stuff me full of hot demon energy all day long, but if I get a bit lukewarm it's some kind of irresistible turn on?"

Binghe couldn't meet his eyes, but the blissful feeling of an argument won was dashed when Shen Yuan heard him murmur sadly, "You sounded like my Shizun."

Oh. Oh, Binghe. It was unfortunate that his grief was getting his wires crossed, but wasn't there that old movie trope, where the heroine got all sad over something, and then the hero made a move… Wait, except he hadn't made a move, right?

Shen Yuan sighed in frustration, and sat down again next to Binghe, and rubbed a slow circle on his back, infusing his touch with more spiritual energy.

"Hey, firsts are overrated—especially for men. Isn't it better to be experienced? So you're devoted to one person romantically, which is really admirable. But even then, if they can't be your first, then you can give them your best, right? You think that was a good experience for me? You almost bloodied my lip," Shen Yuan pointed to his lower lip, which felt painfully swollen, "good luck seriously seducing anyone with these kinds of skills."

"You weren't all that great either, you limp fish," Binghe accused heatedly.

"Yeah, well, try getting consent first. Aside from that it's like any other skill, clearly not one you've studied."

"Like you have?" Binghe shot back.

Shen Yuan clutched his chest, the accusation hitting home, "Alright, alright, obviously not! That was my first kiss too, and I only enjoyed it this much," he pinched his fingers, displaying a centimeter's space between them.

Binghe's eyes narrowed, "How old are you?"

"Isn't it rude to ask that?" Shen Yuan scoffed. Wait, was it rude? For immortal cultivators, age, combined with a youthful appearance was a sign of spiritual strength.

Putting that aside, did he actually know? 

"I lost track," he admitted, which was the truth.

"You're not bad looking," Binghe said, consideringly. 

Shen Yuan felt warm at the compliment. Unlike Shen Qingqiu's handsome and scholarly appearance, this Sun and Moon Dew Flower Seed body looked mostly like his original body, so the compliment was unexpectedly nice to hear. Especially in this universe, where everyone had flawless movie-star level looks.

However, Binghe went on to say, "It must be your personality that's bad."

He felt his eye twitch. If Shen Yuan's pillow wasn't made of ceramic, he'd smack Binghe with it.  

The rest of the energy transfer continued in a mutually aggrieved silence, but Binghe's step was light when he left the room, and Shen Yuan had enough spiritual energy to practice sword forms with Gongyi Xiao

Embarrassingly, Shen Yuan had not manufactured an excuse for why his sword forms were that of a student of Qing Jing Peak. However, later he heard that Occam's Razor had led rumors to a fairly plausible story. Given his relative talent and high amount of spiritual power, the consensus was that he was one of the too-promising students the original goods had driven from the sect.

This rumor was never mentioned around Luo Binghe.

In fact, Gongyi Xiao, helpful as always, had delicately offered to teach him Huan Hua Palace sword forms so that, if needed, he could fight around Luo Binghe without uncomfortable topics needing to be discussed. He didn't need to know how uncomfortable, and Shen Yuan felt no hesitation in accepting. 

It was strange to finally be taught something directly, when originally he'd practiced with a strange combination of books, muscle memory, and observation. Compounding things, he'd be taught by someone who had originally been his junior. But Shen Yuan didn't suffer from an overabundance of pride, and ended up enjoying the lessons, mostly. 

Luckily, he'd picked it up quickly, because although Shen Yuan would have guessed Luo Binghe had had enough of him for one day, he saw him lurking around the practice courtyard, watching them as they sparred. It startled him so badly that Gongyi Xiao almost succeeded in stabbing him in the throat before he remembered to dodge.

By the time he looked back, Binghe was gone, and the only figure he saw still watching was the Little Palace Mistress, an inscrutable expression on her face.


That night, he dreamed of his bamboo cottage on Qing Jing Peak. 

He was standing outside in the courtyard, soaking in the peace of the night air when a friendly ping from the System instantly soured his mood.

[New Mission Objective: Resolve Painful Feelings! Penalty for failure is 500 B points, so please tackle with all your might!]

He could afford to skip it, but who knew when this shitty System would start wantonly deducting points for things? He accepted the mission.

[To assist with the mission objective, user can adopt the appearance of ‘Shen Qingqiu' for one time only! Does user accept this offer?]

The plausible deniability looking like Shen Qingqiu would grant him was too good to pass up, so he accepted that too.

And then suddenly he was at the edge of the quiet pool of Qing Jing Peak, and dressed in nothing but his old inner robes. 

Another night like this, Luo Binghe had freaked out and ran to the quiet pool after Shen Qingqiu had pulled him into his bed to pass him healing spiritual energy, in a ridiculous chase scene that had woken half the mountain.

And here Luo Binghe was again, a sad, sodden figure in the middle of the cold pool, his own white inner robes a single, clinging, translucent layer that did nothing to hide the muscles of his matured form.

Unlike that night, there was no one else around.

"At this time of year, it's not good for your body to stay in the cold water too long," Shen Qingqiu pointed out, taking in the golden color of the autumn leaves.

Binghe's eyes flew open as he stared at him. His eyes were red rimmed, and it occurred to Shen Qingqiu that the rivulets of water on his face might not have come from the pool.

Shen Qingqiu sighed. He was so, so weak for this man. He waded into the pool, his own inner robes tangling around him as the cold water numbed his thighs. 

"Binghe, what's wrong?" He asked, wiping the tears from Binghe's obediently upturned face.

"Shizun, this disciple kissed another man."

Was… was Binghe coming out to him? Why would he apologize? For all that Airplane bro's novel was a rampantly straight fuck-fest, the world itself hadn't been written as entirely heteronormative, and it was even more apparent that homosexuality was known and accepted once you actually lived in the world. Same sex marriage wasn't even all that rare.

Still, Binghe had always been anxious about his approval.

"Binghe, no matter what you've heard, those kinds of feelings are entirely natural. This master is not disappointed that you've acted on them."

"Shizun should be! This disciple should have more control, but instead this faithless disciple...!" He trailed off in a heaving breath that might have been a sob.

Shen Qingqiu wiped away the newest tears again, and then patted Binghe gently on the head. When had he gotten so tall? He sighed.

illustration of Shen Qingqiu wiping away Binghe's tears

Art by Lynn

"Deprivation and repression don't suit you, Binghe. In the future, I hope you will freely embrace this aspect of yourself. As long as you are kind and respectful of your partners, and care for their health and consent, this master will not be disappointed in his disciple."

Binghe didn't reply, instead he firmly grasped Shen Qingqiu's shoulders, drawing his body closer so swiftly that Shen Qingqiu stumbled against the weedy bottom of the pool, falling into Luo Binghe's wet, firm, warm chest.

And then Binghe was biting his mouth!

This again?!

Shen Qingqiu raised a hand to whap Binghe's head—where was a fan when he needed one—but Binghe grabbed his wrist before he could connect.

"Please, just let me for a little while," Binghe whispered against his lips.

Shen Qingqiu stopped struggling and surrendered to it, ignoring the System message awarding points, until he finally woke up back in Huan Hua Palace.

☆(ง •̀ゝ•́)ง☆

The next few days, the Palace was abuzz with the gossip that Lord Luo was looking livelier and happier than usual, and had been seen petting a dog or complimenting a hair ribbon, or done this or that totally normal thing! It was depressing to think that this kind of mood was unusual, and heartwarming to see how excited it made the loyal and obviously fond Huan Hua Palace disciples.

But Shen Yuan couldn't appreciate it, since he was spending his days on the verge of a panic attack.

He'd kissed Binghe! Twice! As Shen Yuan and Shen Qingqiu.

If Binghe ever realized they were the same person, he would be lucky to become a human stick. 

His position in the Palace was sort of strange and undefined, so it wasn't too difficult to mostly keep to himself and avoid Luo Binghe. He wasn't needed for any specific task or court function. And if he was a little quieter at book club, no one mentioned it.

However, he had been eager about volunteering for night hunts, which meant he was one of the first offered the opportunity to go on the mission the Little Palace Mistress was organizing for the purpose of retrieving the Thousand Leaf Cleansing Snow Lotus from Jue Di Gorge for Luo Binghe.

It was hard to overstate how very much he did not want to see Jue Di Gorge again, but he couldn't say that. And to the Huan Hua Palace disciples, who had lost so many peers to the Immortal Alliance Conference eight years ago, he seemed an innocuously neutral choice. Shang Qinghua, who had also been volunteered for the mission gave him a sympathetic pat on the back but looked otherwise unmoved.

Shen Yuan took that to mean that he hadn't arranged a demonic invasion this time.

So it was doubly surprising when, just as they came within sight of the flower, the Black Moon Rhinoceros Python finally appeared.

"Look on your works, ye mighty, and despair," Shen Yuan murmured pointedly to Shang Qinghua.

"That is not how the quote goes!" He protested.

Shen Yuan gestured with his fan. "Look at it! It's a rhino with a snake coming out of its mouth, my quote is not the wrongest part of this scenario," he said, and smacked Shang Qinghua with his fan a few times for emphasis.

Gongyi Xiao, responsible and competent as usual, took out the signal flare he'd been provided. Luo Binghe clearly also still had a healthy paranoia about the place, since he had given it to them before they left. Unsurprisingly, he had not wanted to visit this area, no matter his interest in the Thousand Leaf Cleansing Snow Lotus, but he wasn't too far away.

Shen Yuan drew his sword, ready to provide cover for Gongyi Xiao.

However the Little Palace Mistress suddenly wrenched the flare from Gongyi Xiao's hand and tossed it into the brush. 

"It's just one beast, we can handle it!" She insisted, an unpleasant gleam in her eye.

Was this her bid to get support from the other disciples? Judging from their terrified expressions, it was not working.

As if on cue, another Black Moon Rhinoceros Python appeared, crashing through the brush where the flare had landed, cutting off Sha Hualing who had been going to retrieve it.

"Can we handle two of them?" Shang Qinghua asked doubtfully.

Maybe, Shen Yuan might have said, if it had stayed two. The first beast gave a hissing bellow and charged at them, and Shen Yuan flung it back with a burst of spiritual energy from his palm, bolt after bolt, like Iron Man. 

Even though the energy refilled as quickly as always, he started to give some thoughts about using it more sparingly as he sent out a few blasts to support Sha Hualing, who was tangling with the second one.

Gongyi Xiao ordered the lower level disciples to fall back to where the flower was once again providing a spiritual barrier.

"Get the flower and get out of here," he told them. 

But the flower, like most magical herbs, had to be carefully dug up with the roots intact and repotted to maintain its effectiveness, a tedious, painstaking process that in ideal circumstances might take an hour. The yellow-clad disciples, wide-eyed and trembling, couldn't put down their swords to pick up spades.

"Go!" Gongyi Xiao shouted, and then a third beast burst out of the trees and gored him through the shoulder, lifting his body on the crescent moon horns and tossing him aside. Disciples shrieked and scattered, though a few ran to recover the head disciple's fallen body.


Shen Yuan caught the horns on his rented sword before they impaled Qin Wanyue too. The impact of the hard horn on steel was as loud as a thunderclap. A long crack now spidered along the surface of his sword, dully marring the shining metal. 

He was not going to get his deposit back. Fuck.

Seeing the situation, Qin Wanyue ducked low, diving under the rhino's hooves to deal a slashing cut to the soft underbelly. She rolled out dripping gore, and Shen Yuan sent two quick blasts of spiritual energy to keep the other rhinos, drawn by the scent of it, from following her. Sha Hualing followed up with precise and quick strikes, looking more and more like herself the more her yellow robes were stained with blood. 

Qin Wanyue had grown a lot since the Immortal Alliance Conference, and together she and Sha Hualing were a match for a few Black Moon Rhinoceros Pythons. 

But more were coming. Shen Yuan's heart sank as he heard the approaching bellows all around them. Trees and bushes trembled as they thrashed nearer.

Suddenly Shang Qinghua crawled out of the bushes, holding up the flare, "Hurry up and fucking light it!"

Shen Yuan sent a scorching spark of spiritual energy toward the fuse, and Shang Qinghua threw it up above the forest canopy. The burst of light briefly dazzled the beasts, and allowed Shen Yuan, Shang Qinghua, Qin Wanyue, and Sha Hualing to regroup.

Two of the book club sisters were using their swords to slice through the earth around the flower, and the Little Palace Mistress was supervising the other sect members in supplying Gongyi Xiao with first aid.

Then a portal opened next to Shang Qinghua, and for a moment, Shen Yuan felt pure and unadulterated relief. And then a large ice-pale hand reached through it, grabbed Shang Qinghua by the collar and pulled him through.

The portal vanished. 

Hey, Mobei Jun… take the demons next time, ok? Leave the author! Shen Yuan cursed under his breath.

That was all Shen Yuan had time to think before he was back in the thick of it. Qin Wanyue took the risky role of taunting and luring the beasts away from the group that was retrieving the flower. Shen Yuan kept the sharp horns, and striking pythons from Qin Wanyue as she danced out of reach, and Sha Hualing harried them with her blade.

Their rhythm was destroyed when two more Black Moon Rhinoceros Pythons joined the fray. Their demonic aura seemed to merge with the rest of the pack and completely suppressed the protection of the flower. Shen Yuan had to increase the energy he loaded in each blast to even make a dent. Qin Wanyue buckled under the pressure, and tripped before their charge. She was swept away to safety by the Little Palace Mistress, but the flower was crushed and the Huan Hua Palace disciples scattered.

"Withdrawal!" The Little Palace Mistress cried. Gongyi Xiao was already being borne away by two disciples. Sha Hualing and Shen Yuan fell in before them to guard their retreat.

And then Binghe appeared, leaping from the sky like the hero of a movie. He landed on one knee, a fist impacting the torn ground before the rhinos and with a pulse of qi, blasting them back in an explosion of rock and dirt.

Shen Yuan wanted to start clapping.

The difficulty of dealing with the Black Moon Rhinoceros Python was that they had the horns, power, and thick hide of a rhino while also having a motherfucking snake in their mouths. Finding a place to strike that would hurt them even a little while avoiding all the sharp and/or snake parts was a high risk, low reward battle of attrition.

Still, Binghe moved with incredible strength and speed, his endurance unflagging. The Huan Hua Palace disciples had left, but Sha Hualing was a dedicated second as always, and Qin Wanyue was hanging on with gritted teeth, her sword flashing in the sunlight.

Shen Yuan finally lost his sword when he was forced to block another goring blow from crescent moon horns, and the shards cut dragging bloody lines along his arms.

He fell back for a moment, cursing, and missed an incoming strike from a python. Binghe was there so fast Shen Yuan could practically see a motion trail, Xin Mo severing the python, sending feet of hissing snake spinning to the ground. Shen Yuan turned to guard his back and blasted a rhino back five feet. Even the Sun and Moon Dew Flower Seed body couldn't keep up with this amount of spiritual drain, and he was panting with exertion. Still, he wouldn't leave Binghe to fight alone. 

Two, three of the beasts were down and Shen Yuan was hopeful the tide turned when disaster struck. A snake had twisted up Sha Hualings arm, pinning it, and leaving her helpless for the goring horn. Binghe was there suddenly, ready to intercede, but he took the blow in his abdomen, and for a sickening moment was hoisted in the air, bleeding and impaled, before Shen Yuan could reach him. 

He leaped across the battlefield, grasped Binghe's limp body and spun away, pulling him to safety. Binghe's feet seemed firm on the ground, though he coughed up a mouthful of blood before he raised Xin Mo to fight again. Qin Wanyue had cut Sha Hualing free, but another snake bit her high on her thigh and Sha Hualing scooped her up before she could fall.

"Boss, we need to get out of here!" She shouted.

"Go! Get her to a healer," Binghe said.

"What about you?" Shen Yuan asked, but he may as well have been talking to air as Binghe launched back into it.

Together they cut down beasts until there was one left, but Binghe had been visibly tiring, and caught another blow from the last rhino. Shen Yuan was faster this time, and pulled him back before he was thrown in the air. He leapt a safe distance away, Binghe's blood pouring down his arms, and lowered him carefully before diving forward to intercept the rhino's pursuing charge.

He screamed in fury and poured every last drop of power into one final blast. The Black Moon Rhinoceros Python almost collapsed in on itself from the blow, spine snapping audibly, blood pouring from its nose, and its mouth snake.

Shen Yuan looked at Binghe's pitiful figure. There were few ways to combat the damage—because of the protagonist halo there would always be a way—but the most immediately effective would be dual cultivation. Other cultivation novels might have magic pills or spirit grass, but in a stallion novel? Papapa your way to good health!

Shen Yuan was not going to lose his cherry next to the corpse of a Black Moon Rhinoceros Python. 

To reject that choice would condemn Binghe, but Shen Yuan had never... could never... 

Binghe was nothing, words on a page produced by the fevered wet dreams of Shang Qinghua. Merely a collection of pixels on a screen that imprinted on Shen Yuan's retinas when he'd stayed up too late reading. 

He remembered ranting to his sister about how compelling this character was, this blackened demon Lord, on and on as her face took on a bemused expression and when he'd finally stopped, she'd congratulated him on finally having those kind of feelings, but "if you're going to be gay, can you at least be gay for a real guy?" He'd thrown a pillow in her face, cutting off an offer to introduce him to a friend, and then shoved her out the door still laughing. 

He'd been halfway through composing a forum post, complaining that she didn't understand, before he deleted it. Because there were words for what he was doing, fixating on a person who wasn't real. He'd made a wavering resolution to cut himself off from the story that only lasted until Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky had posted a new chapter. 

Binghe had tormented him on the page, with his suffering, his plot holes and his endless papapa, and he'd tormented him in the System, inadvertently or otherwise. 

Shen Yuan had the opportunity to end all this conflict and fear he felt, and it would only take a few moments of inaction and he'd never need to worry again about becoming a human stick. Morally, could it even be counted as wrong? The man wasn't real, but Shen Yuan was, and he'd finally be free.

But he was also Luo Binghe, the sticky sheep he'd raised.

Shen Yuan felt like the meme of the man pointing at a butterfly, and his caption read "Is this Stockholm syndrome?"

But Shen Yuan was already moving to Binghe's side.

The wound was… not good. Binghe had a gaping hole in his abdomen, and although Shen Yuan knew he could easily regrow his arm, he was less sure he could regrow a … was that a spleen? Shen Yuan looked away before he vomited.

The real issue was that Binghe was unconscious, and couldn't guide his own healing. 

Casting around for anything useful, Shen Yuan saw the bright glow around the flower, fading, but slowly. It should still be effective enough that he wouldn't need to do anything really drastic. 

Shen Yuan tore off the head of the flower, and shoved the entire thing in his mouth. Swallowing, he held his breath, guiding the surge of healing spiritual energy to accumulate in his throat. Then he pressed his mouth to Binghe, exhaling to feed him some of the energy.

Binghe's eyelashes trembled on his cheeks, his eyes when they opened looked confused.

"Bing—Lord Luo, your injuries are very severe. If we mingle our qi, circulating the combined essence would be strong enough to... Lord Luo?"

Binghe's eyes had rolled back in his head. Shen Yuan revived him again by pressing their lips together. It was like mouth-to-mouth, alright? 


Binghe's eyes were glassy when they opened again, and Shen Yuan pinched his cheeks to make him focus.

"Lord Luo! We need to dual cultivate to kickstart your healing," Shen Yuan said, choosing bluntness over delicacy. "We don't need to take it very far, and I don't want to do anything without your permission, but we don't have a lot of time. Is there someone else you'd prefer? Sha Hualing?"

He considered the dream of Qing Jing's quiet pool and amended his suggestion. "Gongyi Xiao?"


Binghe was more muddled than he thought. 

"He's not here right now," he said softly. 

"The flower—"

"—better used for you right now. It won't last long."

Binghe closed his eyes in defeat. "No kissing," He mumbled. "Saving for…"

"Fine, fine, who wants to kiss you, you biter? If I can't do that, I'm going to have to do something else, alright?"

Binghe's eyes snapped open, and he looked a little more alert. He made the apparently universal jerk-off gesture and quirked an eyebrow.

"Yeah," Shen Yuan coughed uncomfortably, "I'm, uh. I'm gonna have to use my mouth."

Binghe's face ears turned bright red, "Mouth—on my…?"


"No biting."

"Are you mistaking me for you? Of course I won't!" 

He might do it by accident, Shen Yuan amended mentally, but he refrained from saying that part out loud.

"Fine. Yes!" Binghe tilted his head back and squeezed his eyes shut. 

His robes had already come loose from the fighting, and Shen Yuan had loosened them further to check on the injury, so he only had to pull them open. Then he untied Binghe's pants and slowly pulled them away from his body to reveal his cock.

Even soft, the size of it resting on Binghe's thigh was way too big. Shen Yuan had to resist the urge to cover it back up immediately.

Airplane bro, did you have to go this far? 

Shen Yuan gingerly reached out to touch the velvet skin and it stirred under his fingers. Had it grown larger?

"Lord Luo," he said worriedly, "this is really too big. I don't know if it will fit."

Binghe moaned, and at first Shen Yuan thought he was still in too much pain to respond, but then his impossible cock began to harden under Shen Yuan's fingers.

Shen Yuan withdrew his hand and swatted it on instinct, like a cat seeing an encroaching snake. A second later, he repented. He was new at this, but hitting someone else's pillar wasn't ok, right?

But clearly Binghe was some kind of masochist, because he moaned again, and a small drop of precome beaded the tip. 

"Fuck," Shen Yuan cursed, and hurriedly bent to put his mouth on it before it got too large to fit.

It was warmer than he expected, hot with blood and almost pulsing as it continued to grow, a heavy weight against his tongue. The flower's healing essence still lingered in his throat, and he concentrated on bringing it up to meet Binghe's cock as he swallowed. He could only fit about half of Binghe's cock in his mouth, and held the rest in hands, his fingers pale against the flushed skin of it. The visceral feeling of skin against skin, the strain of his jaw and throat fell away as he gave himself over as a conduit for their mingling energies. 

Demonic, righteous, and spiritual power all commingled in him before pouring out into Binghe's meridians.

He brought Binghe's cock as deep as he could, and clumsily at first, set a rhythm between his mouth and his hands, and the energy plunging between them.

He looked up once to check the progress of the wound, but he met Binghe's eyes instead. His lashes were trembling against his cheeks, pink with exertion and abundant energy. When he opened his eyes and saw Shen Yuan's gaze on his, his expression grew heated, his mouth parting as though he'd almost welcome… well, he'd said he hadn't wanted to kiss, so Shen Yuan's imagination got a little carried away.

It was with a bewildering sense of embarrassment that he realized he was becoming hard as well. There wasn't anything for it, he couldn't spare a hand from Binghe's stupidly big cock, so he used his own arousal as fuel for the healing.

After that, he didn't need to see the wound to feel it closing as he guided the energy through Binghe's dantians and it knitted together organ and skin both.

Binghe become harder as his condition improved, and Shen Yuan almost choked as the engorged length rapidly filled his throat. He had to throw out an arm to brace Binghe's jerking hips, and pet his healed abdomen soothingly as he sped up his movements. 

Binghe came with a cry, thrashing against the ground. Shen Yuan held him in his mouth as long as he could, some of the energy rushing back into him with Binghe's come. He swallowed as much as he could, but some spilled from his mouth when Binghe's enthusiastic movements forced him to let go. More come splattered on his face, and Shen Yuan resigned himself to looking utterly undignified.

He rolled on the ground next to Binghe and covered his flaming face with his sleeve.   

[Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations! Important things must be said thrice. For progressing your relationship with the protagonist, 100 b points! For unlocking the bukkake achievement, 100 XXX points!]

Shen Yuan gritted his teeth and closed the System's perverted interface.

Binghe sat up and stared at him. He couldn't see it through his sleeve, but there was a palpable weight to his regard.

"Please don't look at me right now."

This disobedient Binghe pulled his arm away from his face, and gulping, carefully wiped away the traces of his release from Shen Yuan's face.

"Do you want me to reciprocate?" He asked, his voice shy.

Shen Yuan abruptly realized that Binghe didn't need to, and he promptly curled up into a tiny ball, groaning in embarrassment.

Binghe laughed. 

They lay on the grass a few minutes more, just breathing together as the adrenaline and other sensations left their bodies.

Binghe was the first to break the silence. "I want your help learning how to seduce someone."  

This was… not the first thing Shen Yuan expected to hear from Luo Binghe once he recovered.

Binghe drew himself up regally, and while he looked every inch a sect leader and demon Lord, Shen Yuan could see hints of the small bun he'd been behind his eyes. 

"My philosophy has always been, 'if it's not with the one you love, it's not worth it.'"

It… meaning sex? What kind of mentality was this for the protagonist of a stallion novel? It was actually really sweet??

Shen Yuan nodded helplessly.

"But I don't dislike you."

Wow, save a guy's life and you get a 'don't dislike' rating. Binghe was more generous than the System.

"I've had other offers. A lot of other offers!"

I'm sure you have, Shen Yuan thought wryly, and hid his twitching lips with his fan.

"And I won't call you 'teacher.'"

Shen Yuan recoiled, "Who the fuck wants to be called a teacher in this context?" He hissed.

"Why are you so scandalized? You're offended?"

"Because you aren't supposed to do romantic things with a teacher?"

"Oh?" Binghe laughed darkly, "tell me why not."

"A teacher has power over you! The potential abuse of that power is too high, the dynamic can become unhealthy, and it can damage the reputations of everyone involved," Shen Yuan ticked off each point firmly, tapping his fan for emphasis.

Binghe's eyes glinted, "I see. So an honorable teacher wouldn't—"

"They wouldn't."

"But if they were no longer my teacher. Or, if they were a peer?"

"I guess as long as everyone was ultimately on an even footing, it could work," Shen Yuan said doubtfully, "but even then, you wouldn't want to call that person teacher in bed."

"Noted," Binghe said wryly, "I'll count that as our first lesson."

"First lesson? Who said that I'll agree?" Shen Yuan snapped.

Binghe lifted a single winged eyebrow.

"I don't know what I'm doing either," Shen Yuan mumbled. How was he suddenly in the role of the beautiful succubus who trained Binghe in the love arts? Binghe, open your eyes! You're asking an awkward virgin to help you out with your bedroom skills? 

But Binghe just nodded, "Right. We'll figure it out together. Just until he's… until we find someone else."

Shen Yuan agreed, helplessly. 

The space between them felt charged with electricity, and it was a relief to see Huan Hua Palace once again. Shen Yuan wasn't sure if it would ever feel as much like home as his bamboo house at Qing Jing Peak, but it was home for now.