There was something to be said about the power of repetition. Repetition was how the idea had gotten lodged in Luo Binghe's head in the first place and he couldn't help but go back to it every time his Shizun mentioned it yet again in another casual conversation.
"If Binghe is looking to expand his harem, he might as well consult this Shizun first. There are those who seek to take advantage of this adorable disciple of mine after all."
"Maybe let Mobei-jun attend the tournament in your name. I heard the reward is the hand of some spoiled lady who would be a terrible choice to add to your harem."
"Consider not only beauty when you choose your wives. Some degree of skill at administrative work would be of great help in this household. This Shizun would appreciate an assistant."
"Shall I take a look at male harem additions too, you think?"
Harem this. Harem that.
Luo Binghe had vehemently denied any interest in anyone other than his beloved husband and still the hateful word kept coming up in the most unexpected of conversations, as if it was already decided for him by the fates or something of the sort. He had cried and prostrated himself in front of Shizun, begging forgiveness for any doubts of his fidelity that he may have inadvertently caused. And all it had gotten him was a blank look and some throwaway comment about how Shizun wouldn't really care if that was what Luo Binghe wanted in the future.
Luo Binghe wanted to yell to the heavens and swear to the gods that he was not interested in any such harem in any way or form. Demon traditions be damned.
Thus, he devoted himself to make Shizun the center of his entire universe even more thoroughly than before. He took care of his husband's needs like the most devoted servant with renewed enthusiasm, but he also started taking care not to project any sort of interest when dealing with strangers, just in case Shizun got the wrong idea. Luo Binghe was more careful with his touches and his glances. He even made sure to convey to his numerous enemies that any duels they were to have were not to be misinterpreted as demonic flirting in any shape or form, to the point that he was vaguely aware his reputation was suffering from his increasingly inconsistent personality.
Then, sometime in between agonising about the uncertain future of his marriage and pondering why his Shizun would be so accepting of the idea of him having a harem in the first place, Luo Binghe was overcome with a sudden realization.
(One that was more the result of stress than anything vaguely rational, he'll admit to himself much later.)
It was Shizun who wanted a harem.
His husband wanted a harem and was trying to drop hints about it to subtly enquire about Luo Binghe's opinions on the matter.
Luo Binghe was so stupid. It wasn't about him at all, of course not.
Once he came to this realization it was easier to sort out his own feelings about it. And for once he had to separate his human upbringing from his demonic sensibilities, or lack of thereof.
Luo Binghe was possessive to a fault, he recognized that in himself every time he saw Yue Qingyuan gaze at his Shizun in poorly disguised longing and every time Liu Qingge visited bearing yet another fan that Shizun had left behind during this or that visit. He even recognized the unpleasant vinegary taste of irrational jealousy every time Shang Qinghua arrived bearing gifts of gossip and sharing inside jokes that neither Luo Binghe nor Mobei-jun were ever able to decipher.
So, his initial reaction to his husband's desire for a harem was very human and translated into a firm no way. But then his insidious demon blood followed suit, blinking awake languidly in a not entirely welcome manner, and he was suddenly confronted with the opposite thought.
Weren't harems the most normal thing in demon marriages? Both for husbands and wives, it was a show of power and influence, the more marriage alliances the better. It meant a kind of control and authority over one's lovers that was actually very romantic from the point of view of demon culture.
When seriously considering it in the recesses of his dreams, even Luo Binghe had to admit that the image of his powerful and mighty Shizun being revered and worshipped by many attractive and coy concubines was particularly devastating. The dreamy image took Luo Binghe's breath away, his husband deserved the devotion of the masses and the adoration of his most loyal followers. And of course, Luo Binghe would kneel at his feet in absolute love and submission as was his duty as first consort.
There was something very heady about his usual feeling of possessiveness being so suddenly replaced by a yearning for being so thoughtfully possessed instead.
Luo Binghe, first consort to his master and lord husband Shen Qingqiu.
Luo Binghe, first husband.
It sounded kind of neat.
So, if a harem was what his husband wanted then it was Luo Binghe's duty to provide one for him.
Now, Luo Binghe went about it rationally and methodically, following Shizun's teachings to the letter. First, it was important to build a good and respectable foundation. A core he could trust would have his husband's best interests in mind, or so did Shizun himself sagely advised that one time.
The members of the harem that were to be purely there for political gain or to provide pleasant aesthetics should come after the harem reached double digits.
'Loyalty is more important than a pretty face.'
His Shizun said that once, referring yet again to the harem that Luo Binghe had no interest in making for himself. It pained Luo Binghe to admit that Liu Qingge had both loyalty and a pretty face.
This fact did not make Luo Binghe feel any less disgruntled, so he ended up going about his proposal the only way he was comfortable with.
"A duel?" Liu Qingge glared at him with a hand clenched tightly against his sword. Luo Binghe could see he was tempted, because any and all battles were tempting to him. But even from the point of view of his Shishu's one-track mind the spontaneous challenge Luo Binghe had just issued sounded incredibly suspicious.
"If you win, I'll give Shizun to you." Luo Binghe taunted.
Hah! As if.
"How dare you!" As expected, Liu Qingge's expression turned furious in offense and his spiritual energy was set afire with killing intent, "Shen Qingqiu is not a thing for you to give away, you shameless bastard!"
"If you lose, I'll give you to Shizun."
The rising killing intent puffed out and dispersed into a cloud of bewilderment.
What followed could only be described as the most pathetic sham of a duel Luo Binghe had ever been part of. He would forever remember Liu Qingge flailing around like an uncoordinated teen, looking like he was holding a broomstick instead of a sword. It was a pity they did not have an audience to bear witness to Liu Qingge having this incredibly amusing meltdown during combat.
It was also such a pity Luo Binghe had to eventually disarm his Shishu and cut the fight short.
Otherwise he felt like Liu Qingge would have ended up tripping over his own feet and falling into Xin Mo purely by accident.
'Childhood friendships can evolve into everlasting bonds.'
Luo Binghe ignored the fact that his husband had most likely been referring to Ning Yingying when he spoke those words. Even Shizun had been dubious about his suggestion and Luo Binghe had been horrified by the mere idea of Ning Yingying as anything other than his martial sister.
However, the wisdom of his Shizun's words had merit, as always.
It was possible that the accumulation of sentiment over the years could potentially culminate into romantic feelings. It may also culminate into lost opportunities and infinite awkwardness, as was personified by Yue Qingyuan and his frankly annoying guilty complex.
"You own Shizun a debt." Luo Binghe stated. It wasn't a question; he didn't really need to know the details.
"Indeed." Yue Qingyuan said and tilted his head in his usual polite but vaguely condescending manner, "However, that's between Xiao Jiu and I."
"He doesn't like you calling him that." Luo Binghe warned. He had seen Shizun grimace at the term of address on more than one occasion.
"I have been told." Yue Qingyuan admitted reluctantly and the look of regret on his face only intensified much to Luo Binghe's discomfort, "It doesn't feel right anymore, but no other alternative does either."
This was the longest conversation Luo Binghe had ever had with Yue Qingyuan and it felt as uncomfortable as he had imagined. Still, there was unspoken loyalty in all of Yue Qingyuan's regrets and, in a more practical sense, Luo Binghe secretly admired the passive aggressive attitude the man used against him every time the topic of Shen Qingqiu came up. In other words, Yue Qingyuan was the perfect candidate to fit the role of 'childhood sweetheart' while possessing the sort of carefully constructed personality that was supposedly well-suited for balancing out the emotional manipulations and power struggles within the harem hierarchy.
Yes, of course Luo Binghe was thinking long term already.
In the end Luo Binghe had to relent, he sincerely hoped the awkwardness lessened in the future but at the moment it was enough that Yue Qingyuan was reconsidering his approach. It boded well that the man was willing to change his own attitude in order to keep his relationship with Shizun from deteriorating further.
"If you promise to never call him 'Xiao Jiu' again, I'll make it so you can call him 'husband' instead."
Yue Qingyuan blinked. He opened his mouth to speak only to clear his throat and try again.
"I—" Yue Qingyuan blinked again, looking remarkably like a fish out of water, "I promise?"
It didn't look like Yue Qingyuan was fully conscious of what he had just agreed to. It was like the words had left his mouth without his permission, as if his longing had finally won over reason, but Luo Binghe was feeling merciful and thus nobly accepted the promise in his husband's stead.
He was not going to give Yue Qingyuan the chance to go back on his oaths this time.
'Have you heard of the concept of polyamory, Binghe?'
Luo Binghe had not, and so Shizun had taken his time one afternoon and explained it to him in painful detail. His husband had then immersed himself into the role of teacher and mentor, and continued on to explain concepts such as open relationships, swinging relationships and other such types of non-monogamy.
By the end of it all, Luo Binghe had felt like a dictionary. Like a dictionary that wanted to cry in despair and beg for his husband's mercy.
Now however, Luo Binghe was confident he had all the available options to choose from. Or, more precisely, to have Mobei-jun choose from. Luo Binghe was not even going to bother asking Shang Qinghua directly. He was smarter than that, and Mobei-jun, as an actual pureblood demon, probably had less objections against the whole sharing concept.
"No." Mobei-jun said.
"Not a husband then," Luo Binghe insisted, "How about a mistress?"
"Concubine with benefits?"
"Only when there's nobody else available?"
"Only when there are aphrodisiacs involved?"
"Only when Shang Qinghua initiates it?
Luo Binghe squinted at Mobei-jun, like a trader carefully calculating the tax exchange.
"Concubine with benefits only when there's nobody else available, only when there are aphrodisiacs involved and only when Shan Qinghua initiates it." Luo Binghe stopped Mobei-jun's instinctive response with a raised hand and a pointed look, "Both of you. At the same time."
Mobei-jun paused with a contemplative expression, then conceded.
Luo Binghe took it as the victory it was. He did like the idea of getting two for the price of one anyways.
In true Luo Binghe fashion, he kept following Shizun's lead when it came to matters of the heart and matters concerning the future harem.
"Shall I take a look at female harem additions too, you think?" Luo Binghe hinted bemusedly at his husband one day during dinner. He feigned an innocent expression when Shizun raised an eyebrow at him.
"This Shizun wasn't aware Binghe was looking into it already." Shizun took a sip of his cup of tea, as if using it to hide his expression for the lack of a paper fan nearby, "Did you have a particular someone in mind?"
"Well," Luo Binghe counted with his fingers, "Liu Qingge, Yue Qingyuan, Mobei-jun and Shang Qinghua have accepted already. I was thinking about Gongyi Xiao next or, should Shizun want me to take women into consideration, maybe Liu Mingyan. Or perhaps someone more exotic like Sha Hualing, or someone even more exotic like Zhuzhi-lang?"
Much to Luo Binghe's alarm, Shizun choked on his tea and then tried to cough and speak at the same time which frankly made it even worse.
"—What do you mean they have accepted already?" Shen Qingqiu looked at Luo Binghe incredulously, "That many? Already?"
"I asked." Luo Binghe shrugged, carefully taking away the treacherous tea and patting Shizun's back to help him calm down, "Shizun need do nothing but attend the wedding ceremony. Let this husband take care of everything."
Luo Binghe was satisfied to see his Shizun so happy he was speechless.
"What the fuck, bro." Shang Qinghua tugged at his expensive embroidered red robes and pointedly didn't compare it with the expensive embroidered red robes of the rest of the bridegrooms, "This is not how reverse harem works."
"It's my own fault for taking canon for granted." Shen Qingqiu bemoaned, wearing also reds upon reds as was befitting the groom, "I've corrupted Binghe with ideas."
"And you thought this was going to be Luo Binghe's wedding?" Shang Qinghua gestured to the group of people also in red very seriously having a discussion about harem hierarchies on the other side of the room, "This is more like, everyone else's wedding starring Luo Binghe as the aggressive wedding planner from hell, quite literally speaking too."
"I couldn't say no." Shen Qingqiu closed his eyes and shook his head in despair, "Binghe looked so incredibly pleased with his work I just couldn't say no to him."
"Uh," Shang Qinghua tried to console him, "At least you are not getting six hundred new husbands? Well, not yet anyway."
Shen Qingqiu hid his face in his hands and let out a sound not unlike that of a boiling kettle.