“I can't believe it, bro – how many years have we known each other, and I've never shown you around before?” Shang Qinghua rubbed his chin. “I'm sure you must have been up here with Binghe at some point...”
“I have, but only inside the main audience hall,” Shen Qingqiu replied, looking away from the thousands of needle-thin icicles shimmering high above their heads. “And never for very long.”
The other transmigrator nodded. “Yeah, I guess my King usually goes to Bing-ge instead of the other way around, and you and Bing-ge spend most of your time in the demon realm at the Underground Palace...”
“Exactly.” They passed by an enormous skull with five curving horns mounted on a wall. Shen Qingqiu paused for a moment to examine it. “Besides, we've all been preoccupied with other things.”
In his case little things like, oh yeah, being dead for five years, finishing the plot of this shitty novel, saving the world, and being courted by and becoming the husband of a determined, realm-conquering protagonist, with enough appetite and pent up emotion to sate on hundreds of wives. All very intense! A lot to ask of a sickly hikikomori from the twenty-first century!
Shang Qinghua eyed him, a lascivious quirk to his lips. “Mm-hm. I bet you guys must keep each other very busy. Eh? Eh?”
Shen Qingqiu stepped away from the elbow nudging him and glared viciously.
“My poor precious son, bent and corrupted by my biggest anti-fan!”
“Shut the fuck up,” Shen Qingqiu spat. “What leg do you have to stand on, talking about 'corruption'? Who here was happy to sell out his own story and characters for the readers' thirst?” And stop calling Binghe your son!!
Shang Qinghua just laughed. “Anyway, now you are here, what do you think?” He spread his arms and grinned, excited. “Pretty cool, huh?”
Shen Qingqiu groaned, wapping the outstretched arm away from his face with his fan. “Make another pun and you die,” he hissed.
'Here' was another glittering hallway deep in the labyrinthine heart of the Northern Ice Palace. Shen Qingqiu was having to count corners to keep track of their route, but Shang Qinghua moved through the cavernous halls with swift confidence, pointing out features of note: weapons and trophies from beast hunts displayed on the walls, corridors full of traps, the occasional ice sculpture. “But okay, I'll admit, this place is kinda neat. Though of course you would spend more effort designing your favourite OC's home than literally any other aspect of your novel, you know, like plot, or character development, or any sort of logical or tonal consistency-”
“Bro, harsh!” Shang Qinghua whined. “Blame the System, or whatever made this world – they're the ones that actually built it, not me. Loads of stuff that ended up here has nothing to do with me! We barely even see the Ice Palace in the novel!”
“And why was that?! It's not like there wasn't opportunity, you just chose to bloat your wordcount with useless things. Millions of words and almost all of them completely wasted on the Original Good's pillar!” Which wouldn't have been so bad, if the wives hadn't been so inconsequential in the end, hadn't had their IQ slaughtered, or if the papapa had actually been well written! Airplane spent all his mental real estate thinking up new ways to describe trembling bossoms, and had no room for anything else!
“What happened to the story, ah? What happened to the lore?”
"Lore?” Shang Qinghua cried. “Peh! I could have spent sixty pages talking about – I don't know – the protective seals carved in these ancient ice walls, or whatever, but no matter what they say no one actually wants to read that kind of thing, do they? Loads of people whined in the comments for more lore but that's not what they paid for!”
Shen Qingqiu snorted. “If you try telling me you didn't have reams of notes you shot your airplane to every night, you're a rotten little liar.”
“Reams of notes like the ones I just spent three nights tirelessly looking up for you out of the goodness of my heart, you mean?” Shang Qinghua smiled sweetly and darted ahead outside of fan range.
Shen Qingqiu pulled his bare hand back inside his sleeve. He was really starting to regret not bringing gloves – even his fucking fingernails had gone numb. “Anyway, it's not just cool here, it's fucking freezing,” he muttered. “Don't you get cold?”
“Not really.” Shang Qinghua shrugged. “Not anymore.”
They turned another corner, emerging into a hall dominated by two grand ice columns that spiralled up to the vaulted ceiling. Between the columns was a set of large, imposing dark doors, stark against the incessant glittering ice and pale stone.
“And you're sure Mobei-jun will be fine with me being here?” Shen Qingqiu asked as they drew close. “You're always saying how he doesn't like strangers in his personal space.”
He wasn't in the mood to put up with demonic tempers or posturing. He especially didn't want any word of his visit to get back to Binghe, who would want to know why he came here, maybe get that look on his face like a puppy left too long outside a store in the cold, and Shen Qingqiu was so bad at keeping things from him...
“Of course it's fine. Should be fine, at least. Why wouldnt it? You're my friend, not a stranger.” Shang Qinghua took the amulet he was wearing on a silver ribbon around his neck and touched it to the door. “What, you think I'm not allowed to bring friends to my own quarters?” This last bit was muttered under his breath, so Shen Qingqiu ignored it.
“So you have no idea if it's fine, is what I'm hearing.”
Shang Qinghua waved a hand dismissively. “My king isn't here right now, anyway. He won't be back until tomorrow, so don't worry about it.”
That's not reassuring!!
The amulet was a disk of pure white jade; as it touched the door it lit up from within with a bright blue glow, illuminating the design carved into it – a dragon encircling the symbol Mobei-jun carried on his forehead. The blue glow filled the amulet, then a foggy tendril of dark demonic qi swirled out from it and sank into the door. A quiet click, and the doors swung open on silent hinges.
Humming under his breath, Shang Qinghua tucked the amulet away again under the collars of his robes and stepped through the doors, gesturing for Shen Qingqiu to follow him, into the private residence of the Northern King.
They were in a circular antechamber with further doors arranged in a semicircle before them. Watery light filtered in through windows in the ceiling, the ice clear as glass but metres thick, refracting the sunbeams and sending rainbows dancing over the otherwise austere walls. The effect was very pretty, Shen Qingqiu had to admit.
Shang Qinghua didn't give him much time to admire it. He pushed open one of these new doors and ushered him forward into...
Shen Qingqiu turned slowly to survey the room, or what little he could make out beneath the mess. Beneath the explosion of paper and scrolls littered everywhere, it might once have been a study.
Definitely Shang Qinghua's haunt in the palace.
“Bro. You live like this?”
Shang Qinghua made the quickly dismissive huff of someone refusing to confront their own bad habits. “I have a system,” he mumbled. “I know where everything is.”
“So judgemental, aish...”
He went about clearing a space for them at the low table. Shen Qingqiu settled on a cushion. The study was built from the same ice blocks and stone as the rest of the palace, but its human occupancy was immediately obvious. For a start it was warmer than the rest of the palace, other than the guest room Shen Qingqiu had been shown to earlier this afternoon – though still not warm. There were lots of soft furnishings, too, which didn't seem in fashion for ice demons – like the brocade cushion Shen Qingqiu was sitting on, and the tapestries lining the few areas of wall not already taken up with shelves running from floor to ceiling. The floor was covered in rugs and furskins layered over top of each other. Shen Qingqiu made uncomfortable eye contact with the glass-eyed stare of a dead sabre-fanged ice bear.
Shang Qinghua brought over a small brazier, lighting it with the quick practiced flick of a fire talisman pulled from his sleeve. Shen Qingqiu sighed quietly in relief at the heat. When Shang Qinghua's back was turned, fiddling with a tea set, he pulled his hands from his fur-lined sleeves and held them out in front of the brazier. Numbness gave way to fierce tingling as the blood and sensation returned to his fingertips.
“Where is Mobei-jun, anyway?” he asked.
“Hm? Oh, he's off dealing with a monster for the tree demon clan. You know, the ones that live in the Festering Forest on the southwestern border of the kingdom? Yeah, there's a giant rock centipede that's been bothering them for a while, so they asked my king for help. He could have sent someone else, but it's a rare monster, so my king wanted the chance to fight it himself.” A fond smile settled on Shang Qinghua's face. It made him look a bit dopey, but it was a better expression than the one he'd worn when he was moping around all sad and pathetic, back before he and Mobei-jun got their shit together. He'd kept coming over and bothering Shen Qingqiu and Binghe! So annoying! Shen Qingqiu had to put his ass on the line (literally!) to distract a pissed-off Binghe from murdering his shishu over yet another interrupted dinner!
Shang Qinghua would never know the sacrifices he'd made!!
Shang Qinghua brought the tea tray over, set it neatly on the table and plopped down cross-legged on the cushion across from Shen Qingqiu. He poured two cups from the gaiwan. “Don't worry,” he said. “I'm sure my king will bring the corpse back as a trophy, if you want to take a look at it.”
His lips were pinched like he was holding back a laugh. Shen Qingqiu ignored him. He lifted his teacup to his mouth, breathed in the fragrant steam and took a sip. The tea wasn't as good as Binghe's, of course, but... he couldn't deny that brewing tea was one of those little tasks Shang Qinghua excelled at, thanks to the many years he'd spent grovelling to one master or another. Brewing tea and providing snacks. His greatest talents, along with thigh-hugging and bullshit.
“Hm. We'll see.”
Shen Qingqiu pinned him with a glare. You really want to start that argument, ah?
Shang Qinghua chuckled nervously and flapped his hands. “Haha, anyway! I looked into the records for you, like you asked...” A pile of old-looking scrolls was heaped at the bottom of a bookcase. Shang Qinghua reached for them and dragged them over, quickly licked the tips of his fingers and rifled through the pile, pulling out a large scroll from near the centre. “So, turns out you were right.” He shoved the tea tray over to one side and unrolled the scroll over the table, revealing a map. “I found this in the family archives. Mobei-jun's great-great-grand-aunt did in fact go adventuring in the Border Mists, and she mapped most of her expeditions.”
Shen Qingqiu leaned over the scroll.
“I read her notes and did some thinking,” Shang Qinghua continued, following a line of faded ink with a pointed finger, “and I think the grotto you're after might be around here...”
The grotto was deep in the heart of the Valley of Shifting Mists, on the nebulous border between the human and demonic realms. In the original novel it had been introduced because of Ning Yingying. She had read about it in a book during her days as a Qing Jing disciple, and remembered the tale fondly; ever since it had been a dearest wish of hers to see the grotto for herself, to swim in its clear waters. The valley only appeared under certain conditions, encountered so rarely no cultivators or cartographers had ever succeeded in verifying the myths. None except for, apparently, one of Mobei-jun's ancestors, who had hoarded all her findings to herself.
Luo Binghe had coerced this ancestor's records from Mobei-jun somehow (how exactly was never explained), deciphered the valley's location from the few scraps of information available, and passed all the trials of the mists. Naturally, the protagonist achieved first try what hundreds of adventurers had failed to despite dedicating their lives to the attempt, and led his wife down into the grotto to fulfill her childhood dream.
Those chapters had stuck in Shen Qingqiu's memory. The peaceful scene, the harkening back to the bond between teenagers newly fallen for each other, when Luo Binghe truly cared for the girl who would become his first wife, the brightest spark in those dark and sorry days. It was the most time the novel had spent with Ning Yingying – or spent on developing any already existing wife – since the plot had devolved into a harem collectathon with simple face-slapping stories-of-the-week. Husband and wife had talked, swam, admired the unusual plants and wildlife; they'd gotten to know each other again, and Luo Binghe had been... happy. Laughing. Unburdened, for a while.
...And then that lovely, happy scenario had descended into fifty pages of kinky papapa that desecrated that beautiful sacred pool and traumatised the wildlife, but that was Airplane for you. Always taking the easy way out and letting you down at the last moment. A promising start, lots of buildup, but no payoff in the end!
Still, his and Binghe's wedding anniversary was coming up. Five years of marriage was a big deal, and Shen Qingqiu... he wanted wanted to do something special for Binghe, something to match the effort Binghe put into their relationship every day. This had the advantage of being both something he already knew Binghe would enjoy and that his husband couldn't just provide himself, so...
Plus he was curious, okay! There were magical creatures at the grotto that lived nowhere else in this world, and they wouldn't even try to eat him!
The two Peak Lords sank into a deep discussion, arguing back and forth over old sheets of paper and vellum. Hours were lost as the conversation moved from planning a route to the Valley of Mists, to discussing old Proud Immortal Demon Way wife plots, to ripping apart Airplane's latest magnum opus – about a poor courtesan falling for his cold, rich and handsome regular client. Which, real original! Not even gonna try to disguise your 'inspiration', huh? Stop basing things off your fantasies about your husband, no one else wants to know any of it!!
Outside the light gradually faded from the strange demonic sky.
Shen Qingqiu was in the middle of a rant (and some emphatic crossing out) when the already cool temperature dropped another five degrees and the door behind him slammed open.
Startled, he dropped the brush he was brandishing at a cowering Shang Qinghua, jaw clicking shut.
Shang Qinghua perked up like a dog greeting its owner at the door. He paid no mind to the kick Shen Qingqiu aimed at his knee under the table.
Useless! You said Mobei-jun wouldn't be back until tomorrow!
“My king!” Shang Qinghua's voice had switched into that ingratiating tone he always used around Mobei-jun. Nauseating! Did he even realise he was doing it?! “How was your trip? Did you have a good fight?”
The demon rounded the table. “It was good,” he said, though it didn't look it judging by his expression. He loomed over them, frowning. “The beast is slain.”
Shang Qinghua's eyes curved. “Naturally, naturally.”
Mobei-jun grunted. Slowly, he turned that frown on Shen Qingqiu, his cold eyes blank.
Shen Qingqiu's spine straightened. His relationship with this particular demon... it was weird, okay? Really weird! A demon and a cultivator started out as natural enemies, but those waters had been muddied in recent years. Mobei-jun was both Shen Qingqiu's shidi's husband and a king in his own right, which was complicated enough, but then Shen Qingqiu was also married to Mobei-jun's own liege. Mobei-jun's liege being that kid he beat up once. ...Who was also Shen Qingqiu's disciple. And then they had exchanged blows themselves that one time? The whole situation was bizarre, a fact they both usually acknowledged by interacting as little as possible. Shen Qingqiu was simply glad it must have made Mobei-jun as uncomfortable as it made him, though it never showed in the demon's glacier face.
At least it meant he wasn't likely to kick Shen Qingqiu out of his private residence any time soon, even if his presence there did annoy him. Shen Qingqiu genuinely couldn't tell. Mobei-jun had one of the most chronic cases of resting bitchface Shen Qingqiu had ever seen.
He resorted to lifting his fan and inclined his head politely. “Mobei-jun,” he greeted.
Another beat passed, then Mobei-jun nodded in return. “Peak Lord Shen.” That frown dipped down to the table. He took in the scene with silent solemnity: surrounded by scrolls, brushes and inkstones, empty snack plates, pages covered in Shang Qinghua's scribbled Chinglish with Shen Qingqiu's corrections and commentary (vehement, but insightful) in the margins. The frown pinched and swung back up to Shang Qinghua. “You. What are you doing.”
“Planning a surprise for Luo Binghe,” Shang Qinghua piped up immediately. Not a moment's hesitation.
Shen Qingqiu gaped at him in disbelief, heart full of murder, fan clutched to his face in a suddenly white-knuckled grip.
WTF!! Don't give the game away! What happened to keeping a secret?! Do you just blurt everything out the second he looks at you, you spineless--!
Without looking away from Mobei-jun Shang Qinghua started clearing the table, shuffling his writing into a pile and pushing the maps and adventure accounts across to Shen Qingqiu. “Nothing my king needs to worry about,” he said, still smiling. “We're almost done, I can be with you shortly-”
Mobei-jun grunted again, this time more dismissive. With a sweep of his cloak he turned and stalked out the room on silent feet, disappearing without another word.
Shang Qinghua crowded over the table, his face lit up with delight.
“Dude! Did you see that?”
“My king!” Shang Qinghua crowed. “He's drunk!”
Drunk? “Looked the same as usual to me,” Shen Qingqiu said. How can you even tell?!
Mobei-jun's face was so angled and hard, and he barely emoted, like he wasn't even capable of it. Good to look at, yes, but in the same way as a dramatic mountain range or a storming sea. Remote and harsh. Not a face that would move a thousand hearts with just one smile! Not cute!! Did Mobei-jun snuggle? Did he comb hair or cook or fuss over his husband's comfort? Not likely!
...It was possible Shen Qingqiu might have really missed Binghe's breakfast this morning.
Shang Qinghua leant back. “You didn't see it? He was all...” He scrunched up his face, making a vague gesture with his hands which could have meant anything.
“He's drunk when I'm not! This never happens! It's always the other way round...” Shang Qinghua was still beaming. Should he really be so excited about this? “You'll see, you'll see. He'll be back in a minute.”
Sure enough Mobei-jun returned a short while later, his heavy cloak and formal outer robe removed and his collars loosened. Even his feet were bare! Shen Qingqiu averted his eyes, feeling oddly embarrassed. Shit, he'd spent too long in this world – he shouldn't have been bothered by a flash of ankle! But it was like visiting his siblings in his old life and seeing their partners in their pyjamas, or coming out the shower or something – too weird!
Mobei-jun didn't seem to care or notice the lack of propriety. He seemed to have forgotten Shen Qingqiu was there at all. He headed straight for Shang Qinghua and dropped down heavily next to him, so close he was almost in his lap, and glowered some more at Shang Qinghua's messy writing.
Shang Qinghua laughed nervously. He tugged Mobei-jun's sleeve to divert his attention and swiftly tucked the pile of story notes away under the table. “My king, did you stay and meet with the tree demons while you were there?”
Mobei-jun let out a slow hum. “They offered a feast in thanks,” he said.
“That's what I thought. And my king, did they, by chance, happen to offer you anything particular to drink? Like... thorn-plum wine, perhaps?”
“Yes.” Mobei-jun's eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“No reason! Nothing bad! I was just, uh, curious.”
“Did you want some?”
“Eh? Not... really?”
“I have some.” Mobei-jun swayed back and patted around inside his sleeves. He pulled out a stout clay jar and shoved it into Shang Qinghua's hands, pressing his shorter fingers closed around it. “Here.”
Then he sat there and stared, eyes glowing blue, fixed intently on Shang Qinghua.
“Um, thank you, my king?”
“Mn. Got it for you.”
Wonder of wonders, Shang Qinghua's cheeks flushed red. Shen Qingqiu didn't know he was capable of embarrassment! “Ahaha, is that so? My king is very generous.” His fingers fumbled unfastening the jar. “Just a sip, then. Bro, do you want to try some?” he asked Shen Qingqiu. “I've had it before – it's strong stuff. A taste should be fine, though.”
“What did you call it? Thorn-plum wine?” Shen Qingqiu scoured through the trashpile that was his memories of Proud Immortal Demon Way for the name. “That's the one made with the sap as well as the fruit of the thorn-plum tree, right?” The tree demons brewed it to suit their slow metabolisms – it was slow acting, but the end result was potent even against powerful demons, which made it possible for unsuspecting drinkers to get very drunk without realising. Shen Qingqiu could recall a plotline or two along that scenario.
“Yeah. It tastes a bit like mead. Sweet, you know?” Shang Qinghua poured a small amount into their empty teacups.
Shen Qingqiu took a cautious sip. The liquid was sweet and smooth, and oddly viscous as it slid down his throat, but not in an unpleasant way. Like swallowing a mouthful of syrup. A warm, almost spicy aftertaste tingled on the back of his tongue.
Maybe Binghe would like some, Shen Qingqiu wondered. Had he ever tried it before? He licked his lips and took another longer sip. What might Binghe cook to compliment this taste?
When he looked up Shang Qinghua was grinning at him expectantly. “It's good, right?” He topped up their cups without waiting for an answer.
“You like it?” said Mobei-jun, whose eyes hadn't shifted from Shang Qinghua for a moment.
“Yes, my king. I do.”
The angles of Mobei-jun's face softened infinitesimally, a faint blue flush rising along the sharp line of his cheekbone. He reached across and plucked Shang Qinghua's cup from his grip, paying no attention to his squawk of protest, and downed the drink in one smooth swallow. Then he dropped the cup to the table, where it wobbled a little, and grabbed the jar, filling the cup again all the way up to the brim. His hand wobbled slightly, sloshing some drink on to the table.
...Okay, now Shen Qingqiu could see what Shang Qinghua meant. He'd never seen Mobei-jun acting anything other than graceful and aloof – though admittedly he had no idea how Mobei-jun usually acted out of polite company and behind closed doors. In a world abundant with exquisite, talented beauties the demon had somehow decided Shang Qinghua was the one who made his icy heart go doki doki, so there had to be other things peculiar about him.
Mobei-jun shuffled closer to Shang Qinghua and nudged the cup at him, slopping more golden alcohol over the rim. There was no space between them now, with Mobei-jun's arm a bracketing curve around Shang Qinghua's back. “Drink,” he insisted, staring again.
Shen Qingqiu hid a snort, smirking at Shang Qinghua when the other man pouted at him across the table. This kind of weak, level one, pulling-pigtails bullying – it was fun seeing Airplane get a taste of his own terrible medicine. Payback felt good.
“What, you want me to drink the whole lot?” Shang Qinghua protested feebly.
“Drink what your husband poured for you, shidi,” Shen Qingqiu taunted. “Don't be rude.”
Shang Qinghua flapped his mouth a moment. “But – I mean, yes, exactly! My husband got this for me and poured it for me – I want to savour such a gift!”
Mobei-jun seemed to accept this excuse. His eyes narrowed, but more in a sleepy way than a seconds-before-murder way, his thick brows softly curved.
In Shen Qingqiu's opinion it didn't sit well on him. This character type was supposed to be distant and cool, the mysterious secondary character almost every reader could like. Seeing him out of that role was weird! He wasn't like Binghe, who could switch between badass and cute, ruthless and tender, and pull them all off equally.
Inwardly Shen Qingqiu's heart let out a lamentful sigh. He had missed waking up next to Binghe this morning. He was going to miss him tonight, too. Ah, he hoped all this work was worth it, and Binghe liked his surprise...
One of Mobei-jun's pale hands, long fingers tipped with black claws, wrapped around Shang Qinghua's wrist. The other prodded Shang Qinghua's pink cheek. “Warm?” he said.
“Ah, haha, yes, my king. Perfectly warm.”
“Mm.” Mobei-jun slumped further into Shang Qinghua, shoving his nose up against his neck. “Warm,” he murmured, as though confirming.
The pink in Shang Qinghua's cheeks and ears burned to a deep red. He didn't look over at Shen Qingqiu, who was avidly watching, experiencing a vindictive sort of karmic glee.
Okay, fine. So Mobei-jun did like to snuggle after all. Who would have guessed?
Shang Qinghua cleared his throat. “My king, isn't this a bit much?” he pleaded. “We have company...”
The minute smile on Mobei-jun's face twitched back down into a frown. He turned his head slowly, as though reluctant to look away from his fiery-faced husband, and frowned at Shen Qingqiu, nose scrunched like he was confused to see him there.
Shen Qingqiu smiled serenely. Don't mind me. Feel free to keep providing me blackmail material for next time Airplane gives me shit about Binghe being spoiled or sticky. Go ahead.
Mobei-jun huffed. “Don't care,” he declared, turning his face back into Shang Qinghua's shoulder. His back raised as he inhaled a deep breath. “Shang Qinghua...”
Shang Qinghua sent a beseeching glance at Shen Qingqiu. Bro, help me.
Shen Qingqiu lifted his cup to his lips. Not a chance. You dug this grave with your own remorseless, sinful hands, you lie in it.
Bro! So cruel! Shang Qinghua screwed his eyes shut, then sighed. He wiggled a bit under Mobei-jun's weight, resettling the demon's bulk more comfortably, then lifted a hand to pet his back. “Ah, you really are drunk, my king. You'd better hope Shen-shixiong is magnanimous enough not to gossip about this when he leaves, or it could be really embarrassing!”
Mobei-jun let out a quiet hum. “Don't care,” he said again.
Shang Qinghua's face contorted. “Well maybe I do,” he muttered, but he made no move to push Mobei-jun away. His hand on Mobei-jun's back drifted up to his loose hair.
A low purr rumbled from Mobei-jun's chest. He pushed up into Shang Qinghua's touch.
Shen Qingqiu raised a brow. Apparently the Ice Demon King of the North became an overgrown lap cat when he was drunk, lounging around begging for pets. Or maybe he was just like this with Shang Qinghua. Not something Shen Qingqiu really wanted to contemplate. At least Binghe conducted himself with a little more dignity!
Shang Qinghua's fingers tucked a lock of black hair behind a pale, pointed ear. They stroked gently over the point, and the purring grew louder. Circles of ripples bloomed on the surface of the cup.
Shen Qingqiu shifted on his cushion. This had been funny at first, but now he was starting to feel – well, like he was intruding. Shang Qinghua may have had no shame, but he did, and watching the other transmigrator wrapped up in his husband, petting his hair while he clinged...
Was this what he looked like with Binghe..?
Nope! Too embarrassing! At least they didn't inflict their lovey-doveyness on other people! If Shen Qingqiu weren't happily married himself Shang Qinghua would be serving him some serious dogfood right now!
And Shang Qinghua didn't even have the decency to notice, too wrapped up in gazing down at his king with that disconcerting expression. All... affectionate. Soft and squishy. Eminently slappable.
The feeling of intrusion consumed everything else. Shen Qingqiu knew what kind of vibes these were – he didn't want to contemplate the flags this sort of scenario might trigger. Time for this humble Peak Lord to take his leave.
Quietly he set his cup aside and began to gather all the scrolls Shang Qinghua had lent him. He fetched the map from the floor and rolled up the scroll, sliding it into its cover.
Shang Qinghua finally glanced up with a little jolt. Did you get so enraptured you forgot I was here?!
“Oh! Right-” he patted Mobei-jun. “My king, I need to go show Cucumb – ah, Shen-shixiong, back to his room-” He started easing away, but Mobei-jun wrapped both arms around Shang Qinghua's waist and held tight. He bared his teeth at Shen Qingqiu and growled.
Shen Qingqiu's brows shot up to his hair. You! You've got some nerve! Do you know who you're making dog noises at, ah? This one is the protagonist's husband! You're only a secondary character, Luo Binghe can beat you up any day without breaking a sweat! He already did!
“Mobei-jun-! Hey, come on, there's no need for that-” Shang Qinghua kept patting Mobei-jun's head frantically until the growling stopped. “There we go, that's better. Okay? I won't be gone long.”
“Mmm, Shang Qinghua.” Mobei-jun tilted his head back and gazed up at Shang Qinghua. His eyes were heavy lidded. “Stay here with me,” he purred.
And – that was a sex voice. That was undoubtedly a sex voice. Shen Qingqiu didn't want to hear any of that! He didn't want to know Mobei-jun's sex voice!! Or that he even had one!! He absolutely didn't want to know Shang Qinghua's!!! He knew waaaay way way too much about Airplane's own specific kinks already, just by virtue of knowing Mobei-jun and being around him from time to time, he didn't need to experience the evidence first hand!
This event which had felt like free entertainment at Airplane's expense was suddenly becoming nightmare fuel!
“It's fine!” Shen Qingqiu interjected. Did he look like he wanted to get speared with ice if Mobei-jun decided it was time to be less happy-purry-drunk and more belligerent-territorial-angry-drunk? No! And he definitely didn't want to stick around to see Shang Qinghua get 'speared with ice' either!! “I remember the way. And it's not like anyone here would dare to attack me wearing this.” He gestured at the fur cape draped across his shoulders, with its crests of Luo Binghe's sigil prominently visible. It was very obvious who he was and who his husband was; even the lowest IQ cannon-fodder demon underling would be able to tell.
“Yeah, okay,” Shang Qinghua said, distracted as Mobei-jun determinedly tried to figure out the knots of his belts.
The demon was stymied only temporarily. Shen Qingqiu made the mistake of not looking away fast enough, and was forced to bear witness as one pale, clawed hand snuck under Shang Qinghua's robes.
Shang Qinghua jumped and squeaked as the cold made contact.
Shen Qingqiu shoved the last scrolls into his qiankun pouch and hurried to the door.
Behind him came a scandalised yelp and a slap. “Mobei!”
“GOODNIGHT,” Shen Qingqiu shouted. He shut the door firmly behind him and strode away, blocking out breathy laughter and what he was going to choose to believe was not the wet sounds of sloppy, enthusiastic kissing. The kind that was more licking, biting and sucking than actual lip motion. What was it with demons and biting, anyway?! Stupid author!! Of course Shang Qinghua was into it!!
He shuddered in revulsion and – didn't run, just, walked swiftly and with dignity back to his guest quarters, which were thankfully much too far away to overhear anything – disturbing.
With the sunlight gone the halls were darker, lit only by night pearls. Colours glittered across the walls and floors, swimming before his eyes like a rotating kaleidoscope.
Shen Qingqiu paused, one hand against the icy wall, then pressed that cooled palm to his hot cheek.
At least he wasn't freezing any more.
He shook his head and carried on, past the horned skull on the wall, through the hall with the thousand-icicles ceiling. If nothing else, he now had enough to go off to locate the grotto, even if he was to leave here with far more information than he ever wanted or needed. He could scrounge up some small spark of happiness for Airplane, he guessed, begrudgingly, but gods, he wished he could scrub the last ten minutes from his brain. Remind him never to hang out around those two without Binghe present again.
Though there was a solution for that. Back in his guest room with the door shut, Shen Qingqiu shoved his hand into his sleeve and took out the jar of thorn-plum wine he'd swiped. He put it to his lips and took a deep and grateful swig.
Here's three cheers to passing out!!