It all started when they went on a night hunt and Shen Yuan had been unceremoniously thrusted into the water by the pesky monster they’ve been fighting.
They won, in the end, because of course they did. They’re two peak lords, and it would be a shame if they lost to some... octopus-looking monster or something, you know. So, yeah, they won, albeit with Shen Yuan drenched from head to toe in the middle of the cold winter night, shivering. It would be easy to regulate his temperature so as to not be freezing, but for some reason, Without a Cure had started to act up, and thus he was left hugging himself and shivering pathetically in front of his very concerned shidi that had immediately rushed over to help when he delivered the last strike to the monster.
What a shixiong to look up to, Shen Yuan had thought.
Yeah, so, Liu Qingge had dragged him out of the water and made him sit on one of the nearby rocks, urging him to remove his outer robes. His shidi had looked so constipated back then, the frown on his face shone on by the moon, giving him an even sharper edge. Shen Yuan had absentmindedly followed his orders, shrugging the outermost of his robes off, leaving only the inner ones. Liu Qingge had hesitated visibly for a minute when he did so, but he was too cold to notice, teeth almost chattering when a traitorous wind blew.
And then, a very, very warm material had been draped around his shoulders and made his shivering cease.
When he’d looked at it properly, with the help of the moonlight and his own heightened senses as an immortal, he’d discovered it to be Liu Qingge’s outer robe, making him gaze shockingly at his shidi. The other was already looking away, although the fast-spreading red on his cheeks is enough of a giveaway that his attention is still very much on Shen Yuan. With arms crossed above his chest, back straight and hair billowing against the night air, he’d looked every part of the war god everyone had described him to be as he said, “I cast a spell on it. Wear it on our way back.”
Shen Yuan grinned toothily, much too happy to oblige.
Liu Qingge had never gotten that robe back, and Shen Yuan had... maybe gotten attached to it, so no, he won’t return it himself unless Liu Qingge asks for it back! After all, his shidi had always been outspoken and straightforward, so if he really wanted his outer robe back, he’d have asked for it a long time ago!
The second time was during one of their sparring sessions, when Shen Yuan had asked for a break, simply sitting under a tree and laughingly dragging Liu Qingge down to sit beside him. Liu Qingge had made a noise of surprise but nonetheless went along, fixing his position with a little huff and resting his back against the tree.
The man almost immediately went into a meditative position, crossing his legs underneath himself and closing his eyes. Shen Yuan had been given a chance to quietly stare at the pretty face in front of him, feeling his heart warm. The wind that time had been refreshing against his skin as it passed through Bai Zhan peak, making his hair sway gently. Liu Qingge’s ponytailed one swayed with his, giving him an even more relaxed, ethereal look. He’d looked… beautiful. No one could blame Shen Yuan for not being able to help the sudden impulse to tuck the playful strand that glued itself onto Liu Qingge’s cheek back behind his ear. Shen Yuan only realized what he was doing when his shidi’s sharp gaze met his own confused-but-slowly-turning-alarmed one.
His hand had frozen and hovered over where it had grazed Liu Qingge’s cheek, heart beating wildly in his chest. What was he thinking! If there’s something he’d observed regarding Liu Qingge, it was the War God’s utter dislike of physical contact! He had always moved out of the way of mere political handshakes or whatnot, of course he’d get annoyed with Shen Yuan’s disobedient hands! Cursing in his mind, Shen Yuan made a move to pull his hand away, but froze once again when he felt Liu Qingge pressing back against his palm.
It was a minute move and had been gone as soon as it appeared, Liu Qingge instantly turning away to fumble with something inside his robes and leaving Shen Yuan’s hand hanging mid-air. It’s easy to overlook the action, but the heat Liu Qingge’s skin left on his hand is unmistakeable, making his face heat up, too. He had cleared his throat, flustered, looking down on his lap to calm himself. It was only when Liu Qingge’s hand holding a long, silky white ribbon appeared in front of his eyes that he managed to look up at his shidi again.
Liu Qingge’s face was red, too, and it made Shen Yuan a lot calmer.
“Aren’t you uncomfortable with your hair.” Liu Qingge says, tone indifferent, but Shen Yuan felt himself soften. He’s suddenly very aware of the way his hair thrashed lightly on his back due to the force of the wind, and it made him let out a soft puff of laughter. He placed his hand on top of his shidi’s, reveling in the way his eyes widened a little, and squeezed before caressing the ribbon gently.
“It is quite uncomfortable. Won’t shidi help this shixiong? Liu-shidi ties his hair up in a ponytail all the time, while this shixiong’s skills are utterly lacking in that aspect.”
Liu Qingge’s face had turned redder and his brows furrowed further, but he had silently beckoned Shen Yuan to turn around, doing exactly as was requested.
For someone that looks all muscle and no gentleness, Liu Qingge’s fingers had combed softly through his hair—slowly, gently, and Shen Yuan had felt himself getting sleepy against his own will. The feeling was just really, really nice, you know! His head disciple made sure to fix his hair every morning, but he never massaged Shen Yuan’s scalp like Liu Qingge had done underneath that willow tree! He felt like a baby or something, and the last thing he remembered was giving in to the urge to just fully relax and let go, resting his whole body against a steady, warm chest. It was all black and peace after that.
That day, the whole Cang Qiong Mountain watched as Liu Qingge carried Shen Qingqiu gently all the way back to Qing Jing Peak, even as he grumbled under his breath with a slightly red face.
That day, Shen Yuan woke up on his bed, his hair tied in a slightly messy ponytail, the white ribbon coiled silently around his hair.
The third time happened not long after, during Shen Qingqiu’s birthday. The original goods’, not Shen Yuan’s, and it made him kind of melancholic when he woke up to his disciples greeting him with sparkling eyes and wide smiles, but, it was easy to enjoy the day and get into the occasion when the said students looked so eager to please and make him happy. They served him even more vigorously than usual, not letting him do anything but sit down and enjoy whatever they prepared for him. Late into the afternoon, he was unceremoniously dragged towards Qiong Ding Peak, where a banquet had been waiting, all the peak lords welcoming him with a kind nod.
It had been fun. He appreciated everything, and felt happier than ever—
But at the end of the day, after the commencement of the banquet, with disciples of the different peaks scrambling around cleaning the mess and the sun quickly setting into the horizon, with the peak lords bidding him goodbye and Yue Qingyuan letting him go with a hesitant hug and a meaningful smile he feels like he should know the meaning of but doesn’t, with him ushering his own disciples away so that he could walk alone down the Qiong Ding Peak stairs and to his own, with his intrusive thoughts finally getting the quiet they need to cloud his mind—
He’d thought, It was supposed to be Shen Qingqiu.
The greetings, the banquet, the love and happiness he’d felt, the hug Yue Qingyuan gave—it were all supposed to be Shen Qingqiu’s, and yet, it was Shen Yuan who had received all of them. Felt them. Reveled in them.
He had felt nauseous. Like he’s a fraud, deceiving people who did nothing but show him kindness. Like he’s a coward liar, hiding under the skin of someone high and mighty to hide his own lacking (so much lacking) one. The realization that those weren’t even far from the truth—that those were the truth—made him even more nauseous, guilt coursing through his veins, and he’d only noticed that he’d stopped walking when someone called his—no, Shen Qingqiu’s—name close, so close, making him zone back to reality.
Liu Qingge’s straight face welcomed him, although there is a slight crease between his brows, an almost invisible frown marring his features. Shen Yuan flinched and tried to take a step back, only for his back to meet a solid tree, making him absently wonder when he’d strayed from the path and curved into the forest instead. Liu Qingge had huffed, light breath brushing over Shen Yuan’s cheek, and it made him silently angry that despite the turmoil still going on in his brain, his heart had sped up in response to his close proximity with the war god.
That close, Shen Yuan could see the sharp outline of Liu Qingge’s face better, the pretty mole on the corner of his eye making Shen Yuan’s breath hitch. The warm glow of the setting sun had shone beautifully on Liu Qingge’s face, and Shen Yuan found himself spacing out again, only grabbing the fan being held towards him in muscle memory, barely registering its nice weight on his hand.
“It’s yours.” Liu Qingge had said, and then nothing more. Shen Yuan was still in a trance, looking back at the strong gaze Liu Qingge was giving him, distractedly clutching the fan close to his chest. Liu Qingge lingered close—Shen Yuan didn’t know how long he did, but he was there long enough for Shen Yuan to feel all sorts of confused and flustered and breathless, and when he finally took a step back, it is with a soundless breath again.
“Don’t lose it,” He had said, tone almost scolding before flattening out into a softer one, repeating, “It’s yours.”
And then he had gone as quickly as he came, as if he hadn’t taken Shen Yuan’s breath away.
Back in the bamboo house, Shen Yuan had unfurled the fan, stomach ticklish as he stared at the gray flowers embroidered onto pearly white silk, at the black branch that held everything together.
Liu Qingge had said the fan was his. To not lose it, because it was his.
That night, Shen Yuan tried to pretend it was him Liu Qingge gifted, that it was him Liu Qingge thought of while picking out the fan that screamed Liu Qingge and Shen Yuan both.
He had slept holding the fan close, heart heavy.
And then, a few months later, Liu Qingge had handed him a white and gray jade tassel charm, furtively telling him that it was to be put on a fan. The fan Liu Qingge gave, specifically, because ever since Shen Yuan received it, he hadn’t used another, not even once.
Shen Yuan had to turn and walk away, ignoring the confused sound Liu Qingge let out behind him, in order to stop the tears that threatened to fall from his eyes.
It had been Shen Yuan’s—his, not anyone else’s—actual birthday then.
Of course, Liu Qingge had no way of knowing it was his real birthday, but it made him so happy that his hidden identity hadn’t really mattered anymore, back then.
Shen Yuan muffled a sigh against his pillow, trying his hardest to block the annoying knocking sounds on his door. Someone had been banging their knuckles on it unforgivingly for a while now, demanding Shen Yuan to stand up, but standing up means leaving the new very, very soft sheets he’d gotten for his bed last week after an excursion in the nearby town, and that won’t do. He does not want that. He abhors the idea, and so he stubbornly presses his face into the pillow even more, hiking his thick comforter to cover the whole of his body.
He won’t allow anyone to rouse him off his dreams of his cute shidi!
The knocking continues.
And continues, until Shen Yuan can’t ignore it anymore, so he begrudgingly stands up, steps sluggish as he makes his way towards the culprit of his disturbed sleep, a small pout unthinkingly carved on his lips. He’s annoyed and petulant, but his mind is still too fuzzy to conjure all the annoyance he’s feeling so all that showed were his furrowed brows and dazed, sulky eyes when he threw the door open.
Yue Qingyuan on the other side of the door froze.
And so did the peak lords that lined up behind him, staring at Shen Yuan as if he’d grown another head. Shen Yuan narrows his eyes, tilting his head to the side in floaty confusion. Why were all the peak lords here? Was there some meeting he’d forgotten, or something? Was it so important that it warranted all the peak lords to show up to his door? Also, why is Liu Qingge’s face so red? He continued to blink up at Yue Qingyuan’s increasing expression of glum, not knowing what to do.
This peak lord is still sleepy, ah! If you lot were just planning to stare at him with wide, unbelieving eyes after having woken him up from a nice sleep, you shouldn’t have woken him up at all!
His annoyance grew, and so did his consciousness. He rubs his eyes off of sleep, mind slowly clearing. He then registers the small pillow he’s still holding, and immediately throws it inside the house, clearing his throat. He crossed his arms above his chest, tipping his chin up, even though his insides burned with embarrassment. He’s never going to answer the door while half-asleep again! If the real Shen Qingqiu is here, he’d have burned Shen Yuan to the ground for appearing in front of all the peak lords with nothing but his inner robes and a crumpled outer robe thrown on! His hair is all over the place, even, for god’s sakes! What peak lord, he’s just an undignified heap in the form of the previous actual dignified one!
However, surely, his fellow peak lords can get over his… bedhead and unseemly look, right? Shen Yuan’s pretty sure a few minutes have passed already, and they’re all still staring at him in incredulity. He clears his throat, and flinches in response to the flinch everybody did. He purses his lips, clears his throat again, and meets Yue Qingyuan’s withering expression, trying to ignore the look. Why does he look like that? Is he so protective and caring of Shen Qingqiu that seeing him embarrass his usually untouchable immortal image in front of many people is enough to make him look as if his dog had died?
“Zhangmen-shixiong,” He starts, and winces at the rough voice that came out. He coughs again, for good measure, and when he speaks next, it’s a lot clearer, “What brings all of the peak lords here?”
“…” Yue Qingyuan continued to stare at him for a good minute before finally breaking eye contact, looking to the side, as if avoiding Shen Yuan’s gaze, “Qingqiu-shidi has forgotten about the disciple selection in Jinlan City?”
Ah. “…this shidi has indeed forgotten.” He lowers his head, “I apologize. I will prepare immediately, I hope the peak lords are not inconvenienced so much.”
“It is alright,” Qi Qingqi says, but there’s a lilt to her voice that only appears when she’s about to embarrass someone, and Shen Yuan feels himself sweat-drop despite himself, “Forgetting is certainly not out of the question, as it seems that… Peak Lord Shen has gotten quite occupied last night.” Shen Yuan… has no idea what she’s saying, and it must have shown on his face because Qi Qingqi raised a brow, looking to the side. She regarded Liu Qingge, who’s even more flushed now, before looking back at Shen Yuan, a condescending smirk on her face, “With Peak Lord Liu.”
Silence had swept over them again, and now, it is not only Liu Qingge that’s blushing. Some peak lords had blushed after clearing their throat awkwardly, averting their gazes from Shen Yuan, suddenly finding the trees or birds or skies more interesting than the peak lord in front of them. Yue Qingyuan’s face turned even more grimmer, if that’s possible, as he continued to not meet Shen Yuan’s eyes. Liu Qingge is turning redder by the second, making Shen Yuan wonder if he could grow redder than that, worrying about risks of exploding when provoked too much.
Absentmindedly, Shen Yuan looked down to his robes.
It was… Liu Qingge’s robe.
“I—I…” He stutters, mentally cursing. He could feel his cheeks flushing hot, and mentally curses harder. Stuttering and blushing—he’s acting like a maiden caught in the act, ah! Peak lords, nothing happened! It’s not his fault Liu Qingge’s robe made him feel warm and safe in cold nights! There’s a reason why he hadn’t returned the robe until now, you know?! It may be a little disrespectful to use the war god’s outer robes as sleeping ones, but it’s not like he can use it in front of everybody else, right?!
Ahh, he’s really never going to answer the door while half-asleep again! Never again! Very bad experience, 0/10, would not recommend!
He’s still scrambling around, trying to gather his thoughts and give the peak lords the best explanation of their lives, when Liu Qingge decided to step up in front of him, giving him a look that shouldn’t have calmed him down as fast as it did, before turning his back to him and shielding him from the peak lords’ scrutinizing auras.
This way, it really looks like Shen Yuan’s a maiden being protected by his boyfriend whom he’d had a nightly meeting with beforehand, but he can’t find it in himself to care. Liu Qingge’s shoulders were… really broad, weren’t they? And he’d shielded Shen Yuan’s clear view of everybody else with his back, too. How reliable! How… how handsome! How dependable, this Liu-shidi!
“You can go ahead to the carriages. We will follow shortly.” Liu Qingge says, firm, without room for arguments. He does not budge, even when Yue Qingyuan leveled him a look. Shen Yuan felt a traitorous urge to lean his forehead on the wide back that faced him, but bit his tongue to stop himself from doing so. Is he still half-asleep, after all?!
Liu Qingge continued to stare down the peak lords, and sure enough, a few moments later they all left, but not without lingering stares on the two peak lords left at the doorway of the bamboo house.
When Liu Qingge turned around to face him, much too close for comfort considering Shen Yuan had literally been caught lounging around in his outer robes that should’ve been returned months back, Shen Yuan felt his breath hitch. Liu Qingge is still red in the face, but not so much now, the flush concentrated instead on his cheekbones and the tips of his ears. It made him look… prettier, and Shen Yuan finds himself forgetting his embarrassment in favor of gazing unabashedly at it.
“Liu-shidi,” He says, slightly breathless, because Liu Qingge is still staring at him intensely, and Shen Yuan’s heart is too weak for that. “I… this shixiong apologizes for… for sleeping in your robes. And for not returning it earlier. This shixiong…”
“It is yours.” Liu Qingge says, and Shen Yuan worries that his heart might jump out of his chest with how much fast it’s beating, almost ramming against his ribcage. It soothes him that Liu Qingge does not look any better, the remaining flush on his face betraying the look of indifference he’s so used to displaying. “…you can wear it anytime you like.”
“But… this robe is…”
“Mine.” Liu Qingge says, “It is yours, now. I had given it to you back then, hadn’t I.”
“Is… Is Liu-shidi sure—“
“Shen Qingqiu,” Liu Qingge interrupts, and Shen Yuan swallows. Shen Qingqiu. It is not him. Not his name, has never been—but somehow, on Liu Qingge’s lips, it sounds… it sounds as if Liu Qingge is calling out to him, and it’s weird, and it’s silly, but it makes his heart squeeze. Liu Qingge is closer now, a lot closer. When had he moved closer? Shen Yuan’s mind is whirling, but at the same time, it is focused solely on Liu Qingge, and nothing else. He tries to look away, but finds that he can’t, eyes glued on Liu Qingge’s determined gaze, breath stuttering in his throat. Liu Qingge takes another step forward, and… and Shen Yuan can move away, take a single step away and break… whatever this moment is, but he doesn’t.
Liu Qingge raises a hand and hovers it above Shen Yuan’s cheek. Shen Yuan notices the little tremble it did, and his heart trembled in response. He gently leans his cheek on the cold (is Liu-shidi nervous?) palm, smiling shakily at the breath Liu Qingge released, as if relieved. Was he afraid Shen Yuan would pull away?
He sighs, rubbing his cheek softly against the thumb that traced his cheekbone, smile turning steadier and gentler as he stared at Liu Qingge’s seeking eyes. His hands have long since fallen back to his sides, unknowing of what to do, and before he can stop himself, he’s already placing them on top of Liu Qingge’s chest, their bodies so close that there’s barely space left from where his arms had bended to accommodate their position. Shen Yuan’s eyes widen pleasantly at the thundering heart he felt underneath, chuckling sort of disbelievingly at the embarrassed look Liu Qingge gave him. The war god didn’t pull away, though, despite the hurricane in his chest, so Shen Yuan would have to give him credit for that.
Although... Shen Yuan hadn’t pulled away, too, so maybe he should stop selling himself short, for ever since they were left alone, his heart hadn’t stopped threatening him with the prospect of jumping out of his chest.
“My colors suit you.” Liu Qingge says, sure, as if he had thought of it a lot of times before and had long since arrived into a confident conclusion. Shen Yuan closes his eyes when Liu Qingge dips his head down to rest their foreheads together, eyelashes fluttering against Liu Qingge’s cheekbones. He sighs again, tremulous this time because of the happiness swirling inside his chest, and curls his fingers loosely on the front of Liu Qingge’s robes to steady himself.
“I like your colors.” He answers, voice small and shy, but unhesitating nevertheless.
When he opens his eyes, it’s to Liu Qingge’s smile, and he... he feels so, so much, he does not know what else to do but close the remaining distance between their bodies and place his lips against the other’s.
He saw it coming.
The more time he’d spent with Liu Qingge, he had felt himself wanting more of the man. Of the War God everybody feared and praised, of the Bai Zhan Peak Lord everybody respected. Of the man so drawn back from others, and yet so caring at the same time. Shen Yuan had wanted more of him—wanted more of his scarce smiles, his amused huffs, his warming company. He saw it coming—after all, in the presence of such unadulterated kindness and humble beauty, of genuine care and nonjudgmental eyes, of unfiltered but well-meaning words, who could not fall?
He had noticed Liu Qingge’s lingering stares, too.
Somewhere along the way, Liu Qingge had chosen him the best person to give his heart to.
Shen Yuan hadn’t thought of actually confessing, though. He didn’t know how this world worked, how people would react once they knew, if Liu Qingge would be willing to be with him after he’d confessed regardless of their mutual feelings, so he’d left it in the air and went with the flow.
Maybe, somehow, deep in his heart… he’d known Liu Qingge would make a move. Maybe, somehow, he’d known that Liu Qingge would undoubtedly go to him, like he’d always done.
Liu Qingge, after recovering from the shock of suddenly being kissed, palmed Shen Yuan’s waist, bringing him closer and claiming his lips as if hungry, or starved, or both. He relaxes his nervous grip on the front of Liu Qingge’s robes in response, throwing his arms around his shidi’s neck instead, smiling into the kiss.
The trigger might have been as simple as a stolen (?) robe in the morning light besides all else, but Shen Yuan is in no way about to complain, if he gets to hold his shidi this close from now on.
Thank you, Bai Zhan robes!