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The Beauty of Withering Lotuses in Autumn

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Luo Binghe scatters the last of the chopped herbs in his palm over a plate of poached chicken, looking up just as Shen Qingqiu strides into his chambers, robes swishing behind him. 

When Shen Qingqiu walks right past and doesn’t look at him even after a few beats, Luo Binghe ventures tentatively, “Shizun?”

Jumping a little, Shen Qingqiu turns around from where he’d been fiddling with the documents on his desk, dropping his brushes to the floor. “Binghe?” He exclaims, looking genuinely startled. “When did you get in here?”

Shen Qingqiu must have really been lost in his thoughts; how unlike him. Luo Binghe lets out a soft laugh. “Ah… I know Shizun was entertaining some of the other Peak Lords for tea. You must be tired—this disciple took the liberty of preparing some simple dishes for you.”

“Simple? Binghe always goes above and beyond. Just look at this veritable spread.” Shen Qingqiu shakes his head, looking at Luo Binghe fondly. 

He realises with a start that Shen Qingqiu doesn’t have to look down at him anymore when he speaks; in the last few months, he’s grown to nearly a height with his Shizun. 

That makes him a little thrilled inside; surely, Shen Qingqiu will soon see that he’s no longer a boy, but a youth who will soon become a man. 

One that can court Shen Qingqiu, the alpha Peak Lord of Qing Jing Peak.

He lowers his eyes before his face can betray his excitement at the idea. “Shizun is too generous. This disciple merely remembered that Shizun enjoyed a few of these dishes, and sought to ensure you would eat well before our travels tomorrow.”

“Binghe always spoils this master.” A familiar click and snap, and out comes the fan as Shen Qingqiu hides his widening smile behind folds of rice paper. Luo Binghe loves to see hints of that smile. “What did you make today?”

“Wine-poached cold chicken, steamed bamboo shoots and mushrooms, deep-fried tofu in silky egg sauce,” Luo Binghe says, lifting a bamboo food cover off the dishes. “Ah, and some herbal chicken soup so that Shizun may have a good night’s sleep.” 

Shen Qingqiu clucks his tongue, but Luo Binghe doesn’t miss the way his Shizun’s eyes are already roving over the cold chicken and tofu. “There’s too much here, Binghe. You’ll simply have to join this master for dinner.”

It comes out so casually that Luo Binghe is certain that he’s misheard. “Sh-shizun?” 

A wooden chair is pulled out, and then Shen Qingqiu pats the seat impatiently. “Come now. There’s more than enough for the both of us.”

As if on cue, Luo Binghe’s stomach growls. He has been feeling hungrier than usual these days, and he’s spent several hours slaving in the kitchen. His earlier years of wandering the streets without food has trained him well, and the weather is getting colder, but… “It wouldn’t be appropriate for this disciple to—”

“Nonsense. Wasn’t that your stomach growling?”

And so, that’s how Luo Binghe returns to the cottage with an extra pair of chopsticks and another bowl to sit awkwardly at the table with his Shizun. 

He picks up the choicest bits of meat and places them in Shen Qingqiu’s bowl, only for Shen Qingqiu to raise an eyebrow at him and place them right back in his own. 

“Shizun!” Luo Binghe protests.

“You’re a growing boy,” is Shen Qingqiu’s only answer, lowering his lashes as he drinks some soup from his bowl, humming in approval. “Eat.”

Luo Binghe does.

They eat together in companionable silence for a bit, with Luo Binghe occasionally stealing glances at his Shizun between bites. Shen Qingqiu is all elegance and grace, but sometimes in the quiet between them in this little bamboo cottage, he drops layers of his facade to reveal a warmth that few others get to see, a throaty laugh or two that he stifles immediately with the back of his hand before snapping his fan open and pretending they never happened. 

Only Luo Binghe knows how the curve of that smile behind the fan and lofty veneer looks like in this private space, open and inviting. And even then, it’s not enough for Luo Binghe; it hasn’t been enough for three years, and he doesn’t think it will ever be.

No. Nothing less than the rest of his life will do when it comes to devoting himself to Shen Qingqiu.

“Binghe.”

“Yes, Shizun.” He snaps to attention, cheeks warm, loving how the sound of his name rolls off his Shizun’s tongue. It’s only been months since Luo Binghe used to worry about getting caught while looking at the ethereal beauty of his Shizun, warming his heart and so pleasing to the eye that he thought he might never tire of it. 

But now, at seventeen? He finds himself growing braver every day just as he is taller, steel hardening his spine as his feelings for Shen Qingqiu deepen. If anything, he wants Shen Qingqiu to catch Luo Binghe looking at him. 

Shen Qingqiu’s bowl is set down with a small clink, bringing Luo Binghe out of his reverie. “You’re seventeen this year, aren’t you?”

“Eh? Yes, Shizun.”

He’s studied with a careful gaze. “Binghe hasn’t presented yet, right?”

Luo Binghe swallows. Ah. The one subject he didn’t particularly want to broach with his Shizun. He can’t exactly reveal that his demonic bloodline can contribute to a delay in presenting, can he? “Not yet, no.”

Shen Qingqiu fans himself briefly, looking lost in thought. “Hmm… this master is a little concerned since your shixiong and shijie have, in the last two years.”

Coughing lightly, Luo Binghe scratches the back of his neck. “This disciple is sure it’s fine, Shizun. There are more and more late bloomers these days, and sometimes cultivating can have unexpected effects on one’s presentation.” 

Yes, like demonic cultivation, his mind supplies traitorously.

“That’s true.” Shen Qingqiu continues to look at him. 

Luo Binghe smiles despite himself. Feeling a little bold tonight, he lends a cheeky touch of flirtatiousness to it. “Shizun really does like looking at this disciple, doesn’t he?”

Just like when Luo Binghe first rode back in haste to see him, Shen Qingqiu shakes his head and chuckles lightly, as if he’d made a passing joke. Honestly. At this rate, he may have to climb into his Shizun’s lap to clarify just what kind of interest he has in him.

He doesn’t expect it, though, when Shen Qingqiu leans back in his chair and smiles back at him. “Well, Binghe has grown up big and strong. My little disciple is such a handsome youth now.”

His jaw drops at the compliment, leaving him speechless. “I—”

But then Shen Qingqiu continues, oblivious. “This master sees the way all the other peaks’ disciples already look at you. What kind of girl does Binghe like, hmm?”

Luo Binghe doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or how to tell Shen Qingqiu he’s not interested in other disciples or girls. So, he leans over to pour his Shizun another cup of tea, instead. “Ah, this question…”

Blinking, Shen Qingqiu tilts his head, lips quirked. “Is Binghe shy?”

“No!” Luo Binghe exclaims, feeling the heat travel up to his ears. So much for trying to stay smooth and charming. “No, it’s just…” He sets down the little clay teapot on the bamboo tray, wiping it off absently with a cloth. 

Luo Binghe thinks, suddenly, that there truly is no better time for anything than the present. 

“This disciple,” he begins, clasping his hands in his lap where Shen Qingqiu can’t see them. “This disciple likes a person who’s kind, even when people don’t know about their good deeds. Who scolds me when I need to be scolded, believes in me and encourages me to be a better version of myself.” 

Shen Qingqiu’s smiling face in the present overlaps with those stolen moments in the past: all the times he’d turned around at Luo Binghe calling for him as he ran towards his Shizun amidst the swaying bamboo stalks.

Binghe.

“Someone who believes we are more than our blood and our origins. A gentle person, who has the most beautiful smile because of how rarely others see it, like a precious blossom that blooms only up in the highest of mountains.”

Luo Binghe watches as Shen Qingqiu nods with that exact smile, hope rising in his heart.

Then, his Shizun leans over to him and taps his forehead with his fan. 

“Such a romantic. Don’t break too many hearts, Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu laughs, his eyes crinkling. 

Covering the spot where he’d been tapped with a palm, Luo Binghe looks at Shen Qingqiu. Of course, that’d utterly flown over his head—he opens his mouth, wanting to say something else, wanting to share that he doesn’t want anyone else’s heart, only the one belonging to the man in front of him. 

It’s hardly the right time, but for whatever reason, Luo Binghe feels that if he doesn’t say something tonight, an opportunity like this may never come by again.

“...This disciple will try not to,” Luo Binghe says, taking a deep breath. “But Shizun, I—”

“Ah, Binghe. Don’t move—”

It’s too late for that. Luo Binghe looks up purely on reflex at having his name called just as Shen Qingqiu tucks a strand of hair behind his ear, fingers ghosting over a cheek. 

His heart skips a beat.

“You must be tired, Binghe.” Out comes the fan again, revealing only Shen Qingqiu’s fond, amused gaze over the folds. “It was a long and exhausting ride for you, too. Make sure to rest well before the conference.”

“...Mm, I will.” Luo Binghe feels the flush on his cheeks deepen. He grips the edge of the table, determination coursing through his every vein as he stands up abruptly, causing Shen Qingqiu to raise an eyebrow. “Shizun,” he tries again. “This disciple—”

“Shizun, good evening.” A muffled voice cuts over Luo Binghe’s from outside the cottage. “This disciple has here a late missive from An Ding Peak.”

“Hold on, Ming Fan,” Shen Qingqiu calls back, before turning around to Luo Binghe. “You were saying?”

Luo Binghe sighs to himself, but lets his lips curve into a smile even as he resists the urge to step out and shake his shixiong for ruining this opportune moment. Their relationship may have cooled in recent years, but this is really not helping Ming Fan’s standing in Luo Binghe’s books. 

“It can wait, Shizun.”

Yes, he thinks to himself, closing the door behind him while Ming Fan scoffs at him. Luo Binghe frowns at the back of Ming Fan’s head as he balances the bowls and plates on a tray on the way to the kitchen. There’s always tomorrow.

With the Immortal Alliance Conference looming—Luo Binghe will wrest victory from the hands of all the other attending cultivators to prove himself and make Qing Jing Peak proud. To make Shen Qingqiu proud. 

So what if alphas are supposed to be the ones who make the first move? Traditions are meant to be broken, after all. He’s years younger than Shen Qingqiu who, bless him, has always been oblivious to others’ attentions, let alone that of his sticky disciple. 

If Shen Qingqiu has never seen Luo Binghe in that light before, then it’s up to Luo Binghe to show him what he’s capable of. That he’s just as worthy a mate and cultivation partner as anyone else could be for Shen Qingqiu.

It matters not that Shen Qingqiu is an alpha. No matter what Luo Binghe eventually presents as, whether an alpha, beta or an omega, he only wants his Shizun as his mate. He will win Shen Qingqiu over, one way or another, and court him as he deserves to be courted. 

That’s how Luo Binghe falls asleep later—to soft, happy thoughts of finally taking Shen Qingqiu’s hand in his, before bringing those knuckles to his lips.


Luo Binghe blinks abruptly awake, feeling something is very wrong.

As his fingers clench tight in the rough folds of his robes, his whole body burns as if on fire.

Sitting up with shallow breaths, he pushes his sweat-damp hair away from his face with trembling hands. He’d gone to sleep perfectly fine, he couldn’t have caught a fever.

It’s not until Luo Binghe shifts uneasily and pulls back his thin cover that he notices the slick leaking from between his legs.

He’s going into heat.

As an omega.

No.

No, no, no.

Not now. Why now? They’ll have to travel to Juedi Gorge in just a few hours, he can’t deal with this now. Luo Binghe curses, loosening his thin sleeping robes clinging to his skin. The heat building low and uncontrollable in his belly is foreign and uncomfortable, gnawing at him as he snakes his hand down under the waistband of his pants. 

His fingertips catch at wetness when he slides a finger inside himself, and then another. It dulls the hunger and fog clouding his mind only for a moment; with one palm muffling his soft moans as he fucks himself with three fingers, it quickly becomes clear it’s not going to be enough for any relief. Not when he can smell his own scent in the air now, sweet and cloying.

Luo Binghe nearly bites his lip bloody from the frustration, tears pricking hot and angry at the corners of his eyes. He needs more. He needs—

He stumbles out of bed in a daze, pressing a hand against the wall for support as he makes his way across the room to open the door to breathe, to get away from the suffocating heat. 

Except instead of the blessed night air of the bamboo grove, he’s greeted by darkness and the lingering fragrance of cedar from Shen Qingqiu’s incense burner. Luo Binghe freezes in place just outside the wrong door, having realised his mistake.

And yet, he doesn’t close the door.

He should. Luo Binghe knows very well that he should.

But he can smell Shen Qingqiu from where he’s standing. It’s completely different from during the day, enveloped by layers of silk and cotton; here, his scent is already engulfing Luo Binghe where he stands, hints of woodsmoke, freshly cut bamboo and fallen leaves reminding him of the first, crisp days of autumn. 

It makes Luo Binghe’s mouth go dry.

He takes another step inside.

An inexplicable sense of calm settles over him, emboldening him to walk closer to where Shen Qingqiu lies fast asleep. The room is so still and quiet, he can hear the rustling of the bamboo leaves just outside the window between Shen Qingqiu’s soft snores as his chest rises and falls.

His normally elegant Shizun’s limbs are surprisingly all over the place, tangled between the sheets, the thin blanket still barely covering him nearly falling off the bed. 

He didn’t think he still had it in him to adore Shen Qingqiu more than he already does, but this unexpected, delightful glimpse of him only makes Luo Binghe’s heart feel even fuller to bursting, even through the lust-fever of his heat.

Luo Binghe holds the edge of the blanket, making to tug it back up over Shen Qingqiu when his Shizun suddenly moves a little, mumbling in his sleep. He stills, his heart beginning to thud faster and faster in his chest.

The craziest of ideas seizes him. In a moment of madness, before he truly realises what he’s doing, Luo Binghe pulls the cover back to slip underneath it instead at the foot of the bed. 

It’s dark and warm underneath where he pushes himself up between Shen Qingqiu’s legs, resting his head gently against a clothed thigh and breathing deeply, closing his eyes. 

Luo Binghe has gotten greedier in recent months; where he might have once been content with a pat on his head and the little moments where Shen Qingqiu had let him get away with crashing into his arms over and over again in practice, he now wants more and more as the days continue to pass them by. 

A brazen tug on the hem of Shen Qingqiu’s sleeve, a lingering brush of fingers across his Shizun’s knuckles—all so he could have Shen Qingqiu’s eyes on him a little longer every time, to have that smile directed at him. 

Only him.

Wrapped in the comforting and heavy scent of Shen Qingqiu, curling around him like the sanctuary he’s always sought, Luo Binghe nuzzles up into the warmth between his master’s legs where his musk is strongest. Slick is still trickling down his own thighs—his fleeting concern over it staining the sheets dissipates abruptly when his nose bumps lightly against the clothed outline of Shen Qingqiu’s cock.

The coiling flint of hunger in his belly he’d thought tamed sparks again into flame, making him dizzy from the suddenness of it. Luo Binghe pulls back, gulping and wide-eyed, a whimper caught in his throat. 

It’s bad enough that he’s entered his Shizun’s room without permission, but now that he’s in his bed in such a compromising position—it would be over for him if Shen Qingqiu found him like this. He might actually get whipped for the first time in years, or worse, even expelled from Qing Jing Peak.

And yet. Before him lies the subject of his wildest spring dreams, the man he calls for when he strokes himself to completion in the small room next door every other night, a sweaty palm over his mouth. Shen Qingqiu is here, warm and perfect and asleep; everything that Luo Binghe has ever wanted.

Oh, how he wants.

Something snaps inside him, filling him with pure, unadulterated need. Luo Binghe swallows, his breath hot under the covers, leaning forward on his elbows. He begins to mouth at Shen Qingqiu through his sleeping robes just like that, lips trailing along the curve of him. He can hardly breathe through his fear of Shen Qingqiu waking up, panting as he presses the flat of his tongue against the thin fabric, wetting it so he can finally taste.

Shen Qingqiu begins to make little restless moans in his sleep every now and then as he twitches. Luo Binghe noses along the warmth, breathing that intoxicating scent in with every gulp of air, licking clumsily up to where he can feel Shen Qingqiu swelling under his mouth, hard and leaking. The taste he’d been chasing is stronger there even through the cotton, and he can’t get enough. 

He still doesn’t dare to reach out to pull Shen Qingqiu’s pants down, but his mouth is already watering at the thought of his Shizun’s length inside him. Knotting him. Imagining what it’d be like to take an alpha like him instead, the way they would with omegas.

Even when Shen Qingqiu jerks underneath him, Luo Binghe is too far gone to stop, the feverish grip of his heat making him close his lips over the crown of Shen Qingqiu’s hardness, tracing the dip under the head through the fabric clinging to his skin.  

“Nngh,” comes a sleepy mumble from above him. Luo Binghe’s fingers curl tight in the sheets until his knuckles go white, but he continues licking Shen Qingqiu, drool already trickling down his chin, too lost in the wild, winding spiral of the scent of bamboo and smoke filling his lungs.  “The smell of lotuses...?”

The covers are abruptly thrown off, causing Luo Binghe to shiver a little at the sudden cold. Blinking in the faint light after being hidden under the covers, he doesn’t dare look up when Shen Qingqiu gasps sharply, “Binghe?  What are you—”

Shen Qingqiu’s voice trails off.  There can be no other possible explanation, Luo Binghe knows, for the way he’s sprawled between Shen Qingqiu’s legs like this, one hand on a thigh and the other cupping Shen Qingqiu’s length through his sodden pants, mouth reddened and obscene.

So he offers no excuses, even as his heart sinks. 

“This disciple... acknowledges his grave mistake,” Luo Binghe says with effort, the words leaden on his tongue, scrambling  backwards on the bed until his back hits the frame. He presses his forehead down onto the mattress; the heat is still a fog in his mind, consuming any and all coherent thought. “I’ll accept any punishment.”

He bows and tenses, expecting disgust to flash across Shen Qingqiu’s face and to be shoved off the bed with a stinging slap to follow after. To be chased out of his room in the little bamboo cottage with nothing to his name before the sun rises. 

What he doesn’t expect is for Shen Qingqiu to shuffle over to him, and for a hand to cup his face. 

“Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu says, his usually stern voice soft with sleep and concern. “You can explain later. What’s wrong?”

That makes the rest of his walls crumble, leaving him open and raw before Shen Qingqiu. “Shizun,” he breathes, leaning into the touch. He finally lifts his gaze to Shen Qingqiu’s in the dark, tries to decipher that expression partially hidden in the slivers of moonlight in the room. “I…”

He does see Shen Qingqiu’s eyes widen when his scent hits him fully—the rich, earthy sweetness  of white lotuses, cloying and thick. “You’re in heat.”

Luo Binghe doesn’t deny it, reaching out to tug at Shen Qingqiu’s robes, curling his fingers on the hem. There’s nothing innocuous about it this time, not when he’s burning up inside, needy and wanting. He closes the space between them, watches Shen Qingqiu swallow as his eyes glaze over while meeting Luo Binghe’s.

“I don’t understand,” Shen Qingqiu mutters to himself, pressing the back of his hand to Luo Binghe’s forehead even as he tries to visibly pull back and put some distance between them.  “Binghe, you’re supposed to be an alpha, not…”

He can barely register what Shen Qingqiu is saying; it’s so difficult to focus in this state. It shouldn’t have had to happen like this. He’d wanted it to be perfect. To take his time, to court Shen Qingqiu once he’d come into his own as a respected cultivator. 

His unexpected first heat has ruined everything.

Still, if the opportunity to be Shen Qingqiu’s mate is lost to him forever… something dark and treacherous inside him whispers the offer of honeyed temptation. An unmated alpha is particularly susceptible near an omega in heat, after all, and if the alpha has had any passing interest in the omega to begin with…

He wouldn’t have dared to imagine it, if not for the desire stirring to life in Shen Qingqiu’s eyes, his breathing coming harsh and rough already just from Luo Binghe’s proximity to him. 

“Please,” Luo Binghe finds himself saying, swaying closer towards him.  “Shizun—”

Shen Qingqiu yanks his hand back as if burned, turning to look away  sharply from Luo Binghe. “We should… your Mu-shibo. He’ll have suppressants, it’ll help. This master will go and get him.” He swings his feet over to the side of the bed, pulling his robes together as he makes to stand up. “Just wait here.”

“No!” Panicking, Luo Binghe shoots out a hand to grip Shen Qingqiu’s wrist, pulling him back down onto the bed. “I don’t want anyone to know, or to see me like this.”

Letting out a frustrated sigh, Shen Qingqiu furrows his brows. “Binghe, don’t be difficult,” he admonishes, flipping Luo Binghe’s hand so that he’s squeezing it. “It’s for your own good. We don’t have to…” Shen Qingqiu pauses, coughing slightly with a flush colouring his cheeks. “We don’t have to talk about what happened earlier, a first heat is always challenging when—”

Shen Qingqiu stops talking when Luo Binghe licks his palm.

“This disciple doesn’t need suppressants,” he says, nuzzling Shen Qingqiu’s trembling knuckles. No turning back now.  “Or medicine.”

“Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu rasps. His scent is getting stronger, pupils dilating  as he grits his teeth. “Let go. That’s the heat talking, we can’t… If you keep doing this, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Luo Binghe straddles him. “There’s no one I trust more,” he murmurs, sliding Shen Qingqiu’s hand between the layers of his robes, pressing it to curve over his beating heart. “Shizun could never hurt me.”

Shen Qingqiu shakes his head, pursing his lips in a thin and unhappy line. “I can’t think , not with your scent like this, Binghe. This master will not take advantage of you.”

When Luo Binghe pulls at the loose belt around his robes, the lapels fall and flutter open like lotus petals. The air around the bed is cold, but he’s never felt warmer than in this moment with Shen Qingqiu’s comforting, rippling scent mingling with that of the incense in the room. 

He doesn’t miss Shen Qingqiu’s sharp intake of breath. Luo Binghe knows he’s grown up well; he’s put in a lot of effort into training, taking care to groom himself as a perfect disciple of Qing Jing while on missions—all so he can always look his best in front of his shizun. 

Having bathed in the springs deep in the bamboo grove to see his own reflection enough times,  he knows what Shen Qingqiu is seeing: shoulders that have grown broader with the years, pale honey-dusted skin, a strong core that is firm and hard to the touch. 

It’s an open secret in their sect that Shen Qingqiu used to visit the most established and expensive of brothels within fifty li from Qing Jing Peak. But even if he does prefer women, Luo Binghe would not lose to them in looks and charm, he thinks.

“Shizun can’t take advantage of something that was freely given.” Luo Binghe guides the hand on his chest down the line of his stomach, trailing over the dusky, fine hairs there, never taking his eyes off Shen Qingqiu’s face. Just the simple, pulsing warmth of those shaking fingers on his skin is already taking the harshest edge of his heat off, but at the same time, it makes Luo Binghe crave for more.

“Binghe.” Shen Qingqiu’s voice wavers. 

Just like his resolve. 

Parting his knees, Luo Binghe slips their hands under the waistband of his tented pants until Shen Qingqiu’s hand is between his legs—where it’s hot and wet, musky and sweet.  “This disciple trusts Shizun,” he repeats, leaning in to whisper it into Shen Qingqiu’s reddening ears, the side of his neck brushing against a warm cheek. 

He’s always liked leaving his scent on his Shizun, even if Sect Leader Yue had raised his eyebrows the first time he’d detected the faint hint of it, looking askance at him when they were in the same room. Luo Binghe likes people knowing he’s marked Shen Qingqiu, even if it was often laughed off as an impulsive, harmless thing.  

Clinging on to the back of his master’s robes and nosing the shell of an ear, Luo Binghe lets his scent soothe the uncertainty he can sense radiating off Shen Qingqiu, feeling him still underneath him. Just like how Shen Qingqiu’s scent has always calmed him. 

Drawing back, Luo Binghe drags his lips across jaw and cheekbone. 

“Please?”

Shen Qingqiu lifts his eyes to meet Luo Binghe’s, at last—dark and stricken under his lashes. The flush on his cheeks makes it look like he’s had too much wine; he might as well have, as an alpha this close to someone experiencing an unsuppressed, intense first heat. 

He rests his forehead against Luo Binghe’s, stroking his hair.

  “...This is just to help you through your first heat, okay?” Shen Qingqiu’s thumb sweeps over his cheek as he holds Luo Binghe’s face.  Still wanting to reassure Luo Binghe, even now. Even though it’s Luo Binghe who’s asking him for this. “This master knows you’re not yourself, I...  Forgive your Shizun.”

His heart is so full, Luo Binghe feels it might burst. 

“This disciple would forgive Shizun anything.”

With that, Luo Binghe kisses him.

He hasn’t the faintest idea how to kiss—he’s only overheard stories of graceless fumblings from his shixiongs when they thought he couldn’t hear them, only dared to imagine how he might take Shen Qingqiu’s face in his hands to come together for the first time under the moonlight.

Luo Binghe only has the briefest, most fleeting moment of despair over how this clumsy, messy start isn’t at all how he wanted his first kiss with Shizun to go, because then Shen Qingqiu is kissing him back.

“Silly boy,” he hears mumbled against his lips, the words soft and fond. Fingers tangle in his hair, tugging gently at his scalp to correct his angle. “Let Shizun teach you.”

Shen Qingqiu pulls away for a bit, making Luo Binghe whine a little in his throat. The grip in his hair tightens a little playfully in reprimand. “Patience. This master forgot that you wouldn’t have had all that experience yet. Relax, Binghe—keep your eyes closed.”

Since he’s learned to trust Shen Qingqiu, his body reacts immediately to the instructions; his shoulders slump, the bunched muscles in his neck loosening under Shen Qingqiu’s palm cupping them. He hears a little sigh of approval—it makes pride bloom in his chest. 

“Good boy,” Shen Qingqiu praises him, before leaning in again. When he closes his mouth over Luo Binghe’s, Shen Qingqiu’s tongue swipes wetly over his bottom lip. “Be still and learn, then follow what I do.”

“This disciple understands,” Luo Binghe says breathlessly. 

Shen Qingqiu quirks a grin, resuming his demonstration. “Don’t be such a teenager about it,” he says against Luo Binghe’s lips, upper body shaking a little with mirth. “Take your time. This master isn’t going anywhere.”

It all happens so quickly: the leisurely licking into his mouth, figuring out how to angle his head so he can nip at Shen Qingqiu’s lips between deep kisses, his Shizun stilling whenever Luo Binghe gets too sloppy and eager so he learns how to draw out the pace.

“Play tease with your tongue,” Shen Qingqiu murmurs later, doing exactly that as he sucks a little on the tip of Luo Binghe’s tongue, making him squeak. He tries to mimic Shen Qingqiu’s actions, daring to pull a little at his Shizun’s hair as well, to run his fingernails down that long, elegant neck of his. “Girls like starting it slow, Binghe. You’ll have to remember that in the future, okay? Mmhmm. That’s it. Don’t rush.”

Shen Qingqiu’s voice has always soothed him; it’s positively hypnotising in this stolen moment, where Luo Binghe can merely follow and obey what those gentle, firm words direct him to do. He can definitely get used to kissing his Shizun, he thinks.

“Ever the good student, Binghe.” Shen Qingqiu laughs, pushing sweaty strands back from Luo Binghe’s face after what feels like the longest shichen he’s ever experienced. That laugh is his favourite sound in the world. “This master expected no less.”

Luo Binghe peeks at him. Shen Qingqiu has always been so reserved and restrained for an alpha. Even with his flushed face and hair askew like this, he still looks so elegant and in control.

He wants to be the one to unravel Shen Qingqiu; to make him come undone.

Kissing is so lovely, so potentially addictive—but right now, Luo Binghe wants more. He shrugs off his robe, feels the cool air settle over his exposed, feverish skin as he pushes Shen Qingqiu back against the wall.  

“Shizun, may I…” Luo Binghe clenches and unclenches the fingers gripping the front of Shen Qingqiu’s robes. “Please allow this disciple to undress Shizun.”

“Ah.” The hesitation in that makes Luo Binghe look up, heart thudding. “That… yes, all right.”

“Shizun?” Luo Binghe prompts, when Shen Qingqiu’s eyes wander, distracted. 

“No,  it’s just…” Shen Qingqiu coughs, pulling his robes off one shoulder. His skin is as lovely as Luo Binghe remembers, pale and unmarred, just like that time in the Chens’ mansion when he’d been tied up with those striking red ropes. “Beyond kissing, this master, um. This master has never—”

Suddenly, Luo Binghe can’t hear anything over the roaring in his ears. His Shizun has never… with anyone? Then, this would be his first time, too?

He shakes his head fervently, pushing and gentling Shen Qingqiu’s arms out of those thin sleeping robes. “Shizun, it’s all right. We can figure it out together, this disciple will follow your lead.”

“Yes, but.” It takes a little while, but eventually, they finish divesting each other of all remaining layers of clothing so that they’re draped unceremoniously on the edge of the bed, pooling slowly onto the floor like water trickling down the edges of river rocks. “I don’t… want to hurt you.”

Perhaps it’s Luo Binghe’s imagination, but Shen Qingqiu’s face looks haunted when he says that. 

“Like I said,” Luo Binghe says, mustering the rest of his courage to splay his fingers over Shen Qingqiu’s chest. “Shizun could never hurt me.”

“...You don’t know that.” Shen Qingqiu chuckles mirthlessly.  “This… Binghe, you don’t know what kind of person I am. Or what your Shizun is capable of.”

In answer, Luo Binghe nuzzles up Shen Qingqiu’s neck, where his autumnal scent is the strongest. Imagines curling up at the back of the mountain, falling leaves painting the ground around him in brilliant shades of red and gold. 

“Shizun once took a blow for me, becoming poisoned by Without A Cure in this disciple’s stead.” He tugs at a pinkening earlobe between his teeth, the way he’s always wanted to since he’d noticed them colouring whenever Shen Qingqiu became embarrassed just months ago. The soft moan he elicits is worth it. “Kindness, gentleness, self-sacrifice… This Binghe very much knows what Shizun is capable of.”

 Shen Qingqiu slides a hand through Luo Binghe’s hair. “Such a sweet white lotus,” he says, almost as if to himself, sighing. “Binghe is too good to this master.”

Luo Binghe kisses down Shen Qingqiu’s jaw and collarbone, relishing in the little shivers of Shen Qingqiu’s body when his lips brush his nipples and his fingers dance down the sides of his ribs. “Because Shizun is good to me, too.” He looks up at Shen Qingqiu shyly, pulls and curls his Shizun’s fingers to tease between his legs. “Please, Shizun. Hasn’t Binghe been good?”

He watches as Shen Qingqiu bites down on his bottom lip, eyelids shuttering, before he feels those long fingers pushing up inside him, hesitant and slow. “Do you even know what you’re doing to me now, Binghe?” Shen Qingqiu says, his voice low. “In heat, looking like this—”

“I want you inside me,” Luo Binghe interrupts, his face flushing a deep crimson. “Take me.”

“Fuck,” Shen Qingqiu exhales, closing his eyes. “You can’t just say things like that—”

He sinks down on Shen Qingqiu’s fingers, clenching, wrapping his arms around Shen Qingqiu’s neck. “Knot me, Shizun.”

Maybe that’s what breaks Shen Qingqiu, in the end.

“Turn around,” Shen Qingqiu says, voice rough, pulling his fingers out of Luo Binghe and patting his thigh.

Luo Binghe nods, scooting off Shen Qingqiu’s lap and getting onto all fours on the bed. He turns and looks back at Shen Qingqiu over his shoulder, feeling a little exposed. “Like this?”

“Ah… Yes. Stay there.” Shen Qingqiu strokes his back, beginning to mutter under his voice. “Damn, what did people in those a/b/o stories have to do again?”

“Shizun?”

“Uh, it’s nothing, Binghe. This master is just talking to himself.”  Shen Qingqiu pulls him back gently with two hands, before lying down. “Move back a little. That’s it.”

Luo Binghe does, spreading his thighs so his knees are on either side of Shen Qingqiu’s. His face is still flaming as his ass is all but on display for his Shizun—he feels so shameless, like how a common whore might offer herself to a patron. He’s dripping even more now after the stimulation from the kissing, from Shen Qingqiu’s light touches, the tugging of his hair. 

“Nnnhh.” He grips the sheets as Shen Qingqiu breaches him slowly, clumsily with two fingers again from this new angle, keening softly into Shen Qingqiu’s thigh at the wet, squelching noises. Luo Binghe isn’t sure if it’s better or worse that they sound even more obscene out loud when not muffled under the covers. 

“Sorry. Am  I too rough? I’ve never done this before...”

“N-no, Shizun.”

“You’re so wet,” Shen Qingqiu says, in wonder. He twists his fingers inside Luo Binghe, crooking them against his walls. “Just like a girl.”

“Don’t say that, Shizun,” Luo Binghe says petulantly, feeling his flush deepen. “It’s embarrassing…”

Shen Qingqiu laughs softly. “Is this all right?”

“It’s a little painful, but…” Luo Binghe turns his red face to hide in the warm crook joining Shen Qingqiu’s hip and thigh. “... more.”

“Hmm?”

“This disciple…” Luo Binghe mumbles shakily, “Can take one more.”

Shen Qingqiu’s fingers still inside him, before a third one slides in.  “Greedy.”

“Mm.” 

Greedy for you, Luo Binghe doesn’t say. 

“I’m sorry, Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu says, sighing, working him open. “This is all my fault. This master should’ve known. Should’ve prepared—”

“It’s not Shizun’s fault.” Luo Binghe bites back another groan as the sting and stretch of three fingers stirs his cock. “Ah! Nnn… no one could’ve guessed.”

Fire continues to build in his belly, the hunger from his heat climbing as Shen Qingqiu continues to fuck him with his fingers. It’s easy to reach out with his fingers to take Shen Qingqiu in hand, then, to tilt his head and lick the crown of his cock.

Shen Qingqiu all but jumps. “Binghe!” He exclaims. “Wh-what are you doing?”

Luo Binghe looks back at him, licking at his palm. “This disciple is returning the favour for Shizun.”

The expression on his Shizun’s face is positively scandalised. It’s cute; he hasn’t really ever seen Shen Qingqiu freak out over anything before. “You, you, you don’t have to!”

“I want to,” Luo Binghe insists stubbornly, huffing, before gentling him inside his mouth.

It’s so different from licking at him through his robes, without the taste of cotton muting everything else. Luo Binghe loosely encircles his fingers just under the head, licking up the vein on the side. Shen Qingqiu makes vaguely strangled noises from behind him when he begins to suck, slowly manoeuvering Shen Qingqiu’s hard cock towards the back of his throat.

It’s such a foreign and uncomfortable feeling that he nearly gags once or twice, but Luo Binghe persists, taking in deep breaths. He wants this, has wanted it for such a long time—to taste and experience all of his Shizun, everywhere .

He’s sloppy with it, he knows, the way his saliva and slick catch on his chin as he drags his tongue over the slit, lapping at where Shen Qingqiu’s cock is dribbling and wet. But that in itself is exciting, too, as he finds new spots to tease with his tongue that make Shen Qingqiu groan and pause when fingering him, twitching between Luo Binghe’s fingers. 

It’s a struggle trying to focus while Shen Qingqiu works him open, sparking occasional instances of pleasure that make his toes curl—but he has never felt more bliss than in this moment, nuzzling down into a well-groomed thatch of curls, breathing the heady, thick scent of Shen Qingqiu in.

Shen Qingqiu isn’t as big as he’d expected, which surprises him. Still, tales of alpha’s pillars were often greatly exaggerated, and people come in all shapes and sizes. Why, Luo Binghe is hardly small, himself—something that has always made him feel a little self-conscious because of his pillar’s proportions against the rest of his body. Even so, he wonders how much Shen Qingqiu would swell inside him with his knot... the thought makes him squirm, the sheer arousal he feels from the very idea going straight to his cock.

The small room is full of loud, breathy moans—it  takes him a while to realise hotly that some of them are coming from him , so engrossed is he in Shen Qingqiu’s filling all his senses. The taste of him is almost too much, sweet and sharp on the tongue. His pulsing warmth is comforting and sensual in Luo Binghe’s mouth, the fingers curving inside him from behind making something course inside him like electricity in the air after a raging storm.

“Can Shizun…” Luo Binghe pants, turning around to look at Shen Qingqiu, completely uncaring of the thin string of saliva that trails from where he’s pulled off Shen Qingqiu hanging from the corner of his reddened lips. “Please put it in already?”

Shen Qingqiu stops moving his fingers, sliding them out with a wet, lewd pop. “What’s that, Binghe?” The little chortle he lets slip betrays his attempt at sounding innocent. “This master can’t hear you.”

“Shizun!” Luo Binghe whines. His Shizun does always love to tease others at some of the most inopportune times. It would normally be endearing, but now, he’s close to losing his mind . “Shizun, please, I can’t wait anymore.”

“Wait anymore for...?” His ass is patted lightly, and then Shen Qingqiu’s pushing him off his legs. “For what? Didn’t this master teach you how to use your words, Binghe? Hmm?”

Luo Binghe yelps as he’s turned towards the cool, dark wooden frame and his legs are parted, only for Shen Qingqiu to trail his fingers down his spine and over his rim, playing with the wetness there. “You’re so mean, Shizun. Please, just…” He dips his head, embarrassed, as he mutters. “Just fuck me…”

Shen Qingqiu laughs, stroking Luo Binghe’s hair fondly. 

 “My good boy.”

Yes, he’s Shizun’s good boy. His.

He can’t help it; he wriggles a little at the praise, squeezing his eyes shut as he tries to commit those words to his memory, like he always does whenever Shen Qingqiu has them to spare. Tucked away like precious baubles at the corner of his heart so he can always recall how those rare, brilliant smiles light up Shen Qingqiu’s face like a ray of sunlight on a frigid autumn morning, making butterflies dance in Luo Binghe’s stomach at the sight. 

He does so love being good and obedient for Shen Qingqiu.

“Grip the frame for me.” 

Luo Binghe obeys, ears still red when he can hear Shen Qingqiu slicking himself up and then press up against him, his hardness nudging and teasing at the soft skin behind his balls, slippery from the sheer amount of slick dripping from his hole. “Tell Shizun if it hurts, all right?”

He nods, hissing softly when Shen Qingqiu first breaches him, wincing.

“We can stop anytime,” Shen Qingqiu murmurs near his ear, his long hair falling and cascading down Luo Binghe’s shivering back. “Do you understand? Binghe.”

“Mmhm.” Luo Binghe’s grip tightens on the frame as Shen Qingqiu pushes in slowly. “Oh, hnnn—”

Shen Qingqiu’s lips brush lightly over his scent glands, trailing up to the nape of his neck. “This okay?”

He’d be lying if it says it doesn’t hurt; it burns even with slick easing the way, the feeling invasive and foreign. It’s different from when he’d touched himself, or when Shen Qingqiu had clumsily fingered him.

But he wants it. He wants Shen Qingqiu.

“It’s f-fine,” he manages, closing his eyes as Shen Qingqiu breathes out against his ear. “I—ah, Shizun, it’s ticklish!”

Shen Qingqiu laughs into his hair, his arms bracketing Luo Binghe’s smaller frame. “Your ear?” Instead of moving away, he leans in instead, blowing gently into it and making Luo Binghe yelp. One of Shen Qingqiu’s hands holds him in place even as he squirms. “Here? Is this where it’s ticklish?”

“Shizun!” Luo Binghe wails through his helpless laughter, only made worse as Shen Qingqiu darts his tongue out to lick at a spot near his jaw. “Shizun, don’t—hahaha, ah, Shizun!”

“Cute,” Shen Qingqiu says, smiling into his skin, nibbling on his ear now. “Binghe is so cute.” Luo Binghe’s giggles melt into moans as his earlobe is suckled on. He leans back against Shen Qingqiu, feeling him bottoming out inside him. 

His Shizun’s hand covers his left one on the frame, linking their fingers together as he pecks Luo Binghe’s cheek. “See? You did so well.” Fingers slide up his thigh, settling on his waist as Shen Qingqiu rolls his hips once, like a small wave breaking on a shore. 

The odd fullness of having someone inside him is uncomfortable, but all he can think of now is how they’re joined; skin to skin like this, he’s one with Shen Qingqiu, and he’s determined to make the most of it. 

“Shizun can move,” Luo Binghe says, rocking back with purpose. “Please.”

“Well, since Binghe asked so nicely.” Shen Qingqiu snaps his hips, pushing Luo Binghe forward so that he faceplants into a pillow, fingers slipping from the frame.

“Nngh!” His groans are smothered as Shen Qingqiu begins to fuck into him with slow, unsteady thrusts. The angle starts off a little odd, making Luo Binghe flinch once or twice from the occasional stabbing pain, but he gives as good as he gets, clenching down on his cock when Shen Qingqiu shoves back in after sliding out by a few inches. “F-fuck… ah! Ah!”

The air is thick with their mixed, heady scents under the layers of sex and sweat. Luo Binghe can almost taste it on his tongue between pants as Shen Qingqiu finds an erratic rhythm that he tries to follow. It’s not easy to meet his thrusts when both of them don’t really know what they’re doing, but the discomfort eventually gives way to a muted pleasure that spikes with each time Shen Qingqiu’s length drags against his fluttering rim.

He’s so aroused, every thrust inside him makes even more slick leak out of him; he didn’t think he could get any wetter, but the clear liquid trickling down his thighs and puddling at his knees says otherwise.  Luo Binghe bites down on his bottom lip to stifle the embarrassing sounds slipping from his mouth, burying his head deeper in the pillow as Shen Qingqiu moans softly behind him too, his deep voice sending tremors down Luo Binghe’s spine.

“Nnngh, you feel so good.” Wet fingers still sweet from his slick find their way inside his mouth. “Binghe is so loud, though,” Shen Qingqiu huffs into his ear between pants, amused. “What if the whole of Qing Jing Peak hears you?”

Then they’d know you’re mine, Luo Binghe thinks fiercely, squeezing his eyes shut and tasting himself on those fingertips with each little kitten lick of his tongue. “Nnh, I can’t help it, Shizun, ah—” He scrabbles wildly behind him to tug at Shen Qingqiu’s hand, pulling it down to dip between his legs.  “Touch me, please, Shizun, please —”

Shen Qingqiu lets out a breath. “This is it,” he mutters to himself. “The sky pillar—”

Luo Binghe closes his fingers around Shen Qingqiu’s, rubbing his thumb over the head of his cock. “Did Shizun say something?”

“..Ah, it’s nothing.” Shen Qingqiu’s initially hesitant grip firms around him, as though he’s come to a decision. Fumbling around for a right angle, he begins to fist Luo Binghe. “How are you so ridiculously big, Binghe?” Shen Qingqiu asks incredulously, pausing every time he can barely encircle the base of his cock with his fingers. “This master understands if you were an alpha, but for an omega to be of… this size!”

“Sorry,” Luo Binghe says automatically, ears burning, hiding his face in the pillow.

“What are you apologising for?!” Shen Qingqiu admonishes him, giving him a sharp smack on his ass. Luo Binghe chokes out a moan, immediately regretting it and hoping Shen Qingqiu didn’t notice him reacting to being spanked , of all things. 

Shen Qingqiu shifts, working his pillar with a practiced hand. It seems almost… blasphemous, imagining his lofty, dignified Shizun touching himself, and yet. Those movements, the light squeeze at the end every time Luo Binghe’s cock thrusts forward into the tight ring of his fingers—it feels good, a delicious counterpoint to every thrust, to each stuttered groan muffled in his hair as Shen Qingqiu snaps his hips.

It’s awkward and messy and perfect.  Luo Binghe never wants it to end.

“Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu bites out, his sweat dripping onto Luo Binghe’s skin. “I can’t hold back, I’ll—”

Luo Binghe reaches out behind him to hook an arm around Shen Qingqiu’s neck, pulling him down as long, dark hair spills over his shoulder. “It’s okay, Shizun.” He tangles his fingers in those loose strands and yanks , feeling the answering groan reverberate against his skin. “Come in me.”

“I shouldn’t,” Shen Qingqiu manages, breath ragged. That’s when Luo Binghe registers it in the haze of their mingled scents—a broad, thick pressure pushing at him, nudging at his hole. “Your future mate—”

The only mate he’d ever want is Shen Qingqiu.

He turns around, slotting his mouth over Shen Qingqiu’s, swallowing his little oh of surprise. His hips continue to roll with loose, slow thrusts inside him as he feels Shen Qingqiu fucking his knot in, stretching him more than he already is. He holds his breath and tries not to clench down in reflex to the intrusion, tries to relax and get it all in.  “Binghe has only ever been Shizun’s.”

“You don’t mean that. Binghe—”

Making the decision for him, Luo Binghe takes Shen Qingqiu’s wrist to his mouth and bites down, hard.

The knot swells inside him, popping just as Shen Qingqiu comes with a cry, shuddering. Luo Binghe feels the bitter tang of blood fill his mouth as Shen Qingqiu fills him, tastes the smoky notes of autumn as he continues to suck between teeth, beginning to colour pale skin with the shape of his mouth.

While an omega’s mark doesn’t count for much unless the alpha reciprocates the claim, he can fool himself for tonight—that this thin gash he’s torn into Shen Qingqiu’s skin over the scent gland on his wrist will stay after it’s healed, a little reminder of this fateful night they’ve spent together.

For one night, Shen Qingqiu was his. 

“Fuck,” Shen Qingqiu hisses. “Fuck, ah, Binghe, Binghe —”

His other hand fists in Luo Binghe’s hair, pulling him back with his neck exposed and making him gasp. Shen Qingqiu breathes him in, a deep inhale, nosing down to where Luo Binghe’s scent is strongest under his jaw, reduced to his basest instincts as he pulses inside him.

The sharp sting of a bite at the side of his neck takes him by surprise—his eyes snap open at the sensation of Shen Qingqiu’s tongue dragging over where he’s broken Luo Binghe’s skin. His teeth sink in again over a sensitive spot there while Shen Qingqiu pants and murmurs nonsense against Luo Binghe’s throat while he’s still filling him up with seed, while he’s… tied Luo Binghe.

With how he’s ravaging Luo Binghe’s neck, leaving bruise after blossoming bruise and licking absentmindedly at the hint of sweet blood he’s drawn, it would leave a scar. A mark.

A mate’s mark.

Shen Qingqiu has chosen him.

The exhilaration from that epiphany is drowned out only by the waves of warmth and pleasure coursing through him at being claimed, their bond slotting into place. His knees give out around the same time Shen Qingqiu collapses on top of him, falling to the side and accidentally yanking Luo Binghe down with him. The movement makes his fat knot catch at Luo Binghe’s rim as he does so, delicious and full. 

He feels the lust and frenzy of his first heat begin to ebb away.

“Shizun,” Luo Binghe manages weakly, trying to catch his breath as Shen Qingqiu’s arm curls over him, pulling him back towards his chest. Like a man possessed, Shen Qingqiu seems to not hear anything he’s saying, growling softly while nipping at Luo Binghe’s nape, pressing open-mouthed kisses down to the knobs of his spine. “Ah… Shizun, no, I’m sensitive… nnn.”

He digs his fingernails into the meat of Shen Qingqiu’s thighs behind him, startling a noise out of him. “...Binghe?” Shen Qingqiu whispers, his hold on Luo Binghe slacking, as though he’d just woken up. “What did I… oh, no.” From his horrified silence, he must have seen the marks he’s left on Luo Binghe’s neck. His skin tingles from where Shen Qingqiu runs his fingers over the bruises. “Sorry. I lost control at the end. Does it hurt?”

“No.” Far from it. Luo Binghe brings Shen Qingqiu’s hand to his lips, kissing the knuckles. “This disciple is fine.”

Shen Qingqiu breaks his hand out of Luo Binghe’s loose grip so he can caress his face. “And how are you feeling?”

“Um.” The flush that had faded from his cheeks returns with a vengeance. He’s a little glad that Shen Qingqiu can’t see his face like this. “Well, uh. Sore. And full.”

Coughing slightly, Shen Qingqiu’s hands begin to roam over Luo Binghe’s skin, fingers skittering over his stomach like rain ripples on the surface of a lake. “R-right.” His fingers slide down the fine dusting of hair on Luo Binghe’s stomach, spreading his palm there.  “Wait, Binghe hasn’t…?”

“Eh?” Luo Binghe had completely forgotten about his neglected erection.  “Ah, Shizun, it’s nothing, I’ll take care of it later—eep!”

Shen Qingqiu lifts Luo Binghe up with hands under his thighs so that their bodies are flush together. “It’s not good to leave your pillar like that for long. Here, this master will help you.”

It’s Luo Binghe’s turn to stammer, “B-but… Shizun, that—you don’t have to!”

He tries to cover his erection with both hands, but Shen Qingqiu swats them away. “It’s too selfish for someone to let another take care of something like this by themselves. Binghe, if you try to push my hands away again, this master will punish you. Here, let me…”

Giving up, Luo Binghe squeezes his eyes tightly at the feeling of those long, curious fingers wrapping around his cock again, throwing his head back lightly against Shen Qingqiu’s chest. Without the loud, wet sounds of skin on skin and the urgency of their earlier movements, they’re both only focusing on Shen Qingqiu touching Luo Binghe with slow, lazy strokes.

“What, um… what do you usually do?” Shen Qingqiu asks, voice low in Luo Binghe’s ear. “With yourself?”

Luo Binghe blinks, making the mistake of looking down at his cockhead showing every time Shen Qingqiu moves his fist, shiny with spit and slick. He nearly comes on the spot, biting down on his lips—it would be way too mortifying to spill just like that after only a few strokes. “This disciple doesn’t understand.”

Shen Qingqiu makes an embarrassed noise against his ear. “Binghe is really going to make me say this shameless thing out loud…” He mutters. “I mean—how do you... touch yourself? Show this master.”

“S-sh-sh—” Luo Binghe’s face is so red now, it feels like it’s on fire. “Show Shizun!?” 

“Ai!” A hand is promptly clamped over his mouth. “What did I just say earlier about keeping it down?”

“But, this disciple could never…” he begins helplessly, voice muffled against Shen Qingqiu’s palm. If he were older, if he’d matured with a stronger, more attractive build, he may be more open to showing off to Shen Qingqiu. But he’s still a sapling, yet to grow into a tree—even after his most recent growth spurt where he’s almost caught up to Shen Qingqiu’s height, he’s not quite there yet. 

An impatient huff, and then the hand on his mouth darts down to wrap Luo Binghe’s fingers around his own pillar. Shen Qingqiu’s palm slides over the back of his hand, rubbing against his knuckles. “I said,” Shen Qingqiu mutters gruffly. “That this master would take care of you. I want to make it good for Binghe, at least.”

The hand over his is still a little larger than his own, and very, very warm. 

“I…” Luo Binghe says at last, swallowing, feeling like he might combust. “This disciple understands.”

Shen Qingqiu licks his ear, making him shiver. “Good.”

To make it easier, Luo Binghe tries to imagine that he’s alone in the privacy of the little side room fantasising about this exact situation, but the burning heat of the body behind him does nothing to unroot him from this reality. Still, his Shizun gave him an instruction, and Luo Binghe has always been his most obedient disciple.

Luo Binghe starts to fist himself like he normally would. He always strips his cock fast and hard, too used to biting the back of his hand to muffle his groans, worrying about Shen Qingqiu discovering his errant disciple masturbating at night. His main goal had always been to get himself off as quickly, intensely and discreetly as possible, after all. 

“Hmm.” Shen Qingqiu hums against his skin, curling his fingers over Luo Binghe’s and mimicking his movements for himself.  “What’s the rush?”

“Um.” He doesn’t know what to say to that. 

“Patience, Binghe. Take it slow with yourself.” Shen Qingqiu taps Luo Binghe’s hand so that he stops what he’s doing, pressing down on his fingers so that their joined hands slide sweet and lazy up the shaft. “Or does your Shizun have to teach you this, too?”

The slow drag is a tease. “Nnnh… Sh-shizun—”

Shen Qingqiu twists his wrist with his hand at the base, prompting Luo Binghe to squeeze under the head like he did earlier. “Stave it off, draw it out…” He nudges Luo Binghe’s thumb over the head. “Play with yourself a bit more. Like this.” Their fingers slip and move at the edge of his foreskin, swiping at the where his slit is blurting thick, wet slick. “That’s it.”

It’s so frustrating; he feels like he’s just teetering at the edge, with the pleasure spiking but not nearly enough to take him there .

“You can touch yourself here, too.” His hand is guided down to his balls, which he’d… never really thought about, to be honest. Shen Qingqiu rolls them gently between his fingers, waits for Luo Binghe to do the same. “Make yourself feel good.”

It is good. Too good, in fact. He’s this close to passing out from pleasure, after the post-heat exhaustion. He tries to open his mouth to tell Shen Qingqiu that, but only manages to let out a soft, choked off whimper instead.

“Shh. This master is here, Binghe.” Shen Qingqiu nuzzles his ear, throwing his other arm across Luo Binghe’s torso, caressing the skin of his ribs. “Shizun’s got you.”

Luo Binghe is oversensitised on all fronts—the softening knot plugging him up with Shen Qingqiu’s come still rubs a little at his rim with each movement, his neck still feels raw from where he’d been bitten, and Shen Qingqiu working him like that with that single-minded focus normally reserved for his cultivation means he’s not going to last for much longer. 

“Shizun,” he says, shaking his head a little to get rid of the sweat in his eyes. “Please…”

“Does Binghe want to come?”

He nods, overwhelmed, his chest hot and tight. 

Shen Qingqiu peels Luo Binghe’s fingers off his cock, licking up his neck again before increasing the pressure of where he’s fisting Luo Binghe, done with teasing. “Come, then.”

Another two, three strokes, and Luo Binghe does, gasping while trembling in Shen Qingqiu’s arms. 

He’ll deal with the horror of having soiled his Shizun’s bed in the morning, what with his having spilled white ropes of come all over the sheets and even all over Shen Qingqiu’s hand, still petting and milking his length through the last, short pulses. For now, his body has been rendered completely boneless, fatigue hitting him suddenly like a punch to the gut.

“All better?” Shen Qingqiu murmurs.

“Uh-huh.” The knot has softened enough for Shen Qingqiu to slip out of him; Luo Binghe tries not to feel too disappointed. He rolls his body around, hesitant, looking up at Shen Qingqiu. “I...  This disciple apologises for having inconvenienced Shizun.”

He gets a finger flick to his forehead for his troubles. 

“Ow!”

“You didn’t trouble me.” Shen Qingqiu sighs, patting Luo Binghe’s cheek. “Like I said, this master is sorry that it had to happen this way.”

Luo Binghe scoots forward, hugging Shen Qingqiu tight. “No, I… Shizun helped me. It was…” He hides his flushed face in the dark crook of Shen Qingqiu’s neck. “It was good,” he mumbles, turning his head so he can take in the layers of smoke and autumn under earthy musk. “Thank you.”

Shen Qingqiu pats his head. “Silly. Now go to sleep, we have to leave for the conference in the morning.”

He doesn’t need to be told twice, not with how heavy his eyelids are.  The fingers combing through his hair are better than any lullaby, and soon, Luo Binghe feels sleep begin to drag him under.

“Shizun?” 

His own voice sounds so far away.

“Mm?”

“Will this disciple always be able to stay by your side?”

Shen Qingqiu’s hand stills. Luo Binghe knows he’s heard his question, from the nearly imperceptible sharp intake of breath. Still, it takes a few beats before Shen Qingqiu answers, his voice sounding suspiciously thick.

“...it’s hard to say.”

“Why?” 

“Binghe, you…” Shen Qingqiu pulls him closer, arms locking around his body like a vice, knocking the breath out of him. “As a young cultivator, you’re going to face many difficult challenges. Remember when this master asked you a few days ago if you want to become strong, even if you have to experience grueling hardships—and you said yes?”

It takes a while for the rush of words to register, but Binghe does remember, so he nods sluggishly and rests his head on Shen Qingqiu’s chest, listening to his heartbeat. “Mmm.”

“So… You have to survive, okay? No matter what. You have to surpass this master, to become big and strong and powerful. You’ll have to learn to survive without me, too.”

Suddenly, Luo Binghe feels uneasy. He squeezes Shen Qingqiu tighter. “Why is Shizun saying such things?” 

Shen Qingqiu only shakes his head, stroking his hair again. The little chuckle he lets out falls flat. “That’s… Binghe will grow up eventually. You’ll find a nice girl, maybe several. Binghe has a lot of potential, and you’ll go places—later, there won’t be room for this old master in your life.” 

“That’s not true,” Luo Binghe protests. “This disciple wants to always be filial to Shizun, to serve Shizun, to—” To protect him. To love him. They’re mates now, aren’t they?

“This master just wants what’s best for his disciple.” Shen Qingqiu says quietly. “And sometimes, what’s best for us can hurt us.”

Luo Binghe opens his mouth to ask more, but Shen Qingqiu shakes his head and places a stern finger on his lips. “Sleep. You need the rest.” 

He pouts, but Shen Qingqiu is not having any of that tonight, so Luo Binghe just snuggles deeper into their little pocket of warmth under the covers. He has so many questions, but they won’t have much time alone until after the conference.

They’re mates now. Shizun chose him. Him!

Obviously, they won’t be able to reveal anything just yet—the cultivation world has just calmed down after the last scandalous master and disciple relationship that had rocked the world from one of the major sects, and Luo Binghe doesn’t want that kind of attention to trouble Shen Qingqiu in any way. 

But, well. If he does secretly want the whole world to know… he’ll take that secret with him to his grave.

Yes, they’ll deal with it after the conference. Luo Binghe thinks of the mark on his neck, how there’s no way it’ll heal in time, how he’ll be able to display it for everyone to see. Let them speculate if he’d lain with a girl, let them make their assumptions—they won’t suspect Shen Qingqiu, not with his history and the cool image he gives off to others. 

Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu alone will know what had transpired, and just whose mouth had left that claim on him. 

Who needs a lady’s favour when he has his alpha’s mark?

His musings lead him down a dark, labyrinthine fog of a dreamless sleep, so dead to the world that even Meng Mo probably wouldn’t be able to reach him. 

In the morning, he’ll wonder if he’d imagined Shen Qingqiu’s lips on his forehead, or the whispered “Survive,” against his skin.

But for now, Luo Binghe sleeps—content and comfortable and warm in his Shizun’s arms.


Everything had been going so well.

Luo Binghe had become the head disciple of Cang Qiong Mountain’s Qing Jing Peak after years of hard work, acquired the extraordinary weapon Zheng Yang, and practiced endlessly to enhance both his regular and demonic cultivation. 

All so he could grow stronger and more powerful, all so he could etch his name in the history scrolls of the world and to bring honour to his Shizun.

Yes, he had done everything right.

And yet, here he stands where the very ground has cracked into a blazing abyss, with the man he loves and admires most in the world glancing emptily through Luo Binghe, unwilling even to meet his eyes.

Waves of demonic qi and columns of flames from the abyss roar and billow all around them, shrouding Shen Qingqiu in dancing, dappled shades of crimson and gold. It makes him look beautiful and terrible all at once, like an unforgiving god that’s descended from the heavens.

He might as well be, with the way he stares down Xiu Ya at Luo Binghe, the tip of his sword nudging at Luo Binghe’s chest through his white robes.

“But you said…” It has been a long time since Luo Binghe has felt and tasted fear in his mouth, since he’d nearly died after begging outside the wrong noble’s house or when he fought off a pack of wild dogs for scraps of food when his mother, the washerwoman, had passed in their cottage. 

He feels that fear now.

Shen Qingqiu steps towards him, making Luo Binghe automatically take a step back. He can hear the edges of the ravine crumbling, and when he steals a glance backward, all he can see is dark fog and fire. Disembodied limbs claw listlessly at the air, the shrieking spirits reaching up towards him hungrily, eagerly awaiting their meal.

Luo Binghe’s heart rabbits wildly in his chest as he falls to his knees, pleas for forgiveness already on his lips. He’s not afraid of bloody battles, of demons, or of wounds and scars; he would endure the agony all of those could inflict on him a hundred times over for Shizun’s sake. 

But he cannot lose Shen Qingqiu.

He’s all Luo Binghe has.

“Shizun, do you really want to kill me?”

“I don’t want to kill you.” 

“Won’t you look at me, Shizun?” Luo Binghe pleads. “This disciple can explain—”

“There is nothing to explain.” Shen Qingqiu’s voice is level, devoid of emotion. “Nothing that can justify your demonic cultivation. Nothing that can excuse your heavenly demon heritage.”

Why isn’t Shizun listening?

Why won’t Shizun even look at him?

Luo Binghe clings onto his last sliver of hope the way he does Shen Qingqiu’s green robes as he stands up, blood dripping down from where his fingers are tightly gripping the sharp blade cutting into his chest.

“Will you go down yourself,” Shen Qingqiu asks softly, tilting his head towards the abyss. “Or must I force you?”

This must be a dream. Just a bad dream.

He would much rather Shen Qingqiu carve him open with Xiu Ya, then, and rip his heart right out. It would be better than to live through this agony tearing him apart on the inside, better than to be on the receiving end of the cold, icy indifference of his master’s glittering eyes.

Shen Qingqiu had lain with him. He’d felt their bond form, slotting into place as Shen Qingqiu had bitten him, tied him, claimed him, no matter how he might want to deny it. 

His alpha. His mate.

Xiu Ya trembles in Shen Qingqiu’s faltering grip, the pain flashing through him anew. It’s a moment’s wavering doubt, but Luo Binghe sees it. Feels it.

“Didn’t last night mean anything to you?” Luo Binghe ventures, smiling weakly. The first errant tear slips down one cheek, followed by another. Then another.

Suddenly, Luo Binghe is fourteen again, feeling the scalding hot tea mingling with the tears on his face. When he wiped his eyes with his sleeves later that fateful afternoon—he’d vowed that that was the last time Shen Qingqiu or anyone else would ever see him cry. 

Pathetic.

Luo Binghe is so pathetic.

How often had Meng Mo mocked his loyalty to Shen Qingqiu, mocked his admiration and unshakeable confidence in the hidden goodness of his Shizun’s heart? Time and time again he’d warned Luo Binghe with a smirk, saying he’d regret it one day, because all humans were the same.

The fault doesn’t lie with Shen Qingqiu, but with Luo Binghe for having been this naive. For being this utterly, unforgivably stupid. 

Luo Binghe should have known better. 

“...Did I ever mean anything to you?” He laughs, hiccuping, feeling his heart beginning to crack and harden all at once. 

The dam breaks; he begins to cry. 

There’s nothing left of him to hide as his emotions are stripped raw and bare once again before Shen Qingqiu, but unlike the night before, there is no comfort to be found here. 

Only emptiness, where warm words and a gentle hand patting his head used to be. 

 “Shizun. You marked me. You chose me.”

A flash of uncertainty crosses Shen Qingqiu’s face, his eyes flitting to Luo Binghe’s neck before he schools his expression back to neutrality. “I… This master did no such thing.”

Luo Binghe clenches his hands by his sides, gritting his teeth through the tears. He can still see the marks he left on Shen Qingqiu’s wrist, the still-dark bruise peeking out from under the hem of one of his long sleeves. 

“You would deny that too?” Luo Binghe asks blankly, hurt. 

He doesn’t understand. 

He doesn’t want to understand.

All Luo Binghe wants is to wake up.

“Shizun. Have you ever loved me at all?”

Shen Qingqiu exhales, brows furrowing, steadying his grip as he steps forward to drive the blade further into Luo Binghe’s chest. 

“It was a mistake.”

With just those four words, Luo Binghe’s entire world crumbles to ash for good.

“If I had known…” Shen Qingqiu begins.

Luo Binghe raises a numb, shaking hand to lightly grip the sword. He can’t hear the rest of the sentence above the din of the flames, the roaring noise in his ears.

If Shizun had known?

If Shen Qingqiu had known, he wouldn’t even have touched him? 

Been with him?

Cared for him?

Had it been a lie, all along?

Caught in his roiling thoughts, his hand gripping Xiu Ya is left bereft as Shen Qingqiu suddenly withdraws his sword.

He stumbles back a little from the sudden movement, but looks up at Shen Qingqiu immediately, hope rising traitorously in his chest.

Shen Qingqiu must have changed his mind.

He drops his bleeding hand to his side. Luo Binghe tries for a watery smile as he takes one step forward. 

“Shizun—”

“Luo Binghe.” 

That name, once uttered with such kindness, such affection.

He’s never heard Shen Qingqiu say his name so coldly before.

It happens so quickly, the glint of Xiu Ya flashing when Shen Qingqiu steps forward, his green sleeves fluttering as he thrusts his other arm out.

The last thing Luo Binghe sees is the bond mark he’d left on Shen Qingqiu’s wrist, as that palm spreads out wide on his chest, pushing him over the edge, right as his feet begin to tread on air.

“Fall.”

 

Fin