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every haircut I've ever had has been a bad haircut

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 It would be a lie to say that Shang Qinghua wasn’t too sure what had happened. 


 He’d been having a bad day was what happened! 


 The worst part of it, though, besides being acutely aware of how he’d fucked up, was that this bad day had somehow gotten to him like this when it hadn’t even been that shitty. The thousand injuries of An Ding Peak delivered daily into his inbox should have been background noise by now. His life, as a whole, was so much better than it used to be, too. 


 But today, somehow, it had just been too much when the fuckers on Qiong Ding had lost some super important correspondence meant for Zhao Hua Temple, which meant that they were shortly going to run out of some of Qian Cao and Ku Xing’s favorite plants (medicine- and purification-related plants too, not just people’s favorite fucking roll-ups). Possibly because, also today, some Bai Zhan meathead had caused a minor landslide again, a Xian Shu kid started a small wildfire, and some experimental idiot on Wan Jian had managed to bring home a haunted fucking sword. Long Sheng Peak was up in arms because part of their harvest had been lost to insects intended to be a meal for Xiao Jiao Peak beasts, which were now misbehaving because they were hungry, which led to Zui Xian accidentally ruining a shipment of ceremonial wine intended for Tian Yi Overlook. 


 Oh, what else? There had been something else! It was on the tip of the tongue that Shang Qinghua had been biting all day to keep from shrieking at the top of his lungs. Ah! Right! Qing Jing Peak’s water supply systems were clogged! Icing on the cake! With a shitty cherry on top! 


 Okay, that was all much shittier than usual, but Shang Qinghua had handled worse. He was sure that he'd handled worse. He was in a much better place in his life now too. Shang Qinghua was much better at telling people to fuck off and handle shit themselves now. Sometimes rude people who couldn’t tell when a problem was entirely their own problem were like, “Hey, demon-fucker! Come fix this!” And Shang Qinghua could now answer, “Ah, sorry! I have to go fuck a demon now, maybe another time!” 


 What had made today a shitty day was the same thing that had made yesterday a shitty day too.


 It was the same thing that had made the day before that a rotten piece of shit also. 


 Today had been hot. 


 It was wretchedly hot. It was wetly and stickily hot. It was heavy, thick, soup-for-air hot. 


 It fucking sucked. 


 Everyone was in a super bad mood. It was the worst part of summer. Bad shit had been happening all week because of the relentless heat messing up all sorts of systems and spells and equipment and everyone’s charming personalities. Today had been a bad day. Yesterday had been a bad day too. The whole week had been bad, and the sun in the cloudless sky never get a shit about the suffering of all the people below. 


 Cang Qiong Mountain Sect really should have been grateful that Shang Qinghua was here at all! He could have been living it up in a palace in the northern kingdoms of the Demon Realm right now! It was tempting to betray the sect again and retire somewhere nice and cool, instead of paying his dues to the cultivation world on this burning peak on this roasting mountain range. 


 His husband wasn’t even here. How could a man be expected to behave reasonably when his beloved husband wasn’t around? No one could expect a lonely man who missed his husband to act well! 


 It was better that Mobei-Jun wasn’t here, though, which kind of made the whole absence worse. Mobei-Jun really hated the heat. The height of summer inevitably turned the ice demon into a melting lump who wouldn’t willingly get out of a bathtub unless it meant stepping directly into another bathtub. Shang Qinghua’s husband turned into a sad popsicle of a person when it was hot. 


 Mobei-Jun would try to bear it sometimes, but more often than not, the ice demon would end up laid out on the shadiest horizontal surface nursing a migraine sooner or later. Then Shang Qinghua couldn’t get any work done! He would be too busy wringing wet towels and fanning his poor, sweaty, overheated idiot of a husband, who would be in a super shitty mood for something that was honestly his own damn fault. Shang Qinghua didn’t enjoy seeing the ice demon weakened, breathing unevenly, tossing and turning, unable to function comfortably. 


 So… it was better for everyone if Mobei-Jun didn’t even try to stick around in this weather. 


 Even if it meant Shang Qinghua was missing his favorite ice pack. 


 Shang Qinghua’s Leisure House was usually (he assumed) cooler than most, by virtue of the cooling devices he’d colllected and air-conditioning tricks he’d absorbed, all for the sake of trying to spoil his heat-hating husband. It meant the heat hit in the face like a rock in a sack every morning, like a reset, but he could actually sleep at night. 


 But today! Today! On this shitty, shitty day, Shang Qinghua’s homemade air-conditioner had broken down! Shang Qinghua’s sanctuary of a home had been even hotter than outside when he had come home to collapse for the night. Significantly hotter! It had been like stepping into an oven. It had been like stepping into hell. Apparently, his air-conditioner hadn’t even had the decency to just fizzle out or anything, but had instead malfunctioned so badly that it had started pumping out more heat. It had partially collapsed in on itself and been in the process of melting, too, which had made taking the whole thing apart to make it stop its broken fucking bullshit a pain in the ass. 


 Why did he ever try to make anything?! Why was everything that Shang Qinghua made destined to take a life of its own and turn around to make him suffer?! Why did all of his children hate him like this?! It was enough to make a man cry! 


 Shang Qinghua had ended up staying up way too late, with no fixed air-conditioner to show for it, cursing everything in the world and maybe actually crying a little bit. 


 Today had been a super shitty day, actually. 


 Now, Shang Qinghua looked down at the long strands of hair he was holding. 




 It had just been so hot. Shang Qinghua’s hair had turned into a sweaty, knotted mess. He hadn’t been able to take a bath yesterday because he’d just passed out before he could force himself to do it. This morning had gotten its start at four o-fucking-clock because of the Xian Shu wildfires and then Shang Qinghua had found himself on his feet for the rest of the day. 


 Today had been a bad day and also a bad hair day. 


 He’d stripped off the stupid Peak Lord trappings where he could - almost everyone ended up looking like shit on disastrous days like today - but the heavy weight of increasingly unruly hair wasn’t so easy to just take off if he wanted to put it back later. 


 Of course Shang Qinghua couldn’t help but think about the convenience of the modern haircuts he’d left behind! With his hair being that annoying all day, of course a person would spend a lot of time thinking about hair! Shang Qinghua had been unable to stop himself from thinking about short, manageable hair that didn’t stick to his neck and his temple at every opportunity. He’d totally reasonably been unable to stop himself from thinking about how much it sucked that he was almost definitely never going to have one of those convenient haircuts ever again. 


 After all, he’d told the System he didn’t want to go back. 


 So, now he was stuck here. 


 He’d chosen to be stuck here forever! He didn’t actually want to go back! 


 But he was still stuck here. 


 In choosing not to go back, he’d given up a lot of things that a reasonable person probably shouldn’t have given a shit about. Shang Qinghua didn’t give a shit about a lot of the things he’d put behind him, really, it was just weird to think about how many things he was probably never going to see again. It was just really weird to think about how many experiences were permanently out of reach now. 


 Shang Qinghua obviously hadn’t sustained himself through decades of plot bullshit all in the hope that he would get to see skyscrapers or traffic lights or billboards again. A skyline without light pollution and regular pollution was great! Clothing with zippers, jeans, and graphic t-shirts were all gone, and that was honestly fine. The hum of a computer starting up, the flick of a light switch, and music from tinny speakers were all just old memories now. Instant noodle packages, energy drinks in aluminum cans, and candy bars with shiny wrappers weren’t that great. 


 It was just weird to think about. 


 He’d spent a lot of the past shitty week thinking about how weird it was that he was never going to have one of those modern haircuts again, actually, and how much that fucking sucked when it was so hot here. Long hair was kind of a pain in the ass! It just was! 


 Usually when he couldn’t stop thinking about how weird it all was, Shang Qinghua would go to complain about this shit to Cucumber Bro. Cucumber Bro was pretty much always down to complain about shit. The man was great at complaining! Given the right subject, all Shang Qinghua had to do was throw out some bait, then Cucumber Bro (sometimes after glaring knowingly, sometimes not) would say something along the lines of: “Don’t get me started on that.” And then bam! Whine, whine, whine! Sometimes with wine! Fun times! 


 But Cucumber Bro wasn’t here right now to tell him to stop being a baby over the lack of air-conditioning (though, yes, the man would agree that he would also totally commit some crimes for air-conditioning). Cucumber Bro wasn’t even here to tell him to shut up and stop being ungrateful, before ranting at length about how their lives now were actually (more accidentally than not) pretty good. 


 Nooo! Cucumber Bro was too busy being the protagonist’s trophy husband to stick around and suffer when Shang Qinghua’s misery needed company! Cucumber Bro was off gallivanting around the northern kingdoms of Demon Realm with his husband, seeing Shang Qinghua’s husband at fancy demon hunting parties, probably being served gruesome monster corpses on platters so that he could relate statistics and special abilities to his nerdy heart’s content. Cucumber Bro was too good and too busy for another round of the purposefully superficial “what would you give to watch a cat video on the internet again, serious offers only, bro” game. 




 Shang Qinghua had really needed someone to tell him to shut up and just take a bath. Or maybe just someone to tell him to just leave his oven of a house and stop ranting to himself about how, as a Peak Lord, he should have been able to have shorts and a t-shirt made for himself. Yeah, some interrupting right around the part where Shang Qinghua had started making “fuck it” declarations about how societal conventions were totally made up and didn’t actually matter. 


 Well, if Shang Qinghua hadn’t gotten permanently kicked out of the sect for siding with invading demons, then he probably wouldn’t get kicked out of the sect now just for cutting his hair. Probably. A haircut being the last straw would just be ridiculous! 


 As ridiculous as the idea of a haircut bringing him closer to another world for a second. 




 “Fuck,” Shang Qinghua muttered. 


 The reality of what he’d done to himself was sinking in: he’d cut his hair. 


 Shang Qinghua had cut his hair short. Not even chin-length here, but short. He’d probably done a shitty job of it too. Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky had used to cut his own hair, because it was cheaper and also because he didn’t really talk to anyone in person, but that had been a lifetime ago. He was rusty when it came to cutting hair. 


 Being kind of manic at the time, hands trembling, heart pumping, didn’t help either. 




 Shang Qinghua stared himself down in the mirror. 


 He only really owned a mirror to keep himself from looking like a total embarrassment to the sect, since he was a Peak Lord and people felt entitled to tell him how he ought to look. If he didn’t do the stuffy robes correctly, then his own people would get in a snit about it sometimes, like having a slightly scruffy Peak Lord made them look bad. People having standards for Shang Qinghua's appearance should have been their problem, but people inevitably tried to make it his problem too. 


 Using this mirror to examine his mistake felt a little fucked up. 


 Yeah, he definitely could have done a better job of this panicked haircut. 


 He also could have not done it at all. 


 Shang Qinghua picked up the scissors again. He’d had Wei Qingwei make him a good few pairs, years and years ago now. They weren’t really sharp enough for this kind of thing. 


 “Ah, might as well make this fuck-up look less like a fuck-up,” Shang Qinghua sighed. 


 He tidied up his new haircut. It ended up even shorter than Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky had usually kept his hair in another life. It… didn’t look totally like shit. Shang Qinghua’s head felt so much lighter to be rid of all that hair! He was sweaty as fuck right now, between the heat and his panic, but now that sweat didn’t have much hair to drench. 


 This looked weird. 


 “How the fuck am I going to explain this?” Shang Qinghua demanded of himself. “Oh, hey, Yue-Shixiong! This weather, am I right? Yeah, bro, I did do something different with my hair, thanks for noticing this totally unconventional and obvious change! I had a minor breakdown last night, bro, you know how it goes!” 


 People were going to talk. 


 People were going to say so much shit about this. 


 Shang Qinghua couldn’t actually remember what exactly long hair and cut hair meant in Proud Immortal Demon Way. He couldn’t remember if he’d ever explicitly established meaning or tried to get creative with the values attached to hair… or if he’d just relied on the reader’s general knowledge of historical traditions and genre conventions... or if he hadn't given enough of a shit to describe it and had just let people make assumptions. In the case of the latter, who knew what the System had made of things? In the case of Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky coming up with bizarre demonic cultural traditions… it was kind of still a case of: who knew what the System had made of things? Not Shang Qinghua! 


 He was sure that nothing good was going to be said about him going short for the summer. People were probably going to ask him if he’d betrayed his own family now… on top of having betrayed the sect… or if this was a sign of his lack of virility or something. Someone might even ask him if anyone died or if he and his demon husband had gotten divorced or some other thing that had, in another lifetime, been made up on the spot in a mockery of having distinct cultures. 




 Shang Qinghua couldn’t bring himself to go to bed even after he had probably made his haircut look as good as it ever would. It was closer to the coming dawn than the dusk right now, but Shang Qinghua still couldn’t sleep. How could he sleep? How could he do anything except putter around his Leisure House, feeling the lightness of his own head and also feeling impotent over his spontaneous style change. 


 Ah, it was so strange to feel the air against his naked neck. 


 It was one of those times when Shang Qinghua kind of started to feel as though he was zooming in and out of his own head. It was that dizzying time during the night when the world was out of memory, when reality ought to have been updating or resetting or restarting, but Shang Qinghua was still awake and interfering with the process. 


 Shang Qinghua was a cultivator, though, so a little missed sleep was fine! Shang Qinghua didn’t need sleep! He just needed… all of his hair to grow back right that second. 




 Shang Qinghua once again ran his hand up the back of his neck. Up and down. It felt weird. His hair felt unusually spiky. He couldn’t stop touching it. He couldn’t stop feeling for it, feeling where it had been, feeling the changes he’d made. Shang Qinghua’s hand went up and down and up and down and up and down… 


 It felt really nice. 


 That really wouldn’t stop people from saying shit. 


 People, in whatever bad situation Shang Qinghua had stepped in here, were going to say shit. There were some fuckers around Cang Qiong Mountain Sect who Shang Qinghua felt relatively certain were just there to gossip about bullshit. That was all they did for the community! That was their self-appointed job! Their only contribution to the sect! 


 Shang Qinghua had no idea how he was going to explain this to anyone. 


 Cucumber Bro was going to laugh at him, of course, and then maybe be super envious over the fact that Shang Qinghua’s hair-care routine just got decimated! Ha! Shang Qinghua’s fellow transmigrator’s hair was never going to get this short! Shang Qinghua was 100% certain that if Shen Qingqiu cut his hair, the OP protagonist and at least two formidable Cang Qiong Peak Lords would cry real tears! How did that phrase go? Oh, right! In the immortal words of the lost city of the internet: Luo Binghe would “sob like a bitch” if Shen Qingqiu got a haircut! 


 Sucked to be Cucumber Bro! 


 Shang Qinghua was considering cackling maniacally, just to make himself feel better, when the shadows flickered like a candle under a whisper. A monstrous figure seeped out of thin air. 


 So, Shang Qinghua shrieked in surprise instead! Just a little bit! Holy shit! 


 His husband was back! His husband was here! Early?! Now?! 




 Shang Qinghua clutched his head like that would somehow make a lot of hair suddenly reattach itself to him. There was no convenient hat to grab here! There was no convenient hooded cloak or headscarf or even a paper bag to pull over his head! Shang Qinghua very seriously, as his panicked brain flipped past plans of fleeing, considered diving under the furniture to give himself a few more seconds of not having to explain shit. 


 These impulses didn’t manage to reach any of his limbs before Mobei-Jun solidified and then looked directly at him. It was kind of dark in here, but not nearly dark enough. 


 “Ah…” Shang Qinghua said. 


 Mobei-Jun’s eyes actually widened. Oh, that must have meant it was really bad. 


 “Hi,” Shang Qinghua said. “I, ah… there’s an explanation for this, but… it’s… not good?” 


 “What happened?!” 


 “Funny story! It’s a funny story! Ahah, well, not really, but if you’re coming at it from the perspective that comedy equals tragedy plus time in storytelling, then it’s definitely a funny st-” 


 “Who did this?!” 


 “I did! I did! It’s not like that! It’s all my fault!” 


 Mobei-Jun paused at the news that there was no rogue hairdresser to go murder for attacking his husband, which the ice demon had been totally ready to go do, even though he was barely dressed, clearly ready for bed. Mobei-Jun’s scowl shifted from potentially murderous to the scowl that Shang Qinghua recognized as just confused. 


 It wasn’t every that your spouse went for a style change this radical after all! 


 “What happened?” Mobei-Jun repeated.  


 “I, ah, I needed a new look?” Shang Qinghua suggested. “People aren’t going to- I don’t know. Cast aspersions on my honor and virility and piety and all that shit now, are they? I mean, I know they’re definitely going to do something like that! I just can’t- I’ve been trying to remember what cut hair means exactly among demons and among humans, if anything, but it’s not like it comes up very often! Or, eh, maybe I just don’t pay attention? That's... possible. Super possible. Ah, I’m going to get torn apart.” 


 “I will kill any who dare to say a word against you,” Mobei-Jun said immediately. 


 Shang Qinghua startled. “What? No! Don’t do that!” 


 “Such disrespect has consequences.” 


 “Sure! I know! But good help is hard to find, my king! I don’t want to have to find new maids or something just because someone makes fun of my hair. I’d make fun of my hair in their place! If you want to kill someone, ask me first, okay?! As usual!” 


 Mobei-Jun just snorted. He wasn’t disagreeing though, so Shang Qinghua took this as a sign that their standing agreement about estate management and staffing was going to be upheld. 


 “Scaring them a little is fine! I just- the hiring process is so much work…” 


 Mobei-Jun looked at him like his concerns were petty but amusing. He was always joking about murdering people just for talking shit about Shang Qinghua! Sure, it was kind of funny when it was making shitty guests sweat a little, but not always! Shang Qinghua never would have thought, years ago, that Mobei-Jun would be such a teaser, but it made sense. The ice demon was a spoiled brat who liked to make Shang Qinghua squirm. 


 Mobei-Jun’s stare then turned thoughtful and he looked over Shang Qinghua’s missing hair again. The ice demon needed a second look now that they’d established that Shang Qinghua had attacked himself with a pair of scissors here. 


 Shang Qinghua rubbed a self-conscious hand over the back of his neck again. 


 “...It was hot,” he complained weakly. 


He really hoped Mobei-Jun didn’t act like a spoiled brat about his cut hair. That was a thing spouses did sometimes, right? Shang Qinghua had no way of predicting how invested Mobei-Jun had been in his hair. He almost never got these things right. 


 Mobei-Jun approached him slowly. 


 Shang Qinghua forced himself to stay very still. Not because he thought that Mobei-Jun was going to do anything bad! No way! It was just that Shang Qinghua’s panicky, badly designed brain couldn’t be trusted sometimes to remember that certain tense moments weren’t necessarily life-or-death, fight-or-flight stuff. Shang Qinghua was, if anything, mildly concerned that he would accidentally punch his husband. Again. 


 “Breathe,” Mobei-Jun reminded him. 


 “Ah. Right.” 


 Shang Qinghua took in a deep breath as Mobei-Jun’s hand carefully handed against the side of his head. The cool, familiar hand digging gently into his short hair prompted Shang Qinghua to exhale in relief. Ah, that felt really good. On a hot night like this, it felt like bliss, like his husband’s touch was draining away a dozen headaches he hadn’t known he had. 


 Mobei-Jun’s hand felt carefully around the cut hair. It was cut shorter at the sides and back, as well as Shang Qinghua had been able to manage, and it was only a little longer at the top. Mobei-Jun traced Shang Qinghua’s ears and hairline, feeling over the crown of his head, before running his hand up and down his neck. 


 Shang Qinghua’s eyes had fallen closed. He opened them again as Mobei-Jun’s exploring ended, the hand resting with a loose grip on the back of his neck. 


 Mobei-Jun was looking down at him with an indulgent expression. 


 Shang Qinghua was better at recognizing that one now. 


 “Why did you do this?” the ice demon asked. 


 “I… had a really shitty week,” Shang Qinghua confessed, one of his hands landing on Mobei-Jun’s arm. Ahhh, so nice and cool and solid. “It was just… so hot… and things just kept going wrong… and I have to fix it because that’s part of being the Peak Lord of An Ding! And so is looking the part! All the time, even when it’s unbelievably hot, even though I should really be able to look however I want. It’s not like I give a shit about my parents or anything like that. I just kept thinking about how I missed having short hair and I- the air-conditioner broke tonight, earlier, and that was hell! I couldn’t take it anymore!” 


 “You have had hair like this before?” 


 Shang Qinghua paused. Shit. 


 “A… long… long time ago, my king?” 




 “What? Oh, ah, right. Husband.” 


 “Correct. This is of your own volition?” Mobei-Jun asked next. 


 “Well, as much as anything is in this world?” 




 “I chose this,” Shang Qinghua admitted. “I wanted- I’m going to get so much shit for this, right? I don’t think it looks that bad though, it’s just shitty genre- I mean, traditions about-... It could definitely look better.” 


 One of Mobei-Jun’s fingers, of the cool hand at the back of Shang Qinghua’s neck, moved up and down in an embarrassingly soothing exploration. Mobei-Jun still looked thoughtful. 


 “It looks… different,” Mobei-Jun said finally. 


 “Bad different?” 


 “Different,” Mobei-Jun repeated. 


 Mobei-Jun moved in, his other hand landing on Shang Qinghua’s shoulder, and then he leaned down to put his mouth on Shang Qinghua’s neck. Ah, no, wait? Mobei-Jun’s jaw and nose landed against Shang Qinghua’s skin and then the demon nuzzled up towards his ear. Like Mobei-Jun was testing the sensation with his hands and his face! 


 “My king…?” 




  “Husband,” Shang Qinghua corrected, kind of pleadingly. 


 It wasn’t as though Mobei-Jun had never been tactile like this before - it was a rare day when Mobei-Jun wasn’t randomly pulling on Shang Qinghua’s robes or interlacing their hands for no reason - but rubbing his jaw over Shang Qinghua’s head was kind of new. The ice demon responded to Shang Qinghua’s plea, almost predictably, by nipping his ear. 


 Shang Qinghua shivered. “Ah! M- Husband, does this-?” 


 “There’s nothing in the way,” Mobei-Jun commented, not withdrawing. 


 “Easy access? Sure, I guess…” 


 “I like it.” 


 Oh, no. Shang Qinghua pulled back and recognized that stubborn expression. He didn’t know how much Mobei-Jun really meant that right now, but the ice demon had the expression of someone who would prefer to nearly die before he admitted to changing his mind. 


 “It’s weird,” Shang Qinghua protested. “It’s not really a thing here-” 


 “It is strange, but not unseen,” Mobei-Jun interrupted. “I like it.” 


 “Well, you- wait, ‘not unseen’?” 


 Mobei-Jun hummed. One of his hands was still feeling through Shang Qinghua’s cut hair. Shang Qinghua had already given up on stopping his husband from doing this. 


 “There are demon clans with short hair.” 




 Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky didn’t remember doing that. The wives tended to blend together after a while, so he had often tried to do something uniquely different to pretend to keep things fresh, but he couldn’t imagine giving a potential wife short hair without the comments section immediately bursting into flames going “IS THAT A LESBIAN?!?!?!” and “Luo Binghe can’t marry an UGLY woman! Women with short hair are ugly!” Also, maybe a few really snotty multi-page essays with citations about Confucian shit as though historical accuracy was a thing that Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky did. Ahhh, the dedicated readers of Proud Immortal Demon Way had been a special kind of bad like that. 


 Maybe a group of throwaway cannon fodder villains? Or two? Who knew? Cucumber Bro, probably. 


 “Yes,” Mobei-Jun said. “It is odd, but not unseen.” 




 “There will be comments.” 




 Shang Qinghua gave up and buried his face in Mobei-Jun’s chest. Mobei-Jun had a great chest for hiding from the world and all the problems Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky had given it. Shang Qinghua was not looking forward to finding out whatever values he explicitly or implicitly attached to having long hair. 


 Mobei-Jun kept petting Shang Qinghua’s head. 


 “It’s just hair!” Shang Qinghua moaned. “Hair communicating anything about a person’s value is stupid. It’s totally an invention - a societal construct - just so people can flap their mouths.” 




 “It’s different from place to place, isn’t it? I bet it is. People are definitely going to stare and make a big deal out of it and assume that I was attacked or dishonored, and my excuse, ‘I was really hot and it’s my hair to cut if I want,’ isn’t going to cut it at all.” 


 “Do not talk to these people.” 


 “I don’t! Not unless I’m spreading rumors through them, that’s fun sometimes-” 


 “Do not listen to them either.” 


 “Ah, I would, but you know that thing some people do when they’re whispering to each other at top volume because they want you to hear them talking shit about you? That’s going to happen. I’ll bet you anything that happens.” 


 Mobei-Jun snorted again. “I shall challenge them on your behalf.” 


 “Don’t you have better things to do?” 




 “Why are you even here?” Shang Qinghua demanded, pulling himself out of Mobei-Jun’s magnificent chest (a tragedy) so that he could squint up at his husband. Mobei-Jun’s hand still didn’t stop petting his hair. “Don’t you have things to be doing in the Demon Realm? What happened to those midnight sun celebrations for Luo Binghe? Why aren’t you there?” 


 Mobei-Jun looked at him, indulgent again, and said, “I missed you.” 




 Shang Qinghua’s heart felt like it had just flipped inside-out, but that was fine! Some days, he almost lamented Mobei-Jun learning to use his words, because the man was shameless in his affections! The man had always been shameless! Shang Qinghua just hadn’t noticed before! 


 “I, ah, I missed you too.” 




 “It’s still hot here, though! You’re going to melt!” 


 “I do not melt.” 


 “I can’t sit around spoiling you while you melt. I have work that needs doing!” 


 “I will return before noon tomorrow.” 


 “So soon? Well, good! I don’t want a melted husband!” 


 “Come with me.” 


 “What?” Shang Qinghua demanded, incredulous. “I have work! And I just cut my hair!” 


 “Do you intend on not leaving your house until it is regrown?” 




 “Then there is little point in trying to hide it,” Mobei-Jun pointed out. 


 Shang Qinghua thumped the ice demon on the chest, gently, and groaned, “Don’t be reasonable about this! The sect might as well be on fire right now. It was on fire earlier, at least a part of it, and I don’t want to answer to Cu- Shen Qingqiu later if it burns down.” 


 “Hm,” Mobei-Jun said. 


 “Exactly! Though they do deserve to rot a little with how much work I’ve been doing this past week. I’m unappreciated in my time, you know. Maybe a little bit of threatening to throw the sect over for demons again will make them behave better… or maybe they’ll eat another of my managers or an ambitious disciple alive.” 


 “The latter,” Mobei-Jun said, moving in to nuzzle at Shang Qinghua’s head again. 


 “I remember the one I had before I ditched the sect openly. That overambitious schemer with delusions of grandeur? Tried to run An Ding in my absence and nearly ran it straight into the ground? My filing system is not that hard to understand. But he’s not around anymore! I should really cultivate a decent replacement sometime or they might keep dragging me back forever, but that involves actually talking to my disciples.” 


 “An unpleasant prospect.” 


 “I could run away if I did that, though. But I’m not ready to show off this haircut to a bunch of random demons at that party thing… oh, shit, I just made so many hair ornaments totally useless. I kind of liked that one you gave me with the-” 


 “Earrings,” Mobei-Jun suggested, tracing Shang Qinghua’s ears again. “Or cuffs.” 


 “What? Ah. Ah, ah, ah! No! Absolutely not! No! This is not an opportunity to have more things I don’t need made for me,” Shang Qinghua warned, alarmed. “This is not permission to shower me in fancy gifts of- I don’t know. Earrings made of gilded fangs or… or… crystallized eyeballs or something! I’m just going to lose them. You know I’m just going to lose them.” 


 Mobei-Jun was still fiddling with Shang Qinghua’s ears and said nothing. 


 Shang Qinghua sighed. “Don’t make them heavy or I’m just going to take them out before the first hour’s up and lose them right away,” he muttered. “And don’t get competitive. If Luo Binghe gets inspired to get Shen Qingqiu new presents, don’t make it a competition.” 


 “There have never been any competitions.” 


 Shang Qinghua could have laughed in his husband’s face. “Ha! You set each other off like fireworks! And then C- Shen Qingqiu takes his frustration about it out on me like I had anything to do with it! Next thing I know, someone will have talked Liu Qingge into wearing earrings and he’ll look really good, of course, so then things will get ugly!” 




 “It’ll probably be funny, though.” 




 “Ah, you demons and your love of causing trouble!” 


 Mobei-Jun laughed under his breath. 


 Shang Qinghua let himself hide his face against Mobei-Jun’s chest again. Shang Qinghua wasn’t a short man, but Mobei-Jun was stupidly big, so his head fit underneath Mobei-Jun’s chin if they adjusted their positions to make it work. It was still too warm for Mobei-Jun to be very comfortable right now, but he still felt nice and cool against Shang Qinghua. 


 “...Do you really like the hair?” 


 “Yes,” Mobei-Jun said dryly. “My affection is not dependent on it.” 


 “Aha, that’d be pretty shallow, I guess.” 


 “If you do not like what you have done, it will regrow in time,” Mobei-Jun pointed out, unfairly reasonable. 


 “That’s true,” Shang Qinghua sighed. “I’ll just have to live with it, huh?”