When Mobei-Jun woke up next, it was no longer late morning but apparently late afternoon. The bathtub was empty, resting in the corner of the room, and Shang Qinghua was sitting at the table, his hair partly loose, not wet but clearly recently dried.
Mobei-Jun was still in pain and still too warm, but for a moment, he simply lay there and stared at Shang Qinghua, who was quietly reading in the sunlight partly muted by the makeshift curtain. Though it seemed as though he was perhaps not so much reading as simply staring at the book while thinking, a hand rubbing at his chin again. The funds on the table - the gold, silver, and jewels Mobei-Jun had summoned - rested beside the human’s hand and cast some few flecks of light back upon his face.
So often, it had been like this. Shang Qinghua would be relaxed and at peace, sometimes even happy, until he noticed that Mobei-Jun had arrived or was awake again. Then he would flail, occasionally tripping over his own feet as he stood, and sometimes even shriek in surprise. Shang Qinghua would not truly relax again until he believed Mobei-Jun to be unconscious or absent. Shang Qinghua felt no sanctuary with him.
Mobei-Jun broke the silence despite himself. His stomach rumbled.
Shang Qinghua promptly shrieked, flailed, and tripped over his own feet as he stood.
It was ridiculous, infuriating, and endearing.
“My king! You’re awake again! Are you hungry? I’ll go get some food!”
Shang Qinghua turned on his heel to flee.
“Wait!” Mobei-Jun barked.
Shang Qinghua tripped on his own heel and barely caught himself, turning to face Mobei-Jun again with wide, terrified eyes.
“For yourself as well,” Mobei-Jun reminded him.
He had no wish to be accused of taking food from Shang Qinghua’s mouth. Even if Shang Qinghua was not truly hungry, he also had no wish to watch Shang Qinghua stare longingly at his food while he ate. It was always annoying.
“Oh, ah, of course,” Shang Qinghua said, stunned.
The human left and returned with a great deal of food, two heaping bowls of soup with noodles and meat. Mobei-Jun had to order the human to sit at the table and eat with him. He was determined to set the standards of their interactions now, so that Shang Qinghua could not fearfully invent rules for their relationships and then resentfully throw them in his face at a later date. Shang Qinghua squirmed, but ultimately obeyed.
This gave Mobei-Jun the opportunity to observe Shang Qinghua up-close and awake.
It was truly strange to see Shang Qinghua so young. The human had yet to get the full breadth of his shoulders, the full weight and muscle of his chest and arms, and the full width of his jaw. His face was missing lines that had come with a longer life.
The way he hunched in on himself was very similar, however.
Mobei-Jun had thought many disparaging things about the human the first time that they had met. He had hated being saved by a human, being indebted to one, especially one so shamelessly spineless. It had been repulsive to be tied to someone who looked and acted and spoke like this. Mobei-Jun regretted this way of thinking now, of course, and held very different opinions. Yet… it was still annoying that Shang Qinghua would act like this when Mobei-Jun knew that this young human was far more than he appeared.
“What is your goal?” Mobei-Jun said.
If he had asked this question the last time, he did not remember the answer. All he remembered was that Shang Qinghua had come across as a spineless coward and a treacherous parasite. He would not have cared to remember the exact words.
After thirty years, he cared to remember what Shang Qinghua said now.
“In serving me,” Mobei-Jun clarified. “What is your goal?”
Shang Qinghua looked back and forth, like some cornered animal, and then said, “I don’t really have a goal? My king, I just want to follow you for the rest of my life.”
Mobei-Jun blinked at him. The human said it so shamelessly.
It angered him to hear this again, though he yet again tried to strangle that anger before it could get out of his throat. Shang Qinghua would say this to him and then leave him. After everything, instead of simply making demands in exchange for everything he had done, Shang Qinghua had left him before Mobei-Jun could fulfill his demands.
Shang Qinghua talked nonsense and made no sense, and he had always been this way. Mobei-Jun had made his mistakes - he had been arrogant and cruel and ignorant, and more, and worse - but his human being like this had not helped.
“I’m still young,” Shang Qinghua offered, desperately, when Mobei-Jun said nothing. “I still have opportunities to rise in status and be very useful to you, my king.”
“...Fine,” Mobei-Jun said.
So, Shang Qinghua would not tell him why he took on his strange tasks. Shang Qinghua still would not fully explain why he had chosen Mobei-Jun - like he had not when he had left him, speaking his nonsense and things that made too much sense. Mobei-Jun would have to find a way to make Shang Qinghua tell him.
He did not know how to do this. He did not know where to start.
Shang Qinghua brightened in front of him. “I’ll be very, very useful to you, my king,” he repeated. “The most useful servant you’ve ever had! Just let me follow you for the rest of my life and you’ll never regret it!”
Mobei-Jun wanted him to stop saying that.
“Eat,” he snapped, instead.
“Ah… okay…” Shang Qinghua said, taken aback, eagerness fading.
It made Mobei-Jun regret snapping, but it had felt as though something much worse inside him would have snapped if Shang Qinghua had kept repeating the promise that he had broken. They ate the rest of the meal in silence.
Mobei-Jun pushed the untouched funds across the table towards Shang Qinghua, and said, “Put this away.” He had had little else to do but stare at the funds over the course of the meal. Seeing them rest in the open like this… it felt as though Shang Qinghua had not accepted Mobei-Jun providing for him. Mobei-Jun did not like this.
Things would be different this time. Shang Qinghua needed to accept this.
Shang Qinghua eyed the gold, silver, and jewels like he thought that they might bite him. “...Ah, where?” he said, as though he did not at least have pockets.
“In your purse. Before it is stolen.”
“Well, I suppose… my king, this is really a lot…”
“I have plenty more.”
Shang Qinghua said something quiet, with his teeth clamped shut, which did not sound complimentary. There was no reason to be concerned Mobei-Jun would accuse him of stealing from him. If Mobei-Jun had his way, the human would learn in time that what belonged to Mobei-Jun also belonged to him.
“It is yours. Put it away,” Mobei-Jun repeated.
Shang Qinghua hastily made a purse appear from somewhere on his person and the funds disappeared into it, before the purse disappeared again. Mobei-Jun nodded, satisfied. He would have to remember to deliver these funds regularly, without waiting for Shang Qinghua to ask, in order to show his appreciation and respect.
After eating a hot meal, Mobei-Jun felt overheated and found himself looking at the bathtub longingly, and Shang Qinghua volunteered to bring him the water for another bath without his asking. Mobei-Jun warily accepted. Shang Qinghua didn’t even grumble as he fetched the water this time and Mobei-Jun did not know what precisely to make of that.
After he had finished fetching the water, however, he mumbled about busy-bodies and people minding their own business. Mobei-Jun felt reassured again, on familiar ground, as he went to soak in this second bath.
“Holy shit, the original goods was a real asshole, huh,” Shang Qinghua muttered to himself, as he wetted the makeshift curtain on the other side of the room. “He had it way fucking better than I thought! This isn’t how… never showed the backstory, though. Greedy bastard… taking advantage… guess the dynamic went badly somehow. Is this in character…? Seems weird… blackened over time maybe, like the protagonist did…”
As Mobei-Jun soaked, Shang Qinghua finished his chores and then puttered anxiously around the room, nudging at the work he had already completed. He kept asking Mobei-Jun if he needed anything. It was also ridiculous, infuriating, and endearing.
“Read to me,” Mobei-Jun snapped finally.
He had occasionally made Shang Qinghua read to him before, most often when the human had accidentally written a report in truly illegible handwriting. Sometimes, when Shang Qinghua was working in his house and Mobei-Jun was resting nearby, the request had been a desperate attempt to understand some of the invisible strands that his confusing human servant pulled around him. It had never truly worked.
But it would, at least, make Shang Qinghua be still.
Mobei-Jun gestured towards the book Shang Qinghua had left on the table. “Read to me,” he repeated. Then, for good measure, he added, “Sit down.”
“That book…? It’s… one of the books ordered for Qing Jing, it’s about… it’s poetry, my king,” Shang Qinghua said, sounding even more distressed than before. “I didn’t really pick it… it was just leftover in the cart… it was random.”
“Read it or go choose another.”
Shang Qinghua picked up the book on the table and sat down, looking unreasonably miserable. Mobei-Jun was unreasonably affected by this pout, though he also felt that this was the human’s own fault. He had given a second option.
After clearing his throat, Shang Qinghua began to recite. He stuttered, at first, trailing off in odd places, but eventually found his rhythm when Mobei-Jun did not react.
Mobei-Jun had not actually heard human poetry before. The rare demonic poetry that he had unwillingly encountered in his father’s court and the court of other demon lords tended towards far fewer words than human poetry apparently used. The fewer words, the better, as Mobei-Jun vaguely understood the demonic artform. Demonic poetry was rawer. It was more honest, he decided. Human poetry was too gentle and apparently sprawled in odd directions.
He could not keep track of all these unnecessary words and the excessive stream of at best vaguely related imagery. It was too confusing. Instead, he let Shang Qinghua’s voice wash over him as the human spoke of waterfowl in springtime and other random aspects of nature.
Shang Qinghua’s voice became hoarse before too long, the human coughed pathetically, so Mobei-Jun told him to stop reading and drink some water. After having to recite poetry about ducks and cranes, Shang Qinghua did not bother Mobei-Jun again, and instead sat quietly with some sewing task that he set himself. At least until Mobei-Jun, still healing and feeling ravenous again, sent him out for a second meal. Shang Qinghua was out the door as though he had been loosed by a bow.
Mobei-Jun soaked for two hours in total, by which time the last of the afternoon heat had given way to warm evening. By the time it was dark, Mobei-Jun lay on the bed and felt at peace in a way that he had not since before Shang Qinghua had left.
His eyes were closing on him again, the world fading away.
“Shang Qinghua,” he said.
This time, the human startled so badly that he knocked over a nearby shelf, which landed with a room-shaking CRASH. This forced Mobei-Jun to open both eyes, just to make sure that this ridiculous person had not injured himself. Shang Qinghua appeared not to have done himself harm. His eyes were very wide yet again, his mouth hanging open, looking fearfully between the shelf and Mobei-Jun on the bed.
“Sorry, my king! Sorry, I’ll just… I’ll fix that!”
Shang Qinghua quickly lifted the shelf and set it upright again - a task which likely would have been impossible for an ordinary human. Once he had done so, he looked fearfully towards Mobei-Jun, and then nearly crushed himself as the shelf teetered over again. He quickly had to catch it and reset it again. It was utterly ridiculous.
Mobei-Jun sighed heavily.
“Do not sleep on the floor,” Mobei-Jun said.
“Oh, ah, alright.”
Message delivered, Mobei-Jun closed his eyes again. Shang Qinghua stayed still at first, but eventually Mobei-Jun heard footsteps taking the human around the room again as he dealt with some few remaining details. Again, Shang Qinghua muttered under his breath as he did so.
“...must have said it earlier… wrong one, though… shit, I’ve got to watch my mouth more… ah, it’s probably fine, isn’t it…? Not like it matters in the long run…”
They passed four days like this. The heat was disgusting, but Mobei-Jun slowly healed and Shang Qinghua served him as well as he ever had, then they slept side by side in the bed. Mobei-Jun endeavored to show that he would be a fair and generous master. Shang Qinghua was naturally fearful, he told himself, so it would take great patience for Mobei-Jun to show the human that he had nothing to fear from him.
As this young Shang Qinghua brought him medicine, food, drinking water, and baths, as Shang Qinghua spoke to him about his sect and read from the books he bought in town, Mobei-Jun thought about the human’s promise.
“I want to follow you for the rest of my life,” Shang Qinghua had said.
What the strange human had not said before, and did not say now, was apparently this: “I want to follow you so long as you are worth following.”
Power was the way of Mobei-Jun’s world. The one who was more powerful was the king and all others were forced to follow or die - at least until they could betray their king and seize power for themselves. There was no choice. Yet… he had only become king by Shang Qinghua’s power. He would only become king again by Shang Qinghua’s power and by Shang Qinghua’s choice. This knowledge had infuriated him, confused him, and enthralled him before. It still did.
Shang Qinghua had chosen him.
He had not known then, heady with this realization, that Shang Qinghua could or would go back on his promise. He had reveled in being chosen. Of course he had been chosen, he had decided in his arrogance, confident that Shang Qinghua knew his place and the differences between them. Yet he knew now that, at any moment, if the wrong thing was done, if the wrong thing was said, it was possible for Shang Qinghua to choose again and differently.
Mobei-Jun did not know how to be worth following. He did not know how to make Shang Qinghua stay this time. He believed that he knew what had been his greatest mistakes, but he did not know if they would be enough. He knew how to do things wrongly now, he believed, but that did not mean he knew how to do things right for Shang Qinghua.
He and Shang Qinghua had seen their relationship very differently. Even if Mobei-Jun could make Shang Qinghua stay, he did not know how to be worth… anything more.
This helplessness was enraging.
Yet Mobei-Jun swallowed this rage, for Shang Qinghua was here and slowly but surely losing his fear of him, and he thought that… he thought that this could be enough for him.
When Shang Qinghua returned from browsing the market stalls for foods, listing off the delicious options supposedly for Mobei-Jun’s benefit, Mobei-Jun would pick whichever one Shang Qinghua seemed to favor the most.
Soon, without prompting during their shared meals, Shang Qinghua would tell him at length about the comparably poor food offered by An Ding Peak, and would ask him many questions about food in the Demon Realm. Mobei-Jun would not have expected any human to have spent so much time thinking about what demons ate, having apparently considered at length what local wildlife and plantlife meant for demonic diets. Most humans seemed to be ridiculously convinced that all demons ate them - true for some, admittedly, but not all - but Shang Qinghua was not an ordinary human. He was endlessly curious.
Shang Qinghua begged Mobei-Jun for permission to seek out different books to read aloud. “Better books! Much better, less… uh… flowery books, my king!” he claimed. So Mobei-Jun granted permission and said, “Purchase a book to your own tastes.”
“My taste?” Shang Qinghua squawked. “My taste is… ah… my taste isn’t… good…”
“I see,” Mobei-Jun said. “Do it anyway.”
Shang Qinghua came back with tales of human cultivator warriors, which he claimed to be popular tales in the Human Realm, and when Mobei-Jun asked if they were to his taste, Shang Qinghua declared, “These sorts of things are to everyone’s tastes, aren’t they?” This made Mobei-Jun certain that Shang Qinghua had not truly obeyed his order.
Still, these stories were far easier to follow than the poetry, and Shang Qinghua actually occasionally commented on what he was reading this time. He began to do it more and more often when Mobei-Jun did not object. Mobei-Jun would have put up with far more inane stories for the precious and elusive gift of Shang Qinghua’s personal thoughts on the way that humans did things. Finally, a dim light was shining on a path that had been frustratingly dark and full of deep pitfalls for a very long time.
As the days passed, Shang Qinghua asked Mobei-Jun more and more questions about himself as well. Mobei-Jun was… flattered by this young Shang Qinghua’s open curiosity and admiration. He was also reluctant to answer and potentially make himself so vulnerable so quickly. A strange anger reared up in his chest despite himself. Had Shang Qinghua tried to understand him like this before? Had he rejected these attempts? Or had Shang Qinghua been too afraid?
Yet, stiltedly, Mobei-Jun answered them. Most of them. The first question to which he remained silent for too long, Shang Qinghua hastily, with surprising deftness, moved on to another question on a completely different subject.
“What’s the Ice Palace like?” Shang Qinghua would ask.
“Cold, with high ceilings and many ostentatious treasures,” Mobei-Jun would answer.
“What kind of ostentatious treasures?” Shang Qinghua would ask next, curiosity roused, sometimes bouncing on his toes if he was standing. “The heads and claws of great demonic beasts? The weapons and armor of fallen enemies? Magical birds and rare flowers that bloom once every thousand years?”
“The trophies, yes. The flowers, no.”
“Aha, I guess not in the Northern Desert, huh?”
“Mm, too cold! Ice demons don’t do a lot of gardening, I guess! Haha!”
“There is a greenhouse in the Ice Palace.”
“It was kept by one of my great-grandfather’s wives. It is now in disrepair.”
“Oh. That’s disappointing,” Shang Qinghua would say.
“Yes,” Mobei-Jun would reply.
“I would fix it for you if you asked me,” he would not say. “If it would make you stay.”
These four days in the past felt like an entirely separate life to the time in the future in which Shang Qinghua was missing. Here, it was just the two of them. By the third day, Shang Qinghua would smile at him, especially when returning triumphantly with another meal. By the fourth day, Mobei-Jun said something that accidentally caused Shang Qinghua to laugh and Shang Qinghua did not apologize to him for it.
Then, on the fifth day, Shang Qinghua left and did not return. He left in search of food, as he had many times before, and after half-an-hour, dread began to stir beneath Mobei-Jun’s heart. After an hour passed, he was furious with himself. With Shang Qinghua. With the world.
Shang Qinghua had left him.
Again, Shang Qinghua had left him!
It seemed inevitable: Shang Qinghua would always leave him.
He had… not forgotten that this would happen… but he had forgotten that this would happen so quickly. He had known that people from Cang Qiong Mountain Sect would find Shang Qinghua and tell him to return - they would find the bodies that Mobei-Jun had left behind and demand answers from Shang Qinghua - and Mobei-Jun’s new human servant would just follow them back and leave him behind! Again!
Before, it had been infuriating. It had been overwhelmingly and unreasonably infuriating for the loss of some random human Mobei-Jun had just met.
Before, Shang Qinghua had made good points in his defense when Mobei-Jun had found him again. If Shang Qinghua had fought, he would have been killed in the struggle. If he had tried to run away, they would have dragged him back. If he had revealed himself to have sworn himself to a demon, they would have executed him on the spot.
They would not do that this time, would they? No! No, they would not! Shang Qinghua was clever! Shang Qinghua was too clever to get himself killed here.
If he did… if Shang Qinghua left him like that… Mobei-Jun would not forgive him.
But Shang Qinghua would not leave him like that. That was not how it had happened before. It would not happen now. There was no need, Mobei-Jun told himself, to track down the cultivators who had taken Shang Qinghua from him and kill them like he had killed the others. He would not do that. He could, but he would not do that.
He did not have mastery over his powers at this point in time. His powers were underdeveloped. His body had not even reached its full adult height or weight - he was almost thin, he felt too light. Certain Cang Qiong Mountain Sect cultivators could be dangerous, very dangerous indeed, and Mobei-Jun did not desire to get himself killed or accidentally get Shang Qinghua killed. He would not be a fool about this. There was no need to be a fool about this.
Shang Qinghua would be returning safely to his sect.
He would become a Peak Lord in time. They would not execute him.
Before, Shang Qinghua also could have set his fellow cultivators on an unaware Mobei-Jun. He had not. He had kept them from looking around for Mobei-Jun at all. Mobei-Jun had been enraged by the implication that he could not handle these humans.
Before, Mobei-Jun had not wanted to hear any of these excuses, no matter how well-reasoned. He had not… reacted well. His new servant had abandoned him without warning in the Human Realm, so Mobei-Jun had seen no other option but to deliver a warning never to do such a thing again. The warning had not seemed so cruel to him then, merely firm, as he was completely unfamiliar with the softness of a human being.
This had been a mistake.
He felt that same fury now, but he would not make that same mistake. Never again.
Mobei-Jun gathered the belongings that Shang Qinghua had left behind, wrapping the supplies, books, and clothing up into one bedsheet. His actions were too rough and everything spilled onto the floor again. It was… overwhelmingly frustrating. Mobei-Jun remembered what he had done in this situation before: he had waited longer for Shang Qinghua to return, he had not known what had happened and been even angrier, and the room had suffered for his anger before he had stepped away through the shadows.
He clenched his fists. It was tempting to make that happen again, but he did not.
Instead, he went to his knees and more carefully wrapped up everything that had spilled to the floor, knotting the bedsheet. He wrapped this up in a second bedsheet and then lifted it. Then he focused and stepped through the shadows to a place that he had visited many times before in another life: Shang Qinghua’s room on An Ding Peak when he had been an outer disciple.
Before, in another life, he had set a tracker on Shang Qinghua, when the human had begged to leave the inn to fetch more supplies. He had watched through the shadows, seething, until the human had finally been alone again. He had not bothered to do so this time.
Shang Qinghua’s room was small, smaller than the room at the inn and even more humble, and so was the bed. Mobei-Jun’s anger bubbled in his chest with sudden longing for the Leisure House that Shang Qinghua had gained as Peak Lord. He had been able to stand up properly in that house. In this one, Mobei-Jun had to stoop to move about and his feet hung off the end of the bed. He did not like this room.
Shang Qinghua would have to get a better one. Immediately.
Or Mobei-Jun would have to take control of one of the palaces in the Northern Desert and convince the human to leave Cang Qiong Mountain Sect. This… could not happen immediately. It was more complicated than that.
Well, one of them would gain better accommodations as soon as possible, then.
He could be patient.
For Shang Qinghua, he had to be patient.
Shang Qinghua had left him again, but this time he would return.
Shang Qinghua had to return.
Mobei-Jun had healed well these past days, but he was still embarrassingly drained by stepping through the shadows all the way to this place. He dropped the sack made of bedsheets onto the table, then laid down on the bed. He then resisted the urge to destroy the bed simply because his feet hung off the end unless he curled up slightly.
The position made his still-healing injury throb.
The room had a window, tightly shuttered, with a minor spell of protection keeping it locked, but Mobei-Jun could see sunlight through the cracks. He recalled that Shang Qinghua had not returned to his sect until night had nearly fallen.
Mobei-Jun had until then to figure out how to make clear that Shang Qinghua was not permitted to leave him. Not permanently. Every time that Shang Qinghua left him, the human had to return. Mobei-Jun had to make these important things clear as soon as possible. He had been lulled into complacency by the peace, safety, and comfort of the past days in Shang Qinghua’s company, but it was urgent that there could be no room for misunderstanding in the human’s importance to him and the future of their relationship.
Shang Qinghua had… a great capacity for misunderstanding Mobei-Jun’s words and gestures. He had strange ideas for how to make intentions clear. Mobei-Jun had tried to follow these strange ideas, when the human had offered insight to Luo Binghe’s situation with Shen Qingqiu, and somehow it had solved nothing. Things had seemed to get better, only for everything to then get much worse.
Luo Binghe had also only made things worse, at least at first. This had been unfortunate, but was now also gratifying. Mobei-Jun had not been alone in misunderstanding, even though Luo Binghe had been… much better at dealing with people than Mobei-Jun was. Shang Qinghua’s advice had been extremely unclear to others as well.
Mobei-Jun needed something that would not be misunderstood. He needed something that could not be misunderstood. He needed something that not even Shang Qinghua could misunderstand.
He fell asleep like this, waiting for Shang Qinghua to return to him.
The sound of an unlocking door brought Mobei-Jun back to consciousness. He opened his eyes to darkness, only a very dim light coming through the shuttered windows. Relief and anger rose up in equal measure as the door opened, revealing the young and now exhausted-looking Shang Qinghua.
“Ahhh… thank goodness everyone is so distracted by whatever the fuck is wrong with Shen-Shixiong now. It really takes the heat off…”
Shang Qinghua closed and locked the door behind him. His arms were full of bedding and some other items, and his mind apparently set on placing them on his small table. Shang Qinghua froze to see the unravelling bedsheet sack Mobei-Jun had already put there, then his head snapped towards the bed as Mobei-Jun sat up to glare at him.
Mobei-Jun could not help but say, “Following me for the rest of your life, hm?”
Shang Qinghua dropped the teacup in his hand, falling to his knees with a fearful cry. “My king, please, please let me explain! I wanted to come back, I really did, but fate was against me and I ran directly into a shixiong who knew me. I didn’t want him to ask too many questions! He was asking questions and I was terrified that I would let something slip, then people would start looking for you, my king, and there’d be troub-”
“Shut up!” Mobei-Jun barked. He had no patience for these excuses a second time, whether or not they had been well-reasoned. He was trying not to be angry.
Shang Qinghua gave another fearful cry, curling in on himself. “What else could I have done?! My king, I couldn’t fight them! I could never defeat them! I couldn’t reveal myself as your undercover agent either-!”
Mobei-Jun got to his feet and… hit his head on this wretched ceiling. He stooped, breathed deeply, then crossed the room. Shang Qinghua only got louder.
When had Mobei-Jun given him reason to be afraid this time?! This was impossible!
“I’ve already become an inner disciple, isn’t that progress?! Please, my king, please… I didn’t mean to leave you!”
Mobei-Jun grabbed Shang Qinghua by the back of his clothes and pulled him up again. Everything in the human’s arms spilled to the floor. Shang Qinghua yelped, then went completely silent as Mobei-Jun brought them face to face.
“I am not angry,” Mobei-Jun snarled.
Shang Qinghua made a squeaking sound in the back of his throat. “Uh, my king, I am so grateful to hear that. Thank you for being merciful and for… not being angry.”
Mobei-Jun breathed in deeply again, aware of the discrepancy between his words and his tone. His tone of voice was exactly as angry as he was, to say he was not was a lie, but he would not take it out on Shang Qinghua. He needed to show Shang Qinghua that he would never do so. Pushing Shang Qinghua up against the door was not the way to do this, even if it was to get the ridiculous human off his knees.
He leaned back and pulled Shang Qinghua forward, but not roughly. He could not be too rough with Shang Qinghua here. He would not repeat his mistakes.
He was going to make things clear.
Mobei-Jun pushed Shang Qinghua down so that the human was sitting on the bed, then Mobei-Jun sat down beside him. Shang Qinghua was staring at him with wide eyes which darted anxiously between Mobei-Jun and the door.
“You did not leave me on purpose,” Mobei-Jun said. “So you are forgiven.”
Nodding fervently, Shang Qinghua said, “Thank you, my king, for being so understanding and magnanimous! I would never leave you on purpose-!”
“No,” Mobei-Jun interrupted, agreeing with him despite the fact that it was a lie. He would make this lie into a truth this time. “You will not. You have sworn to follow me for the rest of your life. You will never leave me. And I will never leave you.”
“O-oh, that’s… thank you…? Thank you, my king!” Shang Qinghua seemed confused, but happy. He had clearly never expected his loyalty to be returned in any way. “My king, I-”
There would not be any misunderstandings this time.
Mobei-Jun leaned forward, eyes closing, and kissed Shang Qinghua.
Shang Qinghua stiffened, making a noise of surprise in the back of his throat, despite his closed lips. They were warm to the touch, as Mobei-Jun had expected they would be. He had not expected Shang Qinghua to stay so still, however.
Mobei-Jun drew back.
Shang Qinghua did not appear to be breathing.
“Shang Qinghua,” Mobei-Jun said.
The human started to breathe again, though raggedly. “My king?! W-what was that?”
“What do you think?” Mobei-Jun demanded.
He did not know how to make things any clearer than this.
“I don’t… I’m not sure, my king? I, ah… maybe you should do it… again?”
Mobei-Jun did not have any other ideas. If this suggestion did not work, he was going to be extremely upset for a very long time, before he threw himself into a desperate search for anyone in this world who would tell him how (in words of Shang Qinghua) the fuck to successfully communicate his intentions and woo this ridiculous, infuriating, endearing man.
He leaned forward and kissed Shang Qinghua again.
This time, Shang Qinghua kissed him back. This was much better.
This time, Mobei-Jun did not draw back, but pressed even further forward. More kisses followed, then deepened. Eventually, Mobei-Jun’s hand came up to cup Shang Qinghua’s face, gently, and then one of Shang Qinghua’s arms went around his neck.
Shang Qinghua’s other hand was sneaking under the robes he had so painstakingly repaired, feeling over Mobei-Jun’s chest. It took great effort to remain gentle then. Humans were soft, Mobei-Jun reminded himself firmly, they were… so very… very soft.
Then Shang Qinghua lay back and physically dragged Mobei-Jun down.
Mobei-Jun could do nothing but follow. He held himself above Shang Qinghua still, determined to be careful, he had to be careful, but the hand that had snuck inside Mobei-Jun’s robes wrapped around his waist and pulled. The weight of Mobei-Jun’s body was brought down against Shang Qinghua’s own.
Things were already very warm, but this turned things undeniably hot. Especially when, instead of protesting being partly squished, this contact only seemed to make Shang Qinghua kiss him more fiercely. When Mobei-Jun briefly pulled back, to suck in a deeper breath, Shang Qinghua followed him to steal it from him. It was nearly merciless.
This continued until Mobei-Jun lost track of time altogether.
There was only Shang Qinghua, beneath him, soft and warm and eager. There was only Shang Qinghua’s clever tongue and Shang Qinghua’s clever hands and Shang Qinghua. Who was here. Who was real. Who finally, finally understood.
There was also Shang Qinghua’s leg somehow managing to knock against what had very recently been an open hole in Mobei-Jun’s kidney, as they attempted to shift position slightly. It was a surprisingly hard knock. Mobei-Jun had a great tolerance for pain, but he was not expecting this sudden flare of severe agony and broke off the kiss with a sharp inhale, reflexively moving away from the danger.
This bed was much smaller than Mobei-Jun’s own and much smaller than the one they had been sharing for the past several days, so instead of simply falling beside Shang Qinghua, Mobei-Jun accidentally rolled them both off the bed.
They landed with a hard THUMP.
Shang Qinghua landed heavily on Mobei-Jun injury and Mobei-Jun wheezed with renewed pain. Pain could be… invigorating… but Mobei-Jun found that he did not enjoy this one.
“Shit!” Shang Qinghua cried, throwing himself off. “My king, I’m so sorry!”
Mobei-Jun closed his eyes, still wheezing, and wondered what it would take for a third chance at meeting Shang Qinghua. He was still, apparently, in danger of being set aflame by sheer humiliation. He almost hoped it would be fatal.
Then Shang Qinghua, apparently desperate to make amends for his attack, shoved his arms beneath Mobei-Jun’s back and knees. With a great heave, Shang Qinghua lifted Mobei-Jun up into his arms and then back onto the bed. An Ding Peak disciples, the human had moaned often enough, got a lot of practice in heavy lifting. Through the pain, Mobei-Jun graciously decided that perhaps he could live with this, if he ended up in Shang Qinghua’s arms more often.
Shang Qinghua, now on his knees beside the bed, looked like he might cry. “My king, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to-!”
“It’s fine,” Mobei-Jun said.
“It’s really not!” Shang Qinghua nearly wailed.
He seemed as though he might go on at length about this. Mobei-Jun reached out, grasped Shang Qinghua by the back of the neck, and resumed their kissing. The pain had been unexpected, but it hadn’t dampened Mobei-Jun’s feelings at all.
“Mmph! My king!” Shang Qinghua complained, between kisses. “Really, I-!”
He soon stopped complaining.
The kissing continued, becoming less fervent and more comfortable. Shang Qinghua finally dragged himself away again to say, “My king, I would really, really like to continue this, possibly indefinitely, but you’re still injured and my neck is starting to hurt.”
He looked dazed. Mobei-Jun had managed to get a hand into his hair and now it was a mess. His lips were slightly reddened. It looked extremely appealing on him.
“Fine,” Mobei-Jun said, simultaneously pleased and displeased.
He could be patient for Shang Qinghua.
Mobei-Jun propped himself up on the bed, while Shang Qinghua moved his belongings from the floor to the table, pouring himself and Mobei-Jun each some water. Shang Qinghua forgot to drink most of his water, too busy staring at Mobei-Jun, or reaching up to touch his own reddened lips. Afterwards, Mobei-Jun lay back down.
“My king…? Are you…? This is Cang Qiong Mountain Sect.”
“You can’t stay here!” Shang Qinghua hissed. “It’s much too dangerous.”
Mobei-Jun had spent over two decades moving in and out of this sect without being caught, but the young Shang Qinghua looked genuinely distressed. “I will leave again in the morning,” he allowed, generously. “To return another time.”
Shang Qinghua would learn in time that his sect did not guard their shadows well.
“Oh, ah, alright. Alright, I… I guess that works…?”
Shang Qinghua changed for sleep, occasionally pausing to stare at Mobei-Jun. Mobei-Jun would stare back intently until Shang Qinghua came back to himself. Though he did shift his eyes to the ceiling at one point at the human’s stuttering request. Mobei-Jun truly did not understand the complexities of human modesty.
“Would… would my king like me to comb and braid his hair?”
“For sleep,” Shang Qinghua explained next. “My, ah… did you not comb your hair this morning…? When I didn’t come back? I could… I could do it now.”
It was true. Mobei-Jun had dressed, but neglected his hair, too caught up in the anger and terror of Shang Qinghua having left him again. He had not been having Shang Qinghua touch his hair these past few days, presuming it to be too much for the both of them, but Shang Qinghua had watched him attend to his hair with surprisingly intensity. Shang Qinghua seemed eager for the chance at this intimate service now. He already had a comb in hand, eyeing Mobei-Jun’s tangled hair with twitching hands and an expression of apparent longing.
“If you wish,” Mobei-Jun said.
Shang Qinghua apparently did wish. Very much.
Mobei-Jun felt himself melting under those clever hands, eyes closing and… stinging slightly from the sheer peace of it. Afterwards, he even allowed Shang Qinghua’s curious fingers to trace the shape of his ears and feel over the demon mark on his forehead.
Shang Qinghua had returned. Things were as they should be.
He only opened his eyes again when Shang Qinghua tried to move to the floor.
“No,” Mobei-Jun said.
He dragged Shang Qinghua back onto the bed, keeping him pointedly on his uninjured side. This bed was small and the fit was… very tight, but it would do. Shang Qinghua tried to object, but Mobei-Jun wrapped his arms around him, so Shang Qinghua gave up arguing and ended up burrowing almost gleefully against him instead.
“...’s’like huggable ice pack… how did I live without this before...”
“Mn! I’ll be quiet! Not… aha, not questioning this very sudden and unexpected and dream-like situation or anything…” Shang Qinghua agreed faintly. “I’m being quiet now, my king.”
Then he was, if one did not count his racing heart.
The arrangement was still too warm, but it was bearable. Cang Qiong Mountain Sect was apparently not sharing the same wretched summer heat… or else it had broken for tonight. Mobei-Jun would have this one last night of peace before he was forced to face the past in all its resentful glory, and began the climb that would regain him the power and position he needed to make himself worthy of Shang Qinghua.
Mobei-Jun did not think of this.
He would be ready to part from Shang Qinghua tomorrow. Somehow.
It was not tomorrow yet. Instead of making the plans that he would need to make as soon as possible, he focused on Shang Qinghua’s body against his own, the solid warmth of him in his arms, and Shang Qinghua’s slowing breaths over his skin. He could feel and hear Shang Qinghua’s heartbeat, finally turning steady and calm.
He was here. This was real. That was the most important thing.
Mobei-Jun would not give Shang Qinghua reason to leave him again.
He closed his eyes and slowly fell asleep.