Shen Qingqiu finished proofreading the last essay he assigned to his students. He didn't know whether his disciples were finally improving or if his exhaustion was making him believe so. He didn't trust his thinking processes as they were right now and he chose to keep the essays to himself for a couple of days. He would review them once he got a decent night of sleep. He hadn't had one of those in weeks.
The first Immortal Alliance Conference of the Qing generation took place several days ago and, even though barely any of the Peak Lords sent any disciples to the event, there still were piles of paperwork to fill in. Having the least amount of disciples participating, Cang Qiong Sect had to make up with administrative duties and An Ding Peak was soon overflown with them. Shen Qingqiu knew he had no obligation to help that traitorous rat, but a poorly executed Conference would reflect badly on the Sect and he couldn't allow that. Therefore, he took it up to himself to help as much as he could, which made him lose sleeping hours and part of his sanity. Only now did he manage to catch up with his work and he could finally rest for more than a couple of hours. The next day he would visit the Warm Red Pavilion. He hadn't been there in months and he missed the comfort and warmth of the women. After he became Peak Lord he tried to limit his visits to the brothel, but right now he was so tired he convinced himself he deserved the indulgence. He would be careful and it would be only for one night. He only had to endure it a little longer.
But at least for now, his work was done. It was close to midnight by the time he finished clearing his desk and he stood up to prepare himself for bed. Unfortunately, just as he was about to undo his hairdo, someone knocked on his door. The sound was clear yet not insistent. Instead, his visitor's qi flickered with enough intensity for Shen Qingqiu to discern his identity.
Shen Qingqiu sighed. He knew that the Sect Leader was wise enough to stay away from his bamboo house at such hours, which only meant that something related to the sect had happened and he needed his help.
The annoying throb of pain on his temples threatened to become a terrible headache, but he couldn't turn Yue Qingyuan down. Or, at least, not before listening to him. He reluctantly walked towards the main entrance and saluted the man who already had an annoyingly apologetic smile on his face.
"Qingqiu-shidi, this shixiong apologizes for visiting at this hour, but something urgent came up and I need your help with it."
Shen Qingqiu nodded and he guided Yue Qingyuan to his office. "What happened?"
"It's regarding Shunan Gao Sect," he said as he sat down and placed a wrinkled piece of paper over the desk. "One of the disciples we sent to survey the area was able to intercept this message, but it's coded. It might be a decoy, but I would rather not take the risk. I need your help to decode it."
Shen Qingqiu nodded as he skimmed through the characters written in the letter. Shunan Gao was a minor sect that was righteous and stupid enough to get on the wrong side of an extremely persistent group of demonic cultivators. Said group had been causing havoc on the sect's territory and, after losing a couple of disciples, Shunan Gao sought Cang Qiong's help. The demonic cultivators weren't particularly powerful, but they were numerous and they seemed to recruit new members at the same rate as they lost them. Cang Qiong had been dealing with them ever since the previous Peak Lord generation and Shen Qingqiu had studied their codes before. Yue Qingyuan did the right thing coming to him.
"I haven't seen this code before, but these people tend to use the same structure for all of them. It shouldn't take long for us to break it down." He stood up and searched among his archives the messages he previously deciphered and placed them over the desk. "Foolish men who think that just changing a couple of things will make their messages indecipherable once again..."
Together with Yue Qingyuan, they broke the code in a matter of hours. Luckily, the message was short and the intent clear. The demonic cultivators would try to kidnap the wife of one of the Shunan Gao elders in just a couple of hours and they barely had time enough to send a message back to their disciples instructing them to prepare for the attack.
By the time they were done with that, Shen Qingqiu was suffering from a terrible headache. His eyes stung and his brain was so exhausted he could no longer think clearly. His bad mood, in pause as he worked on the code, came back with a vengeance and he started clearing his desk hoping that would be the cue for Yue Qingyuan to leave.
"Thank you for your help, shidi," said the cursed man instead of bidding his goodbyes. "Hopefully we will be able to avert a tragedy."
"Hopefully next time Shunan Gao Sect will limit itself to enemies they can actually handle."
Judging from Yue Qingyuan's lack of response, his words were pronounced clearly and without hesitation, but on Shen Qingqiu's mind they were mechanical and blurry. He knew it wouldn't take long before his tongue slipped, which would surely raise concern in Yue Qingyuan. Shen Qingqiu was too tired to listen to his shixiong's guilt-ridden concern and he opted for the easy and rude way out.
"Since we are done here, Zhangmen-shixiong should go back to his Qiong Ding Peak. It's late now and he should get some rest, otherwise he won't be able to keep up with his duties tomorrow."
This time his words were lethargic and stammered and Shen Qingqiu cursed himself. He should've known he would be incapable of pronouncing so many words without giving away his exhaustion. Especially in front of Yue Qingyuan who, despite everything, was still the person who knew him best.
"Is something wrong, shidi?"
"This shidi is tired," he muttered as he stood up trying to escape the inevitable.
That, of course, was a terrible idea. His vision blurred and a flash of dizziness made him stumble. He would've fallen flat to his face if it weren't for Yue Qingyuan, who caught him right on time.
If Shen Qingqiu had been on his right senses, he would've shoved him away. That man had no right to hold him, but at that moment he was feeling so out of himself he couldn't even complain when Yue Qingyuan took his arm into his hand and checked his pulse.
The man whispered something, but Shen Qingqiu couldn't hear him. He was too focused on the way Yue Qingyuan's warm qi circulated through his body. It was almost as warm as the arm around his waist.
"You're far more than tired," said Yue Qingyuan. His voice was stern and grave, but for a strange reason it comforted Shen Qingqiu. When it came to his shidi, Yue Qingyuan was always indolent and condescending. It annoyed Shen Qingqiu to no end and it seemed that being capable of stirring something out of the Sect Leader stirred something inside himself too.
"If you keep this up you're going to have a qi deviation," the man assured as he guided him toward the bedroom. "This is my fault. I shouldn't have come so late at night."
Again with his idiotic self-flagellation! Yue Qingyuan was lucky Shen Qingqiu could barely keep his head upright. Otherwise he would've kicked him out of his house already!
Then again, his arms were firm and caring as he led him through the house. Shen Qingqiu had decided he could afford some indulgences, hadn't he? Since Yue Qingyuan was willing, he might as well take advantage of him.
Yue Qingyuan sat him on the bed. He asked something, but even though Shen Qingqiu knew all the words he used, he couldn't make any sense of them. He was too tired to ask him to repeat himself, though, so he simply nodded hoping it would settle the issue.
Apparently, Yue Qingyuan had asked if he needed help to prepare for bed because the man suddenly rose his hands to Shen Qingqiu's head to remove his crown. His hands were clumsy and hesitant, but they were warmer and bigger than those of the women of the Warm Red Pavilion. Shen Qingqiu restrained a shiver, but couldn't contain a soft moan when the crown came off nor when Yue Qingyuan removed the lace that held his hair up. He must've tied his hair tighter than usual. Otherwise such a simple act wouldn't have caused him so much pleasure.
Shen Qingqiu thought that Yue Qingyuan's care would end up there, but he then started combing his hair. His space was painstakingly slow, as if he wanted to make sure every single hair was properly taken care of. The bristles were soft and soothed Shen Qingqiu to the point where part of his weight rested over Yue Qingyuan's shoulder. Unfortunately, that made him impossible for him to keep on brushing his hair. Shen Qingqiu couldn't help but frown when he stopped.
"Please endure a little bit more, shidi," said Yue Qingyuan as his hands circled his waist. Had Shen Qingqiu been on his right mind, he would've stopped him at that moment. It was improper for his shixiong to touch him like that. The Sect Leader shouldn't lower himself to act like a little servant boy. Moreover, those touches were completely uncalled for. If only he hadn't agreed to the help himself, Shen Qingqiu would hate him for his audacity. He had no idea Yue Qingyuan could be so shameless!
The tightness around his waist eased once Yue Qingyuan successfully removed his sash. After that, Shen Qingqiu thought things would become easier and quicker, but he was too tired to help Yue Qingyuan to remove his overcoat. Therefore, the foolish man had to hold Shen Qingqiu's arms and waist as he worked him out of his clothes.
Shen Qingqiu could tell he was trying his best to keep his touches to the bare minimum. Yet, the lingering feeling of his broad hands reminded Shen Qingqiu when they were a pair of orphans seeking comfort in each other's arms. It had been so long since Yue Qingyuan held him. If there weren't so many secrets and resentments between them, Shen Qingqiu would dare to ask him to hold him like this every day. Unfortunately, the secrets and resentments were still there and Shen Qingqiu allowed himself to enjoy the closeness only because his body didn't seem willing to put an end to it.
Tomorrow he would hate himself for his weakness; he would worry about the rumors that would surge after word came out that the Sect Leader visited Qing Jing late into the night. Yet, at that moment he was too warm and too tired to stop Yue Qingyuan's ministrations.
At one moment Yue Qingyuan shifted his body and laid him on the bed.
"I'm going to take off your boots now."
Yue Qingyuan dared to separate from Shen Qingqiu to kneel in front of him. Shen Qingqiu was about to complain when he felt a soft tug on his left foot. The boot came out with ease and Yue Qingyuan moved on to the other one. Shen Qingqiu tried to stop him once more, but he couldn't muster enough strength to raise his head. Before Shen Qingqiu could find a solution to his very serious problem, Yue Qingyuan removed his second boot. His feet felt almost weightless now and suddenly the idea of having Yue Qingyuan on his knees for him didn't feel as disgraceful as before. He chose to do something to keep things that way.
"Shixiong," he muttered, "the socks."
Yue Qingyuan emitted an amused huff as he placed both hands on the hem of his right sock.
"Of course, shidi. This shixiong will take care of it."
Yue Qingyuan's fingers slid down Shen Qingqiu's calf and their warmth contrasted heavily with the cold air that surrounded his now bared foot. Shen Qingqiu sighed contently as the annoying piece of cloth was set aside. It felt so good when Yue Qingyuan removed his second sock that he moaned softly as he stretched his toes as far as he could.
Even without Yue Qingyuan's hands on his body, Shen Qingqiu could tell by his silence and stillness that he was debating whether or not to do something. Annoyed by his sudden loss of confidence, Shen Qingqiu urged him into action by kicking his face with his right foot.
What on earth was he doing? Shen Qingqiu was exhausted and he wanted to sleep right away, but he wasn't in the right position nor did he have something to cover himself with. He wanted to tell Yue Qingyuan all this, but his eloquent thoughts were translated into something more succinct, though not as articulate as he wished for.
"Tuck me in."
Annoyingly, Yue Qingyuan still hesitated, but in the end he found the courage to do what Shen Qingqiu wanted him to do. He stood up and very slowly he moved Shen Qingqiu's body until his head and feet were where they were supposed to be. In normal situations, Shen Qingqiu would've hated to be manhandled like that, but it couldn't be helped. Besides, at that moment he was so drowsy he could even say he trusted Yue Qingyuan! He would never do anything untoward. He was far too boring for that.
Yue Qingyuan disappeared for a moment to come back later with a soft, new blanket he placed over Shen Qingqiu. The cloth was perfumed and he cuddled into it seeking its warmth and comfort. Unfortunately, the damn thing must've been broken, because it felt like a poor substitute for Yue Qingyuan's hands.
"Does shidi need anything else?"
Apparently, Shen Qingqiu did.
Yue Qingyuan gasped.
"If this shixiong stays the night, Qingqiu-shidi will hate him tomorrow," he muttered after a long pause.
"I already hate you," said Shen Qingqiu, but for whatever reason, his words didn't carry their usual poison. So much so that Yue Qingyuan chuckled instead of sighing with regret and remorse.
"I know," he said as he sat down on the bed.
Shen Qingqiu took Yue Qingyuan's robe and pulled him into the bed with all his remaining strength. Yue Qingyuan not only allowed this, but he also remained in place as Shen Qingqiu held him close. He was as broad and warm as when they were children, but years of having food on his plate made him softer than Shen Qingqiu could have ever hoped for.
Yue Qingyuan must've been feeling bold that night because he huddled together with Shen Qingqiu and he surrounded him with his arms. He nested his left hand on Shen Qingqiu's nape and he slowly stroked his hair, sending goosebumps all over his body.
"Is this alright?"
Shen Qingqiu answered with a grunt that was properly translated as 'yes'.
Yue Qingyuan was still fully clothed and his crown was probably sticking into his head, but Shen Qingqiu didn't care about such trivialities. He didn't even care about what rumors would rise the following day after people found out that the Sect Leader spent the entire night in his bamboo house.
All those were future Shen Qingqiu's problems. Present Shen Qingqiu was warm, comfortable and being held by his Qi-ge.
Soon, Shen Qingqiu fell asleep with the certainty that he was about to have the best night of his entire life.
If only it could be the first one of many…