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The village was lively, with banners strung up on buildings, and food stalls adorned with candles and shimmering cloth. Reds and pinks were used in abundance, not for clothing but for decoration. The majority of people walked in pairs, leaning close to each other while sharing sweets or trading gifts.

The sickly sweetness of everything made Shen Qingqiu feel bitter for various reasons.

Firstly, this festival that Cang Qiong had been begged to oversee due to an increase in nearby demonic beasts attacks was such a clear rip off of Valentine’s Day that it made Shen Qingqiu’s head hurt.

From the heart decorations, to the couples publicly flaunting their affections (which felt even weirder in a Xianxia setting), it was Shen Qingqiu’s lonely high school nightmare brought back to haunt him. We get it people, you’re all very much in love! No need to rub it in for all the eternally single people out there!

On the bright side, Shen Qingqiu wasn’t actually alone. Although was having Liu Qingge at his side right now really any better?

He didn’t mean that in a rude way! Liu-shidi was great! He was cool, and nice to be around, and definitely the guy you wanted with you if demons were to come knocking! 

The only thing was… he and Liu Qingge had already taken care of all the beasts before the festival had even started!

It had been Shen Qingqiu’s idea to scope out the village surroundings early, and with Liu Qingge’s expert tracking skills, the two of them had easily dispatched the horde of Multi-fanged Mongoose who fit the description of the village’s recent tormentors. But even after reporting their success, the village chief had begged them to stay for the festival as thanks and as a precaution to ensure the festival went smoothly. 

Shen Qingqiu had readily agreed, all too happy to indulge himself in good food and fun stalls, and maybe to see if he could get his shidi to loosen up for the evening.

If he’d known this whole thing was just a condensed romance movie in the form of a festival he would have refused for sure!

Now he and Liu Qingge were walking down the street, while everyone and their mother were trying to sneak glimpses at the supernaturally handsome Peak Lord Liu! Shen Qingqiu couldn’t necessarily blame them, but isn’t it in poor taste to ogle another man while spending a romantic evening with your partner?

It made Shen Qingqiu silently wish someone less striking had been sent with him, even if the casual conversation between the two of them was easy, and allowed Shen Qingqiu to gush over the monsters they’d vanquished earlier.

Shen Qingqiu sighed, fanning himself lightly.

They’d done two laps of the main street now and Shen Qingqiu was already tired of all the declarations of love his cultivator’s hearing forced him to overhear.

“How much longer do we have to be here?” Shen Qingqiu asked his companion, trying and failing not to sound whiny.

Liu Qingge had the gall to snort at him.

“You seemed excited about the festival earlier. Tired already?” 

“No, not tired… well maybe a little bit. But it’s more like--” Shen Qingqiu searched for the right words. “--does Liu-shidi not find this particular festival a little… garish? Too in your face?”

“Not more so than other festivals,” Liu Qingge shrugged.

Liu-shidi, look around! There’s heart-shaped sugar art on every physical surface!

“Well Liu-shidi would prefer to spend an evening in the woods rather than surrounded by crowds in a festival such as this,” Shen Qingqiu chuckled to himself, elbowing Liu Qingge playfully in the shoulder.

Liu Qingge went a bit red in turn, probably from the lighting of the festival dancing off his cheeks.

“Yes,” Liu Qingge confirmed without argument. “But you wouldn’t.”

Of course Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t rather spend the night in the woods. Ceramic pillows in inns were bad enough, Shen Qingqiu didn’t want to sleep on the ground! Yes, he knew he didn’t technically need to sleep on these trips, but why disrupt his sleep schedule needlessly?

“True, but the woods are starting to seem more appealing,” Shen Qingqiu scrunched up his face as he spotted a couple getting handsy out of the corner of his eye.

Despite the words being mostly a joke, Liu Qingge seemed to take them seriously.

“What’s so bad about this festival?” Liu Qingge asked, slowing the pace of their walking with his question.

Liu-shidi could be such a gentleman sometimes, acting all concerned for Shen Qingqiu’s sake like this. Or at least he could when he wasn’t kicking down doors and bluntly speaking his mind with no thought to the consequences of them.

Shen Qingqiu found he liked the blunt side of his shidi as well though. 

“It’s nothing to worry about, Liu-shidi,” Shen Qingqiu said with a sigh, reaching the acceptance stage of grief toward being surrounded by enough PDA to have a shoujo manga fan die from overdose.

Liu Qingge didn’t seem to have reached acceptance in letting it drop though.

“It’s not nothing if it bothers you,” Liu Qingge countered.

Shen Qingqiu lied, Liu Qingge’s stubborn bluntness was only something he liked on certain occasions.

Oh well, if Liu Qingge wanted to hear him rant about the woes of being eternally single and surrounded by a village full of happy couples, Shen Qingqiu would happily comply.

But before the spitting of vitriol could begin, Shen Qingqiu heard someone clear their throat behind him.

“Excuse me Immortal Masters, this one has brought a small offering in hopes you are enjoying yourselves,” a woman decked out in pink said sweetly, holding out a small box for Shen Qingqiu to take.

“There is no need for gifts, Cang Qiong is simply performing its duties,” Shen Qingqiu responded plainly.

The woman’s hold on the box tightened.

“This one still believes Immortal Master deserves a gift for his efforts,” the woman said, stepping a little closer.

Well it wasn’t like he could refuse her twice without looking like a total douchebag.

“Ah, this master thanks you then,” Shen Qingqiu replied, taking the box.

The woman smiled, the rouge on her cheeks shining extra brightly, before she scurried off through the crowd.

Now Shen Qingqiu felt a little bad for internally bashing the festival so much. It was a happy celebration, and Shen Qingqiu really shouldn’t let his own bitterness spoil it. 

He felt less bad when the crowd erupted in cheers at the fourth successful proposal of the night.

Spotting a nearby empty bench somewhat removed from the festivities, Shen Qingqiu felt a rather strong need to sit down. 

“Would Liu-shidi mind terribly if we sat for a while?” Shen Qingqiu asked.

Liu Qingge grunted an affirmation, busy eyeing the box Shen Qingqiu held with a strange animosity. Maybe he was suspicious of the contents? Well they could check it together on the bench, not that Shen Qingqiu thought the woman from before had any bad intentions. 

Shen Qingqiu sat down with an elegant plop. The bench was a wood build, with an engraving on it that Shen Qingqiu didn’t want to risk reading in fear of being exposed to sappy romantic prose. Liu Qingge dropped onto the bench next to him.

Shen Qingqiu opened the box to peek at its contents. He was momentarily pleased when a dozen little sweets became visible, until he noticed that Liu Qingge looked even more disgruntled. Ah, well there was always the chance the sweets could be tampered with, but his shidi was really overthinking the whole thing. No need to blow up the gift with your mind, Liu-shidi!

They sat in silence for a moment, Shen Qingqiu having pocketed the box into a qiankun pouch to simply gaze at the festivities from afar. It really was like going to watch a romantic movie in theatres, where every seat was taken by couples being overly sweet and sneaking kisses when they thought nobody was looking.

It was almost worse here though, since no one bothered to hide anything, too caught up in their own world to bother with others. The power of love must be truly amazing to stop so many people from being embarrassed while making-out right in the open. It wasn’t even just that though. The adoring looks these people wore were straight out of a fairy tale. 

“Does Liu-shidi hope to find love one day?” Shen Qingqiu found himself asking completely out of nowhere.

“W-what-- Shen Qingqiu, you-- what are you talking about?!” Liu Qingge sputtered in an angry stupor, meeting Shen Qingqiu’s eyes briefly before looking away.

Whoops. Sorry Liu-shidi, that was kind of uncalled for.

Well, Shen Qingqiu was curious about it even if he hadn’t meant to ask out loud. Liu-shidi seemed much too preoccupied with his cultivation for something like romance, but perhaps he was just waiting to save the ideal damsel in distress like the knight in shining armor he was. It made Shen Qingqiu feel a little bummed, knowing if Liu Qingge met someone that Shen Qingqiu would be left behind.

The person who Liu Qingge chose would have to be pretty special to deserve him though. Loyal, kind, reliable, and beautiful, Liu-shidi really was the full package! And he was fun to ramble to and tease! 

Shen Qingqiu wasn’t sure Liu-shidi’s partner would be able to handle the intensity of some of Liu Qingge’s stares though. Sometimes Shen Qingqiu felt a shiver down his own spine when he noticed Liu Qingge staring at him from the corner of his eye. And if those were ‘friend stares’, Shen Qingqiu could hardly imagine what ‘romantic stares’ would be like! Probably powerful enough to blow Liu-shidi’s ‘friend stares’ out of the water!

Shen Qingqiu felt like he’d miss those stares if they were directed at someone else though…

“What about you?” Liu Qingge asked, breaking Shen Qingqiu from his thoughts.

“Me?” 

Liu Qingge scrunched his brow and his ears turned a cute pink.

“Do you… want to find… someone?” Liu Qingge asked like it was physically painful to do so.

Shen Qingqiu immediately regretted asking Liu Qingge in the first place. This really was an embarrassing question to answer. It was, however, at least a question that Shen Qingqiu had the answer to.

“Even if this shixiong desired love and romance, it simply isn’t in the cards. This world isn’t one where someone would like me in that way,” Shen Qingqiu said with a shrug. “So it makes more sense to focus on other things.”

It was true. The Shen Qingqiu of this world was a scum villain. A person despised by nearly everyone, and loved by no one. Sure, he’d changed things enough that he had acquaintances now, and even a friend or two, but Shen Qingqiu wasn’t created for romance.

Even ignoring the whole ‘every woman is destined to fall for Luo Binghe’ thing, no one would love Shen Qingqiu. It wasn’t as though Shen Yuan had been sought after in his previous life either, but it might have been a prospect then. Now it was just an impossibility. An aspect of this world closed off to Shen Qingqiu all together.

He had accepted it though. Sure it’d been a little sad at first, but there were other things to prioritize. Like surviving. And hey, cultivating was cool! He wasn’t even that lonely with his disciples and his martial siblings around anyways. Finding someone for him was just a far off dream, and one he preferred not to think about.

“You’re being serious?” Liu Qingge asked incredulously.

Why on earth would he joke about something like this, Liu-shidi?

Oh haha, just kidding, I have a whole harem of people vying for my attention Shidi, I was just joking.

What a ridiculous thought.

“Of course Shidi, this one is only speaking the truth.”

“You don’t think anyone would ever have feelings for you?” Liu Qingge spoke like Shen Qingqiu had said something completely insane. It was a bit touching actually.

“While this one appreciates Liu-shidi’s disbelief, he should know better than most the kind of person this shixiong is. This one is simply not someone others would fall for, let alone take to a festival like this to romance and woo,” Shen Qingqiu replied. “It’s okay though, Liu-shidi. This shixiong has long since accepted this.”

Liu Qingge looked… well angry was the easiest description, but not quite the most accurate one. Offended maybe? Or maybe this conversation concerning romance was simply grating on his nerves? Or… was it that Shen Qingqiu had made this conversation all about himself like selfish scum? Shit...

“There is no need to dwell on it. Anyways, I’m sure anyone would easily fall for Liu-shidi,” Shen Qingqiu said, shifting the focus of the conversation. “In fact, if he wished to enjoy the festivities without this one dragging him down, I’m sure he could catch the eye of whomever he desired.”

Ah, but don’t go being too much of a homewrecker Liu-shidi. Just because you could have this whole village falling over you doesn’t mean it was the way to go. Leave the harem stuff to the experts! Like Luo Binghe!

“You’re an idiot!” Liu Qingge spat, looking irate.

Okay, maybe assuming Liu Qingge wanted to go socialize during a love festival was a bit stupid of Shen Qingqiu. His shidi wasn’t really the social type.

“Liu-shidi need not do anything he doesn’t want to,” Shen Qingqiu replied.

“No! I meant that-- how could you actually think you’re so unwanted when I--” Liu Qingge seemed to bite his own tongue to stop his strange trail of words.

Aww, his shidi was so sweet, trying to comfort him despite knowing Shen Qingqiu was right. It really was fine though Liu-shidi, this old man is okay!

“We’re going,” Liu Qingge suddenly declared, standing and looking at Shen Qingqiu with an expectation that he do the same.

 Shen Qingqiu stood up with an inquisitive look.

“Shidi, we can’t leave until the festival is over,” Shen Qingqiu explained.

“I know.” 

Then Liu Qingge grabbed Shen Qingqiu’s hand and began leading him back towards the center of the festival. Shen Qingqiu didn’t really know what was happening but he let himself be led, overly aware of the fact that Liu Qingge was holding his hand even if Liu Qingge didn’t seem to realize what he was doing.

They maneuvered around various couples until they were in front of one of the brightly decorated stalls. The smell coming from it was sweet, which made sense considering they were selling edible spun sugar art on sticks. The scent was muffled somewhat by the incense lit by the stall right next to it though.

“I’ll take one,” Liu Qingge said to the man running the stall, slamming some currency onto the counter. 

Shen Qingqiu’s jaw dropped a little. Liu Qingge was really buying himself something so cute? He didn’t even like sweets!

“Uh… is there a particular shape Immortal Master desires?” The man sounded anxious, and was almost too scared to take the money Liu Qingge had presented.

And then, for who knows what reason, Liu Qingge looked at Shen Qingqiu for the answer with such an earnest expression that Shen Qingqiu found himself blushing.

You’re the one who wanted this Liu-shidi!

Still, Shen Qingqiu took pity on the stall-owner nervously waiting for the answer, and decided to respond.

“Any shape is fine. Whatever has been the most popular,” Shen Qingqiu said, earning a shaky smile from the man.

As the man got to work, Shen Qingqiu turned back to Liu Qingge.

“I thought Liu-shidi didn’t like sweets?” Shen Qingqiu asked.

“I don't,” Liu Qingge confirmed.

“...”

Then why were they at this stall?

“Would Liu-shidi like to get food at a different stall then?” Shen Qingqiu offered.

“Are you hungry?” Liu Qingge asked in response.

Liu-shidi! What does that have to do with anything? 

“Not really,” Shen Qingqiu answered, feeling overwhelmingly perplexed. 

“Then I don’t want to go to a different food stall.”

Shen Qingqiu gave up on understanding his companion’s behaviour. Did Liu Qingge think it was showing weakness to be hungry when Shen Qingqiu wasn’t? Either way, he wasn’t going to force Liu Qingge to eat or anything.

“Y-your order is finished,” the voice of the stall owner spoke up.

Liu Qingge reacted first, reaching for the sugar on a stick in a single motion, with only a nod to the man who replied with a shaky ‘thank you.’

Then the sticky treat was thrust directly in front of Shen Qingqiu’s face.

“For you,” Liu Qingge said almost like it was a challenge.

“For me?” Shen Qingqiu replied dumbly.

Liu Qingge nodded, shaking the little stick like Shen Qingqiu hadn’t seen it the first time.

A bit dumbstruck, Shen Qingqiu took the treat, unsure what vibes he’d been giving off to possess Liu Qingge to dash them directly to this stall. It made Shen Qingqiu feel things. A warmth at the silly gift from his shidi along with the general confusion of the whole thing. The warmth lit itself into a searing flame of embarrassment when Shen Qingqiu finally took in the shape of the gift.

He wasn't surprised that the sugar pop was shaped like a flower, but he also wasn’t prepared for it to be in the shape of an everlasting devotion rose. Said rose being almost mythic in its rarity, but extremely popular in tales of epic courtships due to the symbolism depicted in its name. Shen Qingqiu was going to faint with how fast the blood reached his cheeks.

Sneaking a peek at Liu Qingge only made Shen Qingqiu choke when his shidi looked pleased of all things, if not a little shy. Who was this man and what had he done with Liu Qingge? The Liu Qingge he knew dropped dead creatures in front of Shen Qingqiu, not candy representing eternal devotion! Well, Shen Qingqiu might prefer the candy and its lack of bloody clean-up, but it was still far more shocking.

Still, no reason to let it go to waste now that he had it.

Shen Qingqiu nibbled at the spun sugar, eyes widening in surprise by how good it was. It was so sweet and yummy and put a smile on his face.

“Thank you, Shidi,” Shen Qingqiu said, the strangeness (and mortal embarrassment) of the situation forgotten, replaced by excitement over the candy on a stick.

Hey! You’d be excited too if you lived in a world where most desserts failed to reach the intolerable sweetness of artificial candies from the modern world! Let him have this!

Liu Qingge stared somewhat weirdly as Shen Qingqiu brought the ancient xianxia lollipop to his lips again, before turning his head to look resolutely at the street. Huh… maybe Liu Qingge actually wanted one of the spun sugar pops after all?

“Does Liu-shidi wish to try it?” Shen Qingqiu offered, holding out the little stick.

The choking sound Liu Qingge made was almost comical.

“No, it’s fine,” he replied through gritted teeth.

Shen Qingqiu simply shrugged, before sticking the sweet back into his mouth to enjoy with a little hum. 

He’d honestly be happy to hang around and polish off the sugar treat, but Liu Qingge seemed to have other plans. Before Shen Qingqiu had even taken another bite, Liu Qingge’s hand was back in his, dragging him away from the sugar stall.

This time Shen Qingqiu found himself chuckling as he was pulled along, curious about whatever his shidi’s next destination was. 

It turned out the destination was less concrete this time. Liu Qingge was just dragging him from stall to stall, asking him to pick something, and then immediately purchasing it. It wasn’t very typical of Bai Zhan’s War God to go on such a shopping spree, but it was kind of sweet how he cared about Shen Qingqiu’s opinion. He probably cared a little too much though, since he didn't so much as question Shen Qingqiu’s choices despite Shen Qingqiu not knowing what it was Liu Qingge was looking for.

Then after visiting the fifth booth, Liu Qingge awkwardly dumped all his purchases into Shen Qingqiu’s arms to carry. It was a little rude, but Shen Qingqiu had a qiankun pouch so it wasn’t too much of a burden. It did make it easier to hide the little gift he’d bought for his shidi when the man had been looking the other way. He’d give it to his shidi once they completed this mission.

With the end of the impromptu shopping spree, Shen Qingqiu was in a significantly better mood than he had been earlier. The atmosphere felt lighter and he found himself paying much less attention to the couples around him. 

He was probably in a good enough mood to go back to patrolling without much complaint, but Liu Qingge seemed to have even more planned for the two of them.

Shen Qingqiu hadn’t really noticed where they’d been headed until they’d already approached a little river flowing part-way through town.

He’d seen it earlier of course. Had checked it for stray monsters even, but the flow of the river was steady and the little bridge that ran over it was free of anything clutching to its underbelly. 

Shen Qingqiu hadn’t seen it since the festival had begun though, as it hadn’t been on their patrol route. But now there was a little set-up that seemed to be renting small boats to take out on the river. 

It was… a good idea actually? Some of the couples squeezed together in their wooden vessels, enjoying the way the water slowly drifted them down the stream. It allowed a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the crowded streets while still enjoying the overall atmosphere of the event. Unfortunately it still didn’t supply that much privacy, since anyone on shore could see when a passenger’s hands dipped a bit lower on their partner than what was appropriate.

Also, Shen Qingqiu couldn’t not remark to himself how similar this was to the canals in Venice from many a romance movie. Was this festival just a compilation of all the cheesy romantic shit Airplane had grown up watching? Because so far the elements of Valentine’s day, anime school festivals, and now romantic canal rides were becoming a little too suspect.

Shen Qingqiu didn’t even want to consider the logistics of this river flooding the town when clearly the only thought towards its existence was that it could buff up the romantic quality of a festival once a year.

Not sustainable. Not logical.

“Oh, would the good cultivators enjoy a boat ride, free of charge of course,” a tall woman running the rental set-up asked.

Liu Qingge probably hadn’t meant to get so close to the river, much less get noticed by the person running the boat service. Shen Qingqiu didn’t mind clarifying for the woman though.

“Actually these masters were just--”

“Yes,” Liu Qingge cut-in, stepping onto the available boat without so much as waiting for instruction.

Shen Qingqiu felt equally mortified by his shidi’s lack of manners and shocked that this was something Liu Qingge wanted to do.

Liu Qingge, who mocked Shen Qingqiu for wanting to travel via carriage instead of sword. Who tapped his foot irritably when others walked too slowly. Who wore a strangely adorable pout when Shen Qingqiu suggested going on relaxing strolls together when ‘they could be training’. This same Liu Qingge wanted to take a leisurely boat ride???

“We do?” Shen Qingqiu couldn’t help but exclaim, right in front of the mortal woman who was looking confused.

“Yes,” Liu Qingge confirmed, and then offered a hand. “Here, get on.”

Shen Qingqiu looked to the rental woman for an explanation despite her knowing even less about what was happening than him. When she only offered him a customer service smile he sighed and took Liu Qingge’s hand. The calloused hand helped steady him as he stepped onto the tippy boat.

It truly was hard to appear elegant when sitting down onto a rocking piece of floating wood. 

Once seated, Liu Qingge cut the rope anchoring them to the shore despite the woman stuttering about how she could have just untied it. 

“Thank you,” Shen Qingqiu called out as its own form of apology.

Liu-shidi, do you have any idea how to interact with normal people?

“Liu-shidi should be more polite. It’s not like we’re in a rush, we could have at least listened to the woman,” Shen Qingqiu scolded, tapping his mouth with his fan to disguise the laugh at the tip of his tongue. 

He couldn’t help it, just seeing Liu Qingge sitting across from him in the boat, pouting and holding an oar that was more akin to a big stick, was pretty funny. Liu Qingge didn’t even need to use the ‘oar’ since the boat steadily moved downstream by itself.

“It was fine,” Liu Qingge said. “She offered the boat, I accepted.”

Shen Qingqiu had expected such an answer, so he let the matter drop for now.

“Speaking of boats, is Liu-shidi interested in such things?”

Liu Qingge shrugged.

“They’re fine I guess. Never rode one before,” Liu Qingge said. “Kind of slow though,” he added, shooting a scrutinizing gaze at the basic craftsmanship of the vessel.

Shen Qingqiu snorted quietly. Or at least he hoped it was quiet.

“This shixiong assumed Liu-shidi was familiar with them since he was so eager to ride this one.”

“My family resides in the mountains, as does Cang Qiong, so I never had a reason to travel by boat. Have you?”

Well his family had gone on a private cruise for a couple days once, stocked with doctors in case Shen Yuan got sick. Other than the sea sickness he’d gotten alongside his sister, he’d been fine during the trip. It was a pleasant memory actually.

“This shixiong has once, although the boat was quite different from this one,” Shen Qingqiu answered with a little smile.

Oops, who knew if the original goods had gone boating before. Whelp, too late now. 

Liu Qingge nodded.

“The ship I travelled on was quite a bit larger and quite a bit faster as well,” Shen Qingqiu continued. “Liu-shidi probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it, I don’t think. He would have looked very dashing in the ship’s uniform though. Liu-shidi is effortlessly handsome after all!”

Yeah Shen Qingqiu can confidently say that a cruise would possibly be Liu Qingge’s least favourite vacation ever. If Liu Qingge was one to take vacations in the first place, that is.

He's equally confident about the uniform thing. Liu Qingge already looked stunning in anything but damn if he wasn’t the type of guy to fill out a uniform. Which was a perfectly normal thing for Shen Qingqiu to picture! Nothing weird about it!

A snapping sound broke Shen Qingqiu from his self-justification.

Liu Qingge sat across from him, now holding two pieces of the previously single oar, both sides splintered where it had broken in half. His face was beet red and his body held enough tension to be visible through his robes. Poor guy must be embarrassed.

Damn Liu-shidi, you gotta know these poor mortal instruments are nothing compared to your strength!

“Is Liu-shidi okay?” Shen Qingqiu asked, reaching across to take Liu Qingge’s hand in his.

Splinters were a bitch okay. Cultivator or no, those buggers could be annoying as hell to remove.

“It’s fine,” Liu Qingge grumbled, though his voice sounded strained.

On the bright side, he allowed Shen Qingqiu to examine his hands. There were surprisingly only a few splinters embedded in his shidi’s palms, since most hadn’t penetrated the calloused surface. Despite the callouses, Shen Qingqiu couldn’t help but notice that the skin was still smooth, and pleasant to the touch. 

When he finished removing the last of the splinters, Shen Qingqiu ran his thumbs over Liu Qingge’s palms to double check he hadn’t missed anything.

He swore Liu Qingge made a whimpering sound, but shook it off as some noise from the river.

“Everything should be fine now, Liu-shidi,” Shen Qingqiu reassured with a smile. “But if anything hurts let this shixiong know.”

“I-I said it was fine,” Liu Qingge sputtered, clearly angry about the prospect of Shen Qingqiu’s help. “Like I would be injured by something like this.”

Shen Qingqiu rolled his eyes at the declaration.

“Yes yes, my shidi is the strongest, most powerful cultivator and is not bothered by trivial things like splinters,” Shen Qingqiu said. 

“Shen Qingqiu,” Liu Qingge all but wheezed, looking like he’d taken a blow to the stomach. 

“Just humour your shixiong, won’t you?”

Liu Qingge grumbled something along the lines of “not necessary.” He then inspected his own hands for a few moments before turning back up to face Shen Qingqiu.

Shen Qingqiu knew that Liu Qingge would not be returning for a checkup any time soon. The man didn’t even visit Mu-shidi when he’d been impaled. ‘It’s just a flesh wound’ is probably Liu Qingge’s life motto. He secretly hoped Liu-shidi would come to him if he was hurting though.

The rest of the ride was nice. Shen Qingqiu babbled a little about this and that while Liu Qingge added the odd tidbit. When they did sit in silence just to enjoy the surroundings, it felt comfortable and relaxing. 

And then as soon as the boat trip had started, it was over. 

The little ride was short on purpose after all, allowing for more people to get a turn. The person on the dock that received them looked terribly anxious as he saw them. He looked even more anxious when Liu Qingge handed him the two broken pieces of the oar. It didn’t help when after they disembarked Liu Qingge leaned in to ask the man a question that even Shen Qingqiu didn’t catch. The man stammered through an answer, leaving Liu Qingge to rejoin Shen Qingqiu on the shore.

“Liu-shidi took my advice about being more polite, I’m sure,” Shen Qingqiu teased.

“He answered the question I asked,” Liu Qingge explained.

“Oh? And what question was that?”

“Directions.”

Way to be specific, Shidi. It did make Shen Qingqiu laugh a little though. Liu-shidi could really be unexpectedly funny.

“Follow me,” Liu Qingge said, before commencing a path back towards the more crowded central streets.

“My my, Liu-shidi, this shixiong never would have thought you’d be eager to experience a festival to this extent,” Shen Qingqiu teased as he followed his shidi’s lead through the streets. “You dislike festivals like this, you even said so earlier.”

It was still very odd, but Shen Qingqiu was just rolling with it at this point.

“The festival is fine,” Liu Qingge replied, pausing for a moment to scout for their supposed destination.

“And what is so different about this festival?” Shen Qingqiu had to ask, especially when the sheer aesthetic of this place clashed with everything that Liu Qingge was.

“You’re here,” Liu Qingge answered easily.

Uh?

Did...did Liu Qingge just say what Shen Qingqiu thought he did?

Shen Qingqiu blue screened for a moment. His brain went through a series of if-else statements in his understanding algorithm before reaching a dead end. He rebooted after a moment, his internal justification programming working in overdrive.

Ah, Liu Qingge probably just meant it in a martial brother way. After all, it was more fun to go places like this with others. 

But even so, Shen Qingqiu couldn’t help but think his shidi’s words sounded less… platonic than they were probably meant to. Maybe it was the setting. Or the way Liu Qingge would squeeze his hand every time he dragged him around. Or the cute little blushes Liu Qingge seemed to don near constantly here.

...maybe it was because if Liu Qingge did magically mean it in a deeper way than what he actually meant, then Shen Qingqiu might not mind it so much…

No! What was Shen Qingqiu even thinking? He’d literally just explained how he’d accepted his fate to be alone forever like an hour ago. Romance and scum villain Shen Qingqiu just didn’t mix. How stupid was he to go thinking something that fundamental to Shen Qingqiu’s character could be changed? Get yourself together Shen Qingqiu!

Because of his minor brain malfunction, Shen Qingqiu took an extra second to recognize that they had stopped moving. It made it that much harder to compute that Liu Qingge was standing in front of him atop Cheng Luan, holding a hand out as an invitation.

Luckily Shen Qingqiu didn’t need his brain to trust Liu Qingge enough to take his hand and step onto his shidi’s sword with him.

“When did Liu-shidi get so smooth?” Shen Qingqiu muttered before they took off into the sky.

The sun had gone down by now, and stars filled the sky. It was hard to admire them with the whipping of hair in his face though. The combination of his own hair and Liu Qingge’s ponytail in his face made it a bit hard to do anything aside from cling to his shidi for dear life. It didn’t last long though, before Liu Qingge was landing on top of a grassy hill.

“Careful,” Liu Qingge warned as Shen Qingqiu stepped off the sword, even though Shen Qingqiu had literally stepped off of flying swords dozens of times.

Or hundreds of times if you counted just the body he was inhabiting.

“This shixiong is fine,” Shen Qingqiu retorted but his tone was playful. “I am a Peak Lord, you know.”

“A Peak Lord who constantly leaves all his things all over the Sect,” Liu Qingge rolled his eyes.

“Not all my things, Liu-shidi. Just the occasional fan, and you always seem to find those anyways,” Shen Qingqiu waved his fan around to emphasize his point. “It’s not like they’re bothering anyone.”

Liu Qingge opened his mouth, but whatever he was going to say was overridden by a large BANG .

Shen Qingqiu startled so badly he did end up stumbling, right into Liu Qingge’s side.

But there was no time to focus on that. 

In the sky, made up of bursts of light and sound, were fireworks of all things. Like real, genuine fireworks. The kind you see made of purely digital effects in movies. But somehow even bigger and brighter than anything Shen Qingqiu had ever seen.

They were so cool! And this had to be the best vantage point! No trees in the way, or tall people who always had to stand at the very front just to piss off everyone else.

“It’s beautiful,” Shen Qingqiu said in awe.

Fireworks had seemed so overrated before, just some coloured lights you could find in a dollar store. But these ones were so alive and magical. They really were beautiful.

“Yeah,” he heard Liu Qingge agree.

Shen Qingqiu turned to face his shidi, only to find him looking directly at Shen Qingqiu instead of the fireworks. And hoo boy their faces were so close like this, with Shen Qingqiu secured against Liu Qingge from his stumble.

Liu Qingge’s expression was intense yet bashful, his perfect jawline highlighted by the colours of the fireworks in the sky.

It felt like time had frozen somehow, or perhaps it was just Shen Qingqiu who had frozen. Shen Qingqiu should be jumping away to preserve both his and his shidi’s dignity. Should laugh awkwardly and point out the fact that Liu Qingge was nice for stopping him from falling but didn’t need to keep holding him. And of course, he should sprinkle the moment with a plethora of ‘no homos’ just to be safe.

But that’s not what happened. Because Shen Qingqiu didn’t particularly want to pull away. His strong, sweet Shidi was holding him like he was something special, and Shen Qingqiu couldn’t help but want to savour it. To feel cared about like Liu Qingge had been making him feel all evening.

He vaguely considered that maybe it wasn’t so much the general feeling of being cared for, but the fact that Liu Qingge cared that sparked this warm feeling in Shen Qingqiu. He tried to imagine someone else, anyone else, with their face this close to his and felt only an uncomfortable shiver. 

With Liu Qingge though…

“Liu-shidi,” Shen Qingqiu almost whispered, audible only because it was spoken in between firework explosions.

“Hmm?” Liu Qingge responded.

Shen Qingqiu paused a moment before speaking.

“Why is Liu-shidi doing this?”

Maybe this type of moment was meant to be spent in appreciative silence, but Shen Qingqiu needed some confirmation here. Because for all that it was impossible and contrary to everything Shen Qingqiu had come to believe, Liu Qingge looked like he might want to kiss him.

“Proving you wrong,” Liu Qingge replied with a certainty that contrasted the red tips of his ears and the slight tremble of his hand.

Shen Qingqiu made a face.

Prove him wrong about what? That fireworks were actually quite spectacular? That the festival wasn’t as much of a drag as Shen Qingqiu had made it out to be? That Shen Qingqiu wasn’t the pure blooded heterosexual he once believed himself to be?

Because if so, congrats Liu-shidi, you win!

“I’m afraid Liu-shidi is going to have to be more specific,” Shen Qingqiu huffed, neck straining to keep his head in place without either leaning in to do something he might regret or escape the moment altogether.

Liu Qingge suddenly looked like a cornered animal, but one determined to stand his ground even if he was going to get swallowed whole. 

“To prove you aren’t unwanted,” Liu Qingge said, body tense and face radiating heat.

“Not… unwanted?” Shen Qingqiu repeated, wracking his brain for a moment.

“You are wanted, Shen Qingqiu,” Liu Qingge confirmed. 

Shen Qingqiu went wide-eyed when the realization struck.

Liu Qingge was trying to prove Shen Qingqiu’s statement from earlier was wrong. Was trying to prove that Shen Qingqiu wasn’t unloveable. But that would mean that Liu Qingge knew of someone who liked Shen Qingqiu.

...or that he was the one... who liked Shen Qingqiu?

But that line of thinking was too dangerous! Getting your hopes up for something like that was like throwing a fragile piece of glass off a cliff thinking it wouldn’t shatter. Back to reality! Shen Qingqiu is a scum villain and Liu Qingge is a tragic (well not so much anymore) hero!

“Is Liu-shidi finally admitting we’re friends?” Shen Qingqiu asked in an attempt to make a joke, his laugh strained and uncertain.

It had the opposite effect. Liu Qingge only looked more irritated.

“I’m saying that I care about you!” Liu Qingge blustered. “You can’t possibly be unloveable when I--”

Liu Qingge cut himself off but Shen Qingqiu had heard enough to know how that sentence ended.

The world came to a very brief stop as Shen Qingqiu processed.

Logically he knew some people liked him being around. His disciples were sweet and clingy and never objected when he offered them extra attention. Yue Qingyuan always had a strange hopefulness when he saw him. Qi Qingqi and Mu Qingfang both chatted with him amicably. But of course he’d unlocked the OOC function and had made an effort to fix relationships and forge new ones both for his own sake and simply because he enjoyed it. 

So yes, Shen Qingqiu had accepted that there were many things he could change in this world, even with the limitations.

But this was different.

For Shen Qingqiu, a scum villain he himself had begged to have castrated, to have someone like him like this seemed impossible. For that someone to be Liu Qingge even more so.

Shen Qingqiu felt bewildered and confused and… well awestruck! And amazed! And just… happy he supposed. Oh, don’t forget overwhelmed! All these feelings seemed to amalgamate into a single feeling of warmth and fondness that radiated through him.

“Liu-shidi means it?” Shen Qingqiu found himself asking.

“You think I’m lying?!” Liu Qingge sounded so offended that he tried to push Shen Qingqiu away.

But Shen Qingqiu wrapped his arms around Liu Qingge and held tight.

Was he embarrassed by his boldness? Yes. Was it worth it to see Liu Qingge red and flustered? Definitely.

“This one would never accuse the great Liu Qingge of such a thing,” Shen Qingqiu smiled. “This one is just not used to being so wrong about something, and needed to make sure he wasn’t misunderstanding.”

Shen Qingqiu was infamous for his tricks and manipulation, was he not? So it was only fair for him to bait Liu Qingge a little here, wasn’t it? 

There was an extremely beautiful man holding and staring at him when he could be looking at a very impressive fireworks display instead, okay? And if Shen Qingqiu had somehow bent the canon fodder male lead it was only fair that he take responsibility. Even more so when he’d somehow gotten bent along the way as well.

So if Liu Qingge could just kiss him already, that would be great.

“You need more proof?” Liu Qingge asked in a low tone that definitely did something to Shen Qingqiu.

Oh no, Liu Qingge was going on the offensive. This was especially dangerous considering Shen Qingqiu’s own defenses were currently extremely compromised.

“Maybe,” Shen Qingqiu responded softly.

There was a pause where Liu Qingge stared into Shen Qingqiu’s eyes searchingly. It took all of Shen Qingqiu’s nerve not to look away under the scrutinizing gaze. He could feel his face getting redder and redder with every second that passed. 

“What would prove it to you?” Liu Qingge asked, his face moving a few centimeters closer to Shen Qingqiu’s.

That’s it, Shen Qingqiu couldn’t do it anymore. Out-stubborning Liu Qingge was a losing game, as was having to meet his shidi’s intense gaze at this proximity any longer without combusting.

Throwing his shame to the wind, Shen Qingqiu leaned in and kissed Liu Qingge on the lips. 

It was short and sweet, a brush of the lips really, but it still made Shen Qingqiu’s heart race. Liu Qingge looked equally affected when Shen Qingqiu peered up at him after pulling away. His arms had latched onto Shen Qingqiu’s sides and squeezed like he thought Shen Qingqiu was going to vanish.

Liu Qingge’s utter shock and lack of reciprocation made Shen Qingqiu second guess himself for a moment. 

Had he misunderstood? Oh god, had Liu Qingge been trying to set him up with someone else instead to prove someone could like him? Had he just kissed his straight friend?!

His fears dissolved as Liu Qingge’s face melted into the softest expression Shen Qingqiu had ever seen. Shen Qingqiu’s breath caught at the sight of his shidi’s usually serious face so relaxed and tender. 

And then Liu Qingge leaned back in for another kiss. 

This one was definitely a more substantial kiss than the one Shen Qingqiu had stolen from his shidi. And if anyone asked about his first kiss with Liu Qingge (not that anyone would dare without the promise of death via War God), Shen Qingqiu would say it was this one.

It was shy for a split second, but as soon as Shen Qingqiu reciprocated, Liu Qingge quickly became more bold. He pulled Shen Qingqiu in closer, both with his hands and his mouth. There was a bit of fumbling on both their parts, but that didn’t stop them. Even when their noses brushed, Shen Qingqiu found himself too entranced by the slide of their mouths to care.

The kiss was nice. Really nice. Liu Qingge’s lips were soft to the extent that Shen Qingqiu was convinced he must use the xianxia equivalent of lip balm. His lips were also the perfect amount of yielding, meeting each of Shen Qingqiu’s movements and then smoothly demanding more.

It really was a shame when Liu Qingge parted their lips, even if Shen Qingqiu’s lungs thanked him for it.

“Do you believe me now?” Liu Qingge asked, a smile on his face.

The boldness in that smile was new, as was the twinkling in his eyes. 

It was unfairly attractive. Shen Qingqiu had created a monster, hadn’t he?

“Hmmm,” Shen Qingqiu tapped his chin, pretending to contemplate Liu Qingge’s question.

He couldn’t let up on his teasing though, or else Liu Qingge would become too powerful. (Plus it was already one of Shen Qingqiu’s favourite pastimes).

Liu Qingge rolled his eyes.

“Spoiled,” he said.

“Says the man who spent this whole time spoiling me,” Shen Qingqiu shot back. “Taking me around a couple’s festival you have no interest in just to prove a point. And then up here to watch fireworks under a perfect sky. It turns out my shidi is quite the romantic.” 

“You!” Liu Qingge exclaimed with a blush.

Yes! Shen Qingqiu’s teasing hadn’t lost its effectiveness!

“Liu-shidi really did take the challenge of wooing this shixiong quite seriously. Even tempting me with sweets; my shidi is very sly,” Shen Qingqiu continued. “The boat ride was a nice touch as well.”

“Stop talking!”

“Next thing I know you’ll be out buying me a bunch of lavish courtship gifts,” Shen Qingqiu said.

Except… wait, were all those things Liu Qingge bought earlier for him? Is that why he kept asking what Shen Qingqiu liked?

Oh. Oh…

“...” Liu Qingge didn’t say anything, but he did shoot Shen Qingqiu a long-suffering look. The only saving grace was that the man looked too happy to really be mad.

“Er, apologies Shidi, for being…” dense? Blind? Living life through strictly heterosexual vision? “... inobservant.”

There was an especially loud bang, that made both of them turn their heads to the sky.

What appeared to be the finale of the fireworks shone through the dark sky. A collection of bright and happy colours, all twisting and intermingling together in swirls. The explosions made an otherworldly display, like a piece of art that existed for only a second. And then it faded in speckles, clearing the way for the more natural beauty of the starry sky.

The fact that some of the fireworks were shaped as hearts bothered Shen Qingqiu a lot less now. Who knew learning your drop dead gorgeous shidi had a crush on you and that you weren’t unloveable despite inhabiting the body of a scum villain in a stallion novel could make you more tolerant toward sappy romantic stereotypes? 

He was going to firmly ignore the fact that he had just lived out the fireworks confession scene from a shoujo manga at this rip-off festival. He may let it bother him later, but he felt too happy right now to care. 

He felt even happier when Liu Qingge joined their hands together in the lightest touch, as if scared of squeezing it too hard.

“You are wanted,” Liu Qingge repeated his words from earlier, meeting Shen Qingqiu’s eyes with a firm resolve.

Okay Liu-shidi, you have him convinced, no need for any more sweet declarations. Shen Qingqiu might just drown in their syrupy sweetness.

“Alright, alright Shidi, I believe you,” Shen Qingqiu said, squeezing Liu Qingge’s hand back.

“Good,” Liu Qingge sounded appeased.

There was a little pause, both cultivators happily soaking in the other’s presence.

“Shidi should know that he is wanted as well,” Shen Qingqiu said through a little cough.

It was hard to verbalize such things, but it made him appreciate Liu Qingge’s efforts even more. 

Liu Qingge nodded with flushed cheeks before leaning back in for another kiss under the stars.

And hey, if Shen Qingqiu ever got worried about his role as the scum villain again, he’s sure his shidi could reassure him.

These kisses were pretty convincing after all.