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"So, if one wants to be liked by a man, the best way is to be pitiful?”

Shang Qinghua blinked up at Mobei Jun. “In theory… yes?”

Behind them, Luo Binghe had slumped back on his throne with a faraway gaze. All the high-ranking demons were eagerly and confusedly discussing this piece of human wisdom, which went contrary to every bit of demon wisdom about courtship and was deeply embarrassing and humiliating besides. Could it be true? Were humans that pathetic?

Mobei Jun lifted his hand to pat Shang Qinghua on the top of his head. He understood, he wanted to convey with that heavy weight, capable of crushing Shang Qinghua’s fragile human skull and yet, and this was crucial, not doing so. He understood what Shang Qinghua had inadvertently revealed about humans and his own feelings. 

Everything was now explained to Mobei Jun. Shang Qinghua’s flimsy excuses for staying by Mobei Jun’s side. His first, aborted attempt at sharing Mobei Jun’s bed as a callow teenager, the long, sleepless night in which he’d tended the man who had just murdered his comrades. His complete lack of homicidal ability, which had puzzled Mobei Jun for some time. His indignation whenever some demon counteroffered for his services against his king. His long, lingering stares, seeking to imprint every detail of Mobei Jun’s face on his imagination. How he clung to Mobei Jun’s sleeve now with one slim hand, begging his king to walk a little slower so that he wouldn’t need to scurry to keep up.

Even Shang Qinghua’s extraordinary stupidity and recklessness- from a person who somehow, not only managed to wash, feed and dress himself, but also the entire Cang Qiong Sect, but also, on rare occasions, Mobei Jun- had an explanation here. He was a fool for love.

Shang Qinghua was deeply in love with Mobei Jun.

This divine revelation produced a change in tactics.

.0.

It was difficult to understand how to be pitiful. It made sense that Luo Binghe had to grovel and abase himself to earn Shen Qingqiu as his lover- he had thrown his master into the Huan Hua Water Prison, from what little Mobei Jun had inadvertently overheard of ‘Resentment of the Chunshan’ and ravings of the former Huan Hua Palace disciples. Mobei Jun silently agreed that this would have turned any relationship sour and required more than ordinary effort to overcome. And Luo Binghe had too many advantages in status, talent, looks and lack of bullshit, if not sanity, common-sense and standards of behaviour.

What would Shang Qinghua even consider pitiful? The man sold melon seeds for a living and spent his time serving the enemy of his people just to feed his teenage infatuation.

It was while he was considering this problem that he fended off an attack by rebellious demons. Too cowardly to confront Luo Binghe themselves, they seized the chance brought by adverse reactions to a ceasefire with the human cultivators to challenge Mobei Jun’s status in the North. A human-lover, who kept a human as his personal servant and had let a half-human dog take his territory!

Mobei Jun dealt with them by ripping the challenger’s spine out of his back with his bare hands.

Shang Qinghua was appropriately impressed by this, Mobei Jun noted. Of course, they were both men, and Mobei Jun the superior. He wanted to know that he could be protected. His face was alternatively red and white, his puffs of breath came faster and filled the air with steam, he kept darting wide-eyed looks at Mobei Jun’s face and his (sexy) blood-and-viscera-covered hands and he had to hold onto the pillar on the wall to keep himself upright. When Mobei Jun dismissed him, Shang Qinghua looked up at him, shivered in desire, and fled before the force of his emotions could overwhelm him.

It was very gratifying.

It made Mobei Jun begin to seriously consider allowing Shang Qinghua to approach him.

.0.

It took a while for Mobei Jun to come up with the right moment, which was not helped by the breakout and then cessation of the war with the humans.

But when the retinue arrived with the news that his father was (finally) passing, lightning from hell struck. The time for his ascension to the throne was at hand. There was no question who Mobei Jun would favour with being his companion at this time. Shang Qinghua would accompany him.

It would be a wonderful gesture. What said ‘pity me’ more than being at your absolute weakest point, completely helpless and reliant on no one more than a simple human cultivator? Was there anything that could be more calculated to arouse Shang Qinghua’s sympathy? No one else in his domain would dare to encroach on the succession ceremony. They would be all alone for seven days while Mobei Jun devoured choice bits of his father and paid his respects to his ancestors and their power.

And then (and Mobei Jun dwelled happily on this thought) they would fuck on the bed his father died on. The symbolism pleased him. After his ascension, Shang Qinghua would never need to worry that his protector lacked strength, power or status. Before his ascension, Mobei Jun would perform the ultimate act of trust and intimacy. Mobei Jun couldn’t think of anyone else he preferred to have share this important time with him.

He would answer this pitiful man’s feelings. It would only be a fitting reward for both years of faithful service and the apparent thwarting of the destruction of the world.

Shang Qinghua would be honoured.

.0.

“...I promise to scream and cry.”

The sound of his uncle’s voice rose and fell over the crackle of immortal fire, and Mobei Jun spared a moment to be outraged that Shang Qinghua had carried such a thing casually into his presence. That he had said he would leave! That he dared, here and now, to place himself between his king and his king’s enemy, a demon more powerful than he could ever hope to defeat! Hopeless, stupid and reckless! When had Mobei Jun ever seen Shang Qinghua so much as raise his sword?

He said he would leave!

The cry broke from Shang Qinghua tinged with a bubbling sound, the smell of blood in the air.

He said he would leave!

Another cry, and the sound of Linguang Jun’s mocking voice.

He said he would leave!

He had come back!

He was being hurt!

He had come back!

.0.

Mobei Jun fumed and stared at Shang Qinghua. Why wasn’t he rushing over to examine his king’s injuries? He couldn’t get much more pitiful than he was right now. He was still completely helpless. What was it going to take? How long had he been watching Mobei Jun, suffering without him as Linguang Jun taunted the king, and not said anything? How dare he!

At least he had-

...he had not thought the better of his threat to leave. Mobei Jun spat, “You still want to leave? Don’t you dare!”

Shang Qinghua raised his fist, tears shining in his eyes, and Mobei Jun had a moment of fear for all those transparent lies that Shang Qinghua had spewed to his uncle. Pushed to his limits! Humans disliked pain! (Humans disliked pain?) He’d endured for years and waited for his chance to revenged. Humans were the same as demons, just squishier and more prone to travel in packs- they were out for whatever they could wring from the world, and the more people they backstabbed and betrayed to get it, the better!

Then Shang Qinghua pulled on his cheeks.

Mobei Jun had never been so insulted in his life. He even felt tears forming. Him! Tears!

He growled threats at his servant. If he stopped now, if he apologized, if he went on his knees, Mobei Jun would forgive him! It would be indulgent and weak, but Mobei Jun was prepared to do so.

That strange, wild sorrow was still in Shang Qinghua’s face, regret mixed with bravado, spilling from his lips. Half of what he said made no sense to Mobei Jun, not even the part about how handsome the demon king was. He was covered in his own blood and his arm hung in a strange position, wrenched out of place, but he barely seemed to notice. He looked back at Mobei Jun one last time, drinking him in.

“My King, good-bye.”  

.0.

The entire northern demon realm couldn’t find one small, conniving human! How hard was it to find Shang Qinghua? His only skills were begging for his life and talking too much, which were the same skill!

But it seemed that what Shang Qinghua had threatened had come true. He was not in his room at Anding Peak. He was not at any of the other Peaks in Cang Qiong sect, even when Mobei Jun gritted his teeth and asked the Peak masters- politely! not a single person murdered or eviscerated- where Shang Qinghua was. He had not touched his many survival caches, or the gifts which Mobei Jun had both given him and compensated his spying with over the years.

In fact, Shang Qinghua was well able to leave the Sect and lead a very comfortable human life. Mobei Jun was not clear on much about the meaningless intricacies of human life, but he did understand that the rewards Shang Qinghua had demanded, despite their relative worthlessness compared to Mobei Jun’s estate, made him a very rich human indeed.

He had touched none of it, despite how hard he had worked to amass it all. He had fled his powerful sect, left his weapons and arsenal in his abandoned room.

What a soft-hearted fool. He had made a pretence all these years of working for Mobei Jun to gain status, wealth and power. And in an instant, he had thrown it all away.

Mobei Jun could not find him.

Did it matter now, how pitiful he was? Let the human and demon realms know that he was searching for a sniveling, plotting, back-stabbing traitor too loyal and stupid to run away. There was no place Shang Qinghua could hide from him.

Finally, after a month of frantic searching, news came from, of all people, Luo Binghe.

Luo Binghe had his own ways of contacting his subordinates, and at first Mobei Jun had been tempted to tell the absolute ruler of the demon realm, a godlike existence who had been entirely prepared and on the way to destroying heaven and earth, to fuck off. But then he remembered that Luo Binghe was still connected with the Cang Qiong Sect. What if there had been a secret attack and they were hiding Shang Qinghua from him? What if Shang Qinghua had gotten lost and (Mobei Jun did not put this past him) fallen into the Holy Mausoleum?

Luo Binghe met him on the edge of a valley in the middle of nowhere, washing dishes in the river. He had a streak of flour on his forehead and the imprint of a fan on his cheek. Mobei Jun felt deeply in his heart that he would never be as pitiful as Luo Binghe. Was that the problem? Was Mobei Jun just too attractive, too powerful, too handsome? Mobei Jun was too much for Shang Qinghua, and the human had run away?

“Where,” said Mobei Jun.

“He just left,” said Luo Binghe unconcernedly. “You could walk and catch up with him.”

Mobei Jun looked in the direction Luo Binghe was pointing, and then back at him. His eyes narrowed in a question.

“My martial uncle is very pitiful these days, it’s wrong to bully him,” said Luo Binghe, who was not looking at Mobei Jun. His voice was resigned, but there was a smile in his eyes and he radiated a contentment Mobei Jun had never seen in any demon. “Additionally. If that bastard comes and bothers us again when Shizun and I are about to eat, there won’t be enough of him left to fertilize his melon patches.”  

Mobei Jun felt that despite their disparate beginnings, Luo Binghe was truly his comrade. He inclined his head in understanding and disappeared.

.0.

The water was boiling in the next room, Shang Qinghua watching excitedly. Mobei Jun had stolen everything he needed to make ramen, and now all he needed to do was put it in the hot water, take it out of the hot water, put in the other hot water, and cover it in meat and plant matter.

The steam was billowing forth like a devil belching poisonous miasma.

“Would you not prefer,” said Mobei Jun. “Sexual favours.”

Shang Qinghua opened his mouth to spout his usual nonsense, and it gaped open as Mobei Jun’s words seeped into his pea-sized brain. He stammered, “I could h-have ra-ramen and s- se- my king!” He ended on a wail.

Kicking Linguang Jun into the valley (where, though neither of them knew this, Luo Binghe was foraging for roots to add to dinner) had vastly improved Mobei Jun’s mood. Holding Shang Qinghua in his arms as the- as his human needed help leaving the cart and entering the abode Mobei Jun had commandeered had also helped. A little. Once Mobei Jun had snapped at Shang Qinghua to be quiet, and the lord of Anding Peak put his head on his demon king’s shoulder, gazing up at him through half-lidded eyes, the awe and wonder in them glowing.

Mobei Jun glared at the kitchen room. In non-servile relationships, there were compromises. Mobei Jun had watched the human cooks at work, it didn’t seem too hard. With his new powers, the steam barely bothered him- not that that piddling amount of steam in the restaurant would have been any threat at any time.

“I want,” said Mobei Jun, pressing his advantage, and to make his intentions around this ramen absolutely clear to this moron, “Sexual favours.”

“My legs have to heal,” Shang Qinghua pointed out. He stared straight ahead at his feet, his hands clenching convulsively in the sheets. He was blushing, very red.

“Heal them,” said Mobei Jun. He had already gone out to get several human artifacts, and (enjoying his servant’s squeaks as his clothes were shredded off) helped to apply medicine.

“I’m not very attractive,” he said.

“I have eyes,” said Mobei Jun.

“My peak is going to wonder where I’ve been.”

“With me.”

“I think I love you,” said Shang Qinghua, in a very small voice. Then he cleared his throat and said, “So my king, I would give very poor sexual favours. I am inexperienced, I am not coordinated, my taste in erotic literature is execrable, and-”

Mobei Jun said, “Yes.”