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rocky seas from a hundred stormy nights

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The rain is coming down hard enough that Shen Jiu can barely see the next bend in the mountain road, let alone anything more useful like the Lightning Horned Mountain Horse they're supposed to be pursuing. The clouds overhead are dark and heavy enough to block out the sun and it feels more like twilight than late afternoon.

"Damn you, Liu Qingge," he curses because only the stubborn-headed brute from Bai Zhan Peak would think that continuing the hunt in this kind of weather was a good idea. The Lightning Horned Mountain Horse might thrive in a storm, but cultivators don't! "We have to turn back!"

Unlike the last three times he's fruitlessly tried to protest and been shot down, this time there's no answer. There's nothing but the echoing drum of rain hitting the ground and the swaying of trees in the wind.

Shen Jiu wipes an icy cold hand over his eyes, trying to get the water out of them so he can peer down the path. It doesn't help – whatever water he can wipe away is replaced immediately and every inch of him is soaked through. Even his inner layers are heavy wet cotton that seem to drain vitality from his skin with every step he takes.

"You better have fallen off the mountain!" he shouts, and his voice barely carries.

There's no response. There's no responding shout. There's no form in white, moving up the path ahead of him.

That bastard, he thinks, the thought ringing with more astonishment than anything. He left me.

He hadn't thought-

He and Liu Qingge hated each other. They said it often enough. They fought enough. But he hadn't expected that Liu Qingge would just leave as though Shen Qingqiu is nothing-

His hand shakes where it's shielding his eyes, and more water sluices down his face. Shen Jiu stumbles off the path, into the dubious shelter of the trees. It's no less wet beneath them, just a different pattern of water hitting the leaves and branches and overflowing in scattered puddles instead of a steady curtain. But without the constant water, the wind manages to feel even colder and Shen Jiu huddles miserably in on himself to try and keep warm.

His spiritual energy surges and falls in snarled twists – he's spent the last two years in Qing Jing clawing himself to the position of Head Disciple but no matter how much he tries, no matter what he does and how he commits himself to it, his cultivation will never be as good as those spoilt brats lucky enough to start earlier. Who hadn't been desperate enough for the scraps an immoral wandering master would dare throw their way, building their foundation in unstable fits and starts.

He shivers again, so severely that he can hear his teeth clattering together. He clenches his jaw and then clenches his fists and his fingers feel fat and swollen with the cold, like they don't want to obey him and close.

His spiritual energy isn't enough.

It's not enough to keep him warm.

He needs to get back down the mountain. Back to the village. Back inside, out of the elements, somewhere warm and dry, with hot food. But when he tries to rise he stumbles on the wet, heavy hem of his robe and crashes back to his knees. The ground beneath him is cold but he can't help but sink down anyway, curling up as small as he can.

Back then, back when he'd been nothing, there had been nights he had thought he would die of cold. There had been children who had, who had just gone to sleep on a winter night and never woken again, who had been tossed out like so much trash. Xiao Jiu had had Qi Ge, then. A bigger, warmer body to plaster himself against, the barest and humblest kind of protection.

Is this irony? Shen Qingqiu wonders. No matter how far he's come, the power he's attained, the hard won positions and strength he's managed to acquire… he's going to die the same way that slave child could have. He's going to die having less than that slave child had had because no one is even going to notice – or if they do, it will only be to heap scorn on him for dying in such a pathetic way.

"There you are! Shen Qingqiu!" a hand grabs his shoulder and roughly shakes him. "What are you doing?"

Shen Jiu is too cold to resist, too cold to bite back, too cold to even shiver. He just flops, limply, with the motion.

Spiritual energy surges through him, an excessive amount, like a forest fire crashing through tinder. Like a flash flood through a dry river bed. It crashes through his meridians, overwhelms them, gets caught in the tangled knots of his spiritual veins, scrapes against the places where they're worn thin and delicate, and nearly drowns the fragile barely-there golden core he's scraped and scavenged to form.

And then it all drains right back out of him, as though he's a cup with a hole in the bottom, and leaves him little better off.

Liu Qingge says, clearly and sharply, "fuck."

Shen Jiu wants to shove him away. Ask what the hell are you doing here. Scorn him for leaving. Scorn him for coming back. Spit that his help wasn't asked for, isn't wanted, that Shen Jiu would much rather just die in peace alone.

Liu Qingge grabs him and hoists him up until he can throw Shen Jiu over his shoulder. It's ungainly, disgraceful, and his robes are just as soaking wet as Shen Jiu's are – but he's still the warmest thing in the entire area. Even more so when Liu Qingge throws them back out into the rain, qi flaring and muscles emanating heat as he runs.

The rain cuts out. Shen Jiu gets dropped down to the ground, not particularly gently. When he peels his eyes open, the space around them is dark and then slowly lit by a red gleam.

Liu Qingge puts the glowing-thing down on the ground and glances at him. "Wait here," he orders, and steps towards the wall. He vanishes, and it takes Shen Jiu a long moment to realise that they're in a cave, that there's a thin narrow crevice to exit through. It stops the wind and the rain, but it isn't particularly warm inside.

The red thing is warm. It's a fire stone, a low grade spirit stone that cultivators might use to heat tea or – apparently – in place of a campfire. Of course such a rich young master like Liu Qingge would have such a thing to carelessly drop on the ground. Of course he's had years to accumulate the kinds of spiritual tools that make trips like this safer and easier for him, instead of having to make do with whatever An Ding Peak deigns to send his way.

Liu Qingge comes back, dropping an armload of branches that are as soaked through as he is. He hisses. "Why are you still—" as if he'd hoped to find Shen Jiu gone.

He probably had. Then at least he could claim it wasn't his fault his least favourite martial sibling just happened to die. Who could argue with him? Even Yue Qingyuan would probably just smile that stupid serene smile, gratefully relieved inside that the last ignominious tie to his past was taken care of.

The branches clatter to the ground and Liu Qingge is striding over, far too close, and getting in his space. "Are you trying to die?" he barks, grabbing at the collar of Shen Qingqiu's robes and dragging him to his feet.

Shen Jiu flinches back. He finds some last well of energy — it tastes bitter, like fear and blood — and bats his hands away. "D-don't."

Liu Qingge snorts. "Oh good. You've got enough energy to be contrary." He doesn't stop, though and Shen Jiu doesn't have the strength to make him. Wouldn't have the strength to stop him even if he were in top form, and that knowledge is bitter too.

No matter how high he climbs, there's always someone standing higher. Some master looking down on him.

Liu Qingge peels his outer robe off — light silk in a rich green that signifies his position as Head Disciple on Qing Jing Peak — and tosses it to the ground like so much trash. He undoes Shen Jiu's belt with its jade and silver yaopei that chime lightly as they too are tossed aside. He makes Shen Jiu shed his waterlogged boots and socks. He pulls off Shen Jiu's white cotton inner robes, brisk and careless, and his undershirt until Shen Jiu is left shivering in nothing more than his innermost undertrousers.

Liu Qingge's hands are almost burningly hot against his icy numb skin, every faint brush of them makes Shen Jiu want to press into them almost as much as he wants to recoil. He holds excruciatingly still, jaw clenched shut to stop his teeth from chattering, to stop himself from begging or screaming.

"Where's your qiankun—" Liu Qingge starts and then curses when he realises he's probably tossed it aside with everything else that Shen Jiu was wearing. He reaches into his own sleeve and drags out a bedroll, tossing it onto the ground and kicking it until it unrolls. "Never mind."

He shoves Shen Jiu's shoulder until he's forced to turn, heated hands unpinning his hair crown and gathering Shen Jiu's wet hair into a single coil and then wringing it like a rough handed washerwoman. Shen Jiu hisses in protest, both at the rough handling and the water that splatters him again.

Liu Qingge doesn't even have the temerity to pay attention to his protest. A calloused hand traces a single line down his back, light and gentle. "Are these... whip scars?" he asks, voice puzzled, like he can't possibly work this difficult riddle out himself. "Why do you have these?"

Shen Jiu yanks himself away, from the touch, from the question, and if that means that he falls to the ground, then so be it. His hair settles back into place, a wet slap that at least covers his back from view. Cultivators don't scar — not after they've reached foundation building level, not unless its some kind of spiritual energy nullifying attack — and which spoiled noble disciples at Cang Qiong Mountain Sect would have suffered injuries before their beloved parents sent them to waste their time cultivating? Shen Jiu's body has always marked him as different, has betrayed his origins in ways that he cannot fix.

"What business is it of yours?" he snarls, hunching over the heat of the fire stone. It's scorchingly warm and he's never been so cold in his life.

"Don't touch it," Liu Qingge snarls back, like he's realising he doesn't want a filthy slave to put its hands all over his things. "You'll burn yourself!" He hauls Shen Jiu sideways, dumping him on the bedroll, and then tugs him up again so he can pull a blanket free and wrap it around him.

The blankets are as cold as everything else but they're covering, so Shen Jiu clutches it tightly in nerveless hands. He wants to ignore Liu Qingge, spitefully show him that he isn't worth the attention, but can't stop watching out of the corner of his eye anyway. He detests it — it's an old habit that makes him feel like a cornered dog, waiting for the next kick.

Liu Qingge does something with the branches he'd brought back — arranges some of them around the fire stone, maybe to dry out for firewood, or to shield it and direct the heat, and ties some of them roughly together to make crude stands. He grabs Shen Jiu's discarded robes from the floor, wrings them out and tosses them over it. He rummages through Shen Jiu's qiankun sleeve like a thief and pulls out his bedroll, tossing it over to where Shen Jiu is. Then he starts to strip his own soaking robes off, flinging them over the stands, and Shen Jiu closes his eyes and presses his cheek into the blanket like he can stop existing if he just tries hard enough.

There's the sound of blankets being flared out and the heavy weight of them settles atop him. Then the blankets are being raised and there's another body—

"No!" Shen Jiu says, squirming away, unable to override his own reaction.

"Stop that!" Liu Qingge snaps, grabbing his wrist and hauling him close anyway. He yanks Shen Jiu into his chest, one hand cupping around the back of his head to force Shen Jiu's face to press into his throat.

Shen Jiu trembles with his whole body, shivering in a way he hadn't realised he had stopped doing. Every point of contact between them feels like his skin is burning but Shen Jiu would set himself on fire just to feel warm right now.

"If you can move, you can circulate your qi," Liu Qingge grumbles, breath huffing out over Shen Jiu's forehead and ghosting over his ear. It's wet and humid and smells like breath and it's so warm Shen Jiu could weep for it.

The hand on the back of his neck slides down to his shoulder, hard sword callous scratching at his skin as it slides over the vertebra of his neck, and a thin stream of qi is pressed into his back. It's nothing like the flood that had nearly swept him under last time, just a steady trickle that he can take and use.

He hates it. Hates the Liu Qingge now knows the appalling state of his cultivation, how lacking it is, how far behind he is, how greatly the Bai Zhan Head Disciple truly outclasses him. They'd both already known it — with your abilities? echoes in his head every time that they have the misfortune to meet — but the proof of it is extra bitterness to swallow.

"You should have said something," Liu Qingge mutters.

Shen Jiu shoves himself backwards. The blanket falls away and the shock of cold, the loss of that hard won heat, makes him regret it. But he's done a lot of things he regrets, suffered for spite more than once. What's one more? "Oh?" he says through gritted, chattering teeth. "Like 'we shouldn't go hunting in the storm, Liu-shidi. We should wait it out in the village'. Or maybe 'We should turn back, we can't hunt in this'. Or perhaps something a little more—"

Liu Qingge yanks him back down, pulling the blanket back into place and Shen Jiu isn't relieved about it. He doesn't need Liu Qingge and his useless, stupid heat.

"I get it," Liu Qingge snaps. "It was my fault. But you could have said you were— hurt."

Shen Jiu makes a scornful sound that he hopes conveys how little he would tell Liu Qingge that information. Why would he expose a weakness like that? But at least the brute recognises his mistake. At least he came back.

He goes still and it's only because he's exhausted. There's nothing— it doesn't matter that Liu Qingge turned around and found him. It had probably been an accident. Maybe he'd even meant to go back to the village himself and Shen Jiu had ruined his plan by inconveniently trying to die.

Liu Qingge takes his acquiescence to pull him closer again, more firmly together, and tucks Shen Jiu's hands between their bodies. The backs of his knuckles press against Liu Qingge's ribs and he can feel every breath that Liu Qingge takes with them alone, the rise and fall and gentle shifting of muscles and skin. His nose presses into the hollow of Liu Qingge's collarbone and every breath that he takes smells like skin and rain, as if he could forget either thing.

The hand on his back passes him qi again and— moves. A slow steady drag down his back, fingers tracing the lines of his scars. The scars that Liu Qingge knows are there now, knows what they are. As if he's counting them, mapping them out with his touch.

Shen Jiu hates it, wants him to stop, stop touching but especially stop touching those, to just pretend he never saw them and to go back to hating Shen Qingqiu for the things he thought Shen Qingqiu had done rather than what he is, but—

How long has it been since anyone has touched him kindly, even absently? His shizun doesn't, cold even by the standards of immortals. Yue Qingyuan is scrupulous about avoiding even an accidental touch. Mu Qingfang, on the rare occasions that Shen Qingqiu cannot avoid medical treatment, but it always comes with cold and silent judgement that makes him brittle in response. The sisters at the Warm Red Pavilion, but he's always too aware that he's paying them to allow it. Before that, the pickings are even slimmer. The auntie who had helped bandage the scars in the first place, sympathetic but powerless. The kitchen maid who had sometimes snuck him sweets and combed his hair. Qiu Haitang, who had been his sole protection against Qiu Juanluo and who had never known why.

This is not free from caveats, either. He's perfectly aware of that. How quickly will this knowledge spread around Cang Qiong Mountain Sect? How swiftly and painfully will it be thrown in his face? As fully and as quickly as the knowledge of his visits to the Warm Red Pavilion, probably. That had been Liu Qingge too, trying to deprive him of the one place of safety he had left. He'll do the same with this, no doubt.

And if that's the case, isn't he entitled to these few, quiet moments? To what heat and kindness he can steal?

They're still and silent for long enough that Shen Jiu is lulled into a hazy daze, not quite asleep but not awake either. His spiritual energy flows slow and sweet, the tangled knots of it seeming less of an obstacle with the steady stream of qi that Liu Qingge is sending into him, as though they are things that could be slowly unpicked and straightened out, not permanent, strangling, nooses. At his back, the fire stone emits a warm and steady heat and if he pretends that the body in front of him is anything but what it is—

"Does Yue-shixiong know?" Liu Qingge asks and ruins it.

A laugh bubbles out of Shen Jiu's mouth, bitter and lacking humour. Of all the questions that the fool could ask…

How much would he hate it, if Shen Jiu answered truthfully? How much would Yue Qingyuan suffer, would hate having his shameful past spread to his shidi? But Shen Jiu has swallowed these words for so long that they have curdled in the pit of his stomach, even now he's loathe to part with them.

Let Yue Qingyuan owe him for his silence, at least. Let Shen Jiu have one last tie, one thing to hold over him.

"Ask him if it means so much to you," Shen Jiu says, knowing Yue Qingyuan will die before telling anyone anything. How could he do any less, when the truth would sully his image as the next Sect Leader? How would any of their martial siblings follow him if they knew the truth?

Liu Qingge makes an annoyed sound. "I'm trying to understand," he says, as if Shen Jiu cares whether he understands or not, cares what he thinks. "Why do you have to make everything so difficult?"

Shen Jiu snarls. "Ask yourself that question!" He snaps and tries to pull away again. This time he doesn't even manage it — Liu Qingge is holding too tightly, like he'd anticipated Shen Jiu would flee again. "Let me go!"

"Hold still!" Liu Qingge snaps back. "Do you think I want to be doing this either?" As though he hadn't been the one to put them both here, as though this whole situation wasn't entirely his doing.

But if he hates it too then good. Shen Jiu flexes his hands and then spreads them out, the full breadth of his freezing fingers and palms pressed against Liu Qingge's stomach. Liu Qingge flinches at the touch, and then lets out a low hiss, but doesn't pull away. He doesn't give Shen Jiu any room to escape.

"If you don't want to," Shen Jiu bites out. "Then why are you. No one is making you do this. Just go."

Clearly, Liu Qingge had strong enough cultivation to withstand the storm and keep himself warm, the way that Shen Jiu couldn't. Clearly, he could go and hunt the stupid beast all on his own.

"You might be content to leave your martial siblings to die," Liu Qingge snaps back, coldly. "But I'm not. So will you just cooperate for once in your life?!"

As though Shen Jiu has ever returned to Cang Qiong Mountain Sect with fewer martial siblings than he left with. It's not a feat that many can claim — least of all Liu Qingge — and despite that it's not one that anyone has given him any respect for.

"Cooperate?" Shen Jiu repeats. "This from you, who's as likely to attack his martial siblings as the enemies they're fighting?" It still stings, even months later, that the one time he'd tried to help had been thrown back into his face so badly — as though he had been punished for even trying.

"You tried to stab me in the back," Liu Qingge growls at him. "Did you think I wouldn't retaliate for that?"

"If I was going to stab you in the back," Shen Jiu hisses, full of vitriol. "It would do more damage than that!" His chest heaves with the force of his words as well as the instant regret of saying them. Better to just let Liu Qingge believe what he wanted than try to justify himself. Than to suffer through the questioning and endless disbelief that Shen Jiu could ever do anything good — talking back, trying to explain himself, has never worked because it doesn't matter what the truth is, only what the masters want to be true.

When has Shen Jiu's word ever held any weight? When has anyone ever believed him, believed the best of him?

"What's that supposed to mean?" Liu Qingge demands. "Hey! Answer me. You're so quick with your words except when it matters. Why can't you just give a straight answer?"

"What need do I have to explain myself to you?" Shen Jiu spits back, incensed again. The fury comes easily on the heels of regret, as though it had never left. "I outrank you! So concerned with propriety and yet you can't count high enough to know that two comes before seven?"

They're so close that he can hear Liu Qingge grinding his teeth and it's a cold satisfaction to know that he's at least right about this. Whether he can keep his position on the second peak when the truth of his origins is known is another matter — but right this second, he outranks Liu Qingge.

"Shen-shixiong," Liu Qingge snarls, sounding like the words are torn from his throat. It's the first time he's ever addressed Shen Qingqiu like that — properly — however little real respect there is in it.

He hopes it burns for this precious little master to have to bow his head to a slave. To know what it is that he's bowing to.

"Yes, Liu-shidi?" He responds, faintly mocking, just to rub it in that little bit more. "Is something unclear to you? Do you require this shixiong's guidance?"

"Enlighten me," Liu Qinnge says, sounding like he's holding a sword to both their throats. "What happened on that mission."

Shen Jiu lets out a shuddering, uneven breath and stops trying to pull away. At least this way Liu Qingge can't see his face, how little that matters. He's played into the trap, been out-maneuvered by a fool. What a disgrace. He could still refuse to answer, could still lie, but there's a vicious pleasure in Liu Qingge asking to have his own preconceptions thrown in his face.

"You mean the mission where the ghosts came out of the well and attacked us," he says, still managing to hold an edge of mockery in his voice. "And we fought the ghosts. Perhaps Liu-shidi has since learnt to watch his back, lest he get surrounded and attacked from behind by the ghosts."

Liu Qingge stiffens, muscles going tense, and Shen Jiu knows he doesn't believe a word of it. Why would he? It's only the most logical sequence of events.

"It wasn't a ghost that hit me," Liu Qingge insists. "It was your spiritual attack. I know it was."

Shen Jiu hisses. "Perhaps Liu-shidi might speculate as to why he wasn't hit by a ghost."

There's a long moment of silence and all Shen Jiu can hear is his own thundering heartbeat. He feels shaky and tired, as if admitting something — even as small and pathetic as this — has torn a hole in him and emptied out his insides and scoured them raw.

"Why couldn't you just say that?" Liu Qingge asks, voice thick with frustration. But he doesn't— he doesn't say it can't be true. He doesn't deny it. "If you just spoke plainly, people wouldn't have to make assumptions."

Shen Jiu makes a derisive sound. As if that would stop anybody. "Oh, now Liu-shidi's habit of jumping to conclusions is also my fault. What else should I have expected?"

Liu Qingge groans. "You're impossible," he mutters. "Fine. I apologize. I shouldn't have attacked you. Are you happy now?"

Is he happy now? No. Of course not. What did any of this have to do with happiness?

"I don't want your worthless apologies," Shen Jiu says, mulishly. What do apologies prove? What do they fix? "You can just stop talking about it."

"Gladly," Liu Qingge bites back. He shifts his hands and starts to pass qi over again. "Will you focus on not freezing to death now?"

"Gladly," Shen Jiu mimics, closing his eyes. His spiritual energy flows even easier than before — one of the large tangles in his spiritual veins has simply been wiped away, undone, as if it never existed. It's disturbing, for it to have happened without his awareness, and frustrating for a hindrance that he has devoted so much time to, so much effort into trying to clear away, to have resolved itself without him even knowing why.

Liu Qingge lets out a heaving sigh that gusts over Shen Jiu's hair, but the tension in his hold also slowly relaxes. "Finally," he mutters, voice quiet, as though this has been a huge trial for him.

Shen Jiu is tempted to squirm away again, just because it's possible, but— he is warm now. It's lulling him into a false sense of security. He can wait just a little bit longer.

Just a little…

"Hey. Wake up." A hand shakes his shoulder and Shen Jiu jolts awake with a burst of adrenaline, unsure when and how he'd fallen asleep in the first place. He usually sleeps so poorly, so lightly, that even being in the dorms with the other disciples is unbearable and yet—

Liu Qingge is crouched near the bedroll, face in his habitual frown. He's dressed again, robes slightly damp — he's had time to get up and dress and do who knows what, and Shen Jiu had slept through all of it.

"What?" Shen Jiu says, utterly disorientated. Everything feels vaguely unreal, as if this whole episode has just been too bizarre to be believed. His own memories seem as if they belong to another person. If he were telling himself that any of this had happened, he wouldn't believe it.

"It's stopped raining," Liu Qingge says, as if this is in any way part of the information Shen Jiu was requesting. He pulls his hand back from where it had been shaking Shen Jiu's shoulder and he feels—

Not cold. Not after knowing what true cold feels like. But… isolated. As if it's strange now to not have someone touching him, to be alone, as if he hasn't gone out of his way for years to avoid having people lay hands on him. As if he has been missing it — is missing it right now.

Fine. He's felt worse before. However strange it is to think that he feels bad because someone isn't touching him — rather than because someone is. The irony is almost funny.

Shen Jiu sits up slowly, dragging the blankets with him for as much protection as they can give. He's conscious of the fact that his appearance is a mess. He's always taken such pains to match the fussy, impossible standards of the cultivators — to be stripped of it feels humiliating. As much as being reduced to this state because of something as mundane as the weather.

Liu Qingge moves away, back to the fire stone, and Shen Jiu takes the break in his unnerving attention to stand and retrieve his clothes, redressing as fast as he possibly can. They're warm but not totally dry — though still much better than the sopping wet mess he recalls. Wearable, at least. Good. He hadn't thought to bring an entire spare set of robes and that's beginning to feel like a horrible oversight.

"There's food," Liu Qingge adds, abruptly, when he's done. As if he had been waiting for Shen Jiu to be done. "It's hot."

Fragrant rice roasted in bamboo tubes, blackened on the outside from being shoved against the fire stone, and soup rehydrated from the dry powder that An Ding Peak issued by the cartload. Travel rations, easy to carry and prepare, but Shen Jiu hasn't come so far that he can turn his nose up at food — let alone warm food.

The strangest part of it is that Liu Qingge bothered and is willing to share without the usual sniping about dividing the workload and camping duties. Both of them are more likely to resort to inedia on missions than to deal with each other. They had been using inedia until now.

Shen Jiu takes it — half expecting it to be snatched away at the last second. It isn't, and somehow that unsettles him just as much.

He eats first, hastily and hungrily, and then says, "what are you up to?" because he can't see any reason for it. Liu Qingge has never struck him as the subtle sort — their confrontations have always been immediate and violent. This… whatever this is, is out of character.

Liu Qingge snorts and leans back, as if this sharp suspicion has actually relaxed him. As if he too might not know how to act when they aren't at each other's throats. "You were being so quiet," he says, "I was starting to think you'd died."

No thanks to you, Shen Jiu nearly says but he's pretty sure it is thanks to Liu Qingge that he isn't dead and—

He's not going to thank him.

"You aren't that lucky," is what he mutters instead. He turns away and sets to collecting his bedroll and stashing it away in his qiankun sleeve.

Liu Qingge does the same — faster even, probably from more practice — and flicks the fire stone into a carefully built wooden box, clearly made with arrays to contain the heat and stop it from burning through. It's probably worth about as much as the stone itself is.

"Here," he says, thrusting the box at Shen Jiu.

"I'm not going to carry it for you," Shen Jiu says, narrowing his eyes. He's not a packhorse.

Liu Qingge makes an exasperated noise. "If you're cold, use it." He pushes it forward again, forcing it into Shen Jiu's hands and then lets go, so he has to either take it or drop it.

Fine. Liu Qingge isn't getting it back, though. If he's careless enough with it to make Shen Jiu carry it, then Shen Jiu can claim to be careless enough to have lost it somewhere. It would serve him right.

"Hmph," he says, tucking it away. He leaves the cave and the morning sun is bright and warm, as though the storm of the last day had never happened at all. "Now. As for this Lightning Horned Mountain Horse…"

He's not going to suffer an indignity like this and return empty handed, that's for sure.