Chapter 1: Play Something Harsh/ Play Something Strange
1 - Play Something Harsh
“Xiao-Jiu…” Yue Qingyuan stares at the crying event manager curled up on the floor, the three punched fans moaning against the carpet, and yet another bodyguard demanding a raise. “What… exactly happened?”
“What the hell did you do?! ” Qi Qingqi roars like the banshee she is. If he didn’t need her PR expertise (and because hardly anyone is worthy of working with him), she’d be fired. Again.
“ I did nothing,” Shen Jiu--otherwise known as Shen Qingqiu, rising Chinese singing sensation, winner of best dancer and body for three years in a row, and best dressed according to several influential blogs--pulls out his antique fan to cover his face. These plebians don’t deserve to look at him.
Yue Qingyuan just stares again with that pathetic kicked-dog face that makes Shen Jiu want to strangle him. But then who else will he train to be his manager?
“ They insulted me.” Shen Jiu scoffs. Then, because he knows Yue Qingyuan is weak, he adds, “Gege,” along with the look .
Immediately, Yue Qingyuan’s visage melts into a puddle of besotted goo, before his professional face (finally) switches on and he turns a cool gaze towards Qi Qingqi and the rest of the snivelling and/or angry idiots. “You heard Shen Qingqiu. I’m afraid Cang Qiong Entertainment will not tolerate any slight against our top star. Miss Long, consider your contract terminated. Mr. Su, there will be no raise or future career for you once I tell Bai Zhan Security of your unprofessional behavior, and you three …”
The whimpering fans begin kowtowing immediately after seeing Yue Qingyuan’s chilly smile. Shen Jiu feels a shiver of delight at the sight of it.
“As stated in the contract you signed as a requirement to attend this exclusive meet and greet, you were to stay at least three meters away from Shen Qingqiu at all times, and no touching was to occur, no exceptions .”
One of the fan’s lips tremble in an obvious ploy for mercy. “B-but, I j-just tripped, I didn’t m-mean to grab his a-arm…!”
Yue Qingyuan snaps the cover of his tablet shut, his smile growing colder. “ No exceptions.”
He turns to the new bodyguard, some person named Liu something (whatever, Shen Jiu doesn’t bother to remember the names of fighting addicts from Bai Zhan Security), and tells him to escort them all out and take them to Shen Jiu’s lawyer Madame Meiyin. Then Yue Qingyuan turns to Shen Jiu, looking like an old dog who just performed the same trick again but still demands praise.
Shen Jiu just nods. He’ll reward Yue Qingyuan later. It’s stupidly gratifying to see Yue Qingyuan’s shoulders slump in disappointment.
“ Wait a second! ” Qi Qingqi still points her finger at Shen Jiu. Urgh, he forgot about her. “That is not fair at all! I saw what happened! That poor girl really did trip--”
“A likely story.” He knows how sick people can be.
“And this is the fifth time this year that we’ve had to cover up another incident with one of your fans! I can’t cover this up with rumours again! This is setting a pattern, which means bad PR, which means lower sales, which means you’re out of the business!”
He rolls his eyes. “Cang Qiong can’t afford to let me go.”
True enough, Cang Qiong Entertainment is a small company that had no direction. It has several departments dedicated to different avenues of entertainment, whether it be television, pop music, classical music, rap music, indie music, any kind of music really, or movies. There are even smaller departments dedicated to writing and makeup. But because of the disorganized mess left by those in charge, Cang Qiong Entertainment has yet to have a hit.
Until Shen Qingqiu.
“We will once we get new blood. And who knows, we might get new blood rather soon once our investigators find out who Peerless Cucumber is.”
Shen Jiu’s fan snaps. He ignores Yue Qingyuan’s panicked looks and grits out. “Peerless Cucumber?”
“I’m sure you’re familiar with their work. It’s viral, after all,” Qi Qingqi, the witch, pulls out her phone to show how Peerless Cucumber is trending again on social networks with yet another new song on soundcloud.
Yes. Shen Jiu is very familiar with Peerless Cucumber’s work, having obsessively listened to all of Cucumber’s free songs on soundtrack relentlessly every night. He’s tried to copy Cucumber’s melodies and implement them in his own music, much to many gossip columns and blogs’ delight. He’s always asked about how he feels about Cucumber stealing his number one spot on social media when Cucumber is a mere indie artist who doesn’t show their face, doesn’t post on social media, doesn’t even make any money on soundcloud and yet has millions of listens and fans from word of mouth.
Cucumber doesn’t even sing. His songs are all instrumental!! The one time, Cucumber put a few humming vocals in one song , the internet went crazy speculating over Cucumber’s gender! (Many say female alto, others say male tenor, clearly.)
Meanwhile, Shen Jiu has had to claw his way to the top of the entertainment world, had to flirt and bribe the right people to get where he is now, and Cucumber has become well-known with mere luck and the internet. Shen Jiu has to wear the best make up, diet, pay attention to the best fashion, and watch how much he spends, what he says, and Cucumber could be walking around wearing a trash bag and with the worst acne in the world but no one would know!
Whoever they are, Shen Jiu hates them.
“Get out,” Shen Jiu says.
Qi Qingqi puts her hands on her hips. “Excuse me?”
“I said get out! ”
“And I said no ,” Qi Qingqi is a demon indeed, “not until you listen to what I will say.”
“I will fire you.”
“And you know no one else will willingly work PR for you.”
“You’re fired,” Shen Jiu says, just to be contrary, though they both know that he’ll re-hire her in a few days.
“Fine,” Qi Qingqi shrugs. “I need the vacation. Don’t call me for three days. I need a spa retreat after all this stupidity.”
Shen Jiu does not throw his broken fan at her, no. He just gracefully tosses it in the air. Yup.
2 - Play Something Strange
Yue Qingyuan misses the days when they were at the orphanage and Xiao Jiu would follow him cutely like a duckling. He’d do anything to get that affection again. Though, the Xiao Jiu now, with his power and sharp tongue, makes his heart race too.
“Don’t worry, Xiao-Jiu,” Yue Qingyuan still feels absurdly proud that he is the only one that Xiao Jiu will let touch him on the shoulder. “We’ll get through this as we always do. Miss Qi is wrong about the press. Sometimes a few bad rumours can be a good thing… it brings you more attention.”
“Not the right attention,” Xiao Jiu snaps. “This isn’t America . One scandal, one false accusation from a mere fan, and I’m finished.”
Yue Qingyuan’s grip tightens. Any fan like that would be gone before they can slander his Xiao Jiu. “We have money.”
“But will it keep being enough?”
They’re always careful with their money, a survival method from childhood. While Xiao Jiu is endlessly proud of how he dresses and looks, he’s always conservative over what brands he buys. Good quality but reasonable price, is what he always insists. As long as the outfit exudes power, than no one will ever know how much Xiao Jiu spent on it, especially if he keeps his tailor secret.
While money can cover up any scandal, Xiao Jiu is correct. Someday, they might not have the right amount to quiet down the incidents between “Shen Qingqiu” and his fans.
“We’ll have to cancel the future meet-and-greets. Tell them I’m in mourning or something. My grandfather died.”
“We used that excuse last year.”
“Tell them that my other grandfather died then.”
Yue Qingyuan nods, though inwardly he decides to use ‘grandmother’ as an excuse instead. Less suspicious. It’s unfortunate that they’ll be cancelling the next meet-and-greets. Fan interactions generate a lot of revenue, with all the merchandise sold, and the free advertising via instagram and the like. They can always use more money.
Ah well. He can think on that later. Right now, Xiao Jiu needs cheering up. “Shall I get you your favourite dumplings from that little shop on the corner?”
Xiao Jiu doesn't look up, merely standing to pick up the pieces of his splintered fan while waving Yue Qingyuan off. Silently, Yue Qingyuan makes a mental note to buy another fan for Xiao Jiu later…
"Then I'll be off!" He spares another glance at Xiao Jiu, and dares to steal a kiss against his shoulder before being chased off.
At the dumpling house, Yue Qingyuan waits patiently in line while typing out blackmail to use against Miss Long and Mr. Su (just in case), filling out another order for an antique fan (only the best for Xiao Jiu), and figuring out how to phrase Xiao Jiu’s excuse to the next event planners. Perhaps he should make up a story of how close Xiao Jiu was to his non-existent grandmother, add in something about a terrible bout of cancer, or a backstory of how this grandmother taught Xiao Jiu how to dance…
“Next in line please,” the cashier calls out.
“Ah, yes, I…” Yue Qingyuan drops his phone when he looks at the cashier.
The cashier stares awkwardly, but politely back, with a strained smile in place. “Um, sir, you dropped your phone…? Do you want me to help pick it up…?”
Yue Qingyuan keeps staring.
This cashier… he’s a bit thin, but if he grew his hair out and wore contacts instead of those large plastic frames, he could be an exact copy of Xiao Jiu! A softer but more approachable Xiao Jiu! If his Xiao Jiu is like an angry cat that you have to placate every day, this lookalike looks like a little kitten you want to protect from the rain.
Without realizing it, Yue Qingyuan pats the cashier lookalike on the head.
The cashier splutters, turning absolutely red, just like Xiao Jiu used to when they were younger. “I, um, sir, what are you doing?! Did I do something wrong?”
“Oh no.” Yue Qingyuan checks behind him. No other people waiting. Good. He’d hate to bother this young man at work. “It’s just… can I take a photo of you? For work?”
“Um…” the cashier looks ready to run or call his manager.
“It’s really for work!” Yue Qingyuan insists, fishing out his card to hand to… what does the name tag say? Yuan! A lucky name. Very profitable. “You look just like my client. Uncanny, really. I just want him to see the resemblance…”
A-Yuan gives him a deadpan stare that would make Xiao Jiu proud. Or angry that someone can do the same stare. Likely the latter.
“I’ll pay you 700 yuan!”
“Wow, it looks like it’s my break, let’s go take that picture,” A-Yuan agrees so easily. Yue Qingyuan finds himself patting the cashier on the head again.
With the picture snapped and sent to Xiao Jiu via WeChat, Yue Qingyuan hands A-Yuan 900 yuan in cash and orders a lot of dumplings. At first, A-Yuan tries to hand Yue Qingyuan back the change but Yue Qingyuan insists on A-Yuan keeping it. Something about the boy makes Yue Qingyuan want to feed him. Probably all of the guilt of being unable to support Xiao Jiu through their childhood.
His phone beeps. Xiao Jiu sends back a STAY at the dumpling house, I’m coming over IMMEDIATELY and Yue Qingyuan smiles.
The little cashier sees said smile and shivers. Poor thing must be cold. This dumpling house isn’t insulated properly. Maybe Yue Qingyuan should complain.
As he hums, waiting for XIao Jiu (and unknowingly making the cashier A-Yuan sweat like mad), finally Xiao Jiu storms through the doors, beautiful hair hidden in a cap. His eyes zero in on the jumpy cashier and narrow.
“You,” he points and snaps. “Come here!”
“Uh…” A-Yuan glances behind him, “I’m still on the clock, maybe I should…”
The manager, seeing A-Yuan’s signal for help, bustles over, only to gasp excitedly at Xiao Jiu. “Oh my goodness, it’s Shen Qingqiu! ”
“Yes, yes, I’ll pay you 1000 yuan to keep quiet. Now I’m going to take your cashier for a chat. Do you need anything else?” Xiao Jiu grits out.
“Oh, no, no, not at all,” the manager bows and flutters her eyes (Yue Qingyuan does not simmer at that action.) She elbows A-Yuan and hisses, “Shen Yuan, go to him!”
“ Now! ”
A-Yuan sighs and shuffles over like a well-behaved boy. He bows his head and murmurs, “It’s nice to meet you sir…”
Xiao Jiu’s eyes narrow further. With a snap, he pulls A-Yuan’s chin up so they stare at each other face to face. He stares for so long, that A-Yuan looks like he’s stopped breathing. Just as Yue Qingyuan thinks he should cut in, Xiao Jiu murmurs, “You’re short.”
“Nothing a good pair of heels can’t fix, I suppose,” Xiao Jiu nods. “Turn around.”
“?!” Xiao Jiu spins A-Yuan as forcefully as a child might spin a new beyblade.
“Skin’s not bad. Too thin, but the press will eat it up… needs a wig, lots of make up… Make a scowl for me.”
Blinking up at Xiao Jiu, A-Yuan looks at Yue Qingyuan helplessly. Yue Qingyuan does not feel like a wolf offering up a rabbit to his mate, nope.
“Xiao Jiu… perhaps we should explain things to him first…”
“Jiu…?” A-Yuan looks at Xiao Jiu, and Yue Qingyuan can feel Xiao Jiu preparing himself for the annoyance of yet another rabid fan recognizing the Shen Qingqiu, when A-Yuan’s face transforms into a radiant smile, one that reminds Yue Qingyuan of the first time he gave a fan to Xiao Jiu when they were eight. “You’re Shen Jiu! I remember you from all the erhu competitions! You won first in the nationals two times! Your chinese violin was amazing, I loved your rendition of The Moon Reflected on the Second Spring by Hua Yanjun, it made me cry . It reminded me of all those nights waitng for my mother to come home, and being comforted by the moon, but you don’t care about that . What I mean is, your technical skill and emotional range on the erhu is beyond anything I’ve ever seen! I, um, oh no, I don’t have paper. But if I could have your autograph, I just… I really loved your erhu!”
For the first time in years, both Yue Qingyuan and Shen Jiu are speechless. Yes, Xiao Jiu used to play the erhu, when he was poor and trying to make money. But that was over ten years ago when he was twelve. Yue Qingyuan still gets teary when he listens to old footage of Xiao Jiu’s playing, not that Xiao Jiu plays anymore… Hardly anyone recognizes Xiao Jiu from those days. They all see Shen Qingqiu.
And Xiao Jiu just… looks at A-Yuan, before stepping away and pulling his hat down to cover his eyes.
Yue Qingyuan beams. “Do you see that, A-Yuan? I knew you’d be a perfect fit for the job!”
“Close your mouth, idiot-Yuan, my body double shouldn’t exude such lazy behavior.”
“... Body double?! ”
They leave after paying a hefty bribe to the manager, and dragging a gaping Shen Yuan (and isn’t that another coincidence? The same surname! Fate again!) towards Cang Qiong Entertainment.
Chapter 2: Play Something Again/ Play Something Accidentally
3 - Play Something Again
Shen Yuan just got hired to this dumpling house to pay his mother’s hospital bills, and now he’s been kidnapped by a possible serial killer (he doesn’t care what that business card says, there’s no way anyone from Cang Qiong Entertainment would talk to a talentless hack like him) and the greatest erhu player to walk the earth (screw what the critics say about him)! The next thing he knows, they really do show up at Cang Qiong Entertainment and Shen Yuan is shoved into a chair while Yue Qingyuan and Shen Jiu loom over him menacingly holding bb cream, setting powder, cleanser, and eye shadow.
All the flashbacks of his mother forcing make up and traditional robes on him before an erhu recital suddenly bombard his mind and Shen Yuan barely has time to breathe before he’s looking at the mirror and his average face has become an exact replica of Shen Jiu’s! He feels like rubbing his face and asking, ‘Who is this?!’ but the face staring back at him is indeed the beautiful and elegant Shen Jiu. The power of makeup.
“Shut your mouth, you’re making me look like a moron,” Shen Jiu says.
Ack! That’s right, Shen Jiu would never be caught dead gaping at anything . He clamps his mouth shut.
“And breathe , little idiot.”
Right, breathing is important. He takes several deep breaths while Shen Jiu rolls his eyes.
Yue Qingyuan gives a fond laugh, but Shen Yuan is not fooled anymore by that tranquil older brother aura! That gentle laugh is clearly a front for how much he enjoys Shen Yuan’s internal screaming and suffering!
“And now we’ll train you on how to act as Shen Qingqiu. You’ll play the role perfectly or there will be consequences.”
Right, right, of course. If the Shen Jiu told him to jump off a cliff as a front for improving his erhu, Shen Yuan would do it. Just… one question…
“...Who’s Shen Qingqiu…?”
Yue Qingyuan’s laughs die immediately. “A-Yuan doesn’t know Shen Qingqiu?! What of his new album? Bamboo Beats? Or his hit song, Burning the Patriarchy?! ”
“Oh… I think I heard that song… not the album though…” So the artist was Shen Qingqiu. Cool. The song’s a bit average and repetitive, but catchy. He can see why the masses enjoy it, but it’s not his thing. He likes music that fuses traditional instruments with modern genres, but it’s so hard to find anything really good. Shit, he might have written a really scathing critique of the top hits once on his blog. Gonna have to delete that…
In the background, he thinks Yue Qingyuan is either choking or laughing, who knows with that character?
“Well, at least he’s not completely ignorant. How in the world do you know about my erhu and not Shen Qingqiu?! ”
“I know some things! I just really like the erhu!” How is he supposed to tell Shen Jiu about that concert, so many years ago? How is supposed to say that Shen Jiu’s playing felt like coming home, if home was the song of strings playing a melancholy sound that perfectly matched his heart? Nope. Too cheesy. He’d rather not.
Shen Jiu gives him that odd look again before he pulls on Shen Yuan’s hair and says, “Come. At this rate, you’ll never act like me. It’s better if you don’t open your mouth for any interviews. Qi-ge, cancel all my interviews, but put the fan events back on the table. Idiot Yuan, show me how you walk so I can fix it.”
“What?! Wait, what’s wrong with how I walk?!”
“It’s common and shut your mouth. The more you talk, the more obvious it is that you’re not Shen Qingqiu.”
“But I’m not Shen Qingqiu…?”
“You are now . It’s your new job starting today.”
“Wait, slow down, what are you talking about. I didn’t agree to anything--”
“We’ll pay you a salary of two hundred thousand yuan a month,” Yue Qingyuan cuts in with his salesman smile. “Also, free meals on the job.”
Shen Yuan’s mind nearly breaks. Two. Hundred. Thousand. Yuan. A. Month?! That’s about ten thousand US dollars alone! He’d pay off his tuition and his mother’s bills in no time! He might be able to afford a better room for her! He won’t have to eat cup ramen anymore! (Well, maybe he’ll still eat cup ramen, it’s not like he has enough energy to cook things.)
He turns to his idol Shen Jiu and bows, “So how did you say I walk again?”
The rest of the week is the worst week of Shen Yuan’s life. Shen Jiu calls him at all hours to come in at five in the morning just to do make up and go over wardrobe choices.
“No jeans. Never wear anything made by this brand, they’re absolutely trash. If any of my people ever think of trying to dress you in this brand, call me straight away and Qi-ge will have them fired.”
“But I don’t want to get someone fired--”
“Too bad. Their tastes don’t align with mine, so they weren’t worthy of working with me in the first place. Always use the black eyeliner, it makes our eyes pop the best. Occasionally , a bit of silver eyeliner if you want to go for the mysterious look--”
Shen Yuan walks out of those make up sessions feeling like he’ll be shot for wearing the wrong fake eyelashes.
At eight am, Yue Qingyuan quizzes Shen Yuan about all of “Shen Qingqiu’s” likes and dietary restrictions.
“So once again, you’re not allowed to eat…?”
“Any sweets. The only exceptions are matcha biscuits, but I have to nibble them, not bite them. And if I nibble them it has to be elegantly enough that I won’t get any crumbs on my face,” Shen Yuan repeats what Shen Jiu yelled at him for. It’s hard to eat without getting crumbs everywhere! And sweets are the best, he doesn’t know how Shen Jiu lives .
“And Shen Qingqiu’s favourite colour is…?”
“Green and black.”
“Dancing, singing, and modelling,” Shen Yuan dutifully repeats. Then frowns. “Wait, what about the guqin? Do you still practise, Jiu-xiansheng?”
“Focus on the questions, Idiot-Yuan, or I’ll extend our sessions for another hour.”
Hell no, is Shen Yuan going to go through another hour of Shen Jiu poking his back with a stick to get the right posture while walking.
“Question, focusing, now!”
Finally, after makeup, Shen Qingqiu’s wiki page 101, posture practise, walking practise, comes fixing his speech patterns. Shen Jiu speaks elegantly and carefully, while Shen Yuan (according to Shen Jiu) speaks carelessly as a child in preschool.
Shen Yuan stares at Yue Qingyuan and Shen Jiu, sweating nervously. His stomach growls. “Uh, can’t we just have an early dinn--ack! Stop doing that!”
Shen Jiu sprays another puff of water at him. “Stop using filler words like ‘uh’ and asking things so tentatively. You’re Shen Qingqiu now. Shen Qingqiu doesn’t ask, he orders, and he gets what he wants.”
“Well, why can’t I just be a bit more polit--ack! Stop, stop, okay! I’ll try again!”
Stupid Yue Qingyuan just sits serenely, watching them both with an ominously serene smile. Honestly what the hell.
He can’t eat cup noodles anymore, he’s put on a strict diet of the occasional fish, lots of greens, nuts, and a bit of rice. He can’t go home, they make him sleep in one of the spare rooms of their estate. He can’t walk without getting stabbed by Shen Jiu’s stupid stick, or speak without getting sprayed with water, or stand without getting hit with a paper fan. It’s terrible. It’s all terrible. He’s so tired by the end of it all that he can’t even practise his own music.
Do it for the money, Shen Yuan tells himself when Yue Qingyuan just smiles at his suffering and Shen Jiu calls him ‘idiot’ for sneaking another bag of chips into his room. Do it for the bills!
By the time of the next fan event, about three weeks later, Shen Jiu crosses his arms and mutters, “Well, as long as you don’t speak or eat, you should be… adequate.”
“Great!” Shen Yuan beams. He can’t believe the Shen Jiu complimented him!
Then Shen Jiu glares.
“Uh, I mean, I will performing just as adequately.”
Shen Jiu just puts his face in his hands. “Never mind. Just go. Qi-ge, watch him .”
“Of course, Xiao Jiu! I’m sure he’ll be fine. He was personally trained by you after all and ‘adequate’ is high praise coming from you,” Yue Qingyuan says warmly.
“Just get out of here before I murder you both.”
Impossibly, this seems to make Yue Qingyuan’s smile wider. “Of course. I love you too.”
“ Not in front of idiot Yuan, Qi-ge! ”
Somehow they both leave before Shen Jiu punches him in the face. Which is apparently romantic for them both. Or something. The lives of the rich and famous are too mysterious to behold.
By the time, Yue Qingyuan drives Shen Yuan up to the fan event, Shen Yuan wants to throw up or faint or fall into a coma and never wake up. He can’t do this. He’s just barely scraping by in his University career, he only dabbles in music as a hobby now, he can’t even make soup! He’s not made for elegance or fame like Shen Jiu, he--
A text appears on his phone. A message from Shen Jiu.
Jiu-xiansheng: You’re the only one who can do this, so do it properly. You are Shen Qingqiu now.
Shen Yuan wants to bury himself in the ground. He’s not Shen Qingqiu at all… but if he’s the only one who can do this, that means Shen Jiu’s reputation relies on him! He’ll do this properly for Shen Jiu, and maybe he’ll get some erhu tips from him one day!
The first hour of the event goes well. Walk like an immortal cultivator, Shen Yuan tells himself, walk like you’re above it all. He tries to remember the names of all the event managers and employees at the concert hall, making sure to nod at each one. For some reason, they all flinch away from him and then pale when he nods… so maybe he’s doing this “Shen Qingqiu” thing right? He tries to give a small smile too. Huh, lots of red faces. Maybe there’s a bug going around…
Oh well, he goes to wait by the table where fans will line up to get autographs and photos. A twitchy employee waits there, holding out a water bottle, and Shen Yuan nods. “Thank you.”
The twitchy employee squeaks. “W-what did you say?”
Shen Yuan raises a brow. Should he repeat himself? But he feels like Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t do that… so he just nods and takes the water bottle. He doesn’t notice the twitchy employee blink in surprise and swoon.
Yue Qingyuan goes to stand behind Shen Yuan and nudges his shoulder. “You’re doing well. I haven’t seen the room so pleasant at a fan even in… a long time.”
Shen Yuan stares blankly at all the twitchy employees who seem to be either avoiding his gaze or turning red. This is supposed to be pleasant?
“One more minute! Someone open the doors to let the fans in!” one of the employees shout.
A bodyguard that Shen Yuan wasn’t introduced to, steps past Shen Yuan towards the door but his foot catches against the carpet. The bodyguard stumbles, his body falling backwards, and Shen Yuan just reacts.
He catches the bodyguard around the shoulders and nearly buckles under the bodyguard’s weight.
Luckily, the bodyguard quickly stands up and glances at him sharply. For a minute, Shen Yuan’s breath catches at how attractive this bodyguard is. He’s just as attractive as Shen Jiu and Yue Qingyuan but where Shen Jiu embodies cold unreachable elegance and Yue Qingyuan embodies the calm of a sleeping dragon, this bodyguard is beautiful enough to be an actor on a xianxia set. Probably the tragic hero or an honourable warrior with those biceps.
“You,” the bodyguard, who Shen Yuan sees from his name tag is called ‘Liu Qingge’, “Shen Qingqiu… what kind of games are you playing now?”
He can’t help but let his brows furrow. He wants to say are you alright? But he knows Shen Jiu wouldn’t say that. Instead, Shen Yuan moves back and murmurs, “The carpet is loose,” and steps back to his spot behind the table.
He really hopes that this Liu Qingge isn’t someone who regularly interacts with “Shen Qingqiu.” He’s not sure what kind of “games” those two play. Could it be… unrequited love?? Isn’t Shen Jiu supposed to be all-but-married to his manager? Oh boy, Yue Qingyuan will rip that man apart. RIP Liu Qingge.
The awkward moment is quickly alleviated as a different employee opens the doors instead. Then the fans flood in. Then Shen Yuan puts on his Shen Qingqiu face.
He can do this! For money!! (And erhu playing tips!)
4 - Play Something Accidentally
Luo Binghe remembers the first time he saw Shen Qingqiu. Unlike other fans of the Shen Qingqiu Brigade (or SQQB for short), he didn’t start by liking the beautiful and unreachable Shen Qingqiu because of his music. No. To be honest, he always felt Shen Qingqiu’s music was a bit… lackluster.
Instead, his devotion to the cult of Shen Qingqiu began when he was moved to yet another foster home and contemplating running away. Just as he had packed up his bags and been ready to try and survive outside the system, an interview segment had been playing in the living room. Shen Qingqiu was on the screen at the time, being interviewed about some of his earlier albums.
The interviewer had asked Shen Qingqiu, “What keeps you going? What drives you to create music?”
Shen Qingqiu, narrowing his eyes at the question, had replied, “What else? Survival. To live is to survive. I’m going to prove to all who ever doubted me that I am worthy. I never give up, and any who do, are cowards.”
Those words, so harsh and direct, pierced Luo Binghe’s heart. He suddenly felt very foolish for trying to run away from this foster home, when he could still do better. When he could rise up, survive , as Shen Qingqiu put it, and rise above it all.
Since then, Luo Binghe worked his ass off in several part time jobs and school. He survived , picking up economics and business easily, rising higher and higher at his positions. He saw nothing except his goals and continued listening to Shen Qingqiu’s interviews. He felt something when he listened to Shen Qingqiu talk and what else could it be but love? Clearly he wanted to worship this man forever.
And thus, he joined the SQQB and stole the president position from Ming Fan (now vice president).
He’s been to every rare Shen Qingqiu fan event, just to glimpse that man. He’s been ignored and glared at when he told Shen Qingqiu how much he admired him, and he’s sure that his presents to Shen Qingqiu have been thrown in the trash, but it’s fine.
As long as he can keep looking at Shen Qingqiu, he’s fine with this distance. Content.
He’s not lonely at all.
“Remember,” Yue Qingyuan whispers to Shen Yuan, “that the president of SQQB is… a bit fanatical… when it comes to Shen Qingqiu. If you feel uncomfortable at any point, just let me know, and I will escort him off the premises again.”
Shen Yuan blinks, heart sinking. Is this Luo Binghe person that bad? If he’s so fanatical then why hasn’t he been banned from fan events yet…?
Oh well, he’s sure things will be fine. Maybe Shen Jiu just doesn’t like people. Except Yue Qingyuan, who might be another classification of human being all together.
“Did… did you see that?!” Ning Yingying, treasurer of SQQB, shakes Ming Fan’s shoulder. “Did Shen Qingqiu-ge just… shake a fan’s hand?!”
Everyone in the SQQB freezes and stands on their tiptoes. Sure enough, Shen Qingqiu actually smiles (they’ve been blessed today, blessed , Luo Binghe could cry tears of blood at that surprisingly angelic smile) at a fan and shakes her hand after he gives her an autograph.
The fans begin crowding into the line.
“Is it okay if I shake their hands?” Shen Yuan whispers back to Yue Qingyuan.
“Hmmm… Xiao Jiu doesn’t like touching other people,” Yue Qingyuan muses, making Shen Yuan blink in surprise. From what he can tell from Shen Jiu and Yue Qingyuan’s relationship, Shen Jiu seems to tolerate touch just fine. Maybe it’s a lovers thing. Also Shen Jiu has no problem yanking Shen Yuan’s cheek to grab his attention. “But since it’s you, I’m sure it’ll be fine. The skinship will definitely raise sales and cause a stir online… so I will accept it.” Yue Qingyuan smiles, but his eyes turn cool, “Just nothing more than that.”
“Of course! I won’t ruin his reputation.”
“It’s the wolves I’m worried about.”
Sometimes Luo Binghe wishes he had superpowers. Then he could blow away all of these fans and be the first and only one at Shen Qingqiu’s table. Maybe he could even talk to him without being glared at or escorted away for trying to sniff his hair.
Not that he’s going to try that today. Nope. He knows his boundaries. Completely. His dick just thinks before his brain sometimes, that’s all.
Urgh. This is taking so long. How long does it take to shake a person’s hand, Ming Fan? Let go, let go, let Binghe have a chance to touch that hand!
Finally, finally , after Ming Fan floats away like a person on the best high, Binghe moves towards the table and all rational thought just… leaves him. He can’t speak. He can’t move. He just stares at how kind Shen Qingqiu’s eyes look today. Have they always been so kind? They were always glaring before…
Speak brain speak!
“You’re so beautiful.”
Urgh. No. Please. Don’t escort him out. Noooooooo, bad dick, bad!!!
But then the impossible happens. Shen Qingqiu looks a bit bewildered, and he laughs . His laugh is unlike any sound that Binghe has ever heard. It’s gentle as bamboos swaying in the breeze, soft as the touch of a warm blanket. He doesn’t think anyone’s ever heart Shen Qingqiu laugh in public before. He could die happy right now. He hopes Ning Yingying is recording this moment like he asked her to.
“Thank you,” Shen Qingqiu says. “You’re rather beautiful too.”
Error, error, Binghe’s brain shuts down and begins re-buffering in perpetual stillness like dial up internet trying to reconnect in the middle of a desert.
He feels something against his hand. A piece of paper. Right. The autograph. And… it says, Thank you for being my fan, Luo Binghe.
His… his name! Shen Qingqiu… knows his name?! He remembered?!
“I…!” Tears fill his eyes, “I, um.” SAY SOMETHING, he screams at his brain. GIVE HIM THE GIFT! “Ihavethisforyou--”
It’s like watching an egg slip to the ground in slow motion, unable to stop it, as it cracks apart and just splits all over the ground. Luo Binghe’s hands come up to his little paper bag and practically crush its contents by the time he pulls the bag out and Luo Binghe can see the crumbled matcha biscuits in the see-through plastic of the bag and oh god Shen Qingqiu’s going to think he doesn’t like him--
The bag disappears from his hands. To his horror, he sees Shen Qingqiu open it and put one of the cookie crumbs against his lips. He sees Shen Qingqiu’s manager and several bodyguards move as if to stop him from eating strange food (which, to be fair, it is made by a stranger, but Luo Binghe would never poison any cooking!) and then Shen Qingqiu’s tongue darts out to lick the crumb off his finger and Luo Binghe dies on the inside.
“Hmm.” Shen Qingqiu’s face stays blank. He nods. “It’s good.”
That’s it. Luo Binghe has ascended. He never thought…? He just??? What is happening???
“I love you,” he blurts out. “I love you so much.”
Shen Qingqiu stares at him. “Oh. Thank you. That’s nice.”
Luo Binghe could swoon. That’s never happened before! Shen Qingqiu has never thanked him after that before! He’s so happy that he doesn’t even notice Ming Fan and Ning Yingying dragging him out the door before he can make a bigger fool of himself. He’s dead.
Shen Yuan really didn’t mean to do it. He remembered the rules, of course. But as soon as he saw the infamous Luo Binghe, he couldn’t help but think that this tall and handsome fellow didn’t look like the type to be a fanatical fan. Actually, the trembling lips and widened eyes upon seeing “Shen Qingqiu” made Luo Binghe look like a big giant puppy.
When Luo Binghe called him beautiful to his face, Shen Yuan couldn’t help but disagree. Shen Qingqiu is the one who is beautiful. Shen Yuan is normally a slob who’d rather put on sweaters and sweatpants. No, the truly beautiful one in this conversation is Luo Binghe, so he says so.
As he absently pretends to sign the already pre-signed autograph (done by Shen Jiu the other day), he doesn’t notice Luo Binghe’s besotted expression. Yue Qingyuan does and proceeds to put on his yandere murder face as if human beings are capable of telepathy. Human beings are not.
He nudges the autograph towards Luo Binghe’s hands and the next thing he knows, Luo Binghe turns an adorable shade of red and begins stuttering.
Shen Yuan sees the despair and shame in Luo Binghe’s eyes when he notices that his gift is crumpled. Shen Yuan remembers another child, practising erhu day by day, never good enough for his mother, practising until his erhu’s strings snapped during a competition and standing in shame in front of an audience of a million stabbing eyes.
Without thinking, he takes the crumpled package and he eats the biscuit, screw all propriety.
It’s… it’s divine. The best matcha biscuit he’s ever had. He wonders where Luo Binghe bought it and if Shen Yuan can buy a year’s supply for himself. They’re that divine. Wow.
He doesn’t notice Luo Binghe being dragged away by the other members of the SQQB.
He does however get a scathing call from Shen Jiu calling him an idiot in several different ways for accepting random food from strangers, and an oddly intense lecture from Yue Qingyuan about ‘how to say no.’