Luo Binghe stared at the halls of his Palace with an empty gaze. At this time of night they were stark, absent of even the servants.
He thought of his women, the treasures he’d amassed, the power he painfully accumulated over the duration of his life, and he made his choice.
He walked away.
His empire as dust behind his footsteps.
He left a smear mark in a cave he was known to practice closed door cultivation in, along with some of his blood, and a few ragged strips of clothing. It would not be long for someone to find his “remains”. Dying was the least he could do for them. His false destruction would leave them all as widowed women of wealth, rather than abandoned women, scorned by the society around them. What they would do with the chaos he’d leave, find a foothold in this world, or collapse into a pit of their own making was up to them. The fairness of his act, was not particularly relevant in his mind. Life was deeply unfair.
His pouch was filled with everything he thought he’d need, including: a small fortune, cloth, a variety of pills, and numerous healing panaceas. Much, he left behind, the women in the Palace free to take what they could as a last sign of his regard. They spent years together, and despite his impending exit from the dimension he did feel some degree of responsibility towards them.
Them, with their painted lips, and search for security, him with his lust for power, what a perfect match they made?
Still…he must have loved them in some way, at the very least, he cared for them…He was kind to them, this he was sure of, treating them with every courtesy he knew, but his love was a distant thing, a play acted out for two people. As though he was an actor in a love story, repeating his lines by rote.
Perhaps some did love his face, or his power, his soft voice, the fact that he never raised a hand to them, and treated them with courtesy, settling themselves into a comfortable existence, content to be one of many when their husband was so much better than the usual fare of a life fighting wretchedly for a man who would think them old maids when their time came, replacing them with something else, someone new. Despite their immortality. At least with him, they knew there would only ever be additions instead of subtractions, and that when he came to their rooms he would treat them as though it was the first week they met. Adapt at faking a boyish glee, he would recall their personal details, bring flowers or food they enjoyed, and recite analogies of past moments before slaking the itch of his cultivation, and leaving in the morning.
Too much of their lives were wrapped in power dynamics for there to be any real trust between them. Them, forever below him, forever unable to voice any real anger, for fear of losing stability in a world made ragged by the Lord they lived with. A concubine’s, even a wife’s position was always tenuous.They loved him as a person loved their livelihood, and he, them, as a man loved a healing balm on a burn.
If some did really love him for whatever fractions of his personality he allowed them to grasp, it was perhaps the greatest shame, because Luo Binghe, when pressed to face his inadequacies, did not think he knew how to return that sentiment in quite same way. He found himself unable to trust them not to stab him in the dark, so many of them had, initially, and some still tried.
All these years, and he still preferred to sleep alone. How funny.
The image of his other self, defending, worshipping Shen Qingqiu, haunted him. The hands in his hair, the gentle Qi filling his meridians…he dreamt of a man who was not his former Shizun, but wore his face for months on end with no respite, before making his choice. He was left a man in a desert, searching for an oasis.
So he tore a rip through the space between world, and entered an Abyss once more.
It was perhaps a mistake for him to arrive at what appeared to be a bustling street. The tall grey pagodas surrounded him. Metal carriages encased mortal beings, and he, in his robe, and sword, was deeply out of place. The fashions ranged from indecent, to unusual, but he prided himself on his ability to adapt, so he did not yet assign social classes based on attire. He had a suspicion that the gaggle of young women crossing the street in their pleaded skirts attended some form of school, as opposed to a brothel, despite his initial surprise at the amount of bare skin, and tight fitting clothing.
This was his world. This bright, noisy place, that smelled like burning waste.
A blaring light hit his eyes, as a small hand grasped his bicep and pulled him off to the side. The strength of the grip was not enough to move him, but he went along with it out of curiosity.
A face three fourths similar to another, invaded his view. Glossy black eyes instead of green, fair skin, tousled short hair hidden under a red woollen cap. His plush pink lips were chapped, and his cheeks flush with the cold. Luo Binghe did not feel the chill in the air, but then again he didn’t he feel a drop of Qi in this strange city he’d found himself in so he supposed the residents were all at the mercy of the weather.
Of all the people in this world who could he could have met him first, it was him. Fate was in play. It had to be.
“You can’t stay in the middle of the street, it’s dangerous,” the man said, before pausing…“Also, great costume, it really gives off that Luo Binghe feeling.”
Luo Binghe froze, and pointed to himself, “You know who I am?”
He knew the man was aware of his life to some degree, but he was surprised that even his attire, or bearing was so…accurately portrayed.
“Mmm, Proud Immortal Demon Way, yeah? It’s held the spot for the best selling web-novel for like, two years already.”
His life was apparently popular. How…charming. The man in front of him, was small enough to tuck under his chin, perhaps he was the right size to rest his cheek on Luo Binghe’s broad chest. Shen Yuan looked similar to Shen Qingqiu. They would be siblings, not cousins if one had to assign a family relationship. A smaller, frailer version, with strange metal frames on his face, with small glass pieces imbedded in them.
“I didn’t know there was a convention going on, are you lost?” Shen Yuan asked before removing his hand from Luo Binghe’s arm.
“I am, actually. Apologies, I did not notice that I was in the middle of the road,” Binghe replied.
“No worries. Where are you going?” Shen Yuan asked.
“I can’t seem to recall where I’m supposed to be going,” Luo Binghe stated, with a teasing grin. He wasn’t lying after all, he really didn’t know where he was, let alone where a supposed novel convention would be held.
“Do you know a landmark, a general area, the name of the place? I can search it up on my phone?” Shen Yuan continued.
“Ah…it seems that I have no idea where it is,” Luo Binghe teased.
“Well then, where do you want to go?” Shen Yuan asked, biting his lip in mild frustration.
“I am not sure, I am quite lost as I said,” Luo Binghe repeated.
“How about home? Maybe it’s better to rest up, if you don’t know where you’re going, there are conventions happening every day, another one is bound to pop up?” Shen Yuan offered.
“I’m not sure where that is either?” Luo Binghe put on his best face of abject confusion, and waited.
“What do you mean you don't-" Shen Yuan paused and examined him as though coming to a conclusion, "D-do you know your name?” Shen Yuan asked, his eyes taking on a mild look of panic.
“Luo Binghe,” He answered. He was indeed, Luo Binghe. It was not his fault that Luo Binghe was fictional in this world. That had nothing to do with him.
“That can’t be your name,” Shen Yuan insisted.
“It’s the only name I remember,” Luo Binghe replied.
“Oh fuck.” Shen Yuan swore, as he stopped mid way through searching his pockets to presumably find his “phone”, a matter forgotten in liue of potential amnesia.
The cursing surprised Luo Binghe. He looked unsuited for such crass language. A different face overlayed the one in front of him in his mind. That man certainly never swore, not even when -
This had suddenly become a much more complicated situation than Shen Yuan signed up for. All he wanted to do was be a good samaritan, and now look at his life. He was facing a tall, handsome man, in the best Luo Binghe costume he had ever seen…who thought his name was actually Luo Binghe…because he clearly had some kind of memory loss situation going on.
Okay, okay, fine. He could do this.
Sighing, he took off his glasses and rubbed the indents on the bridge of his nose before putting them back on. “I’m Shen Yuan”, he introduced, “Let’s get you to a hospital, yeah?”
If there was one place he was intimately acquainted with, it was the hospital. He could lead them there, easy.
“Luo Binghe” nodded in agreement and Shen Yuan started to briskly walk to the nearest subway station, looking behind him to make sure the man was there. “Come on, the green line goes right to a streetcar, that transfers to Tiantan Puhua,” he instructed.
What Shen Yuan failed to notice was the way his new responsibility kept mouthing his name behind his back, nor did he notice how the man kept a wary eye glaring outwards as they entered the subway, and paid extremely close attention to Shen Yuan’s every action…as though he had never seen a person use a subway in his life…because, well, he hadn’t.
Luo Binghe made himself comfortable on the strange little benches, and continued to observe his companion. Shen Yuan peeled off his red gloves, revealing slender, scholarly fingers, took off his hat, and undid his coat, the warmth of the subway cart too much for so many layers. A long white column was exposed to Luo Binghe’s view, a black beauty mark two inches underneath his right ear, a grey shirt of some kind underneath his thick coat, were as well.
Shen Yuan. Same last name, different first. Kind enough to help a stranger man seek medical aid, or perhaps naive to the point of stupidity. He supposed he’d find out which.
“What do you mean, he’s not in the system?” Shen Yuan demanded, his hands clenched into fists, his eye’s narrowed at their incompetence. How hard was it to find one man? Extremely tall, handsome men, did not grow out of trees in Beijing. He had to come from somewhere.
Shen Yuan, once again rubbed his nose in frustration. He was about to do something incredibly stupid. It was fine, he would probably die before his mid-twenties anyway. He may as well pull some shoujo manga type bullshit before he bit the dust. It would be an adventure. He was bringing this strange man who could probably break him in half, back home with him. Even though “Luo Binghe” had questionable taste in literature…not that Shen Yuan could speak.
“They sent a photo of your face to the police, hopefully someone will know who you are, but for now you can stay with me, if you’d like to. Or you can stay in the hospital, or in prison holding,” Shen Yuan offered.
Luo Binghe didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that this little white bunny, was about to invite a wolf, unknowingly into his home, without any manipulation on his part. He was slightly worried for the man. How did he manage to live until now, if he kept giving people open invitations to hurt him? Surely this world was not so vastly different culturally, that people often invited stranger unknown men, into their homes?
Shen Yuan slipped his shoes off as he entered his apartment. He decided to live alone, mostly because he didn’t want his family to watch him waste away. His parents were supportive as possible, given their busy work, and their strained relationship. His siblings, when he lived at home, would come by his room to watch him with concern…but there was nothing they could do.
Shen Xiulan, beautiful as the orchid of her namesake, had no choice but to live in a home with her dying brother, too young to move out. Shen Yuan disagreed with that narrative, and Xiulan’s falling school grades, strongly. At the age of nineteen, made a decision. It was, overall, a fairly easy process; Shen Yu his second-eldest brother, had found his half-brother a two bedroom apartment with handicap-able access, in a safe district. Shen Yunxu, the eldest of his siblings, paid for it, despite their parents demands that they foot the bill. Yunxu, carding a hand through Shen Yuan’s hair, firmly demanded that take on the responsibility. Their parents chipped in regardless.
That was how, Shen Yuan, lucky to be loved by a family able to care for him, unlucky to be so ill, lived alone, with sporadic visits from family, ended up living unsupervised.
“This is the second bedroom, it’s a bit bare, but it should do. We’ll buy you new clothes in the morning,” Shen Yuan said, opening the spare bedroom door.
Luo Binghe nodded as though he understood, and he did generally understand the premise. He was perceived to be a lost soul, with no memory, and in the morning he would be taken to purchase some clothing, as it was assumed he had none, other than what was on his back. Never-mind his space pouch.
The room, had white walls, and an oddly spare design, lacking the ornate carvings that Luo Binghe found familiar. The bed, was bracketed by two wooden planes, the mattress thicker than he was used to. In the corner an unadorned rectangular cabinet stood, empty of anything.
There was a smaller room, that served as a closet, and a room that Shen Yuan deemed, the bathroom. Leaving out a towel, and a small “toothbrush” encapsulated in a clear container, and a strange container of “toothpaste” for Binghe to…brush his teeth with. When he was young, his oral hygiene was relegated to chewing on willow bark, it was only as he grew that he began to ingest special teas, and small pills formulated to keep his mouth clean. Each world, had it’s own solutions, he supposed. A tiny brush was not one he had had considered prior.
Watching his host struggle to carry a few sheets and pillows from the hallway storage, he easily took over, “My thanks for allowing me to stay in your home.” He dropped the, “this one” speech fairly quickly from hearing the casual conversations around him. Language here, was less formal than he was used to.
His host, waved his hand dismissively, “It’s fine, it’s not like you had anywhere to go, and the other options didn’t really sound ideal. Alright, I think you’re set,” Shen Yuan said, as he fluffed up a pillow and set it on the bed.
As Shen Yuan began to leave, he turned to face “Luo Binghe”, “Call me if you need anything else, I’ll be in the other room,” he offered, before leaving to his own rest. It had been a tiring day, and they already ate a quick dinner at the hospital of bland tasting congee, and apples. There was nothing else to be done. It was late, he was going right to sleep, and not thinking about his poor life choice until later.
Luo Binghe watched the door close before moving towards the flat white curtains, made of many rods, and parted them with his hand. The whole wall was a panel of glass. Below him, the city was alight from various sources, the “cars” moving with moderate speed on the paved streets, the lamps changing lights to direct their passing, the people like ants under his feet. What a strange place he found himself in.
The next day, Shen Yuan threw a fit upon realizing that Luo Binghe did not know how to use the stove, or the appliances, or anything. The hospital was more focused on “who are you” and “what year is it” rather than “do you know what a rice cooker is”, which in retrospect may have been a mistake.
“Okay,” Shen Yuan said, “The extent of my culinary skills are eggs, boiling water for ramen, and stir frying things. So we’re having eggs.”
Pulling out a pan, and some oil, Shen Yuan turned the heat on the medium and waited for the oil to ripple, Luo Binghe observed him as he pulled out five eggs from the fridge, and cracked them into the pan, splattering oil on his wrist.
Cussing, he ran his hand under cold water, and when he turned “Luo Binghe” had taken over, ransacking his bare cupboards for spices, and plates.
“How do you like your yolk?” Binghe asked.
“Runny, but I like the whites to be firm. Usually, I end up with pretty rubbery eggs when I cook, so I’m not that picky," Shen Yuan answered.
“Mmm.” Binghe replied, expertly flipping the pan, all five eggs simultaneously flipping mid-air, and landing back on the pan without splattering their yolks on the bottom. O-okay, mystery man could not use a stove but definitely knew how to cook? That was something, at least?
Mystery man could definitely cook, thought Shen Yuan as he ate a bite of his eggs, rice added onto the side by his own use of the rice cooker, despite Luo Binghe staring at the machine with disdain. Biting into the most perfect eggs that he had ever eaten, in his entire life, Shen Yuan let out a pleased hum of contentment. He paused to chew and swallow before complimenting the chef, still dressed in a xianxia costume, sitting across from him, “This is delicious.”
Luo Binghe smiled at him, and tried to move one of his four eggs onto Shen Yuan’s plate, Shen Yuan grabbed his own plate off the table in response. “No way, I can’t eat that much.”
“You should eat more.” Binghe fussed. Shen Yuan was a sickly beauty. He had the kind of look to him that made both nice little old ladies, and terrifying Demon Lord’s want to feed him.
“I don’t really eat much. I’ll be fine with this, if I eat more I’ll feel sick. It’s great though, really,” Shen Yuan reassured, still clutching his plate.
Binghe gave him a disapproving look before eating his eggs, refusing to touch his rice bowl. Shen Yuan could probably make some fried rice with it, another day. That was never hard, even if the vegetables always came out either too soft, or too crunchy. It was still edible.
Breakfast over, Shen Yuan contemplated on how best to address his guest’s gaps in knowledge. It did not take long to come to a solution. Bringing over the laptop, Shen Yuan showed Luo Binghe how to use the internet, before going to his room to lay down. He’d need a rest if they were planning on shopping, he was sure that “Luo Binghe” could entertain himself with his laptop for a while, so he was still being a good host, he told himself.
Luo Binghe stared at the tiny grey library, in glee. Perfect. He had many things he needed to learn, and this was just the device to assist him.
Shen Yuan knew not what he unleashed when he allowed Luo Binghe access to the world wide web. The harem protagonist quickly consumed summaries of Proud Immortal Demon Way out of curiosity, before moving on to basic life skills, such as: how to use appliances, searching for “furniture” in general and extrapolating further until he knew what a “refrigerator” was, learning how to cook, clean, and travel in Beijing. He absorbed information like a very strange, demonic sponge, protagonist halo on max. Upon finding pillows with a variant of his face on them he snorted, before considering purchasing one, on a whim. Currency and the exchange for gold was yet another thing he looked for, ill content with living off of Shen Yuan’s generosity forever. He was pleased to see that gold, and jade would still be of value, keeping Luo Binghe a wealthy man.
Shen Yuan regretted going to the Yintai Centre, with a Chinese action hero. Quickly and quietly, he ignored the stares, interlacing his hand with Luo Binghe’s paw, as he pulled the man into the first convenient store he saw, that could possibly have something Luo Binghe could fit into.
Oversized hoodies, and track pants. Perfect. Those might be the only thing he could find that would go over Luo Binghe’s massive frame on such short notice. The shoes he had already ordered last night before passing out, not bothering to consider looking for a shoe size above a size ten, in the mall. The black boots would have to do, in an all black tracksuit they could look appropriate. They could claim it was a trend, the ornate…embroidery? At the top of the boots would be covered by the hem of the sweats.
Luo Binghe tried on the largest size in both, not bothered by Shen Yuan’s directions. He came out looking unfairly handsome in slob clothes. The sweats had a closed hem, allowing the boots to peak out nicely, and the hoodie fit well across Luo Binghe’s broad shoulders. The clothes weren’t too tight, and they weren’t too loose. He was in all black. What more could they ask for on such short notice?
A sales lady came by to ask, “If they needed help with anything,” ogling at the poor man’s biceps.
Shen Yuan bit out a “No”, shuffling them to the counter as fast as possible, with three sets in black, and two in grey. Luo Binghe followed behind him like a bemused puppy, fielding the giggling women, who kept asking him if he was filming a movie, or something.
By the time they reached the subway, Shen Yuan was panting even though Binghe was carrying the bags. Shen Yuan wiped the sweat from his brow, “Remind me not to go shopping again?” He said.
“Are you tired?” Binghe asked, noting how pallid Shen Yuan looked, his breath coming in short shallow pants.
“I’m fine, I just need a moment.” He answered.
He was a liar. His chest was burning, but it wasn’t as though anything could be done about it. So he was in pain? What did that matter, he had yet to snap at anyone, which was always a blessing, and they were on their way home. He didn’t need to worry his houseguest.
Luo Binghe transferred the bags to one hand, sliding his arm around one slender shoulder, and allowing Shen Yuan to rest on him. Shen Yuan tried to slide out of his grip, but Luo Binghe held tight, “Rest.” Binghe instructed. After a while, Shen Yuan leaned on him for support. He would just rest his eyes for a little bit.
As he watched Shen Yuan snuggle into his shoulder. Luo Binghe was strongly reminded of a small rabbit burrowing into the grass, or a kitten rubbing its face on a pillow.
Shen Yuan watched in awe as tall, dark, and manly took over all of the housework. He was like…the perfect housewife from a different era. Never had his apartment looked so immaculate. The maid that came every week left confused when she found nothing to do, vacuuming clean carpets, and dusting clean tables. The first time Lu Jinghua came over since Binghe began living with him, and he had to throw himself onto the larger man, clinging to him like a limpet, to stop him from attacking the lady who came to do her job. A quick explanation of who she was calmed Binghe.
If Shen Yuan didn’t know better he would swear Binghe had a weird one sided rivalry going on with a middle-aged lady. He looked almost…smug when he the maid puttered around uselessly.
His food was spoiling Shen Yuan too, all of it bland without being flavourless. Fluffy white congee, clear flavourful broths that had been simmered for hours, delicate vegetables that were crisp yet tender. It took only a week of cohabitation for Shen Yuan to hand Luo Binghe a card, and tell him to go wild. He was weak to good food, and Binghe’s was excellent.
Staring at Luo Binghe’s ripping a comb through his curls, Shen Yuan frowned in disapproval. While he didn’t have Binghe’s god-tier talent in housework, he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. For example, youtube videos, were self-care gold when one was trying to decipher how to care for curly hair.
Purchasing an overnight kit from various reputable sources, Shen Yuan mentally cackled with glee.
Luo Binghe’s giant-ass sitting on a tiny grey plastic stool in the bathroom, was making Shen Yuan rethink his life choices.
Dropping oil onto his palms he began at the ends. Freezing in place Shen Yuan looked down at the strands in surprise...it was...was...s-s-so fluffy. So fluffy. It was so fluffy Shen Yuan could die. The ends were supposed to be dry, but the hair in his hands felt like he was petting the world's softest puppy. He luxuriated in the feeling for a few minutes, before massaging the oil in. He slowly made his way to the base of Binghe’s neck, working from the bottom up. It took a lot of dedication to grow your hair out for cosplay, he thought, as his thumbs slid up and down a space just above the nape of the man’s neck.
Luo Binghe startled, nearly tipping the chair over at the touch.
Shen Yuan immediately stopped, gently pulling his hands away from clinging strands, and asked, “What’s wrong? Did I pull on a tangle? Should we stop?” Worrying his lip he tried to remember what he could have done that caused Luo Binghe to flinch.
“Nothing, please keep going,” Luo Binghe reassured, turning his head to look at Shen Yuan with a smile. He manually reached back to put Shen Yuan’s hands into his lush black hair. Shen Yuan paused before continuing, twining his fingers playfully around Binghe’s curls.
Pulled out a wide toothed comb and some conditioner he worked in sections until the man was practically purring under his hands, eyes half lidded in contentment. With one last pet, he sent Binghe off with instructions to wash up. Shen Yuan would help him comb, and dry his hair afterwards.
Shen Yuan helping Luo Binghe with hair became a habit. He enjoyed grooming those large ringlets that cascaded down that firm back. The repetitive motion paired with a soft texture under his hands, was soothing.
“A’Yuan likes my hair?” Binghe asked, as Shen Yuan paused in his petting.
He had one hand on the crown of Binghe's head, the other on a hairdryer which had a diffuser attached to it. The internet had been very clear that he needed one. Even if Luo Binghe's hair never turned frizzy regardless of the circumstances, as the internet claimed it would. A blush made its way across his face. He nodded hoping he wasn’t taking too much advantage of the man.
Luo Binghe looked back at Shen Yuan, his eyes soft, “A’Yuan can touch it, whenever he wants. It feels nice.”
It did. This entire life, in a little box with A’Yuan, felt nice. There were no expectations, only lazy days of cooking, cleaning, and learning new things about the place he found himself at his leisure.
He could stay here a while longer he thought. Quietly he refused to admit to himself, that he could stay here forever.