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You, Have Always Wanted a Place to Call Home

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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.

Willingly.

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.

Chapter Text

Shen Yuan and Luo Binghe sat curled up beside each other on the plush grey couch. At some point Luo Binghe found a dove grey throw to cover Shen Yuan with, and Shen Yuan, permanently cold and seeking heat, ended up plastered up against Luo Binghe’s side. Not that the man minded, cradling that small frame against his own. Luo Binghe had taken to touching Shen Yuan, any time he thought he could casually get away with it. Shen Yuan, without thinking too much, reciprocated, assuming that Binghe was a tactile person. Hours prior the mystery man of the week, had slithered an arm over those slim shoulders, cheesy pick up move style.

Feeling the fine bones under his palm, Luo Binghe gazed at a face that grew more irritated by the second. Sometimes Luo Binghe looked at Shen Yuan, and had the impossible urge to put him in his mouth, and keep him there, safe and warm. Like one of those golden retrievers trained for rescue, who could hold raw eggs in their mouths without cracking the shell. His palm flexed.

The source of Shen Yuan’s disquiet was in front of them, in the form of the trashiest soap opera Shen Yuan had ever witnessed in his life. It was…so bad. You know when you watch something, and you know that in real life the bullshit being pulled in front of your eyes would end in an arrest warrant? That type of shit. The main couple should have never ended up together. It was a classic, poor maid, rich domineering C.E.O situation, which already skewed the power dynamics greatly. Zhang Wei, the male lead, of course forced the female lead to date him, which was “acceptable” because even if Chen Biyu said no at first, the audience knew that she really had a crush on him. She said so to her backstabbing female coworker, Mu Chang Chang. Never mind that he threatened to fire her if she didn’t date him, it was fine, he bought her a car, right? She, of course, had a sick mother,and was saving up for university, so she said yes to the date and the car, and they “fell in love”. Her with his “soft interior”, him with her “innocence”.

This flaming trash-ship had everything: Murder plots, blackmail, people coming back from, and going to their deaths, ex girlfriends crawling out of the woodwork like termites, a mother-in-law akin to a villain in a children’s storybook, a mysteriously handsome childhood friend who loved Chen Biyu and made the male lead jealous, a family drama over business succession, and innocent bystanders dying for no other reason than to further the main relationship’s “closeness”.

Luo Binghe loved it.

To him, it was thematically in line with his own life. He himself, had been in many similar scenarios as the one outlined in front of him. Under a different context of course, but he recognized the unfolding, of what he viewed, as a perfectly realistic love story.

It was this shit-pile, and a long running harem drama that were his favourites from the plays set on the flat rectangle that he understood to be a television.

Contrastingly, Shen Yuan wanted to gouge out his eyeballs. The first time he saw this vision masculine perfection, perched on the couch, enraptured by mid-day middle-aged old lady bait, he nearly spat out his water before, reluctantly joining in. On one hand, he had no ground to stand on because of his reading material, on the other, they had watched over twenty episodes of this trash over the course of two weeks. On some days the network programming played two episodes instead of one…those were the days Shen Yuan wished he could drink, were it not terrible for his health. He could safely say that “You Are the Brightest Star” was…almost up there with the worst sections of Proud Immortal Demon Way.

Shen Yuan’s body wanted to retract into itself as he watched Zhang Wei grab at Chen Biyu’s hands, convincing her to stay with him. He literally abandoned her without a word in the last episode to “protect” her. Like his step-father wasn’t going to be able to use her as a bargaining chip in later altercations, now that they weren't “dating”. Also, she didn’t know he had an evil step-father. What was she supposed to do, get back together with him because he said so, even though he still wasn’t explaining why he left? It stunk of plot holes, and shitty writing. The female lead losing her IQ every second to justify the choices she was making, because, surprise, surprise…she was forgiving him. 

“This,” Shen Yuan began, “This is such trash.” He stayed silent about his guests bizarre choice of television show so far, but he really couldn’t, not anymore. “Does he expect her to take him back? After he left her behind without saying anything?” He questioned.

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow at the clear pout that had formed on Shen Yuan’s face. “Why not?” Binghe inquired. He looked at the screen, and all he saw was man professing his love for a woman.

Shen Yuan snapped, “What isn’t wrong? Maybe we could start there, there would be less to cover. Firstly, he has never, not once, actually stopped his mother from trying to hurt her, even though he knows she’s terrible. His mother called Chen Biyu a “poor wretch” to his face.”

Which was a fair point Luo Binghe conceded. Despite fill piety, there came a certain point, where a man should be able to defend their spouse.

“Secondly,” Shen Yuan continued, gesturing with his hands wildly enough to upset the throw around him. “He left her with no way out of their relationship, and he took whatever she had before him when he left. He’s the reason she can’t get a job as a maid, because everyone knows they’re dating now, he took her to that big gala, remember. Then to “protect” her, he left her with a sick, ailing mother, and no way to support herself, other, than maybe selling herself to some of his competitors? His company fired her.”

That was also fair point, a husband should be able to provide for his wife.

Shen Yuan kept going, worked up over these fictional characters in true internet gremlin fashion, “And thirdly. Most. Importantly. He does not care about her opinion. He doesn’t listen to her. At all. It’s not…it’s not romantic to be coerced like that. She doesn’t want to go right now, and his hands are on her wrists. She wants to be with her mother. He ruined her life, and he doesn’t have the decency to listen to her. To take into account her lifestyle, and her needs alongside his own. This whole time it’s been about him, and his ambitions, his goal to keep the company, his rise to success. What will she have by the end of this? A marriage with a man who has money, and who will not listen to her when she clearly shows signs that she’s uncomfortable. This isn’t real, so they’ll be happy. But in real life, what he’s doing is wrong.”

Shen Yuan pointed to the television. “Look, look, there, he just told her, ‘where else do you have to go?’…who does to someone they love? That’s a blatant threat. It’s not romantic. He’s telling her, that she can’t leave him. That he is the only option she has. Who would want that?”

“Ah.” Luo Binghe answered, gazing off into the side. He’s done that before. What Shen Yuan was describing. He has done, exactly that. He’s grabbed at wrists when women pulled away, and spoke in honeyed words, cajoling them into calming down. He might not have been Zhang Wei, he likes to think of himself as more of a gentleman, but the similarities were there.

Looking at the man on the screen in a new light, he pays closer attention.

It takes another week, of adorably grumpy comments from Shen Yuan for Luo Binghe to find the gaps.

The places where Chen Biyu, in this love story, said no, and in the context of the narrative, meant it. He watched the man push, watched him levy her mother’s health. Watched him convince her to follow him out of love, watched her life slowly revolve around his own, and considered, that perhaps he did not want them to be so similar, after all.

In the dark of the night, staring at his flat white ceiling, he wondered if he ever made his wives feel as though they could not say no to him? Many of them levied themselves as payment for much needed treasures, or his own services as a saviour, blushing and stammering that all they had to give was themselves, before swearing their lives to his own. He never said no. They clearly wanted him, and he did have need of them, at the time, for Xin Mo. They all seemed pleased with their choices, but it was apparent that he had forgotten what it truly meant for a servant to have a master.

Of course they looked pleased with him. They always did. Often they probably were, but not always and not truly. All of the relationships he knew of functioned in much the same way, the man of the house, having more control over his concubines… other than them. They seemed...happier for it. 

He also supposed that his plan to kidnap Shen Yuan was no longer an option. Clearly A’Yuan would not like it.

He needed A’Yuan to feel safe with him, to not be afraid to voice his needs, to know that Binghe would listen. He wasn’t sure what made this relationship different than the others, he just couldn’t bear to see Shen Yuan’s clear eyes shield themselves from him in a false smile, conforming to what Shen Yuan might assume to be Binghe’s pleasure.

He felt the energy of the world fluctuate around him, as his Qi pulsed. As though to feel out an intrusion. His own energy pushed back.

“Is it good?” Binghe asked, as Shen Yuan daintily spooned a portion of congee into his mouth, made with red dates for sweetness, ginkgo nuts, and roasted lotus seeds. He knew the answer, but he liked to watch the tilt of Shen Yuan’s head and the flutter of his eyelashes as he said: 

“Mmm. It’s delicious.” His plush mouth slowly working its way through a small bowl.

Binghe pushed a warm mug of tea towards him as he saw him close to finishing, a few bites left. He claimed to have bought it in the grocery store, its mellow, yet complex flavour far above what a person could purchase in this mortal realm. The pale yellow brew was made from Blooming Frost Berries. It was a tea harvested in the harshest of winters, in the arctic lands, blooming annually. The plants grew like moss, clinging to rocky outcroppings, both berries and leaves dried together. Binghe received ten catty’s of the tea per year, as tribute from the North. He packed one with him, when he left. He had to dilute the brew with water by several measure, as in its original form it was strong enough to burst mortal blood vessels. The effect when parsed down, would help slightly strengthen A’Yuan’s body.

As Shen Yuan swallowed the last of the congee, spoon slipping from his mouth and clinking on his bowl, he reached for the tea and asked, “Does Binghe want to go see a movie together?”

Ever since Binghe came to live with him, they mostly stayed inside the apartment, which wasn’t a problem but Shen Yuan felt a bit bad for cooping the man up indoors. He seemed like an active person based on the muscles that Shen Yuan, totally never ogled. 

“Is A’Yuan sure, I don’t mind staying home, and tonight “You Are The Brightest Star” is having an evening marathon?” Binghe asked. He was aware that Shen Yuan had poor health, though the extent and symptoms were something he was discovering slowly. He did know that Shen Yuan became tired, easily. “Movies” from what he understood, could be a bit much, although they were a traditional “dating” activity.

What, exactly, he wanted from A’Yuan, he wasn’t yet fully sure of, but he knew he enjoyed the company. The last time had been at such peace had been as a boy, living with his ailing mother, in a small house. Its four walls were enough, for Binghe. as these walls were now. He knew he could could never go back to those times, but sitting across from A’Yuan felt close.

“Yes, I’m sure.” Shen Yuan confirmed, standing up quickly. 

Luo Binghe placed their dishes in the sink to soak, and shortly afterwards, they slipped out the door and onto transit. Luo Binghe dressed all in black with no coat, despite Shen Yuan having special ordered a double extra-large parka for him from Europe. Shen Yuan, dressed in grey sweats, and a grey hoodie, wore his black down parka on top. The hem hit his knees. He wrapped a cream plaid scarf around his neck, tucking it into his collar, and a pair of white sneakers, forgoing the red hat and gloves for the day. Binghe shoved Shen Yuan’s red gloves into his hoodie just in case, and tucked Shen Yuan’s hat into his own pockets.

The trip to Show Max had been fine, the movie passable, Shen Yuan leaning on Luo Binghe’s shoulder half way through to take a short nap in the middle, as had become custom. Luo Binghe served as the best houseguest, turned furniture Shen Yuan ever had, which honestly made him feel bad. Luo Binghe, or whoever he really was, didn’t sign up to be his nursemaid, but whenever he fussed, the larger man just physically moved Shen Yuan to lean on him. It always made Shen Yuan flush a bit, but he didn’t turn down the comfort of having those strong arms wrapped around him.

It was the trip back that was hectic.

A group of young boys clearly skipping school passed them on the street, one of them almost side-checking Shen Yuan in the left shoulder save for Luo Binghe somehow getting Shen Yuan behind him, as he physically lifted the teen and placed him some ways away.

“Shit man, what’s your problem? You want to start something?” The boy’s voice cracked in the middle of the sentence, most his fight sheer bravado, as Luo Binghe stood head and shoulders above most of the people around them.

“You nearly bumped into my companion. I prevented that. That’s all.” Luo Binghe answered in a glacial tone, staring down the bridge of his nose at the worm that dared to try and brush against his A’Yuan.

The boy tried to glare at him, only for Luo Binghe to turn around, and walk away with Shen Yuan, knowing the slighter man would not enjoy the conflict. He needed to get A’Yuan home for his proper nap anyway, he had to time to trifle with children.

He felt the projectile without seeing it. His arm snapped out to to catch the glass bottle one of the boys threw, turning his head to watch their shocked faces as he deposited it into the trash and snorting in disdain. He curled one hand around Shen Yuan’s shoulders and pulled him close, shielding him, as they walked away.

Shen Yuan was startled but, mostly in awe. H-how manly. His houseguest was really giving off a male protagonist aura. That cold gaze, those quick reflexes. He really did fit the Luo Binghe character, very well.

When they reached the subway, they managed to hit the glorious time, when everyone who worked from nine-to-five…got off from work, and attempted to cram themselves into a small metal tube for approximately two hours.

While Luo Binghe was beginning to see the flaws in the plays they watched, all information was useful for something. Upon examining the influx of people, he made the executive decision to steal a move. Holding Shen Yuan close to his body, to prevent him from being knocked around, he found a flat side of a subway cart, and bracketed Shen Yuan between his arms. In the film, the male lead had done this to prevent the female from being groped, but Luo Binghe didn’t so much as want the unwashed masses to rub against A’Yuan, let alone, have him be taken advantage of. Looming over that small frame, he gave him a cocky grin.

Shen Yuan pursed his lips, but his hands clutched at Binghe’s front to keep balance. “This isn’t necessary.”

Luo Binghe chuckled, his eyes soft, “A’Yuan is too small. He’ll get squished.” He wonders what it would be like to take Shen Yuan, flying on Xin Mo. If he would cling to him, even harder.

Shen Yuan’s eyes widened in irritation, but his hands remained clasped to Luo Binghe ’s hoodie, as he snapped, “I’m not too small, you're too big. Look around you, clearly I’m not the one who stands out.”

Luo Binghe soothed, “Yes, yes. A’Yuan is very big.”

Shen Yuan stepped on his foot. With medium pressure, because he didn’t actually want to hurt Binghe, especially when he was keeping him from feeling like a sardine in a sweaty tin can. Still, not all of them could be giants. Binghe should be more considerate of that fact, he thought.

….

Bad things usually came in threes, like floods, broken bones, and insect bites. When they got home, ending the trifecta of ills, there awaited Shen Yuan’s younger sister.

Shen Xiulan started to greet her brother before noticing that he was accompanied by a mountain of a man. He stood head, and almost full shoulders above her brother and looked like the kind of man, mother’s told their daughter to say away from. He was too handsome. It was suspicious. What did he want from her gege?

“Gege, who’s that?” She blurted out. Smile plastered falsely on her face.

Shen Yuan, considered telling the truth for one moment, before deciding that there was no way in hell Xiulan wouldn’t call the police if he told her he adopted a mystery man and instead searched for any excuse he could find. He could see her hand clutching her phone like a life-line.

“He’s a friend from university. He’s been saying with me for a few days. He took care of me then. I thought it would nice to have him over,” he blurted out.

Shen Yuan prayed that it would fly, there was a hospitalization in-between his university days and now, followed by a pretty big surgery, so it should be believable that he’d forget to mention a friend. 

Xiulan, in response did what could only be described as weird not-subtle crab walk towards Shen Yuan, as she tried to physically get in from of her gege. Who was this pig rooting around her cabbages, anyway? Gege was all that was good in this world and if mystery dude thought she wasn’t on to him he had another thing coming. She saw that proprietary arm around her gege’s shoulder before they caught sight of her.

Shen Yu once had to knee a pedophile in the groin to get Shen Yuan away from the man. Ge still didn’t know about it, and that was okay. The siblings had long since made a pact not to break A’Yuan’s air-headed innocence, and now this grown-ass man had been staying with gege for how many days? What if he brought porn! Not gege’s weird novel obsession that he read for the plot, but real porn, with images.

Meanwhile Binghe watched as the rabbits in front of him multiplied by two. It was hilarious. they looked very similar, sharing the same glossy wide black eyes, and the same full pouty mouths. Unlike the many times he took siblings into his harem he had…no desire to acquire her as well. His eyes kept shifting to A’Yuan’s as he soothed his sister, pleased that his family cared for him.

She seemed like a sweet child, puffing up her shoulders to seem bigger. “Can’t he stay in a hotel?”, Shen Xiulan complained.

“I could, if it would make you feel better,” Binghe offered knowing full well Shen Yuan would never allow it.

“I don’t like him,” She said.

Shen Yuan, sighed and replied, “He’s here for now. He’ll be gone soon enough. It’s his winter break.” Hopefully mystery man would have a name by then. Claiming he was staying with Shen Yuan on his school break gave them, a month tops.

Xiulan frowned and eyed Luo Binghe with suspicion.

“What’s your name? I’m Shen Xiulan, gege’s younger sister. Why are you here?” She asked in quick succession.

Luo Binghe bit back his laughter. He considered himself a relatively intelligent man, so he knew that his own name would be a terrible choice to use. It was far less suited to anonymity than say, “Zhang Wei. I’m a third year economics student. It’s nice to meet you. Shen Yuan and I got along when he was in school, and recently reconnected online. I wanted to visit him and see Beijing, but if you’d prefer I can stay in a hotel, or go back to the dorms.” He smiled charmingly at her obvious disgust.

Luckily Shen Yuan didn’t go to school in Beijing, or they’d be fucked. He thinks he told Luo Binghe where he went to school before but he’s not sure. Either way, they should be in the clear.

Shen Xiulan glared daggers at Luo Binghe the entire time. He resisted the urge to ruffle her hair, only because he wanted her to have the best impression of him as possible. He wondered what A’Yuan looked like when he was this mad.

Maybe the other Luo Binghe had the right idea, only picking a singular partner. A’Yuan would never share. He knew this both, based on the culture around him, and A’Yuan’s own distaste for “cheating” during their shared drama watching. Binghe in pleasure, Shen Yuan in a need to hate-watch. Beside the thought of trying to sleep with Xiulan disquieted him.

Shen Yuan, shuffled behind Luo Binghe. He had picked up the basket only to have it taken away from him pretty quickly.

He glared at Binghe but didn’t put up much of a fuss, choosing to follow Binghe’s trajectory as the man examined the variety of eggplants of display.

“How do you know if it’s good?” He asked like the ignorant rich boy, he knew he was.

Binghe held up the small vegetable, for Shen Yuan to look at. “The colour should be dark, and the feeling should be firm, yet slightly plump. No discoloured, or soft spots, or wrinkling, all of those are signs of spoilage.”

Shen Yuan nodded, and Luo Binghe smiled. It was adorable how A’Yuan tried to learn about produce. As though he’d let his spoiled little miss, try to burn his hands making anything. A’Yuan made a passable fried rice, but cooking clearly wasn’t a strength he had.

“What are you making?” Shen Yuan asked.

“Roast eggplant, lightly seasoned with some white rice. Maybe some fish on the side.” Binghe had cut back significantly on seasoning, preferring to keep the dishes light in worry of upsetting A’Yuan’s delicate constitution. 

Shen Yuan gripped his stomach silently, doing his best to keep the sound of his stomach expelling the toilet bowl, light.

The fish had put him over, disagreeing with his palate. He had to be choosy about his meats, though to this day he had no idea why his body rejected certain types of food at certain times. It wasn’t Binghe cooking, he knew it couldn’t be. His current medications didn’t affect his intestines much. His nausea came without rhyme or reason.

Clutching the sides of the bowl, he tried to be grateful that he lasted this long, bile burning a trail in his throat, as he spit out the residue. This late at night, Binghe had to be asleep. Grabbing some water he gargled his mouth clean, and spit that into the bowl, too, before flushing. Scooting, to lean back against the wall, he took deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. 

He couldn’t drink right now, but soon enough he’d have to. Just enough to wet his mouth, too much would induce more vomiting. He’d increase the intake as the night went on and see where it went. His body felt flushed. Maybe he pushed it a bit. He shouldn’t have eaten so much. Maybe he needed to start eating only rice, and plain broth again. Perhaps some salted crackers.

Binghe lying in his bed, heard Shen Yuan’s footsteps as soon as he awoke, he ignored the sound for a moment assuming the chamberpot was needed, until the heaving started. Eye’s snapping open he rose from his bed and made his way to Shen Yuan’s room, throwing on a plain white t-shirt, and some black sweat pants. 

The sky blue walls, and slight clutter were ignored in favour of a closed bathroom door, the light pooling out from underneath.

Binghe knocked, and waited for Shen Yuan to respond. He hear a light groan, and pushed the door open.

He saw A’Yuan was dressed in nothing but an oversized white shirt, and what must have been white boxers underneath. That had been an interesting experience, adjusting to these underthings, but that was not the point. Nor was A’Yuan beauty, and he was lovely as usual.

His mouth red, his pale slender legs splayed out as he rested against the wall, smiling weakly at Binghe. His knees were slightly red from kneeling, skin bruising like a peach. His face covered in a slight layer of cold sweat.

He waved weakly to Binghe. “Go back to bed, I’m fine. I’m just not feeling that well.”

Binghe stood frozen, one hand gripping the door hard enough to dent the wood the slightest amount before his control won out.

Turning around without a word, he boiled tea stirring in a good amount of honey. Returning to the bathroom, he took the towel he had thrown over his shoulder and placed it under the cold running water of the sink, placing it on the lip of the bathtub for easy access. 

Sitting on the floor, beside Shen Yuan, he easily scooped him up in his arms, less concerned with the amount of leg on display, and more concerned with the fever running through his body.

It was fine, they would one day marry if A’Yuan would have him, there was nothing improper about this.

Shen Yuan made as raspy sound of discomfort as he was moved to sit across, Luo Binghe’s crossed lap. His head leaning against a broad chest, a steady heartbeat under his ear. Binghe brought the wet towel he set on his knee to Shen Yuan’s face, wiping his heated cheeks. “Can A’Yuan have a spoon of tea or two?” He asked.

Shen Yuan wrinkled his nose in distaste at the thought of drinking anything, and Binghe clicked his tongue. “Later then.”

Throwing the towel towards the sink. He pulled Shen Yuan closer, slowly turning him to sit forward, his back on Binghe’s chest. Luo Binghe slid his hands under the white shirt, his right moved to hold Shen Yuan’s chest while the other smoothed itself over his back, massaging lightly. 

Leaning down Binghe pressed a kiss to the nape of his neck, then down to the top of his spine, lips meeting sweat soaked cotton, hunching his own back to do so.

“A’Yuan doesn’t have to worry. I’ll take care of you.” Binghe promised.

Chapter Text

That night, Luo Binghe kept his promise. He held Shen Yuan in his arms, his back a solid presence keeping the smaller form upright. His hands were sure as he periodically pushed damp hair back from a heated forehead, and helped a parched mouth drink any liquid it could keep down.

The acrid smell of bile was an afterthought he didn’t consider, crooning wordless tunes, as Shen Yuan panted into his neck.

By morning they had him sipping water in larger quantities and keeping it inside of himself. The fever ravaging Shen Yuan’s body simmered down, but his bones still ached from the aftermath.

“You didn’t have to do this,” Shen Yuan muttered into the crook of Luo Binghe’s neck, embarrassed that Binghe had to help him at all. This man didn’t ask for any of this, yet here he was, witness to Shen Yuan’s perpetually failing body. Some days were better than others, while others were bad enough that he could not bring himself to rise from his bed. A battery of conditions, caused by a premature birth and a bad fate: a problem with his lungs, a stutter in his heart, a series of unusual failings concerning his autoimmune system that the doctors could never exactly pinpoint. He spent a lot of his time irate or emotionally drained from feeling like a burden to his family. The rest he spent living as best he could, occupying his time with novels, and video games.

Curling in on himself he bitterly thought that instead of his family, he could just be a burden to a stranger he was trying to help instead.

“There is no need for A’Yuan to be so tense, you’re not troubling this Lord,” Binghe replied.

Shen Yuan’s sleep deprived mind still startled at the phrasing, which was…unbelievably archaic, but the sentiment made him begin to tear up.

“This is nothing. I’m only pleased that I can be of service,” Binge continued, his hands warm on Shen Yuan’s back. Shen Yuan sniffled into his shoulder and did his best to hide his face.

Luo Binghe lied.

It was everything, but not in the way Shen Yuan thought. Binghe was no longer a child filled with impotent rage on behalf of those he cared for. To no longer be a helpless wretch, begging for even a bowl of congee, was everything to him. More than everything.

Luo Binghe’s arms tightened around the smaller form, as he lifted Shen Yuan from the floor with ease, one hand supporting his back, the other under the crook of his knees. He transferred A’Yuan to one hand, as he pulled down the bed covers, and back to both, as tucked him into his bed.

Gazing down at Shen Yuan, Luo Binghe walked to the other side of the bed and slid in beside him. The space by all rights, should have been cramped. Instead, it felt warm. Binghe rested one large palm directly over Shen Yuan’s heart to keep himself grounded, feeling the thrumming of life below.

As Shen Yuan slipped in and out of sleep, he sometimes opened his eyes to see Luo Binghe above him, his curls brushing against Shen Yuan’s shoulders, his hands monitoring his fever. The touch on his forehead felt comforting and as it moved to his cheek and he nuzzled into it. He swore that in his haze, he could hear something about a bunny. He liked rabbits. They were…really….cute…

When he awoke, he found a plastic chair in his shower and smelled a delicious scent that was wafting from the direction of the kitchen. He sluggishly cleaned himself and wrapped a large fluffy towel that had been laid out for him to dry.

Pulling on his underwear, he eyed the pyjamas laid out, and bit his lip. The green, cucumber patterned set was a gag gift from his sister. He wore it regardless, which bothered her greatly. The problem was he didn’t really feel like dealing with pants, or shirt buttons right now.

Shuffling out of the bathroom, towel in hand, he snagged a clean black t-shirt from the basket of laundry left out in the hall instead. It was one of Binghe’s, so the collar slipped off one shoulder and the hem hit the tops of his knees. It felt more comfortable than his own lounge clothes, the size nice and airy. It was larger than both his oversized attire, and his “one-size” clothing. Tugging at the hem, he felt like a child playing dress-up with adult clothes.

Bending down once more, to dig into the sides of the basket, he searched for a pair of socks. After he found them, he rested one hand on wall to balance himself. He managed to get his right sock on before freezing like an awkward flamingo. Standing in the hallway, an equally frozen Luo Binghe stood across from him, holding a tray with a bowl of soup, and what looked like salted crackers. His mouth was open and he didn’t seem to be blinking.

Rising up. One sock on, one in hand, his towel on the floor, he cleared his throat. “I..ummm. I hope you don’t mind? It seemed like it…would…be…comfortable,” Shen Yuan asked. Better to seek forgiveness than permission, and all that.   

Anyway, he bought the shirt, so surely he could borrow it?

Binghe came to life as he blurted out, “A’Yuan should wear my clothing always…I mean, A’Yuan can borrow my attire, whenever he so chooses. I don’t mind. At all.”

Shen Yuan let out a breath as the tension left him. Relieved that his house-guest didn’t mind, Shen Yuan leaned down, to slide his leftover sock onto his bare foot, his toes curling, the collar of the t-shirt slipping further to reveal his chest, two little nubs winking traitorously at Binghe. As though to tempt him with something he could not have. A’Yuan was ill, and Luo Binghe was not so craven as to put his own wants over A’Yuan’s needs. Shen Yuan dragged his fingers up his calf absentmindedly, startling at the guttural choking sound coming from above.

Standing up, and already regretting moving so quickly, Shen Yuan asked, “What wrong?”

Binghe’s mouth was stretched into a wide smile, his eyes shining. Shen Yuan wanted to look away from those perfectly white teeth, and that charming demeanour. It was too bright for the likes of of his home-body self. Could Binghe put it away please?

“Nothing, I think I have a bit of a cough, come now I made some chicken broth. Let’s see if you can get some down. I also made your favourite tea, so let’s get you back to bed, hmm?” Binghe spoke, confidently leading Shen Yuan back to his room, one hand holding the tray with ease, while the other rested on the small of Shen Yuan’s back.

“O-okay.” Shen Yuan responded, acquiescing easily.

Mere moments later, he found himself propped up in bed, Binghe wearing that same smile as he help up a spoon to Shen Yuan’s lips.

His right eyebrow twitched, as Shen Yuan bit out, “What does Binghe think he’s doing?”

He could hold his own spoon thank you very much. He wasn’t ready to reconcile himself with needing that kind of care yet, okay? He was trying to maintain as much independence as he could, for as long as he could. One day he’d be under palliative care, but for now he was mobile, and active, and wasn’t about to let Binghe feed him like a baby, no matter how handsome he was.

For a moment there was silence…then Binghe’s face did something Shen Yuan had never seen in their weeks of cohabitation. His eyes turned watery, and he stared at Shen Yuan, like Shen Yuan was about to push him off a cliff. In that instant, in that fraction of a second, a sunny day turned into sudden rain as Shen Yuan felt the distinct guilt that he kicked a puppy, wash over him. A small fluffy one, that was really cute and did nothing wrong, ever. That face should not be able to make that kind of expression. It wasn’t fair. Puppy dog eyes should have, by all rights, looked stupid on such a big man.

Binghe held the spoon out and his voice was just a touch higher as he lamented, “I was so worried about A’Yuan, but it’s okay if A’Yuan doesn’t want me to feed him. This Binghe understands.”

Despondently he looked down the soup, and plopped the spoon into his bowl and -

Was that a sniffle? Did he just sniffle? Were those actual tears in his eyes, what did Shen Yuan even do to him? He just wanted to feed himself, he wasn’t asking for much, was he?

It took one more sniffle for Shen Yuan to break, cursing his weak heart as he gave in. “It’s fine. Binghe can feed me.”

In yet another instant, Binghe perked up immediately, the clouds clearing as beams of sunlight pierced through them. This two-faced little shit. Shen Yuan’s eyebrow twitched, but he still scooted himself more firmly into his pillows as he resigned himself to being spoon-fed by Binghe. Shen Yuan figured that his guest really was worried about him, and he was actually quite tired so being spoon-fed this one time, wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Luo Binghe would never admit this, even under pain of death…but perhaps his double was onto something with whole crybaby act.

He wasn’t planning on using it, he didn’t even think he knew how, but after a night spent taking care of A’Yuan, only to find him showered, still flush from the residual heat, wearing nothing but his clothing…something in him snapped.

He wanted to soothe himself by trying to feed his husband, who was not pleased with the thought. Binghe could not force him, and A’Yuan clearly wasn’t about to give in on his own. That stubborn divot between his eyebrows gave him away.

It was in this standstill, that a voice he heard from a man with his face, crawled its way out of his gut to spill from his mouth. Like a hand punching its way from his subconscious to exit his throat. Like the voice of an unknown God. His eyes teared up, as he felt his body soften. If he was asked to pinpoint what exactly, he was doing, he wouldn’t be able to describe it. It had something to do with wide eyes, a change in pitch, and an adjustment of his shoulders, no longer held proudly straight, instead, hunching over in a display of feigned vulnerability.

Whatever it was, it made A’Yuan fold like wet parchment left out in the rain.

Shen Yuan’s cheeks were puffed out in a pout, but he ate the soup, if a bit mutinously, quickly calming down at the taste.

Binghe’s hand was on the spoon.

It was deeply satisfying.

A dusty portion of his instincts were pleased to be providing sustenance to his husband.

Shen Yuan managed to finish half the bowl, and three crackers under his watchful gaze. Binghe placed the tray onto the night table, removing it from his lap. Later he’d try to get some more food into that frail body. Mentally he made a note not to serve any fish, sticking to more flavourless proteins like chicken breast, an abundance of vegetables, and perhaps beef in the form of stock.

Xiu Lan stared at Luo Binghe from across the dinner table glaring as she held one chopstick in  each hand. She had, once again, shown up by surprise. Thankfully, in a week or two she’d be distracted by school work, her break much shorter than the winter break allowed by a university. 

“So Zhang-shi where did you say you were from, again?” She asked.

“A small village from the mainland,” Binghe answered congenially.

“How did you end up in Tsinghua, if you’re from the mainland?” Xiu Lan questioned, sounding exactly like a snobby rich girl. Her outfit did little to dissuade the impression. Dressed in a pleated skirt, and a cream sweater, her hair held up in a high ponytail with a cream bow at the base, she would have looked refined if she didn’t just forcefully shoved a piece of chicken into her mouth. Shen Yuan assumed she was making an attempt at being threatening, instead she looked like a chipmunk. It made him want to coo at her. Gege loves you anyway, he thought.

“I was lucky enough that my parents owned a small convenience store in the village, so between the money from selling the house and the store, I managed to find my own way,” Binghe replied as he placed some smashed cucumber, made specifically without chili or garlic, onto Shen Yuan’s plate.

He and Xiulan had, had this same conversation three times over the break. Binghe assumed she was waiting for him to slip up, and voice a contradictory account. It was too bad meimei was a thousand years too young to play this game with him, but she certainly was cute. He wondered if this was what it was like to tease a younger sister.

Spread out on the table between them was a whole roast roast chicken made with ginger, a variety of spices, and an entire pear, which was stuffed inside its cavity to keep it moist as it cooked. Rice was served on the side, as were a variety of smaller vegetable dishes. Xiulan ate the food, and in a true testament to her distrust refused to call it anything but average.

Xiulan made a sound of disgust at the blatant sucking up going on in front of her and put some more chicken into her gege’s rice bowl competitively, before continuing her interrogation. “You couldn’t afford to go home, and now you’re mooching over here?”

Binghe hummed, before responding, “Meimei should relax, I have my own money from a few investments. I’m only here to visit a friend.” He did have his own fortune, after all. It simply wasn’t from investing.

The face Xiulan pulled at being called “meimei” by the sleazy fucking asshole, trying to piss a metaphorical circle around her gege, made Shen Yuan snap, “Xiulan, be polite.”

Xiulan’s shoulders automatically went straight at the tone. It was scary how similar gege and muqin could be. She replied, “Of course A’Yuan-ge,” before she shoved some rice into her mouth and continued to glare at Luo Binghe. It was such a shame that da-ge and Yu-ge lived outside the province. That was fine, she was keeping an eye on things for them.

A few hours later, Luo Binghe washed the dishes as Shen Yuan sat on the kitchen table, nursing a cup of tea.

“Thankfully she’ll be back to school soon. That girl,” Shen Yuan sighed as he shook his head. 

Luo Binghe could hear the loving exasperation, in his tone. His lips quirked up as he said, “She’s not wrong. You should be more careful around strange men. You don’t know who I am, and you’re letting me stay with you. That’s not safe A’Yuan.”

Shen Yuan sipped his tea, swallowed, and replied, “I know you’re a good person.”

Luo Binghe could feel his cheeks warm at the praise, and his muscles tense in guilt as he scrubbed the roasting pan harder.

….

It took longer than Shen Yuan assumed, for them to talk about Proud Immortal Demon Way, considering that Luo Binghe was calling himself…well, Luo Binghe. The longer he used the name in its the new context, referring to a person as opposed to a fictional character, the more he became used to it, the initial strangeness bleeding off into normalcy.

They sat on the couch, Shen Yuan’s feet splayed over Binghe’s lap as the larger man watched another episode of his heinous drama. Binghe absentmindedly peeled off Shen Yuan’s white socks, and massaged his soles, digging his thumb into the arch of his right foot. From sole to toe, Shen Yuan’s feet fit perfectly into his hands, measuring the same length.

Shen Yuan wasn’t sure whose fault their continual slide towards intimacy was anymore; whether it came from Binghe tactile nature, or Shen Yuan’s own proclivity to falling asleep leaning on Binghe’s shoulder. Regardless, it felt good. So when Binghe started with things like the foot-rubs, or never left his bed after Shen Yuan got sick, he didn’t bother complaining. His houseguest gave the best cuddles…and Shen Yuan was weak to large warm things! He may have had a few giant plushies in the back of his closet that he cuddled on bad nights, which was no one’s business but his own. Binghe was like a plushie but better because he could hold him close and. A quiet part of Shen Yuan, felt safe tucked against that big chest, falling asleep to the drumming of a heartbeat. He knew it looked terrible on paper, but it worked for them, and no one was getting hurt, so what did it matter?

Shen Yuan scrolled through a Proud Immortal Demon Way update, refusing to pay attention to the mess on the television screen, scowling at the absolute bullshit unfolding before his eyes. Huffing he kicked his feet a bit, not that, that hurt Binghe, or made him release his gentle hold.

“What wrong?” Binghe inquired, tickling Shen Yuan’s left sole lightly.

Shen Yuan yelped and pulled his foot back. “Don’t do that.” He pleaded, before placing his foot back on Binghe’s lap, the man patted his ankle soothingly, with a grin.

“The new update of Proud Immortal Demon Way, is such trash,” Shen Yuan complained. 

Binghe internally felt his veins turn to ice as he replied, “What happened?”

Like he didn’t know.

He read the entirety of that yellow book online, over the course of a few days, forgoing sleep to finish. It stopped at what Binghe believed to be the long and drawn out altercation he had with Sha Hualing’s father. He had about three hundred wives at that point in time, the novel not yet up to date with his life. He wondered how far into the novel, that other Shen Yuan became Shen Qingqiu.

Shen Yuan huffed. “Luo Binghe, not you, but book ‘Luo Binghe’ is supposed to be dealing with a possible alliance turned betrayal from Sha Hualing’s father. She’s a love interest. Instead of dealing with the plot, this shitty author keeps inserting unnecessary scenes. So now the protagonist is stuck doing everything but solving the problem, because he’s too occupied by other matters that make no sense for the direction of the plot.”

By unnecessary scenes, Shen Yuan meant fucking. Specifically he meant the succubus orgy that ended with Binghe sleeping with an enemy who then ripped off one his arms. So for a few chapters they had a one armed Binghe, who was now making the same mistake with the same woman, while simultaneously not following up with the spy he was originally hunting down. Knowing Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky, the plot would continue to derail until it was fixed by dues ex papapa. He knew it, call it a gut feeling, or an uncomfortable familiarity with the writing style, but papapa would…somehow…in some way…make Sha Hualing’s father okay with this young upstart taking so much power. On top of that, the readers would likely never see the spy again because they were male and thus, in this genre, unfuckable; or know what happened to the mystery plot that was fleshed out at the start of the arc. Shen Yuan had no idea how Airplane would do it, but he knew that sonofabitch would.

The protagonist in question sat on the sofa, his back straight as a board as he forced himself to ask, “Does…A’Yuan not like Luo Binghe?”

Binghe’s eyes were trained on Shen Yuan’s face as the smaller figure twisted to the side to place his phone down onto the living room table.

Shen Yuan replied, “It’s not that I don’t like him. He’s a really complex character. He starts off as a pretty traditional xianxia hero, who believes that if he works hard enough he’ll be able to solve anything. When he blackens, some of his actions make a lot of sense, while others are a reckless, but the overall feeling is that of a character who’s trying to do good, when they’re not sure what good is anymore? That’s compelling.”

Pausing to think Shen Yuan’s tone turned bitter, as he spoke, “However, often, especially when it comes to women, he acts…in ways that don’t make sense. Like all of a sudden, all the intelligence he’s shown throughout, goes out the window, and the plot goes to shit?” He’s not about to touch the treatment of women in stallion novels. It was terrible and he knew it, but that was the genre. The wife acquisition served as a plot device. Though Ning Ying Ying and Liu Mingyan did have a few cool scenes they faded to the background with every new beauty.

Luo Binghe, as Shen Yuan spoke, did not think of the leeching presence of Xin Mo, or his own volatile emotions that would oscillate between wanting everyone else to suffer as he did, and not knowing what he truly wanted from his life. A gaping emptiness had made itself a home in his chest long before he met those women. At that particular time in the novel, with Chunhua and her sisters, he thought that maybe, what he needed was for those women to love him. He’d long realized that he’d mistaken the pride of acquisition for love. He wouldn’t be here with Shen Yuan if that wasn’t the case.

Shen Yuan continued, his mouth breaking into a smile, rare for his usually placid expressions, “That all being said, he’s still my favourite character, you know? He’s really cool, and brave, and he’s good at moving forward even when he’s hurt. And, unlike a lot of xianxia hero’s, outside of the papapa, he’s good at using both his intelligence and his strength, instead of just hitting things with his sword and powering up all the time!”

P-pa-papapa.

Binghe did not laugh at that…ridiculous name for sex. He came across it, in a few summaries of the stories recommend to him that were apparently similar to his own, but he had never heard someone say it out loud. Binghe’s ears also did not turn red as he started to flush, his hands flexing around Shen Yuan’s ankles sporadically.

He was A’Yuan’s favourite character. Even like that. Even when he definitely wasn’t a good person, even when A’Yuan knew the things he’d done. He did not admit that he was terrified that he’d be rejected if A’Yuan knew who he really was. That he wasn’t words on a page but a person, who had hurt other people. He knew enough about the world he was in now, to know that A’Yuan was raised to believe that murder was wrong, and Binghe had enough blood on his hands to fill oceans.

He wanted…he wanted that soft warmth sleeping atop his body at night, those slender feet on his lap, a warm smile, and man who loved him back. He thought it would be enough, to have A’Yuan, just A’Yuan, and he was terrified he wouldn’t get that.

Fear was an unfamiliar emotion clogging his lungs.

“He’s A’Yuan’s favourite character?” He asked instead of considering the implications further.

Shen Yuan made a noise of acknowledgment.

Luo Binghe, feared Demon Lord, definitely did not tear up.

It took but a few more days of cohabitation for things to come to a head. Binghe’s tension was a constant presence in the back of his mind. He was never good at lying to himself. Other people were a different matter, but he could not fool himself. Smiling wry, he prepared himself for the rejection he was sure would come. People like him didn’t exist in this world.

They’d finished their dinner, Shen Yuan nursing a cup of tea, and Binghe’s smile was ugly on his face, as he raised one palm and lit a fire in the centre. It was a parlour trick. Nothing grand, or terrible, the Qi required but a blade of grass to a forest. It was impossible for this world.

What was to do if A’Yuan flinched away from him? 

Shen Yuan startled slightly, staring at the flame. Binghe allowed his eyes to glow red, alongside his re-appearing demon mark. Shen Yuan assumed it was some kind of long lasting paint, or henna like substance, after it disappeared one day. Its return was startling, and inhuman.

Placing his cup down, he stared, and Binghe stared back. He watched the cold smile that was spread across that familiar face, his own turning blank. A habit he picked up from his mother. Both of them visibly implacable in a crisis, while showing nothing of their internal thoughts.

Somehow in the actual television drama that had become his life, Shen Yuan’s voice came out clear and soft, as he asked, “Does Binghe have something to tell me?”

Binghe answered, “My name is Luo Binghe.”

Oh, Shen Yuan got that message, loud and clear. He firmly did not think of the moment they had a few days ago where he told his guest, that he was his favourite character. That was an embarrassing point in his black history that he would never admit to. Lacing his fingers together and resting his chin on them, he spotted the tension in those broad shoulders. He hated that smile.

Opting to treat everything as normal, he yawned and finished his tea. “It’s getting late, are you planning on taking a shower?” He asked, forcefully ignoring the elephant in the room.

If Luo Binghe was in his room, in real life, then presumably he had a reason. He’d been nothing but kind to Shen Yuan, and Shen Yuan wasn’t raised to start screaming when his houseguest turned out to be a fictional Demon Lord. He didn’t think this was covered in any of the manners he had to learn, but it should have been. He was at a bit of a loss at the moment because of it.

Rising from his chair, carefully maintaining his usual pace, he went to bed, leaving his back exposed.

“Did you not hear me?” Binghe demanded, his fists clenching, 

Shen Yuan turned his head as he responded, “I heard you, and I’m curious as to why you’re here, but we can deal with that in the morning. Shower if you like, I took one in the morning already.”

He didn’t know why, but he wanted Binghe to feel like he could act…normally…around Shen Yuan. The way he did before this weird “I am a Demon Lord” persona started happening. His Binghe was sweet. He could be a bit of an ass sometimes, but never maliciously, and he was always kind to Shen Yuan. He remembered to slow down, and never minded when they had to cut an outing early, or when Shen Yuan wanted to spend the day in bed. He was still the same man who made him soup, and watched trashy soap operas, and didn’t know how to use a microwave and vocally refused to ever learn, swearing that it was an abomination, demon lord or not. Besides who knew how much of Proud Immortal Demon Way was accurate or not. Firstly, the amount of plot holes in that shitfest left a lot of unanswered questions. Secondly, history was always embellished, and provided that the events were all factual, there still wasn't enough information on Luo Binghe's thought process to make a clear judgment on his character, even if it were Shen Yuan's place to do so. 

He figured that maybe if he acted relaxed, Binghe would lighten up too and stop looking like he was scared that Shen Yuan would yell at him.

A small part of his lizard brain was screaming LUO BINGHE, in capital letters on repeat, but he chose to lock that part in a box, and bury it in the depth of his subconscious.

Compartmentalization, some mindless daytime talk show he watched with Binghe said, was the key to success.

Shen Yuan could not have his breakdown on the fact that his reality was made of jello, and comfort Luo Binghe at the same time, so he chose not have it at all. It was fine, he’d flail in the bathtub or something, and say he was taking a bath, not drowning himself in his confusion, and staring at the white tiles as though, they, personally, had failed him, the way science had. The latter was what he would really be doing.

Changing into his customary borrowed shirt, he slid into bed, Luo Binghe coming into the room moments later, forgoing the shower, dressed in what Shen Yuan had assumed was cosplay, but was really his clothing-clothing. This time, he was dressed in what looked to be sleep attire. A short side tied robe, with a red belt, and black pants.

This meant one thing, and one thing only to Shen Yuan. Space Pouches, were real. How did that even work? Did Binghe have Xin Mo on him? That was Shen Yuan’s best guess as to the parallel dimension thing, and how Luo Binghe got here. Distracted by impossibilities, Shen Yuan didn’t notice what Luo Binghe was doing until he was directly above him. The actual, living, real life protagonist’s face was dark, as he loomed across a Shen Yuan who didn’t bother flinching away from the man who cried when Zhang Wei died the first time. His hands reached up to press both of Shen Yuan’s wrists down with ease. His legs were on either side of the smaller figure’s hips.

“Aren’t you afraid of me?” He accused with a cold stare, his face shadowed by his hair. “All the bad things you know I’ve done, I could do them to you, easily.”

One of his palms pressed onto Shen Yuan’s chest right above his heart in what Shen Yuan assumed was supposed to be a threat. It was all very dramatic.

This idiot.

That stupid ugly grimace didn’t fit him. It was such a waste of his good looks. Like Shen Yuan was going to take that threat seriously from the man, who both promised to take care of him, and guilted Shen Yuan into watching You Are The Brightest Star with him, despite the fact that it made Shen Yuan want to hurl. The man who somehow, Shen Yuan was starting to suspect he knew how, disappeared their rice-cooker. He was so scared, what was Binghe going to do, not feed him anymore? Hover his large body over his own, while taking care not to bruise Shen Yuan’s wrists as he glared down at him with sad eyes?

He could be wrong, and if he was, then this was a mistake…but…Shen Yuan reached up and grabbed Luo Binghe’s lapels.

“Hmm,” Binghe mocked, “Are you going to try and stop me?”

Shen Yuan yanked, and Luo Binghe allowed himself to be pulled down. Shen Yuan held him close, his hands running through Binghe’s hair.

“Go to sleep” he ordered, even though the weight on his body was a bit too much for him. His ribs compressing from the pressure. It was fine. 

Binghe’s eyes went wide with shock as he rolled himself to the side.

“We can’t sleep like that, I’ll crush you,” Binghe blurted out.

Shen Yuan snorted. “I thought you could do all sorts of bad things to me?”

Binghe frowned, and insisted, “I could.”

Shen Yuan agreed, “You could.”

Binghe gripped the covers, and almost petulantly announced, “I’m ruler of both the Human and Demonic Realms.”

Shen Yuan propped himself up using a combination of his pillow and his elbow, to pat Binghe’s bicep in comfort.

“You are. Binghe is very strong” Shen Yuan placated. Luo Binghe was ranked as number one most powerful stallion male protagonist for a reason. 

Binghe asked, “Then why isn’t A’Yuan afraid of me?”

Shen Yuan raised an eyebrow questioningly. “Why should I be?”

Binghe’s grip on the covers tightened, as he repeated, “You know what I’ve done.”

Shen Yuan sighed. “Yes, yes, you’ve said that, but you’ve also never given me, personally, any reason to fear you. You’ve been good to me, and I’m not about to run you out of home because your background is...a little different.” As an afterthought he added, “I don’t think I could actually make you leave, even if I tried.”

Binghe panicked, moving to rise from the bed, “This Lord will leave. This Lord would hate to impose -”

Shen Yuan lunged, to grab at his sleeve, stopping him. “Luo Binghe I want you here, you idiot. I'm not scared of you, so would you please, please just go the fuck to sleep? We’ll figure the rest out in the morning.”

Luo Binghe bit his lip as he finally laid down properly and placed his hand over Shen Yuan’s chest feeling that irregular rhythm as he did every night before bed. Some days he wanted to open his chest and stuff A’Yuan inside of side of himself to keep him safe.

“A’Yuan has terrible survival instincts,” said Luo Binghe looking over Shen Yuan in concern. He really did. No wonder meimei worried so.

Shen Yuan made a noise of offence, as he snapped, “You, of all people, don’t get to say that to me. You’re benefitting from it.” He was not so delusional that he couldn’t admit that Luo Binghe was a maybe...a little bit right, but he certainly didn’t want to hear his lemming like tendencies announced out loud. Besides, Binghe didn’t need to worry about that because soon enough the glitch in the universe, or whatever was going on, would right itself and protagonist Binghe would be back with his many wives, instead of sharing a bed with Shen Yuan’s scrawny ass. He didn’t have to concern himself with Shen Yuan’s life choices. Shen Yuan was an adult, he could do as he pleased. It wasn't like they were married.

Binghe gazed at him with soft eyes. He lost, he really did. A'Yuan was A'Yuan in every world, and this A'Yuan cared for him. Husband was the sweetest thing he'd ever known. Luo Binghe would expend every effort to keep him as carefree as he could, shouldering the weight of the world for the both of them, if needed. What was a Lord for, after all, if not to hold up the sky for his spouse. Moving a gentle hand to brush that silky hair back, Binghe murmured, "Mmm...A'Yuan is right."

Settling down, they both went to sleep. As usual, at some point in the night, Luo Binghe moved to pull Shen Yuan on top of himself, tucking A’Yuan’s head under his own, and wrapping his arms around that slender back.

Chapter Text

Shen Yuan blearily snuggled into the firm bed under his cheek, it shook a bit. He patted it to make it stop moving which only caused the tremors to become harder. In his haze, he didn’t realize that the bed was a person, and that, that person was Luo Binghe.

Binghe gazed down at his sleep rumpled A’Yuan whose eyes began to flutter open. Shen Yuan’s gaze was unfocused, staring at Luo Binghe without seeing.

Reaching to the bedside table, Luo Binghe grabbed Shen Yuan’s glasses and placed them close to A’Yuan’s hands. It took a moment for Shen Yuan to put them on, regardless. Covering his mouth to hide a yawn, Shen Yuan crossed his hands on Binghe’s chest, and rested his chin on them.

“You’re Luo Binghe.” He murmured.

Luo Binghe smiled gently, and brushed Shen Yuan’s hair back. “I’m Luo Binghe.” He repeated.

“Why are you here?” Shen Yuan asked. He dreamt of Proud Immortal Demon Way in the night. His mind filled with visions of bizarre xianxia moments. It was still hitting him, that the world was a strange, and magical place.

“I…I don’t think I liked my world very much.” Binghe replied.

Shen Yuan paused to think it over. The Luo Binghe in the novel…if he were a real person…what would he be like? That man, the one he read about was…

In front of him. Looking down at him with furrowed brows and gentle hands. He thinks he should be panicking more. He can’t be scared of Binghe, even if he’s….Binghe. A flash of shitty porn runs through his mind, unbidden: Binghe in an orgy, Binghe f******g Ning Ying Ying in a field…a harem of women, a man who seemed happy in his kingdom. A man who seemed lost in Shen Yuan’s house. Shen Yuan had attributed that to the amnesia once, not anymore. 

“Binghe left on purpose?” Shen Yuan asked.

Luo Binghe nodded.

Such a big man looking so nervous. What did he think Shen Yuan was going to do…eat him?

“Your wives?” He asks.

Binghe’s mouth pulled into a frown, “I faked my death. I don’t…I don’t think I loved them. Not…really. It was…what I could do for them.”

Objectively, Shen Yuan knows that Luo Binghe’s situation doesn’t speak highly of him. All those wives in an empty Palace, a power vacuum, a man who collected flowers for his garden, a different one for every day of the year, and more. The Binghe in his house was…not cruel, not intentionally, at least to him, but what Binghe did was a cruel act. He knows there must be more to harem politics and marriage in a xianxia setting…but truthfully he was scared to ask.

“Do you think your wives are alright?” Shen Yuan asked, because he had to. He couldn’t not.

Binghe’s brows furrowed, “I do not know. I left them the Palace, funding, and power. I do not know what has become of them in my absence. However, I can check on them, if A’Yuan would prefer to see what they've made of themselves in my absence. I’ll not hide it from you. I abandoned them. It is not an action that brings me pride.”

Shen Yuan listened and thought that he was too much like his mother. His mother married a man who had a child with another women, and then stayed unhappily married despite that. He too, is prone to trusting unfaithful men. He thinks Binghe wouldn’t hurt him, believes that, when he can no longer believe the reality he lives in. He doesn’t know where such assurance comes from but it is there, nonetheless. He thinks he might be making up excuses because he likes Binghe, but he can see where the man is coming from. He sees the possible spaces where the wives would have gotten something from the exchange, and the way the dynamic might have stunted emotional growth. He wonders if the Luo Binghe in the novel, the one who at times read as an insecure little boy, never grew up.

He’ll ask Binghe to check on his ex-wives later, if only to make sure they were doing alright. In the world of Proud Immortal Demon Way, most of the resources flooded into the Demon Palace. He does not know about the state of the other regions. He also doesn’t trust that character of some of the wives, who could, and did sabotage each other at various stages. He hopes they are well.

“What do you want?” Shen Yuan asked, kicking his feet.

Binghe looked confused before he replied, “I think…I’d like… to be happy, I’m not sure how to do that.”

Shen Yuan thought of the man who loved to cook, who seemed to relax when he did it. The man who had a weird attachment to the chores, and a respect for anything that required skill, manually. He wonders if Luo Binghe Demon Lord had hobbies, in-between taking lands over and staying alive.

“Well, I think being happy involves doing things you like, above everything else, and feeling…content, where you are. I think being happy is a choice, an action, not a feeling. What does Binghe like to do?” Shen Yuan certainly had little reason to feel happy naturally most days, the chronic pain of his body, and constant ringing in the back of his mind.

Binghe froze as though he had never been asked that before, and the truth of the matter was, he had never been asked that before. No one, in all his years asked about his happiness. It made his cheeks warm. It made him nervous.

“I-I…I like to fight?” Binghe said, his tongue unsure. Cultivation had been all he had known and he did not really know what else pleased him, save for staying with A’Yuan. There was not much time in his life for such considerations.

“Do you like to cook?” Shen Yuan asked, knowing that the answer should be, yes.

“That’s not important,” Binghe replied. He first began to cook to honour his mother, then it became a tool, and now a pleasure. It was soothing he supposed, but rarely was it…important. Necessary. It was never the deciding factor between life and death.

Shen Yuan huffed, patting him on the chest, it felt as though a small kitten was kneading him, or as though rabbit had jumped on him to rest as he lay in a field.

“I didn’t ask if it was important, I asked if you liked it,” Shen Yuan said.

“Mmm.” Binghe agreed, one hand reaching up to pet silken hair.

Shen Yuan, pushed his palms away, “Look, you seem to like cooking, and you seem to like learning new things. The internet is great for that. Let’s find some hobbies for you. It’s as good a place as any to start…and no, fighting is not a hobby.”

Binghe supposed his time under Shen Qingqiu, the original, had painted learning as a harrowing process but…he recalled the rush of satisfaction he felt when mastering a complex form, or a rise in his cultivation. He could see the parts where he took pleasure from knowing more. Shizun was Shizun, in every body. Perhaps A’Yuan was right, that he could try to do a few more things. He, once when he was a boy, he dreamed of building a house for his mother.

Binghe paused to confirm, “Is A’Yuan sure he wants me here. I’m not a good person, I won’t claim to be, but I swear on my word and my life that I will not lay a hand on you while I am here.”

Shen Yuan waited a moment before he booped the Demon Lord on the nose with one finger, amused at watching the protagonist's eyes cross, “Binghe can stay as long as he likes. He doesn’t have to fight anyone anymore. He can rest now.”

Maybe he was reading too much into it, or he spent one night too many in the discussion forums, but he was under the assumption that Luo Binghe was tired of all the fighting, and the conquest and the weird male playboy fantasy that even the starring role wasn’t buying into. If he framed it like that, it almost made him not want to slap the man.

He also assumed there was more to situation than even he knew and gave his resident Demon Lord, the benefit of the doubt.

Binghe frowned at him, “A’Yuan really. Don’t talk to strangers and don’t pick men up off the street, it’s not good. You know that - “

Shen Yuan cut off Binghe with a hand over his mouth, He already said he didn’t want to hear that from Luo Binghe who was the strange man in his house.

“I’m very careful,” He said and Luo Binghe nodded at him before nipping at Shen Yuan’s fingertips, which didn’t hurt as much as it startled him into pulling his hand back.

“Just in case, I’d appreciate it if A’Yuan carried this around with him from now on,” Binghe asked, as he materialized, from who knows where, possibly a magical space, and that would never not be cool, a necklace. The red chord had two pieces of jade hanging from it. One was in the shape of Luo Binghe’s demon mark, while the other was a slightly longer rectangular piece of mutton jade with a green vein running through it.

“What is that?” Shen Yuan asked.

“It’s an amulet. It’ll let me know if you’re in trouble. The green one monitors your health. The red one was made with my blood. If you put this on, I’ll know where you are at all times, and if you’re in danger. There are also a few defensive spells woven into them.” Binghe made one by condensing his blood, parasites included, into a solid form. The other was found in a hidden realm, a tool made by a famous medic he forgot the name of, to monitor her sickly sibling.

Shen Yuan, resident idiot, put the necklace over his head with nary a concern for the fact that Luo Binghe would, always know his whereabouts.

Luo Binghe gazed at his husband in both concern and joy, he’d have to keep an eye on A’Yuan to make sure he didn’t get stolen away. His sweet husband was too pure for the world around him...no matter the world. He could almost sympathize with the behaviour of that crybaby. He too, was protective of Shen Yuan, and Shen Yuan was...patently oblivious. 

Shen Yuan curled up in the bathtub, the water slashing around him, and panicked. He silently screamed as he rocked back and forth, clutching at his wet hair. Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. That was Luo Binghe. He was living with Luo Binghe! This was so cool…this was so terrifying!

Holy. Shit.

Did he have a sword though? Did he already think of that? How could he stop, Xin Mo was so cool…what did it look like…could he fly without one? What else could he do? Other than make a fire ball…a fire ball!? He could make a fire ball, there were elemental attacks and stuff in Proud Immortal Demon Way. In one chapter, Liu Mingyan made a wall of ice, in the shape of a dragon, and as cheesy as that was to read, in real life it must have been amazing. The eleven year old in Shen Yuan’s soul thought of all the make-believe games of his youth, and promptly lost his shit. Mark him down as kind of scared, but also really excited.

He flailed hard enough the displace the water, and that was just fine. He’d have his bath panic in peace, and all would be good in the world after that.

Luo Binghe glared at the ingredients in front him. He was experimenting with cooking foods from different areas of the world. The abundance of produce, and knowledge made the process easier for him. In his own world recipes were jealously guarded things, cooks competing for clientele, unwilling to share a new method for making their wares, when that method, or spice was their very livelihood. With the use of the internet he spent his time soaking up culinary knowledge from France, Spain, India, Japan, from every region in China he could find, the styles varying depending on local. He did not have to guess at a flavour or preparation, for once he given a variety of instructions to use or discard at will.

He made himself acquainted with standards and styles of cooking, paying special attention to desserts, as A’Yuan had a sweet tooth. The delicate pastry from Italy, and intricately shaped Japanese wagashi taking centre stage in his mind. The thought of A’Yuan nibbling on a box filled with nerikiri pleased him.

The only problem was making the dishes suitable to A’Yuan’s palate. Twirling a kitchen knife between his fingers he pondered the issue.

Today’s dish was not a desert, but a curry. Curry was something he had never heard of, the closest equivalent being stew or that strange yellow soup from the Eastern provinces that he never cared for. The varieties were seemingly endless, but he had heard Shen Yuan complain about not being able to eat Thai curry, so the region and dish were selected. It was up to Binghe to make it edible.

Rolling up his sleeves, he got to work, as the threw garlic and ginger into rippling peanut oil. He needed it to be flavourful but mellow enough not to cause irritation, that meant chilli was out of the question, so was green pepper as it caused indigestion, more so than its red or orange counterparts. The snow peas he had out, would work well enough. He had peeled them in the morning, buying them fresh and plump from the market. 

Perhaps he’d replace the coconut milk with a type of "milk" drained from a medicinal flower that was safe for mortal consumption? Usually the White Willow Orchid was brewed into a tea to stabilize the mediations, but it was Binghe’s to do with as he pleased, and it pleased him to give it to A’Yuan, a mortal. He decided that the mild heat from a touch of extra ginger, and a portion of pepper paste, would have to do. The additional spices, he ground from fresh, measuring them carefully to taste, in order to keep things mellow.

Setting down the bowls, coconut rice placed on the side, he watched Shen Yuan tentatively take a few bites before digging in. When the night passed and nothing occurred, Binghe stroked Shen Yuan’s back in celebration, tracing the knots of his spine through the shirt A’Yuan had borrowed from him.

Shen Yuan was getting used to the cooking shows, and cooking streams they had begun to watch. They were fun, and often light, even when they were competition based instead of educational. Binghe always avidly absorbed the techniques and applied them to their daily meals, which was exciting to watch. The other day he made a consommé for Shen Yuan, as clear as water, and unbelievably flavourful, as an alternative to the thin soups he’d been making. That was the protagonist for you, he supposed. Much better at picking things up with speed, than A’Yuan could ever be. 

The current topic on the laptop screen, however was the building of houses…and plumbing… which was a bit strange but, whatever made Binghe happy?

“Why are you watching construction videos?” Shen Yuan asked, his curiosity winning out over his urge to leave things be.

Binghe replied, “I built a quarter of the Demon Palace myself. The carvings were added afterwards, by artisans, but the structure itself was built by me. It was…pleasant. I think I’d like to know more.”

O-okay. Shen Yuan was not expecting Construction Worker Binghe, but that was kind of…amazing. He added it to his understanding of Luo Binghe as a person, right beside Chef Binghe, and Demon Lord Binghe.

Pulling up a chair, he asked, “Tell me about it?”

And Binghe did. His hands gesturing as he described picking out the materials and ruining a space pouch with the weight of a wood that was comparable to iron. It was a wild situation, that Shen Yuan was really not expecting. As Binghe’s eyes lit up with excitement Shen Yuan made sure to let out encouraging hums. He was happy that maybe, just maybe, Luo Binghe was learning what made him happy too.

Shen Yuan, Demon Therapist. Certified. Or at least, he liked to think of himself as a good friend. He tried to be, when he could.

Binghe slumped over Shen Yuan, without putting any weight on the slighter frame. It was more of a testament to Binghe’s core strength than Shen Yuan’s ability to serve as a cane. Nuzzling the side of Shen Yuan’s neck, Binghe crooned, “I’m hungry.”

Maybe Shen Yuan had become a bit spoiled with Binghe’s cooking, he frowned and moved forward, “I’ll go make something. I think I can do a stir-fry…I don’t really know what -“

Binghe pulled him back so that Shen Yuan’s back hit his front, “I didn’t mean it like that, but also A’Yuan likes my cooking better anyway, so let me. A’Yuan can sit…although…I’m making strawberry short-cake for dessert, A’Yuan can come lick the spoon?”

Shen Yuan’s face was puzzled and Luo Binghe wanted to laugh. He slept in A’Yuan’s bed, made him food every day, they spent large amounts of time with their limbs entwined outside of bed, on couches and public transit. Shen Yuan groomed his hair before and after each of his showers, Binghe held A’Yuan close when he was ill, and his little bunny didn’t seem to realize that perhaps they were courting? Binghe knew that courting occurred differently in this world, but every television show, and his observation of the public told him that they were, indeed courting. In his own world they would be considered married.

Sweet thing, Binghe wanted to ruin him.

Carving into the jade with his extended claws, Binghe watched as A’Yuan gazed at him with starry eyes, impressed by the skills Binghe was acquiring. He preened under the attention.

It was a nice thing, for Binghe to spend his time making things instead of destroying. He had spent countless years of his life pulling things apart, it was more than time for him to pull things together.

He couldn’t quite decide between making a rabbit, or a kitten. Both suited his husband, and both were auspicious. Perhaps one of each? The rabbit first. Soft and white.

Shen Yuan’s eyes were locked onto a Luo Binghe who was sprawled out on the bed, napping. He was on his belly, one arm under a pillow, the other splayed out to the side. Luo Binghe did not nap on his own. Binghe only napped when Shen Yuan did, which didn’t count.

Shen Yuan had only left to get the mail, and they were supposed to watch cooking shows together, or maybe some trashy reality television. How dare Binghe fall asleep without him? Pouting Shen Yuan moved forward and adjusted Luo Binghe’s arm so that he could slide underneath it and cuddle close, stifling a yawn. Binghe was so warm, he couldn’t help it. Curling close he shut his eyes, it was fine, for just a little bit. Binghe would wake him, when it was time.

Luo Binghe, faking a nap, smothered his face into the pillows as he struggled not the pounce on his innocent husband. Covering his mouth with his hand, he bit down, keeping his canines dull so as to not puncture the skin. He had not expected A’Yuan to be so forward, he assumed that maybe he’d be woken by slender hands patting his back, or face. Perhaps the tight shirt he wore would give A’Yuan a moment to peruse his form. He did not expect that A’Yuan would feel fully comfortable sidling right up to him. He should have.

Shen Yuan loved to be held, and it was fully within Shen Yuan’s rights demand attention, or take it, when he so chose. Binghe simply, needed to continue practicing restraint. Taking a deep breath, he decided that he would repeat a mantra in his head and force himself to sleep.

Shen Yuan’s cheek against Binghe’s shoulder was hot to the touch which started Binghe into full attention. A’Yuan was coming down with a fever again.

Binghe exhaled softly. He’d need bring a cold compress soon. A’Yuan’s fevers were appearing with more frequency.

Xiu Lan barged in with the spare key, Shen Yuan heard the slamming of the door and communicated with Luo Binghe with his eyes, that Binghe needed to get lost. Now. 

Luo Binghe nodded, and magically disappeared. The only trace of his presence was the food in Shen Yuan’s fridge, where Xiu Lan would never look, assuming it to be barren, and Shen Yuan’s closet which held Binghe’s clothing. His shoes were in a side closet by the door, and Binghe always did the dishes immediately which meant that two cups and plates would not be laid out.

Perfect. It was long past winter break, spring approaching soon. He did not have a way to explain his house-guest, but luckily for him, his houseguest could disappear and reappear at will. His family would kill him otherwise, their worry raining down on him like a tsunami.

“Gege, how are you?” Xiu Lan called out, her ponytail swinging behind her. Still dressed in her school uniform she looked young and fresh, and nothing like the secret investigator she really was at heart.

She was pleased that Luo Binghe was gone, but wary of the newfound cleanliness in gege’s apartment…Gege claimed that maid was replaced with a better one, and she…believed him. Like that muscle brained pervert would be coming over here to clean up gege’s messes? Yeah right. All he probably thought of was going to the gym to keep up his vanity physique, and stealing her brother.

Scanning each room Xiu Lan exhaled in relief. Nothing to see. No shoes by the doorway. That was good. She’d call Yu-ge and da-ge later to update them on the situation. They told her she was probably exaggerating but they also asked a lot of questions, which meant they really wanted her to keep an eye on A’Yuan. Da-ge also said he could come home if she suspected anything. So far, so good though.

“I’m well, meimei, how is school going for you?” Shen Yuan asked.

“It’s fine, I’m doing pretty well. Do you want to go see a movie with me today? It’s Friday, we can stay out late, maybe get dessert after?” She asked. Gege never minded spending time with her, and he always let her pick the movie.

“Of course, just let me get my coat,” Shen Yuan said as they slipped out. Once the door closed, Luo Binghe reappeared. He smiled at the thought of meimei’s worry. It wasn’t like he was going to eat A’Yuan…the worst he’d do was nibble. Licking the tip of one canine he thought of pale white skin, and ink black hair. Would A’Yuan melt in his mouth the way he thought he would? What noises would he make?

Taking the time, and the empty house to relieve himself, he lay on their bed and languidly made himself cum to thoughts of Shen Yuan. Pressing his face into Shen Yuan’s pillow he breathed in deeply.

Grinning Binghe packed their picnic basket. Really, he placed a spare space pouch into the picnic basket, and packed that. The basket was for possible watching eyes, not for storage. The pouch would keep their food fresh, and unbothered during the transit. He placed the lacquered box inside with care. With the changing weather, the days getting warmer, and the few pieces of nature in the grey city starting to turn green, they’d be going to Jinshan park. The scenery was not ideal, but it would do.

He had carefully made nerikiri for the upcoming season, shaping mochi and chestnut paste into four flowers: narcissus, iris, cherry blossom, and…quite purposefully, chrysanthemum. It took a few tries and the creation of a triangular wooden tool, applied alongside judicious use of the claws to get the forms right. The delicate rice paste was soft and malleable in his hands, as he added powdered dyes and formed flowers. In the end he was pleased with their delicate beauty, arranging each bloom in its own compartment in the box. Popping an extra into his mouth, he confirmed that the taste was good enough to serve.

He awoke early, careful not to displace his husband, who sleepily clung to his shirt to piece together the surprise. He had to gently lay A’Yuan back, bringing him a pillow to hold so that Luo Binghe could leave. He thought that A’Yuan would like the nerikiri, in accompaniment with some tea he packed away. Their main meal had already been placed inside, made the day before, and held in stasis.

Arriving at the park, Luo Binghe spread out a large blanket and a few pillows, lamenting his inability to bring out a better seat, the ground hard underneath them. It would have to do. Shen Yuan settled himself comfortably, and Binghe sat beside him.

Taking out a thermos, he poured out some beef based consommé for A’Yuan and himself to share. The cap of the thermos was passed back and forth as the slowly drank the soup and watched the laves fall. Luo Binghe made sure to purposefully place his mouth over the area where A’Yuan’s had been, sharing an indirect kiss.

Pulling out the mantou he made, he again, shared bites with Shen Yuan, passing the hearty meat filled bun back and forth. A burst of juice spilled down the side of A’Yuan’s mouth, Binghe took the opportunity to lean forward and wipe it with thumb, pulling back to lick the residue off.

“A’Yuan should be careful,” He drawled out, in a seductive purr.

Shen Yuan blinked owlishly, and blushed a bit, nodding, as he replied, “I-Thank you Binghe. Sometimes I’m a bit messy. Ah, it’s getting cold-“ A’Yuan realized as he reached up to hold the bun the Luo Binghe’s lips, seeing nothing wrong with the exchange. They were just being friendly, after all.

Binghe wanted to laugh, instead he took a bite and happily shared his meal. Those clear black eyes would be the death of him. Leaning back he tested Shen Yuan’s boundaries, by reaching over to pull him between his legs. They are had sat like this in the privacy of their home, many a time. The public however, was a different space.

“It’ll be easier like this,” Binghe said, lying through his teeth.

Shen Yuan nodded and took the last bite of the bun, finishing it, and grabbing another, pressing it once more to Binghe’s lips. One hand on the bun, the other rested on Binghe’s chest to keep balance as Shen Yuan twisted his waist to make the position possible. 

“Binghe is right,” A’Yuan agreed. Luo Binghe did laugh at that, stifling himself with the mantou his eyes shining with mirth. One of these days, A’Yuan really would get himself into trouble. Curling an arm about his husband possessively, Binghe enjoyed their picnic, despite the sounds of traffic that were audible as they split their food.

When they finished off the mantou, Shen Yuan stopping at two, split between himself and Binghe, Luo Binghe pulled out the lacquered box, a teapot, and a few cups. Shen Yuan gasped when he saw the sweets. Each one was a beautiful flower, moulded with care. When Binghe passed him a pink sakura blossom, sitting on a wrapper made of rice paper, the flower was dwarfed by his hands. It sat perfectly in Shen Yuan’s.

“These are amazing, did Binghe make them?” Shen Yuan asked, his eyes glowing.

“Mmm.” Binghe admitted with a smirk, watching as A’Yuan nibbled on the nerikiri, humming in containment, at the taste.

Reaching his hands out to pull Shen Yuan tight to his chest, he watched his love indulge in the fruit of his labour.

Shen Yuan huffed at the pressure, complaining enough to make Luo Binghe loosen his grip slightly. He would not allow himself to lose this, thought Luo Binghe. Shen Yuan’s happiness was paramount in his heart, and Shen Yuan was happy with such simple things. A safe life, a home, good food, and good company. Binghe had forgotten that he was happy with much the same.

He knew better, once upon a time, when he had nothing to his name. Pressing a kiss to A’Yuan’s forehead those dazed eyes made him break out in laugher once more.

Luo Binghe stared at Shen Yuan, as they lay in bed. “I love you,” he said.

Shen Yuan stared back at him, and fluttered thick lashes un-comprehending, “I love you too. You're a good friend.”

Shen Yuan then yawned and went to sleep. Cuddled up to Binghe. Platonically, apparently.

Perhaps Luo Binghe needed to grind his erection against A’Yuan’s rear? It would be crass, but theoretically effective. Sighing softly Binghe went to sleep. It was fine, he could wait until his husband understood enough to consent, and eat A’Yuan’s tofu in the meantime. 

Chapter Text

Luo Binghe gazed down at Shen Yuan’s form and thought long and hard about the decision he had to make. Shen Yuan’s illness was progressing at a moderate pace. His fevers were more frequent. They were still manageable, but indicative of a growing downswing. If Binghe’s own eyes were not enough, the amulet sent subtle warnings to him semi-constantly. Small pings in his senses that marked a mild illness. Two days ago the pain in Shen Yuan’s joints, leftover from the fever, had him bedridden, and two days the week before, the same occurred. Tonight another seemed to come, the skin under his hands hot to the touch, or perhaps the pervious one never finished, lulling Binghe into a sense of complacency only to rise again. He was not about to let A’Yuan devolve into a wretched state of constant bedrest, and besides the issue of A’Yuan’s fragile mortality…they were running out of time regardless. The air pulsed around Binghe ominously every day he stayed in this place.

He could take over the plane but…

Curling close he pushed Shen Yuan’s face into his neck, he’d have to talk with him. His fingers trembled as the softly pet the small sweat-soaked back under his hands. If Binghe had his way there would be no more hard nights, but he was not the sole person responsible for these decisions.

Settling A’Yuan in his lap he put a spoon of broth into his mouth. His husband was ill but sound of mind, the fever had broken in the night while Shen Yuan slept, he was simply tired.

“There are a few options I’d like to discuss with A’Yuan after breakfast,” Binghe stated calmly his heart pulsing with nervous energy in his chest. Shen Yuan tried to turn, to look at him and perhaps gauge his mood, but Binghe held him still with one hand gently pressing Shen Yuan’s front to Binghe’s back. Binghe fed him another sip before setting the spoon into the bowl that sat on their bedside table.

“A’Yuan,” Binghe started whispering into the shell of Shen Yuan’s ear…“A’Yuan, I can heal you…however there are likely to be…consequences.”

Shen Yuan startled at the words nearly tipping over but for Binghe’s hold. He understood that Luo Binghe was magical, but he never assumed that would have any relation to his own issues. He logically knew there were a lot off half-assed shoddily written healing treasures in Proud Immortal Demon way used to conveniently solve increasingly specific problems…but he supposed that he had become accustomed to the thought of dying young, far more than anyone should be, so he never really considered them an option.

“What are the consequences?” He asked, tightening his hands on the soft material of Binghe’s sleep pants.

“If I give A’Yuan my blood, the blood parasites will clear out your body and heal you, if I will them to do so. I’d give A’Yuan a healing panacea but I fear that I won’t be able to control the effect on a mortal body, and the consequences will likely be the same as the ones the blood would cause,” Binghe admitted. His nerves prevented him from voicing the consequences yet. He had gone over the words in his own mind, but when faced with the moment at hand they felt stilted in his throat.

Shen Yuan knew what Binghe’s blood could do…the blood of a Heavenly Demon. He did not cross the option off the board yet, he didn’t have enough information. He waited, and listened.

Binghe continued, “If I heal you. This world will reject you. It’s already rejecting my presence.”

Binghe knew that this soul, the one encased in Shen Yuan’s body had been slipped into Shen Qingqiu for a reason. Shen Yuan did not belong in the world Binghe came from, so Binghe was left with three choices. The first, to force the world to his will, which would have unimaginable consequences on the world itself. He knew a thing or two about forcing realms to do his bidding. The weather had yet to stabilize in his original world when he left, the animals mutating into demonic variants…what cultivators were left had their hands full. This world filled with mortals could fall to such ruin if he tried. The second was to force Shen Yuan’s soul into another body and perhaps change that body to resemble Shen Yuan. He did have a few water-moon masks available for such a purpose, the third option…was to take him to another world. One that would accept both of them, perhaps an offshoot of Binghe’s original world to account for the blood…perhaps one where Binghe himself was never born. That world, in theory, would understand that there had been a potential for Binghe to have existed within it and accept both him, and in turn, Shen Yuan as A’Yuan would have his blood inside of him.

He laid his cards out on the table, and watched Shen Yuan grip at his pants hard enough that his knuckles turned white.

“Binghe…has no responsibility to heal me,” Shen Yuan stated calmly, his voice gone cold, his nerves belayed only by his hands and the far off look in his eyes. He did not want this to be something that stretched Binghe beyond what he was willing to do. He had never wanted to be a burden on anyone around him. Binghe may have been the protagonist of a stallion novel, but that did not mean that Shen Yuan’s problems were his own. Shen Yuan’s problems belonged to himself. He could not impose on Binghe to-to…what? Commit countless illegal acts, steal a fucking body for him, take over the world, or be responsible for him in another? These were the options given. In his mind, they seemed like the thoughts of a fevered mad-man, despite knowing all of them to be theoretically possible.

Binghe sat firm, and said, “I want to, and I can.”

Shen Yuan crossed the first two options out immediately, his mind separating the problem into a scenario from a novel, refusing to acknowledge Shen Yuan’s own relation to the issue. This was so stupid. He couldn’t be in someone else's body in this world, the risks, from getting caught by the authorities to, to Binghe punching a police officer, to cultivation being exposed. It made Shen Yuan want to break out in hives. Who would they even find? Surely some poor dead body, that was a living person once, who had a life, and home of its own, even if that life was once a life of crime. It would be so wrong, to just, wear someone else like that. The second would possibly ruin the lives of everyone around him, and the third…

“Where would Binghe want us to go?” Shen Yuan asked. He was a dead man walking and he knew it, his clock was tied to a body that was falling him every minute he continued to breath. The doctors had told his mother he was unlikely to live past his teenage years, then they said he’d be lucky to make it to his mid-twenties and it seemed they would be right with their second prediction given the state of his body. One day, in a year, or three, his family would mourn him.

Binghe could sense the detached tone in Shen Yuan’s voice, as though he were talking about something ordinary like doing the groceries. He frowned and pressed on, replying, “Another cultivation world seems best. If we went to a world where I was never born, in theory I would be able to slip into the realm seamlessly.”

Shen Yuan hummed and asked, “And myself?”

Binghe swallowed needlessly, and said, “You would have my blood inside you, and a series of healing panaceas that would make you appear as native to the world. You’d be able to cultivate. There are plants that can re-grow, or in this case, grow meridians for you. At that point the meld would be seamless. I cannot take away my blood, to fit this world, but I can change yours.”

Shen Yuan passed for a short while, processing…he unclenched his hands, and stretched his fingers out, moving to cross his legs and hunch away from Binghe slightly. “Why does Binghe want to do this?” He wondered.

Binghe replied, “I love you.”

Shen Yuan hummed, and agreed, at no point did he try to turn around and face Binghe again, “Ah, yes, I love Binghe too.” He did. His roommate was amazing. Binghe was so good to him. He took care of Shen Yuan and never lost his patience for pretty much nothing…Shen Yuan wasn’t sure what he had to offer to Binghe other than basic suggestions for self-care and acerbic commentary while watching television, but it seemed that Binghe liked him too. Which was kind of amazing, Luo Binghe, hero protagonist liked Shen Yuan.

Binghe snorted, and stated, plainly as he could, “No. I love you and I’d like to us to marry. I will take no other after you which might not mean much to you given what you know of my past, but it’s the truth. I do not want you to take my offer without knowing that I have designs towards you. The move to another world, however, is not dependent on a marriage. I would provide you an abode of your own, and I think I’ve managed to figure out a talisman that would protect you from everyone…even myself, I do not….this should be your choice, and your choice alone.”

Shen Yuan froze, his eyes went wide the whites on stark display. H-he was not expecting that. He must have heard Binghe incorrectly. Help. He was not female lead material, so what if they went to the movies, and if Binghe sometimes, okay, all the time held his hand, and guarded him on the subway, and stuff like that. He was a scrawny rich boy who was pretty much all skin and bone…he wasn’t some frail beautiful sister to be whisked away into a marriage with an immortal Demon Lord. He was Shen Yuan. Just Shen Yuan.

“H-Husband?” He whispered, his body hunching over further, but he did not pull away from Binghe, kept safe in the cradle of the man’s thighs, fitting despite his crossed legs, his knees resting on Binghe’s open legs.

Luo Binghe nodded, into Shen Yuan’s spine whispering back, “Husband. I wish to marry you.”

Shen Yuan turned, finally, Binghe’s head lifting as he moved to stare at that ridiculously handsome face.  Shen Yuan’s cheeks were flushed. Binghe had to be joking. Luo Binghe looked dead serious. He raised one large palm and cupped Shen Yuan’s cheek as he often did, smiling softly. Shen Yuan always felt that when Binghe did that, it was as though he smiling just for him. It turns out he-he..he kind of was? Bi-Binghe he really…he liked…Shen Yuan didn’t even know what he, himself, liked, alright? So what if Binghe looked stupidly handsome when he walked out of the bathroom shirtless, and maybe Shen Yuan stared a little too long when Binghe reached up to get things from the higher shelves and his shirt rode up showing off well defined abs. It didn’t mean anything. How was he supposed to answer this question? What is a question? It had never really come up in conversation or thought. How could…how…

He needed time.

Shen Yuan’s face felt like it was burning and it wasn’t just the fever speaking. He stuttered, “I- I need time to think on this.”

Shen Yuan tried to detangle himself but Binghe held him still. “A’Yuan needs to know one last thing. If you leave with me it’s best if your family will think you died. The world….these worlds have a higher system of moderation. I can, most likely break it, but your family…if we were not there…and the higher powers saw issue with them knowing where you were, or of the existence of other planes…”

Shen Yuan’s blood ran cold. His family. Okay, Gods were real, maybe. Good to know. Bad news was if Shen Yuan left and tried to tell his parents the multi-verse was real they might have the memory of their son erased. Or be erased themselves. Shen Yuan had read enough science fiction, and dystopian fiction…and watched enough harem plots to know how it went when there was a higher power.

Shen Yuan sloppily untangled himself from Binghe’s lap to run of into the bathroom and hide as best he could. His run was more of a stagger, really. All Binghe could do was wait. Shen Yuan would come when he was ready…if he was ready. If not…Binghe clenched his hands into fists and narrowed his eyes. He had dinner to make.

Shen Yuan ran the tap water and splashed it onto his face to cool his burning cheeks, his hands shaking.

One thing at a time. He could only deal with one thing at a time. Break it down into parts. What the fuck were the parts of being a female lead in what amounted to a dimension crossing novel? It would probably be titled some shit like, How Can My Demon Lord Be This Cute, too. To be fair, his life probably was a novel to someone if Proud Immortal Demon Way was a novel to him…He cursed the readers with a vengeance, and the imaginary author. He was sure his suffering in this moment was making for a great plot.

Fine. Okay. He could do this. Probably…Did he want to move to a cultivation world away from his parents? He would deal with the fact that his stallion protagonist roommate was apparently having a gay…bisexual…mid-life crisis, over Shen Yuan, later? The question at hand was, should Shen Yuan hop worlds with a known Demon Lord?

It was ridiculous, but it was also the only viable option for Shen Yuan to live longer. He thought again of his family and a sharp pain ran through his heart. His parents, his sister, his brothers…They would think he died. All of them would think he died, and he’d be alive, living it up somewhere, without them. He knew that Yu-ge would tell him he was being stupid and that Shen Yuan should take the chance to live, he knew all of them would want him to go, and the thought only made him tear up. What did he, even want?

He didn’t want to die.

The thought was small, but present in his mind. He had become accustomed to the idea of going early, he wasn’t looking forward to it. If he went with Binghe, he could have a chance at living longer than he was supposed to in this life. He could start his own life, and he trusted Binghe to keep his word. It may have been silly of him, but he really did. He knew the man that lived with him. If Binghe said he’d get him settled and expect nothing…he would.

…Did he want Luo Binghe?

He liked girls didn’t he, he watched anime? He read, very pornographic novels sometimes, usually for the plot? He liked being held in strong arms. He wasn’t thinking about this anymore.

Turning off the tap he went outside. Binghe was where he left him, sitting on the side of the bed waiting for Shen Yuan.

“I’ll be in the guest room for today. I need to think,” Shen Yuan replied, biting his lip. Binghe looked forlorn at his words, like a kicked puppy. Shen Yuan felt horrible as he looked at those watering eyes. Running away again, he made his way to the long unused guest room and face planted onto the bed.

He would just stay here for today. He didn’t need to get up.

During the afternoon Shen Yuan went to the kitchen, and grabbed some food. Binghe was no-where in sight but a tray holding a fresh bowl of congee, with shredded chicken and green onion, was. A mug of tea was beside the congee, and a small plate of apples cut into the shape of rabbits was placed on the side for dessert.

He did not let out a teary sniffle at the sight, as he grabbed the tray.

He did not think of the way he depended so much on Binghe, and the way that Binghe…always came through. He never got tired, or angry at Shen Yuan. He never even made the micro-expressions of exhaustion, never furrowed his eyebrows or sighed tiredly before telling Shen Yuan it was okay. People were only human, and it was hard to be around someone who was sick all the time, Shen Yuan understood that and it always made him feel guilty. However Binghe was an exception, he always looked so happy that he could make Shen Yuan feel better, worried, at times, but always content. Demon stamina was impressive he supposed.

He carefully did not acknowledge that Luo Binghe looked at him, as though taking care of Shen Yuan was a gift not a chore.

Shen Yuan slunk back to the guest room with the tray. Maybe he was just mistaking care-taking for his non-existent romantic feelings for Luo Binghe?

Okay. Shen Yuan could do this. Did he want to kiss…that…who was an attractive woman he knew in real life? That one senior he had, she was a school beauty and he name was Chu-Chunhua maybe? Lu Chunhua? She was pretty.

Shen Yuan tried to imagine kissing her it. It was…something?

Clearing his throat he tried to imagine kissing Luo Binghe. His face caught on fire. He snuggled into the cold empty bed and screamed into his pillows. He needed a nap.

Dinner was the same. A tray filled with sumptuous offerings and no Demon Lord to lean on. To run his big hands through Shen Yuan’s hair, or spoil him with cuddles.

Night that was the worst thing. The night broke him. Lying on a cold, and empty bed Shen Yuan could not fall asleep. He didn’t recall beds being this big.

He missed having Binghe’s arms around him. The man was always warm, and he smelled of something clean and subtly woody, and warm…if a person could smell warm then Binghe smelled warm. It was soothing to Shen Yuan and he kind of wanted his sort-of-boyfriend back. He had a sort-of-boyfriend. Who was a divorcee of….over six hundred women. Was he the next new thing then? Something to be attained and then put away on a shelf? Bitterly Shen Yuan thought he was just like his mother. Perhaps he too, would live to see Binghe have a child with a woman, or given the genre several women. Luo Binghe did not have children in the book, but perhaps they too would a new thing. However, Shen Yuan believed in the man he knew…and if this all ended poorly, if it didn’t go well, then he only had himself to blame. This was the choice he was making, and if one day Luo Binghe tired of him, he would move on with his life as best he could.

What else could he do? What would be left to him.

Huffing, Shen Yuan shuffled into his room to find Binghe lying on the bed, book in hand.

“A’Yuan?” Binghe questioned.

“I’ll go with you,” Shen Yuan said, his tone firm. He was resolved. Whatever would come would come. He’d face it, but right now he just wanted to sleep in the place he felt the safest, with Binghe.

Binghe gazed at him carefully, putting his book away. “Is Shen Yuan sure?” He asked.

Shen Yuan nodded. He was sure. If this was a mistake it was his to make. If he died or…if he was tossed aside, then it was his choice, his life…and his heart on the line.

Binghe exhaled in relief. “When would Shen Yuan like to leave?” He did not know what he would have done if Shen Yuan chose to die in this mortal world.

Shen Yuan tugged at the hem of his shirt, “I want to spend as much time with my family as I can before we go, so we’ll only leave when we absolutely have to. Is that, is that possible?”

Binghe agreed, “Of course. A’Yuan should have all the time he needs. We have a few months more, before the strain becomes too much. One, to three, perhaps?”

Shen Yuan inhaled sharply. That wasn’t much time. He had so much to do. The bizarre thought that he needed to order modern sweets ran through his head. He didn’t think xianxia China had chips. Shaking his head to clear it, he stayed by the door, and looked firmly at his feet his posture changing. He had one more thing he had to say after this whirlwind of a day. “I- I like you too,” he muttered.

Luo Binghe leapt off the bed pulling Shen Yuan into his arms, “A’Yuan agrees to marry?” He crooned, dark and low, the sound sending fissures down Shen Yuan’s spine.

Spluttering Shen Yuan hit Binghe’s chest, smothered by the muscular pectorals in front of him, “I didn't say that, it’s to soon to talk about marriage. We-we can date. Dating is fine. Just dating. Binghe can be my b-b-“

Binghe finished for him, and Shen Yuan could hear the grin in his voice, “Boyfriend? Ah, that is fine with this Lord. We have lots of time.” Binghe’s voice took on a sly undertone, “However, if we go to the cultivation realm, it will be much safer if I call A’Yuan my husband. We can date but, for the public it would be safer to have a ruse in place. This way I can protect you better.”

Shen Yuan nodded, that sounded very reasonable to him, it wasn't like dating existed in Proud Immortal Demon Way. Holding hands and cuddling was probably really improper for a “courtship” so marriage ruse was their best choice, if Shen Yuan wanted to continue the relationship he was used to having with Binghe. “That’s fine.”

Binghe’s grin turned into a smile. Boyfriend. Husband. Same thing. All that mattered was that he’d be able to claim Shen Yuan as his rightful husband to the world, and by the time Shen Yuan was ready to change their titles there would be no practical difference in their lifestyle. What did Binghe care, what his husband preferred to be called as he became acquainted with being Binghe’s husband?

A’Yuan was such a shy thing. It was adorable.

Shen Yuan put his plan, privately titled, “Visiting the Family Before he Left the World, the Non-morbid Edition” into full force immediately. He spent every waking moment he could with his meimei, and went back to see his parents every weekend, fully taking advantage of Luo Binghe’s ability to make portals, after confirming that they wouldn’t speed up the whole, being kicked out of the world, thing.

Today, Shen Yuan struggled to button up Binghe’s custom dress shirt. He swore under his breath, “You have to look good, I want Yu-ge and Da-ge to like you, and this is the first time you’re meeting them.”

It was such a pain to get a formal shirt that would fit Binghe’s ridiculous chest and by the end of it Shen Yuan still worried that the buttons would pop. The black slacks he had to custom order were a bit too tight as well. He hoped neither of his brothers would notice.

The illustrious Yu-ge and Da-ge had come into the province for a long weekend and Luo Binghe was finally going to meet them. He had seen Shen Yuan’s parents at a stilted dinner at their house, where they made awkward conversation with each other. A’Yuan did his best to see his parents separately but he did want to at least introduce them to Binghe, together, even if it was only as friend. They had grilled Binghe about his academics and Shen Yuan’s health, but overall dinner was pleasant, with both of the Shen parents ending the evening by saying that it was nice to meet A’Yuan’s friend. They even saw Binghe off with a wave.

Luo Binghe, of course, only walked away until it was safe to make himself invisible and then backtracked to the house to park out on the roof of the manor. Shen Yuan was sleeping overnight in his parents house for that weekend as he taken to doing given then time-limit. Binghe did not begrudge his husband these visits in the slightest, taking care to record all the moments he could on a memory pearl for later days when his husband might miss his family. Perhaps in time Binghe could decipher how they could visit without consequence.

Binghe assumed he was prepared to deal with the older brothers he had heard Shen Yuan gush over, due to his meetings with both Xiu Lan, and the Shen parents… he was, however, wrong. He assumed it would be more of the same over-bearing questioning, or outright hostility and it likely would be but…

In front of him sat Shen Qingqiu and Yue Qingyuan. The features were slightly different but as a whole…the similarity was uncanny.

“Yu-ge,” Shen Yuan called out, cuddling up to the ironically named, Shen Qingqiu who had a soft small smile on his face for his younger brother. Binghe had never seen the man smile. Da-Ge, or Yue Qingyuan watched over them with a wider, warmer smile and eyes that promised violence as he looked at Luo Binghe.

How…wonderful? How did the other Shen Yuan not know? Did the other Shen Yuan know? The worlds were such a mysterious place. Shen Jiu was Shen Yuan’s older brother, spiritually speaking. Or was Yu-ge reincarnation of Shen Jiu?

Smothering a laugh into his fist, and disguising it as a cough he introduced himself with a wide smile, “Hi, I’m Zhang Wei.”

“How…nice,” Yu-ge responded with a sneer, as though Luo Binghe was a piece of shit under his foot. How nostalgic.

Dinner taught Luo Binghe that Shen Qingqiu and Yue Qingyuan may have had no idea who he really was, but they were still very intent on getting him away from Shen Yuan, regardless.

Shen Qingqiu called him a worthless mongrel directly to his face while Yue Qingyuan spent their dinner appearing to admonish Shen Qingqiu but only in ways that were intended to make Luo Binghe look inept at defending himself. He pitied Binghe for being a poor, harmless student, and told Shen Qingqiu that he should back off a little.

“He’s only student Yu-di, be gentle. Of course, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. In time he’ll learn, we all had to?” Yue Qingyuan would say and Shen Qingqiu would retort, “I had better manners at his age than to meet an elder empty handed. Move your hand away from didi you pig, I saw that.”

Luo Binghe, had been helping pass Shen Yuan the beef and leek dumplings and their hands had brushed.

It was truly ruthless and unreasonable. It was an attack on all fronts. If Binghe was not seen as worthless then he was weak, and if told Yue Qingyuan off he would be seen as unruly. Binghe heartily approved this character assassination in play.

It was baffling to see that his former Shizun had a soft heart towards his sickly brother in this world. Shen Qingqiu gently pressed his hand on Shen Yuan’s fore-head to check his temperature, and fussed over his eating habits, adjusting the collar of his dress shirt with care.

His former Shizun’s face was the same as the other Shen Qingqiu, but that man, the other one…how did Binghe tell Shen Yuan that he wore his brother’s face better than his brother did? Even when the man was showing his newfound ability to be gentle he exuded nowhere near the comfort Shen Yuan did. Shen Yuan’s soul softened the sharply elegant features and turned them from a frosted mountain into a glacier that gently watered the land below with its ice-melt.

Yue Qingyuan doted on Shen Qingqiu and Shen Yuan throughout the evening, while Shen Qingqiu pretended that he was not flattered, and Shen Yuan leaned into his older brothers, thankfully platonic care.

Luo Binghe didn’t want to rip someone’s arm off at dinner. He would, but these were A’Yuan’s brothers.

As they made their way home, Binghe wondered how, and if, he should tell Shen Yuan that his brothers were in a romantic relationship with each other…or maybe wanted to be in one. Perhaps they were just simply very tactile, they were related after all, if only by their father. He could have been overthinking things when he saw his former Sect Leader caress his former Shizun’s thigh from knee to hip-crease. He had nearly dropped the rice from his chopsticks in response. Yue Qingyuan had the audacity to then wrap his arm around his half-brothers waist. He wondered how Shen Yuan had missed all of the incestuous subtext in front of them at dinner and probably his own childhood and then recalled that Shen Yuan was...Shen Yuan. 

…And Shen Qingqiu had the audacity to tell Binghe to keep his hands to himself?

The two of them being lovers actually explained so much. Yue Qingyuan’s last actions were finally clear now. He always wondered why the Sect Leader walked into such an obvious trap. So was the way Shen Qingqiu slipped into a quiet death, when what was left of Xuan Su was presented to him.

….

“Is A’Yuan sure?” Binghe asked, as they sat on the couch watching television. Now was as good a time as any, and Shen Yuan was the one who brought it up.

At Shen Yuan’s nod, Luo Binghe made a cut on his right wrist with his claws. The blood welled up red, and bright.

Shen Yuan bent over, before Binghe could offer his wrist to his lips. His tongue took a kittenish lick before he traced the closing wound, suckling gently at the skin. Swallowing he licked the residue off his lips.

Binghe’s free hand clenched into a fist as his cock swelled. This little…

Eyes clean of desire looked away from him, as Shen Yuan blushed and went back to watching “You Are The Brightest Star”.

That was fine. Binghe could be patient.

….

When the time came, Shen Yuan was a sobbing wreck. His eyes swollen from crying, his face flushed. It was deeply attractive in the way that sad things are on occasion, beautiful. His frail shoulders shook and Binghe held him close crooning out nonsense as he rubbed A’Yuan’s back.

“What’ll happen now?” Shen Yuan asked.

“They’ll see a body, a puppet and think it’s you. They’ll forget me. They’ll remember you, and you’ll...remember them,” Binghe answered.

Shen Yuan clung to Binghe’s front and nuzzled his face into Binghe’s robes.

“Is A’Yuan sure?” Binghe asked once more. Shen Yuan nodded, and off they went. Binghe pulled Xin Mo from its sheath with one hand, sword tied to his side once more, and cut a tear into time and space.

Holding Shen Yuan close, they walked into the gap between worlds…together.

Chapter Text

Luo Binghe gently shook one of Shen Yuan’s shoulder’s, balancing a tray laden with food in one hand. “A’Yuan,” he crooned, as Shen Yuan tried to nuzzle deeper into his pillow in his usual fashion.

The only thing that differed were his surroundings.

“Does A’Yuan want to get up?” Binghe asked, sitting on the edge of the bed. He placed the tray on the side table and moved to rub his hands soothing down the planes of Shen Yuan’s back.

Shen Yuan silently turned his face, peeking out of the blankets he pulled up when Binghe first started to poke at him. As he moved to his side, he tried to hide that his eyes were still rimmed red from crying. What did it matter, though? It wasn’t as though Binghe didn’t already knows. He had gone through several nights spending his time sobbing into Binghe’s broad chest as the man held him close, mourning the life he lost.

Binghe looking at Shen Yuan’s sad form could not say that he did not feel a sense of guilt for bringing Shen Yuan to a version of his original world. One that where he had never been, and would never be born. Doing so saved A’Yuan’s life…

“Good morning,” Shen Yuan croaked out, trying to cling to some modicum of pride, and dignity. He felt scrubbed raw on the inside, his throat a mess that ached when he talked. It was a contrast to the rest of his body, which had never felt better. If he were in his home, his bed, his world, he’d be sick by now with a fever from all his crying. His body wouldn’t have allowed him to mourn the way he wanted.

Guiltily, he thought that he had not necessarily been the greatest…transmigrator? Immigrant? Person who changed dimensions because their Demon Lord boyfriend wanted to save their life? So far.

He had spent too many days curled up in bed, refusing to get up save to eat, bathe, and embarrassingly enough, cry almost any time he thought of his family. Binghe had been amazing, never pushing Shen Yuan to leave the house Binghe pulled out of his space pouch. Shen Yuan knew something was wrong then, when even the wonder of seeing a model of a two-story pagoda float off of Binghe’s palm and expand into a serviceable human-sized house…was not enough to make him smile or gasp in awe. He didn’t startle at all from the surprise he felt witnessing something from a video game, or xianxia movie. He just stared at it like the the black and gold building was a convenience store, and he was on his way to buy some apple juice in the streets of Beijing.

It was one thing to know he was leaving, it had been an another to actually do it.

Sniffling as Binghe once more pulled him close to his chest, Shen Yuan took a deep breath. Small. He could start small. That’s how people did things, wasn’t it? One step at a time. That’s how he managed his pain all these years. He built a ladder, one rung at a time, and even the smallest step was a good step. When it was his health, his ladder would start with him doing something that seemed as simple as getting out of bed, and looking out a window from a chair to watch the sky. He’d play a song or two that made him feel good, so he wouldn’t get trapped in his own  mind. It wasn’t much, but watching the sky while he breathed through his aches and followed along to a cheesy pop song brought him comfort.

What then, was something that he could do today, something small that wasn’t his usual pattern of eat, sleep, and cry now that those had become infinitely easier to accomplish? 

A large hand carded through his hair pushing the soft black strands back from his forehead.

“Binghe hasn’t shown me around this place yet, maybe we can walk around the…woods?” He asked.

When they arrived, Shen Yuan had noticed a large clearing, surrounded by strange trees. Binghe had simply popped their house up, and herded Shen Yuan inside so that he could rest for a bit. That day Binghe informed him that he would begin to lace Shen Yuan’s food with his blood…with his permission. Shen Yuan had given it, not noticing a difference in taste but certainly noticing that the way he felt changed.

They hadn’t gone anywhere by sword. He was a little disappointed by that in retrospect, but surely flying swords would one day come to his life? They were in a cultivation world, and Binghe had Xin Mo. That seemed like too large of an ask for today, so a walk would have to do. He was certain the woods would be interesting enough for now.

Binghe paused his petting to consider it. “Is A’Yuan ready to go outside? We can stay in bed for as long as you like. You’ve gone through a large change.”

Shen Yuan nodded pushing his head into the hand like a cat, and replied “I can’t spend the rest of my life crying into a pillow.”

Binghe chuckled, and slid his fingers down from his hair to his cheekbones, down to his chin until he could tilt Shen Yuan’s face up with two fingers.

“A’Yuan can stay in bed as long as he likes. This lord will accompany him, besides A’Yuan is cute when he cries. Like a little bunny,” Binghe teased as he removed his fingers from Shen Yuan’s chin to poke at his reddened nose. Traitorously, it twitched.

Shen Yuan slapped Binghe’s hand away in irritation, and hid his face in Binghe’s chest. “I’m n’t cute,” he muttered, knowing full well his cheeks had coloured from the praise.

Binghe was probably just doing his best to make him feel better for breaking down the way he did. He was probably still gross and splotchy, and a bit peely from the crying…and the snot, especially around his nose. Fuck. He was pretty sure he got snot on Binghe’s robes. How attractive. He just managed to get a boyfriend and now instead of showing the best of himself, he was out here leaving his bodily fluids on the man, and weeping all the time. Never-mind that he only recently figured out that he might like men, still. He should have felt mortified at his breakdown, but he was surprisingly comfortable instead. It wasn’t like Binghe’s hadn’t seen him do worse things…at least he wasn’t vomiting this time. It was really a wonder Luo Binghe of all people, liked him at all. Maybe Shen Yuan’s averageness was…exotic? He certainly wasn’t a delicately weeping beauty, or anything like that. He was pretty sure he looked like a drowned splotchy mouse.

Binghe hummed in agreement and said, “Of course, A’Yuan is not cute at all.”

Shen Yuan rubbed his face again Binghe’s broad chest and luxuriated in the comfort of his touch, Binghe’s hands trailing over his hair, shoulders, and back. 

“I th’nk I’m re’dy,” Shen Yuan muttered, sighing happily as Binghe massaged his waist through his shirt. The kiss that fell on the crown of his head made him curl further into Binghe’s body from embarrassment. Did Binghe really have to be so affectionate? It’s not like he hated it but still…

“Alright, we’ll go out for a short walk,” Binghe agreed. With one last hug, they settled themselves against the low headboard of the intricately carved black canopy bed.

Shen Yuan reached over to put the tray between them, setting a portion of youtiao onto his lap. Binghe had been making heartier foods as Shen Yuan gained the ability to eat them despite his  upset. He wasn’t necessarily hungry these days, his appetite waning, but the morning Binghe made youtiao with warm sweet soy milk on the side for the first time stuck with him. Most days, a familiar white, fluffy congee made up Shen Yuan’s breakfast, the toppings alternating on occasion, but that morning…

The morning with the youtiao was first time, Shen Yuan managed to eat something deep fried without throwing up. It felt like a victory. He had been so nervous to try, and irate enough to feel like punishing himself by shoving the fried dough sticks into his mouth. That he hadn’t felt sick afterwards was something he could not imagine.

It was almost funny to him how his caution with food evaporated so quickly. For so many years he had to watch his diet, and within weeks he was almost back to eating like a normal person. Binghe no longer omitted stronger spices in his dishes. Cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel, pepper, and chili were back his mouth. The last two were used in moderation, Shen Yuan’s palate having little tolerance for spicier food. Yet even when his mouth felt tingly, he didn’t mind.

How quickly the human body forgot pain when it was no longer experiencing it.

Dipping his youtiao in the soy milk that sat on the tray, Shen Yuan brought it to his mouth, holding one hand underneath to stop it from dripping on the bed. He relished in the way the fried bread absorbed the sweet soy milk while retaining a flaky crunch. Binghe had made congee with green onion, and finely julienned ginger as well, a clear chicken soup with cilantro, and youtiao with soy milk. It was far too much in Shen Yuan’s opinion, but he wouldn’t complain. He’d probably stick to his fried bread goodness if it wasn’t for Binghe putting a spoon of soup to his lips and urging him to taste a bit.

Shen Yuan obediently ate, putting the youtiao back onto the tray and off his lap. He took a small bowl of chicken broth in his palms and drank it directly from the bowl. When he finished, Shen Yuan leaned on Binghe’s shoulder and watched the man eat the rest of their food, clearing the plates.

It was a good thing Binghe could eat so much, Shen Yuan thought, or else they’d be wasting food.

Shen Yuan dressed in his regular sweats and sneakers, and made his way out of their pagoda like a fish out of water. He did not match his surroundings in…any way, shape, or form. There he was in a fantasy world looking like…himself.

Meanwhile, Binghe had changed into xianxia style robes in black and red before they even came to this dimension. He promised to get Shen Yuan suitable clothing soon enough and Shen Yuan didn’t really question the situation, especially after Binghe measured him with a knotted rope instead of a tape measure. He wouldn’t even begin to know how to deal will xianxia tailors, or seamstresses, or sizing, so modern clothing it was, until Binghe brought him some fancy robes. He’d probably end up feeling like he was cosplaying but at least he’d fit in. 

He put his thoughts away to observe the lush green grass of the field they were in, and the strange willow like trees with swaying purple leaves.

“Where are we, again?” He asked, basking in the view. He must have forgotten at some point though Binghe likely told him.

Binghe answered, “Hua Mountain Range, not related to Huan Hua Palace. It’s an isolated area in the Demon Realm, surrounded by dark miasma, and a cursed woods. From the outside it would be impossible to guess a place like this existed.”

Shen Yuan grasped onto Binghe’s sleeve, “Isn’t this the place with the Moon Flower Fields?” Wife plot number two hundred and seven did not matter. He wanted to go see the glowing flowers that were described as “a beauty the likes of which mortal eyes were unprepared”.

Binghe asked, “Would A’Yuan like to see them?”

Shen Yuan nodded his assent, his eyes gleaming in excitement. Going outside was a great choice.

Binghe interlaced their fingers so Shen Yuan wouldn’t get lost, and off they went. Binghe gamely let himself be pulled along as A’Yuan crouched among the grasses. His eyes were surprisingly sharp despite his lingering need for glasses, as he correctly identified some of the medicinal herbs, stroking them gently and babbling over their properties. Soon he wouldn’t need them anymore but for now Binghe enjoyed their charm as they slid down A’Yuan’s nose which forced him to slide them back up with one slender finger.

Luo Binghe doubted that his husband would ever lose his curiosity for the world. His joy clear in the way he held Ever Sleeping Violets in his hand, as though the common sleep aid was precious.

Binghe patiently walked with Shen Yuan smiling as each new find sent his husband into a flurry of world and activity.

As they passed a cluster of bushes, Shen Yuan spotted an odd plant that he couldn’t quite place. It was still a bush like it’s brethren, but its leaves were darker, and its berries a strange shade of purple, instead of the bright red of the ordinary Rosehip bushes.

“What’s this?” He asked, poking the little berries, and watching the plant shake at his touch.

“I’m not sure,” Binghe replied. “Would you like to bring it back?”

Shen Yuan looked at Binghe, then at his newly found bush as though self conscious about his own joy. That would not do.

Smiling widely, Binghe pulled out a jade box so that his husband could transport his little plant. It would do well for A’Yuan to have a hobby too, and what harm could it do for his husband to grow this plant, to grow a hundred of them, even if it did end up being a weed?

Shen Yuan took the box and dug into the soil to get at the roots. He placed the mystery plant  into the box for Binghe to seal away with a bit of the dirt it was found with.

“Would A’Yuan like to start a garden?” Binghe asked, and Shen Yuan paused to think on it.

“…Maybe a small one, if it’s not too much trouble, and nothing too dangerous…or special? It would be nice. I’ve never gardened before…I don’t want to ruin anything,” Shen Yuan replied.

“It would be no trouble at all,” Binghe replied without even thinking of it.

A’Yuan could have as many weeds as he wanted. There were sure to be some manuals in a Hidden Realm or two that would be of help. Humming gently in response Shen Yuan tucked the plant away into a space pouch. Binghe offered his hand for Shen Yuan to tuck his hand into, and helped him up, placing Shen Yuan’s hand into the crook of his arm.

Slowly, they made their way to the Moon Flower Fields.

The white blooms each had eight white petals that glowed softly, even in the sunlight. Their white stamens shook with the wind and the scent they released perfumed the air.

Shen Yuan unhooked his hand from Binghe’s and ran into the field in front of him. Turning around he asked Binghe, “Do you think we could have lunch here one day?” Wife plot or not, the field really was beautiful.

Binghe pulled out an unfamiliar lunchbox. The black wooden tiered contraption looked like something from a historical movie…like the boxes the eunuchs brought to all the concubines instead of the metal or plastic lunch boxes Shen Yuan knew. It had six layers.

Shen Yuan looked at the lunchbox, then at purple trees behind Binghe, and then up at the sky, so similar to the one he once knew, if not brighter. It was such a bright clear blue. It looked like a painting of a sky instead of the grey smoggy mess that on occasion covered his view of Beijing from the window he sat by on his bad mornings. The clouds rolled through the sky gently, and the fauna and flora around him were were unfamiliar even to his untrained eye.

His life was…really different now, wasn’t it?

Binghe paused whatever he was planning on saying to make his way quickly to Shen Yuan’s side, resting the lunchbox on the ground. He swiped at Shen Yuan’s cheeks with his thumb. It was only at Binghe’s motion that Shen Yuan realized he had started crying.

“Ah, it’s okay,” Shen Yuan said, moving to grab at Binghe’s thick wrists, like that would do anything. His fingers couldn’t even close around them.

Binghe made soft noises of agreement, and removed his hands only to pull Shen Yuan close.

“I’ll be happier soon. I promise,” Shen Yuan whispered into that strong chest.

“A’Yuan doesn’t have to be strong right now. You’ve been strong enough, let me take some of this weight from you,” Binghe whispered back.

“…I still want a picnic,” Shen Yuan muttered which made Binghe laugh.

They settled down among the flowers, crushing a few of them much to Shen Yuan’s consternation. The weight of the silky looking picnic blanket Binghe pulled out to spread on the ground matched with their weight easily ruined a few of the blooms.

“They’ll grow back,” Binghe soothed as he pulled out the dishes he made.

The next few days were spent carefully exploring the area around the new house, puttering around, and waiting for Shen Yuan’s clothing to come in.

He also moved Yun Yun, as he named the bush, into a jade pot that he kept in their room and watered every day. Binghe mentioned that the house didn’t have an indoor garden yet, but that he would be addressing that soon enough. Shen Yuan didn’t mind. He could be patient.

When the robes did come in…they were…very robe like?

Weeks ago Binghe disappeared for a few hours, smothering Shen Yuan in protective talismans and begging him to stay put, which Shen Yuan did. He wasn’t stupid enough to go exploring without Binghe. This time Binghe did the same, and came back with an unknown amount of clothing. Unlimited space containers made it hard to know.

Binghe laid out an outfit on the bed, while he placed what Shen Yuan assumed was the rest inside their wardrobe cabinet, folding the robes flat as he went.

There was a lot of white, and pale green that was almost white…and a few things that were darker green, but the ones Binghe set out for him to try were lighter is shade.

“How many outfits did Binghe buy?” Shen Yuan asked he watched clothing move from the pouch, to the wardrobe.

“Enough,” Binghe replied absentmindedly, as he folded a bamboo embroidered outer robe just so. The beaded ones would have to be hung on a rack. 

Shen Yuan shrugged. As long as he had something to wear he could start exploring the outside world…after he started cultivating.

Looking down at the clothes laid out in front properly with the intent to go put them on he felt a wave of confusion. They had many parts and…ties…and strange buttons? They didn’t exactly match what Shen Yuan knew about traditional clothing, which made sense given where he was but knowing that was not helping him know how to get them on. There were a lot of identical looking robes. Was this even one outfit…or two? Like, did Binghe set out pyjamas for him as well as day clothes? Stroking one robe he noticed that they were very soft, and the patterns were pretty. The…what he assumed was the outer-most robe was decorated with embroidered clouds in pale grey on pristine white, a few red crested cranes flying between them.

Binghe watched him staring at the robes without moving to put them on when he finished getting the wardrobe in order. It was clear he had no idea what he was supposed to do. Binghe carefully smoothed the amusement from his face.

“Does A’Yuan want me to help?” He offered.

Which is how Shen Yuan ended up lobster red, stripped down to his boxers letting Binghe dress him, in layer after confusing layer. These were definitely not the clothes he saw on harem dramas…they were so much worse, all the gauze, and the ties that did not tie where they should reasonably be tied, and the layering which…made very little sense to Shen Yuan.

Binghe seemed pleased about the situation though, pressing one of his many collars into place and ensuring that his belt was tied properly to his waist.

Hesitating, Binghe mentioned, “A’Yuan should probably take off his undergarments before we put on your boots.”

Shen Yuan wanted to smack him. The amazingly soft layers of the robe were pressing against his boxers in strange ways, the fabric feeling rough against his skin comparative to the silk robe but Binghe’s didn’t have to just say that out loud.

Red faced, he marched a compliant Binghe to the door, his sleeves fluttering behind him. He shook his right hand to get used to the motion, the hems of the sleeves stopping just before his fingertips. He was going to have such a problem with his his food, he already knew it. How did people in xianxia world’s even live? How was he meant to go to the bathroom?

Alone, Shen Yuan completed the weirdest variation of pinching one’s wedged underwear out of ones jeans to get the boxers to float to the bottom of his robes so he could kick them to the side, grab them and put them in the woven bamboo laundry basket.

…Shen Yuan would never, in his entire life admit that the fantasy version of silk felt really nice against his…private…areas. In fact, he never had that thought. It never happened.

Binghe waited outside the door patiently. Husband had been so good when he allowed Binghe to dress him, after he stripped himself practically bare. His fair, trembling figure, stoked the lust that lived as a low fire inside of Binghe’s belly for months, but he could be a patient man. He would wait for A’Yuan to be ready. Husband had only just stopped tearing up at the loss of his family, his small form clinging to Binghe as he expressed his sadness nightly. They had much to do before a wedding could be held.

Shen Yuan’s soft white skin, was always a temptation to him, and so was the process of wrapping him up.

Binghe had spared no expense for the clothing he acquired his spouse. He went directly to a group of Spider Demons and made his terms clear, offering fair payment and more, for the best of their work.

Xu Liwei heir of the Southern Blood Spider Clan, had smiled ingratiatingly when he realized just how powerful Binghe was, after Luo Binghe held Xin Mo to his throat and allowed the sword to lap at his Qi. The demon tried to bite at a dragon he thought of as a fly, and suffered for it.

Xu Liwei offered a portion of the price to be discounted as both apology, and with the hopes that future purchases would be made by this mysterious Lord who did not give his name. Luo Binghe nodded regally, unbothered by the attack, and dropped not only the required gold, but several rare pelts, jewels, pearls, furs, and bolts of cloth that were only heard of in legend, with strict instructions as to the make, and patterning of his commission. Luo Binghe may have left a large amount of treasure to his former wives but his Empire was vast, and his treasury vaster still. More than vast enough for a few robes of quality.

Xu Liwei’s hands carefully did not shake as he handled raw snow-worm silk. The rarity of it was both because of the danger posed to acquire it, and the ability to layer protective charms into the weave. It was but one of many treasures on his table.

Luo Binghe specified that he required charms to keep to robes clean and resistant to dirt for A’Yuan’s messy disposition, temperature adjusting charms for his mortal frame, and many more to keep the wearer safe.

The softest of silks were meant to be used for the undergarments, sleeping robes, and inner layers. They were to be pure white, or pale green only. A variety of gauze mid-layers were to be made from moon or ghost spider silk. A set of outer robes with various sparse patterns were to be done in double sided Su style embroidery. Maple leaves, bamboo, frozen plum blossoms, and clouds were to be depicted on those robes. The more complex outer layers, were heavier, the designs ranging from vast swathes of orchids, peonies, violets, moon flowers, the sky at night, a scene of the Hua mountain range in detail. There was some leeway in these requests as they could be done in either thread, or hand-painted and sealed into place.

Some were to be beaded with pearls, or precious gems, while others were to create complete images when Shen Yuan pressed the edges of his sleeves together. Most of the outer robes were to be primarily white much like the inner ones or pale green, but a few were to be dazzling red in either the shade of poppies or the darker shade of dried blood, and some were to be dark emerald green…all were to be perfect, and they were. Luo Binghe was deeply satisfied with Xu Liwei’s craft. This Spider Demon Clan in particular, had been dead when he reached power, but he had heard rumours that there had not been a better maker of robes than them.

All of these things from the material to the maker, were signs of wealth and status, which pleased Binghe. He did not want a single soul to look down on his husband in this wretched world. 

Likely, it would be a while before A’Yuan wore the more complex of the sets, the Spider Demon clan working without rest to complete his order. Twelve sets of robes, with six shoes, and two coats…and more that were yet to be made.

He didn’t think he would bother teaching his husband how to put his clothes on properly quite yet, it was a pleasure he enjoyed and he was sure if husband really wanted to, he could learn how on his own, but Binghe certainly wasn’t going to push him to.

Binghe entered their room again when he was called, taking in the sight of A’Yuan scuffing his booted shoes against the floor, and flapping his sleeves like a butterfly, in irritation.

“Is A’Yuan done?” He asked, already knowing the answer.

Shen Yuan’s blush, which had calmed slightly returned as he nodded, glaring at him.

His short hair was slowly growing out, his bangs hitting the middle of his cheeks. Binghe didn’t think he’d put it up in a crown…A’Yuan would dislike that…but if his husband grew it out more fully, he’d have to consider the styling more carefully.

Still, he did have one last thing to add, “A’Yuan needs a belt ornament, let me tie this for you,” Binghe said as he took out the red jade in the shape of his demon mark. It matched the necklace that lay on A’Yuan’s chest, hidden by his new robes. There could never be enough of his mark on his husband’s person. He wanted it to be clear, just whose protection his husband had. He wanted it to be clear to any who saw that they were connected.

“Binghe I have to do this,” Shen Yuan bit out as he tried to run one more lap, his chest heaving. His hair had grown out a bit which made it even more uncomfortable as it stuck to his cheeks but cutting it was out of the question. He wanted to blend in.

His chest hurt in a new way, but least he wasn’t passing out which was a nice bonus?

“But A’Yuan should rest, you’ve pushed yourself hard enough,” Nursemaid Binghe said from the side, where he floated on Xin Mo, holding a cup of warm tea in one hand and a tea pot in the other.

…Shen Yuan had literally run like…two laps…around the clearing their house was on…which was more than he could do originally but admittedly pathetic. Binghe was the one who mentioned that it would be good for Shen Yuan to train his body slightly before the Cleansing Pill could be taken which would rid his body of impurities, and leave him a clean template for Binghe to begin doing whatever he was doing with Shen Yuan’s body to make it cultivation safe.

To be slightly more specific they had to get Shen Yuan’s body a bit less gremlin-like, and at least regular human normal…so they could cleanse him, so he could eat some seed that would grow him some spirit veins, which was apparently in some volcano in, which Luo Binghe assured would be safe because…no one knew about…it…except them.

Luo Binghe because he gained the seed to save one of his wives when her cultivation was crippled, Shen Yuan because he read that scene.

“I…ran like, two circles?” Shen Yuan argued, gasping out the words as he grasped at his ribs. It felt like he was being stabbed, was this a running cramp…why did anyone run? People did this for fun? His robes were fluttering behind him, but at least they were somehow keeping him cool.

“That,” Binghe began very gravely, “Is a lot. So A’Yuan should stop now.”

…Shen Yuan was going to throw something at his boyfriend. Luo - I chopped stupid amounts of firewood as a teen - Binghe was telling him he had done enough. Was his brain rotting? Shen Yuan thought cultivation was about pushing oneself or some such bullshit, was he supposed to lay down and magically reach immortality through no hard work, on his fucking back? Were all xianxia novels including Proud Immortal Demon Way lying to him?

Bitterly Shen Yuan ignored Binghe’s hovering form, no matter how hard it was because quite frankly it was also kind of hilarious. Binghe was floating an inch off the ground, but also hunching over to offer Shen Yuan tea and it was….so stupid?

Shen Yuan made it one more lap before he collapsed into the grass, Binghe leaping to his side, to pat at his sweaty face with a handkerchief as he stared down at Shen Yuan like he was dying.

“A’Yuan worked very hard,” Binghe said as he helped him to sit up and held the teacup to his mouth.

Binghe didn’t even have the decency to be patronizing when he said it, like Shen Yuan running three and a half laps, if that, was the peak of hard work. How was Binghe supposed to teach him cultivation like this?

The answer turned out to be poorly.

Shen Yuan still ran his laps every day, and Binghe took him through a few warm up, and cool down forms that were kind of nice but that was pretty much all they did. Binghe hesitated so much when it came to teaching Shen Yuan a few sword forms before he gave in and focused primarily on defensive moves that would buy Shen Yuan time or let him run, as well as the basics to a set that seemed more dance like, than a fighting technique? Not that they practiced those often.

To be fair, Shen Yuan didn’t grasp martial forms very easily but he was trying, and he only almost stabbed himself once. Luckily he had a much easier time diving into the pill making, and gardening books he requested from Binghe. The tomes were supposedly rare and were acquired through the ancient art of grave robbing.

Binghe proudly announced that he had been grabbing material from the graves of famous masters instead of going to Sects and stealing their manuals to keep their existence low-key. Shen Yuan could only internally sigh. Only the protagonist would find it so easy to grab so many secret inheritance plots in one go. Binghe even had to exercise a ghost from one of the pill making manuals telling Shen Yuan that unlike the novels from his world, usually ghosts only meant bad things and that he should learn slowly and never let some old master possess him. Shen Yuan would never be so fucking stupid. Those “wise ghost masters” always seemed suspect to him, but he let Binghe fuss.

“A’Yuan will be a great Alchemy Master one day, I’m sure of it,” Binghe praised as Shen Yuan lazily flicked through a manual on their bed. This one covered mid-level healing pills.

“And how is Binghe so sure?” Shen Yuan drawled back. Far be if from him to argue with the world native but clearly Binghe was biased. He wanted him to go towards a non-combative area of cultivation and he wasn’t even trying to be subtle about it. Not that he, himself had an urge to go off stabbing people. It didn’t seem…great, but he did need to know how to defend himself, and Binghe had been teaching him to fight, if grudgingly. 

“You’ve understood every advanced text you’ve read on the subject. I think you’ll show great promise in pill-making when you begin,” Binghe responded.

“How do you even know that my veins will be suitable for it?” Shen Yuan asked. The Seed of Growth…which gave the user spirit veins that best suited their body, because those would be the easiest for him to control, which in theory meant that cultivation would be easier.

Binghe laid down beside Shen Yuan who was on his belly, flipping through the manual and poked his cheek, “Then you can raise plants, or learn musical cultivation, or make artifacts, or divination. Anything your heart desires,” He said.

Shen Yuan bit his lip before he teased, “Even martial, or sword cultivation?”

Binghe paused, before he replied diplomatically, “A’Yuan would have to run many, many laps, and carry heavy things in a very mindless fashion, instead of researching and working on the bed, with tea and sweets at hand. But if you insist, I will help as best I can,” 

Shen Yuan chuckled at the measured tone and peaked out from the corner of his eyes at Binghe’s carefully blank expression, watching as the man came to a realization.

“…You never planned on practicing either of those, did you?” Binghe asked.

Shen Yuan shook his head, hiding his smile behind his book.

“They why did A’Yuan not say so, and why must you push yourself? I can, and will protect you,” Binghe said.

Shen Yuan had not told him because he found his boyfriend's quiet panic funny. Additionally if Binghe ever actually outright asked him what types of cultivation he wanted to practice he’d say so, but instead of asking he spend all his time fussing over Shen Yuan’s non-existent exercise regime. Truly running for less than twenty minutes every day was deeply tiring. Shen Yuan would die from it. He was putting in so much effort.

“You never asked,” Shen Yuan replied, “And no matter what, it’s good for me to know how to defend myself. What if by chance you’re not there for a moment and I need to fight?”

Binghe seemed to struggle with the truth of the matter before he exhaled and flopped over on his back, “A’Yuan does need to...be able to delay enemies.”

As though making a great concession Binghe added, “We will add an additional thirty minutes of sword, and martial training every day, from now on.”

How terrible Shen Yuan thought sarcastically, closing the manual to tuck himself beside Binghe nuzzling close. Binghe arm slid under him to hold him in place. It was a comforting feeling to be in Binghe’s arms. His life really wasn’t so bad here. Even when his boyfriend was being ridiculous.