Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t say that it was an impulsive decision, but it was certainly one that was made without thinking.
It started with an offhand comment. “If only Binghe could have met my younger sister, you would have gotten along quite well,” he had sighed during lunch after Binghe had said something that reminded him of his sibling. He hadn’t thought about what he was saying until Binghe stopped what he was doing to turn around and look at him.
“Shizun has... a sister?” He asked, confused. “He has never mentioned any siblings before. I thought Shizun’s family situation was...” he trailed off, brows furrowed.
Shen Qingqiu’s blood ran cold. He’d really gotten too comfortable with his husband, hadn’t he? He tried to think of some way to lie and talk his way out of the situation, and while he could think of a few decent excuses, he found himself not wanting to use any of them. The longer he stayed quiet, the more intense Binghe’s stare become.
In the past, he might have immediately labeled that intensity as suspicion or accusation, but he’d long since moved past assuming the worst of Binghe. Instead, when he looked up to meet that stare, he could recognize simple confusion and, the more the silence stretched, worry.
“This master... is guilty of withholding some information from his husband.” No, that’s not right. “Binghe, I do have my reasons, but I have told you, and everyone, a few lies.”
“Shizun... surely has his reasons,” Binghe agreed. “May this disciple inquire what his husband is willing to share?”
Shen Qingqiu drummed his fingers lightly on their table, slightly nervous. “It’s a bit difficult to explain,” he said, a bit softer than he had intended. Clearing his throat, he continued, “Binghe knows that I’m... not the best with words. Would he allow this master a moment to think about... how to...” His voice cracked, and he cut himself off, horrified. What was with this reaction of his?! Get it together, Shen Qingqiu! He scrambled for his fan, opening it up to both hide and cool down his red face and burning eyes.
Binghe, at a loss, all but shoved aside everything in his way to put his arms around Shen Qingqiu. “Shizun can take as much time as he needs,” he said hurriedly. “This disciple is overjoyed that Shizun is willing to share something like this with him, but if it’s something that’s going to make Shizun...” Binghe took Shen Qingqiu’s hand in his, stabilizing it, and Shen Qingqiu belatedly realized he was trembling. Good lord, what kind of emotional maiden had he become? Why was his body reacting like this?! It wasn’t a big deal, really!
He really expected Binghe to press the issue further, but thankfully he waited for Shen Qingqiu to collect himself. He took a breath and gently pulled Binghe down to press a light kiss on his temple. “I don’t intend to lie to my husband ever again,” he said softly. Binghe’s eyes glistened and, well, at least Shen Qingqiu wasn’t the most emotional one in the room anymore.
“Shizun! This disciple will wait as long as it takes for you to be ready!”
Why do you have to phrase it like that!!
. . . . . .
Shen Qingqiu spent the rest of the day trying to think of a way to explain... the situation. As much as he was starting to realize he might lack some self awareness, he did know that he didn’t quite trust himself to give a full explanation verbally. But during dinner that same night, he realized the answer was actually quite simple — if he wasn’t confident in his ability to tell Binghe the truth, why not just show him?
Binghe had given him some space during the day, which was clearly difficult for him given his sticky nature. So it wasn’t surprising when he didn’t bother to hide his joy as Shen Qingqiu sat down next to him at the dinner table, instead of across as usual.
“Shizun!” He beamed, not betraying any signs that he was affected by their earlier situation.
“This master... would like to try something tonight,” he started.
Binghe stared at him until his lips curled into a grin. “Oh? What does Shizun have in mind?”
Gah! “No, not like that!” He smacked his disciple lightly on the head with his fan. He sighed. “Concerning our earlier conversation...” Binghe immediately sobered, clearly surprised that Shen Qingqiu was bringing it up this soon. “I would like to introduce you to my family. Although it’s true they are not in this world, I’m hoping that... perhaps, given Binghe’s power, I could introduce you to them... in a dream? And, doing so... I believe would make explaining everything else easier.”
Binghe thought for a moment. “This disciple hasn’t tried anything like that before, but I’m sure that I can do it if it’s what Shizun wants.”
Letting out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding, Shen Qingqiu smiled. “Mn. If it’s not possible… then we will figure out something else.”
After dinner, they cleaned up and started to get ready to go to sleep. They were quieter than usual, but it wasn’t an awkward silence; both of them had a lot on their minds. However, that didn’t stop Binghe from trailing his fingers up Shen Qingqiu’s legs as they settled into bed, pouting when Shen Qingqiu shot him an “are you serious” look.
“This disciple truly believes that he and Shizun will both have more control over the dreamscape if they are well exhausted and satisfied,” he declared. Honestly, considering the type of universe they were in… it wasn’t that unbelievable to Shen Qingqiu.
He sighed. “Is that so? Binghe really believes that?”
“Yes! Without a doubt!”
Relenting without much of a fight because, really, Binghe was being so good to him today, he pulled Binghe on top of him and leaned up so that his lips ghosted on Binghe’s neck. “Then Binghe had better do an especially good job of satisfying his husband.”
. . . . . .
Shen Qingqiu slowly opened his eyes and found himself lying in the bed of their bamboo house on Qing Jing Peak. As he came to, the arms around his waist tightened and a kiss was pressed to the top of his head. “Shizun must have been really tired after that, he joined me here so soon,” Binghe teased.
“Tsk.” Shen Qingqiu allowed Binghe to manhandle him into a sitting up position (on Binghe’s lap! Unnecessary! ...But not unwelcome, he supposes) and he felt his husband’s chin lower to rest in the crook of his neck, wavy black hair forming a curtain over their right sides.
“I’m giving Shizun control over the dreamscape now,” Binghe murmured, low in Shen Qingqiu’s ear. Agh! Stop being distracting, this is supposed to be a serious moment! But before he could tut disapprovingly, something about his surroundings shifted. He blinked, refocusing, and suddenly all of their surroundings seemed more fragile. It was still a flawless reconstruction of their home on Qing Jing, but now Shen Qingqiu almost felt that the illusion would shatter if he so much as snapped his fingers.
Experimentally, he tried to shift their location. The house became a bit blurry, and then they were sitting outside in the courtyard.
Binghe smiled. “As expected, Shizun has mastered this quite quickly.”
To say he had mastered it would be generous; their immediate surroundings were detailed and clear as the real things, but as Shen Qingqiu turned his gaze to the bamboo forest, the stalks seemed to blur together unless he focused on them, and the air felt stagnant and unnatural until he thought about the gentle breeze that always seemed to flow through the peak.
“This is quite simple compared to what Binghe is capable of… you will have to be a bit patient with me, I’m afraid. It’s been quite a while since I’ve thought about the place I come from.”
He started with picturing his little apartment. It was a decently nice place, but was very obviously home to a single young man in his early 20s. He remembered the few posters he had hung on his wall, the dirty clothes strewn across both the floor and furniture, the empty cup noodle containers that littered his counter. It wasn’t as disgusting as some other guys’ probably were, but by the standards that Binghe held their home to now, it was really quite a mess. But it felt wrong to be finally coming clean about his origins only to show another idealized version of himself, so Shen Yuan allowed the messy parts of his life and himself to materialize with the dreamscape.
As their surroundings changed, and they stood in the doorway on Shen Yuan’s old apartment, Binghe’s face remained unreadable, save for a slight furrow in his brows.
“Shizun, this is…?”
“Another world,” he finished for him. “It’s this master’s original home, before he came to Binghe’s world.” He took a step into his apartment, and was disoriented for a second as he realized that he was suddenly a few inches shorter, his hair barely reached his ears, and he went from having multiple layers of clothing to just one. Apparently he couldn’t imagine Shen Qingqiu’s elegant form in his messy apartment and, well, this was really happening — he was back in his original body, at least as far as appearances went.
Binghe stared at his changed appearance, not following into the apartment. “Forgive this stupid disciple, but — I don’t understand.”
Shen Yuan felt his throat tighten. Had this been a mistake? Would Binghe not understand, never forgive him? Leave him? Take revenge on him for all these years of lies?
“I want to understand,” Binghe amended quickly, as if he sensed Shen Yuan’s panic. “I trust Shizun, of course I trust husband. But…?”
“Binghe remembers when he was young, and this m- er, Shen Qingqiu came down with a fever and was bedridden for some time?” Binghe nodded. “Shen Jiu died at that time,” he continued frankly. “And at the same time, the me that you see now died in this world— right over there, actually, on the kitchen floor — and woke up in the body of Shen Qingqiu. I don’t know how, or why, but ever since then I have been in Binghe’s world.” God, what was the point of bringing him here if he had to explain everything anyway? It was so jarring to hear his original voice again after so many years.
To his surprise, Binghe exhaled with relief. “I see. So, Shizun is still Shizun. Husband is still the one this disciple has always loved. I am still… confused, but… that is the most important thing.”
Shen Yuan’s treacherous eyes burned and Binghe joined him in the apartment, looking ridiculously out of place as he approached and carefully took Shen Yuan’s unfamiliar face into his hands, studying it. “There’s more I need to tell Binghe.”
The hands on his face tensed almost imperceptibly, but remained gentle. “One thing at a time, Shizun.”
Curiously, Binghe’s fingers moved up to Shen Yuan’s glasses, sliding them off of his head. Shen Yuan almost choked as Binghe held them up to his own eyes, scrunching up his face. “Why does Shizun distort his vision with these?”
“Ahaha, this body’s eyesight wasn’t too good — those actually helped to improve my sight.” He couldn’t help the laugh that spilled out of him, he felt almost delirious with relief that Binghe hadn’t rejected him (yet). But Binghe paused, looking back down at him, and his face broke into a grin filled with such warmth and fondness that Shen Yuan almost felt the need to look away.
“Mn, this is definitely Shizun. His face is different, but his smile is the same.” Shen Yuan didn’t quite understand, but Binghe slid the glasses back onto him and had already moved on to inspecting the apartment.
“Shizun’s family didn’t live here with him, did they? What about servants — Shizun’s quarters clearly weren’t attended to properly,” he said disapprovingly.
“Ah, in my world… most people don’t have servants, this master lived alone and attended to himself,” Shen Yuan replied, embarrassed. Maybe he really should have imagined the place cleaner.
“Is that why Shizun… died? In his world?”
“Hmm. Yes, actually, I suppose you could say that. But the way I died here has never been a possibility in our world as long as Binghe is with me.” If he were to die from Binghe’s cooking, it would just be because it’s too damn good!
Binghe continued to wander around the apartment, inspecting every little thing, and Shen Yuan became more and more embarrassed with every passing moment. It was a bit endearing, watching Binghe squint in confusion as he tried to discern what the computer was, or watching him pout a bit at the handful of anime girl posters that littered the walls. Thank god that Shen Yuan at least had the good sense to make sure to leave out the official Proud Immortal Demon Way Luo Binghe body pillow that he had hated himself for preordering (and then had continued to take excellent care of.) But the longer it went on, the more aware Shen Yuan became of the disconnect between the person he was when he lived here, and the person he was now.
Even though he had brought Binghe here to tell him the truth, it still felt like he was showing his husband yet another incomplete side of himself. He was no longer a person who stayed up late leaving hateful comments on the internet and eating expired food -- he couldn’t even imagine going back to being that person.
"Binghe," he called. "Perhaps we should move on? I don't... feel any real attachment to this place, and to be honest it's really a bit embarrassing..."
"Every part of Shizun is important to me," Binghe whined. "Forgive this disciple for his presumptuousness, but please allow us to stay a bit longer!"
Shen Yuan sighed and rested his face in his hands. "Fine," he relented, "But only a few more minutes."
Binghe got to work, looking through all the books on his shelves and the insides of his drawers and, really, what kind of memory did he think Shen Yuan had! It was taking a lot out of him to remember exactly what he had in all these little places! Finally, as it seemed like Binghe was about to start going through his underwear drawer, he put his foot down and told him it was time to go. It took Shen Yuan exasperatedly reminding him that they could do this literally any night for the silly child to stop putting up a fight, and he just smiled fondly at Shen Yuan instead when he said that. Honestly, what's with that look! What did he even say?
But the next part was going to be the real test of Shen Yuan's abilities -- both his new, tentative ability to control this dreamscape and his ability to remain composed with his "family" that he would create from his memories.
He started by remembering the house he grew up in. He hadn't thought much of it as a child, or even as a young adult, but he knew now that they were quite well-off. He thought of his childhood room, obscene amount of posters he had taped up just to make his parents mad during his rebellious phase; the desk with the PC he had built with parts that definitely should have been out of his price range; the stash of erotic comics that he had stashed in a fairly obvious shoebox in his closet. The living room downstairs, where he and his sister had marathoned movies together and spent the entire time arguing over flawed character writing and plot holes. The dining room where their chef would serve them dinner and his parents would ask him about his grades, friends, girlfriends, etc. This house that Shen Yuan had forced himself to not think about because it held so many memories, and what good are memories like that in a world where none of it ever existed?
When he opened his eyes, they were standing on the doorstep of his old home.
"Ooh, is this where Shizun's family lived?" Binghe marveled. "The architecture is a bit strange, but it looks very nice!"
A strange feeling was coming over Shen Yuan. Was his husband really so unaffected by all of this? "Binghe, is this really okay?" Binghe turned to him, confused at the sudden change in his mood, and Shen Yuan sat down on the steps of the porch as he collected his thoughts. "It's not that I'm not grateful for you being so accepting, but surely this is a lot to take in... I don't blame you if you want to take a break or even if you need some..." his jaw tensed, "if you need some space. I understand."
The demon lord didn't respond immediately, pausing for a moment before sitting down next to Shen Yuan.
"Shizun is right, it's a lot to take in," he began, and Shen Yuan's heart clenched. "And while I'm sure Shizun has his reasons, I wish he had shared this burden with me sooner, but only so that I could help him shoulder it. When I think about Shizun waking up in a new body, in a new world, all alone after dying -- that alone makes me incomparably sad. But then, when I think about how he's been dealing with this all by himself for all these years, away from everything and everyone he knew, and forced into a role he probably didn't want... what right does this disciple have to complain about being overwhelmed? I'm just happy that Shizun is finally trusting me to share his burden."
What could Shen Yuan even say to that? He exhaled. "Unfortunately, there are a lot more explanations I need to give. After this... it really only gets more complicated."
"There's nothing more complicated than what we've already overcome together," Binghe replied, taking his hand. "And as long as Shizun wants me, there's nothing that could make me stop wanting him."
Gah! You're going to give your husband a heart attack, saying smooth things like that!
"Binghe, really... ah, I can't... alright, let's go inside then." Binghe smiled fondly at him, letting himself be pulled up and guided back to the front door. He waited patiently for Shen Yuan to knock on the door, and almost immediately there was a quick succession of footsteps running down the stairs.
The door swung open, revealing a tiny teenage girl with her hair pulled back in a bun and glasses similar to Shen Yuan's. She was grinning ear-to-ear. "Gege! Finally, jeez! How could you keep your adorable little sister waiting this long, ah?"
"Who's adorable?" He retorted reflexively. But she forcefully hugged him in a way that nearly squeezed the life out of him, and it felt so real, and he hesitantly put his hand on her head and held her closer, and oh, he really can't cry he just got here--
Just in time, she released him in order to get a better look at Luo Binghe. "Mmm, so this is the guy you got hitched to? Not bad, not bad! Actually, really good job gege!" Turning back to Binghe as if he hadn't heard that, she continued, "Nice to meet you! My name is Shen Yue. Thank you for taking care of my foolish brother."
"I am Luo Binghe. It's been my pleasure, although Shizun is the one who has always taken care of me."
"'Shizun'? Gege, what's the story there? Wait, don't tell me if it's some kind of weird play, I don't wanna know. Anyway, dad is cooking in the kitchen and mom is getting the dining room ready. They gave the chef the night off, so it’s just us." She kept talking before Shen Yuan could deny the perverted accusation, although he realized the reality probably wasn't much better. His sister was truly a menace.
"Binghe, don't call me Shizun here!" He whispered as they removed their shoes to follow Shen Yue into the house.
"But Shizun is Shizun," Binghe replied innocently. At Shen Yuan's glare, he laughed. "Alright, this disciple listens and obeys. What shall I call you, then?"
A split second of awkwardness passed. Ah, he hadn't told him his real name yet, had he?
"My name was... Shen Yuan," he whispered.
As Binghe was about to reply, a call sounded from the dining room. "A-Yuan, hurry up and bring yourselves inside!"
As if hearing his mother's voice for the first time in so long wasn't enough, Binghe offered him a hand and said, "Alright, shall we go then, A-Yuan?"
It's a good thing he was already in the process of taking his husband's hand, because hearing that made him trip over his own feet, and he definitely would have faceplanted if Binghe hadn't steadied him. Binghe's grin was smug, but there was no mistaking the warmth in his eyes. This was really going to be a long night, wasn't it?
If hearing her voice was jarring, then seeing his mother was surreal. Of course, the whole thing was a dream, but for a moment Shen Yuan had really almost forgotten that fact.
As they walked in, his mother’s eyes lit up, crow’s feet wrinkling as she smiled at them. “A-Yuan, it’s about time you came back to visit! And finally bringing someone home with you, ah, come here, let me get a look...” His tiny mother manhandled Binghe’s form so that he was directly facing her, and then she reached up and lowered his face, commenting “very nice, very nice!” Until finally, after a last once-over, she seemed to be satisfied and she patted Binghe on the shoulders and released him. It was amusing and endearing to Shen Yuan that this little middle aged woman could make his demon lord husband go bright red and sweat bullets in nervousness.
“Good job, son, you have done well for yourself,” she said approvingly, and Binghe seemed to release some of the tension he was holding in his body. “Now if only you would come home more often! Your really make your poor mother worry to death.”
“Sorry, mom,” Shen Yuan replied sheepishly.
“Alright, enough of that, sit down; your father is almost done dinner.”
They obediently took their places at the dining room table, Shen Yue forcibly inserting herself in between the two of them. Shen Yuan shot her an annoyed look, but she just blinked at him innocently. “What? I can’t want to spend time with both my older brother and his husband? Don’t be selfish, gege!”
He rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything else. Seeing that she had gotten her way, she chatted with Binghe, asking him about all sorts of trivial details about both himself and their relationship. Binghe seemed overjoyed at the opportunity to gush about Shen Yuan, shooting him sly looks as Shen Yuan’s face gradually turned redder and redder.
It had only been about five minutes of this, but it felt like an eternity later when Shen Yuan’s parents finally started bringing food in. “A-Yuan!” His dad exclaimed. “Finally coming back to see your parents. Hm, probably only here for my cooking. Well, whatever, make sure to eat lots. Ah, you must be my son’s husband! Are you treating him right? Make sure he’s eating, he never takes care of himself!” Shen Yuan groaned.
It was strange, sharing this part of himself so openly, but it felt right. Binghe didn’t say much at first, mostly speaking when spoken to, but after a bit he seemed to grow more comfortable, asking his family for details about Shen Yuan’s childhood and what he was like when he was young.
As embarrassing as it was, there was also a strange sense of normalcy, doing such a cliche "relationship" thing that he never thought he would get to do with Binghe. And maybe technically it was fake, but it felt real enough that Shen Yuan allowed himself to get pulled into their momentum, teasing and complaining, but avoiding any topics that would be too heavy. And every once in a while, Binghe would look away from whoever he was conversing with to meet Shen Yuan's eyes, and the warmth and love that he felt from that gaze would usually make him embarrassed to the point of turning away -- but just for now, he let himself smile back with the same warmth.
Of course, Shen Yue noticed this and fake-gagged at their shamelessness, but instead of being bashful, Shen Yuan found himself laughing and roughly messing up her hair until she was yelling for their parents to make him stop. He heard Binghe's laughter join his parents', and he wondered why he hadn't done this sooner. He was filled to the brim with a sense of wholeness and belonging that he wasn't sure he had ever felt before.
But of course, it was just a dream, and no dream could last forever. When his father brought out dessert, and Shen Yuan realized that this dream would have to end soon, the warm feeling of wholeness started to become a cold, heavy weight in his chest. His family's movements seem to slow down around him, and their faces became just a little blurry. Shen Yuan subconsciously gripped his chest, as if the cold feeling could be materialized and ripped out so that he could go back to the innocent happiness of earlier.
"A-Yuan?" Binghe's alarmed voice broke him out of his trance. His family was frozen around him, paused in time as Binghe placed a hand on his cheek. "What's wrong? Do you want to stop?"
Shen Yuan hesitated. "I... don't know," he admitted. "I guess I just realized that... well, I knew it was fake from the beginning so it's foolish to get upset over that, but... I never got to say goodbye to them." His voice had dropped to a whisper by the end of his statement, like the admission would shatter the dreamscape if he spoke too loud.
Shen Yuan found himself enveloped in his husband's arms, the smell and warmth familiar and reminiscent of a different home than the one they were in, but somehow much more comforting.
“It’s not foolish, Shizun isn’t foolish at all,” Binghe murmured into his ear. “We can stop, or just take a break... I would never think less of Shizun for wanting to do so.”
“I know,” Shen Yuan breathed, and he did know. Ages ago he would have been too concerned about his image to do anything like this, nonetheless show any kind of vulnerability in front of Luo Binghe, but now he was all too aware of the depths of his husband’s love. “We can just... stay like this for a minute, and I’ll be fine.” Even though he couldn’t see Binghe’s face, he knew that his words made him smile, and the arms around him tightened.
“Of course, Shizun.”
So Shen Yuan let himself close his eyes and relax in his husband’s arms, the feeling almost transporting him back to their home, to their lazy mornings in bed, to their easy evenings at the dinner table. Before he realized, the cold feeling in his chest had disappeared, finally replaced with a feeling of calm and content.
“Okay,” Shen Yuan said, leaning back a bit. Binghe reluctantly loosened his grip and allowed Shen Yuan to straighten himself out in an attempt to repair some of his dignity. As he fixed his glasses, his husband pressed a kiss to his forehead and patted his disheveled hair down. Shen Yuan found this a bit amusing — just who was the teacher and who was the disciple here?
Without another word, the dreamscape unfroze, and his family seamlessly continued what they had been doing as if nothing had happened. Binghe helped clear a few dishes away so that a cake could be placed in the center of the table, and Shen Yue shamelessly tried to steal a strawberry off the top before it had even been sliced. Shen Yuan smacked her hand away with a, “Hey! Who raised you?”
“Gege’s no fun~”
“Honestly, how old are you two?” Their mother scolded, threateningly waving the cake knife at them.
“Ahaha, A-Yuan got yelled at,” Binghe teased, coming back into the room with clean plates.
Shen Yuan clicked his tongue, “And what do you think you’re doing? You’re the guest, sit down, stop trying to help!” He grabbed the dishes out of his hand and shooed Binghe back to his seat.
“Ah, now I got yelled at,” Binghe said mournfully, sitting back down. Shen Yuan laughed and flicked him lightly on the forehead.
When he looked back at the cake, it was glaringly obvious that a strawberry was missing from the top, and he whipped his head around to glare at his younger sister. “Seriously?”
“It wasn’t me,” Shen Yue cried, mouth full of strawberry.
“It’s ok, that can be from my slice,” Binghe tried.
“Stop enabling her! You love strawberries!” Shen Yuan growled.
“A-Yuan can just share his with me, then,” he grinned cheekily in response.
“Oh my god, this is disgusting, you win, I was wrong,” Shen Yue groaned. “Please just stop flirting at the dinner table.”
“We are not flirting!”
“Actually, I was flirting...”
Both Shen parents came back into the room and lightly scolded them for bickering, before relenting and dividing up the cake among them. Shen Yuan obligingly offered Binghe his strawberry, discreetly setting it on his plate, and almost short-circuited at the pout Binghe offered him in return, knowing immediately that he wanted Shen Yuan to feed it to him. Idiot, not in front of his parents!
During dessert, Shen Yuan's parents asked to see pictures from their wedding. (Asked is putting it gently, they demanded to see pictures as they berated Shen Yuan for eloping and not having his dear parents there.) Of course, there was no way to take pictures back in ancient China, but this was the dreamscape, so fuck it. Shen Yuan materialized a smartphone that Binghe blinked in confusion over, and scrolled through "pictures" that were kind of snapshots of his memories of that night.
Of course, only the G rated memories. The two of them in their regal red and gold wedding attire, doing their bows, and a very self indulgent selfie with a dog filter that of course never actually happened, but (he would never admit this) he knew the dog filter would look cute on Binghe.
His mother teared up looking at the photos and smacked Shen Yuan repeatedly for not inviting them, and Shen Yuan didn't protest, knowing that his voice might crack if he did so. Shen Yue surprisingly held back her usual teasing, and instead only made a quiet comment that "Gege looks really handsome and happy." Somehow, this embarrassed him even more than her taunts did.
Tired of being the constant butt of the joke throughout the evening, Shen Yuan recounted the story of how Binghe proposed -- leaving out the incriminating parts, he told his family about how his husband was tripping over thresholds and stumbling over his own feet because he was so nervous. That damn OP protagonist didn't even get flustered; he just smiled fondly and said, "How could I not be nervous when proposing to someone as wonderful as A-Yuan? Of course I was worried about being rejected."
Once again, Shen Yuan was the embarrassed one, smacking him as his face heated up and retorting, "Who the hell would reject you, idiot," giving Binghe exactly what he wanted -- an excuse to hug him and coo over him. Ridiculous.
However, the conversation gradually died down, and Shen Yuan knew that it was about time for this to come to an end. He still wasn't sure what he could say that would make him feel like he had closure, but, well... he'd bullshitted his way through an entire death trap of a novel and it turned out alright, so fuck it, he decided he would just wing it.
His father started to collect the empty dishes from the table, and Shen Yue poured the remainder of the teapot into Shen Yuan and Luo Binghe's cups. There wasn't much left, but Shen Yuan sipped the rest of the tea and savored the taste of home.
His parents tried to get them to stay the night, saying that it was already late and Shen Yuan's room was still just as he had left it, but he politely declined, saying that they had matters to attend to early the next morning. Binghe did insist on seeing his childhood room, which Shen Yuan expected, so he gave him a tour of the house before it was time to leave.
Unfortunately, Shen Yuan couldn't even picture his old room without the horrendously embarrassing posters of cartoon girls that covered his walls, and the mess of PC equipment and game consoles and controllers that littered the floor. Despite the size of the house, his room was fairly small, and the mess made it even more claustrophobic.
"Mm, this is very similar to the first room of Shizun's... definitely A-Yuan's room," Binghe affirmed. Shen Yuan shoved him lightly and threatened to kick him out, which (infuriatingly enough) just made Binghe laugh. He knew he was messy in his past life, okay! Stop reminding him!
Shen Yue allowed them to look into her room, but not set foot in it. Unfortunately, her room was organized, minimalistic, and overall much less chaotic than either of the places of Shen Yuan's. Actually, the atmosphere of his younger sister's room almost had the same calming atmosphere of the room in the bamboo house, which Shen Yuan decided not to think too hard about.
The rest of the house was about as unremarkable as a wealthy family's house could be; well decorated but scarcely used, and certainly not lived-in. Binghe made sure to make polite and flattering remarks anyway. Stupid charismatic Binghe.
But finally, there was nothing else to do or show, and Shen Yuan really couldn't find any other excuse to extend their time there. They headed back downstairs, and Binghe laced his fingers through Shen Yuan's, giving him a comforting squeeze. Shen Yuan allowed it, even giving him a squeeze back, ignoring the ache in his chest.
His parents were waiting at the front door, his father insisting on sending them off with leftovers and his mother wrapping an extra scarf around him, telling him to take better care of himself.
"Make sure he stays warm and eats enough," she told Binghe, "He's always been a bit sickly. I believe you are a good and reasonable man, so take care of him! And honestly A-Yuan, come home to visit more often! Tch, what an unfilial son," she tutted as she made sure Shen Yuan's coat was buttoned all the way.
His father went through a similar routine, putting a thermos of hot tea in his hands to drink on the way home. "Bring this back along with my tupperware next time you come," he gestured to the stack of leftovers Binghe was holding. "Don't forget! And don't keep it for too long!"
Shen Yuan's throat tightened. "Thank you."
"This too, ge!" Shen Yue raced down the steps. "Didn't you want to borrow this book? Read it quickly and give it back to me next time you come!" She thrust a novel into his hands, a title that he had forgotten about but had indeed asked to borrow from her before he died.
"Mm," he smiled, ruffling her hair. "I'll bring it back soon."
"Ugh, gross, don't touch me!"
"And, uh..." Shen Yuan braced himself for whatever was about to come out of his mouth. "I'm sorry... for leaving so suddenly, and never coming back. I miss you all, and I'm grateful. I wish I could come back more often."
He was painfully awkward, and it wasn't quite what he wanted to say, but his father put a hand on his shoulder and his mother and sister uncharacteristically pulled him into a hug.
"Idiot son, we'll always be here."
His eyes burned. "Ok, Binghe, I know you want to, you can come in too." Like a puppy released from its 'heel' command, Binghe's large form happily enveloped him from behind, hands resting on his mother and sister's shoulders.
For a few seconds he let himself enjoy it, but then he started to get uncomfortable. "Alright, alright, that's enough. I'll try to come by more often," he lied, face burning.
"You'd better! And bring some grandkids with you soon, too!"
"Grandkids are fine, but don't forget my tupperware."
"I'll hunt you down if you don't come back soon!"
And then they were stepping out of the front door, a chilling wind piercing Shen Yuan's skin, and he pulled up the scarf that had been placed around him. Binghe put his arm around his waist and pulled him close as they walked down the steps, waving goodbye as they went. The night surrounded them, cinematically fading to black as the chill started to fade and the voices of his family got softer, but the sensation of the arm on his waist remained and anchored him as his eyes flickered open and he processed the morning light streaming through the windows of their bedroom.
Binghe pulled him closer in bed, and he allowed himself to be hugged tightly as a kiss was pressed to his forehead. Shen Qingqiu even placed an arm around him in return, fitting his head underneath Binghe's chin and listening to his husband's heartbeat.
"Thank you," he began, and Binghe startled a bit, "for doing that with me. And accepting me. I'm sorry for not showing you sooner."
Binghe seemed almost frustrated that he couldn't hold Shen Qingqiu any closer, any tighter, without crushing him, and settled for peppering the top of his head with kisses. "We have forever together, A-Yuan, you telling me now or you telling me a hundred years from now is irrelevant, although I do want to share husband’s burdens so he doesn’t have to shoulder them alone. At the end of the day, this husband is just... indescribably happy that you told him at all."
"There's still more that I haven't told Binghe," he blurted out, "Things that are much more relevant to him. You can wait to say things like 'forever' until after you've heard everything. I wouldn't blame you."
Binghe leaned back and Shen Qingqiu prepared himself for heartbreak, but Binghe just tilted up his chin and then cupped his cheek so that he was looking directly at him. "Forever means forever," he said resolutely. "The Shizun I see now, the Shizun I saw in the dreamscape, the Shizun who taught me cultivation, the Shizun who pushed me into the Abyss, and the Shizun many years from now who has told me or has not told me every seemingly unsavory or embarrassing thing about him -- all of these Shizuns are my husband, and there isn't a single thing that could make me stop loving him, for as long as he will have me. I can only hope that that means forever for him as well."
Binghe's eyes were so earnest and so intense that Shen Qingqiu found himself wanting to look away but unable to, and not realizing that tears were trailing down his face until Binghe wiped them off. "We're married, you fool, of course I want forever with you," he said, half laughing and half crying, pulling his husband in for a gentle kiss. When they parted, equally starstruck at each other, Shen Qingqiu was exasperated to find that of course Binghe was crying too. Honestly, how many times was this going to happen? Two grown men crying in bed together?
But he smiled and wiped away Binghe's tears anyway, just like he always had and always would.