It was a good, normal day, at first.
Nowadays, what that meant was: no swords, no long flowy robes, no long flowy hair, and no annoying robotic voice in Shen Yuan’s brain. It meant he had his smartphone back, ringing annoyingly under his pillow at six thirty in the morning. It meant having a bathroom with a beautiful toilet and a beautiful shower, electricity, a fully equipped modern kitchen, and a view of high rises from a fifty-square-meter apartment.
It also meant having to go to work, obviously, because all these twenty-first century luxuries don’t pay for themselves.
Though that’s not a bad thing, if you ask him.
Honestly. After living in a stallion novel for an indefinite number of years and even technically dying a couple of times (he wishes he were exaggerating), Shen Yuan thinks he’s allowed to say he prefers the lack of magic and relative monotony of his original world over the magic-filled but also peril-filled world of Proud Immortal Demon Way.
Now, it’s been about four real-world years since he transmigrated back, this time with Binghe by his side (and that whole ordeal is a long, long story by itself, and unfortunately, not the main focus right now).
The main focus right now is this: these past four years have been peaceful.
It’s been four years with no swords and no cultivation. Four years of taking his old poorly fed college student body (which had, apparently, fallen into a comma for a few days after the spoilt noodles incident) and give it the healthy shape he got used to having while in Shen Qingqiu’s body.
Four years, and after an unpredictable amount of bureaucracy (because giving a documented identity and a citizenship to someone who used to only exist in a stallion novel is no joke), he and Binghe have finally reached a level of comfort and normalcy that is wonderful to him after all the adrenaline and danger that came with living in PIDW.
And Binghe has adjusted well.
Aside from his refusal to cut his long unruly hair, his way of speaking sometimes, and his intense (but endearing) fascination with cooking tv shows and the occult, he is just like any other infuriatingly attractive 21st century man in his mid-twenties. He doesn’t have a job yet, but he does excellent work at home, cooking and running everything just like when he was the demon king.
As for Shen Yuan, he works at a publishing company as an editor at the young adult novel section, which is perfect for him because it mixes his dusty modern literature college degree and his first-hand experience editing Proud Immortal Demon Way from the inside. The only difference is young adult novels are considerably less outlandish and gratuitously sexual than stallion novels (Airplane’s novel, specifically), so even if he has to deal with misunderstood MCs far too often, he likes it. He relates to it, in a way.
Not anymore, though. Now he’s normal.
Now it’s all normal.
Or it was until that afternoon.
Shen Yuan went to work after eating a five-star breakfast courtesy of his husband, as usual; he had a meeting with his co-workers mid-morning, as usual; he had a five-star packed lunch courtesy of his husband, as usual.
Then, he received a call from the police station telling him his “roommate” Binghe was under custody for getting into a: “violent fight and destroying half the merchandise of a convenience store”.
That’s when Shen Yuan’s normal day and normal life went to hell.
The police department assured him that it wasn’t all Binghe’s fault, thankfully. They told him another person attacked him first and Binghe only defended himself, but he did so with so much force that he knocked over two shelves full of stuff and everything got destroyed during the violent fight.
“Oh my god, that brat—” Shen Yuan gasps, angry but mostly dead worried. Binghe doesn’t have his protagonist halo anymore. What’s he thinking, getting into fights? Destroying public property? Shen Yuan had to go deep in order to get him papers, among other things, and now he’s getting himself in trouble —
Shen Yuan stops himself, shaking his head.
Binghe’s in trouble.
Binghe’s in trouble, and apparently, it’s only because he was defending himself. Somebody attacked him and he retaliated, which is only obvious, Shen Yuan supposes, even if it got him arrested. But… who in the world - no, who in this world, would attack him?
“Just… please tell me he’s okay.”
“I don’t know if I would call a man his size and age a brat, but yes, he’s okay,” the officer assures him. “He just has some scratches and bruises, and the other man won’t leave him alone. We had to put them in separate cells and everything.”
Scratches and bruises.
Shen Yuan’s brain zeroes in on that.
Luo Binghe, the Luo Binghe, has scratches and bruises on his previously divinely protected body, and is currently sitting in a cell in a police station.
That’s… a lot to take in.
There’s a short moment where the officer excuses himself to talk to somebody else, and during those few seconds Shen Yuan is almost overwhelmed with the urge to run away from work to rescue his husband from the claws of law enforcement.
He’s imagining the details of his escape plan when the officer comes back on the line and tells him the store owners won’t be pressing charges against Binghe after all, so he’ll be free to go with a warning.
Shen Yuan is about to sigh in relief, but the officer continues talking, seemingly entertained with what's going on. Maybe he is.
“I mean, he was only defending himself from the other man, after all. You can see that in the security cameras,” he comments. “He, the other guy, started the fight by smashing a glass bottle against your roommate’s neck, clearly aiming for the head. That’s pretty much attempted murder, and in broad daylight, too… Tell me, do you happen to know if your roommate has an… enemy of some sort? Deals with particularly vicious loan sharks, maybe? The mafia? Old rivals?”
The truth is Shen Yuan could name several of Luo Binghe’s enemies, but none of them share a universe with him anymore, so he shakes his head.
“No, no, he’s not linked to any of that. He doesn’t even leave the house much!”
The officer hums thoughtfully then.
“I see… so I’ll assume the name Shen Jiu doesn’t ring a bell to you, then…?”
Shen Yuan’s brain goes offline almost instantly.
“W-What? Shen Jiu…? Jiu as in… As in yī, èr, sān — the number nine, Jiu?”
The officer makes a sound of confirmation, and it’s like the world stops spinning.
It’s… It’s just a coincidence. Right?
It must be a coincidence.
Someone attempted to murder Luo Binghe in the middle of the day and in the middle of a grocery store, and their name is Shen Jiu? Shen Jiu, as in Shen Qingqiu, as in the man who made Luo Binghe suffer in innumerable ways throughout his life – hadn’t Shen Yuan stepped in and flipped things around. For the most part, at least.
It’s got to be a coincidence.
“So, do you know him? Hey, you do have the same last name now that I think about it…”
“No! I mean – maybe so, but I don’t know him. Never heard of him in my life. I just thought that’s an unusual name to have, that’s all. So, um. Anyways. I’m glad things resolved themselves. Thank you for your time, officer.”
Shen Yuan rushes to the police station as soon as he’s off work to pick Binghe up.
His “roommate” was free to leave, no charges pressed against him miraculously, but he called Shen Yuan on the phone only minutes after the officer had called. His voice was all sad and embarrassed and heartbreaking (not that Shen Yuan would admit that) as he asked Shen Yuan if he could come pick him up when he was off work. He was afraid he’d get lost trying to walk back home because he still hasn’t gotten the hang of a few modern-day things, smartphone maps among them, and who was Shen Yuan to say no?
When he gets to the station and he sees Binghe, he can’t help it – he runs towards him, nearly trips at the top step of the staircase, and then hugs him tightly. They’re in public and they never do this in public, but he can’t help himself this time, and it seems that neither can Binghe. He hugs Shen Yuan back just as tightly, burying his face against his neck and getting it wet with his tears while he apologizes and swears to him it wasn’t his fault. The cops look at them weirdly, but Shen Yuan can’t find it in him to care.
Holding Binghe in his arms after knowing he was in actual danger, like he hadn’t been in years, acts like a sort of reset button in his head.
His only thoughts are comforting Binghe and getting out of here as soon as possible, and that’s just what they do.
Back at home, Shen Yuan runs a hot bath for Binghe and applies ointments and other useful stuff on his scratches and bruises. He makes dinner for him (nothing too elaborate), dries and combs his hair, and simply takes care of him. He knows Binghe is strong and mighty, knows it better than anyone, but he also knows his ex-demon king of a husband likes being taken care of by his Shizun, so Shen Yuan does just that.
And he does it so well that he forgets all about Shen Jiu until he is about to fall asleep in Binghe’s arms.
He freezes, suddenly anxious.
Shen Jiu… could he really be here?
Here, as in, the real world?
If Binghe could somehow materialize here, even if that meant leaving his powers and immortality and protagonist halo behind, could there possibly be other characters from Proud Immortal Demon Way roaming around…?
Fuck, Shen Yuan feels stupid for not asking for a physical description or a picture of Shen Jiu, or the slightest information about him, but he blames it on the shock hearing that name gave him and on the rush of relief (and affection) he got when he saw Binghe. He didn’t even talk to any cops at the officers; literally all he did was hug Binghe like a lifeline and then drag him out of there.
He sighs, frustrated at himself.
Love has turned him into such a joke, hasn’t it.
Lying there, cuddled by Binghe, Shen Yuan decides he’s gonna try to find this Shen Jiu person.
He needs to find him; needs to make sure whether this is a coincidence or not.
He’s going to find him.
He attacked Binghe and tried to kill him, that’s true, but he’s also… He might be someone Shen Yuan feels curious about – even connected to, in a way.
He read about him first, loathed him with every fiber of his being for being the most disgusting two-faced piece of scum in the world, but then. Then, he was sucked into his body and his life and had to pretend to be him for literal years. He wore his shoes, his robes, his fan, and his face, and doing that not only allowed him to fix much of the horrible universe of Proud Immortal Demon Way. Being Shen Qingqiu also let Shen Yuan learn about so many things he didn’t get to read about because of Aiplane’s stupid plot holes and cuts.
So, he’s curious, and he’s going to find him.
It’s not weird he wants to find the man who beat his husband up just hours ago, right?
“What do you mean he isn’t here?”
The officer isn’t even looking at Shen Yuan. He’s just looking at something on his computer, not bothering with him— which is rude as fuck if you ask Shen Yuan, because he rushed all the way here from his office in the middle of his lunch break.
“He isn’t here,” the officer repeats.
“B-But why? He assaulted my husb— my roommate, I mean. He assaulted my roommate yesterday! He can’t just be… out there, right? What if he does it again?”
The officer shrugs, thankfully ignoring his near slip.
“The charges were dropped,” he explains, looking through some papers now. “He reached an agreement with the owner of the store, promised to pay for everything that got destroyed and then some, and then bailed out. Wealthy man, apparently. And calm, too, surprisingly. The moment your, uh, roommate was out of his sight, he sat in the cell and did nothing but meditate. Strange, huh.”
“Not really…? A lot of people meditate. And, uh. Some people who do so happen to be rich. And maybe have a lot of suppressed anger…?” Shen Yuan says, though he’s nearly sweating. The chances of all this being a coincidence just got impossibly slim. “Wait, I’m sorry, so you’re gonna let him go? Just like that?”
“We’re going to keep an eye on him, if that’s what you’re concerned about,” the officer says, but then he raises his eyes and met Shen Yuan’s and he gasps in surprise. He even stands up, pushing his chair back. “What the—”
Shen Yuan takes a step back, too, dumbfounded. “W-What is it?”
The officer inspects him with wide eyes, from his office shoes to his office clothes to the identification hanging around his neck, a picture of him smiling in the center of it, along with his name and the name of his editorial company. He studies his face, glowering.
“You sure you aren’t related to that man?” he asks. “Just now… Just now I saw your face, and aside from the fact that he has long hair, you look incredibly alike. Like, to a 75 percent, I would say.”
Shen Yuan’s heart finishes sinking with that.
“Oh,” he says dumbly. “Huh. Well. I’m not him, obviously. I came here looking for him.”
“Yes, I see that”, the officer keeps his eyes on him now; doesn’t take them away even as he sits back down on his chair. “Well. Is there anything else I can do for you or is that all?”
Shen Yuan maintains eye contact. He might be anxious about all this, but he’s not a little bitch. He’s fought and fucked demons, saw and felt as an alternate version of the love of his life ripped his arms off, and died and survived, like, three times.
“No, that will be all.”
He leaves then, strangely disappointed.
He rushes to the closest subway station hoping to make it back to work before his lunch break is over, and it’s then, when he’s standing on the wagon, doors about to close, when he sees him.
Him, as in, Shen Jiu.
Shen Yuan would recognize him anywhere because he was him; those elegant features, that pale skin, sharp eyebrows, and thin lips were his own in another world, so how could he not recognize him as he steps down the stairs of the station?
“Fuck,” he curses to himself, glancing between the doors and Shen Jiu outside.
Fuck, fuck, okay— you can do this, Shen Yuan, he tells himself. You got this. It’s gotta be him. Now or never. Come on.
Before the doors can close fully, Shen Yuan jumps out of the cart and onto the platform.
It goes wrong because his foot gets caught in the closing doors and he falls to the ground pathetically. The train doors make a loud, humiliating beeping sound and the guards at the station scold and yell at him. The doors get stuck for a couple seconds before they open again and he can take his foot out, but after that embarrassing ordeal is over, he’s out and he’s pretty much unscathed and Shen Jiu is still there.
He’s just standing next to a concrete pillar. Standing, not leaning on it. His posture is flawless, which combined with his long hair and his fashionable clothes makes him look like a model. Or a mannequin.
Either way, he looks like he’s waiting for something, and Shen Yuan can’t help but think that maybe he is. That maybe, just maybe, he’s waiting for him, strange as that may be.
Shen Yuan feels smaller and awkward, with his short hair and his now dirty office clothes, but he still carries himself with every ounce of dignity within him towards his target.
“Excuse me,” Shen Yuan starts when he reaches him, and he can’t help but notice he isn’t as flawless up close as he looked from afar. He has a split lip and a poorly concealed black eye, and it makes Shen Yuan smirk internally in secondhand pride. Binghe gave him those.
Shen Jiu’s eyes meet his, and it’s all sorts of weird. It’s like looking at a different version of himself. It takes Shen Yuan a moment to realize that he hasn’t thought this fully through and he has no idea how to even begin this conversation – should he just ask him about yesterday’s incident with Binghe straight up? And after that, if he does that, should he ask anything else? Something like ‘do you happen to come from a parallel universe’? He can barely remember what he did or said when he realized Shang Qinghua was actually from his era; what is he supposed to say now—?
“Yes?” Shen Jiu asks, his voice cool and detached, and Shen Yuan can see the way his eyes fall on the stains on his work clothes and his shoes.
Fuck, the original goods is intimidating even in modern day pants.
“Uh. Hey, uh. My name is Shen Yuan,” he starts, still scrambling for what to say to him. “You were detained yesterday, right? For, uh… attacking a man in a convenience store.”
“Ah.” Shen Jiu’s eyes narrow. “Yes.”
“Luo Binghe,” Shen Yuan says carefully, praying to whatever is in heaven that: 1) he’s right about this Shen Jiu person being who he thinks he is, and 2) if he is Shen Jiu, that him mentioning Luo Binghe and what happened yesterday doesn’t make him slip into a murderous rage. “That’s the name of that man. Right?”
To his surprise, although Shen Jiu’s eyes are shooting daggers and he looks tense, he nods.
“Yes,” he says, his shoulders relaxing a little with the admission. He still looks scary, but also… like he’s okay with this in a way? Who knows. Shen Yuan mentally pats himself on the back for not blowing this yet.
He tries not to think about how another train is arriving at the station and his lunch break will be over soon, and decides to take a step further with this conversation.
“He… Hurt you at some point, right?” he asks. He knows all about what happened – in the original novel, Shen Jiu had his limbs ripped out one by one and was tortured to death by Binghe. If Shen Yuan is correct, and his own transmigration experience is anything to go by, then Shen Jiu must have made it into the real world somehow after dying in his world.
Shen Yuan also happens to know Shen Jiu got killed because he was a twisted, evil son of a bitch throughout his entire life and he tortured Binghe for years while he was his disciple, among other things…
It’s like a vicious circle of torture and murder and revenge, and Shen Yuan doesn’t want to believe it chased him and (his) Binghe all the way here.
He holds his breath looking at Shen Jiu expectantly.
“Yes. About as much as I hurt him,” Shen Jiu replies, unexpectedly. Despite his words, Shen Yuan can’t find a hint of remorse in his voice, but at least he acknowledges that. And that’s… good, right? He continues talking before Shen Yuan can linger too long on that thought, though.
“So. Shen Yuan is your name, right?”
“And, for some reason, you know who I am,” he states, doesn’t question, and Shen Yuan has the feeling that he’s talking about more than just his name.
He looks Shen Jiu in the eye and nods, somehow more confident and comfortable than at the beginning of their exchange. He realizes - he kind of has the upper hand here after all, doesn’t he? He knows about as much as there is to know about Shen Jiu, and if he were to get attacked by him, he can not only defend himself, but he can also call the police on him, and he already has a record.
“Yes, I do. You’re Shen Qingqiu. Or, well. Shen Jiu,” he says, but he hesitates. “I mean… That’s the name the police told me when they called me about Binghe yesterday, so I assume you’re going by it now? Even if you don’t like it, from what I remember…”
Surprisingly, Shen Jiu chuckles softly.
“Wow, you really do know who I am! Just by that I can already tell you do. Fuck, this is all so strange…”
Shen Yuan can’t help but smile, one half of it amusement and the other half commiseration. He doesn’t pity Shen Jiu, doesn’t think he ever could, but he certainly… understands him.
“Tell me about it.”
A loud silence stretches between them, but it isn’t awkward. Around them, the subway station keeps bustling on, with people walking and talking and rushing to get to places. Shen Yuan himself should probably rush to work or else he’ll be late, but something tells him that this is more important than work right now, and there’s not really… getting out of it, is there?
He really wants Shen Jiu to tell him about it, if he would like to.
In a split second, he makes what’s probably his fourth dumb decision of the day.
“So…” he starts. “I, uh. I know a nice coffee shop nearby. We could go there and talk, if you want. I’ll treat you.”
Shen Jiu makes a little face at that.
“Alright. But only as long as I can get tea.”
Shen Yuan stares blankly at his computer’s screen, his eyes simultaneously seeing and not seeing the characters of the latest novel he’s editing.
He’s sitting on the island of his and Binghe’s kitchen catching up on work (work he would have been able to finish if he hadn’t met Shen Jiu and decided to go frolicking with him), but he can’t really focus. His mind keeps going back to Shen Jiu and all the things they talked about.
His brain is stuffed full, hungover with information, and his chest is like a battlefield of conflicting emotions, but like - not necessarily in a bad way? It’s weird. It’s complicated.
For starters, he still can’t believe he was a whole hour and a half late for work after his break because he went to have tea with Shen Jiu, of all people, and that he lost track of time because he was actually having fun.
If anyone had told him years ago, when he was reading Proud Immortal Demon’s Way and still went by the name Peerless Cucumber online, he wouldn’t even have bothered - it is way too ludicrous. Transmigration? Ridiculous, too. A fun but fantastical trope.
Shen Yuan learned his lesson after his own and extremely real experience.
But now, what we’re talking about here is reverse transmigration, and Shen Yuan is a little… intrigued by its implications. He feels like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, except less devastated and overwhelmed about it and more “y’know what? Whatever. I just wanna hear what this fellow accidental multidimensional traveller - who happens to be the same person I embodied when I transmigrated - has been up to in my reality”.
And apparently Shen Jiu hasn’t been doing too bad.
He’s been living in the same city as Binghe and Shen Yuan for roughly three years. After dying a slow and painful death in the hands of Binghe - the OG Binghe - in Huan Hua’s water prison, Shen Jiu woke up alone in an empty apartment. He suddenly found himself in the body of a rich but lonely photographer who looked just like him under his stubble and curly permed hair, and ever since then, he’s been living a mostly low-profile, kind of boring life.
“Until yesterday,” Shen Jiu told him.
“Until yesterday,” Shen Yuan agreed with a nod.
Something changed for everybody yesterday when Shen Jiu ran into Binghe at that convenience store, and it wasn’t coincidental. According to Shen Jiu, something in his head told him he had to go to that store in particular.
And that had Shen Yuan thinking: does Shen Jiu have a robotic voice in his head guiding him through the motions the way he had when he transmigrated? That would put everything he thought he knew about fate and free will up for debate.
“Is something bothering Shizun?”
The sound of Binghe’s voice brings Shen Yuan out of his head at once.
He looks up and sees him there, standing across the kitchen island chopping vegetables. He’s wearing a cooking apron with a cute pattern over his clothes and has his long hair pulled into a low ponytail over his shoulder. If it weren’t for his bruised eye and the scratches on his forehead and cheekbone, he’d look like the very picture of innocence and domestic bliss. Shen Yuan can’t help but smile at him, calmer at once.
It’s so strange to see him wounded. In the past, the only scars on his body were the ones he chose not to heal — ones from wounds Shen Yuan gave him. No other harm stayed on his body for too long. The old scars are still there on Binghe’s skin in this reality - they came with him when he transmigrated, and Shen Yuan kisses them often; knows the feeling of them under his fingers by memory at this point.
But that’s different from this.
These wounds and bruises are fresh and they’re not going to go away in days and just a few hours ago Shen Yuan was having tea with the very guy that gave them to him. He’s a shitty person, isn’t he. A shitty husband.
“Maybe a little…” he admits, but he doesn’t elaborate further. He just runs a hand through his hair, his mind and emotions a mess once again. “I just… can’t really concentrate on this, I don’t know why.”
(He knows why.)
Binghe makes a little frown-y, pouty face.
“I see. Should this husband turn off the television?”
“No, no. It’s okay, it doesn’t bother me.”
Binghe puts the knife down on the cutting board, tilts his head curiously.
“Was it a difficult day?”
Shen Yuan lets out a little chuckle and shakes his head.
“No, not particularly. I just…” Shen Yuan hesitates. He can’t tell him that he spent his lunch break with the guy that beat him up yesterday, can he? But he should, shouldn’t he?
Hell, they haven’t even talked about what happened yesterday. Maybe they should. They absolutely should. Couples talk. Binghe and he talk, usually. They’ve learned to after all the years they’ve been together. Shen Yuan has talked about what happened today already, but to the other party, aka. the man who bust a glass bottle on Binghe’s head out of sheer instinctive rage, aka. Shen Jiu.
And it was liberating talking to him. He told Shen Jiu about how he’d possessed his body in an alternate version of his reality, and how things went from the moment he woke up in Qing Jing Peak.
(It was hard to do it without telling him that he’d read his and Binghe’s stories in a novel so he knew what things to do and what thing not to do in order to not end up carved into a human stick, but he made it work.)
He didn’t tell Shen Jiu about Binghe and himself, though. He held back the fact that they somehow managed to fall in love and even get married against literally every single odd, but he did tell him that the powerful Demon King who turned him into a human stick before letting him die wasn’t the same Binghe as this Binghe. His Binghe. His Binghe is powerful too, yes, but he isn’t as… bloodthirsty (or lustful — not with anyone who isn’t Shen Yuan). He has no demonic cultivation anymore, no Xin Mo, no demon realm to look after. Sure, he’s not a sweetheart, exactly, and he could probably beat someone to a pulp if provoked, but he’s polite enough.
Shen Jiu attacked him because he thought it was the other Binghe, Bingge, but he didn’t show any remorse when he learnt he got the wrong person. Only surprise.
Which was… to be expected, in a way. Shen Jiu is also not exactly a sweetheart.
Shen Yuan looks at Binghe again and sees concern in his eyes and in his pout. He looks ridiculous in his cherry patterned apron, ridiculous and adorable but still formidable, and Shen Yuan loves him so much. His husband can be so dumb and selfless when it comes to Shen Yuan, looking after him and prioritizing his stupid problems when he himself is still battered from getting attacked just yesterday.
Shen Yuan sighs, attempting a smile that turns honest almost immediately. He closes his computer and turns on the stool he’s sitting on as he gestures for Binghe to come closer.
“I think what this husband needs right now is a hug… Care to come here?”
Binghe smiles back right away. “Of course, A-Yuan.”
He warms Shen Yuan to the bone when he calls him by his real name, and then he does just as he was asked. He leaves a half-chopped cucumber on the cutting board before dashing around the kitchen island, and he cleans his hands on his apron before wrapping his arms around Shen Yuan.
And this is perfect. This is innocence and domestic bliss.
Binghe is so warm, so solid and so real. Shen Yuan loves hugging him, even if he’s not likely to say it outloud without previous extortion (Binghe’s puppy eyes).
He kisses Binghe’s forehead and Binghe kisses his cheek before he presses his face against the crook of Binghe’s neck, his hands holding onto the fabric of his shirt. He smells like artificial shampoo and fabric detergent, and it’s nice and clean, but it’s nothing like the way he used to smell before because he even gave that up for Shen Yuan’s sake.
Shen Yuan sighs and hugs him tighter.
Luckily, talking to Binghe is easy.
Aside from Shen Yuan’s stupid sense of pride boycotting him every now and then, he‘s become pretty comfortable being open and honest with Binghe. It’s nice. They've made it through hell almost literally before, so now there’s nothing too awkward between them; nothing they can’t do.
Last night they talked about the incident at the convenience store after going a whole day without saying a peep about it to each other, so Shen Yuan’s feeling a little lighter now. He knows Binghe doesn’t mind him looking for the man that attacked him at the convenience store the other day, nor that he met him yesterday. Nor that he’s meeting him again today, and then again maybe in the following days, if they still hit it off or whatever.
It took some comfort hugging and explaining to Binghe that Shen Jiu tried to kill him because he thought he was the other Binghe, Bingge (who they both have already met before because apparently travelling across universes is way more common than anyone would’ve thought).
But anyway, he assured Binghe that Shen Jiu knows better now and won’t try to kill him again.
Aside from all that, it was a super sweet night. Nights with Binghe are usually sweet. They talked and kissed and ate Binghe’s delicious food, and this morning Binghe woke him up before his alarm went off, and he did it with neck kisses and warm touches and then they even “showered” together. It was great. Now Shen Yuan’s existential dread is mostly gone, mostly replaced by something that feels a lot like confidence.
It’s a good feeling. He even checks himself out on the mirrored walls of Shen Jiu’s building elevator as it goes up to his place in the top floor penthouse (because of course he would transmigrate into the body of someone who is just as rich and privileged as Peak Lord Shen Qingqiu).
But then - the horror.
Shen Yuan gasps when he notices he has a few love bruises on the side of his neck and he wishes, he really wishes the cables of the elevator would give out and kill him when he realizes - he went around like that at work all day without even noticing it.
Fuck, was he so dazed that he didn’t notice? How come he didn’t notice?
He hopes no one noticed. He hopes Shen Jiu won’t notice.
If he does, then he’ll… he’ll just tell him someone on the street mugged him and tried to choke him.
That’ll do it.
“What’s that on your neck?”
That’s, of course, the first thing Shen Jiu says when he opens the door of his place, his lips and one of his eyebrows quirked upwards in blatant distaste.
Shen Yuan remembers how two-faced he was in Proud Immortal Demon Way, doing his best to keep a dignified and polite front for other people. He hasn’t tried to do that with him, and he doesn’t know how to feel about this scummy man not deeming him worthy of his two-faced-ness.
It must mean he trusts him in a way…?
Either that or he just doesn’t have an ounce of respect for him.
Shen Yuan sighs, bringing a hand to his neck.
“Is it really that visible?”
“Anyone with eyes can see it,” Shen Jiu nods, moving out of the way to let Shen Yuan in, and only then Shen Yuan notices that he’s dressed… nicely. Very nicely. And very differently from yesterday, too.
Rather than pants and a shirt, he’s wearing a hanfu, long and flowy and pretty ; fine and extremely expensive looking. It doesn’t look like he got it online. In fact, it looks custom made; made to look as similar as possible to the clothes he wore as Shen Qingqiu. He even has a fan with him - his fan.
(Shen Yuan can’t help but wonder if it’s actually Proud Immortal Demon Way merch and he bought it unknowingly).
But anyway, he looks dashing, objectively speaking, and Shen Yuan, not for the first time, misses having that face and body and looking just as dashing everywhere he goes.
Perhaps he’ll grow his hair and start carrying a fan again.
Long hair would definitely hide the crime scene on his neck.
“I, uh. I got mugged last night,” Shen Yuan says, stepping out of his shoes and into the slippers Shen Jiu hands him, hoping he sounds convincing enough.
“Ah, I see,” Shen Jiu hums, but there’s an obviously unconvinced smirk on his lips. “It must have been a very… violent and passionate encounter, for the looks of it.”
“I… suppose you could say that.”
“You know,” Shen Jiu starts as they step into his gigantic penthouse. “You could tell me where, specifically, it happened. I wouldn’t mind taking a look around, myself. I haven’t gotten mugged in a while, you see. Not since I got here.”
Shen Yuan makes a face at that, deciding to just drop the blatant lie even if he can feel the tips of his ears burning a little.
“Ehh,” he says as casually as he can, while making a little mental note - he knows how much Shen Jiu liked to seek women’s company in the brothels near Cang Qiong Mountain, so it’s interesting that he has kept to himself even in that sense all this time. “I would, but honestly? I don’t think anything about this specific mugging situation would be your cup of tea…”
“At this point, any cup of tea could be my cup of tea.”
“If you say so…” Shen Yuan concedes, obviously not agreeing, but they thankfully drop the subject after that.
Shen Yuan allows himself to take a look around the apartment, and he finds himself whistling quietly, impressed.
It’s modern and minimalistic with an open layout and huge windows. It’s not really special, but it has beautiful pictures covering almost every wall - obviously the work of the previous owner of Shen Jiu’s current body. Shen Yuan recognizes landmarks from countries all over the world on the pictures, and then, on the far end of the living room, he sees dozens of antique cameras hanging on the wall as decoration. It’s obvious that Shen Jiu hasn’t changed much of its appearance. Maybe he likes it. It is a pretty nice place, if only far too big for a single person.
Shen Jiu asked him to come over after work so he could teach him how to use the cameras - not the old decorative ones, but the actual, professional ones. There are many of them, and he even has a whole closet filled with photography-related equipment, but he has no clue how to use any of it. And, okay, Shen Yuan isn’t a pro photographer by any means, but he does have a nice camera, and he’s confident he can teach Shen Jiu a thing or two about it. Just the basics.
He might’ve looked up more pro stuff about photography during his lunch break today just for this.
Because, hey, it could be fun. Teaching someone from a parallel universe or from an ancient era about technology is a time traveller’s wet dream, and Shen Jiu seemed pretty interested when Shen Yuan told him yesterday that photography was regarded as a high form of art and expression in this universe and timeline, and since he has the equipment… why not?
They don’t really chat as Shen Jiu takes Shen Yuan to the closet filled with cameras and photography stuff, but it’s not awkward by any means.
Actually, it’s pretty… comfortable between them? Somehow. They only met yesterday officially, and only because Shen Jiu attacked Binghe, but Shen Yuan feels okay. Relaxed. Shen Jiu might’ve been a ruthless, deceitful piece of scum, but he’s actually kind of… okay.
And it’s really funny because all of a sudden, just as Shen Yuan takes one of the cameras in Shen Jiu’s closet to inspect it while thinking about how unexpectedly nice this is, the distinctive and very recognizable feeling of a sharp blade pressing against the side of his neck interrupts his calm train of thoughts.
“Uh…” He says after a moment or two go by without the blade moving away. “What are you doing?”
“Testing your naivety,” Shen Jiu says, voice as cool and sharp as the kitchen knife he’s holding to Shen Yuan’s love-bruised neck. He moves a little closer to him and presses the blade a little harder. “And wondering how you didn’t get ripped to shreds when your soul occupied my body in that alternate reality you talk about.”
Shen Yuan hums.
He’s still pretty calm for some reason - so calm, he doesn’t even have to tell himself to stay calm. His heartbeat isn’t speeding up and his palms aren’t sweating, and he can’t help but wonder if his very many deaths have destroyed what should be his brain’s and his body’s natural responses to potential death.
“Not to be rude, bro, but that’s what usually happens when you don’t treat people like shit. I earned everybody’s trust - even Liu Qingge’s. You have no idea the dangers he went through for my sake! Or, well. Your sake, I should say. Can you believe it?”
“Enough,” Shen Jiu practically growls, pressing the knife harder to Shen Yuan’s neck. “You know too much. Far too much. You know who I am, you know about who I was and about what I did, don’t you?”
“I… yeah? I thought we made that clear yesterday.”
Shen Jiu goes on like Shen Yuan didn’t say anything.
“- and yet, in spite of knowing all that, you dare walk into my house like it’s nothing? Simply because I asked a stupid thing of you? Did you even stop to think for a moment that it was a foolish idea?”
“Wait, so you don’t actually want to learn about photography then?”
The blade of the knife digs deeper into his skin at that, and this time it actually cuts and hurts him a little.
“Ow, don’t do that.”
“Then don’t fool around!”
“I’m not fooling around!”
Shen Jiu huffs, frustrated, and it’s… kind of pleasing, actually, to have him frustrated like this. Shen Yuan mentally pats himself on the back for keeping his cool so supremely.
“Aren’t you scared or worried I might kill you?”
Shen Yuan attempts a shrug.
“I don’t know, let’s see - I’ve technically died a few times before, so maybe it’s that? I know from experience that dying is not the worst thing that could happen to me. Not worse than being turned into a human stick,” he says, hyper aware of the way his throat bobs against the knife with every word in spite but not letting it affect him.
He tries not to think about Binghe, though, because that’s a whole different story.
For Binghe’s sake, he refuses to die until they’ve grown old together and he has taken him to all the places he likes to see on those travel and food documentaries he likes to watch.
“Also,” he goes on, a little gentler this time because perhaps he was too mean just now. “I don’t see why you’d wanna kill me for real. Personally, I think it'd be a huge mistake from your part because I’m just - I’m just super useful to have around, aren't I? I can help you get around in this world so you don’t have to live so closed off, like you have until now. Bet you don’t even know how to use - and I mean really use - a smartphone, or a computer, or how to buy stuff online, or what you have to do in order to travel to another country. Oh, and have you heard about dating apps? Something tells me you’d love Tantan, it’s perfect if you wanna get 'mugged' the way I got 'mugged' last night, if you know what I mean -”
Shen Jiu interrupts him with a growl.
“Enough!” he exclaims, but the pressure of the knife relaxes a little and his following words come quieter. “I’m not helpless in this world, and anyway, that is beside the point.”
“It is? What is the point, then?”
“That I can’t trust you.”
Shen Yuan lets out a little laugh, though he understands where he’s coming from.
Shen Jiu isn’t an innocent white lamb. He’s a big bad wolf, but that wasn’t a well-known fact among the people in his world, so it makes sense he feels threatened by all Shen Yuan knows.
But that was over there.
Here, Shen Jiu was literally held accountable for jumping Binghe within minutes of doing it.
Here, Shen Jiu is just another nobody.
He’s not a peak lord. He has little to no knowledge of technology, or English, or even simplified Chinese characters and modern day slang. Aside from the heaps of money and the super nice penthouse he inherited from a successful photographer, which have allowed him to live privately and comfortably until now, he has no power here.
He has no cultivation. No disciples. No emotionally constipated old partners willing to give their life up for him for crumbs of acknowledgement in return. No enemies that dedicate their lives to hunting him down.
He doesn’t even have places to go to when he’s horny because those are illegal in this current time and age, thank god, and his poor knowledge of how modern society works has most likely kept him clear from criminal circles (which is an excellent thing, actually, and Shen Yuan hopes it stays that way forever).
Shen Jiu is free from his bloody past, that’s true, but he is also alone and powerless in every possible way.
Also, he went through the slowest and most torturous death imaginable only to end up here, all by himself.
As far as Shen Yuan knows, he is the only link Shen Jiu has between his old world and his current one. Burning that bridge on a murderous whim would be stupid.
Shen Yuan sighs.
“What am I gonna do, call the cops on you?” he asks lightheartedly, looking for Shen Jiu’s eyes with his to transmit calmness to him, or something. Shen Jiu just frowns as Shen Yuan goes on. “Or maybe bring you to the - shit, I don’t know, to the UN’s International Court of Justice to get you to pay for the crimes you committed? The Interpol?” He stops, laughing at his own words. “What would I even tell them? That these crimes all happened in a parallel universe and that you’re not from this reality but that you’re still a threat, or something? I’d get sent to a fucking sanatorium in a straitjacket right away if I did that! There is literally no one I can tell about the things you did because, breaking news, my friend! This is an entire different world!”
Shen Jiu blinks his narrow and dangerous eyes. It takes him a few beats to reply, but when he does of course it’s something outrageous.
“What even is a straitjacket? And who is the UN?”
Shen Yuan snorts.
He’s enjoying this, he can’t believe it - he’s being threatened with a knife and he’s actually having fun.
Maybe he is the biggest M the world has seen, after all.
“Listen,” he starts, trying to keep the amusement off his voice. “If you’ve been living in this world for three years already and still don’t know what the UN is then you really shouldn’t kill me,” he pauses, smirks, then adds. “Not that I think you will, anyway. We both know you need me, so put the knife down and let me take a look at your cameras, alright?”
It felt cool to say that.
The knife that was worryingly close to his carotid artery lowers at last, neither of them saying anything or looking away from each other’s eyes. They don’t even blink like it’s some kind of competition, which is probably childish, but whatever.
Shen Yuan’s not going to lie; being a connoisseur of both the PIDW world and this one makes him feel powerful.
In the end, no one tries to kill anyone and they do just as Shen Yuan says.
Shen Jiu throws the knife on the floor towards the end of the hall and then, as if nothing had happened in the first place, they sit down in the living room, cameras and lenses scattered all over the glass coffee table.
It turns out that Shen Jiu actually was interested in learning about them, if his quiet concentration is anything to go by, so it’s fun. The weird murderous episode from before is easily forgotten and they both fall easily into this.
First, Shen Yuan reads Shen Jiu the entire Wikipedia page on photography, as well as a few blog pages that explain how different kinds of cameras work, exactly. Then it’s hands-on. Shen Jiu starts snapping pictures of things around his apartment and of Shen Yuan right away, and from the very beginning, his pulse and his focus are remarkable; his shots clean and comprehensive of things like lighting and composition.
Shen Yuan can’t help but sigh as he watches him, a mix of pride and bitterness in his chest. He remembers painfully well the rage Shen Jiu made him feel throughout the entire novel when he first read it, and then the frustration he felt when he was constricted by the limits of his nasty personality. He remembers hating how Shen Jiu had it all, looks and brains and skills and even money, and still chose to be scum.
Being with him right now, seeing him trying to learn something new and start from zero is… strangely nice. It’s like he was given a second chance to do things right and leave his vices behind and Shen Yuan is right there to witness it and maybe even guide him through the motions if necessary.
The rest of the evening is nice. There’s talking and learning and reading Wikipedia article after Wikipedia article about the most random things while they eat takeout.
Shen Yuan has fun, and Shen Jiu seems relaxed, maybe even content.
They even laugh together at some point, which is weird and unexpected, but.
Shen Yuan is starting to accept now that his life is never going to go where he thinks it’s going to go, and that that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
This is the best thing.
Shen Yuan, trapped between the couch and his husband, legs spread, fingers buried in long and silky hair, thighs wrapped around another pair of thighs - the very thighs that saved his life in his “previous” life.
Binghe, on top of him, pinning him down and kissing him like he’s starving, dying of thirst, and Shen Yuan is a fountain of freshwater or his favorite meal. The truth is he kisses him like that almost every time, but the truth also is, it’s just as good every time. Shen Yuan likes it. He loves it. He’s long since allowed himself to indulge in Binghe’s reverence (and to express his own), and Binghe has long since learned how best to revere Shen Yuan. He’s not a fumbling rookie anymore (although he does cry every now and then when his emotions get the best of him).
It’s been a while since they did this. This being: Binghe kissing Shen Yuan when he gets home from work and having things go from zero to a thousand in the span of seconds, forsaking things like having dinner together and washing up before ending up in a horizontal position. Shen Yuan’s sexual appetite isn’t enormous, but he has his days, and it seems today is one of them because the moment Binghe kissed him hello, it was like a huge fire went out inside of him.
Binghe loves it when he gets like this. He gets enthusiastic, even more so than usual, and his warm wet kisses and hungry touches have Shen Yuan gasping, eyes rolling to the back of his head, mouth seeking skin to kiss and bite and mark.
It’s the best, the very best, which is why he groans in endless frustration when his phone starts ringing and the ringtone he personally chose for Shen Jiu three weeks ago fills the room, interrupting every other sound.
“No,” he says (he whines). It’s probably important, but he absolutely refuses to answer because that would mean getting up and looking for his phone in his bag and not having Luo Binghe on him and all around him, and he doesn’t want that. He even pulls Luo Binghe closer with his arms and legs to prevent him from going away. “No, no, no. You stay right here.”
Binghe laughs and the sound is so low and sexy that Shen Yuan almost considers smashing his phone with a hammer so no one will ever interrupt him and his husband ever again.
“How unlike Shizun…” He manages to say before Shen Yuan silences him with a kiss.
And it works like magic for a bit.
The phone even stops ringing, and it feels like Shen Yuan is going to be able to get his peace and quiet and sexy times, but then it starts ringing again, interrupting them again, and he can’t help but groan.
Binghe pulls away a little bit, pouting but still dazed from all their kissing.
“It must be important…” he laments.
“I suppose, yeah,” Shen Yuan concedes regretfully, letting go of Binghe’s hair and shirt so he can pull himself up into a sitting position. He smiles when Binghe casually fixes a strand of his hair and strokes the side of his face.
“Well, the quicker Shizun tends to it, the quicker we can continue.”
Shen Yuan laughs softly, but he nods.
“True. Okay. Give this master a minute.”
Binghe gives an obedient nod and Shen Yuan squeezes his shoulder gently before jumping off the couch (on slightly wobbly knees) to pick up the phone.
He last saw Shen Jiu two days ago, when he went to his place to watch a documentary. They started doing that after the second time they met, three weeks ago, when Shen Jiu threatened to kill Shen Yuan with a kitchen knife. They meet every so often and just… hang out, like they’re friends or something. They eat and watch films or documentaries and sometimes even talk about things. Deeper things. They don’t always see eye to eye, obviously, and Shen Jiu is still kind of an asshole, but even so, Shen Yuan can’t help but feel a powerful bond between them of the fraternal kind.
Like they’re long lost brothers or cousins. It’s weird, but Shen Yuan supposes that pretending to be someone for so long and then meeting them can do that to you.
He answers, and before he can even finish saying wéi , Shen Jiu is in his ear, an edge of panic in his voice, asking if he can meet him.
“What - now?” Shen Yuan asks, looking at Binghe who is waiting for him on the couch, a half-concerned, half-annoyed look on his face.
“B-But I’m busy! I’m, uh, in the middle of something…”
“It is important, Shen Yuan,” he says, voice as sharp as it can get sometimes before softening. “Really. It is… I need to tell this to someone who understands.”
Shen Yuan sighs softly.
He just can’t win, can he?
“Okay,” he says. Binghe’s pout deepens, but he can’t let it affect him. They’ll have time to continue their activities later. “Come to my house and we can talk here because I’m not crossing the city for this.”
So, Shen Jiu comes over.
He arrives in minutes because he was not too far, for some reason, so it’s a good thing that Binghe and he kept their hands to themselves in the meantime because they would’ve only worked themselves up more and achieved nothing.
Shen Jiu has been over before, but only once and only for a short moment, while Binghe wasn’t home.
It’s Shen Yuan who goes to Shen Jiu’s place when they hang out, usually, so his and Binghe’s apartment feels almost embarrassingly tiny and humble in comparison - even if he does like it a million times better than Shen Jiu’s penthouse.
He may not have huge windows and expensive flooring, but he did put money into nice furniture and a big ass TV and pretty bamboo patterned wallpapers on the walls, to remind Binghe and himself of the old bamboo house. It’s homely and warm and lived in; tiny, but more than enough for the two of them.
And now Shen Jiu is here too, wearing modern clothes instead of the traditional robes he wears at home, sitting in the middle of the couch Binghe and he were about to defile moments ago.
(Not that they haven’t defiled it before, but Shen Jiu doesn’t have to know that. Better if he doesn’t.)
He looks kind of anxious…? Scared? Shen Yuan has no clue, but it’s weird and off-putting.
“So, uh,” he starts, sitting down beside him on the couch. “What happened?”
Shen Jiu doesn’t answer at first.
He just looks at him from the other side of the couch and then over his shoulder, towards the kitchen, eyes cold as daggers.
Binghe is right there, standing with his arms crossed behind the island counter, because, well, where else was he supposed to go? He and Shen Jiu haven’t seen each other since that fateful day where they beat the shit out of each other and ended behind bars for a few hours, and Shen Jiu knows now that this Binghe isn’t the one that tortured him to death, but perhaps the mere sight of him gives him hives.
“Must he be here?”
Shen Yuan raises an eyebrow at Shen Jiu defiantly.
“Is it a problem that he is?”
“No, but surely there is someplace else he could be.”
“This is Binghe’s home as much as it is mine, and like I’ve told you before, he is not the Binghe you knew; you have no reason to be hostile to him,” Shen Yuan defends Binghe. He did it out of reflex for so long, that even if he hasn’t really had to do it since they came to this world, it still comes as second nature to him. “If what you want to talk about is of private nature, then I’m sure he’d understand you wanting him to leave, but if it’s not, then…”
“No, Shizun, it’s okay. I don’t have to be told that my presence is unwanted when the fact is plain to see,” Binghe says, a tight smile on his lips that is the opposite of kind and happy.
Shen Yuan can’t help but pout a little.
“Alright,” he sighs. “I’m sure it won’t be long.”
Binghe nods at him and gives him a sweet smile, then he shoots daggers back at Shen Jiu, and then he leaves, the sound of a few footsteps and their bedroom door closing following.
“What a surprise that you live together with him,” Shen Jiu points out as soon as they are alone, and there is a strange edge to his voice.
“I’m pretty sure I told you about it. Several times, too. We’re, uh. Flatmates. Roommates. Whatever you want to call it.”
“Bedmates sounds like a more suitable term,” the other man says, unceremoniously, and Shen Yuan nearly chokes because - shit. It was supposed to be a secret; he was going to tell him, eventually, when he felt ready to do so. He wasn’t counting on him to connect the dots so quickly.
Luckily, he has no time to panic. No time to think about how to explain this to Shen Jiu so he doesn’t misunderstand and judge him and hate him when he realizes that Shen Yuan used his body to lay with Luo Binghe and marry Luo Binghe in a parallel universe. Shen Jiu doesn’t linger on it. Maybe he will give him hell for it when he’s less distraught.
“But nevermind that,” he says, steering the conversation away from Shen Yuan and Binghe now that they are alone.
“Y-Yeah. Nevermind that,” Shen Yuan echoes. “What happened that has you all… like this?”
Shen Jiu fixes him with a glare, but it’s not powerful and it somehow falls apart under Shen Yuan’s scrutinizing eyes.
He looks away.
“It’s…” he starts, looking around Shen Yuan’s living room like he’s looking for what he wants to say. It’s an unusual, almost concerning sight. Shen Yuan is about to say something to encourage him when he speaks again, still not looking at him. “I think I saw… someone from my past life.”
Shen Yuan takes in a deep breath.
When will this end?
“Who?” he manages to ask; manages not to freak out vocally even if it’s super fucking worrying that the characters from that cursed novel are starting to pour into his reality.
It takes another moment before Shen Jiu speaks again.
“Yue Qingyuan,” he says at first. “Yue Qi.”
Shen Yuan’s eyes widen.
“What? Wait, are you sure? Where?”
“A park, not too far from here.”
“What were you doing there?”
Shen Jiu throws his hands up. “No idea! I sometimes get these strange impulses to go certain places for no reason - haven’t I told you?”
“No, you haven’t!”
“Well, I’m telling you now, then! It probably sounds crazy, I know, but sometimes it feels like I have a voice in my head telling me to go somewhere, or do something,” he confesses, and this is it. This is Shen Yuan’s confirmation that there is no such thing as a real world, because what Shen Jiu is telling him sounds extremely familiar to him. Shen Jiu has a system he has to deal with in this world, too, just like he had in his world?!
Fuck, he can’t decide if this is amazing or terrible.
“That’s how I met Binghe, and how I met you the day after. Or do you think it’s one of my pastimes to just stand around subway stations for no reason? I don't even use the subway!”
“Holy shit. Holy shit, that’s true. You were waiting for me? You were supposed to meet me?”
Shen Jiu shrugs.
“I honestly have no idea. Perhaps I was? Anyway, the point of this is that the same impulse that took me to your Binghe and to you, took me today to that park, and there I saw him.”
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Shen Yuan curses quietly, sinking into the couch.
The amount of thoughts trying to fit in his brain should be illegal. He’s starting to get a headache.
“He looked… alright,” Shen Jiu speaks, probably taking Shen Yuan’s overwhelmed silence as an invitation to keep talking. Shen Yuan doesn’t mind. If anything, it's a good sign that he feels welcomed to speak his mind. “He was alone, taking a dog for a walk, and he would’ve looked like any other person from this city if it weren’t for his long hair and his face… He probably lives nearby… I think I was supposed to go up to him, say something to him, but I ran away like a fucking coward. Can you believe that?”
Shen Yuan hums, distractedly.
“Yeah, actually, I can.”
Shen Jiu shoves his shoulder with malice.
“Don’t be like that. It’s difficult.”
“I know it is. I approached you first, remember? You don’t think I almost chickened out?”
Shen Jiu sighs as he also sinks on the couch. They must look ridiculous like this, but oh well. There are bigger concerns in the world. Way bigger.
A strange silence stretches between them for a while, and when Shen Jiu breaks it, his voice is so oddly quiet and thoughtful that it might as well have been one of Shen Yuan’s thoughts.
“Binghe didn’t kill him… did he? In the world that was created when you took my body, I mean. He survived there?”
Shen Yuan turns his head on the couch to look at Shen Jiu.
They’ve been hanging out and talking for three weeks now, but they haven’t talked about this yet.
He nods, slowly.
“Yes. Almost everyone survived, I think. Ming Fan, and Liu Qingge, too.”
Shen Jiu growls at that name.
“That son of a -”
Shen Yuan interrupts him.
“Shut up, he didn’t deserve to die. If you had been kinder to him - no, if you hadn’t let him die, and if you hadn’t let out your frustrations on Binghe and bullied him his entire adolescence, you would’ve made two incredible allies. What a shame that you’re only learning that after death, isn’t it?”
Shen Jiu sighs and says through gritted teeth.
“I had no choice.”
“There is always a choice,” Shen Yuan says, and it might be a quote from a Batman movie, but he means it. Shen Jiu had choices, he made the wrong ones, and they brought him to a bloody end, unfortunately.
But Shen Yuan trails off.
He doesn’t want to downplay Shen Jiu’s atrocious childhood and how wickedness and abuse were pretty much the only things he learned since he was a kid, but Shen Yuan likes to think he had chances to break out of that cycle.
Airplane, that Shang Qinghua - he wrote Shen Jiu like he was destined to recreate the evil he lived as a child; like that abuse explains or justifies the abuse he put others through, but Shen Yuan doesn’t think so.
Shen Yuan thinks Shen Jiu could’ve made different choices if it hadn’t been for pride, or miscommunication, or vengeance.
But what’s the point in looking back like this? Shen Jiu can’t go back in time to clean after himself.
And maybe… maybe he doesn’t have to.
He’s in this world now, after all, and he isn’t bound by the idiotic laws of PIDW anymore.
He’s here, and if Yue Qingyuan is here too, and he’s the same Yue Qingyuan that Shen Jiu knew before - then that must mean there’s another chance for them not to end in tragedy.
If Shen Jiu’s “intuition” - so to say - took him to Yue Qingyuan like it took him to Binghe, first, and to Shen Yuan second… then maybe this could be a chance for Shen Jiu to fix his choices. To fix the trainwreck that was their communication and the tragedy that were both of their endings.
Shen Yuan looks down between him and Shen Jiu, hesitates for a moment, and then reaches out with his hand so he can rest it on Shen Jiu’s shoulder.
It’s awkward as fuck, but it’s the best Shen Yuan’s got, so. Whatever. Shen Jiu doesn’t shrug him off, so he counts it as a win.
“At least, I think there is a choice now,” Shen Yuan says, adding to his previous words. “I don’t know. If it’s really Yue Shixiong out there… you can choose to look for him, if that’s what you want, or you can choose to ignore his existence and whatever it was that took you to him. It really is your call, at the end of the day.”
Shen Jiu takes a deep breath and sighs, his shoulder rising and falling under Shen Yuan’s hand.
“You know… The last thing I told him was to never show himself to me again. I told him to go as far as he could and never associate with someone like Shen Qingqiu again. Wouldn’t I be doing him a favor by standing by what I said and leaving him in peace?”
Shen Yuan shrugs.
“But what do you think?”
“What do I think?” Shen Jiu repeats the question, then clicks his tongue. “Look. I mean this in the least disrespectful way possible, but what do you care what I think? The whole point of this - of all of this, I think, is that you take these second chances that life is giving you to make new choices of your own and see where those take you, but I can’t make decisions for you anymore, or even influence your decisions. I already did that for a really long time, and I don’t think that’s what this is about.”
Shen Jiu hums, and Shen Yuan adds, giving his shoulder a little squeeze.
“But I can stand on the sidelines and keep you company if that’s what you want… And if you promise to not try to slit my throat again. I’m not trying to get murdered.”
Shen Jiu snorts lightly at that, nodding his head.
“I won’t promise anything,” he says, but he doesn’t sound venomous or murderous; just sarcastic.
Shen Yuan can live with that.
A moment or two of quiet pass by before Shen Jiu finally shrugs Shen Yuan’s hand off his shoulder and gets up from the couch.
“Alright,” is all he says, something unreadable about his face and his voice.
“... Alright what?”
“I’m going to think about it. About whether or not I should look for him again. Whether it’s a good idea or not. You know.”
“I don’t really know anything, but. Yeah. I understand.”
“I just hope I don’t run into him by chance or by... whatever it is that took me to him.”
Shen Yuan laughs softly.
“Just stay locked up in your house. I’ll visit you.”
Shen Jiu leaves Shen Yuan and Binghe’s apartment soon after that.
Shen Yuan tries to invite him to stay over for dinner (don’t ask him why he does that, even he can’t understand how much he’s softened to Shen Jiu), but Shen Jiu tells him he’d rather not intrude anymore and that he has much to think about anyway, so he better get going. He doesn’t need to say it, but judging by the little glare he shoots down the apartment, Shen Yuan guesses he also doesn’t want to be near Binghe, which is understandable.
(Shen Yuan hopes one day he’ll be able to be in the same room as this alternate version of his old disciple, though, because he has no idea what he’s missing out on, not trying his homemade food. Perhaps he’ll bring him a tupperware with leftovers one day.)
And speaking of Binghe, he is pinning Shen Yuan to the couch about a minute after Shen Jiu leaves, picking things up right from where they left off. It’s funny how unaffected he is, just as eager and excited as he was before they had to stop. As for Shen Yuan, it takes him a moment to get back on track after his conversation with Shen Jiu, but there’s no better distraction and, ironically, no better way to anchor him to reality than this.
Binghe may not be from this reality, but he’s here now, and there is nothing realer than holding onto his shoulders.
The next morning is good, at first.
There are no swords, no long flowy robes, no long flowy hair, and no annoying robotic voice in Shen Yuan’s brain.
Normal. His phone alarm ringing annoyingly under his pillow at six thirty in the morning. He has a bathroom with a beautiful toilet and a beautiful shower, a kitchen with a beautiful fridge and a beautiful oven, etcetera, etcetera -
Normal doesn’t exist.
It has never existed. Not to Shen Yuan.
The proof of that stands right in front of Shen Yuan when he reaches the entry lobby of his apartment building that morning, ready to head to work.
When the elevator doors open, the person Shen Yuan sees there on the first floor waiting to get on the elevator after what was obviously a morning jog is — who else?!
Sect Leader Yue, his hair long and his face unmistakable, standing right in front of Shen Yuan in matching Adidas sweatpants and t-shirt, and apparently, he lives in the same building as he, now.
Apparently, they are neighbors, now.
Shen Yuan drops his coffee tumbler at the shock, but he doubts it's the scalding coffee flying everywhere that makes Yue Qingyuan gasp and step back. His eyes widen almost comically as he looks at Shen Yuan’s face studiously, and he looks slightly scared but also excited, and fuck —
Shen Yuan wants to groan and yell and kick things, but he gets a hold of himself and manages to just sigh heavily.
He knows then. He knows, just like he knew when he died and woke up in Shen Qingqiu’s body, and then when he heard the name Shen Jiu come out of that cop’s mouth three weeks ago — he knows that whoever wrote his character’s storyline, Shen Yuan’s storyline, never had normal in store for him.
He knows that problems will always, always find a way of getting to him before he can get too comfortable.
“Sorry,” he tells Yue Qingyuan. “Wrong person.”
He walks out of the elevator, bypassing a shell shocked Yue Qingyuan and leaving his spilt coffee mug on the floor, never mind the mess he made.
He’s gonna have to call Shen Jiu to tell him to hurry the fuck up thinking about it.