Say It Isn’t So
Luo Binghe reached to a devastating realization: Shen Qingqiu was cheating on him. He’s been doing it for weeks, if not months, and even though it took Luo Binghe almost as long to accept it, he finally reached to the point where he could no longer pretend he didn’t notice.
To be honest, Luo Binghe wouldn’t have been so surprised by Shen Qingqiu’s lack of morals if he had heard about it right after meeting him. He had always been a big fan of his, but back then he believed the fake image Shen Qingqiu showed to the public was real. He idolized him, he believed he was perfect, kind and the most loving person in the entire world. For years he imagined how it would be if they met face to face, if they could get together and learn from each other day by day. The reason he got into acting was to make his dream come true: to one day star in the same movie as him.
Luckily, Luo Binghe’s efforts payed off and he was casted as the main character of the drama adaptation of Proud Immortal Demon Way, an extremely popular web novel that featured action, violence and tons of pretty women. The script was cheesy and nonsensical and Luo Binghe was about to refuse the role. That was, of course, until he heard rumors that one of the antagonists would be played by Shen Qingqiu. And he wouldn’t be any antagonist! He would be the main character’s cruel teacher. Luo Binghe would have the chance to be side by side with his idol and, even if he had to share him with the child playing his younger self, he would still be able to spend several hours by his side. He signed the contract the same day Shen Qingqiu did.
It was then when the fantasy ended.
Luo Binghe learned soon enough that the real Shen Qingqiu wasn’t at all what he expected. He was mean, arrogant, cold and, quite frankly, scary. He had to endure his passive aggressive comments about his acting, his exasperated grunts whenever he made a mistake, his bored face whenever he tried to start a conversation. Every day was more difficult than the one before and Luo Binghe would’ve dropped the project if only it didn’t mean paying astronomical reparations to the studio.
His frustration rose to the point where he couldn’t finish a scene, an important one. The famous abyss scene where the main character would earn his scholarship to hell. For whatever reason, the director wanted Luo Binghe to look hopeful just before his evil master pushed him through the void. He couldn’t understand why the main character would do that. His cruel master showed his real colors the very first day he met the main character. He tortured and abused him for years. How was he supposed to believe even for a second that he wouldn’t try to kill him? The director said something corny about the main character losing his purity, about the breaking point when his blackening would really begin. Not to mention, of course, that if there was hope, the fall would be even harder. It was so stupid, Luo Binghe couldn’t do it. They shot the scene over and over again until everyone was so tired and frustrated, the director had to send them home.
Luo Binghe died a little inside when that happened (never before had he failed to finish a scene) and he went into his dressing room feeling it was the end of his career. Yet, a second after he changed out of his costume, there was a knock on the door. Luo Binghe was reluctant to answer the call, but whoever was on the other side was adamant to get his attention. Luo Binghe had to open the door to avoid the risk of the intruder breaking it.
Of course, the damn intruder had to be Shen Qingqiu.
Luo Binghe was sure he was there to mock him, to demean him and destroy his remaining self-esteem. Oddly, once he came inside the dressing room, Shen Qingqiu took a seat and asked him what had gone wrong.
Luo Binghe told him, of course, that it was extremely difficult for him to act properly with someone he disliked so much. Shen Qingqiu didn’t take his words to heart (even though they were meant to be), and he started talking about what he usually did whenever he had to act with someone he didn’t like. They also discussed about their characters, their motivations and he explained in a less cheesy way why would the main character still expect kindness from his master.
“The main character had a shitty life before and after he joined the sect,” he said. “He was bullied, abused and mocked. Barely anyone liked him and most of the ones that did were stupid women after his dick. His demonic heritage only made things worse. Who would want a mixed breed mutt? Humans would be terrified of him; demons would belittle him. He knows this even before he leaves the sect. Therefore, he starves for acceptance. He yearns for his mother’s love and he fools himself believing he can find it in whatever pickings he can receive from his parental figure. For him, a soft smile at the right moment would be enough to light his heart.”
Then, Shen Qingqiu smiled. Luo Binghe didn’t know if it was because he wanted to make a point or if he was meaning to be reassuring. Nevertheless, it worked. It helped him understand why someone would hang into a frail strand of hope; why would anyone want to reach a helping hand despite it being the cause of all their suffering.
Luo Binghe, too, reached for Shen Qingqiu’s hand.
The next day they were able to complete the scene on their first try.
Luo Binghe wasn’t as stupid as the main character; a single reassuring smile from Shen Qingqiu didn’t make him regain his lost devotion.
When Luo Binghe fell for Shen Qingqiu for the second time it was a small, gradual descent led by his observation skills and whatever little patience he had. He noticed that, despite what their coworkers thought, his criticisms were always spot on. He caught him stealing sweets from the buffet to share them with the children (even the one that played his younger self). He even saw him in a cheerful banter with one of the actors that played one of the nameless Peak Lords! Once, when the author of Proud Immortal Demon Way payed them a surprise visit, Shen Qingqiu made sure that Luo Binghe got some private time with him so they could further discuss his character and motivations.
(Which, by the way, had been extremely illuminating and made him wonder why on earth didn’t he write all those good ideas instead of sticking with the shameless exhibitionism).
By watching Shen Qingqiu, Luo Binghe didn’t discover the perfect, angelic vision he previously had of him. He found an extremely critical man who expected from his colleagues half as much perfectionism he expected from himself. A strict, lonely man who didn’t know how to interact with others and who seemed to believe that kindness was a weakness. He had sense of humor, yes, but it was so different from the norm that it came out as cruel and unapologetic. He was a good actor, but his private life was almost nonexistent.
Luo Binghe discovered the real version of Shen Qingqiu, a man with virtues and defects and much more real than what he could ever envision. When Luo Binghe fell for him for the second time, he fell harder because now he was able to see the real him. When Luo Binghe fell for him for the second time, he promised himself he would do anything to stay by his side.
Despite whatever he could’ve expected, it wasn’t difficult to woe him. Shen Qingqiu ignored his advances as they were shooting, but he accepted his dinner invitation on his very last day on the set. They were dating by the time the editing finished and they were officially a couple when the first episode of the drama aired. By the time the airing ended, they were practically living together in Luo Binghe’s apartment.
Now, half a year after the great success of Proud Immortal Demon Way, Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu shared a happy life together. Or, at least, that’s what he thought before he noticed that Shen Qingqiu acted very suspiciously.
It wasn’t as if Shen Qingqiu was obvious. He was smart, mostly discrete and always had a good alibi to hang on to. Yet, it seemed that whenever Luo Binghe entered the same room as him, he locked his cellphone or closed the lid of his laptop. Sometimes he would catch him smiling while reading a text message on his phone only to change the subject whenever Luo Binghe asked him about it. Shen Qingqiu had been so subtle that it took Luo Binghe weeks to finally accept that something odd was going on and, even when he started watching more intently, he couldn’t find any clues. Still, Luo Binghe couldn’t stop thinking about how Shen Qingqiu would avoid going out with him on certain weekday nights and how he kept such a close eye on Luo Binghe’s schedule.
Luo Binghe was no one’s fool and, as much as he loved Shen Qingqiu, he wouldn’t allow him to use him. Therefore, a cold Friday night he decided it was time to end it.
“We have to talk,” he said as he sat down next to him in the couch. His voice was calm and cool, with no sign of his throbbing heartbreak. He was sure that if Shen Qingqiu saw a fracture in his façade, he could easily ask him for a second chance and Luo Binghe would be stupid enough to agree to it. He had to make it quick and heartless. It was the only way.
Shen Qingqiu seemed surprised by the gravity of his words, but he nodded and closed the lid of his laptop before placing it over the coffee table.
“Is something wrong?”
“We have to break up.”
For a couple of seconds, Shen Qingqiu’s already pale face lost even more color. His eyes opened wide and his mouth opened in a mute protest. Still, Shen Qingqiu was Shen Qingqiu and he quickly regained control over himself and matched his coldness with Luo Binghe’s.
“Am I allowed to ask why are you saying this out of the blue? Or you simply got tired of me?”
Luo Binghe felt hot rage rising through his chest. He dared to accuse him of falling out of love?! It was him who decided to find love with someone else!
“I know what you do whenever I’m not home, why you’re always on your cellphone and why you never share your computer with me…”
Those words finally got a reaction out of Shen Qingqiu. His entire face flushed and his breathing shallowed and paced up.
“I see…” he muttered. “Still, I don’t understand why would you break up with me because of that. Is it really that bad?”
“Is it that bad?! Are you insane?! How can you even say that?! You’ve lied to me for months!”
“I don’t need your approval for whatever I do on my free time! It’s just a stupid hobby, Binghe! It’s not real!”
“You dare call your infidelities a ‘hobby’?!”
A terrible slap sound resonated through the entire apartment. Luo Binghe was sure he would soon have a big mark on his left cheek with the shape of Shen Qingqiu’s hand.
“You think I’m cheating on you?!”
That was Luo Binghe’s turn to pale. He’d never seen Shen Qingqiu so angry, which really didn’t make any sense because it was him who should be mad, not the other way around!
“If you’re not, then why are you always on your phone?! Why does it seem you have a second life I have no idea about?”
Shen Qingqiu’s blush returned to his face, but this time, instead of trying to defend himself, he sighed, muttered something to himself and opened his laptop. After a couple of clicks, he placed it over Luo Binghe’s lap.
“Just read!” snapped Shen Qingqiu.
More confused than ever, Luo Binghe looked at the screen. It was an AO3 collection full of Proud Immortal Demon Way stories, all of them featuring his and Shen Qingqiu’s characters. They were the main ship in all of them. Luo Binghe wasn’t new to the concept of fanfics. Moreover, he was aware that theirs was the most popular ship among the fans. It wasn’t always like that, of course. Being the original source a stallion novel, there were barely any stories involving Luo Binghe’s character with another male, let alone the antagonist. For what he knew, everything blew up little before the drama finished its recordings and the rest was history. Luo Binghe hadn’t read a single of those fanfics, but now he found himself intrigued.
He kept browsing the webpage and he noticed all stories shared a certain type of tags. ‘Angst with a happy ending’, ‘Fix it’, ‘Feel good’. There was even a ‘Tooth-rotting Fluff’ tag! Even the porn was tagged like that! Because yes, there was porn.
After acknowledging the common theme, Luo Binghe noticed something else. All the stories were written by the same user, someone whose nickname was ‘LuoBinghe’s Lover’. The following realization came up gradually, like waking up from a dream so tangible that it was difficult to differentiate it from the real world. Yet, once the idea germinated on his mind, it was impossible to stop its growth.
“You made these”, a shy, nervous nod. “Why?”
“After they offered me the role for the drama, I read the novel and I thought it was trash. It was poorly written, the characters were half baked at best and the antagonists were unlikable and stupid. Still, my older brother was so enthusiastic with the idea of us being together in a project that he asked the author to convince me. He called me and we talked about his story, what he originally wanted to do with it and all the unwritten background of my character. It was then when I realized that it was good… quite good, actually. I thought it was a wasted chance to make something great, you know?”
“That’s why you arranged my meeting with the author.”
Shen Qingqiu nodded.
“Most of his characters were butchered in the same way as the villain, but no one as much as the main character. I thought it would be easier for you to play the later stages of the role if you had a better grasp of his motivations.”
“You were right. It did help.”
“I know”, he smirked. “It was the same for me. The villain was scummy and cruel, but all the things he did were for a reason and I wanted the world to see it. I took on the role and did my best to give the villain another layer. I could barely change the dialogues, but at least with my acting I could make people wonder about him.”
“And it worked, people love to hate you.”
“I’m aware,” he allowed a long, tired sigh to escape from his lips as he rested his head on Luo Binghe’s shoulder. “In the end, I got so invested with the role that it was difficult to stop thinking about it. Even if he deserved everything that came to him, I still wanted the villain to be happy, to show what it could be like if life had treated him better. I thought, ‘the stupid author was incapable of redeeming the scumbag villain, so I’ll have to search somewhere else’. At the beginning I only read fanfics, but there were barely any of him. One thing led to another and now I have…” he glanced at the screen, “sixty two happy endings for my character.”
“I think that’s very sweet,” Shen Qingqiu snorted, “and I agree, the villain does deserve his own happy ending. With the main character, of course.”
Luo Binghe kept browsing the stories and he smirked when he found one whose summary described a very particular roleplay he and Shen Qingqiu shared three weeks ago.
“I really have to make time to read all these.”
Shen Qingqiu hid his face on Luo Binghe’s hair.
“Please don’t,” he begged knowing it would be useless.
“Oh, I will. I cannot ignore fanfics with so many comments. Look! This oneshot has four hundred and twenty seven kudos!” he read the summary of the story. “Oh… we should try that one.”
Shen Qingqiu forced himself to take a glimpse of the story’s title.
“Really? The cat ears?”
“And the tail.”
Shen Qingqiu closed the laptop and took it away from Luo Binghe.
“I’ll think about it,” he made a long pause. “So?”
“I’m sorry I thought you were cheating on me. I’m really am.”
“As you should be.”
“If I ever feel insecure again, I’ll talk with you about it before jumping into conclusions.”
“You better,” he lowered his eyes. “I’ll do my best to open up to you so you don’t have to doubt my feelings ever again.”
“Will you tell me about your WIPs?”
“Only if you help me to come up with new ideas.”
“Oh!” he grinned menacingly as he held him close, “I have many, many good ideas.”
“Do you, now?”
Luo Binghe nodded as he kissed him on the lips, softly and warmly and so very content. It was one of the happiest moments of his life. Shen Qingqiu loved him so much he even wrote stories about them sharing their happiness. He would work hard to make sure that his lover had the happy life he wanted for both the villain and himself.
“Wait,” after a sudden thought came to him, Luo Binghe broke the kiss. “Weren’t many of those fanfics uploaded way before we even got together?”
A new, beautiful blush covered Shen Qingqiu’s face and ears.
“I have no idea of what you’re talking about!”
He stood up and stumped towards their shared bedroom, closing the door behind him. Luckily, Luo Binghe knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t lock him out. Determined, he followed him and, as he opened the bedroom’s door, he promised himself that that night he would give Shen Qingqiu as many happy endings at it was humanly possible.