Chapter 1: 0 - Help, Send Noods
All Luo Binghe ever truly wanted in life was to find someone who loved him, settle down, and have a nice quiet life with them. His mother, a simple and overworked cleaning lady, spoke of this sort of future for him with a voice of wistfulness and a rare spark in her eye.
It’s a dream that’s seemed unattainable at this point in his life.
No one ever plans to find out they’re from a rich old bloodline with loads of money. Or spitefully spend a good portion of said money on cooking school at a renowned French academy after a failed attempt at being a blogger. Then resurfacing online to become one of the most successful YouTubers of the decade with a following in the millions.
Life’s just weird like that okay.
Besides, the universe tends to throw a wrench into his plans no matter what he does. That one crazy stalker who followed him home and publicly posted his address in after he rejected her is only one of many, what his mother used to call, ‘Bumps in the road.’
Personally, compared to what he grew up with, Luo Binghe would call it a minor inconvenience.
Ming Fan, an old acquaintance from school who was generous enough to let him crash on his sofa for the night, is currently yelling about it being a ’gross invasion of privacy’ among many other things that Luo Binghe feels he’s just randomly citing from their old government class. But life has taught Luo Binghe ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,’ so he chooses not to roll his eyes at Ming Fan’s overdramatic tendencies and just nod along.
Then Ning Yingying barges in and he feels his eye twitch.
She talks up an even bigger storm and Luo Binghe quickly uses a pitiful act of exhaustion from stress to get a moment to himself. Sympathy works best when trying to get something out of these two. They’ve known him the longest-- Ning Yingying calls them all ‘childhood friends’ or something since they all went to the same private school growing up. But honestly, it’s just that two of them persistently not leaving his life and Luo Binghe occasionally needing a favor that keeps them in touch.
Its usefulness, not friendship.
No one has ever given Binghe a genuine friendship in.... well ever. People always want something from you. Ning Ying Ying always needed help in elementary school and eventually just stuck to him like a leech. Ming Fan always needed to feel superior and when he couldn’t get that from bullying him once Binghe got bigger, then he flipped the script and became his lackey after a half-assed apology by buying Binghe’s lunch for a year.
As he excuses himself into Ming Fan’s room to ‘rest his eyes,’ they both start saying something, ‘Oh, of course, A-Luo’ and ‘Yeah go right ahead.’ Luo Binghe doesn’t bother to listen though. He doesn’t bother to turn around to see their concerned stares either.
The second the door clicks shut, he’s already mentally drafting potential places to move.
Can’t stay in town, people know he lives here and will hunt him down for just a glimpse of someone famous-- to have a run-in with a celebrity, yadda-yadda-yadda. That also cancels out any neighboring cities either, because if one crazy fan found him in the middle of a metropolitan city, then that means more could too.
Luo Binghe pauses.
Then perhaps it would be useful to move somewhere that’s not a big city. It would also help to put some distance between himself and these two ‘friends’ of his. Maybe they would finally move on and become independent people.
He considers it for a moment, then pulls out his phone.
An hour or so later and there’s only one house that catches his eye. It’s located in a small, historic town of Cang Qiong, near the base of a mountain that’s known for its fertile farming fields nearby. The location alone is promising because farming means fresh and local produce, which often means better tasting dishes.
The guy looking for a housemate doesn’t sound so bad either. The post is written in a direct, to the point way which Luo Binghe appreciates. He sounds like someone who knows what he wants, which honestly isn’t much. The requirements are for a person with no criminal record, will clean up after themselves, and pay rent on time. The only crimes Luo Binghe has ever committed were in France and never proven so he’s fine. The Youtubing gig pays several thousand a month so the rent price listed is easily do-able. Not to mention he enjoys cleaning so nothing sounds like a stretch.
What really sells him on applying to this house is the kitchen. The photos of the rest of the home are nice; it has curb appeal on the outside, a good-sized backyard, the bedroom is decent sized with a private bath— But the Kitchen.
It’s a masterpiece.
There are stainless steel appliances, a double door fridge, an eight gas burner stovetop over two industrial-sized ovens, all set in custom white pine wood cabinetry that extends to the ceiling. A number of the cabinets have frosted glass panels, allowing you to see vague outlines of dishware sitting within. They’re paired with black marble countertops and a lovely pale green sea glass tile backsplash that has an artistic rendering of the occasional bamboo stalk inlaid in the tile. A large peninsula sits in the middle of the kitchen, boasting plenty of storage space with a dishwasher, and stares back at him.
A second glance at the sink along the back counter confirms to his trained eye that it’s made of crushed granite also. There’s also a coffee bar on the far right wall of the three wall-spanning countertops-- how did he miss that??
Luo Binghe needs this kitchen.
He was born for this kitchen.
He would kill a man for this kitchen. If the owner doesn’t let him interview for it then he’s gonna be pissed.
Fortunately, within five minutes of sending in an inquiry, he gets a reply.
Past all for formal nonsense and fluff, it can be simplified into one sentence: How soon would you be willing to move?
It takes him by surprise-- really, not even a background check?-- but if it turns out to be a hoax then he’s always willing to take a pass out of the crazy stalkers book and do a call-out video.
People seem to be into that nowadays. It might make him trend again, so it’s a win-win situation.
Luo Binghe considers being polite, giving a week or so because he can definitely get away with living at Ming Fan’s place for the time being.
The sound of heavy metal music suddenly deafens the room from the neighboring apartment.
Luo Binghe sends back an equally formal email that can also be simplified to one sentence: How soon can you have me?
Fast forward to his move into a charming home the countryside a mere two days later.
The owner of the house, Shen Yuan, is a fairly attractive man that’s a few years older than him. His features are a sharp face that’s a little soft around the edges, when not hidden behind his thick computer glasses. He is always home, but also always in his office or his bedroom. The only time he leaves the house is to go get groceries or when someone comes by to pick him up. The guy doesn’t like to drive apparently.
At the first meeting, Luo Binghe thought he was the typical Virgin NEET who never leaves the house. Turns out the dirty sweatshirt and stained gym shorts he had greeted Luo Binghe in on his move-in day was just a one-off— he had just been up for 22 hours working on a client project and was ‘very very tired’ as he had explained after sleeping a solid 15 hours.
As first impressions go, it wasn’t a very good one. But, it’s amazing what rest can do for a person's appearance. He’s greeted by a sharply dressed Shen Yuan in dark denim jeans, combed back hair, and a crisp button-up at a coffee counter the next morning.
What catches Luo Binghe’s attention is that Shen Yuan has no idea who he is.
Like at all.
It’s more of a relief than it is insulting, to be honest. Well, no, okay, it’s a little insulting because like... really? Binghe’s been featured in magazines? Also on TV a few times, an award show as a speaker for god's sake— he even won an award too!
But no, Shen Yuan asks him what he does for a living in one of their small talk conversations and it throws Binghe for a quick mental loop. So of course when he says, ’oh I make videos.’ and Shen Yuan politely smiles with an ‘oh how nice’ it takes a moment of a lot will power not to throw all his success in the man’s face.
Whatever, he’s here for the kitchen, not the company.
Then the third day of living in this new house reminds Binghe that he actually needs to record a video before the week is up or he won’t get paid. And you know, he needs to kinda pay his new landlord/roommate.
This all somehow leads to Luo Binghe sitting in the kitchen at 9 PM staring blank-faced as his laptop decides to restart and update mid-rendering.
The system cheerily informs him [Update 1/15 commencing!]
[Estimated time 6 hours 5 minutes and 45 seconds.... 44 seconds....]
Luo Binghe stares despondently at the screen.
[43 seconds... 58 seconds...]
Did... Did the time just increase?
The screen pixelates then turns lime green.
Binghe sits in the dimly lit kitchen he just cleaned, the food he made for viewers sitting in the fridge untouched... everything kind catches up with him. Alone in this new space, the exhaustion sort of hits him-- and his whole situation finally sinks in.
He’s been driven from his home in the city of Hua Hua by a crazy stalker and is sitting in a stranger’s kitchen making food that’s just going to go to waste.
He...He’s just... alone, isn’t he?
For the first time in a long time, Luo Binghe wants to cry.
Then someone clears their throat behind him.
Shen Yuan is standing in the entryway of the pantry of the kitchen.
Luo Binghe stares back at him, completely vulnerable at this moment.
He takes one look at Binghe’s pitiful state, then his laptop, and makes his way over. Silently, he offers him a cookie from the Oreo package that’s in his arm.
The French chef in Binghe sneers at the thought of store-bought cookies.
The sad man that he is takes two and eats one in a single bite.
Hm, he needs to revise his opinions on store-bought cookies. They certainly make him feel better.
Shen Yuan looks thoughtful, “Do you want to talk about it?”
Luo Binghe offers a hollow laugh. “Apologizes. This one is just... overwhelmed with all these changes in his life. It seems that my laptop erasing all my edits for a video just now...” He trails off into a watery sigh. It’s fine. Shen Yuan doesn’t know him, for one person to see his weakness right now-- Shen Yuan doesn’t know him well enough to exploit it.
The man in question nods in what he thinks might be understanding, there is a slight grimace at Luo Binghe’s words. Then he glances between Binghe’s laptop and his camera sitting on the counter.
Luo Binghe takes another three cookies from the package. He now understands why people call this junk food ‘comfort food’. It’s very consoling in times of emotional stress.
“Do you still have the footage on a camera SIM card?”
Luo Binghe blinks, the sudden question catching him off guard. “Yes?”
“Well... my degree is in media arts, I know how to do some decent edits for videos.” Shen Yuan admits this all bashfully, rubbing the back of his head.
The tears decide that now’s a good time actually start flowing.
Something, gratitude maybe, tightens Binghe’s throat. There's a minute of Shen Yuan floundering at Luo Binghe bursting into tears, followed by another minute of Luo Binghe giving many thanks.
The emotional vulnerability has Luo Binghe feeling drained, something Shen Yuan picks up on and recommends that he rest while he works on the video for him. After some more profuse thanking, Luo Binghe goes to the living room to rest his eyes.
When he wakes up, a blanket he doesn’t remember is covering him. It’s also just before 11 pm.
Luo Binghe drags himself up off the sofa and follows the glowing light in the hall to Shen Yuan’s home office.
The man himself is stretching in a chair, arms extended above his head. A smile greets Luo Binghe as Shen Yuan relaxes in his chair again.
“Feeling a little better?”
“Yes, this humble one thanks you for the suggestion.”
Shen Yuan nods his head, “Rest is always important. I was actually going to wake you up here in a moment. The video just finished rendering if you would like to see my edits.”
After pulling up a chair, Luo Binghe watches alongside as Shen Yuan points out the changes and edits he made here and there.
Now, as a person who has been editing his videos for years now... Luo Binghe has no idea how Shen Yuan did so much work in two hours. There’s smooth acoustic music playing in the background as the video progresses.
“I noticed you use a ‘sex appeal’ persona,” Shen Yuan starts. “So I thought that some background music that would suit your character would be some soft jazz. There’s nothing brassy to distract from you, but I thought it flowed with the mood you were setting.”
The video continues to play. Honestly, it’s a simple pan-fried noodle recipe to just act as a filler until he gets settled and update his followers on his life. Yet, Shen Yuan’s edits make the whole video flow like a blog. He alternates the camera, where a full shot of him cooking on a side profile has been edited to focus on a pan with the sizzle of the noodles that turn a golden brown color as they fry. The view changes to a shot of Luo Binghe himself, smiling as he talks about the wonderful new amenities of his new kitchen.
He hadn’t been aware he smiled like that.
Once the video is over, Luo Binghe has found no faults in it at all. It’s different from his usual uploads, but it feels better than his old videos. Which is odd, because he didn’t acquire a million follower viewing because his videos were bad.
He just didn’t realize they could be better.
“--The ‘Senior’ isn’t necessary--”
Shen Yuan looks surprised by his outburst, mouth snapping shut.
Luo Binghe plows forward, “This one is incredibly grateful for your wisdom about editing! A detailed eye and generous help, this will certainly help improve the quality of my videos.” But nothing in life is ever free. “Please, let me know how I can ever repay you.”
Shen Yuan purses his lips considering and Luo Binghe feels a pang of disappointment.
You see, a small part of his mind supplies. People only do things because they expect something in return.
“Would...” Shen Yuan trails off, not meeting his eye with a slight blush on his face. Luo Binghe already knows what he will likely ask. A guest appearance on his show, probably. Maybe a mention on twitter, or perhaps a selfie to boost his popularity on Instagram.
The gurgle of a stomach growling startles both men.
Shen Yuan blushes further, “Would you happen to have any leftovers?”
The clock on Shen Yuan’s desk fills the sound in the room. Tick-Tick-Tick-
A bark of laughter bursts forth from Luo Binghe.
Shen Yuan smacks his arm, “You can’t blame me! I was staring at that food for two hours!!”
Luo Binghe just laughs harder.
Given how chaotic his life had been-- has always seemed to be-- Luo Binghe thought he would never have love or relationships.
Who knew that this would be how it all starts.
[View Comments on Quick Pan Fried Noodles]
ShawtygetLuo: WOWOWOW!! Did Binghe get hotter or am I just sweaty over noodles????
Wife#307: @ShawtygetLuo OMG SAME, like, this video seems so sexy? But it’s noodles!
Binghesleftdimple: Ugh, that smile. We stan an Icon.
ReadTGCF: uuhhhh that kitchen??? Is?? Amazing???
Sha_Hua_Hualing: Oh nice new crib!! I’m glad to see you’re still kicking after the creepy stalker thing! LOL
Ice_Daddy: Welcome back.
Ice_Daddy: @AirplaneShootingTowardsTheSky Do you also enjoy these noodles?
AirplaneShootingTowardsTheSky: @PeerlessCucumber Bro what the fuck
Chapter 2: 1 - The Browning Meat Incident
Several things happened after Luo Binghe moved in with Shen Yuan.
The main of which included hiring Shen Yuan to be his Cameraman/editor for videos. Luo Binghe is a fair boss, he knows that when it comes to creative labor, it’s usually undervalued. There was a spike in views given his last upload that even a blind man could see was related to the improved quality of the video. So the two of them flesh out a brief contract that works in with Shen Yuan’s freelancing jobs. After discussing his rates Luo Binghe meets his price and adds double to it shocking his housemate.
“Additionally,” Luo Binghe types more words into the document on his brand new laptop. “Helping me out will come with the added bonus of eating the creations afterward.”
The other man quickly agrees to the deal.
Another update is that Shen Yuan is still unaware of Luo Binghe’s fame. He doesn’t even check the upload after Luo Binghe tells him of the success. He just smiles with a slight shrug, “I only highlighted what was already done. Binghe’s success is his own.”
Luo Binghe couldn’t help the flush that came on from the unexpected praise-- not to mention the way Shen Yuan addressed him. They have only known one another for a few days now at best, but he can’t bring himself to mind the sudden familiarity. Even if some small part of himself still says to be wary.
Binghe makes a few more videos, a week became a month when an unexpected guest comes over.
With an unfortunately familiar face in tow.
Luo Binghe walks into the house after grocery shopping and comes face to face with an old... accomplice from France.
Mobei Jun still has long hair, still is impeccably dressed, and the hidden holster on his hip confirms he’s still armed.
But, probably remembering his debt to Luo Binghe, he only blinks at the man he once called boss and nods his head.
“Why are you here?” There is no emotion in Binghe’s voice as he speaks. Grammatically, it’s a question. In reality, it’s a demand, and both men know that while Mobei Jun is the one with a gun, Luo Binghe can take him out faster than he can hope to draw it.
He’s done it before, he can do it again.
Mobei jun bows his head a bit. “Apologies for intruding. My ward was invited over, so I came as well.”
Binghe’s answer to his unasked question comes in the form of Shen Yuan’s voice yelling from his office.
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN THEY GET KILLED OFF!?”
A stranger’s nasally voice responds “Listen, bro, my editor suggested—“
“Your editor is shit and you know it,” hisses Shen Yuan.
Luo Binghe looks back to Mobei Jun, eyebrow raised. There’s a slight shoulder shrug in response.
“They claim to be friends.”
More cussing can be heard from down the hall.
“I cannot say I understand it.”
Luo Binghe just sighs and goes to put away his groceries.
As it turns out, the pudgy little man known as Shang Qinghua has been friends with Shen Yuan since college where they both minored in creative writing.
“I don’t really use my minor,” Shen Yuan explains over tea that night. “But Shang Qinghua does and he comes over to bounce ideas off me in person.”
“And... the loud discussions?”
Shen Yuan’s face is as serene as the still water of a lake at dawn. “I am very passionate when it comes to helping my friends.”
Luo Binghe nods, vividly remembering Shen Yuan bodily throwing Shang Qinghua out the front door yelling ‘get off your ass and fix your career.’
“Senior Shen seems to know a good deal, giving such advice to his friends.”
“Ah, but even those who seem to have all the answers can still learn.”
Luo Binghe blinks, the sage wisdom coming from Shen Yuan throwing him off guard.
“You truly believe that?”
“Yes,” he blows on his tea scattering the steam coming off of it. “The world is always changing. So, there’s always room for a person to learn. From learning, one can grow and change.”
“Even me?” The question is out, escaping before his brain can even process what was said.
Shen Yuan smiles over the rim of his cup. “Why yes, even Binghe.”
The heat that graces Luo Binghe’s face is completely not related to that smile. Just the from the steam of his own cup of tea.
But Shen Yuan does prove that he does not, in fact, know everything when he interrupts Luo Binghe mid-cooking with a snort.
Binghe looks up at Shen Yuan, manning the tripod that holds the camera recording him, startled.
“What do you mean ‘what’?”
“I mean, what was the snort for?”
“You said ‘browning the meat’ when referring to cooking the meat.”
The confusion Binghe already felt just grows. “Yes?”
Shen Yuan laughs now, “Browning the meat cannot be a real cooking phrase.”
“Um... it actually is.”
There’s a moment of silence before Shen Yuan peers around the camera.
“I’m really not.”
“No.” Shen Yuan pulls out his phone.
One quick google search later the man goes, ‘Well shit’ with such disbelief that Luo Binghe can’t help another bark of laughter.
“Yes, yes, I see— ah, the meat.”
[View Comments on Authentic Italian Meat Sauce ]
ShawtygetLuo: UH WHO WAS THAT OTHER VOICE? HELLO? MR LUO??
Bunbinghe: @shawtygetLuo H-Hewwo, Mr. Luo?
ShawtygetLuo: @Bunbinghe literally fuck off
Binghesleftdimple: Ugh, that laugh. We continue to Stan an icon.
ReadTGCF: I died laughing about both those ‘shits’ lol
Sha_Hua_Hualing: OMG DID YOU GET STAFF?? MR 'I'LL DO EVERYTHING MYSELF’ HAS HELP NOW?
AirplaneShootingTowardsTheSky: oh boy
Chapter 3: 2 - The Ramen Callout
Living together with Shen Yuan comes surprisingly easy. The older man is easy on the eyes, has a generally uplifting attitude, and polite about personal space. Luo Binghe doesn’t mind being on his own, but Shen Yuan’s presence is a constant he comes to get used to as the days bleed into months.
Right up until it isn’t.
"You'll be gone for a week?" Binghe’s tone is absolutely appalling. It sounds a bit like a spoiled kid throwing a tantrum and the condescending way Shen Yuan pats his head confirms it.
But, somehow, it is still comforting.
"Yes, I will be going on a camping trip up the mountain." Senior Shen is prepping a hiking backpack for the trip, tucking away the water pouch in its pocket, double-checking that it was clean and not broken.
Luo Binghe never pegged him for an outdoors guy.
"On your own?" That's totally not worry in his voice, it’s just uncertainty. While Luo Binghe has never been camping before, he certainly isn't too willing to let his landlord who never does anything around the house just fuck off into the wilderness.
He has no idea how to pay a mortgage or calculate property taxes.
He kinda needs Shen Yuan alive.
That’s totally it.
"No Binghe," There's laughter in Shen Yuan's voice despite there being no smile. "Contrary to your knowledge, you are not the only YouTuber I do filming for."
All of Binghe's worries come to a screeching halt.
Yes, brain, that was eloquent.
Shen Yuan's mouth twitches upward a bit. "An old friend of mine does solo camping videos, wildness survival really. I've always accompanied him on these trips. Oh and he has a dog, so we're safe regardless. Liu Qingge is very capable."
Luo Binghe has no idea who 'Liu Qingge' is but he already doesn't like him.
This gets solidified when an athletically toned, beautiful man shows up at the house a day later, dressed in hiking gear and accompanied by a giant white Russian bear dog.
Shen Yuan greets the man with a warm smile and a hug.
Luo Binghe is still planning to stay polite until the man sees him. He can practically see the emotional walls go up as the stranger who must be this 'Liu Qingge' squints at him.
Luo Binghe already feels his patience wearing thin as Shen Yuan exchanges their names, introducing this 'Liu Qingge' as an old friend from college and 'very reliable.'
I'll be the judge of that.
Luo Binghe smiles, hoping it looks as fake polite as it feels. "It's a pleasure to meet you." He holds out his hand for a handshake.
Liu Qingge stares at him for a second for nods, shaking his hand in return.
Luo Binghe tests him by squeezing his hand a bit.
Liu Qingge doesn't flinch and returns the pressure just a bit more.
"Oh yes," Shen Yuan's voice cuts in. The two of them stop sizing each other up and return their attention to the owner of the voice, who is busy petting the huge dog.
"This is Liu-ge’s dog, Cheng Luan. She is a lovely lady, isn't she?" Shen Yan gives her some more scratches below the chin.
The dog herself seems to reflect its owner, looking quite at peace if it weren't for the fact that her tail was thumping the ground at a good 100 mph while Shen Yuan was petting her.
... It's kinda cute.
It doesn't take much longer, but now Luo Binghe is less worried about Shen Yuan going off into the wilderness. Any person that can return his strength has his begrudging respect, which probably means that this Liu Qingge is as reliable as Shen Yuan says.
He's willing to bet that they probably dated sometime in the past. Or that Liu Qingge is pining over Shen Yuan if their interactions are anything to go by.
Neither thought is quite comforting, which is odd.
Luo Binghe takes a break from the videos that week after sending an email explaining what he was doing to the staff that monitors his feed. After getting the 'ok' he resolves to sit back and relax for once.
Three days in, he's managed to stress bake several dozen varieties of muffins, a few macaroons, several cookies, and two 5 tiered cakes.
He almost throws them all away, before remembering there's a farmer's market this coming evening the next town over. It doesn't take much to get in, just a few sweet words at the organizer, some smiles, and soon he's setting up a table after someone who bought the spot didn't show up an hour into the event.
Everything is gone within the following hour and he has some spare cash too. Most of them were a day or so old, so he sells baked goods for pretty cheap.
The organizer is a kindly older woman who talks about how she hasn't had a blueberry muffin this good since her thirties. There's something about her that makes him feel a little sad. She pats Luo Binghe's arm, calls him a good kid, and invites him to come back to the bi-monthly market.
He's agreeing before he even thinks about the offer.
Luo Binghe wonders about agreeing to the gig the whole drive home. He has the time to participate, but doing it regularly might be a bit much.
Then he remembers the smiles on the faces of the smaller children who ate his cookies, of the couple who shared a slice of cake deliberately getting icing on each other just to laugh at the other, and again of the older woman who's chuckle reminds him of his mother's.
He finds that he is looking forward to the next market.
Sunday afternoon Shen Yuan and Liu Qingge finally return. They both look the same as ever but carry with them the faint scent of pine needles and dirt.
Liu Qingge is given access to the guest bath to bathe his dog, who appears more tan than white at this point-- something that she does not look happy about. Shen Yuan takes his own shower and once dressed, immediately pulls Binghe into a conversation regaling his tales of their camping trip.
It sounds smooth, there aren’t too many bumps in the road-- excluding the actual dirt road that they drove on to get there. Being experienced, the two of them knew to secure all the camping gear down good and the camera gear as well.
Shen Yuan breaks out his camera and shows Luo Binghe a few photos he took during the trip.
“Here is Cheng Luan looking like a majestic fluffy cloud in a field of flowers.”
“Oh, here’s another one of her sniffing through the roots of some trees. Ah, wait, this next one is my favorite of her--”
Most of the photos are of the dog.
Luo Binghe has never had a pet before.
Seeing Shen Yuan gush over this dog that’s not even his only solidifies that he doesn’t want one.
Imagine how Senior Shen would react if they had a dog. He wouldn’t even exist!
...Wait, the two of them owning a dog?
Luo Binghe is suddenly fighting down a blush that sets fire to his ears.
What is he even thinking about!? The two of them having a dog like they are together, good god they just live in the same house-- see, it’s only because they live together that he had this thought. That’s it.
Shen Yuan continues cycling through a few more photos, completely oblivious to Binghe’s inner turmoil.
Fortunately, he’s got it back under control before Shen Yuan notices.
Unfortunately, it’s not fast enough to hear the question he is being asked.
Luo Binghe smiles with a tilt of his head, “Begging forgiveness, but I didn’t quite catch that.”
Shen Yuan huffs, what Luo Binghe has come to recognize as a laugh, and repeats himself. “This one had asked if Binghe has even been camping before. Ah, welcome back Liu-ge.”
Luo Binghe nods in Liu Qingge’s direction as he enters the living room. He notes that with his hair down, Liu Qingge looks much softer. Cheng Luan is at his heels, looking a little worn but now a crisp white color again. She doesn’t approach anyone choosing to settle down near the coffee table and rest her head on her paws.
Luo Binghe hears the camera shutter snap another photo.
Liu Qingge rolls his eyes and Luo Binghe’s respect for the man increases a bit more. At least the owner isn’t at the whims of the animal.
“To answer Senior Shen’s question, this one has never been camping before.”
The peace is shattered, Liu Qingge looks downright offended, “Never?”
Luo Binghe just shrugs, “Never.”
Liu Qingge stares at him for a moment then says, “Get a tent.”
Shen Yuan blinks, “really?”
There’s some unspoken conversation in the look that two of them share. A tinge of annoyance makes itself known, then Liu Qingge speaks again.
“You’ll come with us on our next trip.”
The feeling is immediately replaced by hesitation creeping in.
“I would rather not be a guest on a video.” Other YouTubers and bloggers have tried to trick him into being featured on their channels before. It ends with them putting words in his mouth; endorsing stuff on accident or making them seem like friends. He doesn't know what Liu Qingge’s following is, but he’d rather not have his channel be associated with it.
Yet Shen Yuan is shaking his head, “No, the next trip is just for fun. Not a survival video, Liu Qingge is bringing his boyfriend with us on that one-- he prefers more comfort in camping like myself.”
Liu Qingge nods while Luo Binghe processes the information just given to him.
“You mean you two aren’t dating?” Is what he blurts, because his brain still hates him.
Shen Yuan actually laughs at that and Liu Qingge just shrugs. “That was long ago.”
Shen Yuan clears his throat, chasing off more laughter. “Yes, back in college we did. Now we are just friends and Liu Qingge is happily in a long term relationship.” He directs a smile at Luo Binghe. “You should come, it would help me not feel like a third wheel.”
Liu Qingge frowns, “Sorry. I will talk with Qingfang.”
Shen Yuan quickly speaks to reassure his friend’s worries as Luo Binghe thinks for a minute. He’s still talking, ‘It’s fine really Liu-ge, I sincerely mean it’ when Luo Binghe speaks up again.
“I think,” Binghe licks his lips. “I think I would enjoy a new activity.” He clearly has a lot of pent up energy if all the weird stress baking is anything to go by. Maybe camping will be something new to help relieve that.
Liu Qingge doesn’t smile, but he looks pleased as he nods.
An hour later, he leaves with his dog-- ‘She’s actually Mu-ge’s, but she likes Liu-ge more’ Shen Yuan explained-- and Shen Yuan wanders in the kitchen for something to eat.
Liu Binghe stays in the living room on his phone. Hearing Shen Yuan move around in the next room over, fills the space in a way that he hadn’t noticed was lacking before. Everything feels back to normal.
When the sounds of movement stop coming from the kitchen, he makes his way over to see what Shen Yuan found to eat. There were still some muffins he didn’t take to the market, and he wants to get some feedback on those-- even if Binghe is sure they’re impeccable.
Then comes to halt in the doorway.
What the fu--
“Don’t you dare eat that abomination in front of me.”
Shen Yuan freezes. The instant ramen noodles hang from his chopsticks, midway to his mouth.
“That instant crap is a sin against humanity--”
Shen Yuan rolls his eyes and shoves a mouthful of noodles into his mouth.
What happens next is not Luo Binghe’s proudest moment; but to be fair, Shen Yuan is older than him and acting more like a child-- holding onto the cup of noodles as Binghe chases him around the house and kitchen, yelling about the health hazards of instant noodles.
Later, they look back on it and laugh. Shen Yuan thinking that he has won since he had scarfed down the mockery of cuisine in the chaos of it all.
Oh, Senior Shen. I may have lost this battle, but I will win the war.
Which brings the two of them to that start of filming the next video.
Luo Binghe smiles at the camera. “Hello, my dear subscribers. As you know, I sometimes make videos after being inspired by my surroundings.”
Shen Yuan stifles a yawn behind the camera.
“This video is a callout to my housemate who won't stop eating instant noodles--”
“-- So, here are several quick ways on how to adapt your instant noodles into an actual meal where the sodium won't kill you.”
Shen Yuan squints at him from behind the camera, “Go on...”
“I’m getting to that. So first things first, throw away that packet of death that comes with the noodles.”
[View Comments on Transforming Instant Ramen to Real Ramen ]
Wife#307: HE’S BACK, HE’S BACK!! MYSTERIOUS VOICE IS BACK AND AND HE’S LIVING WITH LUO BINGHE
ReadMDZS: My broke ass thanks you for this video
ShawtygetLuo: It’s been 84 years... but Mr. Luo finally answers my question
Sha_Hua_Hualing: Ohohoho, a housemate huh?? *eyes emoji* *eyes emoji* *eyes emoji*
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AirplaneShootingTowardsTheSky: Listen, some of these brands aren’t too bad!
Chapter 4: 3 - The Appetizer Audio
The camping trip is a very pleasant two-night adventure.
Luo Binghe ends up borrowing Liu Qingge’s camping gear for this trip, including a chair, cot, and a small tent. The only thing he has to purchase is a sleeping bag of his own and some hiking shoes. Shen Yuan has his own items from accompanying Liu Qingge, while My Qingfang and Liu Qingge share a slightly bigger two-person tent.
He learns that Mu Qingfang is a person of calm yet threatening nature that Luo Binghe vows to never mess with.
The doctor eats his fair share of junk food during the trip, prompting Shen Yuan to tell the group about Luo Binghe calling him out on his bad eating habits. Mu Qingfang then starts telling Luo Binghe ‘everything in moderation’ and then starts sharing stories about several cases of malnutrition from patients who thought they were doing good but actually starving their bodies. Through talking, he finds out that Mu-shixiong does a monthly podcast where he talks about all the wacky things people used to do-- and still do, to stay healthy.
Luo Binghe also learns a tip or two about grilling over an open fire from Liu Qingge. He doesn’t cook during the trip, and it’s like a nice break from it that he didn’t know he needed. They have a hot pot one night, oatmeal with tea in the morning, snack on chips and fruit during the day, followed by kabobs for lunch, grilled fish for dinner-- all accompanied by a moderate amount of alcohol and water.
Binghe laughs a lot during the trip.
It’s not until after it’s over that Shen Yuan comments, setting off a chain of events.
“It’s nice that we can all be friends.”
It’s said offhandedly, as Shen Yuan is walking to his office to check his email- ‘work stays in the office-’ and it makes Luo Binghe freeze.
The word haunts him for the day and follows him to bed, keeping him awake and staring at the ceiling of his room.
Mu Qingfang had commented that he’s seen his cooking videos, saying he recognized Shen Yuan’s touch but that was it. Liu Qingge had just said he only posts to youtube, doesn’t watch other channels.
Binghe had looked up Liu Qingge, his channel was simply titled ‘Survive the Wild’, his handle is a bland LGQ_1 and yet the channel had a following in the millions. Not as much as Binghe’s ‘Not Your Mother’s’ cooking channel, but still. It’s impressive.
Neither of them had asked for anything from him or brought up anything about his fame. During the trip, it was all talk about small, inconsequential things. Remembering that made him feel fond.
Maybe... maybe they were all friends.
Other people who had tried to call Binghe a friend come to mind. Blank faces trying to leech off of him, girls wanting fame and popularity. None of them had made him ever feel as comfortable as he did around Senior Shen and his friends.
Friends are people who are your ally, get to know you, and who you trust. He could...he does trust them. There hasn’t been anyone else in the past Binghe could rely on or call friends--
Luo Binghe stays awake late into the night.
A week passes before he comes to a decision and sends a text message, reaching out to two forgotten faces.
Then later in the afternoon, Luo Binghe knocks on the entryway into Shen Yuan’s office to get his attention.
Shen Yuan smiles at him, “Binghe.”
Luo Binghe smiles back, “A-Yuan.” The term of endearment is new for him... but the name feels right to say. The two of them had a meaningful conversation a day earlier, one where Luo Binghe confirmed that they were friends and boldly asked if he could call Shen Yuan something other than ‘Senior Shen’.
Shen Yuan had readily agreed, saying that being called ‘Senior Shen’ made him feel like an old man. Luo Binghe had responded by saying that his back certainly cracked like one, swiftly getting a friendly smack on the arm.
He takes off his computer glasses, “What’s up?”
“Well, this one was wondering if it would inconvenience A-Yuan if I, um, invited two friends over to visit.”
Shen Yuan laughs, “Not at all. Did you have a date for when they would arrive?”
Luo Binghe glances back at his phone, “Not until the last week of the month. Either Friday or Thursday. They can’t get time off work until then.”
“Has Binghe known these friends long?”
A small part of him, a force of habit perhaps, wants to say no, but...
“Yes, since childhood.”
“Oh, childhood friends!” Shen Yuan grins, “That’s a special bond Binghe.”
There’s laughter at his confusion. “Yes, people who have known each other for that long have seen the best and worst of each other. But that just means that despite everything, you all have grown together.”
Luo Binghe walks away from the office a few minutes later. He doesn’t feel like he’s grown very much. If anything, it’s a bit of a shock to look back on his interactions with Ming Fan and Ning Yingying.
He was the only one so hung up on events in the past, that the two of them had matured right past him. They forgave his callous nature and misgivings because they trusted him and called him a friend.
Luo Binghe used that.
Leaving the office, two very excited messages wait for his confirmation.
He will try to do right by them, this time.
Their group chat isn’t one that Luo Binghe usually responds to, but the following weeks see him increasingly texting when he can. Both Ning Yingying and Ming Fan don’t text during work hours, but he can tell when they are on a break because the chat is flowing with messages.
The evening is a word vomit nightmare, but Binghe catches himself chuckling at their shenanigans.
He gets a selfie of the two of them in Ming Fan’s kitchen one evening, bowls of steaming ramen on proud display as Ming Fan purses his lips with a sideways peace sign behind one of them. Ning Yingying is grinning in the bottom corner, flashing her own peace sign, clearly holding the phone.
Ning Yingying 8:42 PM: We were inspired by A-Luo’s ramen video!!
Ming Fan 8:42 PM: It tastes pretty good
Ming Fan 8:43 PM: Nice tips
Luo Binghe stares at the photo for a long time before saving it to his phone.
Me 8:50 PM: I’m really glad
Before he knows it, the dinner party is that week.
Not wanted to make anything too heavy, Luo Binghe decided to do an appetizer meal. It would allow for everyone to eat and drink without being overburdened by heavy food that could upset anyone’s stomach.
Shen Yuan is the one to suggest that they film him cooking for this week’s video. Luo Binghe quickly agrees to it and starts drafting his recipes.
It’s a funny feeling, getting excited to cook.
The day of the dinner, Luo Binghe is full of energy. Shen Yuan gives him the count down and they start filming.
“Hello again,” he gives the camera a smolder for good measure. “Today I will be giving a rundown on seven simple side dishes that can be paired with any meal or prepared as appetizers. Our meat dishes today will include rose-shaped dumplings, honey-lime sriracha chicken poppers, glazed chicken skewers, and some sweet and sour pork lettuce cups.”
Binghe waves a hand to his left, “For my viewers with meat aversion, please feel free to skip ahead using the pop up in the top left corner. For you all, I have a wonderful take-out style veggie egg roll recipe, vegetarian potstickers, and some delightful fried rice noodle pancakes that are paired with a savory chili sauce.”
He makes a show of tying up his hair, deliberately exposing his neck by tilting his head to the side before effortlessly throwing it in a graceful arc over his shoulder.
“We’ll start with the rose-shaped dumplings--”
From there, the process of cooking takes Luo Binghe’s undivided attention.
In a large bowl, he combines the pre-prepared chopped shrimp and ground pork. After that follows some sake, a pinch of salt, soy sauce, a little bit of ginger, garlic, sugar, and chopped chives.
“You’ll want to mix thoroughly until it’s all combined.” Luo Binghe sets aside the bowl to get started on the next portion. “Now, using your finger, rub the right edge of a dumpling wrapper with water. Lay another dumpling wrapper over the edge so that it slightly overlaps, sealing tightly. Repeat this with 2 more wrappers.”
Luo Binghe keeps moving to go through the process as he describes the action. “Once that is done, scoop a spoonful of filling onto the middle of each dumpling wrapper. Wet the edges of the wrappers and fold each wrapper over from top to bottom, ensuring that the edges are still overlapped, sealing tightly. Gently roll the dumplings from one end to the other, starting from the left side, creating a flower shape.”
He holds up the raw, flower-shaped dumpling for a moment before continuing with the rest of the recipe. The cooking of the dumplings goes smoothly as does preparing the sauce that pairs with it
The rest of the recipes take some time to make his way through, so he and A-Yuan pause the camera for a break now and then. They don’t follow the cooking in the exact order Binghe described earlier because, you know, video editing is a thing.
By the time Luo Binghe is finishing up with the final recipe, glazed chicken skewers, the kitchen is filled with delicious aromas of the various foods. The scents blend like at a buffet, the savory morsels on display in white ceramic dishes to bring attention to their individual colors.
A-Yuan snags one of the skewers off the plate before Luo Binghe can finish arranging them. He rolls his eyes at the antics. Shen Yuan winks at him, and his face feels just a little warmer.
It’s caught on film, but whatever. The little bits and pieces that he had previously edited out of his videos-- what he considered to be imperfections, seem to be a hit with the viewers. Shen Yuan had mentioned that it adds to his video persona, making him seem more charming. If he accidentally began making little mistakes around the house for Shen Yuan to tut at causing him to go help Binghe out-- then that’s completely a coincidence.
It does remind him that he still needs to play his part, so Binghe grabs the plate that the chicken is resting on, tilting it at a slight angle to display to the camera. Off-camera, Shen Yuan takes a bite.
Luo Binghe smirks, “it’s hard to resist, no?”
An obscene moan comes from behind the camera.
Binghe’s smirk freezes in place.
Shen Yuan’s eyes are closed in delight. He takes another bite.
“Yes, Mmmm-mmh. Nnmm...”
Luo Binghe’s face is burning- the sound goes right to his dick, eyes going wide. He fumbles with the platter.
It falls to the floor.
[View Comments on Seven Simple Side Dishes ]
ShawtygetLuo: Mr. Luo got flustered and then I got flustered asdhffjk
Binghesleftdimple: UGH THAT BLUSH!! WE. STAN. AN. ICON!!!!
ReadMDZS: I came for the food, but stayed for that delicious moan~
ReadTFGC: @ReadMDZS ajlgshdfkjdsf
ReadMDZS: @ReadTGCF OH SAME HAT LOL
ReadTGCF: @ReadMDZS OMG *waves* SAME HAT
[Read 84 other comments in thread]
AirplaneShootingTowardsTheSky: that was such a waste of good food
Chapter 5: 4 - The Blood Rushing Popsicle
Luo Binghe is nothing if not professional, so he pushed that delectable, utterly sinful-- ahem, moan to the back of his mind. Yes, he only served six dishes for the dinner party but it’s okay because Ning Yingying, bless her soul, had the foresight and polite idea to bring a dish of her own. She also strong-armed Ming Fan into buying wine for everyone to drink.
It is, surprisingly, nice to see them again.
It had only been a few months, yet they both looked a little older. The evening goes smooth, A-Yuan winning both of them over in much of the same way he did Binghe-- with hidden smiles and kind wisdom.
Granted upon meeting him Ning Yingying had loudly said, “Wow, A-Luo said you were easy on the eyes and he wasn’t joking!” It’s the only time he’s ever seen A-Yuan lose face, but honestly, Binghe was too busy trying not to die of embarrassment to take notice.
During dinner, his friends barrage him with questions about how he’s adjusted to living out of the city, his new hobbies, and whatnot. Their questions are much of the same when he returned from France. Yet, this time they somehow aren’t as annoying.
When A-Yuan retires for the evening, the conversation finally dies down as the three of them talk in the guest room where Ning Yingying is sleeping for the night.
“You know,” Ming Fan starts. “You seem happier man.”
Luo Binghe blinks, “I do?”
Ning Yingying nods vigorously, “A-Luo does!! You... A-Luo wasn’t the same when he came back from France.”
The mood drops and it’s quiet for a moment.
Luo Binghe can’t bring himself to look at either of them, but... it still needs to be said.
“This one is sorry for his shameful past behavior. I have no excuses... But I’ve seen now I haven’t been a very good friend to either of you these past years.”
Ning Yingying looks like she wants to protest a bit, but Ming Fan beats her to it by nodding at his words.
“Yeah, you were a bit of a dick.”
Ming Fan just shrugs. “He was.” Luo Binghe appreciates his honesty though. Ming Fan continues. “We could tell you were going through some stuff anyway. With the sudden fame and career change, not to mention all the money you whipped up outta nowhere-- you can’t tell me nothing shady happened while you were in France, man.”
Binghe doesn’t want to talk about it but...
“I met my blood father.”
Ning Yingying sits up straighter as Ming Fan somehow fumbles out of his chair in shock.
“No shit?” Ming Fan asks from the floor.
“He tried to buy his way into my good graces but I just took his money and left.”
Ning Yingying’s eyes are wide, “A-Luo...”
In the blink of an eye, she’s grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him.
“Why didn’t you tell your jieije!?”
She looks very upset.
Bewildered doesn’t even cover how startled Luo Binghe is feeling right now.
Ning Yingying doesn’t let him get a word in, “We are your friends A-Luo-- we would have flown to France to help you beat him up!” She’s still shaking him.
They probably couldn’t, but the sentiment from Ming Fan nodding from the floor is appreciated.
“What a fucking deadbeat.”
That’s also appreciated.
Ning Yingying launches into what he is just now realizing a rant that shows her motherly, protective nature. She is still occasionally shaking him as she yells about what a dick his father must be to leave such a wonderful son alone and how Binghe doesn’t need him or his money.
Ming Fan peels himself off the floor. He sits next to Binghe on his spot on the floor and bumps shoulders with him.
Luo Binghe makes another connection.
While Ming Fan has never had a way with words, it’s his actions that speak louder. Him, making up for taking Luo Binghe’s lunches as a child by purchasing him meals as they got older. Offering his place to Binghe when he lost the privacy of his-- he does care about him, in his own way.
Ning Yingying finally stops yelling. She takes an aggravated sigh and pushes him back so he’s staring up at her face, grip firm. There are unshed tears in her eyes.
“You can rely on us for more than items A-Luo.”
Luo Binghe’s vision blurs and he knows that now, he really does--
Something wet falls from his eyes.
Shen Yuan peaks into the room a few minutes later to three crying adults on the floor having a moment.
He comes back with a package of Oreos.
Ning Yingying and Ming Fan only stay for the weekend, but it’s a nice visit for everyone.
The two of them are bracing themselves for the summer workload that’s sure to come by to smack them in the face when they get back to work on Monday.
Which means that neither of them really want to talk about work in general.
This also means that Ning Yingying is being very observant.
So, really, Luo Binghe should see it coming when he’s showing the two of them around town and she just asks out of nowhere--
“So what is A-Luo gonna do about his crush on Senior Shen?”
Luo Binghe trips on air.
“About my what--”
“It that what you’re doing?” Ming Fan interrupts. “I thought you were just imitating a puppy whenever he’s around.”
“I am not!”
Although, acting like a dog may get him a bit of Shen Yuan’s attention like Cheng Luan-- wait, no. That’s not the problem here!
Ning Yingying puts her hand on his arm.
“Oh, A-Luo,” and Luo Binghe takes back everything nice he’s ever said about being friends with these two ever-- nope, not doing this.
He stubbornly refuses to bring it up or allow that conversation to continue.
But the words sink into his brain and refuse to let go.
A crush, romantic affections are a whole different ballpark that Luo Binghe doesn’t feel ready to deal with. He’s barely getting used to platonic affections! Let’s not add a whole other of them set of them to the equation!!
But Ning Yingying’s words do haunt him after they leave.
In the safety of his own room, when on the rare instance that Shen Yuan is out of the house and not able to see his thoughts. Luo Binghe allows himself to think of Shen Yuan.
Of having his attention on him all the time.
Of the way his words have inspired him to change his perspective for the better.
Of Shen Yuan’s quiet kindness... his huffs of laughter, how his eye’s crinkle when he thinks something is funny, those rare smiles he hides behind his hand that’s like blindingly bright sunlight peeking out from behind the clouds...
Summer seems to be hellish in the countryside. Binghe thought that summer in France was bad? No, this is somehow worse. One would think that the temperatures would be better near the mountains, yet that does not seem to be that case.
God bless air conditioning.
Then the A.C. breaks and Binghe is treated to the sight of Shen Yuan in a tank top revealing just so much skin and the vague muscle tone of his arms, fanning himself, laid out in a lounge chair looking like a mistress of seduction. This, coupled with the newfound realization that he has romantic feelings for his friend, is not helping Binghe in the slightest.
“It’s fucking hot,” Shen Yuan grumbles.
A bead of sweat trails down his neck and rests in the dip of his collar bones.
He wants to be that sweat.
The thought occurs that this line of thinking probably isn’t healthy, but then Shen Yuan groans in sweaty agony-- and it reminds Luo Binghe of that absolutely delicious moan from the appetizer video.
He has to excuse himself to take a cold shower.
It’s to lower his body temperature, from the heat of course.
As the days pass, he’s been escaping to the shower so often, it was only a matter of time before Shen Yuan noticed and asks if he has an aversion to being sweaty.
The guilt over his inappropriate thoughts stabs at his heart and Binghe can't bring himself to look his friend in the eye.
Shen Yuan’s soft voice is filled with remorse. “I’m sorry Binghe, this one will look harder for a repair service to be here faster.” A dainty hand comes to rest on his forearm-- the touch sears him.
Luo Binghe feels his heart clench again.
“Many apologies A-Yuan.”
If only he could stop having these inappropriate thoughts.
Why couldn’t he just wax poetry like a normal lovesick-- no wait, he’s not lovesick, no no nonono--
The summer continues to pass in this painful fashion of lust, denial, affection, and regret.
It’s both heaven and hell on earth for Binghe.
One morning, when it’s not a completely unbearable temperature, Shen Yuan accompanies Luo Binghe to the farmers market.
When he found out that Lou Binghe was participating in the market, he gave him an eye-catching banner with a printed photo of his pasties on it, the words ‘Baker’s Best’ artfully printed right in the middle.
Shen Yuan had sheepishly admitted that he should have asked what Binghe’s brand name was before getting it made.
Luo Binghe just burst into tears at his kind gesture.
Now that Binghe has cemented himself as a regular, people start lining up for his baked goodies early in the morning.
The kindly older woman is always there to greet him first. Luo Binghe always gives her a complimentary blueberry muffin.
This morning she chuckles as he hands it to her, “I’m going to grow my own muffin top if you keep this up, young man.” She still takes the muffin, but she’s distracted by Shen Yuan making his way out of what she knows is Binghe’s truck.
“Now who’s the lovely one with you today?”
“Ah, Auntie, that is A-Yuan. He and I live together.”
“Oh my,” She looks delighted. “Why a handsome man like yourself with a slender beauty, it’s like something from a novel.”
Luo Binghe goes red instantly, “A-auntie it’s not like that.”
“Oh? Why not?”
Her question throws him off guard.
She pats his arm. “Young man, you should put a ring on it before someone else does.”
Luo Binghe is still sputtering when Shen Yuan finally makes his way over. The organizer greets him and the two introduce themselves, making cheerful small talk before she leaves to go check-in on the other merchants.
Everything goes back to normal shortly after that. People like to flirt with Binghe at his table and he usually, politely, responds to their questions before moving onto the next customer’s purchase. Except... A few people start to flirt with Shen Yuan too.
And Binghe does not like that.
It sets him on edge a bit, as the question of ‘Why not’ rattles around in his brain.
Luo Binghe then comes to a decision.
He’s going to woo A-Yuan.
Thank you, Auntie! This one will put a ring on it!!
Luo Binghe, really, only knows how to do two things.
Make food and be seductive.
French, after all, is called the language of romance-- so he’ll be damned if he can’t woo Shen Yuan using every ounce of his godforsaken schooling (and general knowledge) from France.
Binghe tries to speak French to him, the occasional ‘Oui’ and other terms of endearment. But then Shen Yuan responds once with ‘omelette du fromage’ which makes the visiting Shang Qinghua just collapse in laughter.
So much for the language of romance.
To add insult to injury, for some reason, when Binghe tries to be flirtatious in general it only results in Shen Yuan changing the subject and not making eye contact.
It would be very discouraging, but A-Yuan still insists on the two of them watching the latest episodes of his favorite donghua together so he’s not completely avoiding him. In fact, he even allowed Binghe to rest his head on his lap! And started playing with his hair!
The whole thing was very domestic and made Binghe’s heart flutter like some hallmark-movie maiden.
But that’s not the issue, the issue is that he’s not succeeding at making A-Yuan fall for him.
So it’s time to pull out all the stops.
There are few socially acceptable phallic foods out there-- and after stumbling onto a video of an American biting into a banana, peel and all, Binghe decides to focus on popsicles. But, he’s not pulling his punches and also purchases a suitable apron that he can use later on, several wooden popsicle sticks, and a few plastic molds that are thinner at the tip and wider at the base.
From there, it’s time to let everything fall into place.
He’s feeling especially confident about the whole thing when he walks into the kitchen and has the pleasure of seeing A-Yuan’s eyes widen, marginally but the effect is still there. Binghe is, after all, shirtless under the apron and wearing tiny, denim shorts that really shouldn’t be called ‘shorts’.
“Is A-Yuan ready?” His voice is a little more husky than usual-- and a slight blush graces Shen Yuan’s cheeks as he looks away. Binghe particularly preens at the shy nod he gets.
The video starts with him tying his hair up.
“Summer is here everyone. I don’t know about you, but I’m absolutely dying in this country heat.” He pinches the front of the apron and in a poor attempt of releasing the heat under it pulls it forward a bit. If there’s a nip slip then that’s even better. His fans will appreciate it, and if Shen Yuan’s deepening blush is any indication then he does too.
“Today I will be teaching you eight different popsicle recipes to help everyone beat the heat.”
Binghe smirks, “We’ll start with pineapple flavored ones.”
The rest of the video continues with several unnecessary licks of the popsicle sticks, many innuendos, and Shen Yuan’s white-knuckled grip on the tripod handle.
Then things take a turn when Luo Binghe pulls out his prepared frozen popsicles.
Shen Yuan snags one, much like the time when he stole a skewer and Binghe is instantly excited to see where this is going.
Maybe A-Yuan realized what this one was doing, and will respond in kind!
Shen Yuan responds alright.
He’s picked up a watermelon salted popsicle that quickly stains those plush pale lips a vibrant red. Binghe has to will himself to stare at the camera lens. Then Shen Yuan sucks and Binghe stumbles over his words.
Then Shen Yuan slowly pulls the popsicle back out and Binghe’s words don’t quiet sounds like sentences to his ears. Luo Binghe’s brain finally shuts down as his eyes zero in specifically on the tip of the tongue licking the side a popsicle chasing a stray droplet of juice.
Then Shen Yuan bites down hard on the tip, snapping it off.
The sound that comes out of Binghe is alarming.
[View comments on Beat the Heat! Refreshing Popsicle Recipes]
ShawtygetLuo: MR LUO?? MR LUO?? OH MY GOD HIS FUCKING DEAD
Wife#307: I can't believe the mysterious roomie killed Luo Binghe.
Sha_Hua_Hualing: @Actually_LBH UH... YOU OKAY THERE MY GUY?
Ice_Daddy: @Sha_Hua_Hualing @Actually_LBH I am also concerned.
ReadMDZS: Ohoho? I wonder what was happening off-camera *winking emoji*
AirplaneShootingTowardsTheSky: @PeerlessCucumber Bro what the FUCK
Chapter 6: 5- The Congee Hand and Pan
After the last few videos of cooking going a little haywire-- Luo Binghe decides to take a different approach to his YouTube channel.
The viewers are more concerned about him than his cooking. (So he’s an M, who knew? Well the crunch of the popsicle was some crisp audio so— everyone does now.) And now that he realizes that he no longer wants to embrace that... because really that’s private.
Shen Yuan has apologized profusely but said it was only fair since Binghe kept doing these things that made him flustered. His flirting was not subtle and anyone with eyes would know that this is what he was trying to do. Really Binghe feels bad about it and he knows he’s fairly attractive by nature- but even he can read in between the lines.
When A-Yuans is saying ‘flustered’, he means ‘uncomfortable.’
It’s a subtle but firm rejection to all the hard advances Binghe has made that kinda breaks his heart, like wow, who knew that emotions were such a painful thing sometimes.
In all honesty, a small part of him is just crying on the inside. Because of course this magnificent person doesn’t want him-- or even need him really. Who would right? Binghe braces himself for A-Yuan to start pulling away and creating some distance.
It never comes.
The older man still smiles at Binghe, treats him like an equal, and asks when he’s free to watch an OVA of a donghua.
Binghe keeps making videos, Shen Yuan keeps editing them, and their friendship remains the same even as the summer heat fades into muted fall tones. His heart still aches, but if he’s able to keep Shen Yuan in his life this way, as a friend, then so be it.
Regardless, after so many mishaps Binghe wants to take a different approach to share his cooking videos. Like many things, it’s A-Yuan who suggests the solution to his problems.
“Has Binghe ever considered doing a ‘hand and pan’ video?”
It’s late at night, cold enough for them to use the gas-powered fireplace that cracks on the other side of the room. Shen Yuan has put his feet under the blanket that Binghe has draped over his lap-- his foot occasionally brushing against Binghe’s knee-- and this is fine, it’s platonic, he can be a good friend--
“Apologies, but this one is unsure of what you mean...” Binghe places the lovely bookmark Shen Yuan gifted him in the novel he was reading as the other man merely places a coaster he swiped off the coffee table into his book. It means that Shen Yuan will go back to his book once he’s done speaking so Luo Binghe hangs into every word.
Not that he doesn’t already, but still.
“Well, this one knows that it’s a type of video where the sole purpose is to focus only on the food. A ‘boiled down recipe--”, “Ha--”, “Thank you, where the footage is slightly sped up and its’ roughly a minute of just speed cooking with text explaining the number of ingredients and cooking time lengths.” Shen Yuan pauses, “really the focus wouldn’t be on you at all. Just the food.”
It’s a very appealing thought, even if he does have to take the time to rebrand his online presence again.
“It would be like starting from scratch...” Binghe trails off, deeply considering the pros and cons of the idea. And yet--“What would I even make?”
The question is murmured, he’s talking to himself again-- really, an awful old habit.
Yet Shen Yuan looks thoughtful, considering all options before he speaks again. “What if you take a twist on an old favorite of yours?”
Shen Yuan is clever. Luo Binghe knows this, he realizes that Shen Yuan is guiding him to his answers. And that’s part of the reason why he respects his senior so much. He does not tell Binghe what to do-- he helps him realize what he wants to do.
So he plays along. He stops and it takes a minute because of all the artful cuisines that come to mind like caviar, shirako, truffles, shark fin soup--
But then Shen Yuan asks him: “Well, what food makes Binghe happy?”
Just like that, the delicacies vanish.
This question instead takes Binghe back to the shelter he lived in. Back to when he was very small and his adoptive mother cared for him. One of those rare instances when she was permitted to use the kitchen and showed him how to hold a knife correctly. He had chopped up some green onion for the very first dished he ever learned. The savory warmth of fluffy rice filling his belly, his mother giving him more of her portion-- saying she wasn’t too hungry.
‘Besides, my cute Binghe is so happy when he eats.’
“...My mother’s congee.”
“Hmm, I think I would like to try that.”
Luo Binghe thinks that he would too.
They’re setting up for the video the following evening when Shen Yuan chuckles out of nowhere.
Luo Binghe thought it might be because of the Go-Pro camera strapped to his head, but Shen Yuan had already had his laugh about that. A photo was taken and sent to Mu Qingfang and Liu Qingge, who wears when going hunting on his filming camping trips. Liu Qingge had said, ‘ha’ which was his equivalent to literally laughing out loud. Then Mu Qingfang had responded with a photo of his boyfriend and the go pro head strap ridiculously tangled in his long bangs. Shen Yuan had laughed long and hard about that one.
“Not that I don’t enjoy A-Yuan’s laughter--” It’s like a song that he never gets tired of hearing-- “--but this one is curious as to what the cause is this time.”
He chuckles again, “It’s just... this is kinda ironic for someone who’s cooking channel is called ‘Not Your Mother’s’ cooking, isn’t it?”
Luo Binghe looks off at nothing, “That actually why I named it that.”
Shen Yuan blinks, “What does Binghe mean?”
“Well, to me, nothing has ever compared to my mother’s cooking. Not even my own. Hers was always the best I’ve ever tasted.”
Shen Yuan gives him a warm smile, “I’m sure she was so happy to hear you say that.”
Luo Binghe stares down at the rice grains, nestled into the dry measuring cup in front of him.
“Binghe?” Shen Yuan’s tone is worried.
He doesn’t think...
Luo binghe’s heart stops, “I never told her.”
The silence is deafening.
“I never told her.”
Luo Binghe looks up, throat tightening. “I n-never had the chance--”
A pair of warm arms wrapping around him is the last thing Binghe registers as the dam breaks.
He apologizes to someone who is no longer there to hear it.
Time passes, it always does-- ever-flowing, never halting just like his tears. He clings to the warmth in front of him, Shen Yuan’s warmth, his head buried into his shoulder as he empties himself.
The video doesn’t get recorded that night.
What does happen is this: Shen Yuan leads Luo Binghe to the living room. He holds onto Binghe throughout it all, even when he cries himself to sleep, even when he himself falls asleep.
Come morning when they wake up, there will be more apologies. Ones for possibly insensitive things said, ones for emotionally breaking down, ones for invading personal space, and others-- each one of them accepted and forgiven just as they’re spoken.
For now, as the evening comes to a close, it’s just the two people holding onto one another.
3 Million Subscribers
As many of you have already noticed, there are a few things different from the formatting of this video. For one, the tribute at the very beginning for my late mother. She is a key part of my love for cooking, the one who taught me what happiness food can bring to others. I would like to shift the focus back off myself to what these videos are really all about: food made with love. I’ll still do my usual videos, but expect more of these ‘Hand and Pan’ ones as well.
Thank you all for your support.
Chapter 7: +1 - The Cookie Question
The Congee video was received better than Luo Binghe had anticipated.
Despite bracing for the backlash of stepping away from the limelight-- and there was some, you can never please everyone-- the general consensus was accepting of his decision. Shen Yuan had actually logged back into his account and made several drafts of rage-filled replies to comments before Luo Binghe had distracted him from the computer. Then he covertly changed Shen Yuan’s password and logged out of the account as well.
It worked long enough for his friend to cool his temper and listen to Luo Binghe’s advice of ‘not giving a bully the satisfaction of knowing they touched a nerve.’ Which, don’t get him wrong, he’s incredibly touched that A-Yuan would fight people on his behalf. It’s very considerate but completely unnecessary at this moment.
Maybe another time.
The next day or so there, things were rather awkward between himself and Shen Yuan anyway. They did wake up cuddling on the couch after all. But, it didn’t take very long for the two of them to talk things out and just let everything be. Binghe is grateful for his friend just taking the whole ‘emotional break down’ in stride.
For his part, Shen Yuan mostly felt extreme guilt over his comments about Luo binghe’s mother-- incredibly worried that they sounded insensitive. Binghe hadn’t minded in the slightest, after all, he hadn’t shared the information that his mother has passed some time ago either.
From there everything goes back to normal.
Shen Yuan and Liu Qingge take off on his winter survival trip. Luo Binghe is then cordially invited to visit Mu Qingfang for brunch and tea. During which he meets the doctor’s good friend and international renown heavyweight champion boxer Qi Qingqi. She promptly challenges Luo Binghe to an arm-wrestling competition and only loses when a sudden phone call cancels their thirty-minute stalemate.
The three of them have 4 too many mimosas that morning and some rather unflattering photos end up posted to Qi Qingqi’s Instagram. She refuses to take them down. Despite what he said, Luo Binghe finds he likes them.
A-Yuan, unfortunately, catches a cold just days after coming back from the trip. Luo Binghe makes sure to cook plenty of nutrient-rich meals for his sensitive stomach to handle.
Once he gets over that, he’s suddenly contacted by an old client to do a lot of rush work. For a lot of money. So Shen Yuan once again reverts to his old habits of working himself to the bone, several very late nights, and all but living in his little office den.
Luo Binghe stops by with his meals, fills back up his water bottle, and brings the occasional snack to make sure that A-Yuan isn’t forgetting to take care of himself as he goes hard at coding. Every time Binghe enters the room, Shen Yuan looks up at him— computer glasses halfway down his nose, grateful yet tired eyes looking at him above the frame.
Towards the end of the project, Shen Yuan jokes “what would this one do without his emotional support Binghe?” To which Binghe does a bit of a reversal and pats A-Yuan’s head. His hair is fluffy but soft as silk.
There’s a startled look for all of 2 seconds before Shen Yuan begins to giggle.
“Okay, now I see why Binghe tolerates this,” his eyes slip closed.
“It’s comforting, no?”
A-Yuan leans into his hand, “It is, it is.”
The gesture sort of devolves from its intended purpose to just Binghe running his hands throwing A-Yuans hair.
Until he realizes what he's doing. A blush overwhelms his face and Binghe promptly stops, taking a step back.
Before Shen Yuan can even blink, Binghe starts stuttering.
“A-apologies, this one--”
Overstepped his bounds?
Really shouldn’t have done that??
“Needs to check on the dog!”
Shen Yuan stares at him, “Wha--”
“Yes, Dog! Cheng Luan!!”
They stare at each other.
For the first time in his life, Binghe flees.
To his credit, Shen Yuan never mentions it again. Yet, when the project is finally all said and done and it's just the two of them unwinding for the evening in the living room Shen Yuan takes the initiative. He pats the spot on the sofa next to him, once Luo Binghe moves over, he guides Luo binghe’s head to his lap and starts running his long, graceful fingers through Luo Binghe’s hair.
“Um,” It is all Binghe can bring himself to say, startled but the sudden intimacy.
Shen Yuan just hums, “It’s nice, no?”
It is, and while Luo Binghe now prides himself on being a decent person... a small part of him can’t help but feel like he’s taking advantage of A-Yuan’s kind heart while his own his traitorous heart is pounding in his chest. He had hoped that getting over the crush would be faster than this.
Luo Binghe glances up at Shen Yuan.
His friend is smiling, a full soft smile that graces his whole face and-- god, Luo Binghe wants nothing more than to reach up and kiss that smile, feel it against his lips, drink in that happiness.
But he can’t.
He turns away from Shen Yuan and closes his own eyes, focusing on the feeling of the gentle caresses on his hair. Binghe ignores that part of him yearning for more, just a bit more than what Shen Yuan is willing to give.
He is content at this moment. This little world where it’s just the two of them, there’s no responsibilities, and the lull of a quiet evening-- awaiting the promise of tomorrow.
During the months that go by, the two of them begin this dance of intimacy that Binghe knows is nothing more than platonic.
At least that’s what he thinks.
The temptation to just kiss the man who owns his heart gets stronger by the hour, with every gesture. It’s as Shen Yuan is helping Luo Binghe wash the dishes after breakfast that a single thought comes unbidden.
I want this.
There’s no sexual tension at this moment-- no, the desire that strikes Binghe is one to see Shen Yuan by his side constantly, to keep this wonderful man in his life for as long as he lives and share it with him.
That’s not a crush.
Shen Yuan snorts as Luo Binghe accidentally tightens his grip on the sponge in his hand, soap suds spraying the two of them.
“Binghe--” and Luo Binghe doesn’t hear the rest of whatever Shen Yuan is saying because he’s hit with the single, undeniable truth in his life that he does not have a crush on Shen Yuan any longer.
He’s in love with him.
The thought is as plain as day. As if saying that the sky is blue. The grass is green-- Luo Binghe is in love with Shen Yuan.
Binghe thinks he handles the realization rather well. Right up until he makes it to his room, sits on his bed, and messages Ning Yingying and Ming Fan.
Me 10:45 am: I think I’m in love with A-Yuan.
The words stare back at him.
Luo Binghe grabs the nearest pillow and tries to smother himself with it.
His phone lights up.
Ming Fan 10:46 AM: Breath.
Ning Yingying 10:46 AM: A-LUO DON’T DO THIS TO ME WHEN I'M AT WORK I CAN’T CALL YOU
Except a minute later she does call him.
“You just said--”
“I know what I said, but there’s an empty conference room and these imbeciles can’t tell a personal call from a professional one.”
Ming fan’s voices cuts in, “We got lucky that it was open.”
“Not important-- A-Luo, details!!”
They are on the phone for over an hour, most of which is spent with Binghe waxing poetry and explain the depth of his feelings while Ning Yingying coos and Ming Fan tries to verbally roll his eyes at his friend.
“So tell him,” the young man repeats for the umpteenth time now.
“I cannntttt,” This the broken record the Luo Binghe has been singing on repeat for ages now.
“What if he doesn’t accept my feelings?”
“Dude, first off... the whole ‘seduce him’ thing was probably too hard for him. It is for most people.”
“A-Fan is correct, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again.”
Luo Binghe hugs his pillow, “I don’t want to lose what we have now though...”
“A-Luo, listen... I think you should tell him. It’s best to not leave things like this left unsaid.”
Luo Binghe stares at the glowing screen of his phone.
Ming Fan clears his throat, “You don’t want to regret not taking that chance.”
He closes his eyes.
The line stays silent until Luo Binghe speaks. “So then what do I do?”
“Follow your heart.”
“That’s utterly unhelpful, Ming Fan.”
“Listen you whiny little shit--”
The best plan of attack for confession actually presents itself to him when he passes by an advertisement in the store for bakers chocolate.
Valentine’s day was just around the corner.
There will be plenty of special videos out for the holiday day, ones featuring favorite stars and their partners at the time.
Luo Binghe makes a plan for this video.
A very detailed, long, overly complicated plan with contingencies and backups as a precaution-- because this just absolutely has to be perfect. Even if it doesn’t go well, then he can at least say he tried.
He tries not to flinch when Shen Yuan is suddenly looking over his shoulder at the kitchen island.
“Ooh, Valentine’s day prep?”
“Y-yes, this one was thinking cookies with royal icing. Similar to those heart-shaped candies with the words on it, yet with more space.”
“Oh, Binghe is so clever. Confession cookies will truly be a hit.”
“This one certainly hopes so.”
The video will be formatted as another hand and pan, which have gained popularity as he increased the frequency of them. He’s not exactly looking forward to having the stupid GoPro strapped to his head, but there’s hopefully enough time for him to remove it before he gets to the final step.
The cookies themselves are simple sugar cookie dough. It’s best for acquiring a flat surface to decorate after baking in the oven. Otherwise, the lumps from adding chocolate chips or other ingredients will take away from the overall appearance of the cookie. Some are square-shaped, others diamond, with a few curves here and there for elegance.
He mixes three colors of icing aside from the base white, one a pinkish red, one gold and the other a warm chocolate brown from candy melts. The words on the cookies are written with fine tip piping bags and never more had Luo Binghe been thankful for his culinary degree than at this moment. Decorative, small, icing hearts are added here at there to the cookies. The occasional dotted trim around the edges to add a nice visual. A few have a line of icing bordering the outline of the cookies.
Shen Yuan drifts into the kitchen just as Luo Binghe is putting the finishing touches on the display, arranging them on a wooden cutting board.
“Oh Binghe, they look magnificent.”
His heart leaps into his throat. Binghe swallows it back down.
“Won’t A-Yuan take a look?” He waves a hand to the cookies before him.
Shen Yuan chuckles but approaches to view the sweet sentiments on the cookies. Binghe hastily removes the camera from his forehead as he starts reading them out loud.
“ ‘Be mine,’ oh that’s a classic. Oh, some of these are a little long. Let's see here. ‘A smile like sunshine’, ‘to the one whose kindness inspires mine’ Oh, these are very sweet Binghe.” Shen Yuan keeps reading. “ ‘To the one who showed me, there's always more to learn,
,’I thought my story was over—’”, and Shen Yuan frowns.
Luo Binghe feels his heart pounding in his chest.
“— ‘Until you showed me it wasn’t A-Yuan...”
Shen Yuan stares down at the cookies. When he looks up, Binghe can feel that his face is covered in a blush. The tinge of pink that’s on Shen Yuan’s face spurs him onward.
“This humble one hopes that A-Yuan will consider his confession.”
“I didn’t... I won’t take it back.” Luo Binghe looks down. “It’s how this one feels. Even if A-Yuan doesn’t feel the same, I cannot hold in the affection I’ve learned for the one who holds my heart in his hands.”
Binghe can’t bring himself to look up thought.
Not until Shen Yuan's hand reaches for his own.
A-Yuan licks his lips, looking down at their hands. He’s blushing.
“Never take back words that mean so much to me.”
Luo Binghe’s heart stutters, “A-Yuan...”
The grip on his hand tightens, “This humble one feels the same as Binghe.”
Luo Binghe stares.
Then he starts laughing, and Shen Yuan looks up startled before Luo Binghe envelopes him in a hug.
“Oh A-Yuan!! My A-Yuan.”
There’s sputtering, and before Shen Yuan can even hug him back, Luo Binghe is pulling away.
He places a kiss on Shen Yuan’s forehead.
“This one hopes he can be enough for A-Yuan.”
Then Shen Yuan surges forward. Whatever chaste kiss Luo Binghe was expecting— it’s definitely not what he gets.
“Then Binghe will have to give perhaps a little more.”
The end of the cooking video cuts off into what’s very much lower quality, home video.
A man with fair features and short hair stares back at the camera. He’s blushing and a little disheveled.
“Oh my god— Binghe, what are you doing?”
“A-Yuan’s beauty has been a distraction for this humble one many times during his videos! This is only fair!!”
The man on camera blushes further, aggressively grabbing a cookie and biting into it.
He stops mid-chew, then hurriedly swallows. “Binghe these are so good. How on earth did you do that?”
“A-Yuan, do you not watch your boyfriend’s videos?”
Shen Yuan sputters.
[View comments on Cookies for A-Yuan!]
Wife#307: oh my GOD, CONGRATULATIONS TO THE HOT ROOMIE FOR SCORING LUO BINGHE (I should change my name lol)
ShawtygetLuo: OH MY GOD MR. LUO CONGRATS!!! WHAT A CUTE V-DAY GIFT!!
ReadTGCF: Oh, my best wishes to both of you!
ReadMZDS: @readTGCF yup, what he said
Binghesleftdimple: OKAY. THAT CONFESSION. THE LOVE IN HIS VOICE. FORGET ICON, FOLKS, WE. STAN. A. L E G E N D.
Sha_Hua_Hua: Oh he’s cute, congrats @Actually_LBH
Ice_Daddy: @Sha_Hua_Hua @Acutally_LBH Congratulations
Actually_LBH: @Sha_Hua_Hua @Ice_Daddy Thank you both
AirplaneShootingTowardsTheSky: FUCKING FINALLY, ANYTIME I CAME OVER IT WAS JUST “he’s so outta my league, airplane please help” DUDE’S BEEN OVER THE MOON FOR YOU FOR AGES NOW MY BRO
Actually_LBH: @AirplaneShootingTowardsTheSky @PeerlessCucumber Wait, is this true?!
PeerlessCucumber: @AirplaneShootingTowardsTheSky Friendship Over. Now LQG is my best friend.