As Luo Binghe paws through Shen Yuan’s clothing drawers, he feels Meng Mo’s presence settle in the back of his mind.
The old demon snorts. “Why don’t you just look for yourself. You know, I always thought you were making too much of all this, but really... you two are well suited.”
Luo Binghe swallows against a fearful tightening in his throat. “Has he been with anyone? Has he... Has he loved anyone else?” He’s bracing himself for the answer. If it’s a yes, he can handle it. He can still make Shen Yuan his.
“As far as I can tell, there’s only one person he’s thought about much at all these past seven years.”
Luo Binghe’s heart seizes. “What—? Who?” Shang Qinghua?
Meng Mo refuses to answer, claiming that it’s better for Luo Binghe to see for himself. Luo Binghe clenches his fists in frustration. Why did he think Meng Mo would be helpful?
Most of Shen Yuan’s clothing is clearly wrong for him, but he finds a pair of track pants he can at least wear. The waistband is a little loose and they’re far too short, but Luo Binghe is generously equipped below the waist, and the swell of his rear fills them out well enough.
He doesn’t bother with a shirt, not after the way Shen Yuan’s eyes lingered on his pectoral muscles. Instead he turns his attention to stripping Shen Yuan’s bedding, intent on washing it after falling asleep in his dirty clothes.
But after he gets the sheets off, he’s hit with a dizzy spell that makes him sit down heavily on the sleeping pad. It’s been a while since he used Xin Mo without dual cultivation for support. He forgot how much it could take out of him.
The attack drains him so quickly, he has no time to fight it.
Shen Yuan unpeels himself from the kitchen counter, his brain empty of everything but the growing feeling of hearing an alarm sound from somewhere in the building and not knowing what the emergency is.
Luo Binghe asked him to marry him, and then... almost kissed him. Right? There’s no possible other way to interpret that, right? He couldn’t have been trying to clean a smudge off Shen Yuan’s face? That required breathing on his mouth?
No, that’s stupid. Even trying his hardest, Shen Yuan can’t think of an explanation that makes more sense than Luo Binghe just wanting to kiss him.
Did he do this? Did he turn Luo Binghe gay? Luo Binghe, a stallion protagonist, was exposed to Shen Yuan at a formative age instead of a beautiful woman, and this is the result. He’s like a duckling who imprinted on the wrong species. His instincts developed all wrong!
Shen Yuan grabs his phone and texts “HELP” to Shang Qinghua. Then he doesn’t know what else to do, so he goes back to making breakfast, grabbing some toppings for the tofu pudding.
But once that’s done, he’s left floundering again. Isn’t Luo Binghe done looking for clothes yet? The tea is going to get cold! Shen Yuan can’t possibly go in there, right? What if he’s still naked!
A thought strikes him that makes him shiver with horror. Would Luo Binghe... want him to go into the room while he’s naked? Is that the kind of gay thing he’s interested in now? If Luo Binghe, protagonist of Proud Immortal Demon Way, really nearly kissed him, then anything is possible!
How is he supposed to react to this? He can’t marry Luo Binghe. Can he? He can’t. Right? Has anyone ever said no to Luo Binghe before? But he can’t! Luo Binghe is a fictional character who lives inside a book! And also a man!
But he seemed serious. He came all this way to find Shen Yuan, and hurt himself with Xin Mo’s power just to be here. It would be unfair to say no to him. Luo Binghe has suffered so much. Shen Yuan can’t stand the thought of disappointing him.
His best option is to just try to avoid the topic until Luo Binghe comes to his senses and realizes that he already has all the wives he could possibly need. And then he’ll probably just... go back into the book to be with them. Shen Yuan clutches his mug of tea, suddenly feeling the chill in his apartment. That’s what’s best for Binghe, so... so Shen Yuan will be happy for him, when that happens. Yes.
But where is Luo Binghe? Shen Yuan is worked up enough to go knock on the door to his bedroom. The sooner he sees Luo Binghe again, the sooner they can start forgetting about the whole gay marriage thing and geting back to normal.
There’s no response, which freaks Shen Yuan out enough that he puts aside the very real possibility that this is a gay trap and Luo Binghe is waiting for him naked. He pushes open the door a crack to see Luo Binghe curled up on the bare mattress, dozing again. Ah, poor thing... He must be so worn out. Shen Yuan doesn’t want to wake him, but he also wants Luo Binghe to have tea and food. He didn’t even have the energy to put on a shirt! And Shen Yuan’s pants are sitting very low on his hips. He’s going to get cold if he sleeps like that!
Shen Yuan puts Luo Binghe’s tea and breakfast down on the bedside table, and then gets a clean blanket from the closet and drapes it over Luo Binghe’s sleeping body. It almost seems a crime to cover it, like cloaking a statue.
Luo Binghe stirs at the feeling, blinking at Shen Yuan with heavy eyelids.
Ah... like this, he really could be Shen Yuan’s little Binghe again. He is Shen Yuan’s little Binghe, just grown. The thought makes him inhale slowly, suddenly feeling his eyes prickle.
Luo Binghe was so sweet and charming when he was here. Even if he did get involved with organized crime and hire a dark web hitman, it’s hard to believe that his bright little sun was really responsible for everything he did in the book. It must have been hard for him.
Shen Yuan sits on the bed near him, drawing the blanket further up so it properly covers Luo Binghe’s torso. He pats his shoulder, satisfied, and Luo Binghe makes a soft noise. Shen Yuan knows he’s supposed to be a scary powerful demon, but he’s still really... cute.
“Binghe, there’s tea and breakfast,” he says gently. “I can go out and buy you some clothes while you rest.”
Luo Binghe’s eyes fly open immediately. “No, stay here!”
“Ah...” Shen Yuan rubs his shoulder again. “Silly child, you’ll only be asleep! You need something to wear.”
Luo Binghe puts his hand over Shen Yuan’s, closing his eyes again.
“I don’t want clothes, I want Yuan-ge to stay.”
Honestly... how spoiled! And yet Shen Yuan knows his childhood was far from pampered. Who taught him to act like this?
“Okay,” he says. “I’ll stay here. But you have to eat something.”
Luo Binghe nods blearily. “Will Yuan-ge feed it to me?”
What?? “No! Sit up!”
He pulls some bare pillows over to prop Luo Binghe up so he can sit up in bed and drink his tea. Luo Binghe is clearly exhausted, so he stops making conversation, letting him focus on not falling asleep with hot tea in his hands.
Luo Binghe looks down into the mug and sighs. “Yuan-ge, I really, really missed you.”
Fuck. Shen Yuan thought having breakfast together would be safe, not give him another one of those excruciating squeezing feelings he doesn’t know what to do with.
Then Luo Binghe makes it worse: “Did you miss me?”
Didn’t this kid ask Shen Yuan to marry him just an hour ago? He was ready for a marriage proposal, but wasn’t even sure whether Shen Yuan missed him? It’s too sad. Shen Yuan can’t take it.
“What kind of question is that? Of course I did.”
Luo Binghe breathes in fast. Shen Yuan looks away so he doesn’t have to see Luo Binghe cry into his tea, but he lets him squeeze his hand hard.
Obviously he and Luo Binghe aren’t going to get married. But... it’s nice sitting with him like this in the morning and having breakfast. Shen Yuan wouldn’t mind doing it more, as friends.
Once Luo Binghe’s settled back into sleep, Shen Yuan looks at his phone again.
🍜 what's up
🍜 shen-bro??? what happened
🍜 oh my god you're dead aren't you
🍜 i fucking killed you
🍜 shit shit shit
I'm not dead 🥒
What do you mean, you killed me?? What would you have to do with it? 🥒
🍜 anyway what's up
Nothing. I mean I was kind of freaked out because Binghe sort of tried to kiss me but I’ve dealt with it 🥒
🍜 how did you deal with it
I’m just going to ignore it until he forgets about it 🥒
🍜 oh god
🍜 you’re really going to die. i can’t believe the only person who reliably buys me food is going to die
Shen Yuan rolls his eyes. It’s no use talking to Shang Qinghua when he’s in this mood.
By the time Luo Binghe wakes up a few hours later, Shen Yuan has ordered him some clothes for next-day delivery and is boiling frozen dumplings. Honestly, Luo Binghe is here and he’s too wiped out even to cook. Shen Yuan wants him to rest, but he’s really missed Luo Binghe’s cooking!
Luo Binghe shuffles out into the kitchen—still shirtless! Binghe, you can’t just spring your half-naked body on people!—and walks up to him. Shen Yuan’s heart rate roars into high gear. Is he going to—like the last time he interrupted Shen Yuan making food—?!
But Luo Binghe just drops a little black cloth pouch on the countertop, laced shut with a red cord.
Shen Yuan glances up at him. “What is this?”
“For the money I owe you.”
Shen Yuan opens the bag. The contents inside are vaster than could possibly be contained in—wait, is this a qiankun pouch? He knows Luo Binghe is from xianxia, but it’s different seeing an actual xianxia artifact right here! So cool! Inside the qiankun pouch is a jumble of precious stones, several buckets’ worth of them. Shen Yuan’s no expert, but they look expensive.
“I didn’t know how much it would be in your world’s currency,” Luo Binghe says, eyes downcast.
He cannot possibly accept this. Especially when he has plenty of money, and Luo Binghe...
“Binghe, I thought you said you didn’t have any wealth?”
“That’s all of it.”
“Binghe!” Shen Yuan pushes the bag back at him. “I can’t take all your money!”
“It doesn’t matter,” Luo Binghe says. “What’s mine is yours, always. I would like to share everything with you, but if you don’t...” His voice wavers. He swallows unsteadily before continuing. “If you don’t want me, then you should at least have what you’re owed.”
What the hell... So the only way he’ll take it back is if he gets to marry Shen Yuan instead?? The protagonist is really too smart. Shen Yuan can’t beat him. At this rate he's going to be forced to accept his proposal!
“Just take it back for now,” he says desperately. “We can figure it out later, okay?”
Luo Binghe shakes his head. “It’s not only because of the money you spent on me,” he says. “I... caused Yuan-ge’s injuries. I can’t live with myself if I don’t repay at least some part of the harm I’ve done to you.”
Shen Yuan waves this away. “What did I always tell you when you lived here? Pay me back in food.” That makes Luo Binghe smile, maybe because he referenced that time when... when they were both really happy. Shen Yuan breathes a sigh of relief.
After that, things really do start feeling more normal. Since Luo Binghe doesn’t have any clothes to wear, they can’t go outside, and Luo Binghe is still clearly exhausted anyway. So they just hang around the apartment and watch TV like they used to do.
“Yuan-ge still doesn’t have much to do,” Luo Binghe notes, but he sounds approving, like Shen Yuan should be allowed to do nothing. There’s no way in hell Shen Yuan is going to tell him that he called out of work. Luo Binghe will just add his wages to his imaginary debt.
The only problem is... Well, it’ll be a relief when Luo Binghe gets some real clothes. It’s very distracting having such a paragon of the perfect masculine body hanging around the house. Like any man, Shen Yuan can barely look away!
Other than that, having Luo Binghe here feels shockingly right. Like he never should have left. All those seven long, lonely years are burned to nothing by the radiant heat of his presence. If only some of the Zhongdian posters could see him, they would understand that Shen Yuan was right all along. Every woman in the world wanting him is perfectly realistic.
Nothing else of note happens until after dinner. Luo Binghe did his best with the food Shen Yuan had in the fridge. Tomorrow, they can get proper groceries. They get comfortable on the couch, and Shen Yuan puts on Princess Mononoke.
Halfway through the movie, they reach for the Doritos at the same time, and their hands brush. Come on... what a cliché! Even if Luo Binghe is trying to seduce him, doesn’t Shen Yuan merit more original material??
But Luo Binghe grabs hold of his hand and tugs it closer. Binghe, don’t look so closely... Shen Yuan’s fingers are coated with Dorito dust!
“Yuan-ge,” Luo Binghe says, “let me help you with this.”
He drags his tongue up Shen Yuan’s index finger, from joint to tip.
Shen Yuan is paralyzed. What the fuck kind of seduction technique is this! Licking Dorito dust off his fingers? If this was in a romance novel, the readers would close it in disgust!
But Luo Binghe seems to be really enjoying it. He sucks two of Shen Yuan’s fingers into his mouth with a soft moan, swirling his tongue around the tips. That urgent alarm starts going off again somewhere deep in the recesses of Shen Yuan’s mind.
Binghe, aren’t you paying attention to Miyazaki’s masterpiece??
He’s too stunned to say anything, forced to just sit and watch while Luo Binghe sucks on his hand. He shifts in his seat, uncomfortably warm. It’s not just the excruciating drag of Luo Binghe’s hot tongue, but also the charged look on his face while he does it. Luo Binghe is unfairly beautiful, his hair falling into his face and his dark lashes lowered, cheeks just barely tinged with pink.
He’s relieved when Luo Binghe finishes with a little scrape of teeth against the pad of his thumb. But now he has a different problem. He can’t just keep eating Doritos. He’s supposed to take the hand Luo Binghe just slobbered all over and bring it to his own mouth?
He lets his hand hover, unsure what to do. Now he’s the one not paying attention to one of Studio Ghibli’s most iconic works! Luo Binghe is too distracting!
When his hand air-dries, he just puts it gingerly back in his lap and keeps it there.
He should have said something. He can’t just let Luo Binghe do things like this to him. If he can’t find the right words, he should at least pull back and try not to encourage him. It’s not right when he still hasn’t answered Luo Binghe’s question, especially knowing what answer he’ll surely have to give.
But this is the second time now that Luo Binghe has actually... made a move on him. He thought maybe Luo Binghe asked to marry him out of some kind of stallion protagonist compulsion, or genre-poisoned ideas of what’s normal. But he actually... wants Shen Yuan? Everything that comes with being married?
A married couple would wake up together, spend most days together, eat meals together, and be intimate with each other, even like this, unexpectedly on the couch during movie night. It’s too easy to imagine it with Luo Binghe. If he could only convince his brain that it sounded strange and unappealing, it would be easier to turn him down. But they already lived together when Luo Binghe was a child, and it was as simple and satisfying as Luo Binghe’s congee.
But this would be different! Luo Binghe is an adult now, and Shen Yuan isn’t gay. It’s absurd to think of marrying a man. It sounds like a joke.
His mind whirls like a high-speed blender. He barely hears when Luo Binghe says, “Here, Yuan-ge shouldn’t dirty his hands.” When he looks over, Luo Binghe has a Dorito between his thumb and index finger, and he’s holding it up to Shen Yuan’s mouth. Shen Yuan is so startled that he eats it without thinking.
Luo Binghe looks so pleased that Shen Yuan immediately knows he’s going to keep doing it. He abruptly grabs the remote and turns off the TV, unable to handle the thought of just sitting here while Luo Binghe, Heavenly Demon and wielder of Xin Mo, hand-feeds him Doritos. Shirtless.
“It’s getting late,” Shen Yuan says. “We should just go to bed.”
“If you want,” Luo Binghe says, confirming that he wasn’t even watching the movie. How disrespectful! Only Luo Binghe could get away with this!
Going to bed, however, causes another problem. Luo Binghe stripped the sheets earlier, but he passed out before he could put them in the laundry, and Shen Yuan left them crumpled on the floor. He has spare bedding, but only one set. If he makes up his own bed, there won’t be any bedding for the guest room.
“I’ll sleep on the couch,” Shen Yuan says.
Luo Binghe shakes his head. “I’ll take it. I won’t inconvenience you.”
Shen Yuan hesitates. That’s it? After Luo Binghe insisted on snuggling this morning? He half expected him to pout and complain, like some moe anime waifu in the type of series where Shen Yuan fast forwards all the sex scenes. When Luo Binghe was a teen, he used to whine and exaggerate his distress whenever he wanted something. Shouldn’t... Shouldn’t he want to share a bed? Since he’s gay now? Shen Yuan didn’t misread that, right?
“Binghe, you’d be fine on the couch?”
“Yes, Yuan-ge. It will be more comfortable than what I’m used to.”
That’s right. Luo Binghe spent the last five years sleeping on the ground, prepared to wake at the slightest sound of danger. Of course he wouldn’t complain about being kicked to the couch. He doesn’t expect any better.
Shen Yuan’s stomach hurts.
“Ah, that’s okay,” he says. “You can sleep in the bed with me. It’s alright if we share.”
Luo Binghe looks up at him, shocked. Like he really didn’t think he’d be allowed. It drowns any remaining hesitation. Whether or not Luo Binghe has any... expectations... of Shen Yuan, he’s still Binghe. Shen Yuan can’t make himself be afraid of him, even when knowing what he wants makes him dizzy with panic.
“Yuan-ge,” Luo Binghe says, almost at a whisper. “You’ll really sleep next to me all night?”
Why doesn’t he look teary? Shen Yuan is feeling a little choked up! Binghe, please cry fast so your old friend won’t be the only one humiliated!
It takes all the face Shen Yuan has to spare, but he can’t let Luo Binghe think his permission is at all in doubt. “Binghe, of course.”
He looks away, unable to watch how nakedly vulnerable Luo Binghe is made by something so minor.
Luo Binghe puts sheets on the bed while Shen Yuan gets into his pajamas and brushes his teeth. Having perfect teeth with no maintenance must be a fictional character thing.
When they get into bed, Shen Yuan stays self-consciously on his side, almost to the edge. But when Luo Binghe crawls closer, he doesn’t have the heart to push him away. He’s starting to think he’s not capable of pushing Luo Binghe away, no matter what he does.
He’s prepared for Luo Binghe to snuggle up to him like he did this morning, but instead he reaches for Shen Yuan’s hand, resting beside his head on the pillow, and interlaces their fingers. Then he closes his eyes.
Before long, Luo Binghe's breath slows into a steady rhythm. But Shen Yuan can’t sleep. His heart beats in his palm where it’s held against Luo Binghe’s. He can almost feel Luo Binghe’s hearbeat too, their pulse points pressed together.
What a fragile thing, to sustain something as big and precious as Luo Binghe’s heart. Shen Yuan has never held so much of it before. The responsibility is terrifying.
He would give anything for a guarantee that he won’t hurt Luo Binghe. He can’t stop going around in circles, his mind turning away from the thought of being—what Luo Binghe wants him to be—and then turning again from the unthinkable idea of breaking his heart.
Luo Binghe wants so little of him. To sleep nearby. To hold hands. Yet at the same time, he wants something so big that it feels like the greatest part of Shen Yuan, like giving it to Binghe will leave him unrecognizeable.
But what good is he, the way he is now? Luo Binghe has achieved so much. He’s a legend already at age twenty-two, one of the most powerful beings alive in his world. Shen Yuan is nothing. If he could make Luo Binghe happy, it would be the first thing he’s done that he might be proud of.