Luo Binghe liked looking at Shen Yuan.
This, of course, was by no means an extraordinary condition. Lots of people liked looking at Shen Yuan. In fact, most people probably didn’t. And why shouldn’t they? Shen Yuan was beautiful. People liked looking at beautiful things.
It was only sensible to stare.
As far as Luo Binghe could tell, the pursuit of aesthetic beauty was something of a biological imperative. It was a self-issued urge hardcoded into the basic fabric human DNA, like reproduction. Looking at beautiful things — be they sunsets, paintings, or sinewy ballet teachers with interesting smiles — provoked a primal response in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, that lean slice of brain situated directly behind the eyes. When stimulated with beautiful images, the orbitofrontal cortex’s pleasure centers lit up like a birthday party, releasing a dopamine reward. A physiological incentive.
That was probably part of the reason people liked ballet in the first place.
Even if they didn’t understand ballet on a technical or intellectual level, or even value it as a method of storytelling — most people did not — people still craved to go to the ballet. Just to absorb a little beauty. To have the aesthetic centers of their brain pinged at a very singular and specific frequency that was difficult to replicate elsewhere.
The swans rush out. The arm lifts, the back arches. A perfect cambré. The frontal lobe inflames, a chemical fever; the eye dilates. Ping.
When Luo Binghe looked at Shen Yuan, he felt it — like a knock on his brain. The cudgel of beauty coming down on him, turning him to putty. He liked looking at Shen Yuan. He liked it, loved it, craved it. He liked Shen Yuan’s mouth. He liked Shen Yuan’s nose. He liked Shen Yuan’s eyes — those eyes were like jade in so many respects. Sometimes, they were glassy and lacquerlike — kiln-fired, glazed. Sometimes, they were rock-edged and very sharp. Something dug out of the hard, dry earth.
He liked Shen Yuan’s hips. He liked Shen Yuan’s small feet. He liked Shen Yuan’s pronounced philtrum. His desires contorted readily around the shape of Shen Yuan’s throat. His appetites gaped into a great big yawn when presented with Shen Yuan’s legs, the jaws of need widening for Shen Yuan’s calves… the flame igniting at Shen Yuan’s bone-white ankle… emerging softly and shyly from his dusty house slippers, blue veins raised against semi-translucent skin… love, desire, giddiness, drunkenness, what-else-ya-got intoxication... ticking like a bomb...
Beauty in the brain, burning like a bushfire. Erupting like Mount St. Helens.
Dopamine and oxytocin and vasopressin.
He could stare forever.
Luo Binghe liked spending his mornings with Shen Yuan.
Of course, he liked all the time he spent with Shen Yuan! Afternoons, evenings. He didn’t discriminate! He liked slipping into bed with Shen Yuan after a late supper and sending him off to sleep with a foot massage. He liked waking up in the dead of night and feeling Shen Yuan at his side, snoring softly. He liked feeling the soft scramble of Shen Yuan’s sleeping heart.
But mornings were still very special.
Case in point:
It was 8:30 in the morning, and Shen Yuan was sitting upright in Luo Binghe’s bed. He was fussing a little with his hair, trying and failing to flatten his bedhead with his fingers. He wasn’t exactly naked — he was wearing Binghe’s fluffy house robe, the white belt wrapped tight around his waist — but he was close enough.
My boyfriend, Luo Binghe thought dazedly. This is my boyfriend. My boyfriend of six whole months. My God. When did I get so lucky? It was too good to be true, right?
“You know,” Shen Yuan said, still attempting to pat down his hair, “I can feel your eyes boring into me.”
“Is that so?” Luo Binghe grinned, stretching out a little.
Shen Yuan wasn’t naked, but Luo Binghe absolutely was. He was lying on his back — lounging, really — with his bedsheet wrapped lazily around his hips. This wasn’t out of any sense of modesty or propriety, of course. God forbid. Luo Binghe was completely unselfconscious about his naked body. But he knew that if he left his cock out, Shen Yuan would be too embarrassed to look his way at all, daunted by the naked weight of Luo Binghe’s shaft lying lax against his thigh. So he kept it covered.
“Uh-huh,” Shen Yuan said. He turned his head to shoot Luo Binghe a look that was half fondness and half judgement. “It’s like a tangible pressure against the back of my skull.”
“My stare is? Really?”
“It’s a heavy stare.”
“Ah. Many apologies, Laoshi. I was feeling somewhat spellbound.”
“Mm-hmm. You know. Entranced.”
“Entranced by what? My bedhead?”
“Your hair is beautiful, Laoshi.”
Shen Yuan flushed.
“You’re so corny.”
“And you’re so lovely, Laoshi. So perfect. I can’t get enough.”
“Perfect? Are you for real? You’re the one who…” Shen Yuan stop-started, then looked away. He went on fussing with the ends of his hair. “I still need a comb.”
One of Shen Yuan’s legs unfolded, slipping off the bed to touch the carpet. He was making as if to stand, to leave their bed. Well, that just wouldn’t do. Luo Binghe pushed himself upright with one arm, leaning towards Shen Yuan. He blasted Shen Yuan with his best set of puppy dog eyes; a look of deep and doleful deprivation.
“Before you get up, give me a kiss,” Luo Binghe said. “Just one, please?”
Shen Yuan’s flush deepened.
“Haven’t you had your fair share?”
“I haven’t. Not even close.”
“I mean, last night…"
“Last night wasn’t enough,” Binghe interrupted, petulant.
Shen Yuan shuffled a little closer across the bed. His face was red, but he didn’t seem angry. Just bashful, and maybe a little intrigued.
“Such a greedy boy.”
“For you?” Luo Binghe reached out to frame Shen Yuan’s face with one hand. “Always. I’m always greedy for more of you, Laoshi.”
Shen Yuan leaned into Luo Binghe’s touch.
“Someone’s in a mood today,” he noted.
“An amorous mood.”
“Hard to avoid,” Luo Binghe said. “For many, many years — I cherished the rash dream of getting you into bed. And now that it’s finally happened, Laoshi, I feel… a joy you wouldn’t believe. An amorous joy. This huge, crazy nimbus of love.”
Shen Yuan looked very unimpressed.
“Don’t wax poetic,” he said sternly.
“Ah? Why not?
“Because it’s embarrassing.”
“I’m not embarrassed,” Binghe protested.
“Of course you aren’t. But I’m embarrassed for you.”
“Are you now?” Luo Binghe heaved a theatrical sigh. “Aiya, it must be so burdensome. Dating an embarrassing, greedy, amorous boy like me…”
“It is,” Shen Yuan said flatly. His dark hair had the smell of sleep on it; his eyelashes, though crusted with a slight rheuminess, were feathery and beautiful.
“Can you ever forgive me, Laoshi?”
“... I’ll think about it.”
“Will I still get my kiss?”
“Maybe,” Shen Yuan said, his expression turning a little shy. “Close your eyes, okay?”
Luo Binghe closed his eyes devotedly.
Shen Yuan pressed a kiss to Binghe’s lips. It was a child’s kiss: quick, chaste and uncertain. Binghe felt his heart seize up on contact. Shen Yuan was, of course, every inch the mature beauty — but in the realm of love, he could be shockingly innocent. The lamb to Binghe’s wolf. Binghe parted his lips, nudging his nose against Shen Yuan’s encouragingly.
Emboldened, Shen Yuan pressed a little closer, snuggling his body up against Luo Binghe’s. They kissed lavishly now, breathing hard from their noses. Shen Yuan wrapped his arms around Luo Binghe’s shoulders, drawing him closer, so much closer, so that their bodies would be vertically aligned at each and every possible plane.
Suddenly, Luo Binghe was on top of Shen Yuan, naked and hungry, pinning Shen Yuan against the mattress, sucking deep into his mouth — sucking the tip of his tongue, then, overwhelmed by greed, he began laying bites and kisses against Shen Yuan’s throat.
“Just one kiss,” Shen Yuan gasped, voice landing on a note of dim exasperation. “Just one, you said!”
“Should I stop?”
Shen Yuan said nothing. He just pulled Binghe closer, firmly gripping Binghe’s mane of black hair. Binghe smiled against the curve of Shen Yuan’s neck.
“Can I get you off with my mouth, Laoshi?” Binghe murmured. He tugged lightly at the belt of Shen Yuan’s robe. Shen Yuan’s face flamed up.
“Shameless boy — you — you have rehearsals today!”
“We have time,” Binghe said.
“We don’t!” Shen Yuan protested weakly, but he tilted his chin further up, allowing Binghe increased access to the column of his throat. Binghe rewarded him with a nip — then, at the center of the bite, a hot and reverent kiss. “You need to be in the studio — before ten — or Qi Qingqi will scold you again—!”
“Shh. We have time,” Luo Binghe murmured, voice dropping to a lower register. He rubbed his hand over the curve of Shen Yuan’s hip. “Don’t you wanna come, Laoshi? Don’t you wanna come on this Binghe’s face?”
Shen Yuan squeezed his eyes shut, avoiding making direct eye contact with Binghe’s dick — which was now pressing up against him interestedly through the cottony material of his robe.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Luo Binghe coaxed him. “Just show me where to touch you, baby. I’ll make you feel so, so good...”
Shen Yuan sighed. He lay back against the sheet, eyes still shut, expression strangely contemplative. Then, very quietly, he began to ease his robe open.
Luo Binghe took in each inch of flesh with rapt, rapacious eyes. Shen Yuan’s sloping shoulder, his chest, his pinked niiples, the twitching slate of his stomach… his skin itself was lit up with a faintly incandescent, feverish blush. Feeling self-satisfied, Luo Binghe leaned down and rewarded Shen Yuan’s honesty with a kiss on the chest. Then another, right on top of his belly. Shen Yuan squirmed a little. Ticklish, maybe.
“There’s a good baby,” Luo Binghe said, kissing down to Shen Yuan’s hipbone.
Shen Yuan let out a breathy little huff.
“We have to be fast, okay? If Qi Qingqi finds out I’m the reason rehearsals started a half hour late, she’ll — mnn!”
Luo Binghe wrapped his hand around Shen Yuan’s slender cock, giving it a firm stroke.
“I don’t really want to hear Qi Qingqi’s name while I’m in bed with you,” Luo Binghe said pointedly. “Or anyone else’s name, for that matter.”
To punctuate his point, he leaned down and pressed a wet kiss to the head of Shen Yuan’s cock. It jerked ever slightly against the touch of his tongue, twitchy and sensitive, hardening rapidly. Cute.
Luo Binghe loved Shen Yuan’s cock. It was as slender and pretty as the rest of him, but also so lewd. So naughty, so needy, so slutty. Luo Binghe loved how rosy it was, how beautifully it pinked. He loved the way it bounced against Shen Yuan’s belly when he rode Luo Binghe’s cock. He loved the way it got so wet. When Shen Yuan was turned on, the head of his little cock positively dripped with pre… he was like a slutty little girl, getting all wet for her man...
Like a wife.
A deeply satisfying thought.
Humming joyfully, Luo Binghe slid Shen Yuan’s cock into his mouth. It was warm and heavy on his tongue; the taste was muted, at first — but the familiar flavour of salt and musk began to intensify as Shen Yuan began to leak. Naughty baby. Getting all excited in my mouth. Luo Binghe relaxed his throat, willing himself to take Shen Yuan even deeper into his throat.
Now that was more like it.
Wild with eagerness, Luo Binghe bobbed up and down and length off Shen Yuan’s cock. The sound of his slurping was positively obscene, but he was completely and utterly unashamed. How long had he dreamt of this? Yearned for this? Burned for this — the privilege to touch him, to taste him?
Far, far too long.
Luo Binghe pulled off for a breath, refocusing his attentions on the side of Shen Yuan’s shaft — sucking hot, sloppy kisses down the side, his hands sliding down to gently cup the swell of Shen Yuan’s balls. Shen Yuan’s hips were shaking. Ah, so cute. So precious.
“You don’t have to hold back,” Luo Binghe murmured. He licked a wet stripe up the side of Shen Yuan’s cock, from the base to the tip. The taste of pre was heavy on his tongue. “You can move your hips if you want to.”
Shen Yuan’s grip on Luo Binghe’s hair tightened.
“Hahh... d-don’t be… so —!”
“So shameless?” Binghe guessed. He drew back ever slightly, allowing a fat string of saliva to connect himself to the tip of Shen Yuan’s cock. “So lewd?”
“So — smug!”
Luo Binghe laughed out loud.
“I’m not trying to be smug,” he said. He leaned down, nuzzling his cheek against Shen Yuan’s cock affectionately. “I just want to make my gorgeous boyfriend feel good.”
He mouthed around the tip of Shen Yuan’s cock, then sank back down to swallow him. Shen Yuan’s hips rocked forwards tentatively, pitching his cock slightly deeper into the warm, wet heat of Binghe’s mouth.
“Binghe, ahnn…” Shen Yuan reached up, covering his face with his hands. “Binghe always makes me feel good…”
This, of course, was excellent news. Buoyed, Luo Binghe blew Shen Yuan with renewed enthusiasm, fucking his face on Shen Yuan’s pretty little cock. Shen Yuan moaned, the sound of it poorly muffled by the fan of his fingers.
He wanted to make Shen Yuan feel good.
He wanted to make Shen Yuan come.
Shen Yuan’s hips bucked up a little, chasing the heat of Luo Binghe’s mouth. His breaths were harsh, laboured.
“Binghe,” he begged. “I, I’m gonna —-”
Feeling quite determined, Luo Binghe hummed around the length of Shen Yuan’s cock. In response, Shen Yuan keened. Loudly.
“Binghe! Pull off — Binghe, pull offff,” Shen Yuan cried out burying his face in his hands. “If you don’t, I’m gonna — I’m gonna make a mess , please, please, I don’t, hahhh…. I don’t want to make a mess — ”
But I do, Binghe thought, rapturous. I want to make a mess. I want to be a mess.
Binghe leaned up to mouth at the head of Shen Yuan’s cock, lathing his tongue over the tip. Eager to finish Shen Yuan off, he reached around to stroke the shaft, his fingers gliding easily across Shen Yuan’s spit-slick skin. Shen Yuan’s cock pulsed against his tongue. He was hot, dripping. The taste of pre was so heavy. So thick.
“No, nooo, I’m gonna — uhhn!”
Shen Yuan began to come.
Luo Binghe closed his eyes reflexively as thick, warm ropes of Shen Yuan’s spend hit his face. Shen Yuan always came so much. Luo Binghe could feel it streaking his lips, his cheeks, and even the bridge of his nose. Very carefully, he lifted his hand to delicately wipe some from his eyelashes
When he opened his eyes, he was confronted with the image of Shen Yuan in all his post-orgasmic glory: chest heavy, face flushed, eyes glassy.
“Binghe… you…” Shen Yuan blinked hard, dizzied.
Luo Binghe smiled, undaunted.
“... You’re maddening.”
“I have many faults, Laoshi.”
“Aiya,” Shen Yuan sighed in deep satisfaction. He ran his hands up and down over his bare stomach. "What am I meant to do with you?"
"Just bear with me?" Luo Binghe suggested.
Shen Yuan smiled ruefully.
“... Please wash your face before that dries."
"Not yet," Binghe said. He reached up and touched his own cheek, feeling the wet on his fingers. "I like it."
"Binghe! It's dirty…"
"It's proof of Laoshi's pleasure," he said. "I like it."
Shen Yuan blinked, then lowered his eyes. He opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again — before giving up entirely. At a loss for words, perhaps. He was pretty clearly embarrassed. That said, he didn’t exactly seem displeased. If anything, he looked the opposite. He looked happy. Flummoxed, but happy.
Luo Binghe grinned.
By this point in their relationship, he felt that he had a pretty solid handle on Shen Yuan’s moods. He knew Shen Yuan’s likes, his dislikes, his reservations, his desires.
One thing that he’d come to notice was that Shen Yuan could never, ever really bring himself to endorse Luo Binghe’s shamelessness. His sense of propriety ran much too deep.
That said, Shen Yuan didn’t hate it when Luo Binghe got a little sappy, or a little dirty, or a little starry-eyed. In fact, he seemed to really like it. He kicked up a fuss, sure — Luo Binghe was constantly scolded for his lack of modesty. That said, he squirmed so beautifully when Luo Binghe cranked up the shamelessness… eyes shining with a look of deep gratification even as he huffed and puffed and called Luo Binghe a wicked child...
Still lying supine against the sheets, Yuan pulled his knees up towards himself. He tucked them up against his stomach — exposing the soft, pale undersides of his thighs.
Something in that gesture was sort of… coquettish? Was that the right word?
Luo Binghe lifted his body up, hands braced against the mattress. Half-kneeling, he studied Shen Yuan intently.
— No. Not coquettish.
The word was erotic.
It was really, really erotic.
Suddenly, Luo Binghe became increasingly aware of his own cock, which was still throbbing with unabated arousal. Shen Yuan also seemed to take notice. His eyes tripped down the length of Luo Binghe’s broad, dance-honed body, his scandalized blush intensifying as his gaze landed between Luo Binghe’s eyes.
"Binghe — should also get to feel good," Shen Yuan said, somewhat haltingly.
"Ah, you think?"
Shen Yuan nodded. With one hand, he beckoned Luo Binghe closer — eyes blown-out black, the disc of his pupils eclipsing his irises in a sort of sensuous, secretive darkness.
"Come over here,” he said. “This teacher — can help."
Luo Binghe liked his morning drive.
His loft was a fifteen minute drive away from the Tianqiao Theater, so it wasn’t a long drive by any stretch of the imagination. Still, he relished it. He liked sipping his coffee when the light turned red. He liked bearing down on the pedal when it switched back to green. He liked listening to the windshield wipers slap unhelpfully against the front of his car, smearing dirty rainwater against the treated glass. He liked being flipped off by cyclists. He liked the traffic, the smell of exhaust fumes, the cracked and uneven asphalt.
Red light. Luo Binghe took a slurp from his thermos. The roast itself was of excellent quality — Luo Binghe rarely skimped on quality — but it blended hideously with the residual echo of his spearmint toothpaste.
A consequence of rushing himself out the door.
Completely worth it, though.
Green light. Luo Binghe set his coffee down, accelerating down the rain-slicked road. WIth one hand, he reached to flip the radio on. The classical station sputtered to life, the strings slightly tinny as a result of the subpar frequency. They were playing an orchestral piece from Coppélia. Now, in Luo Binghe’s opinion, Coppélia’s score was incredibly subpar — boring, unmemorable, outdated, not particularly fun to dance to.
Still, in that particular moment, Luo Binghe liked it a lot. He tapped his fingers against the wheel, humming along cheerfully as the ballade plodded along, dull and hookless and dumb.
He was alive and in love, still coming down from his morning roll with Shen Yuan.
There was nothing he didn’t like.
All in all, by the time his ballet shoes were rosined and he was in the studio, he was two minutes late to warm-ups. Qi Qingqi, who was absorbed in conversation with Wei Wuxian, didn’t even notice.
Shen Jiu did, however, notice.
Of course he did.
“You’re late,” Shen Jiu hissed as Luo Binghe lined up at the barre. He was dressed all in black; black bodysuit, black athletic pants, black Capezios. His expression oozed contempt.
Shen Jiu harrumphed, extending himself into a long, fluid fourth arabesque.
“I don’t care if you’re thirty seconds or thirty minutes late, brat. Late is late. It’s unprofessional.”
Luo Binghe couldn’t help but smile.
“Many apologies, Shen-qianbei,” he said, gripping the sanded barre with one hand. “I was — occupied with other activities this morning.”
Shen Jiu frowned, but he took the bait all the same. “Other activities?”
“Mn,” Luo Binghe nodded. “Energetic, vigorous activities. Ask your brother about it.”
Shen Jiu dropped out of his arabesque, his face twisting up with rage.
“You — disgusting! Lecherous pig! Filthy beast!”
“Yep, that’s me,” Luo Binghe agreed.
“Why would you even — ugh! So shameless!”
“I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.”
Nonplussed, Luo Binghe initiated his regular barre warm-up — taking his time to slowly and thoroughly stretching out his calves. Shen Jiu shook his head.
“This is why you’ll never be a great dancer, you know,” he said heatedly, nostrils flaring nastily. “Despite your training and your pedigree, you’ve not one whit of good taste.”
“Not an iota. You’re absolutely right, qianbei.”
“You do a disservice to the craft, really, the way you blunder about with that insufferably smug expression. I have no idea what my brother sees in you.”
“Ah,” Luo Binghe said. “And you never will.”
Shen Jiu whirled back towards the barre, lifting himself back into the accented pose of his arabesque.
Luo Binghe glanced across the room. The studio was littered with abandoned cups of coffee. Qi Qingqi strode across the room, speaking passionately with Wei Wuxian — her long, sparkly earrings bouncing with each step. Sha Hualing was hunkered down on her knees, attacking her bloodred pointe shoes with an exacto, driving the knife along the edge of the toebox. She was surrounded by a sea of darning tools: thread, jet glue, shanks, bolts of elastic.
Facing the mirror, Liu Qingge extended his taut, muscular body into an extreme développé. His sister watched, then imitated his movements — unfolding her skinny leg at the knee, wavering minutely as she struggled to match his angle.
Luo Binghe leaned over, smiling at Shen Jiu.
“Hey, how’s Yue Qingyuan holding up?”
“Don’t talk to me so casually.”
“I heard you two adopted a dog.”
Shen Jiu looked surprised, then annoyed.
“Did A-Yuan tell you that?”
“Yes. He showed me pictures, too,” Luo Binghe said. They were beautiful photos: Shen Jiu, sitting cross-legged on the floor of his newly-renovated kitchen, smiling wryly as a leggy little puppy sprawled over his lap. That photographed smile was an endless source of novelty and mystery to Luo Binghe. The Shen Jiu he knew never, ever smiled. “I love dogs, you know. I’ve always loved dogs. Maybe A-Yuan and I should adopt one too.”
Shen Jiu scoffed, “A-Yuan already has one mongrel to look after. Why burden him with another?”
“Shen-qianbei, you should be nicer to me.”
“But I could be your brother-in-law someday.”
“You? My brother-in-law? Don't be ridiculous,” Shen Jiu said waspishly. He shoved at Luo Binghe’s shoulder. “Stop bothering me. Go do your warm-ups somewhere else.”
Luo Binghe tripped off the barre, grinning. He stumbled off into the center of the room, eyes roving over the studio — this place of mirrors, of rustling papers, of beauty, of brassy hairpins and torn stockings, of cell phones sitting dormant next to fancy water bottles.
The company pianist was settling in at the glossy black Steinway. He swayed over the bench drowsily, drinking mouthful after mouthful of coffee as he pored through the day's sheet music. Luo Binghe glanced over his shoulder, clefs and trebles swimming in his eyes as he peeked at the passages they'd be rehearsing: the valse des cygnes, Siegfriend’s lament, Odile’s variation... the final pas de deux.
There'd be sweat, arguments, shouted directions, aching muscles. The blunt repetition of rehearals. Then, Luo Binghe would get back in his car, drive home, shower, and make dinner for the man he loved. They could do minced pork and ginger. A side of fried greens. A half-glass of wine, no more. They could put one of Shen Yuan's terrible dramas on while they ate, curling up like cats on the couch. Luo Binghe always savoured the delicious monotony of their evening conversations: How was your day, my dear?
What Luo Binghe really liked was the little rituals: the smalltalk, the trading of anecdotes, the washing of dishes. He liked all the little mundane conversations about car payments and dentist appointments. He liked brushing his teeth, shoulder-to-shoulder with Shen Yuan. He liked climbing into bed with Shen Yuan, just the simple act of it, even on the nights where Shen Yuan was too sick to have sex. He liked turning the lights out: he liked lying in the dark with Shen Yuan. He liked holding Shen Yuan's soft little body. It filled him with a feeling of immense awe, immense privelege.
He liked it. He liked all of it.
Every last bit of it.
Sha Hualing perked up, waving at Luo Binghe. She was lacing up her freshly-darned pointe shoes, fire in her eyes.
“Hey, loverman! How’s Shen Laoshi?”
Luo Binghe smiled.
“He’s good,” he said. Then, revising his statement in the interest of accuracy, “We’re good. We're really, really good."