Luo Binghe stumbled through the alleyway with a grimace. He was no stranger to life threatening situations, far from it in fact, but tonight had been a colossal fuck up even by his standards.
They’d been betrayed. There was no other explanation for how a normal meeting could have gone so wrong. The men Luo Binghe brought with him were injured or worse, and he himself had barely escaped with his life. He hoped Mobei Jun made it out alright. Last he’d seen, his bodyguard was holding the attackers off while Binghe fled.
The hand that supported him against the wall curled into a fist. Luo Binghe’s pride had suffered a blow as well as his body. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been forced to run away instead of fight his enemies head on. Certainly not since joining Xin Mo as a teenager and being acknowledged as his father’s heir.
A stab of pain made him pause, pressing his other hand more firmly to his side to try to staunch the bleeding. Not good. He was already feeling lightheaded.
Finally reaching the end of the alleyway, Luo Binghe found himself in a quaint residential area. Apartment buildings lined the street, though most windows were dark due to the late hour, and the only light came from the flickering street lamps and the moon half hidden by a hazy sky.
Hoping to find a convenience store nearby where he could purchase a first aid kit, Binghe started walking down the sidewalk, only to bump into someone.
“Oh! Excuse me,” the man said.
Luo Binghe grunted and moved past him. The man did a double take, glancing down at the new red stain on his formerly pristine, white shirt, then up at Luo Binghe.
“Hey, are you alright?” he asked.
Ignoring him, Binghe continued to walk away. Before he could get far, however, another wave of pain made Binghe stumble. The man hurried to offer him a hand, easily supporting Binghe’s weight despite being shorter and slimmer.
“Just hang on,” the man said. “I’ll call an ambulance.”
“No hospitals,” Luo Binghe gritted out. His enemies would no doubt be looking for him there.
“What? But you need medical attention.”
Yeah, no shit. With a scoff, Binghe pulled his arm free and took a few more steps, each more unsteady than the last. His head was swimming and there were black spots everywhere he looked. In less than a minute, Luo Binghe collapsed onto the cold, hard ground, the man’s alarmed shout ringing distantly in his ears as he fell unconscious.
Slowly, Luo Binghe came to. There was a dull ache on his side below his ribcage, his head was pounding, and his mouth tasted like something had curled up and died in it, but he was alive. Somehow.
Opening his eyes, Binghe took in his surroundings. Sunlight streamed in through the large windows, which meant several hours had passed. He was laying on a sofa in what looked like somebody’s living room. The furniture was elegant but comfortable, all dark, rich wood and pale green upholstery. Several antique fans decorated one of the walls while another housed an enormous bookshelf. Across from Luo Binghe, on the other side of the coffee table, was an entertainment system featuring several video game consoles and a giant TV. Miscellaneous items, like books and clothes and even a few empty instant noodle cups, were strewn across various surfaces.
From his vantage point on the sofa, Binghe could spot an open archway leading to what looked like the kitchen, and a hallway with a couple more doors, presumably the bedroom and bathroom. All in all, it was a very nice apartment, if a bit messy. Clearly whoever brought Luo Binghe here had a decent amount of wealth.
As though summoned by his thoughts, the front door opened and the man from last night stepped inside, holding a couple of plastic shopping bags. Upon locking eyes with Luo Binghe, the man set them down and hurried over.
“You’re awake,” he said. “How do you feel? Ah, don’t move,” he added when Binghe tried to sit up, “you could pull the stitches.”
Collapsing back onto the couch, Luo Binghe eyed the stranger warily.
“Who are you?” Binghe asked. “Why did you help me?”
“My name is Shen Qingqiu,” the man said. “And, well, you were hurt. I couldn’t just leave you to die, could I?”
“Why didn’t you just call an ambulance?”
“You said not to,” Shen Qingqiu replied. “I thought about doing it anyway, but figured you wouldn’t have said that without a really good reason.”
“So you brought me to your home?” Was this guy an idiot? “What if I was a dangerous criminal?”
“Even if that’s true, I don’t think you’re in any shape to hurt me,” Shen Qingqiu said wryly with a pointed glance at Binghe’s wound. “Besides, my neighbor is a professional martial arts instructor. I just have to shout and he’ll bust in to kick your ass.”
Luo Binghe didn’t tell Shen Qingqiu that even with his injury he was more than capable of taking the other man out before he could call for help.
“You mentioned stitches,” he said instead.
Shen Qingqiu nodded. “You also have two broken ribs, several bruises, and a concussion.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“No, but one of the residents upstairs is. I asked him to patch you up. Don’t worry,” he added, “Mu-ge is very discreet. I told him you’re one of my grad students.”
“You’re a teacher, then?”
He seemed to be telling the truth. Now that the immediate sense of danger had passed, Luo Binghe took a moment to study his mysterious savior.
Shen Qingqiu appeared to be a few years older than Binghe, perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties. He had an elegant, scholarly face with dark, expressive eyes, and long, black hair, the top portion pulled back into a half tail. Combined with his pale green dress shirt and black slacks, Luo Binghe had no trouble imagining him in an academic setting. Had they met under different circumstances, Binghe would have hit on him in a heartbeat.
“What’s your name?” Shen Qingqiu asked.
“Su Binghe,” he replied. Even if Shen Qingqiu was a civilian, it was better to be safe than sorry.
Shen Qingqiu nodded. “Do you have anyone you can contact, Su Binghe? Friends or family who can help you?”
For all Binghe knew, his father had been assassinated and Xin Mo burned to the ground. Unlikely, but not impossible. Until he had more information, Luo Binghe would have to lay low.
“I see,” Shen Qingqiu looked troubled but not surprised. Luo Binghe wondered what kind of assumptions the professor had made about his situation. “Well, as long as you remain well behaved you’re welcome to stay here while you recover.”
Part of Luo Binghe bristled at being treated like a child, or worse, a stray dog picked up off the street. But after a moment he realized Shen Qingqiu wasn’t trying to be patronizing. He was making a genuinely kind offer to a man he barely knew, a man who could have been, and indeed was, dangerous, and in return merely asked that his guest act courteous in his home.
Maybe the man really was an idiot.
As Shen Qingqiu went to the kitchen to brew some tea, Luo Binghe rummaged through the pile of his clothes on the floor and found his cell phone. To his relief, he had a text from Mobei Jun. Xin Mo was on lockdown after the ambush while Binghe’s father dealt with the rival syndicate and ferreted out the moles. Huan Hua had apparently put a hit on Luo Binghe’s head too. Mobei Jun advised him to stay hidden until the danger had passed.
Well, Binghe thought as he accepted a steaming mug of tea from Shen Qingqiu, they certainly wouldn’t be looking for him here.
Luo Binghe’s plan was simple. He was going to stay in Shen Qingqiu’s apartment and lick his wounds, then leave once the danger had passed or he healed enough to protect himself, whichever came first. He was grateful to his host, and would figure out a way to repay him, but Binghe had no intention of becoming friends with the man.
That plan changed one night when Shen Qingqiu was helping Luo Binghe change his bandages.
“Hold still,” Shen Qingqiu scolded. Despite his tone, the hands on Binghe’s side were gentle. “You’ll tear your stitches and then I’ll have to ask Mu-ge to fix them.”
Binghe inwardly rolled his eyes, but obeyed. He distracted himself by giving the other man another onceover. Shen Qingqiu really was very pretty. Dark, elegant eyebrows furrowed in concentration, and a waterfall of silky hair spilled over his shoulder as he leaned down. The angle made his eyelashes look even longer, brushing over pale cheekbones.
Although they’d been living under the same roof for a few days now, Luo Binghe still hadn’t quite gotten a read on Shen Qingqiu, which was rare for him. Good instincts were what kept Binghe alive all these years, and he could usually get a good grasp on someone’s character within minutes of meeting them, but it seemed Shen Qingqiu was harder to pin down than most.
It irked Luo Binghe, like an itch he couldn’t scratch, but he didn’t pry. Shen Qingqiu had helped him, after all, and Luo Binghe would not return his gesture with nosiness. If Shen Qingqiu wanted to keep his distance, that was fine, great even, because Luo Binghe wanted the same. That way, if Shen Qingqiu turned out to be a bad person, Binghe hadn’t wasted time and effort getting to know him, and if Shen Qingqiu turned out to be a good person, well, it would be remiss of Binghe to show his gratitude by dragging the man further into his affairs.
“There,” Shen Qingqiu said. Leaning back, he tucked his hair behind one ear. “It may not be pretty, but it’ll do the job.”
The bandages wrapped around Luo Binghe’s waist were indeed a bit messy, some twisted or bunched in odd places, but they seemed sturdy enough.
Shrugging, Binghe stood up, only for the bandages to immediately unravel and fall to the floor, dressing and all.
“Shit,” Shen Qingqiu frantically fumbled with the tiny bottles of medicine on the coffee table. “Um, which one was...uh, this one?”
Luo Binghe blinked. Up until now, his host had remained cool and stoic, with an air of dignity at all times. Seeing him like this, cheeks flushed red, muttering and cursing under his breath, made him look like a whole different person. It was...cute.
“Here, let me try again,” Shen Qingqiu tugged him back down onto the couch, dabbing ointment onto fresh dressing to press against Binghe’s wound. “I’ll get it right this time, I swear.”
“It’s fine,” Luo Binghe chuckled. “You’ve never done this before, have you?”
Shen Qingqiu opened his mouth, closed it, and looked away.
“No,” he admitted.
Binghe wondered why he’d been so insistent on doing it then. Probably so he didn’t have to bother his doctor friend? Well, no matter. Luo Binghe took the bandages out of Shen Qingqiu’s hands and started winding them around his own torso.
“You do it like this,” he explained. “See?”
Thankfully, Shen Qingqiu didn’t ask how Binghe knew how to treat wounds. He merely watched with rapt attention, taking over once Binghe handed him the roll. The results were much improved from the previous attempt.
Pleased, Shen Qingqiu looked up at Luo Binghe with a small but bright smile.
Perhaps, Binghe thought in a daze, getting to know Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
On the sixth day in Shen Qingqiu’s apartment, Luo Binghe decided he’d had enough. He couldn't take it anymore. With an iron will and what little strength he’d recovered, Binghe forced himself off of the couch.
And started tidying up the living room.
He liked things to be orderly, okay? Shen Qingqiu’s apartment wasn’t dirty by any means, but the man clearly had no qualms over just throwing his stuff onto any random surface and forgetting about it. The mess surrounding Luo Binghe had taunted him for days on end.
Well, no more. He was finally well enough to walk around without feeling like he was being stabbed all over again, plus there were only so many episodes of trashy, daytime TV he could watch before he was bored out of his mind, so Binghe decided to kill two birds with one stone.
Which was why Shen Qingqiu returned from work a few hours later to find a spotless living room and a delicious smell wafting in from the kitchen.
“Binghe?” he peered over Luo Binghe’s shoulder at the stir fry with a cute, nonplussed expression. “What are you doing?”
“You’re supposed to be resting. I can cook for us.”
“Shizun must be tired from work. Besides, I enjoy cooking.”
Binghe had taken to calling Shen Qingqiu “Shizun” after the man gave him a passionate lecture on a film they watched together, both praising and criticizing it for how it compared to the original book it was based upon. Afterwards, he got embarrassed and apologized for getting carried away, but Luo Binghe had found it quite charming, and teasingly told Shen Qingqiu that he reminded Binghe of a wise master teaching his disciples. Shen Qingqiu had wrinkled his nose at the archaic title, but the name stuck.
“Even so, Binghe mustn’t overexert himself,” Shen Qingqiu said. “You even cleaned up the living room. What if you pulled your stitches, hm?”
In opposition to his scolding words, the hands that fluttered over Luo Binghe’s bandages were as soft as butterfly wings when they checked his wound. Luo Binghe couldn’t help but enjoy the attention.
Once he made sure Binghe wasn’t bleeding or in any pain, Shen Qingqiu allowed himself to be ushered into a chair while Luo Binghe finished making dinner. It was a fairly simple dish. Shen Qingqiu himself didn’t cook much, so the pantry was on the sparse side, but Binghe felt confident in his ability to make even a basic stir fry delicious.
Sure enough, when Shen Qingqiu took the first bite, his eyes lit up.
“This is amazing,” he said. A little bit more of that aloof mask slipped away as he shoved meat, rice, and veggies into his mouth. “One of the best meals I’ve ever had.”
Binghe glowed under the praise.
“If you like, I’d be happy to cook all our meals from now on,” he offered. Seeing Shen Qingqiu’s hesitance, Binghe added, “It’s the least I can do after you let me stay here.”
Apparently the desire for more delicious food won over Shen Qingqiu’s obligation to be a polite host, and he agreed on the condition that he would still pay for the groceries. Though neither of them were hurting for money, Luo Binghe didn’t know if his credit card was being monitored, so he accepted the terms.
Watching Shen Qingqiu happily eat his meal, Luo Binghe felt more content than he had in a long time.
After that, Luo Binghe developed a routine. He got up early in the morning and made breakfast, which he shared with an adorably sleepy Shen Qingqiu before the other man headed to work. Next, Binghe ran through some light exercises to keep his body in peak condition, careful not to strain his injuries even if it would have been fun to see Shen Qingqiu fuss over him again.
The rest of his day was spent intermittently resting and cleaning around the apartment. Sometimes Luo Binghe went out for a walk or ran to the grocery store if they needed anything, though he always made sure to disguise himself. The last thing he wanted was for his enemies to catch wind of him, or worse, his budding relationship with Shen Qingqiu.
Part of making sure that didn’t happen was by keeping up to date with Mobei Jun. The Xin Mo syndicate was still rooting out all the traitors, and Luo Binghe’s father seemed to be planning some kind of strike against Huan Hua, but Mobei Jun wouldn’t give him any more details. Luo Binghe wished he could help, but Huan Hua was still after him. The hit on Binghe had apparently doubled its reward.
Well, no matter. Even Mobei Jun didn’t know where Binghe was. The only ones who did were Shen Qingqiu and his doctor friend, and neither knew Luo Binghe was the sole heir to the biggest crime family in the nation. For the time being, Binghe could continue his charade. He honestly found it rather refreshing, not having to constantly look over his shoulder or worry about which one of his allies was going to stab him in the back given the first opportunity. Instead, he could stay at home and cook and clean and eat his meals with a front row seat to Shen Qingqiu’s lovely smile.
In another life, Luo Binghe would have made an excellent househusband.
The weeks passed and Luo Binghe made it his mission to get to know Shen Qingqiu little by little. The man taught classic literature at the local university, having earned a doctorate at an impressively young age. From what Binghe gathered from their conversations, Shen Qingqiu came from a wealthy family that placed a lot of stock into tradition, including the antiquated practice of giving their children courtesy names.
After a lot of wheedling and puppy dog eyes, Binghe learned that Shen Qingqiu’s birth name was Shen Yuan, though apparently only his family called him that. Luo Binghe was tempted to call him “A-Yuan” just to see what kind of reaction he’d get, but decided he preferred using “Shizun'' instead. It was like a cute nickname for just the two of them.
Besides, Binghe could call him A-Yuan once they were married.
Because the more time they spent together, the more Luo Binghe became convinced that, yes, he was going to marry Shen Qingqiu. Frankly, he was shocked the man hadn’t already been snatched up. Shen Qingqiu was beautiful, graceful, and intelligent, like an immortal who descended to earth to bless the common people with his presence.
He was also a huge fuckin’ nerd.
Anyone who looked at Shen Qingqiu would see a true scholar, aloof and a tad pretentious, but after living together for so long Luo Binghe discovered this was all an act. Shen Qingqiu’s face was thin and he got embarrassed easily, so he tried to seem poised and dignified at all times. However, in the comfort of his home, Shen Qingqiu would sometimes slip up.
Those fans displayed on his wall weren’t just for show, it turned out. Shen Qingqiu frequently liked to pick one to carry around with him and waft in front of his face. It was an odd quirk, but Binghe had to admit it looked nice, as the professor always coordinated the colors to match his outfit. And while some of the fans were indeed antiques, as Binghe initially suspected, several were actually cosplay items belonging to fictional characters.
Shen Qingqiu also loved to read. This wasn’t surprising, given his profession, but some of the contents were...not what Luo Binghe expected.
Shen Qingqiu once sat curled up in his armchair, not moving a single muscle for hours as he devoured something written on his laptop. Sneaking a peak, Luo Binghe looked up the synopsis to find it was some kind of trashy stallion webnovel. Then, when Shen Qingqiu finally finished the damn thing, he spent another hour writing what Luo Binghe could only imagine was the longest review on the internet.
The furrowed eyebrows, flushed cheeks, and fiery eyes were...weirdly adorable. He kept muttering out loud under his breath, too, something about “fanservice” and “airplanes” and “plot holes,” and Luo Binghe felt delighted that Shen Qingqiu had grown comfortable enough to let this part of himself show in Binghe’s presence. It was a far cry from how he acted when they first met.
While their friendship was progressing nicely, in order to convince Shen Qingqiu to marry him Luo Binghe needed to make his romantic aspirations clear. This, however, turned out to be more difficult than anticipated.
Luo Binghe was no stranger to the art of seduction. He’d had plenty of partners through the years, and even the ones playing hard to get gave in soon enough. Shen Qingqiu, on the other hand, seemed to have no clue that Luo Binghe was trying to flirt with him. Every attempt went completely over his head. It was equal parts cute and frustrating.
One evening, Shen Qingqiu sat down on the couch next to Binghe with a groan.
“How long before I can retire, again?” he asked. “I’m getting too old for this.”
“Tell that to my spine.”
Shen Qingqiu knocked his fist against his lower back like an old man. Rolling his eyes, Binghe reached over and kneaded the area with his own hands, earning a small, “Oh,” before Shen Qingqiu melted. With a smile, Luo Binghe massaged the other man’s back and shoulders.
Soon, Shen Qingqiu was loose limbed enough for Binghe to easily maneuver him to sprawl sideways across the couch with his feet in Luo Binghe’s lap. Removing Shen Qingqiu’s socks, Binghe got to work. He dug his thumb into the arch of Shen Qingqiu’s sole and rolled each toe between his fingers. The pale, dainty foot looked even smaller in Luo Binghe’s large hands, and he could see thin, blue veins and delicate bones beneath the creamy skin. A perfect, pink seashell adorned each toe, and Binghe was struck by the oddest desire to paint them.
Finished with one foot, Binghe picked up the other. Shen Qingqiu’s ankle was slim enough that Binghe’s fingers wrapped all the way around it, and he idly rubbed the sensitive area above the heel. When Binghe’s kneaded a particularly tense knot of muscle on the underside of Shen Qingqiu’s foot, Shen Qingqiu tipped his head back and released a low, breathy moan that went straight to Binghe’s dick.
Mouth dry, Luo Binghe continued to massage Shen Qingqiu’s foot as though he hadn’t been affected.
“Ah, Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu gasped, “that feels so good.”
If Binghe didn’t know him so well by now, he would have thought the other man was doing it on purpose. As it was, every little sigh and hitch of breath drove him insane, and Luo Binghe couldn’t do anything about it because the source of all those delicious noises was completely oblivious.
The sweet torture finally ended, though Luo Binghe made no move to remove Shen Qingqiu’s feet from his lap. Instead, he merely rested a hand on Shen Qingqiu’s ankles and flipped the television on. Shen Qingqiu didn’t seem to notice or care, content to sink further into the cushions with a cat-like stretch.
“Thank you, Binghe,” he yawned. “I really needed that.”
“Any time,” Luo Binghe said. “Shizun only needs to ask.”
“Don’t say that,” Shen Qingqiu scolded lightly, “or else I’ll ask all the time and you’ll get sick of me.”
“I could never get sick of Shizun.”
“Even if that were true, it’s still not a good idea. I’d become spoiled.”
Luo Binghe quite liked the idea of spoiling Shen Qingqiu. He wanted to pamper him, take care of him, dote on him every day for the rest of their lives. It was almost terrifying how much he wanted it.
They relaxed until it was time for bed. Watching Luo Binghe prepare the couch with blankets and a pillow, Shen Qingqiu hesitated.
“Binghe,” he said. When Binghe looked back at him, Shen Qingqiu grabbed one of his fans and snapped it out in front of his face with a cough. “I’ve been thinking. You’ve been here for a couple of months now and, well, I can’t imagine sleeping on a couch for that long is very good for your back.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” Luo Binghe said. “I’ve slept in far worse places.” Namely, the streets.
“Still,” Shen Qingqiu fluttered his fan faster, “if I had the space I’d get you a bed or an air mattress of some sort, but since that’s not an option,” two spots of pink peeked over the top of the fan just below his eyes, “would you like to, um, sleep in my room?”
Luo Binghe’s mind went blank. “You mean...on the bed?”
“Well I’m not going to make you sleep on the floor,” Shen Qingqiu scoffed. When Binghe failed to respond, he spun around and started toward his bedroom. “You know what, nevermind. It was a dumb idea, just forget I even asked-”
“Wait!” Luo Binghe grabbed Shen Qingqiu’s wrist. When the other man looked back at him warily, Binghe said, “I...I was just surprised. If it’s alright with Shizun, I’d gladly share his bed.”
The wording made Shen Qingqiu’s cheeks blush even brighter. It was quite fetching. Clearing his throat, the teacher nodded and led Binghe into the other room.
Luo Binghe had been in Shen Qingqiu’s bedroom a few times before. Mainly to clean it. The aesthetic matched the rest of the apartment, a mix of classy decor and pop culture paraphernalia. One shelf held first editions of famous works of literature, right above another shelf proudly displaying limited edition anime figurines. Below that was what looked at a glance like an antique sword, but Binghe knew it was actually a replica from Shen Qingqiu’s favorite xianxia drama.
The bed was large enough for both of them to fit without touching. Binghe wasn’t sure if that was a blessing or a curse. He had no intention of taking advantage of his host, of course, but he also wouldn’t have been too upset about a little bit of mandatory cuddling. Oh well.
After his turn in the bathroom, Luo Binghe slipped under the covers on the side Shen Qingqiu had left empty for him. Shen Qingqiu turned off the light, and the darkness made Luo Binghe hyper aware of the other man’s presence, a large patch of warmth just inches away, close enough for Binghe to reach out and touch. Despite the pounding of Luo Binghe’s heart, he forced himself to take slow, even breaths.
“Goodnight, Shizun,” he said quietly.
Luo Binghe woke up slowly, feeling more languid and content than he could remember being in a long time, maybe ever. There was a warm weight tucked against his chest.
His eyes blinked open and he looked down to see that he and Shen Qingqiu must have gravitated toward each other in their sleep. They were both laying on their sides, legs tangled together, facing each other. Luo Binghe’s arm was draped over Shen Qingqiu’s waist, and Shen Qingqiu’s hands were loosely grasping the front of Luo Binghe’s shirt. It was unfairly cute.
In the gray light of dawn, Luo Binghe succumbed to his urges and shamelessly raked his eyes over Shen Qingqiu’s visage. Slumber made the man’s face soft, his brow smooth and lips slightly parted. Long, dark eyelashes fanned high cheekbones. Inky, black hair splayed across the pillow and sheets, shiny and soft, and Binghe resisted the urge to run his fingers through it.
Those thick eyelashes fluttered, and dark, lovely eyes looked back at Binghe, still hazy from slumber.
Luo Binghe smiled. “Good morning, Shizun.”
Shen Qingqiu didn’t move for a moment. Finally, he seemed to realize the position they were in and he shot up with a squeak. His hands made odd gestures in the air, like he wanted a fan to hide behind, but finding none, Shen Qingqiu could only try to hide his flustered state with a mask of indifference. It was undercut somewhat by the redness of his cheeks.
“Good morning, Binghe,” he cleared his throat. “Did you sleep well?”
Amused, Binghe nodded. “I did. Many thanks to Shizun for allowing me to sleep here.”
“It’s no trouble,” Shen Qingqiu stubbornly refused to meet his eyes.
Deciding to take pity on the other man, Luo Binghe excused himself to start breakfast. As he stirred the congee, Binghe hummed a happy little tune.
Perhaps Shen Qingqiu was not so immune to his charms after all.
At least, that’s what Binghe thought at first, but after several days of sleeping in the same bed he was disappointed to realize their relationship had not changed much beyond that. Sure, it was domestic and sweet and Luo Binghe loved nothing more than to have Shen Qingqiu be the last thing he saw at night and the first thing he saw when he woke up, but Shen Qingqiu still didn’t react much to his increasingly obvious flirting. It got to the point where Binghe honestly couldn’t tell if Shen Qingqiu did recognize Binghe’s intentions and was trying to let him down easy, or if he was genuinely that oblivious.
Luo Binghe was still pondering this very question when the front door opened to reveal Shen Qingqiu followed by another man carrying a large box in his arms.
“-didn’t have to, Liu-xiong,” Shen Qingqiu said, “but I appreciate it nonetheless.”
The mystery man grunted, setting the box onto the coffee table at Shen Qingqiu’s direction. Smiling, Shen Qingqiu turned to Luo Binghe.
“Binghe, this is my neighbor, Liu Qingge,” he said. “The library was getting rid of a bunch of books today and let me take whatever ones I wanted home. I got a little carried away. Thankfully, Liu-xiong happened to see me struggling up the stairs and offered his assistance.”
Vinegar sat heavy on Luo Binghe’s tongue.
“I could have helped you, Shizun,” he said, not at all childishly.
Grabbing one of his fans, Shen Qingqiu lightly bopped Binghe on the head. “Don’t be silly, Binghe. You’re still recovering. Mu-ge said you’re not supposed to lift anything heavy for at least another week.”
Grumbling, Luo Binghe eyed the newcomer. Liu Qingge was a young man around his age, whose pretty face was marred by a scowl. Judgmental eyes swept over Binghe. Luo Binghe felt his hackles rise in response.
Ignorant of the silent death stare going on, Shen Qingqiu said, “Liu-xiong, would you like to stay for some tea? It’s the least I could do to thank you for your help.”
Against Binghe’s wishes, Liu Qingge nodded. Not wanting to be outdone, Binghe quickly said, “I’ll make it for you, Shizun,” and bustled into the kitchen.
While he brewed the tea and prepared some snacks, Luo Binghe eavesdropped on the other two.
“Why does he call you Shizun?”
“Ah, Binghe is one of my grad students.”
“Shouldn’t it be Laoshi?”
“It’s just a nickname. Binghe is, um, eccentric.”
The two neighbors made idle chatter until Luo Binghe returned with the tea. His sharp eyes didn’t fail to notice how Liu Qingge’s constipated expression would soften now and then when he looked at Shen Qingqiu, his lips sometimes even turning up into the shadow of a smile.
Even though Binghe was sure he brewed the tea perfectly, it still tasted like vinegar in his mouth.
The worst part came when Liu Qingge finally got up to leave. While Shen Qingqiu bid him farewell at the door, Liu Qingge hesitated before reaching into his jacket to pull out a slim box.
“I found this at an antique shop the other day,” he said, a faint blush on his cheeks. “Thought you might like it for your collection.”
Awkwardly, he held it out. Shen Qingqiu took the gift with a smile which brightened upon opening the box.
“Oh, it’s lovely,” Shen Qingqiu unfolded the fan, admiring the bamboo pattern painted on the silk. “Thank you, Liu-xiong.”
Liu Qingge nodded.
“I feel bad just taking it. Is there anything I can give you in return? Some tea leaves perhaps?”
“At least let me give you some cookies,” Shen Qingqiu insisted. “Binghe made them and they’re very good.”
He went into the kitchen to scoop a handful of cookies into a bag, not noticing the scowl exchanged between Luo Binghe and Liu Qingge. Their faces quickly returned to normal once he returned.
With one last nod, Liu Qingge accepted the treats and left. Luo Binghe couldn’t hide his pout as he watched Shen Qingqiu try to find a place on the wall for his new fan.
“Shizun,” he said, “have you and Liu Qingge known each other for a long time?”
“Hm? Oh, I suppose,” Shen Qingqiu replied. “We met when he moved in about five years ago.”
“Does he bring you fans often?”
“Every now and then. He started doing it, oh, three years ago? A good third of my collection was probably found by him, now that I think about it,” Shen Qingqiu mounted his new piece with a satisfied hum. “Liu-xiong seems prickly at first, but he’s quite nice once you get to know him.”
Luo Binghe pursed his lips. On one hand, not only did he have a rival for Shen Qingqiu’s love but said rival had clearly been vying for the professor’s attention for far longer than Binghe, and had a much longer history with the man. On the other hand, watching a suitor interact with Shen Qingqiu from the outside made Luo Binghe realize that, yes, Shen Qingqiu really was that oblivious to romantic gestures. It almost made Binghe want to light a candle in his heart for Liu Qingge. Almost.
As he helped Shen Qingqiu organize his new trove of books, Luo Binghe steeled his resolve. Liu Qingge had taught him a valuable lesson. Clearly, subtle pining was not going to cut it. Luo Binghe needed to do something drastic to make his interest in Shen Qingqiu obvious.
A few days later, Shen Qingqiu came home to find the apartment lit only by several candles scattered aesthetically around the room. A veritable feast covered the dining table, composed of all of Shen Qingqiu’s favorite dishes, and low, soothing music floated through the air.
“What’s all this?” Shen Qingqiu asked when Binghe came over to take his coat and bag. “Is there some kind of special occasion going on?”
“In a way,” Luo Binghe said. He pulled out one of the chairs. “Please, Shizun, sit.”
Though he was still baffled, Shen Qingqiu could not resist Binghe’s cooking, and allowed Binghe to push his chair in and pour him a glass of wine. Luo Binghe sat across from him and they chatted about their day as though it was any other dinner. After a while, Shen Qingqiu put his chopsticks down.
“Binghe, the food is delicious as always,” he said, “but I’m afraid I can’t fully enjoy it until I hear whatever it is you want to say. I’ll admit, the suspense is making me a bit nervous. Are you alright?”
Binghe’s heart, which had slowly calmed down over the course of their conversation, kicked back into high gear. However, Shen Qingqiu’s concern for his well being helped ease the butterflies in his stomach.
“Shizun,” he said, “there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you. And, well, I just want to say that no matter your answer, I’ll listen. If you want me to leave, I’ll do it.”
As much as it would hurt, if Shen Qingqiu rejected Luo Binghe he wouldn’t argue. Luo Binghe was at least healed enough that he would probably be safe on his own at this point.
“Leave?” Shen Qingqiu repeated, taken aback. “Why would I want you to leave?”
“What I’m about to say to Shizun,” Binghe bit his lip, “it could make him uncomfortable with us living together.”
“I can’t imagine what that could be,” Shen Qingqiu said. He glanced away with a small blush. “I, um, enjoy living with Binghe.”
Warmth bloomed in Binghe’s chest. “I like living with Shizun too. That’s kind of the problem.”
“I like living with Shizun too much,” Luo Binghe confessed. “I...I want more. I want to live with Shizun for the rest of my life.”
Shen Qingqiu’s eyes widened, his cheeks turning a pretty shade of pink. “W-what are you…”
“Shizun,” Luo Binghe reached out to gently take Shen Qingqiu’s hand, “will you go out with me?”
“Go out?” Shen Qingqiu stared blankly back at him. “You mean, like...on a date?”
“Mn,” Binghe smiled, charmed despite the rapid beating of his heart. “I would like for Shizun to be my boyfriend.”
If possible, Shen Qingqiu’s face turned an even darker shade of red.
“I don’t…” his eyes flitted down to their joined hands, then around at the candles, then up to Binghe’s face, then back down to their hands. “I, um…”
Seeing that the other man was overwhelmed, Luo Binghe slowly withdrew.
“You don’t need to give me an answer right now,” he said. “I just wanted to tell you how I feel.”
“O-oh,” Shen Qingqiu said. “And what you feel is, um…”
“Love,” Binghe said simply.
Shen Qingqiu let out a squeak. He glanced around again, probably looking for a fan to hide behind, and when he didn’t find one he instead covered his face with his hands.
“Are...are you sure it’s not just misplaced gratitude for saving your life?”
“I’m sure,” Binghe said. “I feel gratitude to Shizun too, but this is different. I want to kiss Shizun. I want to make him breakfast every morning and dinner every night. I want to take Shizun to bed and-”
“Stop stop stop,” Shen Qingqiu frantically waved a hand, still hiding behind the other. “I understand, I just...need some time to think.”
“Of course,” Luo Binghe said. Though disappointed, he didn’t want to rush the other man.
They ate without speaking, silent except for the romantic music and clinking of chopsticks. Luo Binghe desperately wanted to say something, do something, anything to convince Shen Qingqiu to accept his proposal, but forced himself to remain quiet. He’d done what he could, now the rest was up to Shen Qingqiu.
After dinner, they got ready for bed. Standing awkwardly in Shen Qingqiu’s bedroom, Luo Binghe said, “I’ll, uh, sleep on the couch.”
Without meeting his eyes, Shen Qingqiu nodded. Disappointed filled Luo Binghe once again, but he obediently went to the living room.
Binghe tossed and turned for what felt like hours. What had been a perfectly acceptable place to sleep before had now become unbearable after weeks of sleeping in Shen Qingqiu’s bed. Just as he had resigned himself to a restless night, Luo Binghe heard Shen Qingqiu’s door open, followed by the sound of bare feet padding closer. He sat up to find Shen Qingqiu standing a little ways away, still not looking directly at Binghe.
“Shizun?” Binghe prompted after a long silence.
Shen Qingqiu mumbled something under his breath.
Clearing his throat, Shen Qingqiu repeated himself, just barely loud enough for Binghe to hear.
“...The bed is cold,”
“Shizun,” Luo Binghe breathed. “Does this mean…?”
Snatching a nearby fan, Shen Qingqiu covered the lower half of his face even though it was already too dark to see clearly anyway.
“It seems I’ve grown accustomed to Binghe’s presence,” he said, “and after thinking about it, I’ve decided that being...closer...to Binghe wouldn’t be so bad.”
Before he’d even finished speaking, Luo Binghe was off the couch and pulling Shen Qingqiu into his arms.
“Shizun!” Binghe cried. “I’m so happy!”
In the faint moonlight, he saw Shen Qingqiu’s cheeks blush above the fan. With a small cough, he reached up to pat Luo Binghe on the head, and another rush of warmth flooded Binghe’s heart.
“Yes, yes,” Shen Qingqiu said. “For now, let’s just go to bed, alright? We can figure things out in the morning.”
Nodding, Luo Binghe followed him into the bedroom and immediately cuddled close under the covers. Shen Qingqiu made another adorable noise, but allowed Binghe to hold him.
Luo Binghe had woken up many times with Shen Qingqiu in his arms, but this was the first time they went to sleep embraced together.
He was determined that it wouldn’t be the last.
If living with Shen Qingqiu was bliss before, now it was pure heaven. Luo Binghe no longer had to hold back, and frequently hugged and kissed Shen Qingqiu whenever he felt like it. Shen Qingqiu tried to retain his aloof mask at first, no doubt a self-defense mechanism to save his thin face, but Binghe quickly learned that Shen Qingqiu was weak to Binghe’s puppy dog eyes and used this to his full advantage.
“Shizun,” Binghe said, crocodile tears welling up, “please let me.”
“No,” Shen Qingqiu squirmed on Binghe’s lap, his defiant glare belied by the blush on his cheeks. “Mu-ge said no strenuous activity. This,” he grabbed Luo Binghe’s wrist to pull a wandering hand off of his backside, “counts as strenuous.”
“But Shizun,” Binghe whined.
“I said no, Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu replied. “We can discuss it more once you’ve fully healed, but for now it’s just kissing or nothing at all.”
Binghe’s pout quickly vanished in favor of devouring Shen Qingqiu’s mouth. Although he was disappointed at not being able to take their physical relationship to the next level, Luo Binghe would never pass up an opportunity to kiss Shen Qingqiu.
Pushing one hand back into Shen Qingqiu’s hair, Luo Binghe angled his head to slot their lips together more comfortably, coaxing out a soft moan by licking into the other man’s mouth. Binghe’s free arm wrapped around Shen Qingqiu’s waist, drawing him closer, and Shen Qingqiu sighed as he gripped the front of Binghe’s shirt. Delving further into the wet cavern of Shen Qingqiu’s mouth, Luo Binghe’s hand trailed down to knead at the man’s pert rump once more.
Just as Binghe’s hips began to buck, Shen Qingqiu suddenly pulled back and smacked him on the head with a fan seemingly procured out of thin air.
“Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu scolded. “What did I just say?”
“Sorry, Shizun,” Binghe said mulishly. “I can’t help it. Shizun is too irresistible.”
Snapping his fan open to hide the flush high on his cheekbones, Shen Qingqiu cleared his throat and said, “We have to be patient. If you promise to behave, then...then once you’re fully recovered we can do anything you want.”
At this, Luo Binghe perked back up. “Anything?”
Not making eye contact, Shen Qingqiu nodded. “Within reason, of course. I’m not-mmph!”
Luo Binghe crushed their lips back together, swallowing whatever Shen Qingqiu was about to say. Shen Qingqiu retaliated with another light whack of his fan against Binghe’s chest before wrapping his arms around Binghe’s neck and returning the kiss.
Luo Binghe was happy. Happier than he had ever been, in fact. He’d found someone to love, and who loved him in return. At least, Binghe was pretty sure Shen Qingqiu loved him. The other man hadn’t said it yet, but there was no mistaking the fondness in his eyes when they kissed or gentleness in his touch when he tended to Binghe’s wounds or the way his eyes lit up when he tasted Binghe’s cooking. And as the days passed, Luo Binghe fell even more in love in return.
There was only one dark stain upon the bright light in Luo Binghe’s life.
HH is gone. It’s safe to come back.
Luo Binghe stared at the text from Mobei Jun, his mind blank. It had taken over three months, but Binghe’s father had gotten revenge on Huan Hua for their treachery and wiped them out, presumably exterminating the traitors in their own group as well. All that was left was for Luo Binghe to return to his rightful place at his father’s side.
He would be lying if he said a part of him didn’t miss it. Luo Binghe enjoyed the strength and power of his position, the satisfaction of seeing all that he had built with his own two hands. Though he was his father’s son, Binghe clawed his way up Xin Mo’s hierarchy through his own merit, and there was something inside of him, bloodthirsty and savage, that had revelled in the challenge, and longed to return.
But...being with Shen Qingqiu was the happiest Luo Binghe had ever felt. Could he give that up? Without even really thinking about it, Binghe knew his answer. He needed Shen Qingqiu in his life, even if that meant throwing away everything he’d worked for up until now. It all meant nothing without Shen Qingqiu to share it with.
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that. Though he’d give it all up in a heartbeat for the man he loved, Luo Binghe had responsibilities. His position as heir meant there were people who expected things of him, people who relied on him, and Binghe couldn’t just abandon them without any consequences. Leaving the syndicate would paint a target on his back, and, by extension, Shen Qingqiu’s.
Luo Binghe could ask Shen Qingqiu to join him in Xin Mo. As Binghe’s spouse, Shen Qingqiu would be in danger but he would also get better protection. However, that was assuming Shen Qingqiu even agreed to come with Luo Binghe in the first place. Binghe couldn’t imagine the other man would be keen on the idea of marrying the heir to a criminal empire, especially after being lied to for so long.
After stewing in his thoughts all day, Binghe came to a terrifying conclusion. He had to tell Shen Qingqiu the truth. As scared as he was that Shen Qingqiu would reject him, Luo Binghe knew that he couldn’t make any decisions until he found out Shen Qingqiu’s feelings on the situation. If he was lucky, Shen Qingqiu would forgive Binghe and still want to be with him, and they could figure things out from there. If he was unlucky...well, Binghe would deal with that if it came to it.
Tonight, Luo Binghe nodded to himself. Tonight, he would tell Shen Qingqiu everything.
He decided to make Shen Qingqiu’s favorite meal for dinner, and refused to wonder if it would be the last time he cooked for Shen Qingqiu at all.
Binghe finished cooking and covered the food to keep it warm. Nervous, he waited for Shen Qingqiu to come home from work.
The dishes grew cold, and Luo Binghe started to feel anxious for a different reason. Whenever Shen Qingqiu had to stay late at work he always texted Binghe to let him know, and he’d never been this late before.
When Luo Binghe’s phone finally lit up he scrambled to grab it. Upon reading the message, however, his heart turned to ice.
It was an address, accompanied by a picture of Shen Qingqiu, bound and gagged.
The address turned out to be an abandoned warehouse. Sneering at the cliché, Luo Binghe entered the building and slowly walked with his hands in the air to show he was unarmed.
In the middle of the large room, Shen Qingqiu sat on a metal chair, his wrists tied behind him and ankles bound to the chair legs, gagged by a thick strip of cloth. A man stood beside him, pressing a gun to Shen Qingqiu’s head.
“Luo Binghe,” the man said, “I knew you’d come.”
“Lao Gongzhu,” Luo Binghe greeted. “When I heard Huan Hua was destroyed, I’d hoped you’d been killed too. Should’ve known a coward like you weaseled your way out. What, did you let your daughter take the fall for you? Or maybe Gongyi Xiao?”
“I did what I had to to survive,” the older man said. “And now, thanks to you and your father, my life is in ruins. Everything I’ve worked for, gone!”
“You brought this upon yourself when you double crossed us.”
“It was Xin Mo that crossed me first,” Lao Gongzhu spat, “when your father seduced Su Xiyan away from Huan Hua. My revenge was a long time coming!”
Luo Binghe frowned. He knew his birth mother used to be a member of Huan Hua, but always heard she left on amicable terms.
“He took my successor away from me, my beautiful Xiyan,” Lao Gongzhu continued, “so I decided to take his heir, the only thing he has left of her. But you, Brat, you didn’t die, and Xin Mo came after Huan Hua. Those who aren’t dead have defected. I have nothing left.”
“Not my problem,” Luo Binghe said flatly.
“Oh, but it is. You see, despite the circumstances, I haven’t given up on my revenge.”
“So you lured me here to kill me?”
“Precisely. But first, since you ruined my plans so thoroughly, I’m going to make you suffer as I have suffered.”
Shen Qingqiu let out a muffled whimper as Lao Gongzhu pressed the barrel of the gun harder against his skull. Furious, Luo Binghe stepped forward, only to freeze when Lao Gongzhu clicked the safety off.
“Ah ah ah,” the older man taunted. “No sudden movements.”
“Do what you want to me,” Binghe glared, “but let him go.”
Eyes wide, Shen Qingqiu tried to shake his head, but the other two ignored his protests.
“No,” Lao Gongzhu said. “You will lose your loved one, as I lost mine, and then your father will lose his successor, as I lost mine.”
“You didn’t lose my mother because she was killed, you lost her because she chose someone else over you.”
“What does it matter? Either way she was lost to me!”
Lao Gongzhu chuckled. “You’ll understand soon enough.”
He turned to meet Shen Qingqiu’s terrified gaze and squeezed the trigger.
But Luo Binghe was already two steps ahead. As soon as the former Huan Hua leader took his eyes off of Binghe, Binghe slid a hidden knife out of his sleeve and hurled it at Lao Gongzhu with deadly accuracy. The small blade sank into Lao Gongzhu’s wrist, causing the shot to go wide before the gun clattered to the floor.
Lao Gongzhu clutched his bleeding wrist with a cry, unprepared as Luo Binghe tackled him to the ground. Even if he still wasn’t fully recovered, Luo Binghe was much stronger than Lao Gongzhu, and easily knocked the man unconscious. Binghe considered killing him, but decided to let his father take care of it. From the sound of it, this whole mess went back to a grudge between the two of them over Luo Binghe’s mother.
Besides, Luo Binghe had more important things to worry about.
“Shizun!” Binghe rushed to Shen Qingqiu’s side. “Are you alright? Did he hurt you?” If Lao Gongzhu touched a hair on Shen Qingqiu’s head, Binghe might have had to reassess the decision to leave him to his father.
Removing the gag, Luo Binghe got to work untying the ropes around Shen Qingqiu’s wrists.
“I’m okay, I think,” Shen Qingqiu said. “Binghe, what’s going on? Who is that man, and what was he talking about?”
Once Shen Qingqiu was freed, Luo Binghe kneeled down in front of him, his head hung low.
“Shizun, I...I lied to you,” he confessed. “My name isn’t Su Binghe, it’s Luo Binghe. I’m a member of the Xin Mo crime syndicate. Not just a member. Xin Mo’s leader is my father.”
That was it? Blinking, Binghe looked up. Although Shen Qingqiu looked confused, and more than a little shaken, he didn’t seem to be all that concerned by the news.
“You,” Luo Binghe swallowed, “you’re not upset?”
“Well, I am a little,” Shen Qingqiu said. “But to be honest, I kind of suspected you were hiding something. Maybe not quite to this level, but you were bleeding out from a stab wound when we met, and refused to go to a hospital. That’s not normal.”
Luo Binghe wilted. His life was indeed far from normal, and while living with Shen Qingqiu had been a nice reprieve from the chaos, he knew he had to return, and that Shen Qingqiu might not want to leave “normal” with him.
“Shizun,” he said, “if...if you no longer want to be with me, I understand.”
Shen Qingqiu frowned. “Does Binghe no longer wish to be with me?”
“Of course not!” Luo Binghe shot to his feet. “My feelings for Shizun haven’t changed. I want to be with Shizun always!”
Standing up in a much more graceful movement, Shen Qingqiu looked Binghe in the eyes.
“Then why does Binghe assume my feelings have changed?”
“It was because of me that Shizun was put into danger,” Binghe said, distressed. “If Shizun stays with me, there will always be enemies who seek to harm him.”
Shen Qingqiu seemed to consider this for a moment. “WIll Binghe protect me?”
“Then I don’t see any problem.”
“Shizun,” Binghe said, barely daring to breathe. “You really mean it?”
With a faint blush, Shen Qingqiu took Luo Binghe’s hand.
“I understand that there will be difficulties,” he said, “and that I could be pulled into situations like today, and that does scare me, but…” Shen Qingqiu reached up to cup Binghe’s cheek, and Binghe immediately placed his own hand over Shen Qingqiu’s, leaning into the touch. “For Binghe, I’m willing to risk it.” Shen Qingqiu swallowed. “I love you, Binghe.”
“Shizun,” Luo Binghe stared. “Shizun. Shen Qingqiu. Shen Yuan. A-Yuan.”
“What?” Shen Qingqiu snapped, his cheeks bright red. “Stop calling my name! If you have something to say, say it.”
“Shizun,” Luo Binghe drew him closer into his arms. “I love you, Shizun.”
Before Shen Qingqiu could reply, Binghe slotted their mouths together.
“Shizun, Shizun,” Binghe babbled between kisses. “Say it again, Shizun.”
Sighing, Shen Qingqiu guided Binghe’s head to the crook of his neck and stroked Binghe’s hair.
“I love you, Binghe.”
Luo Binghe wrapped his arms tightly around Shen Qingqiu’s slim waist. For the first time since the night he got stabbed, Binghe felt like he could finally breathe easy, no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop. Against all expectations, Shen Qingqiu had chosen him.
And Luo Binghe would make sure it was the best decision of his life.