Tell Me Your Heart Doesn't Race for a Hurricane or a Burning Building - Bluethursday - 人渣反派自救系统 - 墨香铜臭 | The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System (2024)

Shen Yuan was surprised when the knocking started but he puttered over to open his apartment door regardless.

In the seconds it took to reach his hallway, he tried to recall if he had ordered any food. Maybe a courier had the wrong unit number or something? That was a thing that happened, right? Or at least it probably did when you had neighbors and not a penthouse suite like his parents wanted for him? But what did Shen Yuan know about the likelihood or normality of getting a misdelivery sent to his door? He had spent the majority of his life bouncing between an enclosed estate and hospital rooms. Maybe it was the… landlord? sh*t. Did he have a landlord? Some kind of property management person? Was there some kind of issue with the building?

Whatever.

His idle thoughts dispersed. There was no need to fuss over it when he’d find out the answer soon enough.

He opened the door to find the tallest man he’d ever seen standing in front of him, dressed neatly in slacks with a white button up shirt. His hair was curly and framed his face in an artfully tousled way.

Shen Yuan scanned the stranger’s body and quickly noted several other traits.

His eyes trailed over shirt sleeves that were rolled up to reveal strong forearms, and passed over buttons that strained to contain muscular pecs. The man was built, that was clear. Logically he knew that the ill-fitting shirt was probably the best the man could find in his size, but at least he made it look good? He didn’t have an expensive watch on, and his shoes were worn. Unlikely that the stranger was a family friend then. A neighbor?

A very, very good looking neighbor?

The man’s unreal body was only matched by an equally unreal face; it looked like it belonged on the cover of a magazine or some glossy billboard. Was he an actor or something? Was Shen Yuan neighbors with an idol?

“Uhh…” Shen Yuan spoke, rather eloquently.

“…Are you Shen Yuan?” The man said, his tone hesitant with a shy smile on his face. It looked out of place on a man so big. Like he was trying to make himself look smaller, and maybe he was.

“Yes,” Shen Yuan replied, honestly shocked that tall, dark, and curly wanted something to do with him of all people. The neighbor theory was starting to become more and more likely.

“I’m Luo Binghe, your new live-in caretaker,” the man said as he shuffled in place, shifting his weight a bit from side to side. His hands moved to open and close before he aborted the action and awkwardly placed them on his thighs, his palms flat, like he didn’t really know what to do with them.

Shen Yuan’s grip on the open door suddenly got tight. Oh. Oh.

This sh*t again.

Shen Yuan could feel a familiar rage build in him because he seriously didn’t think that this was what the man was here for when he first opened the door. The last caretaker foisted on him was a middle aged woman. “Luo Binghe” didn’t look like a nanny but maybe he had other qualifications, ones more in line with bodyguarding and the like? Was this because of that one stalker from university? Did Er-ge think Shen Yuan wouldn’t notice?

Shen Yuan clenched his molars against each other until his jaw felt tight before letting out a deep breath. Hackles raised, he grit his teeth. Action movie man did not deserve his rage, he was just following orders, after all.

“Look,” he started, really not wanting to get into the fact that all he had on paper was a minor heart arrhythmia and some allergies, and that he was perfectly safe on his own. “I don’t require your services,” he ended.

Carefully, he did not rant about his stupid web-novel style illness that had him fainting whenever he exerted too much energy. He didn’t mention the rashes, the low energy, the mysterious stomach aches and the piles of testing which only explained that his arrhythmia was a minor thing and that it shouldn’t affect his life this much. He did not mention the doctors who asked him if he was faking it in kind, patronizing tones, or the doctors who looked at him like he was a mystery to examine so they could write some paper about him as a medical marvel or some such bullsh*t.

He choked down memories of the blood work, the MRI’s, the f*cking spinal fluid sampling, because at one point they were worried that maybe it could be a problem with his nervous system and they didn’t have anything else to go off of so they continued invasive testing just in case.

Despite his perma-fatigue he was proud of his independence; he didn’t need a minder.

The man bit his lip before he said, “Look, let me level with you. I… kind of need this job. I’m an orphan, I’m on scholarship in Tsinghua’s medical program. Your family thought that… uh… someone closer to your own age would be helpful?”

Luo Binghe shuffled awkwardly in place again, shoving his big paws into his slacks nervously.

Shen Yuan could practically smell Er-ge all over this plan now. It reeked of his brother’s sh*tty imported colognes. He’d bet poor Luo Binghe actually did need the cash. Damn. Usually Mei Mei managed to talk Er-ge out of his more morally bankrupt schemes to get Shen Yuan to hire help.

“I can cook, and I clean really well so if you take me on—“ Binghe pitched, trying to sell himself as the ideal what? Live-in chef? Caretaker? Nanny?

“You’re hired,” Shen Yuan interrupted.

He wasn’t a monster. When he shooed off the nice middle aged ladies he’d arranged follow-up work for them. Luo Binghe would be a harder sell as a nanny to a wealthy family with all of his… everything. He could hear the accusations of cheating already, and see the enamored young masters and mistresses groping the poor man in his mind. It was easier if Shen Yuan let him stay. Anyway, it wasn’t like he liked cleaning up after himself, he just hated Er-ge’s obnoxious mico-management of Shen Yuan’s f*cking life.

Having some help wouldn’t be horrible, he tried to convince himself—no matter the intrusion to his privacy. He’d keep Binghe until he could figure out a suitable position that would both let him get rid of the man, and let him sleep at night with a clear conscience.

Luo Binghe blinked at him like he couldn’t believe things would go so easily.

Shen Yuan wanted to sigh at his reaction but it was fair. He couldn't punish Binghe because of Shen Yuan’s asshole family but Binghe didn’t know that. He hoped Shen Jiu choked on his food.

Binghe’s starry black eyes glistened at him, and a huge smile broke out on his face. He had dimples.

Shen Yuan blinked furiously. He swore he could see cartoon flowers blooming around Binghe. Quickly, he turned his thoughts back to safer ground. Luo Binghe did say he could cook, right? Which was… something. Something Shen Yuan was terrible at. He’d been living off of takeout and restaurants so far, the success of which was pretty hit and miss given how pissy his stomach could be. Well, that and a stash of instant noodles that he kept well stocked. His whole family would collectively and individually riot if they knew about that last one. Home cooked food would probably be good for him even if it was just the few simple dishes Binghe could probably make.

“Come on in,” Shen Yuan said, and turned his back to let the man in.

Behind him, unseen, Luo Binghe’s eyes flashed with turbulent emotion, his eyes hungrily roving down his new employer’s form as he followed Shen Yuan into his home.

Shen Yuan had to admit, if only to himself, that Luo Binghe was amazing.

Where did Er-ge find this man? Like, he wasn’t about to call Er-ge and ask because he was on a very delightful roll of silent treatment that only Er-ge would read as silent treatment, where he continued to call his family in Hong Kong twice a month but told them nothing about his life. His plan was to let the family think he ran off the new hire as usual.

But the thing was, Luo Binghe was probably the best thing that ever happened to him, and he’d admit that over his dead body. Shen Yuan really wished that he’d discovered him before Er-ge because once that asshole realized Shen Yuan was keeping him he’d be so f*cking smug about it.

Unlike his assumption, Binghe was an amazing cook. Shen Yuan’s meals were freshly made or packaged for him in advance and there were always snacks he liked on hand, though unfortunately, those were carefully portioned. Binghe only ever made small amounts of almond jelly or red bean cakes so even if he binged on them when Binghe was in class, he couldn’t give himself a stomach ache from overeating. Not that he had ever done that, of course. He’d also never eaten expired yogurt and nearly died and anyone who said otherwise was a liar.

Despite not knowing Shen Yuan’s black history surrounding food unless Er-ge, that bastard, told him, when Binghe was able to sleep over the man would withhold whatever sweets were made and only give him a small piece after dinner or lunch with some tea. When Shen Yuan huffed about it, Binghe pouted at him and Shen Yuan would just… give in… like a wet paper towel. Soggy toilet paper. Something that lacked structure and crumpled when wet.

He had trouble saying no to Binghe in general. How could he when Binghe lit up when he complimented his cooking, when Binghe cleaned the whole place until it smelled fresh in some magical way that didn’t stress Shen Yuan’s senses or make him sneeze. It was Binghe who ordered his clothing, and sometimes even laid it out for him on the bed in the morning. The former tasks were pretty normal for a housekeeper to do but the latter less so. Shen Yuan wanted it to be known that he was not abusing his employee! He was not some kind of blakc hearted boss squeezing the worth out of Binghe, he really wasn't! Binghe was the one who insisted on doing extra work and pouted when he didn’t get his way. Shen Yuan was not the one in control of the situation here.

That being said, it was nice not to think about what he wore and sweet of Binghe, who refused to stop even when Shen Yuan tried to tell him he didn’t have to.

Binghe’s gentle insistence was a large part of why shortly after Binghe entered Shen Yuan’s life, the sound of Binghe puttering over congee in the kitchen became the new normal for his mornings.

Everything was really, truly, just nice . The company, the food, the way that Binghe seemed so happy all the time to do things for Shen Yuan. Shen Yuan sometimes imagined that Binghe gained the same pleasure from taking care of Shen Yuan as a person would from taking care of an internet pet, though perhaps that was his burning desire not to be a burden talking.

His comfort with Binghe was also a large part of why he wasn’t breaking out in hives about Binghe’s impending move into Shen Yuan’s apartment. A few weeks ago Shen Yuan had told Binghe he’d order whatever was needed for the unfurnished second room, and they picked out the decor together but the bed would take a while to be delivered—it was custom. In another week or so, when the bed finally came, everything would be ready. It would be better for both of them if Binghe was present more often to deal with health scares and more importantly the move would allow Binghe to pocket the savings on living expenses and keep more of what Shen Yuan paid him. The first thing he dealt with when hiring the man was to demand that Binghe take no money from Er-ge, he wasn’t about to have Binghe on Shen Jiu’s payroll under any circ*mstance, and offered to compensate Binghe more than what Shen Jiu was paying for the trouble. Binghe had agreed with little fuss.

Getting rid of Er-ge’s controlling grasp on Shen Yuan’s life was a laborious and ongoing process.

Shen Yuan’s mystery illness left him swooning on couches and made picking laundry detergent a bitch but Shen Yuan wanted it known that he still got into Tsinghua and Peking. He completed his university courses in Peking on Chinese Literature, specializing in Classics—a full turn from his real interest in trashy web-novels but it gave his parents something to brag about and he did like it. He may have had to take a break in-between but he still completed his schooling. He still learned calligraphy, to play the qin and weiqi, to paint, and was good enough—okay that was a lie—his parents knew some people and they were able to swing his paintings into a few private galleries—but the point was that even if he wasn’t good enough he could make a living.

They marketed his recreations of mythic events in modern clothing, all done in the traditional gong-bi courtly style of yonder days as good and valuable and so that is what they became. Shen Yuan made a few sales, and every once in a while his work would be put up for auction. Friends of his parents or fans of his purchased popularity would hum and buy a work and in that way Shen Yuan marinated in his tentative status as a rising young artist. Popularity was self-fulfilling after a certain point and while he honestly wished the art world was based on… something… something that wasn’t the tenuous strands of wealth, connections, marketing, and fame that held it together, he wouldn’t be able to place what that something would look like.

Maybe all “high-art” ever was, was a carefully crafted facade by the lucky few?

Not to say that art couldn’t still mean something but that the glossy packaging of the idol system was mirrored, in a similar yet twisted way, in the ivory tower of the fine arts. People had favorite songs after all, surely, surely , they could have a favorite artist whose work spoke to them no matter how that work or song became famous, or if it was exploitative, or if “good” was not really the bar to hit but… popular. Famous. Rich.

Mei Mei had never understood that, bragging about how Shen Yuan’s work had been exhibited at the Shanghai International Art Fair and Art Basel to her friends. She, and the family, would inform everyone on their social media accounts whenever some niche article sang Shen Yuan’s praises. Shen Jiu, at least, did sh*t like that so that people would pay more for Shen Yuan’s art; it was a mercenary transaction which Shen Yuan could appreciate. The rest of the family did it out of some mix of pride for Shen Yuan, and joy at the acclaim his work brought the family. Shen Yuan could practically hear some voice from some party saying, “The Shen’s are so cultured, the third son could have been born in a literary family”.

The one good thing about Shen Yuan’s jaded view of the art market, was that it allowed him to easily reconcile using his parents’ connections to get his foot, and body, firmly through the door. There was no real stake in being “self made” when so much of artistic success depended on what amounted to marketing. He comforted himself by trying to make his work meaningful in some way, thematically relevant to his generation, at least.

Binghe had been awed by his career, “A'Yuan is so talented,” he crooned as he accompanied Shen Yuan to buy the paper he needed from a specialty shop.

The little sh*t was two years younger than him but Shen Yuan couldn’t bring himself to ask Binghe to be more formal with him. Binghe’s compliments didn’t feel like insults when he kept giving them, even after Shen Yuan ranted about how, really, his acclaim was decided by a few people with money.

“A’Yuan should think better of himself,” Binghe had replied with a wry tone. “You managed to slide in some pretty poignant commentary about Hong Kong’s political situation a few years back..”

“My family is based in Hong Kong and that never happened. All I draw are pretty, useless, things,” Shen Yuan murmured, looking off to the side.

The paper they bought was for a new stack of auspicious paintings and calligraphy he shipped to parents every so often so that they could hang his work up, or give it as gifts to people because he knew very well, achingly well, that it would be almost impossible for him to have the career he did without his family’s help.

“It’s nothing,” Shen Yuan blushed, ignoring the way that Binghe wrapped a strong arm around him to bolster him as they walked. The snow had started to fall gently and they really needed to get a move on to catch the bus.

“A’Yuan shouldn’t be so modest. A’Yuan is amazing,” Binghe said, with painfully obvious sincerity.

Shen Yuan huffed and looked to the side, trusting Binghe to make sure he wouldn’t trip.

Binghe continued his tone taking a turn for the blatantly manipulative, “A’Yuan is so good, and so smart, and can take care of himself but part of taking care of himself is letting other people help him too.”

Shen Yuan’s head snapped back, “Hey,” he bit out.

Binghe looked down at him with a sh*t-eating grin, “You’re tired A’Yuan, and there’s a cafe right there. We’re sitting down.”

Shen Yuan narrowed his eyes, bristling. “Are we?”

“Yes,” Binghe replied, “Or I’ll cry, I really will A’Yuan. Would you make your poor Binghe cry?”

Binghe’s eyes welled up with tears and Shen Yuan could not believe the audacity of this brat? Had Shen Yuan been too lenient on him? So what if he let Binghe run roughshod over his living conditions, he didn’t need anyone to tell him when to rest. Those were two different things.

Binghe sniffled a bit and Shen Yuan knew he was faking it but all of his anger left him and he deflated. His shoulders slumped in surrender.

“I want to take a break, A'Yuan, I’m so tired,” Binghe whined.

Shen Yuan never really expected such green tea behavior from Binghe, given his… everything… but he’d gotten used to it. Too used to it, probably, from Binghe’s frequency of using it when he wanted to get his way.

“Fine, fine, your A’Yuan is tired and all that,” Shen Yuan said, rolling his eyes but he still let Binghe drag them to a nearby cafe.

The coffee was excellent.

Damn.

Everything started to devolve—or maybe evolve—in spring? Shen Yuan’s health was always touch and go but with spring came the Yellow Dust and his allergies screaming at him. His lungs were sensitive to the residue that came from the North. He became more prone to rashes, coughs, mystery colds and the like as the seasons shifted.

It started when they went to the grocery store, the one Binghe liked that stocked a more extensive produce selection. The wealthy housewife grocery store, as Shen Yuan thought of it. Binghe had carefully packed their shopping bags—the ones with little green cucumbers on them. They had zippers at the top and Shen Yuan assumed they were from Taobao. Binghe’s tastes ran surprisingly cute sometimes. Their kitchen utensils could attest.

They had their masks on and they hadn’t been out too long, maybe an hour, an hour and a half total with the transit time, all things considered. Shen Yuan had been ignoring his discomfort, the burning in his eyes and lungs. He thought he’d take his allergy medication when he got home and that it wouldn’t be a problem. By the time they made it Binghe’s worried glaces in his direction had good reason.

Shen Yuan’s eyes were red-rimmed, matching a red nose and a rash that seemed to have spread from nowhere. Hive-like patches covered his skin.

He felt awful.

“Can you get my allergy meds?” He rasped out.

Binghe pursed his lips but did as he was asked, moving to grab the required pills and handing them Shen Yuan alongside a warm glass of water. They didn’t help much, but he was sure they’d kick in eventually.

Shen Yuan looked up at Binghe and saw that the taller man’s jaw was clenched, Binghe’s eyes were burning into him with the ferocity of his gaze. Shen Yuan really didn’t want to deal with any of Binghe emotions, it wasn’t a big deal, things like this happened to him all the f*cking time. He braced himself for complaints about how he should have known better.

“A’Yuan’s going to take a bath now,” Binghe said.

And…huh? What was he going to do now?

“I’ll go draw the bath and I’ll bring you a robe first. Strip in the hall so the clothing stays here, okay?” Binghe asked but it wasn’t a question. His nostrils were flared and he seemed to be struggling to keep his tone even and sweet.

Shen Yuan felt how much taller Binghe was than him. How broad his shoulders were. He felt heat pool in his belly. He usually hated when people tried to command him to take care of his health but this was… something else. It wasn’t like Binghe hadn’t been pushy with him before—he never minded because Binghe was sweet about it—but he was never like… this.

It wasn’t even like what Binghe was asking was a big deal, it was sensible, but what struck Shen Yuan was how willing he was to comply. When Er-ge told him what to do he ignored him even against his better judgment, sometimes.

Shen Yuan didn’t really know why it was different coming from Binghe.

He slowly toed off his sneakers and by the time he’d stripped off his shirt, wincing as it scraped against his skin, Binghe had come back with a fluffy white robe. Throwing the robe over one broad shoulder, Binghe gently knelt down and started to help him with his pants, nimbly pulling down the zipper of his jeans.

“Binghe!” Shen Yuan called out.

Binghe’s hand rested on his hip, his tone much softer than before as he said, “Stay still A’Yuan.”

Binghe exhaled sharply as Shen Yuan’s legs were revealed.

“Look at your poor skin sweetheart,” he cooed, his fingers tracing over skinny thighs as he pushed Shen Yuan’s jeans down to his ankles.

It was only when Shen Yuan heard Binghe speak gently to him that Shen Yuan realized how worried he’d been that Binghe’s anger would quickly turn into disappointment even though it never had before. He was upset at himself for staking so much of his self worth on what others thought of him but the sheer release of tension he’d felt when he saw that Binghe still didn’t seem upset at him , not really at least, was visceral. It was confirmation that Binghe’s anger stemmed from the situation not in Shen Yuan’s, “refusal to make good choices for himself” to quote Er-ge.

“Lift your left leg,” Binghe asked as he removed Shen Yuan’s left pant-leg and left sock. Binghe’s warm palm moved Shen Yuan’s right hand to Binghe’s shoulder as he wordlessly encouraged slighter man to brace himself.

He wasn’t acting like Shen Yuan’s health was an imposition to be foisted off onto someone else, Binghe wasn’t acting like Shen Yuan shouldn’t rely on him, like Shen Yuan should just know how to take care of himself or be willing to pay a different warm body with cold hands… Binghe wasn’t asking at all.

“The right,” Binghe ordered as he made quick work of the last of Shen Yuan’s clothing save his underwear. Clothes being tossed to the side with Shen Yuan’s errant shirt. Binghe gently massaged his right foot as he set it back down on the floor.

Naked in the hall, Shen Yuan felt oddly relieved.

Maybe that was it? That he didn’t have to ask? That he didn't feel like Binghe’s time was being wasted? Binghe had always been so willing to take care of him, after all. Happy to do it, in word and deed.

Shen Yuan’s knees went weak, as he croaked out a feeble, “Okay.”

Binghe carefully had Shen Yuan hold his forearm and escorted him to the bath. They must have made such a strange picture, Binghe clothed in a tight black button and slacks, Shen Yuan almost nude and covered in red patches, teetering towards the bath.

The water was milky, and smelled like oats and lavender. It felt good on his skin. Shen Yuan washed himself carefully and watched the water spill from his hands.

In the next weeks his allergies spiraled into an extended cold.

Shen Yuan groaned on the bed, sweat dripping down his back, rolling onto his belly to try and get away from the feeling but all that did was press the wet front of his shirt into his clavicle. He hated this, sweat gathered on his temples, his neck, his upper lip, and when he licked his lips he tasted salt.

He was surprised when Binghe entered. He hadn’t called but it wasn’t a bad thing. Binghe could get him some water or something.

He figured he’d ride it out, maybe take some over the counter meds and wait until it stopped. That was his usual course of action, barring high fevers where he did, actually, go to the hospital Er-ge, he mentally argued back with his brother who wasn’t there. He wasn’t stupid. If it still looked bad in a few days he’d go to the hospital and get an IV for a few days, buying up a nice suite for himself to rest in while the doctors fluttered around him uselessly like a flock of pigeons.

What would “You should go to the hospital” do when he was on the phone with a minor cough? In those circ*mstances all going to the hospital would yield was cough drops, some syrup, and hours of his life wasted in transit, in rooms that smelled sterile and cold

Like, he loved his brother, he really did, but the bulk of Shen Jiu’s text were a series of passive-aggressions that called him out for his poor self-care without providing a useful solution. He didn’t want ten on-call nurses he didn’t even know to do everything for him, he just wanted to be left alone. He just wanted to be healthy, to not have to ask for help all of the f*cking time, to be given the help he needed.

… He didn’t know what he wanted.

“I heard noise,” Binghe said. His tone was flat as he came over and rolled Shen Yuan onto his back with ease.

Binghe’s big hand rested on his forehead and clinically, he said, “You have a fever.”

“Sorry,” Shen Yuan whispered, the apology an automatic response he never could get rid of.

He was always sorry and always sick and his younger sister at many points in their childhood had resented that, not realizing that Shen Yuan would have given almost anything to be able to go on trips with his non-existent friends that involved more than sitting down. Skiing trips, hikes up mountains to see temples, or to go to the amusem*nt park with friends, or eat food from roadside stalls without worry.

“Mmm,” Binghe’s tone seemed to soften with his hum, “My poor A’Yuan is so delicate.”

In the light of day that would have had Shen Yuan’s hackles raised, he told himself, but he was tired and he couldn’t sleep. The feeling of butterflies in his stomach was back, that melted buttery smooth fluttery desire.

“Shut up,” he slurred but his voice didn’t have the required anger for the words to land in any manner that could be considered threatening and Binghe knew that too by the sound of his deep voiced laughter.

Binghe took his hand off his forehead but not before he stroked his temple. He then, to Shen Yuan’s surprise, scooped him up into a bridal carry and led them to the bathroom. That night he drew a bath and laid out clothing and towel for Shen Yuan to wrestle with. It was one of the last baths Shen Yuan took alone, his motions sluggish and his limbs heavy.

“Wake up A’Yuan,” Shen Yuan heard as he was sleepily led into the bathroom.

Shen Yuan felt heavy, the remnants of a fever mixed with his usual morning fugue. He didn’t know what time it was, or why he was getting up but he was sure Binghe could figure it out for the both of them.

He was dressed in—probably one of Binghe’s pajama shirts? Stealing them was easy and they were comfortable, or did Binghe set it out for him? The large gray fabric swayed past his creamy thighs as Binghe ushered him to stand in front of the sink. The polka dot pattern of his shirt blurred together without his glasses.

“Open,” Binghe cooed, tapping Shen Yuan’s bottom lip with his finger and Shen Yuan complied.

A minty flavor burst on his tongue as Binghe gently pressed the toothbrush into his mouth and started to move it against his teeth, one large hand cupping his jaw to angle his face better.

Blearily, he saw their reflection in the mirror. Binghe stood a head above him, shirtless. His biceps flexed gently as he moved the brush. Shen Yuan’s hair was a ruffled mess around his face, blue marks under his eyes as evidence of his tiredness.

The brush disappeared and his mouth closed to stop the foam from spilling. Binghe gently moved to support his back as he bent him over; the hand cupping his chin moved to his neck to ensure he didn’t fall into the sink.

“Spit,” Binghe said, and Shen Yuan complied once more without thinking.

As he was raised he noticed that the gray of Binghe’s sweats was the same gray as his shirt. His underwear peeked out from the top, the strip of red sat at Binghe’s hip bones.

“Say, ‘Ah’,” Binghe ordered.

“Ah,” Shen Yuan replied, allowing Binghe to take his index finger and run it down his molars and tongue to make sure his teeth were brushed properly. He really did have the best caretaker he thought, as Binghe fussed over him.

When keeping his mouth open became tiring he closed his lips over the calloused finger and sucked. Carelessly he traced the ridges of Binghe’s fingertip with his tongue, biting down just enough to keep it in place. The hand gripping his waist tightened.

“Yuan-er needs to let go before he starts something he’s not ready to finish,” Binghe murmured.

Shen Yuan hummed in confusion. What was he starting? Honestly, Binghe was so dramatic sometimes. Binghe sighed, long and deep.

The finger in his mouth slipped out. Binghe started to tug him in the direction of his bedroom and Shen Yuan followed Binghe’s lead.

His cold did not get better as one full week finally threatened to become two. All the while Binghe watched him like a hawk, bringing him food and seeing him struggle to move his chopsticks. He also brought him blankets and watched him fall over the couch getting himself wrapped up.

He provided everything from medication to cooling pads but allowed Shen Yuan to do things by himself which Shen Yuan thought he appreciated but it was such a pain when Binghe was right there. He wanted that feeling when Binghe lifted him into his arms and carried him to the bathroom back, though he didn’t know why.

The breaking point came when Shen Yuan slipped in the shower.

Binghe burst in and Shen Yuan shivered on the tub floor, flinching at the sound of the door being flung open.

“I’m fine,” Shen Yuan called out, not expecting Binghe to pull the curtains open.

His massive frame loomed over Shen Yuan, his eyes burning again. Shen Yuan squeaked and tried to cover himself but it didn’t help much. He was naked below a fuming Binghe who seemed to twitch as his bared teeth were put away and his expression smoothed out. His lips curled into a dangerous smile, all gum and exposed canines, “Let’s run a bath for you, A’Yuan,” he said in that calm, forcefully measured tone from the hall.

He proceeded to, despite Shen Yuan’s spluttering, turn off the shower and turn on the tap, testing the water on his wrist. It felt like this had been a long time coming, Binghe’s shoulders tense as he focused on Shen Yuan.

“Binghe, get out!” Shen Yuan commanded but his words were ignored entirely. Maybe it was the way his voice cracked in the middle from nerves. Binghe chose to manhandle him back into the tub when he tried to leave. His limbs felt like jello. He couldn’t fight him, he wouldn’t be able to even if he were at full strength.

“Binghe,” Shen Yuan repeated, as he noticed the tub slowly filling with water.

“Hmm,” Binghe said, turning to him, “You’re going to have a bath, A'Yuan, you’re all sticky and tired.”

Shen Yuan took deep breaths but when Binghe lathered his hands and a washcloth and slowly started to bathe him, his fragile broken heart beat double time in its own, off-key rhythm.

Large hands moved him like a child, like a doll, and lathered him up. Long, thick, fingers rubbed shampoo carefully into his scalp and refilled the tub when he was cleaned.

Binghe hummed carefully but never stopped his actions despite Shen Yuan’s protests that started to feel like lip-service. Not when he gently toweled Shen Yuan off and laid his naked form on his bed. Not when he threw both of Shen Yuan’s legs over one broad shoulder, easily letting both delicate ankles rest by the crook of his neck, so that he could lotion the allergy induced sores that were just getting better. Binghe’s fingers felt hot against his skin as they gently caressed his legs, squeezing every so often.

“Binghe, I can do this myself now, thank you,” Shen Yuan said, blushing in humiliation. His voice had gone shy and quiet, losing any remaining fight at some point between the bath and bed. He tried to remind himself that Binghe was a medical student. They were both men and Binghe had seen bodies before, surely. It didn’t stop him from feeling vulnerable below the younger man.

Binghe replied, ”I don’t think you can.”

Binghe’s voice was moderate but firm. Unnaturally even. Despite using the word “think” it was clear that Binghe was making an absolute statement. There was no question being asked. He may as well have been told outright that he could not care for himself.

Shen Yuan flinched.

It must have been shock that kept him laid out, naked on the bed. Shock. Not the humiliation of being seen nude by the student caretaker, or the ease with which Binghe moved him, or the heat in his belly that coiled and moved like a restless fire. He tried to remind himself that it was wrong to allow Binghe to do this much for him. Worse still, for Shen Yuan to enjoy it, to feel strangely relieved underneath his shame. For Shen Yuan to take Binghe’s statement as a promise that Binghe would be the one to take care of him from now on, which softened the blow of being called incapable.

He was dressed in underwear and an oversized t-shirt, and his hair was dried, before Binghe tucked him into his bed and pressed a kiss to his forehead, “Sleep well A’Yuan.”

And then, as though nothing happened, as though Binghe hadn’t manhandled and dressed him like a child, Binghe left.

The thing was from that day on Binghe’s behavior changed. Or maybe it had always been sliding into something strange and cloyingly sweet and Shen Yuan just didn’t notice?

Binghe was still bashful and craved praise, saying things like, “Is the congee good A’Yuan?”

But his tone had a firm underpinning of steel. Like he would be listened to regardless of Shen Yuan’s thoughts or opinions. Like when he told Shen Yuan he was to eat, dress, or bathe, that it would happen whether or not Shen Yuan agreed to it.

He prowled through Shen Yuan’s apartment like he owned it and in the back of Shen Yuan’s mind he knew that there was something off with Binghe’s behavior. It was like the sweet, bashful boy he met was one side of Binghe’s personality, one that hid a more tyrannical center. White chocolate truffles with dark chocolate ganache, rotten apples with glossy waxed peels, a village well full of poisoned water.

Shen Yuan wanted to drown in it. To be consumed so that he didn’t have to deal with himself anymore.

He would watch Binghe help him to the table for breakfast, see the shy young man peek through in a soft smile as Binghe blushed under Shen Yuan’s praise, and moments later hear the hard line in Binghe’s voice when he told him that the weather wasn’t good, so it would be best for Shen Yuan to stay home.

Binghe personality flickered from dark to light like clouds that made up a painted sky. It was engrossing to watch the transitions, to be the center of such intense attention because he was the very center that Binghe gravitated around despite feeling like he was the one being sucked into Binghe’s gravity.

The problem with their… situation… was that instead of telling Binghe to go, Shen Yuan did… nothing. Binghe never raised his voice, he never hurt Shen Yuan, he was just… aggressive… about his caretaking.

Instead of asking to take better care of himself or blaming him when he failed to gather the executive function needed to do basic things like call for a housekeeper, or patronizing him from afar Binghe just… did things for Shen Yuan.

He dressed Shen Yuan in the morning, stripping him naked and pinning him down when he tried to move and run away. Shen Yuan, more often than not, felt like he was putting up a token protest because he felt that he should. He had been fighting against being taken care of for a good amount of his life; it would have felt strange not to struggle against Binghe but he didn’t think he meant it, not really. He was pretty sure Binghe knew that too, given that the man often cradled him gently to his chest and held him close, crooning, “I know this is scary for you, I know” whenever his anxiety and shame peaked.

Binghe still bathed him every night, his calloused fingers running all over Shen Yuan’s body, washing away fluffy suds of soap that smelled like verbena, like mango, like honey and cream, like mint.

Shen Yuan never got over the nudity. Or the hands that would rub in proprietary motions all over his skin, feet, calves, thighs, hips, co*ck, rear, stomach, back, nipples, arms, hands, and face. Or the erections he tried and failed to hide. Binghe thankfully ignored them when the larger man bathed him, cradling his nether regions with meticulous care. His face was neutral when he later rubbed lotion onto Shen Yuan’s skin.

It always sent shivers down Shen Yuan’s spine when Binghe took care of him in increasingly intrusive ways. Shen Yuan was starting to forget the last time he so much as put on his own socks.

Binghe always acted like there was nothing wrong with his behavior when Shen Yuan called him on it, or asked, and Shen Yuan… had never been more rested or better taken care of.

He knew should probably call his brother. He knew he should fire Binghe. Logically, he knew things were off but he didn’t want to. He’d do it later if he needed to, if Binghe hurt him because that was the issue. It wasn’t like Binghe was doing anything Shen Yuan didn’t like, loathe as he was to admit it. Even the initial feeling of humiliation started to feel good to him. He liked being manhandled, apparently? Maybe Binghe was the exception to all of his assertions that he could take care of himself? Maybe he just liked being forcibly cared for by big men with luscious curls? Maybe he was growing up and learning to accept he needed help sometimes?

….Maybe he was terrified, a little voice inside him called out, that if he said something Binghe would leave.

That couldn’t be it though, could it?

Shen Yuan shivered as Binghe massaged his back. He’d been washed and the water changed but now Binghe was just… touching him, he guessed?

Calloused fingers rubbed his spine as Binghe murmured things like, “So pretty, A’Yuan’s skin is so sensitive,” before he moved his hands to glance at Shen Yuan’s chest.

Shen Yuan shuddered, goosebumps rising on his skin and thick fingers started to rub slow circles around his nipples. That, that wasn’t part of the usual perfunctory bathing. Binghe must be having one of his days. This wasn’t the first time Binghe had played with him in the bath. In fact, the first time Binghe’s touch became… inappropriate… Shen Yuan had told himself that he was imagining things but by now he had simply adjusted, casual groping had become part of his routine.

“So sweet for me,” Binghe crooned from his seat at the edge of the tub, his hands tucked under Shen Yuan’s ribs he rubbed until the nubs hardened and peaked. Shen Yuan’s co*ck, half-hard from being naked in front of Binghe, came to full flush.

Sliding each nub between his index and middle fingers he gently tugged at Shen Yuan’s nipples and Shen Yuan’s felt the sensation shoot to his groin. He moaned, “Ah, ahhh,” his voice soft and breathy to his own ears.

The pleasure had him once more questioning why he never said anything? Never-mind, it didn’t matter. He’d just ignored this whole thing because Binghe would stop soon, he always did, Shen Yuan thought, as he tried to float away. Binghe gently pinched and released the delicate pink buds.

Binghe was just making sure he was clean.

Shen Yuan knew better than to kid himself; it wasn’t like Binghe was attracted to him or anything, he was just helping him out. He just needed to sit here and let Binghe have his way.

A hot mouth latched onto his neck and he mewled as Binghe gently nipped at the skin, “Such pretty teats,” Binghe whispered into his ear, rubbing gentle circles around the areolas.

Shen Yuan sat in his bath fully erect, pre-cum distilling into the water as he allowed Binghe to tease Shen Yuan’s chest. Goosebumps rose on his skin with each kiss, the hot mouth on his neck sucking bruises into his skin. It felt good to be touched. To be watched. To be appreciated. Even platonically. He liked being the center of Binghe’s attention, the black hole of Binghe’s gravity pulling him.

Unlike other days where Binghe ended it with a little bit of fondling, today, he didn’t stop until Shen Yuan’s chest ached.

Shen Yuan shuddered as Binghe rubbed cream onto his thighs. At this point, it was simply indulgence. Shen Yuan had been thoroughly moisturized already.

Binghe pressed a kiss to the ankle of one foot that he had thrown over his shoulder before he set it down onto the bed.

Gently, Binghe rolled Shen Yuan over and coaxed him to sit back so that his ankles were flush with his rear, his body curled into a fold, his rear fully exposed to the air.

Shen Yuan folded his arms and hid his flushed face. Did Binghe really have to embarrass him like this? When he squirmed, Binghe stroked his back and chided, “None of that sweetheart, this is good for you”.

Good how? Shen Yuan wanted to huff but he said nothing instead.

He felt more than saw, Binghe press kisses down his spine until he reached Shen Yuan’s chrysanthemum. Binghe kneeled behind him and palmed his cheeks, his thumbs facing the crease.

Binghe eyed the furled pink bud and carefully blew on the tight entrance, watching it clench on nothing. Slowly he moved one hand so that he could press on the bud with the pad of his thumb. He gently pushed against the rim to feel the delicate folds suck his finger in but he refused to go further. Rubbing his thumb back and forth he watched Shen Yuan pant. It was always a beautiful sight when A’Yuan started to rub his thighs together, a sure sign of an erection.

It was an even better one when Shen Yuan started to rock his hips back into the massagining thumb.

“There we go bao-bei, doesn’t this feel good?” Binghe crooned.

When Shen Yuan’s squirming turned into muffled sobs of pleasure Binghe stopped, petting the softened entrance before leaving Shen Yuan to his business. In time, he’d sheathe his co*ck into A’Yuan’s tight heat but not yet. A’Yuan wasn’t ready yet.

Bathing slowly became an exercise in teasing. Binghe’s hot mouth and sharp teeth nipping at Shen Yuan’s wrists, the crook of his elbow, and neck. Once, Binghe even bent over and suckled at his chest, his nipples leaving that red grinning mouth with a lewd plop.

Somehow it still came as a surprise when Binghe grabbed his Shen Yuan’s erect co*ck. He’d seen Binghe’s erection strain under sweatpants, slacks, and shorts, monstrously engorged and large even under the cover of fabric when he finally bothered to look at it. He’d been telling himself it was a natural reaction and that Binghe was a young man with certain needs.

Maybe he needed to reassess Binghe’s attraction to him?

…. Maybe somewhere in the back of his mind he already knew that nothing Binghe did was platonic and that it was only a matter of time before the man pressed his massive pillar into Shen Yuan’s weak body, spilling his seed deep inside. The man routinely massaged his…his…and the other day he had pressed wet open mouthed kisses on the area like it wasn’t even dirty. He almost couldn’t wait for it, for Binghe’s fingers to spend more than their cursory rub over his entrance and slip inside. But what did it matter what he did and didn’t know if he refused to admit it?

It was easier for him when he wasn’t faced with his desire head on. His body had always been under scrutiny, his first wet dream was in a hospital bed. The nurse who changed the sheets pinched his cheeks. For Shen Yuan, desire was a deeply shameful thing. After a life under the microscope, he’d struggled to so much as jerk off as an adult. It was breathtakingly easy to allow Binghe to do as he liked and never breathe a word, even while enjoying every moment.

The heat in his belly rose as he waited for Binghe to take whatever the man wanted. His thighs rubbed together and he felt himself swallow at the thought of Binghe pushing him down and forcing himself on Shen Yuan’s helpless body.

He could feel Binghe’s breath on his neck, he stared at Binghe’s tight forearm, submerged in the clear water of the tub. It looked dark against the pink flush of Shen Yuan’s own co*ck. It felt embarrassing to look so he turned away.

“A’Yuan has been getting so tense lately, this will be good for him,” Binghe stated, his grip tight but gentle around Shen Yuan’s co*ck, before he briskly brought Shen Yuan to completion.

The pace was fast, and Binghe’s grip engulfed his co*ck. The motions were oddly clinical despite the warm cradle of Binghe’s palm. If Shen Yuan had known what to expect then this wasn’t it. It was almost like getting him off was a medical procedure for Binghe and if it wasn’t for that burning gaze maybe Shen Yuan could have convinced himself that Binghe didn’t really mean it.

“W-What?” Shen Yuan asked, panting as he came down from the high of org*sm but Binghe did not answer his question. Instead, they moved to the more familiar routine of Shen Yuan being dried and dressed for bed.

Binghe’s eyes burned as they watched him, his co*ck straining against the sweats he currently wore, but he did nothing. It was almost like he was daring Shen Yuan to say something. To ask.

Shen Yuan stared at the intimidating length and swallowed. That was it, wasn’t it? Binghe wanted him to ask.

The new pajamas were made of pale green silk and felt cool on his sensitive skin. He shuddered in… fear… lust.

Hunger?

Hunger.

The thing was…Shen Yuan wasn’t actually stupid. He noticed that Binghe was excessively touchy. He noticed when Binghe stopped going to his classes and when Binghe had stayed in Shen Yuan’s apartment without going anywhere for over a month—no classmate coming to their door to check on him, no excuse to the university—it became apparent that Binghe probably made those up.

He noticed when Binghe started to dress in clothing with a price tag that would have made his Mei Mei blink.Well tailored slacks, and shirts that fit. Tasteful leather shoes, suits, watches, a better phone, and he knew very well that Binghe’s salary didn’t match up.

As Shen Yuan’s own bank account wasn’t magically depleting, and he knew the wages he was paying were good but not sufficient for purchasing luxury goods, he made the safe assumption that maybe… just maybe Binghe wasn’t a medical student. Or poor. Probably still an orphan though. That just…felt…true? Or maybe Binghe was just that good of a liar.

Something tragic had to have happened to this man for him to get his kicks… faking being a caretaker to a rich layabout with poor health? Honestly Shen Yuan did not know. He didn’t know Binghe’s deal at all and that was… definitely a problem but not one Shen Yuan planned to deal with. His need to know more about Binghe hadn’t yet won against his absolute refusal to deal with the clusterf*ck he had gotten himself into by hiring Binghe.

“How’s school?” he asked Binghe as he sipped his tea.

This morning the man was dressed in a tailored black double breasted suit paired with a crisp white undershirt. Around his neck hung a red tie, and on his hands were encased in supple black leather gloves that had to have been custom-made.

Binghe smiled at him, a sh*t eating from overtaking his face as he chirped back, “Finals are coming up, and it’s stressful. Yuan-er should listen to me more to ease my mind.”

This. Brat. When did Shen Yuan fail to listen to him? When? Binghe practically ran his life! Also, finals were months away. Didn’t he do his research? What if Binghe had tried to pull this sh*t on someone less benevolent than Shen Yuan? What they had going on was probably like nine kinds of crime? Wasn’t this fraud, maybe breaking and entering, definitely harassment? What kind of person did this? What kind of person just slid into someone’s life, to what? Molest them in the bath?

And what kind of person did that make Shen Yuan? What did it say about him that he liked it? He didn’t say a word about Binghe to anyone; he kept his mouth shut about the expensive suits and the stupid lies that suggested Binghe wasn’t trying to hide the discrepancies in his identity anymore.

Part of him looked at Binghe’s laughing eyes and knew the asshole was testing him, waiting to see if Shen Yuan would actually say something. Laugh it up you bastard, Shen Yuan thought. We're both f*cked up, how wonderfull.

Shen Yuan had been painting nothing but courtly scenes of women dancing for months. Hanfu sliding down bare necks, strings of jade beads and pearls, and boudoirs .

Like most of Binghe's decisions about Shen Yuan’s life, the women’s lingerie that seemed designed to accommodate his lack of breasts and his ownership of a co*ck simply appeared without comment.

Instead of boxer briefs Binghe slid a pair of silky white ruffled panties up his legs, his broad hand gently cradling Shen Yuan’s co*ck through the fabric, “These will be softer against your skin,” Binghe explained.

What that excuse did not account for was the matching bralette. Two ruffled triangles of silk with a clasp at the back and a bow in front.

Binghe, ever so kindly, released his co*ck with a gentle pat and moved to sit behind him. He slid the skimpy fabric around Shen Yuan’s slender arms and did up the clasp, his roving hands creeping from behind to cup at Shen Yuan’s chest like one would a woman’s breasts. His fingers rolling Shen Yuan’s nipples through the fabric.

Shen Yuan gasped as the sensation.

“Yuan-er is so pretty for me, such a good wife,” Binghe murmured.

Binghe expected Shen Yuan to perhaps finally fight back against him in a meaningful way, to refuse the clothing, to finally tell him to stop.

Shen Yuan flushed bright red. W-wife? Whose wife was he? He huffed and looked to the side ignoring the wet mouth on his neck. He swallowed and rubbed his thighs together, squirming at the feeling of cool silk against his heated body. When Binghe moved to arrange them so that Shen Yuan was seated on Binghe’s lap as Binghe sat on the bed he felt Binghe’s erection press against his back and said nothing.

Blushing a deeper shade of rose he thought that if Binghe liked it, it wasn’t so bad. No one would see his underwear after all.

Binghe waited a moment or two and when nothing came from his patience, he swallowed, his co*ck twitching in his pants. His baobei-er really didn’t know how to say no to him did he? Did he? Shen Yuan really just let Binghe dress him in a pair of woman’s panties and call him wife? Gods, he felt close to snapping. He licked his canines and did his best to recite poetry, numbers, thought of the Huan Hua director’s gnarled face leering at him, anything to soothe the liquid fire boiling away inside of him.

“Yuan-er is so good to me,” Binghe whispered, as he gained a few tethers of control, and pressed kisses to the slender neck below him.

Yuan-er needed to be less good to him because Binghe was the kind of monster who would take and keep taking until nothing was left.

Binghe was the kind of monster who wanted to dress his A’Yuan in ruffled confections and despoil him.

Binghe was the kind of monster who would get his way soon enough.

Binghe had only wanted to help. He really did. It wasn’t meant to turn out quite like this. He’d first looked up Shen-laoshi in order to find the man responsible for the subsidy that had allowed him to attend a much better school than his small village could hope to provide. It was hard, the donations were anonymous, but as he gained power it had become child’s play to bribe the once austere workers into providing the information.

As the recovered, and only, heir of the Tianlang Corporation he wanted to give back to his benefactor. Binghe had always believed in returning what was given to him tenfold, blood for blood and grace for grace. His benefactor was a well of grace. He was the main reason Binghe received an education, a way out of frozen winters where the only heating was a kang bed and a lifetime of squatting among sweet potatoes and subsistence farming. He liked to think that he would have found some way out of that life of luscious greenery and abject poverty without Shen Yuan’s help but that was not a possibility he lived out.

Instead, he was first in his small village class which granted him the privilege of being shuttled off in his teacher’s car to a test in the closest town where other children like him sat and aimed for a chance at a scholarship.

All he thought he wanted was to look for the people responsible for that chance and see if he could repay their kindness. But that was colored by his recollections of sitting down and writing, being told to write letters to his benefactor as thanks. He never received a reply. He was always deeply aware of his poverty, his adopted mother later died from their inability to pay a decent doctor, and writing those letters felt like being lashed to a young Binghe who was both deeply grateful, and at the same time deeply resentful.

He always assumed he’d be sitting across from some well meaning middle aged person who would sweat profusely as they attempted to recall if they ever wronged Binghe. They would offer him whatever sub-par tea they had to drink, and make an attempt to please Binghe in order to get their son or daughter some position in his company. Binghe, of course, would be helpful, but the little boy writing letters to no one, maybe, possibly, wanted to watch his benefactor squirm.

What he found was Shen Yuan, who donated much of his substantial childhood allowance to the care and education of those born under lesser conditions. He could recall thinking that his A’Yuan was beautiful, with big cat-like eyes, supple lips, and thick lashes. Such a pretty boy. At first he was surprised that a person, not much older than himself, was the hand that pulled him from his muddy ditch. Quickly afterwards he was irritated to confirm that to his benefactor he was simply a faceless wretch, one of many to the pampered young boy, barely older than him.

The faceless non-profit had either never sent his mail to the third son of the Shen family, or it had been thrown by the careless boy turned man.

Luo Binghe wondered if Shen Yuan would have looked at the letters if he knew that Luo Binghe was the son of Tianlang-Jun and Su Xiyan?

Regardless, Luo Binghe had done more with his chance than his snot nosed peers, he was better than them. His inheritance, even, came after he had established his own successful company—which at this point was easily run through a secure laptop. When he needed to appear in person, he claimed he had a “class”—later when he suspected even A’Yuan knew that Binghe was lying he informed him that he’d be leaving for an unspecified meeting.

Binghe had swallowed the self-righteous rage at the thought of being pitied and instead chose to dig into Shen Yuan’s life with a fine-toothed comb, sending, at first private detectives and then himself when they failed to offer him any meaningful information. It didn’t matter why Binghe wanted them to find out what brand of toothpaste Shen Yuan used, or his favorite flavor profile, or to collect some of his hair, or to take pictures of his skin after an allergic reaction, they were being paid weren’t they? Why was it like pulling teeth for him to get a decent compilation of Shen Yuan’s life?

He had always deserved more attention, more everything, than a faceless child with ill-fitting clothing and dirt on the hems of their tattered jeans. Why couldn’t he have more of his benefactor?

So, after a while, he did the work himself.

What he found was the life of a deeply-ill young man. Buried under the reports came the idea that his illness was faked but the medical records were hard to disprove. There was no known cause but the documentation he found of hives, rashes, welts on pale skin from allergies, fainting spells that led to concussions, and things of that nature were impossible to fake.

A spun sugar man in a spun sugar tower who would melt at a harsh touch.

He would have died in the cradle had he been born in Binghe’s village.

He still didn’t know what possessed him to impersonate a caretaker. He’d watched Shen Yuan for months, taken photos, tracked his routes and found the man to be gentle, and harmless. Sweet. Incapable of taking care of himself. He ate and slept poorly. His housekeepers barely lasted a few weeks before the man shooed them away, always finding them different positions. Always alone in his home with his paintings.

Binghe’s main office had a massive triptych on its walls painted by Shen Yuan—some scene of courtiers bowing to a newly crowned Emperor. It had been a pain to acquire at auction but owning a piece of his benefactor’s work felt fulfilling in the way that few things did.

Shen Yuan fed stray cats and still subsidized poor students. He donated part of the sales of his paintings to ensuring that poor families in the city received food.

Binghe didn’t know if he wanted to tear him down and ruin that softness, if he wanted to make Shen Yuan just as dirty as him, or if he wanted to preserve it, if he wanted to show Shen Yuan what became of the boy he never knew but helped.

At the end of the day Shen Yuan was his benefactor. Binghe had to do something kind for him. Binghe’s honour demanded it.

His days with Shen Yuan turned out to be either a mistake or as Binghe was quickly growing to find them, the best thing he’d ever done.

Shen-Loashi, Shen Yuan, A’Yuan, Yuan-er, his. His cotton-candy love melted on his tongue every time he said his name.

He thought that maybe he’d been lost from the moment he saw those wide eyes staring up at him in surprise. Maybe they were meant to be from the moment the universe connected Shen Yuan’s charity to Luo Binghe’s need.

At first, he spent his days carefully cooking and cleaning but it became harder not to do more, to take further control over A’Yuan’s life. Especially when the man so badly needed someone to take over.To remove the stress of his life and make everything right for him.

It became the highlight of his day to spoon food into Shen Yuan’s bowl and watch his cheeks gain much needed fat. To watch Shen Yuan wear the clothing he bought him, and accept whatever Binghe added to his home, making the small space their home for the time being. At least until Binghe could convince him to move into the courtyard he was renovating just for them.

Shen Yuan allowed Binghe, with all of Binghe’s attendant rage and anger, to bathe him. His spun sugar man had fallen in the tub—it had been against all of Binghe’s instincts to leave him alone given how red the abrasions were and how labored his breathing was—but he didn’t want to scare the fragile artist off by taking too many liberties, too fast. He wanted to maintain the pace they had but the fall felt like the last snap of an ever fraying tether.

A’Yuan without Binghe did not eat, did not sleep on time, did not even bother to buy clothing from appropriate retailers, or food. A’Yuan pushed himself to go on public transit with migraines, sore muscles, and fevers of varying degrees. He went outside knowing his health issues acted up when he was exposed to Yellow Dust with only a flimsy mask as protection.

Binghe’s mind kept flashing back to his own mother, sick and feeble, farming the land and going on migratory trips with other women to find what temporary work they could in the nearby cities. He woke up one morning to find her cold in her bed, there was no doctor in the village who could say why, it just… was. He buried her as best he could.

He was fourteen.

A’Yuan came from wealth, he tried to convince himself, in fact he’d tried to be appalled at Shen Yuan’s lack of self-care when compared to the poverty Binghe and his mother faced. Looking at A’Yuan’s sweaty face, his cracked lips, his small tremors, he could never bring himself to feel rage at Shen Yuan’s choices. He adored them instead.

Shen Yuan would waste away without Binghe like a poorly cared for houseplant, withering in his pot with no care for his own health, and Binghe loved that. He loved being able to hold Shen Yuan in the palm of his hand, on the tip of his tongue, in the hollowed out crevice under his ribs, what he hated was that as an employee he wasn’t allowed to properly care for A’Yuan.

His impotent rage sat inside him for too long until it snapped.

It was a blessing that A’Yuan did not speak when Binghe fondled him with proprietary hands. It was that lack of refusal, that silent acquiescence that had Binghe escalating.

Shen Yuan did not argue, not really, when Binghe refused to let Shen Yuan out of their home without him, and eventually, he let Binghe pleasure him—a luxury Binghe didn’t think he’d be allowed. Shen Yuan would always look away no matter how aroused he became in Binghe’s presence, shying from his own desire like it scared him. Binghe had been waiting for a clear signal. A word that never came. In his impatience, he started spending moments too long on sensitive areas and when A’Yuan said nothing he took it further. A’Yuan’s flushed cheeks resting on Binghe’s chest, his shoulders, A’Yuan’s breathless voice whimpering without a word when Binghe played with his body, his hands ever creeping lower, became all the signal Binghe needed. A’Yuan’s constant refusal to call Binghe out became a blaring green signal telling Binghe to push forward.

What was he meant to do when A’Yuan refused to flinch away from Binghe’s obsessions, curving into his need like a flower to the sun?

What was he to do, when instead of needing to do damage control, Shen Yuan never asked about Binghe’s obvious falsities, allowing Binghe unimpeded, and complete, access to his life.

He had honestly expected he’d need to weep and pour out a sob story to make Shen Yuan forgive him—something, something, he wanted to repay Shen Yuan, something, something, gratitude, something, something, Binghe’s dead mother as a trump card—he had the script practically written but what use was it when Shen Yuan never asked ?.

How was he to trust A’Yuan to make his own choices, trust A’Yuan to live out in a world that was inherently cruel when these were the choices he made?

Shen Yuan watched the buttons on the elevator light up as they reached Parking, which was an odd choice because as far as he knew, neither of them had a car.

Binghe said they’d be going to some historical site a bit farther away for a picnic. Binghe’s arm was laden with a massive woven basket, complete with red and white gingham cloth to complete the mood.

Shen Yuan folded his hands in his massive butter yellow cashmere sweater to make sweater paws and allowed himself to be led past the cars to what was undoubtedly a Rolls Royce. The slick black car gleamed in the lights, and Shen Yuan really didn’t know what to say. Binghe happily opened the back door for Shen Yuan to get in, and he did.

Scooting over the leather interior he very carefully bit his tongue. Why the f*ck did Binghe have a car worth over… okay so Shen Yuan did not know the amount but he knew it was worth millions.

Binghe moved to probably put the basket in the trunk and Shen Yuan lost himself in enjoying the smooth contained movement despite the terrible traffic. Not being squished by people on the subway was nice.

Binghe put on something classical and happily played the role of chauffeur.

“I hope my driving is alright,” Binghe said with a grin.

Shen Yuan looked at Binghe’s massive smile in the rearview mirror and refused to engage with his bullsh*t. Fine, fine, his caretaking orphan “student”, had a luxury car. What did Shen Yuan know, maybe he won the lottery?

He refused to call the man on it.

“BingBing has such smooth driving, you’re amazing,” Shen Yuan replied in deadpan.

He enjoyed the slow realization that no, Shen Yuan would not be calling Binghe on anything that crossed Binghe’s face. Shen Yuan had grown pretty fond of the game they were playing.

“Ah, is that so? Thank you baobei.”

Shen Yuan flushed at the nickname but ignored it along with the new car. Too bad, so sad. If Binghe had something to admit, he could admit it, but Shen Yuan was starting the conversation about Binghe’s maybe-stalking over his dead body.

“This was my brother’s first car,” Shen Yuan said, “My father gave it to him as a gift for getting into Oxford.”

“Is that so,” Binghe said again, his tone perking up as though he was expecting Shen Yuan to say more.

Shen Yuan reached for the thermos of tea he spotted in the cup holder, “Yeah, I’m really glad that A’Die got him something affordable. It’s a great first car for a young student right?”

Binghe’s face froze in a rictus of a smile.

Shen Yuan picked up the phone with a tired sigh. His brother’s voice rang through the speaker because Binghe hated it when he couldn’t hear who Shen Yuan was talking to. In the quiet of the kitchen the sound echoed, “A’Yuan why haven’t you replaced your old caretaker? I’ll send you over a list. Pick one and try to keep them for more than a few weeks, you can’t cook. You don’t even know how to do your own laundry, you’re probably buying cheap clothing off of Taobao and eating nothing but the instant noodles you think we don’t know about, how are you even a—“

Shen Yuan tuned out his brother's voice at the confirmation that everything he assumed was right. Binghe was not hired by his brother. He was just… a man… who showed up in his home.

Panic closed his throat and he hated that it wasn’t from fear of being hurt but from the fear that Binghe would leave now that the truth was out in the open. Both of them had known, and suspected that the other knew as well. They just… didn’t talk about things like that unless it was to egg the other on into confession or questioning, respectively.

They spoke about trash television, and the cats Shen Yuan was feeding, and took walks to the park and the grocery and museums.

Binghe flipped a green onion pancake in front of him and turned off the stove.

Shen Yuan’s voice stayed smooth and he cut his brother off, “Look, I’m fine ge. I’ll talk to you later.”

His brother cursed him out as Shen Yuan shut the phone off.

Binghe stalked towards him which was a ridiculous description because the man was wearing a mint green apron decorated with cucumbers and their attendant flowers in cartoon form. The writing implored the reader to “Stay Cool Cucumber” in butchered English.

It was Shen Yuan’s favorite apron.

Shen Yuan’s hands were trembling. This was it, wasn’t it? He’d never see Binghe again after this? Oh, he realized. This was why he had stayed silent for so long wasn’t it?

Binghe hands were on his face, tilting it upwards, “Does Yuan-er want to know who I am?”

Shen Yuan shut his eyes and refused to look.

“A long time again A’Yuan donated most of his allowance to help poor children go to school. I became one of those students when I was twelve. A’Yuan put me through my entire secondary school education.”

Binghe’s thumbs were stroking his cheeks, “When I was nineteen I opened my own company, I managed to establish myself, Zheng Yang is still doing well. I was found by my father’s estate during an attempted buy-out, my cousin thought my face looked a lot like Su Xiyan. My father was Tianlang-jun.”

Tianlang? Him? Binghe was…? Binghe. Shen Yuan’s thoughts were muddied but all he could think of was, why the ever-loving f*ck son of one of the richest men in China deigned to be his babysitter, on repeat. Set to the dulcet sound of his morning alarm.

It made no sense.

“I wanted to repay you… maybe that’s a lie… I wanted to see you. To see if you pitied me… but the more time I spent with you, the more I fell in love with you.”

Shen Yuan squeezed his eyes so tight he was sure his nose was crinkling. He must have been an ugly sight. L-love? Binghe loved him? He couldn’t… that wasn’t.

Hot air blew into his ear, the hands that had clasped onto Binghe’s apron without his knowledge, tightened.

“Yuan-er loves me too doesn’t he? He lets me do such terrible things to him after all, hmm?” Binghe whispered.

Binghe’s voice was steady and there may have been a hint of threat to it. Binghe, after all, was terrible at being denied and while anxious about the timing and circ*mstance of being exposed, was confident that A’Yuan could be convinced to let him stay. More than that, he needed them on even ground for their relationship to go forward.

“I-I don’t,” Shen Yuan denied, even though it was true.

Binghe moved one arm to fiddle with the step of a lacy green bra-lette. He didn’t even have to say the words for Shen Yuan’s face to flush with shame.

“I’ll call your parents in a few weeks to arrange a meeting about our marriage. I’m sure they’ll be happy you’re taken care of. You’ll move into the courtyard house I had built for us soon after. No more city smog, no more people bumping into you on the train. It’ll be great.”

As if Binghe had ever allowed that to happen, his arms were a protective cage around Shen Yuan when they traveled. Shen Yuan’s thoughts, already spiraling, were close to hysterical. Marriage? Now? Why? H-him? Shen Yuan was too young for something like that, and Binghe was his, okay Binghe was not his employee, not really, what was Shen Yuan’s money even being used for given Binghe’s wealth?

Shen Yuan behind the hysteria was also viscerally relieved. It felt like a weight was taken off his chest. Binghe would be staying. Staying very permanently if Binghe had anything to say about it, and most of Shen Yuan’s life was directed by Binghe so Binghe may as well have both of their votes in this decision.

Shen Yuan opened and closed his mouth to say something but nothing came out. Marriage, he mouthed in confusion. He wasn’t crying anymore, at least he didn’t think he was, which was something?

Shen Yuan’s hands stopped trembling for some reason and his face went lax but his eyes stayed shut. He could hear Binghe sigh as the man stepped back for a moment.

Shen Yuan pulled at his apron.

Binghe chuckled and moved to pick him up, cradling him in his arms, “I’m not going anywhere baobei. Nowhere at all. I’m right here with you. You can keep your eyes closed. You don’t ever have to face anything you don’t want to.”

Shen Yuan’s mind felt hazy as he rested his head on Binghe’s shoulder.

“A’Niang won’t let you marry me,” he murmured, not even knowing if that was true. His parents were loving but distant—would they really care? Shen Yuan didn’t know if he wanted it to be true but it felt like he should say something about his impending nuptials and that was all that came to mind.

He could feel Binghe’s chest rumble when he laughed, “Your A’Niang will be happy about the good match.”

Binghe knew this was a rushed engagement but if he gave A’Yuan any degree of space he’d panic, believing random conclusions, assuming he’d be a burden on Binghe. Even now he was coming up with loose reasons for the marriage not to work. Shen Yuan, given enough time, might even run from Binghe if he thought it was for Binghe’s own good, and that wouldn’t do.

When substantial waves of realizations finally hit Shen Yuan, Binghe needed a public engagement to keep him solidly in place.

The in-laws probably wouldn’t care for Binghe sending out a manhunt. He wanted to make a good impression if he could.

“A’Yuan” murmured Luo Binghe, breaking his thoughts. Binghe had been right, after all.

His mother folded quickly under Binghe’s considerable charm, won over by the thought that her third son, the artist, would be married to Tianlang-jun’s heir. She was so incredibly pleased that Shen Yuan’s marriage would benefit his brothers; the Shen Corporation and the Tianlang Corporation had signed shiny new contracts for collaborations on a slew of lucrative projects due to the marriage. A good match, Binghe had said and those same words came from his mother’s mouth.

The transactional way his mother spoke of his marriage left an ill taste in his mouth that was only soothed by Binghe’s broad palm on the small of his back. It wasn’t like this was a business marriage, there was more to it than that. Shen Yuan didn’t know if he was more offended by the casual ways his mother kept telling him that infidelity was a thing that happened in marriage when she managed to speak to him privately, because Binghe would never do that to him and did his mother really think so poorly of his soon to be husband? Or the way she seemed fine pushing Shen Yuan into what she believed to be a difficult marriage for monetary benefits.

Shen Yuan’s tailored pale gray suit had been loose fitting and elegant. The double breasted blazer was comfortable given how airy the fit was. The matching turtleneck underneath the sweater kept him warm, the merino wool soft against his skin.

Every piece had been picked by Binghe and set out that morning, and when they went home, it would be Binghe who unwrapped him and helped him change into his lounge clothes. They’d eat Binghe’s food, and maybe Binghe would work on his laptop for a few hours while Shen Yuan read trashy webnovels. It would be perfect. Full of things like light and affection.

“It’s such a surprise,” his mother said, “A good one, of course, but our A’Yuan is so shy. I’m curious as to how you two met?”

Shen Yuan stared at her perfectly manicured nails, and jade bangles instead of her face. His father was on a business trip, out of the country.

His siblings were the only ones who showed concern over the match, which was somewhat comforting, even as Shen Yuan had to talk Er-ge and Da-ge out of illegal action against Binghe.

Binghe replied, “Oh, I just… saw him one day and followed him home.”

Shen Yuan was startled out of his grim thoughts at the truth of their relationship being disguised as a joke and nearly started laughing, before he disguised it as a cough.

Shen Yuan stood in front of the carved wooden doors of their courtyard house. One hand in Binghe’s. Binghe’s other hand clenched their red marriage booklets with a deathgrip.

Shen Yuan’s green silk tang suit felt soft against his skin. It had been embroidered with red peonies and swallows. It looked nice in the wedding photos.

“Baobei, I promise I’ll be gentle with you,” Binghe murmured as he picked up his wrist and kissed the inside of it, his massive palm enclosing the pale limb completely.

Blushing Shen Yuan averted his eyes.

“B-Binghe,” Shen Yuan muttered.

“Hmm, that’s not the right way to call for me now is it Yuan-er?” Binghe teased, still nuzzling his wrist.

Shen Yuan closed his eyes and reluctantly whispered out the word “…Husband.”

It felt sweet in his mouth, like spun sugar.

His heart fluttered with quiet, private, joy.

Tell Me Your Heart Doesn't Race for a Hurricane or a Burning Building - Bluethursday - 人渣反派自救系统 - 墨香铜臭 | The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System (2024)
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