It took Shang Qinghua over a year to badger Shen Qingqiu, his colleague at Cang Qiong University, into downloading Tantan, and another week to get the man to actually use it. There was something so frustrating about having a hot friend, with a good job, who just did nothing with his social capital! Shang Qinghua was nosy, loved drama, and did not love contemplating his own lacklustre romantic prospects: the perfect formula for an over-invested meddler. His Chemical X was Friendship.
“It’s not just you who’s missing out on life,” Shang Qinghua had tried at last. “Look at poor Luo Binghe, stuck at home with you all the time—if you got out more, he probably would too!”
Due to family and money issues, Shen Qingqiu’s TA Luo Binghe had been living with Professor Shen for a year and a half now. And it was true that despite being in the prime of his youth, Luo Binghe hardly ever brought over so much as a friend (let alone a partner). Luo Binghe was such a sweetheart, and so obliging that Shen Qingqiu thought it likely that he was holding the younger man back by providing his junior colleague with a piss-poor example of work-life balance, or, rather pathetically, making it seem like he needed the company. Would Binghe dare do something that even the man ‘graciously sharing his home with him’ (i.e. the slacker taking advantage of Luo Binghe’s extreme domestic capacity and tendency to stress-bake) hadn’t done? Not likely.
At present, the two men basically acted like an old married couple. While Shen Qingqiu enjoyed how easy and comfortable their life together was, he was uneasy about taking advantage of Luo Binghe like that. It was one thing to be in something of a rut himself, and another to drag Luo Binghe into it and exert pressure on him to stay there.
So, Shen Qingqiu actually opened the stupid app, swiped right on someone who looked likely enough and went out for dinner with her. Afterwards he brought her home for a nightcap. Luo Binghe’s usual welcoming smile shifted into something odd and unfamiliar when Shen Qingqiu introduced his guest. Shen Qingqiu assumed Luo Binghe would take the unspoken hint and leave Shen Qingqiu and his date alone together in the living room to talk (and maybe even to retire to Shen Qingqiu’s room, afterwards—Shen Qingqiu didn’t normally do that kind of thing, but his date really was nice, and she didn’t seem disinterested).
Luo Binghe politely made the three of them tea, but did nothing like retire and leave the would-be couple to it. He sat next to Shen Qingqiu on the couch, extending his hand along the back of the sofa in the casual way he did when the two of them watched television. Luo Binghe made polite conversation—and he was, after all, a very engaging young man. But something about the smooth, chilled quality of the atmosphere caused Shen Qingqiu’s date to visibly grow uncomfortable. She finished her tea, declined Luo Binghe’s offer of a refill, and said her goodbyes for the night.
“I’ll text you,” Shen Qingqiu offered as he saw her to the door.
She gave him an awkward smile. “Right,” she said, with a nod.
As her door-muffled footsteps trailed away down the hall, Shen Qingqiu returned to the living room. Luo Binghe was still sitting on the couch, and Shen Qingqiu noticed that the younger man had drunk none of his own tea. Shen Qingqiu opened his mouth to speak, but Luo Binghe got in first.
“Did you have a nice evening, Professor?” His tone was decidedly weird. The vibes were really strange; no wonder Shen Qingqiu’s date had skipped out on him.
“Yes, it was fine. Binghe—”
“It must have been more than fine , for you to bring her back here.”
Shen Qingqiu coloured. “Well—”
“I mean, she must be very special for you to almost take her to bed. You’ve never done that in all the time I’ve known you! And it’s funny,” Luo Binghe continued in a bright, insincere way, “because she looked pretty normal, to me. You know, just all right looking. Not obviously brilliant.”
“What’s gotten into you tonight?” Shen Qingqiu asked, astonished by Luo Binghe’s unprecedented rudeness.
“How can you ask that?” Luo Binghe snapped back. “I thought I’d never press, to keep from fucking up everything we have. I thought, ‘I’ll just never say anything! It’s fine!’ Having this relationship meant more to me than defining it. I didn’t even think you were interested in sex! But I guess I don’t know you nearly as well as I imagined I did. Stupid of me, really.” Luo Binghe’s expression was savage with self-recrimination.
Shen Qingqiu had never seen him upset like this. Luo Binghe had soldiered through a series of life-crises that would have utterly immobilised Shen Qingqiu with astounding determination, skill and pluck. Shen Qingqiu admired him enormously for it, even as he lamented that such a lovely young man should have had to go through a tenth of what Luo Binghe had suffered. But now, Luo Binghe looked to be almost on the verge of tears.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” he demanded of Shen Qingqiu. “I thought that if I ever lost you, it would be to someone you really cared about. That wouldn’t make it bearable, but at least I could understand it. But she’s just some random woman! She’s not even prettier than me!”
“Binghe, no one’s prettier than you,” Shen Qingqiu said, feeling obliged to be fair. It was true, after all: Luo Binghe set an unreasonably high standard. “You really don’t feel I hold you back? I keep you stuck here in the house, doing nothing with me.” This was only one fragment of the issue they were talking about, but it was what had prompted tonight’s atypical outing: Shen Qingqiu’s fear that he limited Luo Binghe’s opportunities, and made one of his favourite people’s life just a little worse by being a part of it.
“I love being home with you,” Luo Binghe insisted. “I’d like going out with you sometimes too, if you wanted that. Do you want that?”
“I—maybe?” Shen Qingqiu said. “But I am happy, just. Being here. With you.” Which meant something, didn’t it? “And I don’t dislike sex,” he added, defensive, “I just haven’t happened to have much of it. It hasn’t really—well, no one’s exactly been queuing up for the chance.”
And Shen Qingqiu had always been too busy and too ill at ease with strangers to fit in many hook ups. He’d been such an idiot about his interest in men, when he’d been Luo Binghe’s age. He’d calmed down about it since, but had never really acted on the greater comfort with himself age had brought. Shen Qingqiu still vaguely imagined himself ending up with a woman, someday, because it was what people did: that was the shape of a notional adult relationship that lingered in his mind. But if he tried to picture someone else, some unknown girl, taking Luo Binghe’s place in his home and life, Shen Qingqiu found the task difficult, and the prospect unappealing.
Luo Binghe scoffed at Shen Qingqiu’s brush-off. “You are way too perceptive not to know that I’m at the head of the line.”
Shen Qingqiu dropped into the chair his date had occupied a quarter of an hour and what seemed an era ago. He found himself smiling. “Being idolised is flattering, but you’ll find I can’t live up to it. Perhaps some people know themselves well. If so, I’m really not one of them.”
“So you’re saying you don’t know I’m in love with you and want to fuck your brains out,” Luo Binghe clarified, looking at Shen Qingqiu with a raised eyebrow.
“Well,” Shen Qingqiu said after a moment. “I—do now. …what, really? ”
“For like, four years,” Luo Binghe said, amusement in his voice.
“But you were an undergrad back then!” Shen Qingqiu said, his scandalised tone making Luo Binghe laugh.
“And do you—” Luo Binghe continued after a moment. He let the question trail off vaguely.
“Well of course I love you,” Shen Qingqiu said automatically, as if it were obvious. “You’re perfect, obviously, and more than that you’re very dear to me. But I haven’t thought about—god, it’d be so terrible if you ever moved out. But you would someday, wouldn’t you? If we weren’t—fuck, I’d hate that, Binghe.”
“You love me?” Luo Binghe repeated, leaning forward—towards Shen Qingqiu.
Shen Qingqiu frowned. Surely Luo Binghe knew it, even if Shen Qingqiu had never used quite those words before. Trying to shift away from the uncomfortable emotional conversation, Shen Qingqiu found himself studying their second-best teapot intently.
“I’ve never been with a man before,” he said, trying to be matter-of-fact about it.
“No, me neither,” Luo Binghe said, frank and unembarrassed. “Or anyone, actually.”
Shen Qingqiu’s head whipped back towards Luo Binghe. “How is that possible?” Shen Qingqiu demanded, horrified. Darling, drop-dead gorgeous Luo Binghe was a virgin and didn’t want to be? Impossible. Unacceptable! This was a fucking national crisis!
Luo Binghe shrugged. “I didn’t want to be with someone else like that when I’m in love with you.”
Shen Qingqiu stood up. “I really have been limiting your opportunities!” he moaned, marching out of the room and down the hall.
“Professor?” Luo Binghe called after him, standing and trailing after his mentor in some bemusement. “Where are you going?”
“For probably the first time in his life, Shang Qinghua was right. Binghe, I’ve stunted your growth!” Shen Qingqiu reached his bedroom and pulled off the forest green jumper he was wearing over his button-down shirt. “We’re fixing this, right now.”
“You want to?” Luo Binghe asked, swallowing. In the pale yellow glow from Shen Qingqiu’s bedside lamp, his eyes looked especially large and dark.
Shen Qingqiu made a ‘what do you think is happening here?’ sort of gesture towards his own, now half-unbuttoned shirt. If Luo Binghe wanted you, you didn’t get coy or fuck about! You asked, ‘in what position?’
“ Professor ,” Luo Binghe managed in a desire-thickened, rapturous tone.
“Don’t call me that in the bedroom,” Shen Qingqiu retorted, embarrassed.
“Mm, agree to disagree,” Luo Binghe responded cheerfully. He came forward to wrap himself around Shen Qingqiu’s back, cutting off his mentor’s protests over nomenclature by sucking hungrily at his neck. Luo Binghe’s busy hands interfered with the Shen Qingqiu’s efforts to undress himself, as well. All told, it was some time before Luo Binghe could implement the techniques he’d carefully studied by watching all eighteen informative volumes of the “Twink Takes Monster Cock” series in hopeful preparation for this blessed day. (He was saving the ‘naughty student services strict teacher’ material for their second date.)