Mo Bei does not want to be here.
Sha Hualing wants to be here even less than he does. Her long fingernails are digging into his arm as she smiles sweetly at the receptionist, a subtle warning for him to play along.
She’s drawn blood.
Well. It’s subtle for her.
The receptionist’s eyes flick to where her nails are pressing into his skin, and he smiles. It’s not a nice smile. He looks like he’s trying to poison them with his eyes. His nametag reads Jiu.
Mo Bei wonders if they number their employees instead of naming them. This place is the most expensive in the city, apparently it’s competitive staying in the industry.
He can’t believe he’s here.
“Mister Shang will see you in the first room on the left. I think he’s exactly what you’re looking for.”
Luo Binghe recommended this place because his fiancé's brother and his husband work here. Sha Hualing starts dragging him towards the room, and Mo Bei looks back at the front desk in a panic.
Actually, the receptionist - if he wasn’t scowling – would be the spitting image of Shen Yuan. Is that –
Sha Hualing throws the door open. “Mister Shang! I was told you could give us a speedy wedding that won’t burn through our inheritances, and we won't have to plan it.”
Mister Shang squeaks.
What the f-
Mo Bei turns to look at him, and his mouth drops open.
Mister Shang’s face glows red. He gathers up the binder in front of him and coughs.
“Shang Qinghua.” Mo Bei says.
Shang Qinghua laughs uncomfortably. “I can't believe you recognise me.”
Mo Bei would recognise him no matter how many years had passed. In University he took accounting courses he hated just to sit next to Shang Qinghua. He sat through creative writing seminars so he could stare at Shang Qinghua from across the room. He went to a nasty awful coffee shop for two years so he could sit nearer to Shang Qinghua.
He slept with Shang Qinghua once, then was too embarrassed to say anything to him. Shang Qinghua took that to mean that it was a one night stand.
Mo Bei had made him breakfast. Shang Qinghua awkwardly ate two bites then left and avoided him – for three months!
Then Mo Bei graduated, and they never saw each other again.
Mo Bei has never recovered from Shang Qinghua. He still thinks he’s terrible in bed. He’s never really done much with other people, there’s just –
There’s never been anyone he wanted as much as he wanted Shang Qinghua.
Sha Hualing is in the same place as him. Luo Binghe- the only man she would ever marry - went and got engaged to his former lecturer, and now all she wants is her inheritance.
Same as Mo Bei.
They would both have to wait another ten years for their inheritance. That's long enough for Mo Bei's uncle to figure out how he can destabilise Mo Bei's position in the company enough to get him cast out and to get him stripped of his inheritance. Or they can get married now and “use the inheritance to begin building a home with their new family.”
They have a whole plan.
Mo Bei just hadn’t expected to see the only person he ever loved, the person he used to hit because he didn’t know how to use his words, sitting right –
He looks so good.
Mo Bei steps towards the desk in a daze. Sha Hualing’s nails drag over and into his skin as she forces him to sit in the chair next to hers.
“Mister Shang, good to meet you. We are childhood sweethearts, and we have been waiting to get married for decades! We really want to get married as soon as possible, so we can start living the rest of our lives together.” Sha Hualing’s voice goes sticky sweet, and her hand goes gentle on Mo Bei’s arm, sliding down to link their fingers together. She blinks her long eyelashes up at Mo Bei and smiles sweetly.
Mo Bei’s blood is under her fingernails.
Shang Qinghua looks at Mo Bei. "You're getting married." He looks to Sha Hualing. “To your childhood sweetheart?” Shang Qinghua asks.
“N-“ Mo Bei starts.
“Isn’t it romantic?” Sha Hualing says back, squeezing Mo Bei’s hand threateningly. “Lingling has loved A-Bei since we were fifteen.” She tilts her head against Mo Bei’s shoulder.
Mo Bei tenses up. He has to sell it. He forces a smile onto his face. Shang Qinghua is probably wondering why Mo Bei never thought to mention a childhood sweetheart in all the time they knew each other. His smile becomes brittle and uncomfortable.
He is not as good at this as Sha Hualing is.
Shang Qinghua smiles and laughs politely. “That’s so sweet, that makes sense. Alright, I’m Shang Qinghua, I’ll be your wedding planner. A fast and extravagant wedding within your budget? I can make that happen.”
Mo Bei’s smile becomes real. Shang Qinghua is so competent, it’s part of what drew Mo Bei to him in the first place. He has a head for numbers and logic, but insists on writing epic plotlines that make absolutely no sense.
He is delightful. Mo Bei suddenly aches with how much he misses him. He wants to know if Shang Qinghua still writes, he wants to know how much of the finances Shang Qinghua controls, he wants to know how Shang Qinghua ended up in wedding planning.
What did he mean by that makes sense? Was Shang Qinghua implying that only a childhood sweetheart could love him? Just because Mo Bei failed horrifically at fucking him because he was too turned on by having Shang Qinghua in his bed?
That's what he was implying.
Mo Bei feels his face heat up. He has a naturally thick face. If he maintains his expression, it’s unlikely that he’ll blush.
He thinks he’s blushing.
“Oh, A-Bei, you’re so sweet. You shouldn’t blush over us! We’ll be married soon.” Sha Hualing says with a gently tinkling laugh, pressing her cheek into Mo Bei’s shoulder again.
Mo Bei wants to die.
When he looks up, Shang Qinghua is watching him. He feels like blushing again.
Shang Qinghua jolts himself out of the stupor he was in, flipping open the binder and showing them a page. “Alright. First, we need to choose a date and a location. Then we can go through colour scheme, schedule, flowers, outfits, food, guest list, accommodation. Sound good?”
“We want it as soon as possible.” Mo Bei says, his voice gruff and uncomfortable.
Shang Qinghua puts a finger delicately on the first page of the binder facing Mo Bei and Sha Hualing. It says LOCATION in block text.
“First, we need to choose the location. Then we can figure out what dates are available.” Shang Qinghua says lightly.
Mo Bei has not blushed this much since Shang Qinghua left his house all those years ago, leaving behind his favourite hat and a half eaten terrible breakfast.
Mo Bei is not a good cook. He had tried to make noodles.
That might have been why Shang Qinghua left.
“Oh, I have a lovely location an hour out of the city. We use it for formal events, that will do for location. It’s free all the time.” Sha Hualing says, fishing her phone out of her pocket excitedly. She types some words in, and shows Shang Qinghua. Mo Bei knows the place she means. It’s lovely, it’s got traditional architecture and a decent sized pavilion where they can hold the tea ceremony. There are some larger, newer buildings attached, and those can be dressed up for the reception. It’s all Sha Hualing’s stuff, it doesn’t matter how it gets modified.
“Great, then your timescale is open. How many guests are you aiming for?”
“Two hundred.” Sha Hualing says without missing a beat.
Shang Qinghua goes a little pale. “With your budget, it’s –“
“Fine, fifty? It doesn’t matter, as long as there’s a photographer and our families.”
Shang Qinghua swallows uncomfortably. “With your… range of guest size, the shortest timescale this is advisable for is three weeks, but I would suggest a mont-“
“Three weeks then!” Shang Hualing turns to Mo Bei and laughs delightedly. “In three weeks, this Lingling will be your Lingling!” She kisses him delicately on the tip of his nose.
Mo Bei shudders.
“Okay, I will organise a time for you to sign the marriage certificate at the courthouse.” Shang Qinghua says, making some notes in a binder. Sha Hualing claps her hands together. “It might be after the wedding if you want the ceremony in three weeks. Is that alright?” Shang Qinghua asks, nerves in his voice.
Sha Hualing taps her fingernail against the arm of the chair, considering. “That will be fine. The paperwork is the most important thing, the ceremony is just a formality for our families.”
“No use delaying the ceremony for the paperwork. Both as soon as possible.” Mo Bei says.
Sha Hualing nods at him. She seems to remember Shang Qinghua is in the room, and her face goes from thoughtful back to ‘cute, doting finace’.
Shang Qinghua blinks at them, then opens the binder to a new section. “Alright then, colour scheme.”
This binder is bursting. He really needs a separate binder for each section. Mo Bei wonders if he can get him custom binders, the same as he did when they were at University together.
Mo Bei shakes his head, shaking off the urge to slap himself. He doesn’t even know if Shang Qinghua knew those binders were from him. He gave them to Shang Qinghua on Valentines day without a note on them.
Shang Qinghua did nothing for White day.
“Red and gold.” Sha Hualing says with a smile.
“No Western wedding dress then?” Shang Qinghua asks, writing something down in his book.
“Oh.” Sha Hualing says, her perfect eyebrows scrunching up. “I did want to wear a ball gown dress.”
Mo Bei momentarily feels for her. She is unlikely to have another wedding after this one. For the inheritance, the wedding has to be between her and a man.
Although she openly tells anyone who asks that Luo Binghe is the only man she would ever marry, she has told Mo Bei multiple times - usually while drunk - that she didn’t even want to marry Luo Binghe. She is pretending to be heartbroken over him so her parents won’t try and make her marry another man. Her parents hate Luo Binghe. She doesn't seem to feel guilty at all.
Sha Hualing and Mo Bei have a silent understanding. Neither of them are likely to end up in relationships that Sha Hualing’s parents and Mo Bei’s uncle – or their respective legally binding inheritances – will acknowledge. Mo Bei isn’t certain if his uncle is homophobic, but he is certain that his uncle will look for every loophole to mess with him, and the legitimacy of the marriage would tie up any money changing hands for long enough that it would be simpler to just marry Sha Hualing and put up an easy front for a few years.
They're already friends. They can get a big apartment and live together under the guise of marriage. It won't disrupt their lifestyles at all.
“You could wear a qipao for the tea ceremony and a white dress for the wedding ceremony or reception. Or you could have both in the wedding photographs, and only wear one on the day of the wedding.” Shang Qinghua says, looking up at her with real concern in his eyes.
Mo Bei doesn’t know if he’s genuinely concerned or if he’s just putting on an act for the wedding planner routine. Either way, Mo Bei's heart aches.
He feels like he’s twenty years old again.
He does not like it.
Shang Qinghua asks her questions about dress cuts and lengths, and Mo Bei is back in the familiar position of watching Shang Qinghua talk, not knowing what he’s talking about. Not really caring, either. As long as he continues to sit there and talk, Mo Bei is happy.
They keep talking, Shang Qinghua endlessly writing in his little book.
“We’ve come to the end of the hour. I’ll organise some food tastings, a flower viewing with Liu Mingyan, and a suit fitting. I’ll come along to all of these to make sure that everything fits and works. I’ll have to look at the venue before the food tasting to assign areas for caterers and figure out what other staff you’ll need. Any preference for music?”
“I don’t mind.” Sha Hualing says. She’s always been apathetic about music.
Mo Bei doesn’t want any of this, he doesn't want Shang Qinghua to plan his wedding. He doesn't want Shang Qinghua to plan his wedding if he is not marrying Shang Qinghua.
Shang Qinghua looks pointedly at him.
“I don’t mind either.” Mo Bei says.
Shang Qinghua nods. “I’ll figure something out and send you samples. Alright, I’ll see you in a few days.”
Mo Bei nods.
Sha Hualing drags him outside.
“Did you know him or something? You were being weirder than usual in there.” Sha Hualing says.
“We went to University together.” Mo Bei says, going to open the car door.
Sha Hualing shuts it and slides between him and the door.
“You want to drive?” Mo Bei asks, throwing the keys in the air and lunging backwards, trying to escape to the other side of the car before she can trap him for a talk.
Sha Hualing catches the keys, then catches Mo Bei’s collar and drags him back.
She knows him too well.
Mo Bei looks at her like a dog that has just been caught misbehaving.
“Is he the guy?”
Mo Bei nods.
Sha Hualing looks back at the building, her eyes comically wide. “That guy? Really?”
Mo Bei slaps her hand away and goes to the passenger side of the car. “Stop it. You don’t know him.”
“Wow. Your taste is so messy, Mo Bei. On the one hand, him. On the other, you’re marrying me.”
Mo Bei wants to hit her. She’s an entire car width away from him. He scowls instead. “It’s been a long time since I knew him.” Mo Bei says, getting into the car, vainly hoping that she’ll drop it now.
She gets in the car and looks seriously at him. “So did he get shorter since University?”
Mo Bei does try to hit her, but she’s much better at hand-to-hand fighting than she is, and blocks his attacks like they’re nothing.
“Okay, Mo Bei, seriously. Is this going to be a problem? How do you feel?”
Mo Bei sighs and tips his head back against the car seat. “I don’t know jiejie. I wasn’t expecting to see him, I’m still not over him. Maybe it’s best if you take the lead on this. I might do something stupid and compromise the whole wedding.”
“Or.” Sha Hualing says, a smirk coming onto her face.
Mo Bei hates that look.
She slaps his arm gently. “What if it’s a good thing? You can try dating him again – and don’t scare him away this time – so you can finally have a real life adult relationship?"
Mo Bei opens his eyes to stare incredulously at her. “You know what happened. How can I ever face him again?”
Sha Hualing looks back at the building. “I think he could do worse. You’ve matured a little since University. Just think about it.”
Mo Bei sits up straighter. “If it’s found out –“
“Then you’ll be just like any other rich married man in this city, cheating on his wife. It’s not like I care.”
“What about you?”
Sha Hualing smiles at him. “There’s no one who wants to date me, no one who I want to date. Anyway, who would want to compete with my husband?”
Mo Bei closes his eyes in despair and tilts his head back against the cushion. One day Sha Hualing will date someone and leave him alone.
Sha Hualing starts driving, and after a few minutes she says in a soft voice, “it’s probably a good idea for you to see the place before we’re married there. There’s been more added to it since you last went.”
Mo Bei nods. “I’ll go tomorrow. Send me the location.”
If he had his eyes open, he would see Sha Hualing grin.
Mo Bei arrives at Sha Hualing’s “place” and walks around. It’s nice, it’s nestled into the woods nearly in the mountains, far enough outside of the city that it’s not noisy, but close enough that he’s not exhausted from driving. The main building is gorgeous, it’s all reds and pale creams. He likes it here, he remembers it looking breathtaking when it was covered in snow. He’s about to go in when Shang Qinghua appears in the door and Mo Bei immediately forgets where he is.
“Oh, Mo Bei! Sha Hualing said you might come.”
Sha Hualing did not give Mo Bei a key. Of course she didn’t. She made sure that he would arrive at the same time as Shang Qinghua so he would have to interact with Shang Qinghua, who apparently has a key. Mo Bei bets that nothing has changed since he was last here, she only sent him to meet with Shang Qinghua.
He hates her.
“Shang Qinghu-“ Mo Bei’s voice breaks. He clears his throat and walks closer, pretending nothing happened. “Have you been here long?”
“Ah, no. I was just checking out the buildings.” Shang Qinghua gestures towards the back exit of the building they’re in, towards a courtyard with other buildings lining it. Everything here looks like it’s from the Ming dynasty, they’re very good imitations.
Mo Bei doesn’t look at the buildings. He is too busy taking in Shang Qinghua’s eager gaze flickering from house to house.
“I got here a while ago, but it’s beautiful here. I got distracted looking around. Are these really antique buildings?”
“No, Sha Hualing’s father built them. He's a stickler for detail.” Mo Bei says.
Shang Qinghua looks up at him. Mo Bei’s breath catches in his throat for a moment.
“Have you seen the waterfall?” Shang Qinghua asks.
Mo Bei has seen it. “I haven’t.”
Shang Qinghua reaches out, like he’s about to grasp Mo Bei’s arm, the same as he used to, but he turns the motion into a beckoning hand, and Mo Bei follows him out.
Mo Bei would still follow him anywhere. Nothing has changed at all.
They walk in silence. Mo Bei wants to talk to him so badly, wants to ask questions. He was never good at talking, he knows Shang Qinghua was convinced that Mo Bei hated him for a year because he couldn’t get out the words “hi, how are you.”
Mo Bei has matured.
Mo Bei can speak to Shang Qinghua now.
“What have you been up to these past years?” Mo Bei asks, hating the way his voice goes deep and gruff every time he speaks around Shang Qinghua.
Shang Qinghua looks back at him, surprised, and comes to walk next to him instead of in front of him.
“I’m a wedding planner.”
Mo Bei looks at him.
Shang Qinghua’s cheeks go a little red again. “Of course, you knew that.” He laughs nervously. Mo Bei is so charmed, his chest feels like it has a helium balloon in it.
“Do you still write?”
Shang Qinghua looks up at him, his eyes wide and surprised. “I do, yeah. The book I started in University, I abandoned it for a while to write something based off-“ He clears his throat and shakes his head. “Anyway. I just finished the book I started in University. It ended up completely different to how I planned it, but I wrote other things around it, other things that actually stayed on track compared to that one. It’s still the most popular of all my books, though.”
“That’s the one where you wrote Luo Binghe as the protagonist.” Mo Bei says quietly.
Shang Qinghua seems to choke on nothing. When he’s finished coughing, he turns his watery eyes back to Mo Bei. “You remember?”
“I read it for a while.” Mo Bei says, embarrassment clenching around his heart. He had to stop. Shang Qinghua kept writing about sex, and Mo Bei couldn’t stop thinking about how badly he –
Anyway. He had to stop reading.
“Did you read… any of my others?” Shang Qinghua asks, looking like he’s bracing for a blow.
“No, I didn’t realise you had written any others.” Mo Bei says. He had tried to stop checking, after – after the incident. He tried to forget about Shang Qinghua.
Shang Qinghua smiles at him, and it’s like the sun dawning on Mo Bei’s frosted heart.
Obviously, getting over Shang Qinghua did not work.
“That’s good. I mean, no that’s not good, obviously you can read my books if you want to, but just don’t read The Ice Demon’s Secret Firey Passion.”
Shang Qinghua is still terrible at titles then. This one sounds even worse than Proud Immortal Demon Way.
Mo Bei has to ask. “What’s Th–“
“Don’t worry about it, oh look the waterfall!”
Mo Bei tears his eyes from Shang Qinghua to look at the waterfall. It’s as beautiful as the last time he was here, but this time it’s closer to summer, so all the flowers around the base of the waterfall are in bloom.
“This would be perfect for your wedding photos, see –“ Shang Qinghua does take him by the elbow this time, and pulls him to the side of the pond, in front of the river. “I’m around the same height as Miss Sha, she could stand –“ He interrupts himself again to maneuvre Mo Bei to stand by a rock, then he stands on it and holds Mo Bei’s shoulder for balance. “Here.”
Mo Bei’s heart is beating so fast he’s sure that Shang Qinghua can hear it. He can imagine what they look like, Shang Qinghua is still half a head shorter than him when standing on the rock, and standing like this Mo Bei only has to tilt his head slightly for them to touch foreheads. If they were in wedding clothes, both of them dressed in red, streamers and lanterns through the trees, they would be a perfect counterpoint of colour to their background.
His hand comes to rest on Shang Qinghua’s waist – for balance.
He looks up, into Shang Qinghua’s eyes.
They're so close. Mo Bei's hand clenches slightly on Shang Qinghua's waist.
Shang Qinghua leans in.
Mo Bei’s nose brushes against Shang Qinghua’s.
He’s breathing in Shang Qinghua’s air.
Mo Bei’s breath stutters.
Shang Qinghua’s phone rings, and he jumps, nearly headbutting Mo Bei, then nearly slipping off the rock.
Mo Bei catches him with the hand on his waist, pressing their bodies together before putting Shang Qinghua down on the grass.
Shang Qinghua is breathing oddly fast. He pats his front down, his eyes darting to Mo Bei and then to the floor, then to Mo Bei, then finally to his phone when he finds it.
Mo Bei can still feel the impression of Shang Qinghua all down his front.
He’s so screwed.
It’s Sha Hualing on the phone, asking if he’s seen Mo Bei, because Mo Bei isn’t answering her texts. Mo Bei opens his phone.
35 unread messages.
Right. He opens the messages.
did you drive back because you saw him? You’re a child mo baobei
are you driving
look at your phone
did you murder him
listen I thought you needed to talk
did you talk
are you two having sex right now
mo bei remember to use lube and condoms
mo bei please tell me you didn’t run off
Mo Bei locks his phone without reading the rest.
He could have just driven off.
Shang Qinghua trips over a twig and steadies himself, and keeps walking, still talking to Sha Hualing about plans for the wedding. Lighting and fabrics and – whatever.
Shang Qinghua is interested, right? Him leaning in means he’s interested? Mo Bei lets a smile come on his face.
Shang Qinghua might still be interested, even after Mo Bei’s embarrassing –
They make it back to the main buildings and Shang Qinghua hangs up the phone, then looks back at Mo Bei. His cheeks are a little pink. “Let me show you the main hall, we will probably have the tea ceremony in there.”
Mo Bei follows him around, listening to him plan. When they get back to the courtyard, Mo Bei looks at him consideringly. “You really enjoy what you do.”
“I’m good at it.” Shang Qinghua says with a smile. “It doesn’t get me a lot of recognition, actually most brides scream at me. But organising and logistics – this is more fun than industrial stock logistics.”
“Is that what you did before this?”
Shang Qinghua nods, patting at his bag then making a face.
Mo Bei realises what he’s forgotten and tilts his head towards his car.
Shang Qinghua follows him and keeps talking. “I did for a little while, then Shen Yuan asked me if I’d help him with the expenses for the wedding planning business. Then everything spiralled and I ended up being employed by him full time, where are we goin-“
Mo Bei opens his car door, takes out a bottle of water, and hands it to Shang Qinghua.
Shang Qinghua stops talking, looking down at the bottle of water with surprise on his face.
“You’ve been talking a lot and you never remember to take care of yourself. Drink the water.”
Shang Qinghua drinks.
“It sounds like fun. Do you get time for writing on the side?”
Shang Qinghua looks at him, suspicion in his eyes. “Why are you interrogating me?”
Mo Bei feels a blush rising again. “I’m not, I’m just –“
There’s a pause. Admitting that is too embarrassing.
“Trying to start a conversation.” Mo Bei finishes.
“Then talk about yourself as well.” Shang Qinghua says.
“What do you want to know?” Mo Bei asks.
Shang Qinghua sits on the steps of the entryway and motions to Mo Bei to sit next to him. “Where are you working now?"
Mo Bei sits next to him, and they talk until the sun goes down and Shang Qinghua’s stomach is growling. Mo Bei tries to ask him out for a meal so they can keep talking, but Shang Qinghua insists on going home to finish the work he missed today.
The work he missed to talk to Mo Bei.
Mo Bei is just as – if not more – in love with Shang Qinghua than he ever was. He can talk to him now. Shang Qinghua is so interesting, so funny, so intelligent. Mo Bei wants to talk to him again, he wonders if he can invite him out for coffee or something. That’s got to be inappropriate, right?
He’s halfway home when he realises that they didn’t mention the marriage once.
Mo Bei does not tell Sha Hualing. He doesn’t think he could take the teasing.
They go to the cake tasting. Mo Bei doesn’t eat for an entire day beforehand. Not because he’s trying to be hungry – he’s just nervous about seeing Shang Qinghua again.
Shang Qinghua said they would be meeting outside a cake shop, but this looks more like a restaurant. Sha Hualing is scrolling through her phone, her hand placed randomly on Mo Bei’s arm, trying to make them look like a couple.
They just look awkward.
Mo Bei is watching for Shang Qinghua.
“Mo Bei, Miss Sha, hi, I’m sorry I’m late, I was caught up –“ Shang Qinghua’s voice comes from behind Mo Bei.
He doesn’t jump from sheer force of will, and turns around to look at him. Shang Qinghua is wearing a green sweater that compliments his skin. He remembers how Shang Qinghua’s waist felt in his hand, how Shang Qinghua felt falling onto him. Mo Bei’s hand’s clench into fists.
Mo Bei takes a step back and gestures for him to go ahead. Shang Qinghua smiles nervously up at him.
“Alright, so because your timeframe is so short, today you will try the cakes, and I got the caterer that Sha Hualing approved to cook small versions of each dish so you can decide on your whole menu now. I hope you’re hungry.”
Sha Hualing puts a hand on her tiny waist and sighs slightly. She doesn’t have many opinions about food, food is just a necessity to keep yourself alive. Mo Bei doesn’t care too much about food either, but he does have a slight sweet tooth.
He remembers Shang Qinghua likes coffee flavoured things. Maybe they can get a coffee flavoured cake?
Wait. The wedding planner doesn’t usually come to the wedding, do they? Mo Bei looks up at Shang Qinghua, the realisation that after he and Sha Hualing are married, he won’t be able to see Shang Qinghua again crashing over him like an egg breaking over the crown of his skull.
A cold, slippery feeling creeps down his spine. His chest feels hot. Shang Qinghua is making him react so violently, and he's only seen him twice.
Shang Qinghua leads them into the restaurant and guides Mo Bei to sit down. He talks with Sha Hualing for a moment, then heads to the kitchen.
“What’s wrong with you?” Sha Hualing asks.
Mo Bei shakes his head and looks after Shang Qinghua.
Sha Hualing sighs.
Shang Qinghua comes back and lays out a glass for each of them, then puts a piece of paper with each menu item written on it, then gives them two pens. “You’ll have a taster of all of these, then you can take these sheets home and decide which one you want to have at your wedding.”
Mo Bei nods, reading through the list. He’s not especially enthused by any of the options, not now that he’s realised that Shang Qinghua won’t be at the wedding.
“Mo Bei, I meant to ask if you managed to revive your plant yet.” Shang Qinghua says with a small smile.
Mo Bei is caught off guard, he had forgotten that he mentioned that to Shang Qinghua the other day. And now Shang Qinghua is asking him about it, smiling in that way of his, about to watch him plan his own wedding to someone else.
Mo Bei stares at him.
“Mo Bei?” Shang Qinghua asks gently.
Sha Hualing elbows him.
Mo Bei stands up. “Bathroom.” He says.
Shang Qinghua looks confused for a moment before he points to the stairs at the back of the empty restaurant. “Back there.”
Mo Bei tries his best not to run to the bathroom. He stops three steps in.
He’s going to stop seeing Shang Qinghua after he’s married. He doesn’t have Shang Qinghua’s number, he doesn’t have any way of contacting him. They’re not friends, he’s hired Shang Qinghua for a service.
He walks to the sink and washes his hands.
Is he meant to just be okay with saying goodbye to Shang Qinghua again? It’s not like he can get married again so he can hire Shang Qinghua and see him again.
His hands freeze under the tap.
He could convince Luo Binghe and Shen Yuan to get married sooner. He could convince Luo Binghe that he wants to make Mo Bei his best man. Mo Bei knows that Luo Binghe wants to make Ning Yingying his best woman, but maybe he could convince Binghe that he wants both?
The door opens, and Mo Bei straightens up, looking at the door.
“Mo Bei? You ran out of there like your ass was on fire, what’s wrong?” Sha Hualing asks.
Mo Bei shakes his head. “It’s nothing, I just realised something.”
Sha Hualing’s eyes narrow. After a beat she says, “You’re not going to be able to see Shang Qinghua after we get married.”
Mo Bei is pretty sure that she’s psychic. He says nothing and dries his hands.
Sha Hualing drags him out by his wrist. He’s starting to get a mark where her nails always dig into his skin. It’s uncanny how she can always hit the same place.
They sit, and Shang Qinghua is talking with a chef who brings them the first round of tasters. Shang Qinghua hurries to Mo Bei’s side as soon as he sees him.
“Mo Bei, are you alright? You looked pale earlier, do you need some ginger tea?”
“I’m fine.” Mo Bei says. Shang Qinghua’s eyes widen a little more, he looks like he doesn’t believe Mo Bei. Mo Bei turns to face him a little more. “I'm fine, thank you Shang Qinghua.”
Shang Qinghua looks like Mo Bei just slapped him.
“Alright let me talk you through this first round, please take a seat.” The chef says.
Mo Bei gets distracted tasting each dish. They don’t taste like much, everything he tastes is coloured by the thought that there is a time limit on knowing Shang Qinghua.
He hates it.
When the chef goes back to the kitchen to get the next round, Sha Hualing leans forwards. “Shang Qinghua, when we have decided on a dish should we tell you, or tell him?”
“Tell me, I’m the one who will be coordinating all the food.” Shang Qinghua says.
Sha Hualing smiles. It has an edge of sharpness to it. Mo Bei does not trust it. She delicately lays her hand on Mo Bei’s arm. “Great, thank you Shang Qinghua. Mo Bei will be the one deciding what we’re getting, would you mind giving him your number so he can contact you directly?”
Shang Qinghua’s cheeks flush a little pink.
Mo Bei turns to stare at Sha Hualing. What makes her think that Mo Bei will be able to talk to Shang Qinghua after this, even if he has his number?
“Sure, of course. I can type my number in, Mo Bei?”
Mo Bei nods and hands him his phone. Shang Qinghua calls his own phone, and when it rings he smiles. “That’s my number. Please call me anytime.”
Mo Bei pulls his gaze from Shang Qinghua’s hands to look at his face. Shang Qinghua is already looking at him, like he’s trying to communicate something else through his eyes.
Call me anytime.
Mo Bei blinks. He's probably reading into it.
The chef puts down another round of food and this time it tastes much better, Mo Bei feels like he can taste it, like there’s potential in this round.
Someone else brings out a range of cake samples.
“These are from a different place, a patissiere, but they’re the standard cake flavour options. Anything custom will cost extra, and we can talk cake designs later.” Shang Qinghua says.
Sha Hualing takes a bite of each and points at three. “Any one of those three.”
Mo Bei nods and tries the first of the three she pointed out. It's fine, it tastes like some kind of flower extract. The second makes him pause. It's coffee flavoured. He doesn't like it particularly more than the other, but because –
“Shang Qinghua, try this.” Mo Bei says, and offers him a fork full of coffee cake.
Shang Qinghua stares at him. His eyes are huge.
Mo Bei nods encouragingly.
Shang Qinghua leans forwards. He covers Mo Bei’s hand with his own, and Mo Bei expects him to take the fork and eat it on his own, but Shang Qinghua –
He doesn’t take the fork from Mo Bei, he doesn’t eat it like any normal person would, he leans over and eats right off Mo Bei’s fork, holding Mo Bei’s hand delicately.
His hand is so hot. Mo Bei feels like he might spontaneously light on fire at any moment.
Shang Qinghua lets out a low groan, his eyes fluttering shut.
Mo Bei’s hand clenches on the fork.
“That’s so good.” Shang Qingua says, opening his eyes to look at Mo Bei again.
Mo Bei thinks he might snap this fork.
Sha Hualing delicately coughs.
They both jump back into their seats, Shang Qinghua’s entire face red, Mo Bei’s cheeks feeling hot again. Why is he blushing so much around Shang Qinghua?
“That one.” Mo Bei says, his voice hoarse.
“You didn’t even try the last one.” Sha Hualing says. Mo Bei looks at her. She looks like she’s trying not to laugh. “It’s lemon.”
“The coffee one is fine.” Mo Bei says.
Sha Hualing nods, then picks up her menu paper. “Is there anything else, Boss Shang?”
“No, no, ah-“ Shang Qinghua clears his throat. “That’s all. Just get back to me about the menu choices.” He looks very uncomfortable, he can’t even meet Sha Hualing’s eyes.
“Mo Bei will get back to you, thank you for your time today. Send the chef my compliments on the meals.” Sha Hualing says, standing up and dragging Mo Bei to his feet. “We’ll see you soon, thank you Shang Qinghua!”
The moment she’s out the door she starts laughing.
Mo Bei can’t stand her.
He walks as fast as he can to the car, her staggering along behind him in fits of laughter.
“Mo Bei, Mo Bei! You have so much tension with that tiny man, I thought that the whole place would catch on fire! I thought you would tear his clothes off right on that table! At this rate we’re not going to be able to get married because you’re going to ravage our wedding planner and he won’t be able to concentrate so we’ll turn up to the ceremony and the guests won’t be there.”
“Sha Hualing.” Mo Bei says through gritted teeth.
She wipes away a tear. “In all seriousness Mo Bei, you need to fuck him.”
Mo Bei wants to put his head through a wall.
“I’ve never seen any two people as intense as whatever that display was. I know you’re embarrassed, but he’s as into you as you are into him.”
Mo Bei looks at her. “I’m not coming to the next wedding thing.”
Sha Hualing stops walking and looks at him. “You’re genuinely upset about him.”
Mo Bei turns around. “He is in all of my thoughts. He’s all I can think about. He’s the only person I ever wanted to spend my life with, and I’m meeting him again like this.”
Sha Hualing pauses for a moment. “We don’t have to get married.” She says.
Mo Bei shakes his head. “Your inheritance will let you grow your business faster, and my uncle is still looking for ways to claim my position as his. It’s better for us to get married. Maybe I’ll meet him again in a few years, or –“
He stops talking and closes his eyes. This feels like his last chance. He had a whole plan, a plan for his life and what he’ll use this money for – he’s got businesses and investments and ideas, he’s not going to piss this money away on houses or parties. Their marriage is a piece of paper with a solid pre-nup that will let them live their lives to the fullest, and when they get divorced in some years time it will go as smoothly as possible and they can get on with their lives. He has a plan.
Shang Qinghua already shook his life up once. Mo Bei didn’t mind until Shang Qinghua left him behind. He never wants to feel that lost again, and he can’t believe that if he tries to start something with Shang Qinghua –
He can’t trust that Shang Qinghua will stay.
“It doesn’t matter. We’ll get married.” Mo Bei says.
Sha Hualing catches up to him and puts her hand back in the same place, gentle this time. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” Mo Bei says.
They’re quiet for a while as they get in the car and start driving.
“I don’t think I can go to the flower viewing.”
“Because you don’t know anything about flowers?” Sha Hualing asks, a tease in her voice.
Mo Bei is pathetically grateful that she is not making him admit that there’s only so much Shang Qinghua shaped taunting he can take.
“I would end up choosing white chrysanthemums.” Mo Bei says.
She laughs. “Alright alright. No funeral flowers at our wedding, I’ll go to the flower selection myself.”
“Thank you.” He says quietly.
He knows that she is looking at him in surprise. He rarely admits he is feeling emotions, let alone gratitude.
Shang Qinghua always had the ability to affect him more than anyone else.
Sha Hualing calls him after the flower choosing appointment.
“Don’t get mad.” She says.
“Not a great thing to lead with.” He replies.
“I slept with the person organising the flower arrangements.” She says.
Mo Bei wants to laugh for a second, then he thinks – wasn’t Shang Qinghua organising the flower –
“Her name is Liu Mingyan.” Sha Hualing says.
The sudden white hot anger Mo Bei was feeling drains out of him in an instant. “Why would I be mad?”
“I don’t know, we’re getting married?”
“Did Liu Mingyan know that?”
Sha Hualing laughs. “I told her you’re in love with someone else and she was very sympathetic.”
Mo Bei sighs. “You’re using me to get pity sex.” He might be mad about that.
“I don’t think it’s pity sex. We’re going out again tonight, she has my number. I like her a lot, Mo Bei! Do you mind?”
“Not at all. You deserve a romance.” Mo Bei says. He’s mostly glad she might stop bothering him now.
“Thanks Mo Bei. She’s so hot, she has the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. She was wearing a mask for the viewing because of the pollen but when she took it off I nearly lost my mind, she-“
“I’m at work.” Mo Bei interrupts.
“Do you even want to know what flowers we’re getting?”
“Not really.” Mo Bei says. “As long as there are flowers.”
“That’s good because I didn’t choose any. I told Mingyan to choose some for us.”
“You went to an hour long flower viewing and didn’t choose any flowers?”
“We got distracted.” Sha Hualing sounds entirely too pleased with herself.
“Wasn’t Shang Qinghua there?” Mo Bei asks.
Mo Bei sits up straight. “Why not?”
“He said something about being sick. I think he wasn’t there for the same reason as you, because he got scared by how much he wants yo-“
Mo Bei hangs up.
A week after that is Sha Hualing’s dress fittings, then a few days after that is Mo Bei’s suit fittings.
Shang Qinghua is inside the tailors when Mo Bei walks in.
Mo Bei nearly walks out again.
“Oh, Mo Bei. Hi. We have Sha Hualing’s dress now, so we’re going to fit you for a suit. Do you want a traditional outfit, or –“
“I don’t mind, whatever Sha Hualing thought.”
“She suggested a tang jacket for when she’s wearing a qipao, and a suit with a boutonniere for when she’s wearing the white dress.”
She does go all out. Of course he would need multiple changes of clothes.
“Alright. Does she want me to do anything with my hair?”
Shang Qinghua looks up at him, his eyes catching on Mo Bei’s hair. It’s pulled back in a messy bun, the loose hairs spilling over his face.
Shang Qinghua clears his throat. “No that’s okay. She said whatever hairstyle you want.”
Mo Bei nods, and points to the outfit hung on one of the changing room doors. “Is that for me?”
“Yes. I asked the tailor to come back in a little while.”
Mo Bei frowns at him, confused. He goes to put on the suit – it’s the one with the red tang jacket, one side embroidered with gold thread. It’s gorgeous.
He pulls it on and comes out of the changing room.
Shang Qinghua looks up at him and his eyes go wide.
Mo Bei catches sight of himself in the three mirrors across the room. His hair looks out of place, messily tied back as it is. He takes it down and shakes his head so his hair spills over his shoulders.
He hears Shang Qinghua take in a shaky breath.
“Are there shoes?” He asks.
Shang Qinghua makes a noise – not quite a squeak, but close – and points to a pair of shiny black shoes next to the changing room. Mo Bei pulls them on, then stands in front of the mirrors. He’s had many tailored suits, so he knows this jacket needs taking in around his waist, and the trousers need letting out a touch. Other than that, it’s nearly perfect. It’s like this jacket was made for his shoulders.
He turns back to Shang Qinghua.
Despite everything, he wants Shang Qinghua to want him. If Shang Qinghua doesn’t want him when he looks like this, Shang Qinghua will never want him.
"What do you think?" Mo Bei asks.
“Your fiancé is cheating on you.” Shang Qinghua blurts out, then slaps his hands over his mouth.
Mo Bei looks alarmed, then hears someone move in the back room.
“Give us a little more time!” Shang Qinghua calls.
Right. The tailor. That’s why Shang Qinghua asked him to give them a little space.
Mo Bei doesn’t trust the tailor to not eavesdrop. He grabs Shang Qinghua’s arm and hauls him into a changing room, shutting the door softly.
Shang Qinghua presses himself into a corner, his face scrunched up and terrified. He holds his arms in front of him to push Mo Bei away. “Please don’t kill me!”
“I’m not – stop that – I’m not going to kill you.” Mo Bei takes his wrists and pushes his arms away so he’s not holding Mo Bei at arms length. It means that Mo Bei is nearly pressed against Shang Qinghua’s body chest to knee, but that’s better than Shang Qinghua looking like he’s about to cry from fear.
“Sha Hualing and I are getting married for legal reasons.” Mo Bei says.
Shang Qinghua blinks.
“I’m gay. She is too. We needed to marry someone of the opposite gender. She’s getting her inheritance sooner to help her business, and I’m securing my position in the company so my uncle can’t use any loopholes to force me out.”
Shang Qinghua stops fighting against his grip and his hands relax. “So it’s alright that Sha Hualing was making out with Liu Mingyan during her wedding dress fitting?”
Mo Bei looks up at the ceiling and despairs silently over how shameless Sha Hualing is. Of course she was making out with her new girlfriend at her wedding dress fitting. In front of Shang Qinghua.
“Yes. It’s alright. I know about Liu Mingyan, and I support Sha Hualing completely.”
Shang Qinghua’s breathing starts coming faster. “And it’s alright that I-“
Mo Bei looks down at him, suddenly overly aware of how close they are, that he’s essentially pinning Shang Qinghua to the wall with his hands.
He lets go.
Shang Qinghua doesn’t move his wrists from where they were pinned.
Mo Bei feels a flash of heat go through him.
“That you..?” Mo Bei asks.
“That I want - That I want you.” Shang Qinghua says.
Mo Bei wonders what he was going to say before he corrected himself, then he decides he doesn’t care.
“Even after I messed up last time and avoided you for multiple years?” Shang Qinghua asks, finally bringing his arms down to his sides so he can knit his fingers together anxiously.
“You messed up? Multiple years?”
Shang Qinghua’s cheeks flush. “I thought that you only wanted me for some kind of release. Back then, you only beat me up and glared at me all the time, I kept taking classes I thought you wouldn’t want to take so I wouldn’t be in your way, then you started being a little nicer to me and we –“ His face gets a few shades darker, and widens his eyes meaningfully. “Then I came really fast because you’re really really hot and I was a little scared and it was really messy and you didn't get that.. release and you glared at me and in the morning you made me that – that thing that I couldn’t eat so I would leave faster, so I left and I avoided you for the rest of term, then when I found out you’re Luo Binghe’s friend I avoided any gathering that Shen Yuan invited me to, and –“
He cuts himself off.
“You want me for more than just a punching bag this time, right?” Shang Qinghua asks, his voice small.
Mo Bei can’t believe this.
Shang Qinghua thought –
Shang Qinghua left because –
Maybe Shang Qinghua only abandoned him because Mo Bei never talked to him.
“I never wanted you as a punching bag.” Mo Bei says. He brings his hands up, not sure what to do with them to show Shang Qinghua how mistaken he is. He hovers them over Shang Qinghua’s shoulders, down his arms, finally placing them gently, awkwardly on his elbows. One of his hands runs down to gently hold Shang Qinghua’s hands where they’re still knotted together.
He has to say this, as embarrassing as it is. If he can just get the words out, maybe this time Shang Qinghua will stay.
Shang Qinghua is staring at him. Mo Bei can’t say this when they’re making eye contact.
Mo Bei talks to his hand, covering Shang Qinghua’s hand.
“I wanted to date you, I just wasn’t very good at –“ He can feel his face getting hot again. “I took all the same classes as you so I could spend more time with you. I used to hit you because that was the only time you would pay attention to me. I –“
Mo Bei looks up at him. Shang Qinghua’s eyes are filled with tears. Mo Bei gasps, bringing his hands up to cup Shang Qinghua’s face, run his thumbs along Shang Qinghua’s cheeks.
“Why are you crying, did I say something wrong? Are you alright?” Mo Bei asks, verging on frantic.
Shang Qinghua blinks and a tear rolls down his cheek. Mo Bei brushes it away with his thumb.
“You liked me all that time?”
Mo Bei nods.
Shang Qinghua brings his hand up. He looks like he’s about to punch Mo Bei.
Mo Bei deserves that. He closes his eyes, waiting.
Shang Qinghua pinches his cheek, pulls it out so his face is stretched to one side. “You are so stupid, Mo Bei.”
Mo Bei wasn’t expecting this.
Shang Qinghua pulls at his cheek, grabs his other cheek and does the same. He presses Mo Bei’s cheeks together so his mouth is pursed. “You couldn’t just talk to me?”
Mo Bei tries to give him a flat look. Of course he couldn’t, Mo Bei couldn’t talk to anyone when he was twenty.
Shang Qinghua lets go of Mo Bei’s face.
Mo Bei brings up a hand to gently touch his cheek. It’s hot to the touch where Shang Qinghua had been pinching. He probably looks ridiculous, all done up in wedding clothes with his face red and pinched.
“Do you still want me?” Shang Qinghua asks.
Mo Bei takes half a step forwards and nods. He’s a centimetre away from pressing his whole body into Shang Qinghua’s.
“I want to date you this time. I want you to talk to me.” Shang Qinghua says. “You’re so pretty, but you’re so useless.”
Mo Bei feels a small smile come over his face. Shang Qinghua thinks he’s pretty!
Shang Qinghua makes a small noise and puts his hands behind Mo Bei’s neck, dragging him down to kiss him, finally – finally!
Mo Bei gathers Shang Qinghua up in his arms and kisses him back, trying to be slower, more respectful, not as energetic and aggressive as the last time they did this, but it’s so hard –
It’s Shang Qinghua in his arms.
Shang Qinghua loops one leg around his waist and he presses Shang Qinghua into the wall of the changing room, grinding down into him. He's not going to let Shang Qinghua run away this time. They'll keep trying until they make it good.
They don’t come out for a while.
The wedding is beautiful.