"What are you doing, Yunlan?” Shen Wei asks.
Yunlan frowns a little at Shen Wei, and turns back to continue flicking through Si’er’s wardrobe. “What do you mean what am I doing? I’m looking for that pink fairy princess dress,” he says. “I could’ve sworn I just saw it in here the other day. Did you put it in the wash?”
“Or did we leave it at Wang Zheng’s place?” Yunlan mumbles. “Do you think Si’er will mind wearing the white one instead of the pink? I think she looks adorable no matter what, but she is very attached to that pink dress.”
“Yunlan,” Shen Wei says firmly. “Zhao Yunlan, what are you doing?”
Yunlan turns to face Shen Wei. “I’m…helping Si’er find her dress for the talent show on Friday? What’s wrong with you?” he asks, coming closer, reaching out to press his palm to Shen Wei’s cheek. “No temperature, but you’re acting very weirdly today. Are you not feeling well?”
Shen Wei almost runs with the excuse.
He wants to lean into Yunlan’s touch, to let Yunlan continue to make a mess of Si’er’s room searching for the pink dress he thinks they left at Yunlan’s apartment. He wants to keep Yunlan here, in their lives, with them, wants Yunlan to be a part of their lives so badly. But…
He thinks about the way Yunlan’d smiled indulgently at Zhu Hong before pulling her into a hug. He thinks about the gentleness in Yunlan’s voice when he’d said to Zhu Hong, “You know I love you.” He thinks about the ring he knows Yunlan has been carrying around in his leather jacket.
Shen Wei steels himself.
“Zhao Yunlan, you’re not Si’er’s father, you understand that, right?” he asks firmly. “You don’t have to be here. You shouldn’t be here.”
Yunlan stiffens at Shen Wei’s words.
“Are you trying to pick a fight? Is that what you’re trying to do?” Yunlan asks. And then, gently, “What’s going on, Xiao Wei?”
Shen Wei flinches at that — at the softness of Yunlan’s voice, the kindness in his eyes. “I don’t need you here,” he tells Yunlan. The words are harsh, but Shen Wei needs to do this. “I don’t —we don’t— need your pity.”
He watches the hurt flicker in Yunlan’s eyes, watches as Yunlan searches for his words.
He sees the exact moment Yunlan decides it’s not worth it.
“I think Si’er’s dress might be at my place,” he tells Shen Wei flatly. “I’ll have Da Qing bring it over tomorrow.”
Shen Wei sinks to the ground and tries soothe his aching heart; he doesn’t move long after Yunlan leaves.
True to Yunlan’s word, Da Qing comes over to the flower shop the next day with Si’er’s dress (freshly laundered and already ironed). Shen Wei can tell that Da Qing is biting his tongue in an effort not to say something mean to Shen Wei, and can only guess that Yunlan’s directed him to be as polite as he can manage.
Shen Wei misses Yunlan.
He misses the way Yunlan would come by every hour like clockwork with a coffee or a sweet treat for Shen Wei. He misses the way Yunlan would perch on Shen Wei’s workbench, and demand that Shen Wei bring him his favourite bloom of the day. He misses Yunlan coming up with new schemes to sneak greens into Si’er’s meals.
When Chu Shuzhi drops Si’er off at the flower shop, the first thing Si’er asks him is, “Where’s Yunlan shu-shu? He said yesterday I could have a cupcake today!”
Shen Wei barely manages a smile. “Yunlan shu-shu is a bit busy today, Si’er.”
Si’er pouts at him. “But he promised-”
The bell on the front door rings as Zhu Hong opens the door to pop her head in. “Can we borrow Si’er for a bit, or is that not cool with you anymore as well?” she asks fake-cheerily. Shen Wei can hear the iciness of her tone, and thinks absurdly that she should be thanking him for taking himself out of the picture — surely she must know how he feels about Yunlan. “We’ve got a chocolate cupcake next door with Si’er’s name on it.”
Si’er cheers at that, and skips off to the door, not even waiting for Shen Wei to say anything.
Shen Wei thinks he should stop her, but… Si’er has grown very attached to Yunlan, and she adores everyone else from the coffee shop. Surely cutting her off from them so suddenly would be bad for her?
He ends up nodding at Zhu Hong, who says, “We’ll have her back in half an hour tops.”
Si’er does get sent back to the flower shop by a very reluctant Da Qing in about half an hour’s time.
“Da Qing ge-ge said this would probably calm your foul mood down,” she tells him, passing him a cupcake. Shen Wei smiles at the way the cupcake is missing a large bite of frosting. “Yunlan shu-shu said Da Qing ge-ge was being rude and I shouldn’t tell you that.”
“Oh?” Shen Wei croaks, smile sliding off his face. “What else did Yunlan shu-shu say?”
Si’er frowns in concentration, trying her best to recall. “Oh! Xiao Guo ge-ge said that Yunlan shu-shu misses you, and Yunlan shu-shu told him not to tell lies in front of me!”
Shen Wei’s chest tightens, but he forces himself to smile at Si’er, and to quickly switch the subject to her art class at school.
The next time he sees Yunlan is at Si’er’s talent show.
He doesn’t know why he’s surprised to see him; almost everyone else from the coffee shop is there to support Si’er as well so of course, of course Yunlan would be there.
He stiffens when he sees Shen Wei looking at him. “Don’t worry, I didn’t pretend to be a parent to get in,” he tells Shen Wei bitterly. “I bought a ticket and all, did you want to check?”
Shen Wei swallows. “Yunlan…” he starts, but trails off. He knows he owes Yunlan an apology, knows that he should give it to Yunlan, but he can’t seem to find words that don’t begin or end with "I love you, please don’t go". He settles for, “She’s wearing the pink dress. She’ll be positioned slightly off-centre stage.”
That gets a small smile out of Yunlan. “Cool,” he says. “I’ll let Lin Jing know so he knows where to point the video cam at.”
Shen Wei nods. “It should be starting soon,” he tells Yunlan. “You should go back to your seat.”
He turns to leave, but is prevented from doing so when Yunlan reaches out to grip him by the wrist. “Can I talk to you after the show?” he asks quietly.
Shen Wei doesn’t turn back to look at Yunlan, doesn’t know if he’ll be able to keep himself in check if he does. “There’s a party at one of Si’er’s classmate’s place after the show. I have to take her.”
“Let Da Qing do it,” Yunlan snaps. “Or Zhu Hong. Anyone. I just… I need to talk to you, Shen Wei. Don’t you think you owe it to me to explain why you’re being like this all of the sudden?”
“I…” He dimly registers the sound of applause coming from inside the hall, signalling that the show must’ve started. “Yunlan, I…”
Yunlan takes a couple of steps towards Shen Wei. “Xiao Wei,” he murmurs, so gently that Shen Wei wants to bury his face in Yunlan’s neck, hold him close, and never let go, “tell me what’s wrong.”
The words come out of him in a rush, “I saw you with Zhu Hong. I overheard the both of you.”
Yunlan’s lips part in surprise. “Oh,” he says. “I know it’s probably too soon to be thinking about getting married, and I know it sounds crazy. I wasn’t like, planning on asking straight away. I was going to wait, I promise.” He reaches out for Shen Wei, frames Shen Wei’s face in his hands. “Did I scare you? Is that what this is?”
Yunlan’s words don’t all make sense to Shen Wei, but Shen Wei grasps at what he can manage to understand - that Yunlan isn’t denying his plans to ask Zhu Hong to marry him, even if Shen Wei’s gotten the timeline too short.
His eyes sting. “Why are you doing this to me?” he gasps out, prying Yunlan’s hands off him. “You must know how I feel about you. Why won’t you just leave me be?”
It’s Yunlan’s turn to look confused. “I don’t understand.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Shen Wei tells him. “I was going to just let you go, but when you do things like this, when you look at me like that… How am I supposed to let you go without breaking my own heart again?”
Yunlan’s gaze goes sharp. “Shen Wei,” he says, “look at me.”
Shen Wei doesn’t; he doesn’t think he can look at Yunlan right now, and keep himself from crying.
“Shen Wei, look at me,” Yunlan repeats firmly. “Look at me, and tell me what it is you think you heard me and Zhu Hong saying that day.”
Shen Wei meets his gaze slowly. “Must you be so cruel?”
“Tell me,” Yunlan says firmly.
“You said there was no-one else you could see yourself marrying,” Shen Wei says softly. “You said you were ready to spend forever with her. You told her you loved her.”
Yunlan shakes his head. “You have this all wrong,” he says. “I went and fucking bought a wedding ring six months ago because I had a dream. I dreamt I woke up with you in my bed. I dreamt that I kissed you until you woke. I dreamt that we both hauled ourselves out of bed to make breakfast for Si’er. In my dream, I called you lao-gong, and Si’er called me ba.” He crowds in close, leans in to press their foreheads together. “I woke up and knew that was the future I wanted.”
He pauses for a moment, lets the words sink in.
“There’s no-else else I can see myself marrying,” he tells Shen Wei. “There’s no-one else I want to spend forever with.” He presses his lips to Shen Wei’s, chaste and light. “I’m in love with you, Shen Wei.”
Shen Wei kisses him.