The one good thing about being a perpetually awkward man is that his entire life has been spent training for this moment. He has stumbled through a good handful of high-class gatherings, has tried to make himself a wallflower at a couple of Shen family functions, and has hidden in the bathroom in many a work holiday party. He’s prepared for this. He dry-cleaned his best suit for this. He polished his shoes for this.
Meeting his husband’s rich and snobby family will barely rank for him.
Ok, it’ll maybe rank a little. This is Mobei Jun’s family after all. And if they’re as terrifying as his husband, Shang Qinghua thinks he has a right to be slightly scared. Mobei Jun had told him on the drive to his grandfather’s home that the family knows that they are married. Sadly, he said it with the same intonation one uses to tell a worker they’ve been put on suspension, so Shang Qinghua has been on the edge. Belatedly, Mobei Jun tells him it’ll be fine, but that doesn’t quite comfort Shang Qinghua.
The estate is sprawling as expected, hidden behind wooden walls shrouded with trees. Shang Qinghua feels like they have driven onto some sort of movie set as the front guard allows them past the gate, and am impressed whistle on his lips dies out as he catches sight of the main house.
It’s huge. Shang Qinghua gulps nervously as Mobei Jun pulls up to the front of the main house and tosses his keys casually to a cheerful-looking valet. A few other people are already milling in and by the way that some of their watches and necklaces glint in the early evening light, Shang Qinghua feels severely underdressed. Mobei Jun has said what Shang Qinghua is wearing is fine, but he probably only said that because Shang Qinghua had buttered him up beforehand by telling him he had modeled it on Mobei Jun’s own dark grey suit.
Shang Qinghua can’t believe he agreed to staying overnight here. Mobei Jun had informed him with a sour face that the hotels nearby were booked, and their dinner parties started and ended too late at night to make the two hour drive home worth it. Apparently this estate was more central to everyone in the family than the grandfather’s flat in the downtown core in the city and Shang Qinghua had agreed initially out of sheer curiosity.
He may regret it a little. This house definitely looks like the type where even the furnishings would call him poor.
Shang Qinghua stays one step behind his husband as they are led into the house. It’s not for deference but due to the fact that he needs a human shield as easily accessible as possible. The interior of the home is more overwhelming than the exterior, with rich deep colours and decorations that look like they’re meant to warn rather than warm. Shang Qinghua blinks rapidly, his brain trying to process a large amount of visual information in one go as he looks around at the sprawling paintings and trinkets lining the wall.
If Mobei Jun’s grandfather built this estate, his appearance really did belie his true nature! Shang Qinghua had wondered how someone so gloomy as Mobei Jun had descended from someone as cheerful as his grandfather, but he feels like he understands a little further now. Mobei Jun strolls through with confidence as he makes small talk with the butler guiding them, and they’re led into one of the parlour rooms.
As predicted, everyone in that room is tall and gorgeous. None really seem to hold a candle to Mobei Jun in the looks department, though Shang Qinghua thinks he may have grown a bit of a bias over the past few months. Shang Qinghua himself is of average height; he wouldn’t necessarily call himself short. However, as they weave through the family members milling about the room, Shang Qinghua feels footstool sized. He also feels about as useful as one too.
No one acknowledges their entrance, nor do they acknowledge Mobei Jun and Shang Qinghua’s presence as Mobei Jun guides them. They get a few side eyes here and there as Mobei Jun directs them to a opal-blue loveseat, and he sits them down wordlessly.
“Uh,” Shang Qinghua starts, eyes flitting nervously around the room. “Should we go say hi?”
“No point,” Mobei Jun grunts. “They openly hate me. I’m the biggest threat to their lifestyle and security.”
“That seems a little harsh,” Shang Qinghua says weakly, as a plate of small cakes and two cups of tea are placed on the table by a waiter. The cakes smell like rose and walnut, but Mobei Jun disregards them.
“They see me as a venomous snake in the garden,” Mobei Jun says bluntly. “They are right to do so.”
Shang Qinghua wistfully looks at the door they entered through. Apparently Luo Binghe was supposed to come along; more importantly, he was supposed to bring Shen Yuan, and Shang Qinghua was supposed to have a reprieve from all these scary people. Sadly, Shen Yuan had come down with a bad case of food poisoning over the weekend, and Luo Binghe had chosen to dote on him.
So Shang Qinghua is stuck here, a complete outsider in this house. A few people occasionally turn to meet them with as icy a look as the one Mobei Jun perpetually wears. They only turn away once their eyes drift over to Shang Qinghua, and a small smile quirks the corner of their mouths more often than not.
“They think I’m the bastard son who’s come to steal what’s theirs,” Mobei Jun says quietly, even though no one has made any move to come near them to chat. “They are right to think that as well.”
Ah, right. Mobei Jun had said he was an illegitimate child of his father’s. That undoubtedly caused a stir amongst a family as powerful as this. Especially if Mobei Jun rose to such a powerful position so fast within the main company. Mobei Jun’s grandfather seemed to have a deep fondness for him but Shang Qinghua has often wondered whether it is something that he had to fight for. He’s never asked though.
So he’s not the only outsider then.
Shang Qinghua reaches forward for one of the cups of tea, and slips one of the small rose cakes onto his plate. After thinking for a moment, he places another beside Mobei Jun’s cup, and lifts the plate for his husband.
“Well,” Shang Qinghua says in as genial a tone as he can muster. “At least I’m here to draw the heat off you today. No one’s going to be paying attention to you while they’re wondering why the hell a person like me is here.”
This gets a somewhat positive reaction out of Mobei Jun. At least, his eyes crinkle a little before he takes a sip of his tea.
“Can you at least tell me some of their names,” Shang Qinghua says out of the corner of his mouth, and Mobei Jun huffs. That’s a no then, he supposes.
They sit in silence. Or they try. Shang Qinghua has to sit on his hand to stop himself from fiddling with his phone, and he lasts for all of five minutes before he collapses into a series of hushed whispers asking Mobei Jun about the house itself. Mobei Jun answers briskly as he surveys the room intently. This is maybe the most awkward family reunion Shang Qinghua has been to, and that is saying something, given that all his family reunions tend to verge on the quiet and stilted side.
Eventually, Shang Qinghua can’t bear it anymore. For the lack of anything better to do than to talk his husband’s ear off, Shang Qinghua excuses himself to the washroom. Mobei Jun gives him a series of complex instructions, and Shang Qinghua retains it long enough for him to find a tucked away washroom. He splashes water on his face and stares at himself in the mirror, trying to rally.
This is just the beginning. They still have a full dinner to go through, and any sort of dreaded nightcap anyone instigates. Shang Qinghua once again wishes Shen Yuan was here, so that they could be seated across from each other and Shang Qinghua could surreptitiously glance over to his friend to get etiquette clues. This had been included in his ramblings in the car but Mobei Jun had told him not to worry, and that it wouldn’t be out of place to eat like an animal when he was at a table full of them.
Clearly, his husband had been too biased to properly reassure him, so Shang Qinghua continued to worry.
It’s ok, he tells himself, looking at his reflection in the mirror. All you have to do is stay quiet during the dinner.
As it is, many people looked at him like dirt in the room. He’s sure what will happen is that everyone will shit-talk him and make fun of him behind his back, while ignoring him at the dinner table. One or two pointed insults may be thrown his way, but Shang Qinghua will play it stupid and just tuck into the food, which will hopefully be scrumptous enough to make this whole ordeal worth it.
Really all he’ll have to do is make sure he doesn’t slip into his over-talkative tendencies. He was a host! Not a high ranking one but hey, he held the job long enough to learn how to read the room! He could hold a pleasant face in a room full of tigers.
Shang Qinghua straightens up, and fixes his collar. He’s got this.
He exits the washroom, and makes his way back to the parlour room. Or he tries. Shang Qinghua opens the large wooden double doors, and comes face to face with an empty study instead. Frowning, he looks down the hall and realizes it’s not the same red hall where the initial gathering was located. Instead, the walls are a deep teal, and vases of flowers line the wall.
“Uh…” Shang Qinghua must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Given that this house looks like it’s the size of a small village, he wouldn’t be surprised.
He retraces his steps, hoping to at least make it back to the washroom. But even like this, he ends up in another hallway that he doesn’t recognize. Shang Qinghua swears under his breath as he looks around, and digs out his phone.
I think I got lost in your house Shang Qinghua texts Mobei Jun, and waits.
Three whole minutes pass by without a reply from his husband, and Shang Qinghua grows impatient. He looks around, and decides to try his luck down another hallway. Eventually he’ll have to make it back to the parlour room, right?
Shang Qinghua strolls, and comes to a dead end.
“Fuck,” he groans, and checks his phone. Still no reply from Mobei Jun. Shang Qinghua sighs as he stares at a painting of a rather old man surrounded by cats, before he turns on his heel and nearly jumps out of his shoes as he rounds the corner.
“You seem to be lost.”
The voice is low and smooth, sounding as rich and luxurious as the man it belongs to. There’s just a tinge of a rasp, like a sharp spicy undercut in a liquor.
“A little,” Shang Qinghua admits readily, and the man smiles at him.
It’s a bright and pleasant smile. The man is well dressed, in a navy suit with a rose pink shirt. His features are sharp with the finest lines around his rich blue gaze, and he’s got well-coiffed ashy hair. All this, coupled with the fact that he’s towering over Shang Qinghua, leads Shang Qinghua to understand he’s run into another relative.
“I don’t blame you. I still get lost, and I grew up here.”
Except this man doesn’t look at Shang Qinghua like he was scraped off the pavement and brought inside. He’s the first openly friendly face Shang Qinghua has seen all day, and it puts him a little at ease. Belatedly, Shang Qinghua realizes he has forgotten to introduce himself.
“Sorry,” Shang Qinghua bows his head, then remembers what etiquette lessons he had looked up on his phone while driving here. He sticks out his hand instead, and the other man doesn’t even pause to give it a disdainful look before he’s reaching out to shake it. “Shang Qinghua. I’m, uh—“
“You must be my nephew’s husband,” The man’s smile grows even wider and wow, Shang Qinghua did not expect this sort of reaction. “Nice to meet you. I’m Linguang Jun.”
“Nice to meet you too,” Shang Qinghua expects to get his hand crushed but the handshake is gentle, like Linguang Jun is matching his grip. “I didn’t see you in the parlour.”
“Oh I just arrived,” Linguang Jun says, retracting his hand and sticking both of them in his pockets. “I actually spent the last year shuttling between our offices in Munich and New York, and I just landed back home this afternoon. Imagine my surprise when I came back to learn my favourite nephew has been married off.”
“Oh,” Shang Qinghua isn’t quite sure what to say to that, but he can’t tell any ill intent radiating off of the man in front of him. He’s:
- Not insulted Shang Qinghua yet
- Is still wearing a rather amicable face and
- Extending his arm out and saying, “Want me to guide us back?”
Shang Qinghua eyes the elbow warily and Linguang Jun catches it. He lets out a short laugh, and runs a hand through his hair.
“I’m not going to eat you,” he grins, and the words almost sound sly coming out of him. He hums and it’s melodic in a way that instantly makes the back of Shang Qinghua’s neck prickle. It looks like he catches that too, because his smile starts to simmer and Shang Qinghua has to shift his weight from one foot to another. “I just want to get to know my newest in-law. It’ll help me pick out a wedding gift for you two.”
“There’s not a lot to know about me,” Shang Qinghua says extremely honestly, and Linguang Jun raises a thin eyebrow in interest.
“Is that so?” He says. “If you’ve enchanted my nephew, I doubt that’s true.”
Ah, speaking of the man. Shang Qinghua peers over Linguang Jun’s shoulder to see his husband in all his thundercloud glory, posture dark and face stormy. Linguang Jun’s smile slips fractionally and Shang Qinghua catches it.
“Uncle,” Mobei Jun says and his voice is chilling. “What are you doing here?”
“I was invited,” Linguang Jun’s voice is still pleasant as he winks at Shang Qinghua. “Just helping your poor husband here. You really allowed him to wander out here alone, knowing how much of a maze this house is?”
“Leave him alone,” Mobei Jun says tersely, and Shang Qinghua almost does a double take. That response really outweighed the initial comment! Mobei Jun looks like he’s trying to vaporize Linguang Jun on the spot, so Shang Qinghua supposes there’s some unspoken history here.
Not wanting to get caught up in this, Shang Qinghua decides to side step Linguang Jun instead. He finds a hand on his elbow, squeezing it. Shang Qinghua glances up and sees Linguang Jun looking down at him with an expression that for a moment, seems cold and indiscernible. It’s quickly replaced with a patina of approachable warmth, but the slip shakes Shang Qinghua.
“I’ll see you at dinner then,” Linguang Jun says, and lets go of Shang Qinghua. “I look forward to getting to know you, Mr. Shang.”
Something about those words sound different than how Linguang Jun had been speaking just a moment earlier. Shang Qinghua feels a shiver run down his back, one that reverberates when he sees the men just stare at each other for a moment as their paths intersect.
He’s seen a lot of murderous aura radiate off Mobei Jun to various degrees— this moment definitely seems to radiate a lot of it. Linguang Jun huffs and walks away, back straight as he hums a tune. Mobei Jun watches him for a moment before turning to Shang Qinghua.
“Your uncle seems nice,” Shang Qinghua comments absent-mindedly, and a look of naked anger flashes across Mobei Jun’s face. It startles Shang Qinghua, so much so that he doesn’t notice Mobei Jun is moving them both till his husband is cornering him back in the small dead end with the cat painting.
“What did he say to you?” Mobei Jun demands, and Shang Qinghua raises both his hands in front of him in a placating manner.
“He was just introducing himself to me,” Shang Qinghua says, and Mobei Jun’s brows knit into a deep frown. “Uh, he said he’s been overseas?”
“You stay away from him,” Mobei Jun says with a finality. Shang Qinghua waits for an explanation, but none comes.
“He seemed nice to me?” Shang Qinghua blurts out, and he means to follow that up with a “So what’s wrong with him?” But Mobei Jun’s dangerous look stops him dead in his tracks.
“I grew up with him,” Mobei Jun says slowly, like he’s displeased deeply with Shang Qinghua. “So trust me. He’s the type to play with his food first. He’s the worst out of all of them. And if you can’t understand that, then there’s really no hope for you.”
Woah, so touchy! Mobei Jun stares at him for a moment more but Shang Qinghua is, for a change, at a loss for words. Once he sees Shang Qinghua has nothing left to say, Mobei Jun’s stony neutral face settles back in place. He turns on his heel and starts to march, and Shang Qinghua hurries after him.
After all, he still really doesn’t want to get lost in this ostentatious mansion. Even more importantly, he didn’t want to run into any more family members!
Dinner is tense for many reasons.
Shang Qinghua tries to pretend that it’s not due to his presence, but that pretence lasts only maybe five minutes. The people around him in the long table in the dining hall don’t even bother to hide the fact that they’re looking at Mobei Jun and Shang Qinghua with some contempt. Rich people are so weird.
He’s been trying to cast surreptitious glances around the dining hall, part trying to pick up on etiquette tips so that he doesn’t have to furiously look up on his phone under the table how to eat in a way that makes him seem like he has a semblance of manners. And part because he’s trying to avoid the steady and studying gaze of the man sitting across from him.
Linguang Jun looks at him with growing fascination. That kind of look has never bode well for anyone, much less Shang Qinghua. Mobei Jun is tense and quiet beside Shang Qinghua, his expression bored at first glance. Shang Qinghua can see the small muscle in his jaw twitch though, and knows his husband is swimming in anger just at the fact that they’re here.
The first course passes in this kind of tension and Shang Qinghua steadily gets unnerved with how little Linguang Jun speaks. He seems to be satisfied, sitting in relative silence while watching Mobei Jun and Shang Qinghua. Not that there’s much to watch, as Mobei Jun eats in frosty silence and Shang Qinghua tries not to stuff his face all at once.
“So,” Linguang Jun starts finally, folding his hands and resting his chin on them as he leans forward. “Mr. Shang. You didn’t quite tell me more about yourself.”
Shang Qinghua shrugs, and feels Mobei Jun visibly tense beside him. Shang Qinghua clears his throat and tries not to let any of his prevalent nervousness show.
“There’s, um, not much to say,” Shang Qinghua replies, trying to give Linguang Jun one of his more pleasant smiles. He’s long heard that if he tries to force himself to smile, it looks weird enough that people will stop talking to him. He kind of hopes Linguang Jun will stop talking to him, just so that his husband’s lethal aura can reduce by a fraction. “I do clerical work at the company. I try my best.”
(He doesn’t really, but he figures this table is the last place he should disclose that.)
“Mm,” Linguang Jun hums noncommittally. “How did you meet my nephew?”
Ah, now that really couldn’t be shared with the class now, could it? Shang Qinghua tries to rack his brain for a fake story, while a cousin a couple of seats down has clearly caught wind of their conversation and is poorly concealing the fact that they’re listening in with interest. Thankfully, Shang Qinghua is saved from having to answer.
“At a bar,” Mobei Jun returns in his stead, voice clipped. That’s a smart answer. Not technically a lie either, and Shang Qinghua feels like an idiot for not thinking of it in the three seconds between the question and Mobei Jun’s answer.
“So you were that appealing in the low light, eh?” Linguang Jun’s voice is teasing, but Shang Qinghua can make out the bristle beneath it. He’s still wearing that same warm tone in his voice from earlier, and that same soft smile. So Shang Qinghua tries to make a joke out of it.
“He forgot his glasses at home,” Shang Qinghua says, and clears his throat once Linguang Jun and Mobei Jun’s faces remain unchanging. “Uncle seems very concerned about our story. It’s really not that exciting.”
Linguang Jun chuckles lowly at that, and ignores Shang Qinghua’s attempt to end the conversation. His eyes sharpen the same way Shang Qinghua’s manager’s eyes sharpen before she delivers him one hell of a reprimand, and Shang Qinghua is immediately on guard.
“Anyone who wills themselves into a marriage with this family is very interesting,” Linguang Jun says silkily. “Especially someone like you.”
“Someone like me?” Shang Qinghua parrots without thinking.
“Do not elaborate,” Mobei Jun warns in Linguang Jun’s direction. Linguang Jun opens his mouth to speak, but the eavesdropping cousin butts in.
“I think it’s clear,” The cousin says, looking at both Mobei Jun and Shang Qinghua with great disdain. “But I don’t think it’s a surprise. If anyone would drag in something like that, it would be you.”
Shang Qinghua tries hard not to roll his eyes. These barbs are nothing compared to the comment section on some of his web novels.
“Were you trying to arrange his marriage with someone else?” Shang Qinghua asks sweetly, completely ignoring the cousin, and Linguang Jun looks a little taken aback at his nonchalance. “This matter seems to be very important to you.”
Linguang Jun clears his throat, before his smile grows as pointed. He reaches for his glass of wine and starts to sip it thoughtfully. Shang Qinghua knows it’s not the end of this.
“I’m curious to know,” Linguang Jun starts predictably. The warmth that was in his voice has ebbed away in parts. “What drew him to you?”
“...A complete lack of taste?” Shang Qinghua suggests, and hears Mobei Jun suppress a choke on his own drink beside him. He’s always found that taking someone’s insult out of their mouth before they can say it is an effective way of slowing them down. But Linguang Jun presses on.
“And a complete lack of honesty,” Linguang Jun says, and it makes Shang Qinghua pause. “You can be frank with us. We’re family now.”
“What do you mean?” Shang Qinghua starts slowly, curious as to what Linguang Jun wants him to be frank about. He feels a foot knock against his ankle under the table, and realizes maybe he shouldn’t be egging this uncle on.
“Why bother beating around the bush?” Linguang Jun sits back, and drains the rest of his wine glass in one go. He licks his lips while looking at Shang Qinghua and Shang Qinghua feels his eyebrow twitch. “I know you met my nephew while you were working at a host club.”
He says it like it’s something embarrassing, which it’ll only truly be if he knows how low-ranked Shang Qinghua was at the club. Actually, it wouldn’t surprise Shang Qinghua if he did. Thirty minutes ago, wasn’t this man offering him an arm to lead him back to the main parlour!
Shang Qinghua is not naive though. He knows personalities can turn at the drop of a hat and he’s watched enough dramas with his dad growing up to gain an inkling of when it’s happening.
“That is technically a bar?” Shang Qinghua offers, refusing to take the bait as the waitstaff starts to swap out their dishes for a round of steaming tea in between courses. However he comprehends a split second later that the bait wasn’t meant for him.
The entire table, that had seemingly been ignoring them prior, erupts into whispers at Linguang Jun’s words. Eyes flit towards Mobei Jun and Shang Qinghua, and Shang Qinghua can see Mobei Jun’s knuckles go white around his glass. Shang Qinghua tries to ignore the frenzied tittering, but it’s easy to catch a few phrases here and there.
“Such poor taste, this is the image he wants to create for our family?”
“That man will stick his nose up at us, but decides to marry someone like that?”
“So he goes and takes the President’s spot and just marries a host?” One cousin hisses, while another one says, “Grandfather was okay with this?”
Your grandfather orchestrated it, you dumbasses!
However, Shang Qinghua doesn’t want to collectively make an entire family vomit blood, so he focuses instead on stirring some honey into his tea. The steam is still rising from the deep amber liquid and he wonders if it’s too late to make his escape.
Shang Qinghua’s ego isn’t really taking any hits despite the fact that his husband’s family is clearly displeased with him, and at least they’re just being catty and not terrifying. With the clear exception of Linguang Jun, who looks like a tiger in wait. But this entire thing is so incredibly uncomfortable and awkward.
“Behave,” Mobei Jun warns, and though he’s not loud the family members in his immediate vicinity quieten down. To Linguang Jun he directs, “Whatever you’re doing, stop. I did not bring him here to be disrespected.”
“Disrespect?” Linguang Jun blinks in a comical manner. “I’m just curious who you brought into the fold.”
“Be nice,” Mobei Jun says to him, and Linguang Jun snorts.
“Why wouldn’t I be so nice to someone who just managed to lay his hands on our family name and money?” Linguang Jun says, taking a pointed sip of his tea and not even flinching at the heat. “When you are so kind as to grind us to dust, maybe your dear husband will think to spare me.”
More whispers start. Shang Qinghua’s eye twitches. Technically, he’s sure that Mobei Jun is actually looking to grind everyone’s bones into dust. He’ll give Linguang Jun that. He shifts his tea over so that the waiters can start placing the next course of food down, and he wonders if one of them would be willing to trade places with him.
It would be preferable to whatever weird posturing is going on here. These people were even more insufferable than some of the old host club patrons!
“I told you not to engage with him,” Mobei Jun says in a low voice, and Linguang Jun snickers.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have brought me,” Shang Qinghua hisses out of the corner of his mouth as he reaches for his tea. His fingers twitch involuntarily, and the tea spills over. “Ow, shit!”
He drops the cup with a soft clatter as the liquid scalds him, and Mobei Jun throws a cloth napkin in his direction without looking at him, as if he’s being an inconvenience.
“He’s right,” Linguang Jun says idly, looking at his nephew. “You shouldn’t have. This gathering is family only.”
“Everyone brings their spouse,” Mobei Jun grunts, and Linguang Jun laughs at that.
“Not everyone brings a gold digger,” Linguang Jun says and hey! Wow! Wasn’t it rude to call someone a gold digger over dinner? Shang Qinghua can’t contest it. Yes, he actually technically did marry Mobei Jun for his money. But they’ve grown since then! A lot! That’s why Shang Qinghua is roughing out this dinner!
“I took a look at some very interesting transactions that occurred in grandfather’s account when I was in Munich,” Linguang Jun continues, and the turn his tone takes does not bode well. “It seemed like a decent chunk of money went to absolving the debt of one Shang Qian.”
Shang Qinghua blanches at the mention of his father’s name. Something innate in him tells him that Linguang Jun having this sort of information may be dangerous.
“No matter how rich we are,” Linguang Jun says.“That’s still a pretty penny to pay for a dowry. Especially to a family that cannot handle their finances well, if at all.”
“Stupid men fall for stupid schemes,” A cousin comments, more to their neighbour than to the table at large, but Shang Qinghua catches it. Temporarily, he forgets the worry that has started to creep in.
“What are you saying about my husband!” Shang Qinghua admonishes, and Linguang Jun snorts. At the sound, Shang Qinghua rounds on him.
“And you,” Shang Qinghua snaps, eager to put an end to this conversation. “What does it matter why we got married? It has nothing to do with you, so butt out of it.”
“I think it has everything to do with me,” Linguang Jun says icily. “Our family worked very hard to get where we are. I think we are right to feel some concern about a stranger who has suddenly been able to claim both our name and our money.”
Shang Qinghua desperately wants to put an end to this B-grade movie villain dialogue by explaining to Linguang Jun that he didn’t orchestrate anything, that it was Linguang Jun’s own precious family members that dragged Shang Qinghua into this alliance. But he knows if he says that, it’d not be fair to Mobei Jun and it wouldn’t make it through Linguang Jun’s skull. He’d probably twist and turn it into something more grotesque and more importantly, he’d be annoying as hell about it.
“Are you jet lagged?” Shang Qinghua asks instead, and Linguang Jun blinks.
“Or are you just an idiot?”
“Do you even hear what you’re saying?” For the first time in a while, Shang Qinghua allows himself to speak without much of a filter. “I know I’m not worth much but I think I’m worth at least an insult that’s not lifted straight from whatever shitty soap opera you watched on your flight back here.”
The table goes quiet at this, everyone clearly interested in Linguang Jun’s rebuttal. Shang Qinghua tries not to give too dirty a look and also tries not to pretend his hand isn't stinging with the small burn as he reaches for more tea. He’s hungry too, but the mood is too tense for him to eat.
He casts a sideways glance at Mobei Jun, who’s staring down at his plate. But before Shang Qinghua can process what that means, Linguang Jun replies.
“If you bewitched my nephew with,” His voice is ice-cold now, and he doesn’t hide the disdain in his eyes as he gives Shang Qinghua a pointed once-over. “Whatever charm you have, that is a problem for him. We’re a philanthropic family by nature but even this is stretching our charity too far.”
“I feel like a man who makes such decisions is not to be trusted. I have long stood by the fact that my nephew is too young and impulsive. I did not imagine he’d display his incompetencies so blatantly.”
The insults to Shang Qinghua’s character are fine. They don’t even rank on the most hurtful things anyone’s ever said to Shang Qinghua. However, there’s something about Linguang Jun taking a stab at Mobei Jun that ignites something in Shang Qinghua. It’s incredibly agitating to the point where Shang Qinghua snaps before he thinks.
“Who are you to talk trash about my husband like this!” Shang Qinghua says, putting his cup down with more force than necessary.
“Finance director for our international operations,” Linguang Jun says coolly and Shang Qinghua finally gives in to his urge to roll his eyes.
“I don’t care,” Shang Qinghua says, making a face at him. “I don’t read the company profiles!”
“As to expect from someone who just does clerical work,” Linguang Jun scoffs, and Shang Qinghua makes a derisive sound.
“Are you some kind of overstuffed peacock?” No one is even pretending that they aren’t paying attention to the argument at hand. Even one of the waiters standing behind Linguang Jun exchanges a look with his colleague. “Walking around with that big head of yours, I can’t believe you haven’t fallen over yet.”
“I’m not surprised my nephew has picked someone so lowborn,” Linguang Jun says in a derisive voice. “Though similar people attract each other.”
The insult rankles Shang Qinghua for many reasons. It sounds outdated as hell, like Linguang Jun is some sort of vampire that has yet to acclimatize to the twenty-first century. And he knows that Linguang Jun’s next move will be to make an allusion to Mobei Jun being a bastard child. It’s probably not going to be a new insult either. With the way most of the family has been treating them all evening, whatever Linguang Jun says next will just lead to a domino effect of everyone ganging up on Mobei Jun.
And Shang Qinghua can’t stand the thought of it.
“Don’t you dare trash my husband,” Shang Qinghua says, jabbing his teaspoon in Linguang Jun’s direction. “Talk as much as you want about me, I don’t care. Your insults suck anyways. But keep my husband’s name out of your mouth!”
Shang Qinghua doesn’t bother to give Linguang Jun a chance to continue, and turns his best glare on. It’s definitely not as effective as literally anyone else’s at the table, but he puts a lot of heart behind it.
“I know you see him as an outsider and you’re mad about his status within the company and the family, but that’s not his fault. That’s your fault,” Shang Qinghua says, and he thanks the high heavens that his voice doesn’t crack with how impassioned he’s getting. “I’m sure you have some grievous core incompetency you’re trying to take out on him but any failing of yours isn’t reflective of my husband!”
A pin dropping could be heard with the silence that blankets the room.
“You—!” Linguang Jun starts, clearly at a loss for words. “Who are you to talk to me like this!”
“You know who I am!” Shang Qinghua spits back immediately, his mouth running faster than his brain. “Are you so stupid you need to be told twice!”
Linguang Jun looks stunned at this, like an animal whose prey has snapped back. Shang Qinghua assumes that’s how he feels too, since he doesn’t seem like a normal person who gives human value to his interactions. Shang Qinghua is surprised that Linguang Jun managed to muster up enough courage to act like a regular human in their first meeting.
He casts another glance to his side, and sees Mobei Jun looking at him with wide-eyed shock. His mouth is slightly parted, like he’s at a loss for words. His cousins are looking at him as well too, as is the grandfather.
Oh… oh. More things click a little too late.
Shang Qinghua probably did not do himself any favours insulting Mobei Jun’s uncle in front of the whole family. He probably didn’t do Mobei Jun any favours either and he remembers belatedly that a lot of these people all work with Mobei Jun. This would be somewhat along the lines of insulting an important partner at a business dinner, not just exchanging blows at a family gathering.
There is a slight(ly large) possibility that what Shang Qinghua has just done must have brought great embarrassment to Mobei Jun.
“I think you need to be removed,” Linguang Jun says, voice quiet and barely containing it’s fury. The gravity of the situation starts to settle into Shang Qinghua’s brain, and he suppresses a gulp.
“No need,” He says, still maintaining the courage he had earlier. After all, it’d be even more embarrassing if he told everyone that sorry, nevermind, he’ll shut up now.“I’m leaving.”
Plus, it’ll be a great excuse to extract himself from this excruciatingly painful situation. Shang Qinghua stands up with force and thinks for a second before he grabs his plate of braised duck and rice. He pointedly avoids Mobei Jun’s gaze as he gives Linguang Jun one last dirty look, and turns on his heel, exiting the dining room.
Only thing is, he doesn’t know exactly where to go. Mobei Jun hasn’t quite told him where their room for the night is and Shang Qinghua still has no clue how the layout of this house works. He weaves through the corridors, looking for a room that’s not filled with expensive furniture where he can accidentally spill sauce all over. Eventually he finds a door that leads into a small courtyard, one that has a stone bench and a tiny kitchen garden.
Blocked off by the rest of the house, the garden is cold but doesn’t have the bone-chilling winter wind passing through. There’s two small heat vents underneath the bench too, which makes it bearable.
Shang Qinghua still has his suit jacket on, so for now, this will do.
Shang Qinghua takes his seat, and checks his phone. Unsurprisingly, there’s no text from Mobei Jun. His husband didn’t follow him out either, so Shang Qinghua is sure that he may have made a bit of a fool of himself back there with Linguang Jun.
Not that the rude uncle didn’t deserve it! Shang Qinghua doesn’t doubt or regret the words he threw that man’s way. He just regrets the potential humiliation he put his husband through. Shang Qinghua knows that Mobei Jun doesn’t look favourably upon his family, but causing such a scene, wasn’t he giving them more ammunition against his husband?
Shang Qinghua’s shoulders visibly deflate at the thought. His stomach grumbles, so he starts to poke at his food, but he feels like his appetite is not where he thought it was. He doesn’t even register how cold it is in the courtyard, too busy feeling sorry for himself.
He hopes Mobei Jun isn’t mad at him. He hopes that Mobei Jun is also willing to drive them home after dinner, or at least drive Shang Qinghua to the nearest bus station so that he can’t pick any more fights with his family and embarrass him.
And they were doing so well, too. Shang Qinghua pieces some duck into his mouth, and the flavour of it assuages him only a little. He has an inkling that he’s created yet another space where he can’t show his face again. The fact that he did it at his husband’s family manor makes it slightly worse than normal.
Shang Qinghua is so lost in thought that he doesn’t become aware that he has company in the tiny courtyard, doesn’t even hear the footsteps behind him till a low and mellow voice speaks up from behind him.
“So you want to be the only person that’s allowed to insult me?”
“Guh,” Shang Qinghua startles and turns around, nearly spilling the contents of his plate. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Why are you surprised to see me?” Mobei Jun raises an eyebrow as he steps over the concrete bench. Shang Qinghua shifts to make more space for him, and Mobei Jun sits down on the small seat.
“I embarrassed you,” Shang Qinghua doesn’t quite look at Mobei Jun. He doesn’t think he can take any look of disappointment right now, especially after all that has just happened.
“How so,” Mobei Jun says and Shang Qinghua huffs.
“You were sitting beside me the entire time,” He replies sourly. “I’m not recounting it.”
“It’s ok,” Mobei Jun says, and Shang Qinghua’s eyes snap up. He realizes that Mobei Jun has forsaken a sizable portion of the bench just so that he can sit directly beside Shang Qinghua, their sides pressing together snugly.
“It’s not,” Shang Qinghua says ruefully. “I let him get to me. You told me to not pay him any mind.”
“It’s a speciality of his,” Mobei Jun shakes his head. His voice is surprisingly gentle, even if it’s still retained some of its monotonous quality. He doesn’t look disappointed either, but maybe he’s surpassed his critical mass to the point where his face has to revert back to neutral. “Being under someone’s skin is where he’s most comfortable.”
Shang Qinghua puts his head in one of his hands. It still doesn’t make him feel any better, hearing those words. He picks at his food, thinking for a moment before he speaks.
“I know you have a lot more to worry about and you have a greater goal. I feel bad for making an idiot out of myself by being so rude to your uncle,” Shang Qinghua says as earnestly as possible. “ And for maybe ruining things. I think I need to kowtow to your grandfather, I can’t even begin to imagine how embarrassed he was.”
Mobei Jun doesn’t respond to that, and Shang Qinghua heaves a sigh. The lack of denial makes his stomach twist, and he’s long come down from whatever adrenaline high inspired him to speak out against a prominent family member.
Even the food starts to lose its taste, which is a shame given how even in the cold there is still some of that heavenly smell. Shang Qinghua pushes it around on his plate for a moment before he’s jostled out his wallowing by his husband.
“You know, I thought you’d splash a drink in his face.”
“I wish you did. This is the most explicit fight we’ve had in the family for a while. Normally it’s all closed doors and whispers. It’s nice to see someone yell at my uncle.”
Shang Qinghua blinks in surprise, and Mobei Jun nudges him with his shoulder. Given their strength difference, it almost makes Shang Qinghua spill his plate.
“I haven’t had anyone else defend me like this in a long time,” Mobei Jun says thoughtfully. Shang Qinghua sneaks a glance at his husband’s face, and sees an honest to goodness smile on it as he stares into the kitchen garden.
It’s shocking. Shang Qinghua wishes he had a camera to commemorate it. The smile is small, but his brow seems relaxed and the perpetual clench in his jaw is nowhere to be found. Once again, Shang Qinghua is taken by how positively handsome his husband is.
“Well, we’re a team right?” Shang Qinghua offers, and Mobei Jun shifts beside him.
“Yes. Whatever they do,” Mobei Jun ruffles his hair before patting his head. It makes Shang Qinghua kind of feel like he’s a dog getting rewarded, but he figures he did kind of act like one, yapping away in the dining room. “If you and I are on the same side, then we’ll be fine.”
“Do you think I’m banned from the house?” Shang Qinghua asks and Mobei Jun shakes his head.
“No,” Mobei Jun replies. “Grandfather liked that. Said it reminded him of your grandmother.”
“I don’t know how to feel about that,” Shang Qinghua says and Mobei Jun snorts.
“I try not to think about it,” he says, and gives Shang Qinghua’s plate a small push with a finger. “Eat.”
Shang Qinghua obeys. He starts to eat his food in earnest, feeling fractionally lighter. The second hand embarrassment of this day will probably stay with him for a while, but he’s glad that Mobei Jun doesn’t appear to be mad at him. If anything, he’s wearing an oddly pleased look on his face as he slides his hand down to around Shang Qinghua’s neck and drums against the nape of it with his fingers.
They remain in a comfortable silence for a while, Shang Qinghua eating while Mobei Jun contemplatively looks at the garden. At one point, a small shiver runs through Shang Qinghua as his body catches up to just how long they’ve been sitting in this chilly courtyard, and he hears Mobei Jun shift beside him. Moments later, a suit jacket is thrown over his shoulders.
Shang Qinghua looks over and sees Mobei Jun still sitting idly, like being in only his dress shirt and slacks in the winter is fine. The heat vents are good, but they aren’t good enough to prevent anyone from getting a cold. He imagines himself telling this to Mobei Jun, and he imagines the silence he will get in return.
“Should we go in?” Shang Qinghua suggests instead, and Mobei Jun shrugs.
“Up to you,” he says. “We can go say goodnight to Grandfather. I don’t think any of my cousins will be staying back for a nightcap.”
They stand up and Mobei Jun takes Shang Qinghua’s empty plate. He doesn’t take back the jacket though, and gives Shang Qinghua a glare when he tries to take it off. Understanding the message, Shang Qinghua wraps it around himself tightly.
He prays to god that Linguang Jun isn’t there when they go back. If he is, Shang Qinghua may just melt into the shadows. He knows that Mobei Jun had reassured him, but Shang Qinghua is really banking on the power of his grandfather’s old crush to get fully and truly forgiven for making a scene that Linguang Jun instigated.
“Hey,” Shang Qinghua says idly, as they start to make their way in, “If your grandfather was the one who had a crush on my grandmother, what stopped him from proposing to me directly?”
“What do you mean?” Mobei Jun asks as he pushes the door into the manor open. Shang Qinghua scurries in behind him, keeping up with his husband’s long strides as they make their way down the hall.
“If we’re both adults,” Shang Qinghua says in all seriousness. “That is to say, your grandfather and I. What was stopping him from making me your new zufu? Or would you call me lao ye?”
He crashes into Mobei Jun’s back, his husband having stopped dead in his tracks. Slowly, Mobei Jun turns on Shang Qinghua with a twitching eyebrow.
“You’re incorrigible,” Mobei Jun says, and it has none of the annoyance or iciness that he usually has when pointing out a personality flaw of Shang Qinghua’s.
“I’ve heard,” Shang Qinghua replies. “It’s a trait I inherited from my grandmother, some people find it very attractive—ah!!!”
All previous gentleness forgotten, Shang Qinghua finds himself getting dragged down the hall by his ear. He squeaks and protests and it takes a considerable amount of time for Mobei Jun to let go, but it does make Shang Qinghua feel better. As does the twitch in the corner of Mobei Jun’s mouth.
Their guest room ends up being in a secluded cottage in the north corner of the estate. It’s small and not as lavish as the main house, but Shang Qinghua appreciates the distance. It’s easier to not get lost in the tiny pavilion, and he doesn’t necessarily feel the need to sleep with a knife under his pillow. Their bags are already laid out when they arrive, and Shang Qinghua huffs a sigh of relief.
The atmosphere was practically arctic when they had gone back to the dining hall. Half the cousins had still remained, but Linguang Jun was nowhere to be found. Like Mobei Jun had said, his grandfather had actually been very entertained by the whole ordeal and stopped Shang Qinghua from apologizing profusely, thanking him for providing a show at dinner.
He had said too that Linguang Jun always looks for trouble, something that made a dark look cross through Mobei Jun’s face before it settled on its impassivity. It didn’t stop Shang Qinghua from feeling wildly awkward, and he’s incredibly glad that they’re retreating for the night.
Their plan is to have breakfast with Mobei Jun’s grandfather and leave. The invitation has been extended till lunch the next day but Shang Qinghua thinks his husband might have an actual aneurysm if they stay any longer.
They turn down for the night and by the time Shang Qinghua is sliding into the bed beside Mobei Jun, his entire body feels heavy and exhausted. Mobei Jun had showered first, and is busy typing away on his laptop with work. There is a sofa that rolls out into a futon in the living room, but Shang Qinghua feels he deserves a sturdier mattress after the day he had.
Plus, it’s not the first time they’ve shared a bed. Shang Qinghua hasn’t even tried to put a barrier this time; if he wakes up trying to put Mobei Jun in a headlock, that’s on Mobei Jun for throwing such a fit last time. He curls off to the side, scrolling through his phone as his husband types steadily beside him.
Shang Qinghua knows he wasn’t the one to instigate the argument at dinner. He knows that Mobei Jun and his grandfather aren’t mad at him. Yet he still feels some sort of foreboding low in his gut. Shang Qinghua doesn’t know what notions of honour run through a family like this, but he’s sure that not everyone takes kindly to an outsider coming in and throwing insults at their face on their territory. Especially if that outsider was brought in by someone else they only reluctantly see as one of their own.
And the fact that Linguang Jun knew about his father too made him uncomfortable. Shang Qinghua would have to check in on him when they return, and warn him against any sort of unscrupulous characters.
(And probably warn him against sharing his information too openly on the one social media site he has learned to use. He’s been doing a lot of that lately and Shang Qinghua is thankful that he drilled into his dad’s head early on that absolutely no one must know of his marriage.)
“I can hear you think,” Mobei Jun says from beside him, and Shang Qinghua snaps out of his train of thought. He realizes that he’s been staring at the same post his dad made about the benefits of garlic for the past five minutes.
“It’s nothing,” Shang Qinghua mumbles, continuing to scroll. Mobei Jun makes a sound that clearly indicates he doesn’t believe him and Shang Qinghua looks at him over his shoulder. “What?”
“Are you still thinking about your fight with my uncle?” Mobei Jun asks bluntly, and Shang Qinghua’s shoulders stiffen. “I told you not to worry about it. It’s fine.”
“It doesn’t feel fine,” Shang Qinghua says honestly, and Mobei Jun sighs.
“If I’m saying it’s fine, then what do you have to worry about?” He asks, and Shang Qinghua narrows his eyes.
“A lot with a family like this,” he says, and Mobei Jun raises an eyebrow. Mobei Jun doesn’t reply to this, and Shang Qinghua gives it a couple of moments before he goes back to his phone to scroll.
He hears some more typing before there’s a soft click and Mobei Jun is shutting his laptop down. He must be finally tired too; the hour is late, and they’ve got an early start to their day tomorrow. The low lamplight clicks off, bathing the room in darkness, save for the moonlight that trickles in through the large circular windows. Shang Qinghua locks his phone and sets it on the bedside table, just as he feels a weight sink in close.
To his credit, Shang Qinghua doesn’t tense up as Mobei Jun settles down behind him. He feels a strong forearm lay itself lazily along his hip in an echo of what they’ve done twice before. This bed is big enough that they could comfortably hold their own sides but Shang Qinghua has no complaints. They haven’t shared a bed since that roadside hotel but Shang Qinghua would be lying if he said that it didn’t feel nice to just hold onto someone while sleeping.
He leans back tentatively, feeling the warmth of his husband. The arm on his hip slides around to hold onto him tightly, and Shang Qinghua knows he’s not alone in that sentiment.
It’s nice. This doesn’t have to mean anything, but it’s nice. Shang Qinghua isn’t going to fight it, but he can’t resist teasing.
“You know,” Shang Qinghua starts, as he feels Mobei Jun settle his chin on top of his head. “It strikes me as strange that you’ve got these kinds of tendencies.”
“Not that I have any experience to draw on, but you don’t seem like the type of guy who likes to share a bed,” Shang Qinghua says and Mobei Jun grunts. “Honestly, I first thought you weren’t the type to sleep at all, like maybe it was too pedestrian for you.”
“You talk too much,” is all he gets. “That’s why you didn’t have the opportunity to get any experience.”
“Hey!” Shang Qinghua tries to elbow Mobei Jun but the other man catches it and traps his arm. Mobei Jun pinches his side but stops him from twitching out of his grasp. He squirms, trying to look back at Mobei Jun with indignance but he’s trapped.
For emphasis, Mobei Jun swings a muscular leg on top of his, effectively preventing him from moving at all. It looks like this time Mobei Jun wants to get the jump on being the one to have the other in a full wrestling-style body lock when they wake up.
“That was uncalled for,” Shang Qinghua says, sniffing for dramatic emphasis. “You’re so mean to me, after I defended you too.”
Mobei Jun huffs out a short laugh, and Shang Qinghua can feel the vibrations of it from where his back touches Mobei Jun’s chest. Mobei Jun shifts behind him, moving his head, and eases up just a little.
“Mhm,” Mobei Jun says, voice completely unaffected. “Look here.”
Shang Qinghua twists as much as he can but finds that he’s still not able to turn over. At most, he's just able to turn his head. He’s about to give Mobei Jun his best beleaguered look but it’s eclipsed by his husband pressing their lips together.
It’s a soft kiss, one with no insistence that makes his breath hitch in his throat. It takes Shang Qinghua by surprise, especially since it’s the first one they’ve shared in a while. In fact he doesn’t think they’ve even touched each other like this since that fight a couple of months ago.
Not that Shang Qinghua hadn’t wanted to. He just didn’t know if he was allowed to initiate, and how to do so if he was. But it doesn’t matter, because he’s getting kissed now. It’s a shallow kiss and Shang Qinghua reflexively chases after it when Mobei Jun breaks it off.
“You…” Shang Qinghua stares up at his husband’s face. Even in the blue-dark, he can see the way his eyes have softened. “You kissed me without intention?”
Mobei Jun gives him a flat look at that. “I feel like there was intention in that.”
A large palm slides its way up to cup Shang Qinghua’s jaw, and Mobei Jun runs his thumb along Shang Qinghua’s bottom lip. He’s still got some amusement in his eyes as he looks down at Shang Qinghua, causing Shang Qinghua to quickly lose his train of thought.
“No I mean...you’ve kissed me after a fight or to calm me down but you’ve never… uh…”
“Yes?” Mobei Jun pushes down with his thumb, causing Shang Qinghua’s mouth to part further. Shang Qinghua can feel all his higher functions start to make themselves scarce, leaving him only acutely aware of the way his body is pressed against the hard line of his husband’s.
“You’ve never kissed me out of the blue without a reason?” Shang Qinghua offers weakly, and a gleam crosses Mobei Jun’s eyes. Shang Qinghua gulps, and feels something warm bubbling up within him.
“Maybe I’m in a good mood tonight,” Mobei Jun says, his voice purposefully lowered. It doesn’t help that Shang Qinghua can feel the reverberations of his words in his own bones. “My husband stood up for me.”
“This is a good mood?” Shang Qinghua babbles, trying to turn over fully. He’s stopped by a solid wall of muscle, which only serves to spark anticipation within him. “I’m going to be honest, I don’t see how this is distinguishable from any of your other moods— mph —“
Shang Qinghua is made to shut up as Mobei Jun bears down on him with a firmer kiss. Whatever grip Mobei Jun has on Shang Qinghua’s body, he tightens as he keeps the kiss slow and languid. Shang Qinghua’s still trapped underneath the bulk of his husband’s weight, unable to move as Mobei Jun coaxes his lips into moving softly against his.
He’s not complaining. There’s no way in hell Shang Qinghua is complaining.
Mobei Jun nips his lower lip softly and when Shang Qinghua parts his mouth to make a sound in response, a tongue peeks past.
It isn’t insistent at first. It’s gentle still, like they have all the time. And Shang Qinghua guesses they do, finding himself glad they’re staying in a more secluded place. Shang Qinghua responds in kind, and tentatively lets their tongues slide together. Mobei Jun makes a rumbling noise against him, one that sounds rather pleased.
Mobei Jun sucks on his tongue for a moment before breaking off the kiss and pressing his lips to the corner of Shang Qinghua’s mouth. From there, he trails his lips across Shang Qinghua’s jaw, up to where it meets his ear. Shang Qinghua wonders for a brief moment if they’re actually going to do it, and Mobei Jun bites his earlobe.
Shang Qinghua feels hysteria and hunger build within him as Mobei Jun worries the skin between his teeth before nudging at Shang Qinghua’s head, till he’s facing away again. The hand slides away from Shang Qinghua’s face, skittering down his side and squeezing his bicep.
Mobei Jun kisses the junction of his jaw as he moves his hand, pushing it under Shang Qinghua’s arm so that he can span it over his rib cage. Shang Qinghua becomes even more aware of just how much space Mobei Jun’s palms and fingers take up as Mobei Jun starts to press his mouth down Shang Qinghua’s neck.
Shang Qinghua shudders when he feels his husband’s lips against the crook of his shoulder. Mobei Jun’s free hand tugs at the hem of Shang Qinghua’s shirt, enough so that the collar gets pulled down. When Mobei Jun starts kissing his shoulder, starts shifting downwards and mouthing over a patch of freckles on Shang Qinghua’s back, Shang Qinghua’s brain starts to short circuit.
He can’t help it. He squirms and this time, Mobei Jun lets him turn over. The momentum of it ends up rolling Shang Qinghua on top of Mobei Jun’s chest, and he looks up at his husband. Mobei Jun looks back at him, a look of raw hunger on his face, and it shoots straight down Shang Qinghua’s spine.
Before he can try to shift and shuffle up Mobei Jun’s broad body, two hands grab his ass and squeeze. They propel him forward unceremoniously and he’s greeted with a hungrier kiss. Mobei Jun kneads his rear over his sleeping boxers, hard enough to have Shang Qinghua gasping into his mouth.
All exhaustion forgotten, Shang Qinghua brackets Mobei Jun’s head with his hands, gripping the pillow below in an effort to temper himself and not clack their teeth together. He lets Mobei Jun devour him with the kiss, lets him turn it bruising, drinks up the groan Mobei Jun gives when he tilts his head a certain way.
It’s tempting to ask his husband what’s gotten into him, but it would undoubtedly ruin the moment. And while Shang Qinghua is curious, he’s also incredibly and unbearably horny, something that is taking precedence over every other thing that he’s feeling right now. Especially since it’s been pent up for so long. So instead, he pushes forward with all he’s got, hoping his enthusiasm is alluring enough to make up for any lack of experience.
“Eager,” Mobei Jun says against his mouth and Shang Qinghua pulls back to give him a look of disbelief.
“You kissed me first,” Shang Qinghua says, and a familiar smirk crosses Mobei Jun’s face. It’s the same one he gets when he’s about to tease Shang Qinghua, so Shang Qinghua starts to sit up with an indignant look on his face.
He’s not actually planning to stop things now; he’d be the world’s greatest idiot if he did. Shang Qinghua just intends to slide off as a joke. But as he starts to move, Mobei Jun grabs him by the hips and sits up, securing Shang Qinghua in his lap. The anticipation that builds in him as he gets manhandled by his husband is toe-curling, and Shang Qinghua feels the world narrow down rapidly.
“I should defend your honour more,” Shang Qinghua grins and Mobei Jun huffs as he paws at Shang Qinghua again. “This is one hell of a reward.”
Large hands start to ruck up his shirt and Shang Qinghua goes with it, raising his arms as Mobei Jun roughly shoves up the fabric. As soon as it’s off, Mobei Jun has descended upon him again, kissing him roughly as he tosses Shang Qinghua’s shirt to some corner of the room.
Finally, Shang Qinghua thinks as his ankles hook over each other behind Mobei Jun’s back. This moment is what he deserves, no matter how out-of-body he’s feeling right now. He wants some for himself too so he impatiently grabs at Mobei Jun’s shirt, eager to see him shirtless. The image of him emerging naked from the shower has yet to leave Shang Qinghua’s mind, despite all the time that’s passed, and Shang Qinghua is ready to commit the touch of it to his memory as well.
The shirt comes off easily but before Shang Qinghua has a moment to take a look at Mobei Jun’s well-sculpted body, Mobei Jun is yanking him into a kiss. Mobei Jun makes sure that they’re pressed together tight, the slide of their bare torsos sending Shang Qinghua shuddering down to his toes.
He wraps his arms around Mobei Jun’s shoulders as the kiss turns searing, and feels Mobei Jun start to play with the waistband of his boxers. Shang Qinghua wants to touch too, wants to grope his husband’s shapely chest and feel the hard planes of his back, but he’s too excited and too nervous to know what to do first. He lets his husband guide them instead, lets his husband kiss down his neck and across his sternum before he slides his tongue across the seam of his mouth again.
The bed gently creaks under them as Mobei Jun grows more impatient and flips them over, pushing Shang Qinghua into the mattress. Mobei Jun mouths at his neck and Shang Qinghua parts his legs, making room for him. Mobei Jun is even more large and imposing this way, his presence engulfing Shang Qinghua’s.
In the moonlight filtering in, Shang Qinghua can see the way that the tattoo that crawls up Mobei Jun’s flank and side wraps around his back as well, and the sight of that alone gets him harder. Mobei Jun is pressing him into the pillows so hard that Shang Qinghua thinks he’s trying to melt them into the mattress.
“You want it?” Mobei Jun whispers, voice rough and low and right beside Shang Qinghua’s ear.
It elicits a full body shiver from Shang Qinghua. He doesn’t know where Mobei Jun wants to give it, whether he wants to use Shang Qinghua’s mouth or his hands or slide between his legs, but whatever he wants. Fuck yeah Shang Qinghua is ready for it. He nods and tilts his hips to let his husband know. Shang Qinghua can tell he’s going to be in for one hell of a night.
Suddenly, a sharp and loud knock echoes through the cottage.
Both of them go rigid, pausing at the sound. Shang Qinghua prays that it was just a figment of their imagination, or a bird hitting their window, or something that’s not a person knocking at their door.
There’s another rapping sound, and Shang Qinghua curses out loud at the interruption.
“Leave it,” Mobei Jun says gruffly, leaning down to continue, and Shang Qinghua shakes his head. He would love to, but it’s probably not the best thing to leave someone hanging if they’re coming to the cottage just a little past midnight. It must be something important at this hour.
“What if it’s your grandfather?” Shang Qinghua asks as there’s another insistent knock. “It’s going to be an even bigger mood-kill if he’s standing outside the entire time. He’s old, we shouldn’t do this to him.”
Mobei Jun groans and slumps forward onto Shang Qinghua, and Shang Qinghua pats his shoulder awkwardly. There’s another round of knocks, and Shang Qinghua sighs to himself.
“Why are you like this?” Mobei Jun says, though it sounds like he’s talking to more to himself. He lifts his head to give Shang Qinghua a beleaguered look. “You go answer it.”
“Fine,” Shang Qinghua says, as he mentally lights a candle for himself. He starts to push at Mobei Jun and his husband rolls over easily. Shang Qinghua sits up and turns on his bedside lamp. “Where the hell did you throw my shirt?”
Mobei Jun just shrugs as Shang Qinghua slides out of bed. Shang Qinghua grumbles to himself as he tries to look around the room. He spends ten seconds looking for his faded grey shirt before he gives up and just reaches into the duffle bag that sits on the floor of the foot of the bed.
He pulls out a large black shirt, one that’s too large to be one of his own, and throws it on.
“Coming!” He calls as there’s another knock, and he curses as he waddles out of their bedroom. Their living room light is on, answering Shang Qinghua’s question as to why the hell anyone would come knocking at this hour.
Again. It could also be an emergency. But until that’s confirmed, Shang Qinghua is going to stay bitter at the interruption.
When he answers the door, it’s not to a frantic person. It’s not to the grandfather either, but to an older, square-jawed man with dark eyes and a smiling face. The man is tall, dressed in a dark suit, his salt and pepper hair gleaming under the front door light. He looks very much like Mobei Jun, albeit with a pleasant expression. It’s a bit unnerving.
He looks surprised to see Shang Qinghua answer the door, but it takes a fraction of a second for that surprise to turn into delight. It already gives Shang Qinghua a feeling of mild trepidation. A face like that was really not meant to smile!
“You must be my son’s new husband,” the man says, and about fifty different air horns go off in Shang Qinghua’s head. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your sleep. I saw the living room light open.”
This is his father-in-law! The great Mobei Jun Sr.! Before Shang Qinghua can answer, the man is pushing through the front door. Given that he’s as towering as his son, there’s not much Shang Qinghua can do other than step to the side.
Ah, he really doesn’t know what Mobei Jun’s relationship with his father is. But if it’s as sour as it is with the rest of the family, this man’s presence would most definitely be unwelcome.
“Sorry,” the man smiles genially, his eyes crinkling. “It’s a little cold outside. I hope you don’t mind.”
“It’s no problem…” Shang Qinghua trails off, eyeing the man warily. “I didn’t see you at tonight’s dinner?”
“I arrived late to the estate,” Mobei Jun’s father replies, making no move to take off his shoes. “I wanted to say hi to my son, as we may not catch each other before he leaves tomorrow.”
Shang Qinghua assumes he’s waiting for an invite in for tea, which would be ridiculous past midnight and definitely also the polite thing to do. Shang Qinghua is trapped in that weird space where he doesn’t know the man, doesn’t want to be rude, and doesn’t want to make his husband annoyed either.
He’s saved by the sound of the bedroom door opening, but Shang Qinghua doesn’t know if he’s thankful for it.
“Who is it?” Mobei Jun asks as he steps in and freezes as he sees who’s standing at the door. He’s thrown on a shirt as well, and doesn’t look at all like he was rolling around in bed five minutes ago. “... Father.”
“You seem to be doing well,” Mobei Jun’s father says, looking over to his son. Shang Qinghua studies his face carefully to see if there’s any change in his expression, but comes up empty-handed. He wonders if he should offer to take his coat. “Married life suits you.”
“What do you want?” Mobei Jun says in a clipped tone and never mind! Forget the tea, forget the coat!
His father’s smile does not falter.
“We haven’t seen each other in months,” he says, making a grand gesture with his hands. Mobei Jun starts to approach, distrust clear on his face. “I wanted to greet you and your new husband.”
Could he not have waited! Shang Qinghua curses his luck up and down mentally, while he continues to stand awkwardly between the men.
“Well,” Mobei Jun says curtly as he comes to a halt behind Shang Qinghua. “You’ve been greeted.”
“I heard you made quite the scene with Linguang Jun,” Mobei Jun’s father says, and Shang Qinghua blinks before he realizes the question was directed towards him. “I’m sad that I missed that.”
“I’m...sorry?” Shang Qinghua offers, and why couldn’t Mobei Jun stand in front of him instead! He really wants to hide from this man. He has a kind face, but Linguang Jun did too when he first greeted Shang Qinghua.
“It’s fine,” the man replies in an amicable voice that Shang Qinghua doesn’t know to trust. “What’s family without a little bit of squabbling?”
“Maybe you should go talk to uncle,” Mobei Jun says crisply. “I’m sure he’ll welcome your presence more.”
Mobei Jun’s father gives Mobei Jun an amused look, as if he’s not the one who came knocking at their door in the middle of the night. Shang Qinghua shifts uncomfortably on his feet, and wonders if it’s fine for him to retreat to the bedroom and lock himself in until these two have finished their standoff.
“You’re not going to even offer me tea?” Mobei Jun’s father asks, and Mobei Jun scoffs. “I’d like a chance to get to know my new son-in-law.”
“You’ve had plenty of chances before,” Mobei Jun replies icily. “You were the one who chose to let them go.”
Shang Qinghua winces at those words. He knows he’s not exactly a hot ticket, but it’s incredibly awkward to learn someone’s been actively avoiding you. Though it’s probably more to do with Mobei Jun Sr. ignoring his own son than anything, today had made it very clear what a lot of Mobei Jun’s family thinks of Shang Qinghua.
“I think it’s time for you to go,” Mobei Jun says. “You’ve seen him. Now leave.”
His father raises a hand in surrender, smile still present on his face. “Fine, I’ll leave. Maybe we’ll catch each other at breakfast after all.”
“I doubt it,” Mobei Jun says, and something in the intonation of his voice tells Shang Qinghua that they’re going to be absconding from the estate a lot earlier in the morning than planned. A pity, since he could really use some sleeping in.
Mobei Jun herds his father out the door, making no attempt to hide that he’s pushing him out with his presence. Shang Qinghua sees the way his husband’s knuckles turn white as he grabs the door. He reaches out to place a palm on Mobei Jun’s back; Shang Qinghua feels the muscles tense and immediately draws it back.
“You know,” Mobei Jun’s father says, looking over his shoulder as he leaves their front step. “Sometimes I feel you are more like your uncle than me. The more power you gain, the more unkind you are.”
Mobei Jun slams the door so hard in his father’s face that Shang Qinghua jumps at the noise. Mobei Jun stands in front of the door for a few moments, while Shang Qinghua listens for the crunch of gravel and dirt as Mobei Jun’s father retreats. Tension bleeds in the room, and Shang Qinghua is still trying to process what happened.
(In his defence, the mood was very different ten minutes ago!)
He reaches out to Mobei Jun, and taps him lightly on his bicep.
“Hey,” Shang Qinghua says. “Want me to make you a drink?”
The cottage isn’t particularly stocked, but it’s got a small shelf of hard liquors, wines, and some juice in its tiny fridge. Mobei Jun grunts in return, so Shang Qinghua takes it as a yes. He pads over to the kitchen and tries to think of what would work best for them. Ultimately, he ends up picking out a bottle of rice wine, not trusting how old the faded juice box in the fridge is.
He grabs two cups and the bottle and takes it into the living room of the cottage. Mobei Jun is already slumped on the couch, staring at the wall across from him, clearly tense.
“Why did he come so late?” Shang Qinghua says as he sets the cups down. He pours a cup for himself and for Mobei Jun, and Mobei Jun takes it wordlessly.
“To bother me,” Mobei Jun says simply as he takes a sip of the wine. “My father does what he wants, whenever he wants.”
“Strange,” Shang Qinghua comments, but it gets no reaction from Mobei Jun. It’s clear that the presence of his father has rattled him, because his face has hardened again, losing all the softness it had in the room.
If his father was anything like his cousins and his uncle, Shang Qinghua doesn’t blame him. In fact, he feels some pity for him, having to grow up in this kind of environment. Faintly, Shang Qinghua thinks he might be a little thankful that his own family is awkward and distant and he doesn’t have to see them enough to butt heads with them like this. He’s not even sure if he’s told his mother he’s married.
The distance used to send a twinge of vague longing through him before. But now he thinks that maybe it’s better that the family he wasn’t able to choose, he doesn’t necessarily have to see all the time. His father is a special case, but that’s just one person.
The two of them are silent, and Shang Qinghua thinks that’s how they’ll be for the rest of the night. Whatever mood they had earlier on is clearly ruined and Mobei Jun looks like he’s trying to burn through the furniture in the cottage based on gaze alone.
“So your father didn’t want to see me before, huh?” Shang Qinghua tries to say conversationally. He wonders how many people had been privy to the grandfather’s idea before. Given today, he wouldn’t be surprised if it came as a nasty shock to the rest of the family.
“Don’t take it personally,” Mobei Jun scoffs. “My father refused to acknowledge me for the first thirteen years of my life.”
Shang Qinghua grimaces, and feels the urge to reach out to Mobei Jun. Mobei Jun has a far-off look in his face, and it’s mirrored in his tone as well.
“I was an illegitimate child born out of an affair when he was still married to his first wife,” Mobei Jun says, voice growing distant. “They divorced, and he had no other children. I don’t know why, but he was suddenly inspired to be a father again after his divorce. He had tracked my mother and me down.”
“He spent a lot of time convincing her to let him take me back so that he could raise me. She kept refusing. He even said he’d bring Luo Binghe along and raise him. Said he’d found Binghe’s biological family, and that he could have a proper upbringing too since his mother died.”
“How did your mom take it?” Shang Qinghua asks, though he has a faint idea. He can’t imagine being told that someone else could raise your child better would go over well with anyone, much less someone who had ignored them for the first decade or so of their life.
“She kicked him out and finally told him she’d take a restraining order out on him,” Mobei Jun replies. “He returned one last time.”
At this, a dark cloud rolls across Mobei Jun’s face. His mouth presses together in a thin line, and Shang Qinghua thinks the conversation has crossed into a territory he really should not venture into. But it’s Mobei Jun that takes them there.
“I didn’t hear their last argument, but it was fierce. He had stormed out of the house and she had followed, and I don’t know what happened next. But an hour later, I get a call saying my mother had been struck by a car.”
“It was an accident,” Mobei Jun’s voice is so quiet that it would be inaudible, if Shang Qinghua wasn’t paying keen attention to him. “The driver had stayed on the scene. But my father had said the fault lay at my mom’s feet. If she wasn’t so obstinate, none of this would have happened.”
“He blamed her?” Shang Qinghua sucks in a breath, and feels a pit in his stomach. His heart already feels like it’s got a vice grip around it.
“People say his heart is as big as the Sichuan basin,” Mobei Jun says derisively. “But only when it comes to himself. He said the universe rewards accordingly and made it sound like she deserved it. Grandfather said he didn’t mean it, that he was just grieving, but I was grieving too. And to hear that as a child…”
Mobei Jun sighs, and reaches for the rice wine. He sets his empty cup down and takes his next swig straight from the bottle.
“I didn’t want to go anywhere with him. But what other option did I have? I was young, Luo Binghe was even younger. And it turned out that his biological father had been in jail. My father brought on Zhuzhi Lang to sweeten the deal. It wasn’t like any of my mother’s relatives wanted to take me in.”
“He’s Binghe’s cousin,” Mobei Jun replies. “He had also been incarcerated, but for a significantly lesser time. They were caught up in a scheme concerning Huan Hua.”
Shang Qinghua swallows, and takes another sip of his own rice wine. The urge to touch Mobei Jun, to wrap an arm around him or give him a hug or do anything to comfort him is strong again. But he doesn’t want to spook off the man either, not when he’s being so honest with him.
“My father took me in and promptly left us both under the care of Linguang Jun,” Mobei Jun continues. “I believed my uncle cared about me in the beginning. I thought he genuinely wanted to help me out. I was still young and he was the only family member that had shown me affection, so I had all the trust in the world in him, And then…”
The faraway look is back in Mobei Jun’s eyes, and Shang Qinghua sees the muscle in his jaw clench. He wonders what kind of bad blood stirred between uncle and nephew, but doesn’t think he’ll get the answer to that. Especially since he sees a hint of old hurt flash across Mobei Jun’s face, an expression so foreign on him that it makes him want to balk.
The expression is fleeting though, and after his next sip, Mobei Jun’s face has hardened again. There’s more cold radiating off of it before, chilling the room around them.
“Once I’m officially named heir of the company,” Mobei Jun says, side stepping the topic of his uncle completely. “I have control over all these people. They’ve spent years trying to crush me under their heel, just because they think they’re better than me.”
“My father wanted to groom me into taking his place and holding his power. I’ll do him one better. My uncle hates him for it, because he feels that it’s his rightful role, and hates me because I’ve done everything to make sure I’m better than him. So there.”
Mobei Jun gives Shang Qinghua a look that feels like he’s challenging him. To what, Shang Qinghua’s not sure of, but he’s emotionally intelligent enough to be aware of how much his husband has laid bare.
With a man as reticent as Mobei Jun, it must not be an easy task. Maybe he’s challenging Shang Qinghua to judge, to comment, to tell him that what he’s doing may be too much. Or maybe that’s just Shang Qinghua projecting. There’s a vulnerability to giving your true reason and Shang Qinghua knows that after something like that he’d undoubtedly feel raw. Thanking Mobei Jun for this will seem stupid too, will maybe spark irritation.
So instead of replying, he gives in to his urge and reaches out to his husband, placing a hand on his knee. He doesn’t look at him but he squeezes it in a way that he hopes is reassuring. Mobei Jun huffs at the action, drinks more of the wine, but Shang Qinghua sees the way his shoulders slump. Sees the way his knuckles regain some colour.
Family is shitty, and can definitely screw you over. But Shang Qinghua wants to be there for him as much as he can, in a genuine manner.
As long as they stick together, they’ll be fine.
The visit to the family estate casts a dark cloud over Mobei Jun that lasts, even when they return home.
It concerns Shang Qinghua but Mobei Jun tells him that it’s nothing that he needs to worry himself about. He tells him to focus instead on making sure he’s wrapping up his last two weeks at work properly, without leaving any extra work for whoever is taking his position.
Shang Qinghua understands why no one else had wanted to share Mobei Jun’s backstory with him and he understands why Mobei Jun himself acts like human emotions are below him. If Shang Qinghua had to spend so much time playing conversational and emotional chess with a family that pretended to be as sweet as they were actually calloused, he too would set up a barrier.
Shang Qinghua gives him space, not wanting to agitate Mobei Jun further. Mobei Jun looks gloomy every time he comes home from work, but in a more reserved way than before. Shang Qinghua tries to focus on his own work but given the fact that he never really did anything too complicated in the first place, he has time to let his mind wander.
He’s yet to find out what wrong Mobei Jun’s uncle committed, but he doesn’t doubt that it was something that got branded into Mobei Jun’s memories with a hot iron. It is incredibly tempting to dig on his own; now that he knows this much, maybe he’ll be able to poke Shen Yuan and see if Luo Binghe had given him any further details. He also wants to look it up online maybe, see if he can find anything there.
But he remembers the unguarded way that Mobei Jun had opened up to him. And even earlier, he remembers how it felt when Mobei Jun had come to him with his story about his mother, instead of Shang Qinghua having to dig it out. This too he will leave for Mobei Jun, no matter how much his curiosity burns him.
Shang Qinghua finds out from Zhuzhi Lang that Linguang Jun intends to stay for a few months in the city, and Shang Qinghua knows it must be the reason behind Mobei Jun’s prolonged mood. Linguang Jun occupies an important position within the company and if they butt heads so much at home, Shang Qinghua doesn’t doubt that it carries over to their professional life as well. He doesn’t doubt that Linguang Jun spends his time antagonizing his nephew.
What he doesn’t anticipate is for Linguang Jun to antagonize him.
Honestly, Shang Qinghua thought he’d slip off the family’s radar like a bad but inconsequential decision. Shang Qinghua doesn’t expect to receive a text in the middle of his work day from an unknown number with a message indicating that it’s Linguang Jun and that he would like to meet with Shang Qinghua for dinner.
Shang Qinghua ignores the text because it gives him creepy vibes and because he doesn’t want to know how Linguang Jun got his number. He doesn’t even know what Linguang Jun would want with him— they didn’t exactly end on the best note and Linguang Jun doesn’t seem like the type of man to make amends. Really, no one in the family looks like the concept of an apology is in their lexicon.
Linguang Jun texts him from the same number the next day, extending the same invitation. Shang Qinghua contemplates telling Mobei Jun, but thinks it’d just serve to agitate the man further. Plus, it’s just a text. He gets a phone call from the same number on the third day, and Shang Qinghua declines it.
For good measure, he decides to block the number as well. Hey, for all that Linguang Jun knew, he might have had the wrong number! This would have no consequence whatsoever!
Thursday night is crisp and unusually warm for a winter day, so Shang Qinghua chooses to walk to a market first to pick up some groceries before heading home. He’s busy texting Shen Yuan about his ideas for a new story, a story that Shen Yuan for a change openly shows interest in, and he’s so engrossed that he doesn’t realize that he’s being followed by a black car.
In fact, he’s so engrossed that he doesn’t realize that the black car rolls up right beside him, rolling slowly as he walks, until he hears a sharp whistle.
“Huh?” He looks up and sees the backseat window of the car is rolled down, revealing Linguang Jun’s unimpressed face. “Oh shit.”
“Nice to meet you, Mister Shang,” Linguang Jun says tersely. “I was wondering if you had a moment free. I tried to text you but it appears I kept getting the wrong number.”
“Uh,” Shang Qinghua comes to a halt as the car slows down to a top. “How can I help you?”
“Get in,” Linguang Jun says, and Shang Qinghua blinks.
“What are you, some kind of mob boss?” Shang Qinghua says, and Linguang Jun just looks at him back. Maybe Shang Qinghua doesn’t actually want an answer to that question.
“We got off on the wrong foot,” Linguang Jun says. “I’ll take you to dinner. We should talk.”
How was he worse at communicating than Mobei Jun! Was it a genetic thing! Shang Qinghua narrows his eyes at Linguang Jun, and starts to walk. The car starts to roll beside him on the street.
“I don’t have time,” Shang Qinghua calls out but Linguang Jun doesn’t stop. This man really looks like he’s going to trail Shang Qinghua all over town! Thankfully, Shang Qinghua is rather familiar with this area.
The car follows him for around twenty more feet till he turns on his heel and ducks into a side alley, one that can only take pedestrian traffic. It exits out onto a street near a subway station that Shang Qinghua escapes into as he ignores the way that Linguang Jun calls out his name. For good measure, Shang Qinghua gets off one stop after his typical one and walks the ten minutes back to the apartment.
It’s not the last he sees of him, unfortunately.
On Friday, Shang Qinghua emerges out of the subway near the apartment to see Linguang Jun standing beside his car with the door open. Shang Qinghua has half a mind to book it but Linguang Jun spots him. The thought of it’s still tempting as Linguang Jun calls to him.
“Mr. Shang,” Linguang Jun says. “I am a very persistent man.”
No kidding! Shang Qinghua stares at Linguang Jun in apprehension, pursing his lips. Mobei Jun has a client dinner so he’s not going to be home any time soon, and Shang Qinghua feels like if he tries to sneak into his own apartment building, Linguang Jun will drop down from the rafters and invite him to dinner yet again.
“Fine,” Shang Qinghua says, and Linguang Jun gives the same smile he gave when they first met. It’s more unsettling now and when Shang Qinghua slides into the backseat of the car, he makes sure he’s as pressed to the other side as possible.
“It’s best you don’t text my nephew,” Linguang Jun says, giving a pointed look to where Shang Qinghua’s hand has been crawling into the inside of his jacket.
“What, are you kidnapping me?” Shang Qinghua says sullenly. This is not how he had planned his Friday to go. Really, he had just wanted to go home and write and blast terrible music that would give his husband a headache if he was home.
“I wouldn’t call it such,” Linguang Jun raises a thin eyebrow. “But I would prefer if you didn’t exacerbate our troubles by getting him involved.”
The answer creeps Shang Qinghua out, and he keeps a cautious eye on Linguang Jun for the entire car ride. Linguang Jun in turn ignores him, texting on his phone the entire time.
Surprisingly, they do not pull up to a warehouse where Shang Qinghua is bound and tied and thrown in a trunk. Instead, they arrive at a fancy French restaurant that has a lineup outside. Linguang Jun bypasses said lineup and a waiter directs them towards a table in one of the quieter corners of the restaurant.
Shang Qinghua doesn’t even get a chance to look at the menu. The waiter hands one to Linguang Jun, who orders for both of them. Shang Qinghua thinks. He doesn’t actually understand any of the words that leave the other man’s mouth as he orders without telling Shang Qinghua what they’re getting.
“I’m already a married man,” Shang Qinghua comments as one of the waiters uncork a bottle of white wine for them, making no attempt to hide a distrustful look. “No point in wine and dining me.”
“You’re family now,” Linguang Jun says. “Supposedly.”
“We’ve already met once,” Shang Qinghua points out and Linguang Jun chuckles. “It didn’t end up too well.”
“My apologies,” Linguang Jun says insincerely. “I just wanted to get to know you more. More than I already do.”
“As I said, there’s not a lot to know about me,” Shang Qinghua says and Linguang Jun snickers again.
“Sure there is,” Linguang Jun replies, taking a sip of his wine. Shang Qinghua mirrors him, and doesn’t knock back the entire drink like he really wants to. “Divorced parents. Middle ranks in university. Unremarkable in every way.”
Linguang Jun makes a thoughtful noise and then, “Except for the stories you post online.You’ve got some really colourful prose.”
Shang Qinghua goes red at that. How the hell did he know! Shang Qinghua is meticulous about making his presence online as anonymous as possible! That’s the only way he gets the courage to post some of the more deranged stories he writes!
“It’s honest work,” Shang Qinghua croaks. Oh god, did Linguang Jun read any? In fact, does Mobei Jun know? Shang Qinghua might wither and die if he does. Some of the more recent ones definitely have some self projections. And not the sexy type either— some of them were definitely written when Shang Qinghua was annoyed at his husband.
“Does my nephew know about them?” Linguang Jun asks smoothly, setting his chin on his hands. Shang Qinghua wills down whatever blush creeps in further, and tries to reply evenly.
“Yes,” Shang Qinghua lies through his teeth. “But he likes me to keep quiet about it. It’s not exactly something I can parade around now, is it?”
Linguang Jun pauses for a moment, and Shang Qinghua thinks he’s going to call him on his bluff. But he simply leans back as another waiter brings forward a wooden board with seasoned slices of tomatoes and goat cheese. Silently, he spoons some onto a plate and passes it to Shang Qinghua, who accepts it with narrow eyes.
The cheese is soft and the tomato is succulent, and Shang Qinghua still doesn’t trust the man across from him.
“How long are you going to be in the city for?” Shang Qinghua asks, and Linguang Jun gives him a fox-like grin.
“However long my father needs me here for,” Linguang Jun says over-sweetly. “It seems my dear nephew has come up with some new ideas for our company, but we need a steady hand to see if it’s actually beneficial.”
Shang Qinghua has no idea what these new ideas are, nor would he understand them if they were explained to him, so he just gives Linguang Jun a blank look. He figures it’s better than retaliating, because he sees Linguang Jun twitch from the non-reaction.
It’s not that he hasn’t caught the small insult though. Shang Qinghua just doesn’t want to lose his cool like last time. It’s one thing to do it at a family dinner; Shang Qinghua has embarrassed himself enough times in a public space and isn’t really looking towards extending that list.
“I heard you’re leaving the company,” Linguang Jun says as the next course arrives and two bowls of soup are set down in front of him. Despite all this posturing, the food does smell divine, so Shang Qinghua starts eating like it’s nothing.
“Next week is my last week,” Shang Qinghua says. “I uh, enjoyed my time at the company. But I feel like I am better suited for the other place.”
“So you’re fine with leaving my nephew?” Linguang Jun asks bluntly and Shang Qinghua chokes. Now he sees where Mobei Jun got his inability to separate work from his personal life.
“He’s not my direct manager,” Shang Qinghua points out and Linguang Jun looks unimpressed. “So technically, I’m not leaving him. Just the company.”
Shang Qinghua doesn’t even bother to decipher what’s going on with Linguang Jun’s face. He feels like he’s sitting across the table from a viper that’s ready to pounce, and he’s rapidly growing uncomfortable. He wonders if it's too late to text someone to come rescue him from under the table.
“I want to know what your intentions are with my nephew,” Linguang Jun says finally, bluntly. “And with our company.”
“What do you mean?” Shang Qinghua blinks and Linguang Jun makes a derisive noise.
“I want to know,” Linguang Jun says. “How did you convince him to marry you.”
“You… That’s really a question you should be asking your nephew,” Shang Qinghua finishes weakly. “He’s the only one who knows how his heart works.”
“His heart?” Linguang Jun says incredulously. “So you’re telling me that my nephew fell for a man like you?”
“...Yes?” Shang Qinghua says and Linguang Jun snorts.
“I’m not stupid,” Linguang Jun says coolly. “I did my research. I know our families have a history. And I know too that conveniently, shortly after your marriage your father’s debts were absolved. Imagine my surprise when my nephew, who has never introduced us to any of his past relationships, announced that he was married.”
“But you’re telling me,” Linguang Jun continues, even though Shang Qinghua really wishes he wouldn’t. “That my nephew fell for you. A man that has no money,”
The waiters take away their half-full soup bowls and another round of waiters bring forward their main course.
A plate of delicately seared scallops on a bed of pasta is set in front of Shang Qinghua, while a hefty steak is set in front of Linguang Jun.
“No social standing,”
Shang Qinghua is frozen in his seat as he watches Linguang Jun casually tick off his qualities like he’s reading a grocery list.
“Nothing but a father really, who takes on burden after burden,” Linguang Jun narrows his eyes. “Who runs himself into a debt so large that his only son jumps at a deranged offer from a senile old man, taking advantage of the old man’s money. You’re telling me that that is who my nephew fell for?”
Shang Qinghua is taken aback, part because Linguang Jun knows and part because the look in the man’s eye has turned downright cruel.
“I think I should leave—“ Shang Qinghua starts, but Linguang Jun sets his cutlery down aggressively.
“Sit,” he commands, sounding scarily like Mobei Jun. “And eat.”
It’s terrifying! Shang Qinghua is honest to goodness terrified!
Shang Qinghua obediently unwraps his cutlery, and takes a moment to spread the napkin on his lap. Linguang Jun looks irritated at the action, which only makes Shang Qinghua take longer. Linguang Jun watches like a hawk as Shang Qinghua slowly slices a scallop with his knife.
It’s not that the food isn’t delicious. It is. It just comes with a very stark apprehensive feeling. Linguang Jun looks like he’s going to skewer Shang Qinghua at any given turn. Shang Qinghua manages to last a decent amount of time trying to eat his dish as they marinate in stony silence. But he’s hyper aware of Linguang Jun’s gaze on him the entire time and when he’s halfway through his meal, he can’t take it any more.
“What was the point of bringing me here,” he bemoans. “Are you trying to scare me? Your nephew has already done that plenty.”
“I do not take kindly to strangers,” Linguang Jun says bluntly. “I tolerated it twenty years ago when my brother brought two kids home, claiming one was his. But I was right not to trust them. And I am right not to trust you.”
“What— what’s there about me?” Shang Qinghua stutters. “I’m just some clerk, I’m not even worth anything at your company! I’m not even going to be at your company any more!”
But he can do some math. If marrying Shang Qinghua gained favour in the grandfather’s eyes, Linguang Jun must resent him deeply. Plus, if Mobei Jun is the president of this company, he must be Linguang Jun’s superior. Shang Qinghua’s pretty sure that’s how that corporate structure works! If they’re both vying to be named the heir to the chairman position, it's undoubted that Linguang Jun is holding a grudge against him.
“You are an outsider,” Linguang Jun says. “He is an outsider. Don’t think you’re worth anything more than the clothes on your back. It’d serve him well to remember as well.”
Shang Qinghua gulps. Was that a threat? That sounded very, very much like a threat!
“I really think I should go,” Shang Qinghua says and this time, Linguang Jun doesn’t make any moves to stop him.
Shang Qinghua stands up, and downs the remainder of his white wine. His appetite is completely killed, and all he wants to do is get out. Shang Qinghua scurries out of the restaurant and onto the pavement, looking over his shoulder.
What the hell does he do now?
He’s in an unfamiliar part of town, one that he doesn’t frequent enough to know how to get home from. He thinks about texting Mobei Jun; maybe his client dinner would be done by now? Plus Shang Qinghua doesn’t want to get followed by Linguang Jun any further. It might annoy his husband but it’s cold out and Shang Qinghua is in an unfamiliar part of town, so he decides to suck it up and messages him.
“You’re running away,” a cool voice comes from behind him and Shang qinghua spins around. Linguang Jun descends the front steps of the restaurant, and Shang Qinghua takes a step back.
“No I’m just reading the room” Shang Qinghua offers and Linguang Jun looks annoyed, irritated, and angry. That specific blend seems to be genetic. Linguang Jun strides towards him, and Shang Qinghua looks around.
This guy’s even scarier than the stalker!
“Thanks for dinner, but I really think I should be heading back now,” Shang Qinghua says. He hasn’t gotten a reply on his phone yet, and he wonders if he can walk home. It was a ten minute drive here in the city traffic, home shouldn’t be too far away, right?
“We’re not done with our conversation,” Linguang Jun says. “I have yet to truly warn you about what it means, marrying into our family.”
“I’m good,” Shang Qinghua says, the wind picking up. “This has been enough of a warning!”
“I don’t know yet if I like you or not,” Linguang Jun says as he approaches. Shang Qinghua is two seconds away from darting off to the side but the pavement is too crowded. “I think I’m leaning towards the latter.”
“Well, the feeling is mutual,” Shang Qinghua says. “What was the point of doing all this? Are you trying to scare me? Because it worked.”
“Good,” Linguang Jun says and he’s getting in Shang Qinghua’s face. Why the hell is he getting in Shang Qinghua’s face?! “As long as you know your place. Tell me, what’s your plan for when he’s named chairman and his grandfather passes away? Do you think any of that fondness will stick around?”
“I feel like that’s a conversation for the far future,” Shang Qinghua refuses to take the bait. “Mr. Chairman is very healthy for his age.”
“You’re insufferable,” Linguang Jun sighs. “And you’re causing way more problems for us. The family. The company. My nephew—“
“Enough,” comes a voice approaching them and Shang Qinghua almost jumps a mile.
“Ah, looks like my dear nephew has decided to join us,” Linguang Jun says in a taciturn voice.
“What are you doing here with him?” Mobei Jun says, voice hot with anger as he directs it to Shang Qinghua. Shang Qinghua throws his hands up in surrender.
“He dragged me here!” Shang Qinghua exclaims as Mobei Jun grabs his bicep. “He’s been bothering me all week!”
“As I said, I’m simply getting to know your husband,” Linguang Jun says, casting them a dirty look. “Imagine how surprised I was to see you were married to someone so below your station.”
“You do not speak of him that way,” Mobei Jun says, while Shang Qinghua squawks in annoyance. Mobei Jun steps forward, but Shang Qinghua stops him. They can’t make a scene, not that they’ve piqued the interest of the crowd that is still lined up to get into the restaurant.
“Cute,” Linguang Jun catches the action before looking up at Mobei Jun. “This is low, even for you. What a way to give into our grandfather’s whims. You’ll do anything for power you don’t deserve, wouldn’t you?”
Shang Qinghua sees the moment Mobei Jun’s vision goes red. Linguang Jun steps forward too like he’s trying to bait him, so Shang Qinghua places his hand on Linguang Jun’s chest to stop him before he gets too close.
“Hey,” Shang Qinghua says as Linguang Jun’s eyes widen. “Relax—“
“Don’t touch me,” Linguang Jun snaps, shoving Shang Qinghua away hard enough that Shang Qinghua stumbles back. Shang Qinghua is stunned at the action for a moment; Mobei Jun less so, because he immediately lunges for Linguang Jun, grabbing him by the lapels of the suit.
The situation escalates faster than Shang Qinghua can keep up with it. And it’s not dignified either. There’s a lot of ways that he expected this night to go, but this was definitely not one of them. Linguang Jun swings his fist and Mobei Jun catches it, twisting it they turn into a blur, fists thrown everywhere.
What the hell! What the hell! Despite the fact that both men look like they kill people for a living, Shang Qinghua didn’t expect them to get into an actual fight!
The surprise of it has him frozen like a deer in the headlights— then he sees Linguang Jun clip Mobei Jun on his jaw and springs into action.
Faintly, Shang Qinghua can hear the crowd muttering in the back but the blood is pounding too hard in his ears as he tries to break the two brawling men up. Given that they’ve both got height on him, it goes about as well as one would expect, which is not well at all.
“You’’re fucking useless,” Linguang Jun spits in Mobei Jun’s face and Mobei Jun just tells him to fuck off in return as he clocks Linguang Jun in the face. Linguang Jun bounces back immediately and manages to land another one on Mobei Jun, this time knocking his sternum.
“Guys,” Shang Qinghua tries to break it up, not stupid enough to get in the middle. A crowd has gathered around them, and he can see the flash of a few phones. That is definitely not the greatest sign either.
But as luck has it, a stray fist does find its way straight to Shang Qinghua’s face. It belongs to Linguang Jun and it clips him straight on his mouth as he tries to get them to stop. Shang Qinghua feels the blood bloom on his mouth and Mobei Jun catches it and rounds on his uncle with an absolutely savage look. Linguang Jun’s eyes as he registers who he actually hit and before Shang Qinghua can say anything, Mobei Jun has grabbed his uncle by his throat.
Someone must have called security though, because two burly guys in uniforms intervene and yank the two men apart. They’re both held back like feral dogs, and Shang Qinghua immediately rushes to Mobei Jun’s side.
“We’re going to call the police if you don’t cut it out,” one of the guards said and Linguang Jun wipes his mouth with the back of his hand while Mobei Jun shakes off the guard and brushes off his suit.
“No need,” Linguang Jun straightens out the front of his suit, gaze molten. And for good measure, he spits on the ground in front of Shang Qinghua. “Let’s keep this between family, eh?”
Shang Qinghua highly doubts it’ll stay that way. Not with the crowd that they’ve drawn. The two men seem too wrapped up in each other to notice the fact that a lot of people around them are still recording. Or at least, Mobei Jun seems too wrapped up.
“Stay away from him,” Mobei Jun says, rough and dangerous, and Linguang Jun laughs.
“Why don’t you focus on getting Zhuzhi Lang to get this mess cleaned up?” Linguang Jun says and Mobei Jun looks like he’s going to pounce again but both Shang Qinghua and one of the guards step in front of him.
“It’s not worth it,” Shang Qinghua hisses. “But it’s probably worth calling Zhuzhi Lang. Lots of people are watching and I don’t know what to do.”
Mobei Jun still looks murderous as a guard escorts Linguang Jun away. Shang Qinghua takes a look around and sees that the crowd is still keen and watching. He gulps.
This cannot mean anything good.
It is not good.
They end their night with Shang Qinghua standing under the bright white light of his washroom, Mobei Jun cupping his chin and tilting it back as he inspects the damage. He gently presses gauze against Shang Qinghua’s freshly cleaned split lip, which thankfully isn’t as deep as it looked when he was dripping blood from it on the way home.
Mobei Jun had his own scuff mark on the sharp corner of his jaw but he pays it no mind. It still brings guilt to Shang Qinghua when he looks at it.
“I didn’t want to hang out with him,” Shang Qinghua explains while Mobei Jun removes the gauze. “He kept following me around.”
“You tell me earlier next time that happens,” Mobei Jun mutters, unscrewing a tube of ointment. He presses his forefinger against the cut on Shang Qinghua’s lip, gently applying the cream. “You’re lucky I was in the area.”
“I didn’t want to bother you.”
That earns Shang Qinghua a frown and Mobei Jun withdraws his hand. He inspects his work for a moment before huffing and letting go. He throws the gauze in the trash and rounds on Shang Qinghua again.
This time he cups his jaw and tilts Shang Qinghua’s head this way and that, assessing him under the light.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Mobei Jun says gruffly. “You getting hurt bothers me.”
Shang Qinghua feels light-headed at those words. He also feels light headed in general from the day’s events. As soon as his adrenaline crashed, his body felt like dead weight.
“I have to call Zhuzhi Lang,” Mobei Jun says, releasing him once more. “Get some sleep.”
Unfortunately, Zhuzhi Lang isn’t able to pull strings in time. The next morning, there’s a media circus.
If Shang Qinghua had thought it had been bad when Mobei Jun had been caught having dinner with that actress, it doesn’t compare to what the tabloids and even the regular papers spin when they proudly blast across the internet that two executives from a massive company had gotten into a fistfight on the streets.
There’s photos and videos with garbled sound, including a clip of Linguang Jun catching Shang Qinghua’s face with his fist. Both of them are blasted and the footage spreads like wildfire across social media. Even some of Shang Qinghua’s co-workers send him screenshots, asking if that’s him and how’d he end up there. Shang Qinghua laughs it off as a joke, which works especially since no outlet has been able to identify him. Only Shen Yuan knows it’s actually him, and Shen Yuan finds it kind of funny.
Mobei Jun on the other hand looks like he’s in an entirely foul mood. He spends a lot of time barking orders into his phone, interspersing civil conversations in between. The latter are calls to clients and partners and Shang Qinghua overhears him apologizing to someone and stiltedly making a joke about how family is. It makes Shang Qinghua feel borderline hysterical.
He didn’t swing first, but Shang Qinghua still feels like he’s got some blame to shoulder. A lot of blame to shoulder, actually. He should have just ignored Linguang Jun that night like usual— why did he have to go have dinner with him! What good did it do to him! And along the way, he ended up damaging Mobei Jun’s reputation as well!
Shang Qinghua sneaks a look online, just to see what’s being said. Predictably he’s been written off as a bystander, with one news outlet kind enough to list him as a personal assistant to Mobei Jun, only because they walked away together at the end of the night. A lot of them speculate as to what exactly had the two family members at odds with each other.
Shang Qinghua knows what, and it makes his stomach twist. Maybe he is causing more problems than he’s worth.
Zhuzhi Lang drops by and lounges in the living room, his normally pleasant face grim as he summarizes what their options are and what strings they need to pull to get this cleaned up. Apparently the grandfather is extremely displeased with both Mobei Jun and Linguang Jun. The board is embarrassed, looking for a public apology or they’ll go to review.
The guilt weighs on Shang Qinghua heavily. Mobei Jun listens to Zhuzhi Lang in silence, only humming and nodding while he’s got a perpetually annoyed set to his brow. Shang Qinghua retreats part way through, unable to contribute anything and unable to meet either of their gazes.
Luo Binghe comes over the next morning, towing along Shen Yuan in a clear ploy to distract Shang Qinghua so that he and Mobei Jun can discuss business in private. Shang Qinghua decides to take the bait because he feels like shit, even though he’s technically not the one with anything to lose in this.
Well, there is one thing he has to lose if this situation does really spiral. But Shang Qinghua saves thinking about that for the depths of the night when his brain wants to make sure that he can’t sleep.
Shang Qinghua and Shen Yuan leave to go to a cafe a few blocks down, where Shang Qinghua sits with his head in his hands as Shen Yuan gives him a pitying look.
“If it makes you feel better,” Shen Yuan says, voice tinged with some sympathy. “I watched the full video like thirty times. It definitely looks like the uncle was the one who was starting shit.”
“I shouldn’t have called him to begin with,” Shang Qinghua moans into the soft cream-coloured table cloth. Beside him, his coffee remains untouched. “I know they don’t like each other. I should have just made my way home.”
“He’s your husband, isn’t he?” Shen Yuan says, picking from their shared plate of berry pastries. “If you’re married, you should be able to call each other in times of need.”
“It looks like I’m the one who’s creating all the times of need,” Shang Qinghua grumbles, and feels Shen Yuan pat the top of his head. His friend is being uncharacteristically nice to him, meaning the situation is probably a lot worse than he’s letting on.
“To be fair his uncle is a dick,” Shen Yuan reassures him. “I’ve heard the stories.”
“I’ve not,” Shang Qinghua turns his head so that he can woefully look at his untouched cup of coffee. “I didn’t want to push though. I feel like it’s enough that I know about his mom.”
Shen Yuan is silent for a moment. A long, long moment, and Shang Qinghua finally lifts his head up to look at him. Shen Yuan looks like he’s battling over something in his head; his face is imperceptible to everyone else but Shang Qinghua can read him like a picture book for kids, and he can tell that he’s conflicted.
“What?” Shang Qinghua asks, and Shen Yuan sighs out his nose.
“Ok,” Shen Yuan starts. “I know I kept the mom thing from you, but that’s because it would have been awkward if I was the one to tell you instead of Mobei Jun.”
Shang Qinghua frowns and nods slowly. Shen Yuan continues, “I don’t know how much I’m actually supposed to tell you, but this is less of a secret and more of a warning.”
“A warning?” Shang Qinghua repeats, and Shen Yuan nods.
“The uncle is a snake,” Shen Yuan says, grimacing. “Like an actual, rich person snake and those are the most ruthless kind. Mobei Jun’s family took him and Binghe in when they were young, right?”
“Both of them are smart in their own ways. Binghe isn’t part of their family officially and he showed no interest in the actual business. Plus even though his dad was in jail at the time, he kept sending Binghe money for school and stuff.”
Shang Qinghua straightens up as Shen Yuan keeps talking, listening attentively to his friend. Between the two of them, they may have the combined romantic experience of an average highschooler, but if there’s one thing Shen Yuan in particular knows, it’s how both rich and rude people work.
“But Mobei Jun showed interest in the family business,” Shen Yuan says. “Actively so. He started trailing his dad, shadowing his grandfather, even applied for an internship while he was in school under a false name. The grandfather found it charming but Linguang Jun did a total turnaround.”
“Yeah,” Shen Yuan nods. “He’s been eyeing the same positions as Mobei Jun, but the grandfather always gave him hell. So he had a lot of schemes. It started with something simple, like spreading a rumour that Mobei Jun wasn’t actually his father’s kid.”
“That’s simple?!” Shang Qinghua exclaims, and Shen Yuan nods.
“Easily solved by a DNA test, but people talk long after,” Shen Yuan says sagely. “Linguang Jun also falsified rejections to universities and internships on Mobei Jun’s behalf in the name of knowing what’s best for him. He convinced Mobei Jun’s father to let him invest Mobei Jun’s trust fund, ended up draining it and shrugged it off like it was nothing.”
Shang Qinghua blinks. This family was so messed up! No wonder his husband had trust issues! “Is that why he’s got so much bad blood against the two of them?”
Shen Yuan shakes his head and grabs another pastry. Shang Qinghua remembers to eat too, and finally settles for taking a sip of his coffee, interested in what Shen Yuan is saying.
“Mobei Jun’s mother owned the house where she had raised him and Binghe. She had left it to him when he died, and he and Binghe had both planned to preserve the place in honour of their mothers. They were going to move back for a summer to fix it up in fact, after they were done university. But her will hadn’t been drawn up well.”
Shen Yuan sighs, takes a bite of the soft puff pastry.
“I think she got it done at a local office with a lawyer that was old and lazy. The simplest way to explain it is that it gave way more power to the trustee than it should have. And since Mobei Jun’s father liked to pass off his duties to Mobei Jun…”
He visibly winces in the middle of the story, and Shang Qinghua has a sinking feeling about what happened. After all when they visited his home town, Mobei Jun had made no such mention of the house.
“The two of them got into a lot of fights, your husband and his uncle. As a punishment for one rather big blowout, Linguang Jun had sold his mother’s home. He didn’t let Mobei Jun know till two years after the fact, and it was too late to contest anything. Even if he could, the cottage had been demolished and turned into a small already.”
Silence passes between them as Shang Qinghua stares, mouth parted. Shen Yuan finishes his pastry, and Shang Qinghua finds that his appetite is gone completely. This is the hundredth time since he’s met Mobei Jun’s family that he’s realized why the man is the way he is, but this time the realization feels bone deep.
“Bro,” Shang Qinghua exhales. “That’s rotten.”
“A good chunk of that family are just demons,” Shen Yuan agreed. “None as much as his uncle, but they’re all garbage. That’s why Binghe and your husband make their moves in such an aggressive way.”
“No kidding,” Shang Qinghua says with a whistle, his mind already wandering. No wonder his husband is so walled off, if his own kith and kin have treated him like this in the past.
It doesn’t make him feel any better either. He feels vaguely like a side character in a horror movie that has accidentally let a malevolent creature into his home. Shen Yuan picks up on that and he tries to reassure him, but Shang Qinghua still can’t help the creeping, dour feeling.
When they go back, Luo Binghe looks terse as he leaves with Shen Yuan. Mobei Jun’s expression is unchanging from where he sits on the living room couch, head tilted back as he nurses a glass of scotch. Shang Qinghua tentatively approaches him, sliding into the armchair beside the couch.
He stares openly at his husband for a moment, sees the perpetual clench in his jaw and the way his normally well-coiffed hair has been ruffled and messed up from how many times he’s run his hand through it. Mobei Jun looks as tense as a bow, and Shang Qinghua feels another pang of guilt.
After a few moments, Shang Qinghua asks, “Is everything going to be ok?”
The answer, as expected, does not come immediately. Mobei Jun keeps his eyes closed and exhales through his nose before he finally replies.
“We’ll see,” he says in a brisk voice, and offers nothing more.
“I’m sorry,” Shang Qinghua says before he can help it, and winces. He’s said the words so many times this weekend that he can see Mobei Jun’s temples twitch every time he does.
But he can’t help it— it’s genuine, and he doesn’t know what to do. “I shouldn’t have called you. I just got you into trouble.”
Mobei Jun cracks one eye open and looks at Shang Qinghua. Even like this, his gaze is arresting, and Shang Qinghua swallows.
“Well, who else would you call?” Mobei Jun asks brusquely. “What did I tell you before? Don’t apologize. None of it is your fault.”
“I kind of feel like it is,” Shang Qinghua sighs. “I feel awful about it.”
“Why? What’s done is done,” Mobei Jun replies bluntly, tilting his head so he can properly look at Shang Qinghua. “If you are too busy feeling awful, it makes it harder to fix any problems.”
“You should order in some dinner,” Mobei Jun cuts him off. “I have to go for an emergency meeting with Zhuzhi Lang and that insufferable production company head. I’ll probably be late coming home.”
Shang Qinghua shuts his mouth and nods in understanding. Briefly, he entertains the thought of letting Mobei Jun know that Shen Yuan had spilled the details on the bad blood between him and his uncle. But now is not the place or time, and Mobei Jun already has a lot on his plate.
“Linguang Jun does this to everyone,” Mobei Jun says, as if reading his mind. “He creates havoc wherever he goes. Just be glad it wasn’t worse.”
Yeah, Shang Qinghua supposes so. But while his own family has treated him carelessly in different ways, he hasn’t experienced anyone who is ever downright cruel. Maybe that’s why he’s having a hard time adjusting to this, maybe that’s why he’s taking on this extra stress.
He cares, and it sucks that he does not know how to fix it.
Shang Qinghua tries not to show his visible tension as he wraps up his last week at the company. It doesn’t work but thankfully, his co-workers take it as him being nervous for his new job and sadness that he’s leaving. And if he wasn’t twisted into a knot over what happened on the weekend Shang Qinghua would be sad that he’s leaving.
The actual job itself sucked, but his co-workers were great and he’s going to miss them all. Shen Yuan’s settled into Cang Qiong Enterprises pretty well and Shang Qinghua is excited to work alongside his best friend, but his friend group at this job have been kind to him as well. At the end of the week, they take him out for drinks and even Gongyi Xiao comes, buying him a round in congratulations. Even his manager comes, and tells him he better work harder at his next job.
It should be an exciting time for Shang Qinghua but in his peripheral, he can see that his husband’s working himself to the bone. Mobei Jun comes home late every night and Shang Qinghua has to physically stuff his fist in his mouth to prevent himself from apologizing repeatedly. He’s tried to extract some information on what Mobei Jun’s had to do but all Zhuzhi Lang will tell him is that it’s getting handled and that he does not have to worry about it.
But Shang Qinghua does worry about it.
His dad’s first debt, then his dad’s second debt, then this. Small things like the fights and forsaking his gift and getting them lost in the snow storm, all small things that had been forgotten have suddenly brought themselves into relief. Every time Shang Qinghua feels the beginning pangs of guilt it starts to spiral out and he’s left feeling like a terrible person for having brought this on. No matter how many times Mobei Jun has already told him that no, it’s not his fault.
Shang Qinghua wants to do something to apologize, but he never gets the time. Mobei Jun spends a lot of time at work and a lot of time doing client dinners, and Shang Qinghua may be a bit of a loaft but he can recognize an apology tour when he sees one.
Ah, he’s really brought the man a lot of trouble, hasn’t he…
The way things have fallen in place, Shang Qinghua has a week gap in between his old job and his new job. Originally, he had planned to spend it lazing around the house and maybe con his husband into spending some time with him, but his father calls him and asks him if he wants to visit.
It’s a bit of an unusual request, but his father reminds him that he hasn't visited for new years yet. He also congratulates him on his new job, so Shang Qinghua gives it a serious consideration.
“I think it’ll be good,” Mobei Jun says when Shang Qinghua brings it up. He’s home for this evening, so Shang Qinghua has made them dinner, a simple beef and rice stir fry. Mobei Jun looks tired, the dark circles under his eyes prominent. “It’ll help you relax.”
“It’ll help me relax?” Shang Qinghua says a little incredulously, staring at his overworked husband.
“You’re taking on too much worry that’s not your own,” Mobei Jun says, stifling a yawn into his hand. “When are you going? I’ll drive you.”
Shang Qinghua can sense a dismissal when he hears one. He doesn’t entirely blame him; it would probably do Mobei Jun some good to not have Shang Qinghua lingering around like a small nervous dog in the background. It’s not like Shang Qinghua really has anything that he needs to do so he might as well go help his dad clean up the house. So he packs, and the next morning, he stares out the window as Mobei Jun drives him to his father’s house.
It’s a quiet drive that has him fiddling the entire way there. He’s lost in thought, enough so that it startles him when Mobei Jun pulls to a stop in front of his father’s house.
“When do you want me to pick you up?” Mobei Jun asks and Shang Qinghua shakes his head.
“You’re busy,” Shang Qinghua says and Mobei Jun raises an eyebrow.
“When do you want me to pick you up?” Mobei Kun repeats himself, and Shang Qinghua clears his throat sheepishly.
“Day after tomorrow?” Shang Qinghua asks. “Maybe after you’re done work?”
“Mm,” Mobei Jun says, and Shang Qinghua pauses for a moment. Mobei Jun drums his fingers against the steering wheel, waiting for Shang Qinghua to get out. Shang Qinghua contemplates for a moment before gathering up his courage and leaning in.
It’s a quick peck on the cheek, but he feels the tip of his ears heat anyways. Mobei Jun’s expression doesn’t change, which flusters Shang Qinghua so he draws back with a, “Um, thank you. I’ll see you then.”
Before he can fully sit back, Shang Qinghua feels a hand grab the front of his jacket and pull him back.
This kiss is a proper one, firm against his mouth. Mobei Jun tilts his head slightly and makes a noise, one that sounds like a half-sigh. Shang Qinghua leans in and is rewarded with a nip to his bottom lip. The hand fisted in his coat tugs him further and Shang Qinghua goes readily, planting a hand against the dash to steady himself.
Before Shang Qinghua can think about whether it’s worth cancelling on his dad, Mobei Jun pulls off.
“Don’t get into any more trouble,” he murmurs before kissing the corner of Shang Qinghua’s mouth. He pats his chest firmly, and it brings Shang Qinghua out of the small daze he seems to slip into every time they share a kiss.
Just that brief touch brings some relief to Shang Qinghua.
It’s a little awkward, but it’s nice to see his dad again after such a long while. His father in turn seems to be happy to see him, even though this is the first time Shang Qinghua hasn’t had to come to him with money.
His father makes them dinner and they sit down in front of the television as they watch a drama and chat. Shang Qinghua’s dad asks him about his work, asks him about his marriage, and Shang Qinghua finds it easier to talk about the former rather than the latter. He’s not exactly emotionally close with his father, so he’d find it hard to open up about what’s happened between himself and Mobei Jun.
So instead he gives a cursory smile and tells his father that things are going good, are going ok, that he’s excited for his new job and sad to leave his old one.
“I’m glad your husband is treating you well,” His father says, patting Shang Qinghua on the back. They end up calling it a night shortly after, and Shang Qinghua finds himself sitting on his old childhood bed, pulling out his laptop.
He means to write. The past week, he’s been neglecting his hobby. Unsurprisingly, even writing trash is hard when you’re in a perpetual clench. While being at his dad’s place isn’t Shang Qinghua’s preferred place to relax, he thinks he’s unwound just enough to start some writing again. That’s what he tells himself anyways, but instead of opening any one of his word documents, he finds himself going on a deep dive.
Over the past couple of days, Shang Qinghua has tried to reduce the amount of obsessive scrolling he does through news coverage, for the sake of his own sanity. However, his restraint is only so strong, and after a week that has been pretty much an embodiment of a perpetual clench, Shang Qinghua gives in and looks up Mobei Jun.
Surprisingly, it looks like a lot of articles have been scrubbed. Whatever cleanup Zhuzhi Lang orchestrated, it must have been one hell of one. Shang Qinghua has a feeling that it may partly be Linguang Jun’s doing too. Someone had uploaded a full unedited security footage video that showed him shoving Shang Qinghua first and Linguang Jun also has a reputation to protect at the end of the day.
Nothing actually ever gets deleted forever on the internet, but the scathing articles are nowhere to be found, save for one or two that have been cached. The most Shang Qinghua can find is a brief mention of the fight on a saucy tabloid site that lists Mobei Jun as one of the hottest CEOs. It’s less berating Mobei Jun for his behaviour and more admiring the way he looks incredibly attractive when angry and Shang Qinghua wonders if this staying up was also something of Zhuzhi Lang’s doing.
There’s an apology issued on the company website as well. It comes from both of them and Shang Qinghua gets three sentences in before he gets too uncomfortable and clicks out.
It puts him at ease just a little to see that the heat has pretty much died down on Mobei Jun. He’s still not quite sure what the extent of the repercussions are but at least his husband isn’t embarrassed on a public scale. The thought of it allows him to drift to sleep a little easier than normal.
Most of the next morning is spent cleaning, like he expected. Shang Qinghua’s father throws himself into it alongside him, helping him scrub down the kitchen and washroom floor and vacuum the bedrooms. Shang Qinghua also helps his dad rearrange some furniture in whatever way his dad considers auspicious for the upcoming year, bringing an ancient office desk into the small living room and rearranging the order of the potted plants.
His father has a problem with never throwing out his newspapers or his mail or any of the magazines he picks up when he does groceries so once a year, Shang Qinghua has to sort through them for him to toss them out. It’s fairly easy work, as is deflecting his father’s questions about how married life is going.
One of the older papers he picks up has an article in the entertainment section about Mobei Jun’s dinner with the actress, and Shang Qinghua’s dad peers over his shoulder.
“Was that real?” Shang Qinghua’s father asks, and Shang Qinghua shakes his head. Retrospectively, this article seems so silly, enough so that Zhuzhi Lang didn’t feel the need to put a stopper in it the way he has now.
“It’s all just publicity stunts,” Shang Qinghua says, wondering if his father has seen any of the more recent news. Shang Qinghua didn’t see any mentions of the fight in any of the print articles though, and his dad isn’t the most savvy when it comes to looking at news online, so he thinks he’s safe.
He does groceries for his dad too, and buys him a replacement kettle for the kitchen. Shang Qinghua spots a rice cake shaped like an angry bear with thick seaweed brows at the small readymade food counter of the store, and it kind of reminds him of his husband. He takes a photo of it and sends it to Mobei Jun, and Mobei Jun almost instantly replies with a thumbs up emoji. It makes Shang Qinghua smile in the slightest, and he ends up taking the rice cake home.
Running the small errands do help get Shang Qinghua’s mind off of things. It doesn’t relax him per se, but stopping by the post office and the pharmacy for his dad is a good enough distraction for Shang Qinghua that by the time he comes home, he’s in a good enough mood that he offers to make dinner.
He fries two large shrimp and scallion pancakes, and brews some of the remaining red tea his father has. Shang Qinghua brings the food to the tiny kitchen table, setting the plates and teapot down in front of his dad as his dad pours over something that looks like a catalog.
“What’s that?” Shang Qinghua asks as he takes a seat opposite from his dad. He pours them both tea, and his dad hums happily as he bites into the pancake.
“Ah, for the new home office,” Shang Qinghua’s dad says, showing the catalog to Shang Qinghua. It’s opened to a page for ergonomic office chairs, and Shang Qinghua blinks.
“Do you have enough space to have a home office?” He asks, taking a bite of his own pancake. It tastes well and Shang Qinghua’s glad he’s gotten so much better at cooking over the past few months.
“Well I’ll need to,” Shang Qinghua’s father says with a toothy grin. “I’ve got a new idea for a venture.”
“You and your ventures,” Shang Qinghua rolls his eyes, and his dad makes a sound in protest.
“Hey!” His dad says indignantly. “This one’s going to be legitimate!”
Shang Qinghua pauses mid drink, and sets his cup down slowly. His father has a bright look in his eye and Shang Qinghua really doesn’t want to be the pin to his balloon, but this has never fared well. However, it’s been almost twenty four hours and his dad hasn’t asked him for money or help yet. So maybe there’s still hope, maybe it’s in its beginning stages or maybe it’s an online venture that will require no money whatsoever.
“Is it now?” Shang Qinghua says, sighing. “How far are you in?”
“I think that this one will really take off,” his father says earnestly. “I got a backer or anything—
“Wait, before you get angry,” his dad throws his hands up as Shang Qinghua feels his temple start to throb. “Hear me out! It’s a legitimate backer!”
Shang Qinghua really does mourn the peace and relaxation he had known mere moments ago. He deserves this, he thinks, for thinking he could come to his dad to unwind. He deserves this for allowing a full day without complications to make him go complacent.
“I’m listening,” Shang Qinghua says, giving his father a wildly unimpressed look.
“It’s family,” his dad replies. “Your husband.”
That takes Shang Qinghua by surprise.
“My— he lent you money?’ Shang Qinghua asks, wondering what the hell his dad means.
Mobei Jun has lent him money? Why on earth would he do it behind Shang Qinghua’s back? The only reason Shang Qinghua can think of is if Mobei Jun didn’t want his father falling prey accidentally to more loan sharks. But as far as he knew, Shang Qinghua didn’t even know that his father and Mobei Jun even talked.
“Well not exactly,” his dad replies cheerfully. “Your husband’s side of the family, to be more specific.”
Shang Qinghua is confused for a moment, and frowns. Then realization dawns on him at a wicked pace. His chest starts to tighten as he stares at his father, who still looks at Shang Qinghua with a frenetic expression. Nothing in his father's face falters, which only furthers the sinking feeling he feels deep within him.
“Baba,” he says slowly, sending out a thousand silent prayers that it’s not what he thinks. “What do you mean?”
Shang Qinghua’s heart has been slowly digesting in his stomach from how hard it had dropped at his father’s place. He sits on the bus back into the downtown core of the city and stares at a faded poster for vitamins the entire ride home.
He packed up. Shang Qinghua normally doesn’t just leave like that, but he couldn’t take it.
Shang Qinghua barely said a word to his father after his father finished explaining what exactly he had done. He had gone and sat in his room for a good twenty minutes, staring at the wall covered in faded posters, and tried his best not to curse his father to the high heavens. After all, it seemed to be in his father’s nature to be such an enterprising but foolish person.
Linguang Jun had somehow managed to get a hold of Shang Qinghua’s father and had played to every single one of his weaknesses and gullibilities. Not that Shang Qinghua’s father is a hard man to play, which is why he found himself in such deep shit regularly.
Shang Qinghua has a copy of the contract Linguang Jun drew up to lend a significant amount of money to his father. A contract that has apparently already been signed and delivered. A contract that his father hadn’t read thoroughly, all too happy that his son-in-law’s family was willing to give him money.
The loan is against the home, in a way that Linguang Jun now has part ownership of it. It’s got an extra page in the contract for Shang Qinghua to sign so that he can act as a guarantor in case Shang Qinghua’s father isn’t able to make good on the loan and he doesn’t want to let go of the house.
And he won’t be able to make good on it. Shang Qinghua’s dad naively sees this as an act of goodwill and sees it as Linguang Jun having faith in his ideas. That’s why his father was so stiltedly nice to him when he was over, and that’s why right now Shang Qinghua feels like throwing up on the floor of the bus.
Shang Qinghua feels a mess of rage and upset and hopelessness at the situation. He can’t believe Linguang Jun would act like this against him, though with the stories Shen Yuan has told him it doesn’t come as a total surprise.
He should have known. From the moment Linguang Jun unfurled his father’s full name at the dinner table, Shang Qinghua should have known that Linguang Jun was acutely aware of Shang Qinghua’s glaring weak spot. It wouldn’t take much for Linguang Jun to figure out what exactly Shang Qinghua has to lose, and he can only imagine the way the man must have slithered into his husband’s life, charming him and convincing him that they were family, that he can help.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened. Shang Qinghua’s father had run into Linguang Jun at the supermarket by pure coincidence, according to his father. Somehow, he didn’t question running into his son-in-law’s family in a part of the suburbs people like him normally wouldn’t be caught dead in. Linguang Jun had taken him out for dinner, feigned interest in his latest hare-brained adventure, and for good measure had told him what an absolute pleasure it had been meeting Shang Qinghua.
Shang Qinghua should have warned his father from the moment he had come back from the dinner. Even from the moment Shen Yuan had told him Linguang Jun’s story. He can’t believe it slipped his mind like this and he’s beating himself up over it.
He’s messaged Mobei Jun. He was tempted to text him and tell him what happened, but he thinks that might be an in-person discussion. He tells him instead that he’s coming home a day earlier than he thought, that he’s taking the bus into the city and that he doesn’t need a ride home.
Instead of calling his husband, he does something rash. It’s not his best idea but worry and anger and stress is swirling in Shang Qinghua’s head like they’ve been put in a blender. He thinks he’s stopped thinking rational thought the moment he saw just how many digits were on the contract documents.
He gets off at a few stops after the one for the apartment.The station is in a more secluded, quieter part of the city and as soon as Shang Qinghua steps out, he sees the familiar black car. He grips the strap of his duffel bag tightly. It’s just a few minutes’ ride back to his place. He can survive this.
“I can’t believe you’ve sunk this low,” Shang Qinghua says in lieu of a greeting as he opens the back door. He slides in and firmly places his small duffle bag in between them.
“Such a rude greeting from my son-in-law,” Linguang Jun clucks. “And here I thought we were strengthening our relationship.”
He barks an order at his driver to take them to the apartment and Shang Qinghua looks at him with a beseiged expression as the car starts to roll.
“Why did you do this?” He asks bluntly, and a crooked grin slowly uncurls across Linguang Jun’s face. He gives Shang Qinghua a once over that sends a shudder down his spine in the worst way.
“I had said I was looking for a wedding gift for my nephew and his new husband,” Linguang Jun says coolly. “I thought helping out your father would be a good and honourable way to go.”
“Why did you lend him so much,” he says and Linguang Jun scoffs.
“We’re relatives now, aren’t we?” Linguang Jun says, raising an eyebrow. “If I can’t spare some change for my son-in-law’s father, what kind of man am I?”
Oh, he’s a bastard. Trying to sound benevolent while reminding Shang Qinghua how little his entire livelihood is worth. Hearing him put it like that makes Shang Qinghua want to reach over the seat and throttle him. However in a confined space, Linguang Jun looks even more terrifying. But Shang Qinghua is not going to get cowed down by him.
“I’m going to make him give it back,” Shang Qinghua says with determination and Linguang Jun honest to god laughs at it.
“Contracts are things,” Linguang Jun tells him slowly like he’s explaining to a child “You can even ask your husband’s lawyer. My legal team can send his a copy of it if you would like. Your father is a capable adult, Shang Qinghua.”
Linguang Jun pauses and taps his finger against the top of his mouth in thought. “Mm. Maybe not fully. He doesn’t really read before blindly trusting, does he?”
The sinking feeling in Shang Qinghua’s gut worsens, and he glares at Linguang Jun. Linguang Jun in is a lion in a cage who’s watching his dinner get thrown in. Shang Qinghua knows that the other man knows his father’s track record for success or lack thereof, but didn’t think he’d go that low.
Though, given what Shen Yuan has said, Shang Qinghua thinks himself an idiot for not keeping a closer watch, even after he thought he had finally convinced his dad to stop taking such risks and leaps.
“You’re an asshole,” Shang Qinghua says, and Linguang Jun pretends to look hurt.
“Your manners leave so much more to be desired,” Linguang Jun says, “Your father was way more accommodating. He knows the importance of a good business idea. And anyways, it’s the least you could do.”
“The least I could do?” Shang Qinghua sputters, and Linguang Jun nods.
“We could use some new business ideas like your father’s,” Linguang Jun gives a sleazy wink. “After all, that little stunt outside of the restaurant did cost us.”
“What?” Shang Qinghua frowns, and Linguang Jun gives an exaggerated blink of his eyes like he can’t believe Shang Qinghua didn’t know.
Thankfully, he doesn’t say “Oh, you didn’t know? ”, because the phrase itself would have probably triggered Shang Qinghua into either violence or into throwing himself out of the car.
“We have a large client that’s a rather old traditionalist that pulled their account,” Linguang Jun says in an unaffected tone. “They’ve been with us for a while, but they didn’t like us brawling where everyone could see. Not very gentlemanly of us, as it were. It was a rather sad dent in our portfolio.”
The car pulls to a stop near the sidewalk, but Shang Qinghua is frozen in place. He stares at Linguang Jun, who looks like this news means nothing to him.
“I haven’t been bearing the brunt of it,” Linguang Jun shrugs and grins again, greasy as ever. “I work mostly overseas. It’s your husband who they have a relationship with, so it’s your husband who’s been getting his integrity questioned all week.”
“All over this?!” Shang Qinghua grips his duffle bag as the doors of the car unlock with a soft click.
“People are very fickle in our world, Mr. Shang,” Linguang Jun says. “You’ll know soon enough. I look forward to doing business with your father.”
He looks pointedly at Shang Qinghua’s duffle bag, then at Shang Qinghua. Shang Qinghua swallows nervously, his blood thundering in his ears. Linguang Jun has tried to trap him, but he needs to find a way out. He needs to drag his father out once again too, and Shang Qinghua woefully thinks of the days his dad and him mutually forgot each other’s existence for months on end.
Shang Qinghua doesn’t reply and instead, steps out of the car. He slams the door shut and goes around the vehiclet, Linguang Jun rolling down his window to harass him more.
“It’d be the polite thing to invite me in,” Linguang Jun calls out, and Shang Qinghua is about to reply when someone else does it for him.
“Dream on,” comes Mobei Jun’s frigid voice from a few feet away. Shang Qinghua startles and rounds to see his husband near the front of their apartment building as well as a cab pulls off from the curb. Shang Qinghua’s eyes widen as it dawns on him what Mobei Jun must have seen.
Linguang Jun chuckles and rolls his window up, while Mobei Jun shoots Shang Qinghua an indiscernible look. Shang Qinghua feels rooted to the spot for a moment, too frozen to even speak. Mobei Jun sighs, and turns on his heel, walking towards the entrance of the building.
Shang Qinghua’s brain finally comes online and he scurries after his husband, following him nervously into the building, through the lobby and into the elevator.
Mobei Jun doesn’t say anything to him. He doesn’t even look at him, staring straight ahead while they stand for an elevator ride that feels a lot longer than usual. Mobei Jun doesn’t even get angry, doesn’t turn on Shang Qinghua and ask him what the hell he’s doing.
He remains silent, which feels infinitely worse.
As soon as they enter the penthouse, Shang Qinghua dumps his bag on the ground and reaches for his husband. He manages to grab onto his elbow but the look Mobei Jun gives him has him automatically dropping his hand.
“I can explain,” Shang Qinghua tries, and Mobei Jun raises an eyebrow.
“Did he accost you again?”
“No?” Mobei Jun’s brows pinch and Shang Qinghua’s heart immediately jumps to his throat. He frantically thinks of how to backtrack, but his brain fritzes and leaves him blank. He curses himself.
“No, look I—I had to talk to him— I was just…” He falters under Mobei Jun’s piercing gaze, and finds it hard to know where to even start.
“Just looking to make more trouble for me?” Mobei Jun asks flatly, and it makes Shang Qinghua pause.
Mobei Jun gives him an expectant look and when Shang Qinghua can’t continue, he lets out a sigh before turning away and heading towards the kitchen. Shang Qinghua remains where he stands as his husband retreats away from him.
He gains an awareness that this thing with his father and Linguang Jun would be yet another hot-water type of situation that he would need Mobei Jun to yank him out of. And it would include him having to fight with his uncle again, him having to take time out of his own schedule that is already hellish, if the tired set to his face is anything to go by.
What was Shang Qinghua to do now, run to his husband because his father acted blindly?
And this would be after the fight cost the company a large client; with the way his husband has been working and the way that Zhuzhi Lang and Luo Binghe have been regulars in their household over the past week, Shang Qinghua is sure that hasn’t been the only consequence. While the media’s already moved on, the repercussions are still echoing.
How much trouble is Shang Qinghua going to cause his husband? Hadn’t Mobei Jun settled a second debt of his father’s mere days into the marriage? For all their strange emotional back and forth, Mobei Jun hadn’t once not made sure that Shang Qinghua wasn’t taken care of.
… Shang Qinghua knows he doesn’t want to add more stress on Mobei Jun’s plate. He can’t compound one crisis on top of another constantly, otherwise he’ll wear down fast.
Mobei Jun doesn’t owe him beyond what he’s given already, and Shang Qinghua can’t have him always swooping in to fix his father’s mistakes.
He needs to fix this by himself.
(Three days later, he is presented with a solution. He’s left to contemplate it in the washroom of a subway station, but he knows there’s no real way out otherwise.
With shaking hands, Shang Qinghua pulls out his phone and prays for the best.)
Accepting that New Year’s dinner invitation was a mistake, one that Mobei Jun knows he’ll feel for a while. It’s not the most heated fight that he’s had with any given member of the family, even with the way he reamed out the entire table before he left to go find his husband. Those weren’t even the worst insults to fall out of Linguang Jun’s mouth.
However, the fact that Linguang Jun has acquired a new target agitates Mobei Jun like no other. Shang Qinghua can definitely stand up for himself, but Linguang Jun moves in the shadow as much as he moves in the light. Going toe to toe with someone who prefers to aim below the belt isn’t something many are used to, not to the scale of his uncle.
Mobei Jun has confidence in his ability to protect his husband, but he can’t control whether or not Linguang Jun crawls under his skin. Mobei Jun remembers the anger at seeing Linguang Jun there on the sidewalk with Shang Qinghua, anger that his uncle was yet again trying to take something away from him. He lost himself for a moment, and paid for it.
The fallout was not the worst thing he’s ever dealt with. The bar has been set high though, and Mobei Jun never seeks to surmount it. The week was one headache after another and ate into his time, just the way his uncle wanted it to. Linguang Jun doesn’t pay attention to the fact that he caught heat as well; as long as his nephew faces suffering too, he’ll feel justified.
But it looks like Linguang Jun isn’t quite done yet.
Against all odds, Mobei Jun feels guilt simmering low in his gut. It’s not engulfing, not encompassing, but it’s there like dregs at the bottom of a cup, the bitter taste and texture making itself well known.
He had snapped at Shang Qinghua and hadn’t apologized, too swept up in his work and the general anger he always feels in the presence of his uncle. Mobei Jun knows he needs to learn how to balance his emotions though, for the sake of his marriage. He knows he’ll not be able to call on the same indifference he had when they first signed the documents at the court office.
Liking someone to this extent was not something expected, nor was it something he was prepared for. Yet it is not unpleasant and while Mobei Jun knows he’s spent a lifetime being unyielding, it has not been hard to find space in his heart for this.
He doesn’t question it either. It’s his responsibility to reassure his husband and if it’s not working, he owes him an attempt at trying harder. This marriage is not going to be the first failure of his life.
(And he wants to hold him too. Mobei Jun has learned he likes waking up with his arms full and craves that presence in his bed. He’s not quite sure when or how his happiness got entangled with the other man’s, but it hasn’t been disagreeable. He finds it easier to talk this way too, to reassure and comfort and make someone feel good.)
So he has a plan initially; surprise Shang Qinghua with dinner, and tell him he’s sorry. Tell him to pay Linguang Jun no mind, tell him that at the end of the day, as much his uncle hates it and tries to act differently, Mobei Jun wields a greater power over him. He has duties as a married man now, and he’d be doing himself a disservice if he doesn’t complete them.
But his plans get thwarted by an end-of-day meeting with the board of directors that goes on way too long, spiking a headache right between his brows. These too are duties that he can’t forsake, so he stays till he’s sure they’ve reconvened under his whip.
Mobei Jun texts Shang Qinghua before he gets in his car, tells him that he’s bringing dinner back so he doesn’t need to order or cook anything. He’s far overshot their reservation at a seafood restaurant, so he stops at a noodle shop before he heads home.
The change in plans doesn’t get him too agitated. This dinner will do too— he just wants to take the one quiet moment he has this week and spend it with Shang Qinghua.
That’s new too, the need to spend time with someone else. He’s had relationships before but in hindsight, those feel more perfunctory than anything else. He’s never hidden it either when he’s not actively seeking out someone.
Mobei Jun had seen how his father was warm on the outside but completely uncaring, and had long decided to act in the opposite way. He did not need to hide whatever cold unfeelingness lay in his heart. And subsequently, he’s adjusting to the idea that he doesn’t need to hide any of the warmth blooming within him either.
It’s a novelty, not coming home to loneliness. He thinks he likes it. It’s not often in his life that he’s felt like this, so he holds on to it as much as he can.
The lights are off in the apartment when Mobei Jun comes home. When he turns them on, he sees that Shang Qinghua’s jacket and shoes are missing and frowns. He must have gone out for a bit with friends, so Mobei Jun pulls out his phone.
There’s no texts, so Shang Qinghua has definitely gone out with friends. The light’s not on in his room either, though the door is cracked slightly open. Mobei Jun sighs to himself before texting Shang Qinghua to not eat too much while he’s out, because he’s brought dinner back. He hopes that’ll encourage his husband to come home quicker, even if he’s drunk.
A faint memory taps at the back of his brain, of how lush his husband is when he’s drunk. Mobei Jun had screwed up that night but ultimately, Shang Qinghua had forgiven him. He hopes now that his husband will find it within him to do so again.
Mobei Jun moves through the apartment, taking off his coat and setting down the food on the kitchen island. The kitchen looks neater than normal, but he knows Shang Qinghua has been spending his free time cleaning in the past couple of days to kill time before he starts at his new job.
He grabs a beer from the fridge and throws his suit jacket over the back of a dining chair. Mobei Jun yawns and checks the time— it’s still relatively early in the night, and there’s a chance that Shang Qinghua’s just forgotten to check his phone. He’ll be back eventually, so Mobei Jun decides to watch some television and stay up.
The lights go on in the living room and he makes his way to the couch. It’s not till he glances to the coffee table to look for the remote that he sees a manila envelope sitting in the centre of the table. On the front, his name is neatly hand-written.
Frowning, Mobei Jun sets down his beer and picks up the envelope. It must be some work document he had forgotten to take in the morning, though that’s not something he’d normally do. He peers into the envelope and sees a stack of papers. Curious, he pulls it out.
His eyes fall on the set of papers clipped together first. The form looks familiar, and when he looks at it closely, he feels a small wave of nausea. For one moment, for one brief moment, he thinks maybe it’s from before, maybe it’s the old copy from way back, but he sees the date stamped beside a chicken-scratch signature and realizes that it is not.
“Shang Qinghua!” Mobei Jun calls out immediately, eyes widening as he tracks his gaze down the document. There’s no response, and Mobei Jun can feel his heart start to rise to his throat. He can feel a tremor run through his wrist, and stuffs the papers back in the envelope, determined to hide them. He sees there’s a letter there too, but first, he calls out his husband again.
The apartment responds with echoing silence. Mobei Jun storms to his husband’s room and throws the door open. He slams his hand against the light switch and his stomach instantly drops to the ground.
There is no trace of Shang Qinghua anywhere. The desk is cleared, as are the drawers too. The closet door stands open, revealing empty racks saved for neatly folded bedsheets. The handful of posters Shang Qinghua had taped to the wall are gone too, and the cups of noodles he sneaks into his room have been cleared out. The trash is emptied and the bed sheets have been changed.
Mobei Jun stares at the empty bed, the empty closet, the empty walls. It’s devoid of life, cleaned and sprayed like it’s simply a hotel room. For all intents and purposes, it looks like no one lives here, like no one has lived here.
There’s only him by himself, alone in this vast apartment.
Slowly, he pulls out the letter in the envelope. He’s tempted to throw it without even looking at it, but morbid curiosity gets the better of him. The writing is tiny, cramped, but neat. Every word he reads echoes like a hollow drum in his head and he’s having a very hard time not finding it surreal.
Hi Mr. President Sir,
I know you don’t like it when I talk too much so I’ll keep it short. I’m sorry in advance for writing this but I’m still kind of baffled as to how this house has three printers yet none are functional. Hopefully you can read this, I tried to make it as legible as possible. I haven’t hand written anything since high school or earlier, and I did seriously consider just texting this to you.
Or calling you. Or telling you in person. But you know and I know that that’s not something I can do.
I’ve been causing a lot more trouble that I’m worth. I know you married me to achieve a goal and I know I said I’d help with the goal. But I think over the past few months, I’ve just made more and more problems for you and gotten in the way.
Causing unnecessary trouble seems to be a family curse. It’s not something I want to burden you with and I don’t want to come running to you or have you take the brunt when I mess something up. I don’t want you to have to shoulder the responsibility every time something in my life fucks up and I don’t want you to be my bottomless wallet, nor my bodyguard.
I want you to succeed. I want to be by your side too. But I think it’s been clear given whatever happened in the past, especially with your family, that I’ve been a nuisance. I realized that especially after the fight and all the trouble you got into over that. And my luck is such that trouble will hound me wherever I go.
So I think it’s best if I support you from the sidelines instead. I can’t stand to be the reason that you won’t achieve what you’ve worked so hard to get your whole life.
I’ve signed my portion of the divorce papers. This time I made sure that I filled out the fields correctly and had a notary look it over, you just need to fill your part and submit it to the office. I talked to your grandfather and he said that the divorce won’t jeopardize your position in the company, nor your ability to inherit it. He says he understands.
So you’ll be safe, and you’ll be free. And you’ll finally have me out of your hair.
You might even get some room to breathe without having me constantly in your space. And once you’ve achieved your goals, you’ll be able to pick someone sharp who suits you. Someone who you actually get along with, someone who you genuinely like, someone who’s your choice and
Ah, looks like I’m rambling again. I really should have used a pencil. I should get to the point and sign off before I annoy you any further. I don’t really know what to say though, aside from that I guess this is goodbye.
Thank you for taking care of me. I hope you are able to achieve everything that you want in this life. You deserve it and you deserve more.
Even if I can’t be on your team, I’ll still be your ally. Please don’t forget me. I mean, if you do I won’t blame you. I’d probably forget someone like me too. But if you can, I’d like it if you remembered me. I had a lot of fun with you and I think you made me a better person.
You mean a lot to me no matter what, even if we have to take different paths. So please remember me. I’m going to miss you.