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Shang Qinghua’s brain screeches to an embarrassing halt when Mobei Jun plasters himself to Shang Qinghua’s back. “My… My king?”

“Mn,” Mobei Jun hums agreeably. He doesn’t appear like he’s intending to move, arms now wrapped snugly around Shang Qinghua’s waist. “Continue.”

Continue? Continue what? Talking? What was Shang Qinghua even saying before this?

“Right,” Shang Qinghua stammers. “Right, I’ll just- Continue, uh, talking about the...”

“Bride price,” Mobei Jun reminds him.

“Right!” Shang Qinghua squeaks, when Mobei Jun presses closer. How can he come closer?! They’re already too close! “Gold jewellery is customary-”

“No,” Mobei Jun says. “Tacky.”

Shang Qinghua nods. He’s of the same opinion, preferring to wear silver or jade himself, if the occasion calls for it, but gold is customary in bride prices, and for a family as prominent as Mobei Jun’s to offer silver instead of gold would be a slight against the family of any bride he picks. Maybe if it’s a sentimental piece? Mobei Jun himself wears a lot of silver. Maybe there are heirlooms that he is meant to pass to his consort?

But even then! A gold piece here or there would still look good for the bride price! And did he mention it is customary? Traditional, almost!

“You wouldn’t wear gold,” Mobei Jun murmurs, voice low by his ear.

Shang Qinghua barely suppresses a shiver. It would be so easy to relax into Mobei Jun’s hold, to perhaps turn, and angle for a ki- Nope. Nope! He’s got to keep his head straight! He’s here to find Mobei Jun a consort, and to help him arrange for a wedding! Mobei Jun is going to find a nice lady from a nice family, and he’s going to marry her and have a gaggle of heirs to the Mobei Jun title!

Shang Qinghua has been prepaid a deposit for his services, and he’s poured sweat and blood into shortlisting these ladies! He’s a professional! He won’t give into his lust!

“Well,” he says, “I might, if it was the right piece?”

“Very well,” Mobei Jun says. “Tell Tianlin to take you to the vault tomorrow to pick a few pieces.”

“Perhaps we should settle on the bride first so I will have a better idea as to which pieces to pick if I know who I’m picking them for?” Shang Qinghua asks. “Lady Bai has very distinctive tastes in jewellery. Lady Gao would only wear pieces with rubies. Lady Sheng-”

“Pick only pieces you would like,” Mobei Jun tells him. “Only pieces you would wear.”

Why? Why??? What is the point of Shang Qinghua liking the jewellery that’s meant to be part of Mobei Jun’s bride price? Of course, none of the families would turn the pieces down, no matter how understated they are, once Shang Qinghua spins them into treasured pieces of family heirloom held securely in the family vaults waiting to be adorned by the next Mobei-furen, but what is the point of giving jewellery that won’t be well-received by the bride?!

In fact! Why is Mobei Jun asking him about bride prices when they haven’t even gotten past the most basic step of picking a bride?

Shang Qinghua’s life is so hard.

“Yes, my king,” he says, instead of swearing. He’ll just have to delay the visit to the vault, and hope that Mobei Jun forgets to ask him about it. “Shall we talk about the prospective brides-”

“No.”

Shang Qinghua’s eyes turn heavenward. “No?”

“No,” Mobei Jun confirms.

He squirms in Mobei Jun’s hold, but Mobei Jun doesn’t let him loose. “Is there something else you would like to discuss, my king?”

“No,” Mobei Jun says.

Shang Qinghua is going to lose his mind. “Shall I...leave, then?” he asks, despite the fact that Mobei Jun is in Shang Qinghua’s guest room.

“No,” Mobei Jun tells him, nuzzles into his hair. “Stay. Tell me about the ti qin process. I understand your parents have passed, and you have no other siblings. Who would one speak to if they wanted your hand in marriage? From an academic point of view.”

--

Shang Qinghua seriously suspects that he’s being pranked by the other Cang Qiong matchmakers.

For one, honestly why the hell would Mobei Jun need to enlist the services of a matchmaker to help him find a bride? With his status! His incredible physique! His entire face! He could just knock at the door of literally any eligible young lady in the realm, and no family in their right mind would say no!

Sure, he’s a little sullen, a lot intense, and can be tight with his words, but again- He’s Mobei Jun. Any lady would be lucky to be his furen!

So Shang Qinghua is probably only meant to assist in negotiations! Or to help Mobei Jun to reduce the pool of eligible ladies so that he can easily make a choice! It sounds like too easy a job, and it’s suspicious that the other matchmakers have offered it to him, but hey, if it’s mostly going to be administrative and sweet-talking? Shang Qinghua is very good at that, and Mobei Jun looks like a very decisive person, so it wouldn’t even take him long!

It’s on that understanding that he packs only enough for a one week stay at Mobei manor.

He’s been here for over a month now.

In that time, Mobei Jun has only looked through the list of prospective brides that Shang Qinghua foresaked nights of sleep to painstakingly prepare once. On the first day that Shang Qinghua arrived. There hasn’t been much progress on that front since!

Is it the ladies? Shang Qinghua has gone through all the eligible ladies of similar social standing, and shortlisted five! Five very different ladies since he didn’t know what Mobei Jun’s type was, so that Mobei Jun would have a variety to choose from! He painted their portraits himself! He did his best to make their biographies interesting!

Shang Qinghua needs some direction, even if Mobei Jun’s comment is just that none of the ladies meet Mobei Jun’s standard! That way, Shang Qinghua would know that he needs to look harder, and be a little more selective! But what is he supposed to do if Mobei Jun refuses to engage in the process? All Mobei Jun wants to do is to sit with him, and drink tea, and ask him questions that have nothing to do with how Shang Qinghua is supposed to find a bride for him!

And it doesn’t help that Mobei Jun is very attractive! It absolutely doesn’t help that sometimes he props his chin up on one hand, and listens very attentively to Shang Qinghua’s rambles! It’s not cute, and it does nothing to Shang Qinghua’s poor heart!

Honestly, what the hell is this? Is Mobei Jun looking for one last fling before he embarks on his journey to marital bliss? Is that what it is? Will he start looking for a bride properly once Shang Qinghua gives in, and lets Mobei Jun rail him until he can’t walk?

If that’s what it is…

NO! Shang Qinghua will not allow himself to be tempted! He is a professional! He will find Mobei Jun a suitable consort, give them a wedding that folks will be talking about for decades to come, and then he will boot himself out of Mobei Jun’s life! No railing involved!

Mind made up, he pulls himself up from where he’s slumped over his writing desk like a sad excuse of a ragdoll, and picks up his scrolls.

Today is the day he’s going to get Mobei Jun to seriously look at these scrolls, and to decide on a bride! This is going to be a successful match, or Shang Qinghua is going to ask for his incompetence to be punished by death! Surely death would be preferable to going through this madness every day!

He finds Mobei Jun in Mobei Jun’s study.

“My king,” Shang Qinghua starts, “we are drawing close to some of the most auspicious wedding dates in the year.“

Mobei Jun looks up at that. “Oh?”

Shang Qinghua nods. “If we don’t make a headstart on all the rites now, it may be...difficult to arrange for a wedding this side of the year.”

Mobei Jun sets down his brush with a frown. “That would not be ideal.”

Yes! Some progress!

“No, it would not,” Shang Qinghua says, and sets down his scrolls on Mobei Jun’s writing desk. “I really need you to pick a bride, my king.”

Mobei Jun stares at him. “Do you?”

Shang Qinghua nods vigorously.

“Hm,” Mobei Jun hums. “Next.”

“What?”

“What’s the next step?” Mobei Jun asks. “What would one do after picking a bride?”

Shang Qinghua’s life has never been harder. “My king,” he whines. “I am begging you.”

Mobei Jun’s eyes darken. “Beg harder,” he says. “This lord likes it.”

Shang Qinghua has to suppress a very lustful shudder. No matter how good Mobei Jun looks! Or how silky his bedroom voice sounds! Shang Qinghua is a professional, and he will not embarrass the whole of Cang Qiong by falling into Mobei Jun’s (very nice) arms!

“My king,” he says, trying for stern. “If we miss all auspicious dates because of this delay, your grandaunt will skin me, and turn me into soup. Work with me here! Is it the young ladies? Do you not like any of them? I can keep looking, if you just tell me what you like-”

“They are all too quiet,” Mobei Jun says. “I don’t like that.”

Shang Qinghua blinks. “Too quiet,” he echoes, immediately striking Lady Sheng off his list. She hadn’t spoken more than three sentences in the hour he was at the Sheng manor speaking to Lady’s Sheng’s mother about the possible match. Lady Gao is...hmm. Either a hit or a miss. She was keen enough to talk about embroidery, but Shang Qinghua can’t imagine that Mobei Jun would have too much patience for that. Well, off the list it is for her, then!

Lady Bai-

Lady Bai would be a good match. She appeared to be well-read and opinionated when Shang Qinghua visited, while also having the good sense to read the room and keep any unwanted opinions to herself.

“Yes,” Mobei Jun says. “I would like someone who talks to me.”

Shang Qinghua nods. “That’s very helpful, my king,” he says sincerely, and then nudges the scroll containing Lady Bai’s portrait towards Mobei Jun.

Mobei Jun doesn’t look away from Shang Qinghua. “I would like someone who talks too much.”

“Talks...too much?” Shang Qinghua echoes.

It’s not the weirdest request he’s had in the time he’s been on this job, but it is unexpected, coming from Mobei Jun. When Shang Qinghua imagines a Mobei-furen, he generally thinks of someone just like Mobei Jun, tall, beautiful and dignified, but ah, opposites attract is a golden rule for a reason, he guesses!

He tries to recall his time at the Bai manor; Lady Bai held her end of the conversation perfectly fine, but he wouldn’t describe her as particularly chatty, if he was asked. Perhaps if he could just...coach her a little? Shang Qinghua has often been reprimanded by his shixiongs for talking too much! You could even say that he’s the grandmaster of speaking his mind even when he has no reason to do so!

Shang Qinghua only realises that he’s thinking out loud when Mobei Jun lets out a soft huff.

“Yes,” Mobei Jun murmurs, holding Shang Qinghua’s gaze. “I would like someone who talks too much.”

“Right,” Shang Qinghua manages to stammer out. His heart is beating too fast again. He really needs to get over how good-looking Mobei Jun is, and focus on getting him married! “This servant understands.”

--

The trip to the Bai manor is fruitful.

Lady Bai is sharp and catches onto Shang Qinghua’s hints very quickly. By the time their pot of tea had run out, Lady Bai was already initiating conversation, and speaking almost twice as much as she was when Shang Qinghua first arrived.

Shang Qinghua nods to himself as he leaves.

There! He’ll be able to report to Mobei Jun that he’s found someone who meets his standard now! All that’s left is to get Mobei Jun to meet Lady Bai, and then-

And then they’ll go on to marry, in a fabulous ceremony that Shang Qinghua will have a hand in preparing, and Shang Qinghua’s job will be done, and he’ll have to leave, and, and…

He stops walking back to Mobei Jun’s manor, and turns the other way to go back to Cang Qiong instead; he needs to have a few drinks with Shen Qingqiu.

--

“Sounds like you like him,” Shen Qingqiu says, after extorting Shang Qinghua into buying him wine that costs a good quarter of his salary.

Of course I like him,” Shang Qinghua whines. “He’s so handsome! His cheekbones? My god-”

Shen Qingqiu holds his hand up to stop Shang Qinghua’s tirade. “It’s one thing to be attracted to a client, but a whole other thing to like them,” he says. “I’m saying you like him.”

Shang Qinghua’s heart rabbits in his chest. Does he like Mobei Jun? “I don’t- But I- I can’t,” he says. “That can’t be right.”

Shen Qingqiu rolls his eyes. “Close your eyes.”

“Why?”

“Close them before I gouge them out,” Shen Qingqiu snaps.

Shang Qinghua dutifully closes his eyes.

“Think about Mobei Jun,” Shen Qingqiu directs.

Shang Qinghua does as is asked of him. It’s no hardship — he was already thinking about Mobei Jun to begin with. He thinks a lot about Mobei Jun these days!

The Mobei Jun in his mind is as handsome and as severe as he always is, but his eyes are always... Soft. Gentle. And when he smiles and extends his hand to Shang Qinghua? Ah, that’s the most beautiful sight in the world!

He thinks about taking Mobei Jun’s hand, of Mobei Jun lacing their fingers together before bringing their joined hands up to kiss Shang Qinghua’s knuckles. It’s a thought that makes his entire body go warm with pleasure.

He opens his eyes. “Oh fuck,” he tells a smirking Shen Qingqiu in horror. “I like Mobei Jun.”

Shen Qingqiu clinks his cup against Shang Qinghua’s. “Congratulations.”

--

He’s in a daze the entire walk back to Mobei manor.

When he arrives, it’s to a scowling Mobei Jun pacing outside the manor.

“My...king?” Shang Qinghua asks.

“Where have you been?” Mobei Jun demands. He closes the distance between them in two large strides. He frowns slightly when all Shang Qinghua can do is to blink up at him. “Were you drinking?”

Shang Qinghua nods. “I was-” Having a real breakdown over his feelings for Mobei Jun. “-back at Cang Qiong.”

Mobei Jun relaxes slightly. He takes one of Shang Qinghua’s hands, and tugs him back into the manor.

Shang Qinghua follows behind dumbly, still a little thrown by the realisation he had when he was with Shen Qingqiu. Does he truly have feelings for Mobei Jun? He watches the back of Mobei Jun’s head silently, and imagines-

Sleepily getting out of bed, shuffling his way to where Mobei Jun is attempting to put his hair up, of gently moving Mobei Jun’s hands out of the way, and combing Mobei Jun’s hair for him instead.

Fuck.

He doesn’t really realise where he’s being led to until Mobei Jun has pressed him down into Mobei Jun’s bed.

“My king?” Shang Qinghua says, trying to sit up.

“Rest,” Mobei Jun murmurs, and then gets into bed with Shang Qinghua.

Shang Qinghua’s heart is beating so quickly that he isn’t sure he doesn’t immediately require medical assistance. “My king,” he whispers.

Mobei Jun tugs Shang Qinghua into his arms. “Rest,” he says again.

Shang Qinghua feels a brush of soft lips on his forehead. Is he dying? Is he hallucinating this? What the hell was in that wine he bought Shen Qingqiu?!

“You’re not resting,” Mobei Jun says.

“I can’t sleep,” Shang Qinghua manages to say. How does Mobei Jun expect him to sleep? He’s in Mobei Jun’s bed! In Mobei Jun’s arms! And he likes Mobei Jun! Today has been a whole day full of surprises! “Perhaps I should go back to my-”

Mobei Jun tightens his hold on Shang Qinghua. “Stay,” he says. “Who were you drinking with, earlier?”

“Shen-shixiong,” Shang Qinghua tells him. “I had...matters to discuss with him, and he made me buy him wine before he would even listen to me. The good stuff as well, so it absolutely burnt a hole in my pocket! He’s absolutely terrible.”

“Next time, take some from the manor when you go,” Mobei Jun suggests. “Then you wouldn’t have to spend unnecessary money.”

Shang Qinghua blinks. “Can I?”

“Of course,” Mobei Jun says. “You’ve been gone since breakfast. Were you at Cang Qiong all day?”

“I…” Shang Qinghua swallows. “I went to see Lady Bai.”

Mobei Jun is quiet for a long moment. “I see.”

“She’s a good match for you, my king,” Shang Qinghua forces himself to say, because this is his job, and perhaps also because he’s a little masochistic. “Your ba zi complement each other as well.”

“Hm.”

“A match between the Mobei and Bai clans would be very favourable-”

“This lord is aware,” Mobei Jun snaps.

Shang Qinghua falls silent, unused to having Mobei Jun direct his anger at him.

“Do you have nothing else to say to me, Shang Qinghua?” Mobei Jun asks.

He doesn’t know what Mobei Jun wants him to say, doesn’t know what Mobei Jun expects that he can say. “I’m just doing my job, my king,” Shang Qinghua says miserably.

Mobei Jun pulls away from Shang Qinghua. “Go back to your own room.”

Shang Qinghua is glad Mobei Jun snuffed the candles in the room. His eyes feel suspiciously wet. Still, he climbs off the bed, and heads for the door. Probably best to go and lick his own wounds in private.

“Shang Qinghua,” Mobei Jun calls, when Shang Qinghua is at the door.

Shang Qinghua turns to face Mobei Jun, but Mobei Jun has turned his back towards him.

“Lady Bai is acceptable,” Mobei Jun says brusquely. “Arrange for a meeting so I can see her.”

Shang Qinghua’s heart thuds in his chest, and he’s...stupidly hurt, even though he knows this has only happened by his own design. He is the one pushing for Mobei Jun to pick a bride. He is the one who is recommending Lady Bai.

He’s the one who was stupid enough to start liking his own client to begin with; he has no-one else to blame.

“Yes, my king,” he says.

--

The next few days fly by quickly.

Mobei Jun’s grandaunt is beside herself with joy when Shang Qinghua reports to her that Mobei Jun has agreed to meet Lady Bai, and instructs Shang Qinghua to take all precautions to ensure that the meeting goes smoothly.

Shang Qinghua spends all of his time preparing for the meeting. The first meeting is an important one — he picks an auspicious date, one that favours new beginnings and blessed unions.

The gift Mobei Jun presents to Lady Bai will also speak volumes as to his intentions — Shang Qinghua goes through Mobei Jun’s vaults with the head steward to find something that would fit the purpose, and comes out with a pair of exquisite gold earrings inlaid with pearls. Expensive, but not overbearingly so; eye-catching, but in a dignified way, just like Lady Bai herself.

Mobei Jun doesn’t seek him out.

Shang Qinghua tries his best not to think too much of it.

Shang Qinghua also tries not to imagine Lady Bai dressed in red wedding robes, taking her bows next to Mobei Jun; just the mere thought of it makes his chest go tight. He focuses instead on doing his job. He was hired to deliver Mobei Jun a bride, and-

He’s done his job well, accidentally developing feelings for Mobei Jun aside; Cang Qiong will at least have no bone to pick with his work. It’s a small consolation, and does nothing to mend his stupid broken heart, but Shang Qinghua has always been resilient! He’ll bounce back from this in a few years! Maybe less, if he can move to the mountains for a bit! But in any event, definitely by the time Mobei Jun and his new furen announce the birth of an heir!

Fuck.

--

Shang Qinghua wakes up on the day of Mobei Jun and Lady Bai’s meeting with a fever.

He privately thanks all of his ancestors he can name, before asking for a servant to send word to Mobei Jun that he will not be attending the meeting at the Bai manor with him. It’s generally customary that the matchmaker be present at the intended couple’s first meeting, but if Shang Qinghua looks half as terrible as he feels, then having him present at the meeting itself will be a bad omen! He can’t imagine that Mobei Jun or the Bais would appreciate that.

He doesn’t particularly want to see Mobei Jun and Lady Bai together. The thought of it already makes his chest hurt. If he has to see them with his own two eyes…

The servant Shang Qinghua sends to Mobei Jun comes back and says, “His lordship says that he wants you at the meeting even if you are dying.”

Shang Qinghua flashes a tight smile at the servant, and heaves himself out of bed, trying his best to blink back tears. He’s long heard of Mobei Jun being a tough master to serve, but had pushed the thought aside when he arrived at the Mobei manor — Mobei Jun had been nice to him. He had been kind, even if nobody back at Cang Qiong believed him when he reported back saying so. He now understands everyone else’s skepticism; Mobei Jun can be downright mean when he wants to be.

Mobei Jun is already in the sedan when Shang Qinghua makes his way to the front door. He’s not asked to join Mobei Jun in the sedan, so he doesn’t, and falls into step with the other members of the Mobei retinue.

The meeting goes...well.

Mobei Jun doesn’t speak much, but that was to be expected anyway! It’s already a blessing that he isn’t scowling, that he hasn’t disapproved of Lady Bai. Lady Bai outperforms herself; she keeps the chatter up, unperturbed by Mobei Jun’s aloofness, just as Shang Qinghua had taught her! On several occasions, Shang Qinghua could’ve sworn that Mobei Jun was even listening.

The entire time at the Bai manor, Mobei Jun doesn’t even spare a glance at Shang Qinghua.

He doesn’t even know why he has to be there if Mobei Jun clearly detests his presence.

The sun is scorching bright by the time they leave the Bai manor, but Shang Qinghua consoles himself by reminding himself that Mobei Jun’s manor is not far away. Once he gets back, he’ll be able to fall face first onto his bed, and then sleep his headache away. With some luck, he won’t even be summoned to report to Mobei Jun’s grandaunt until dinner time. All he needs to do is to take one slow step at a time, and they’ll be back at the manor in no time!

Shang Qinghua can do it!

He manages for maybe about a hundred paces before his knees buckle, and he collapses onto the ground.

“Master Shang!” the servant next to him calls out, startled.

Shang Qinghua shushes him. “I’m fine,” he hisses, because Mobei Jun’s sedan is just ahead, and he would like to prevent more embarrassment. “Don’t make a commotion.”

“Yes, Master Shang,” the servant says, but it’s too late, because Mobei Jun’s sedan has already stopped, and Mobei Jun is already getting off the sedan, scowling.

He scoops Shang Qinghua off the ground like he weighs nothing. “You’re burning up,” Mobei Jun says. “Why didn’t you say you were ill?”

Shang Qinghua gapes. “I did!” he says. He tries his best not to tear up. He refuses to cry! “I did, and you said I had to come!”

Mobei Jun’s scowl deepens. “Horse!” he barks out.

“Let me down, my king,” Shang Qinghua says. Everyone must be looking at them. “I can walk.”

Mobei Jun ignores him, and deposits him on the horse when one is brought over. He takes Shang Qinghua back to the manor by horseback, holding Shang Qinghua close to his chest. The entire time, Shang Qinghua’s cheeks are on fire. He thinks Mobei Jun is exacerbating his fever. Had he offended Mobei Jun so much that Mobei Jun would try to kill him like this?

Mobei Jun sweeps Shang Qinghua up into another bridal carry when they’re back at the manor.

“My king!” Shang Qinghua cries. Mobei Jun’s steward, Tianlin, is smirking at them. “I’m fine now! I can walk!”

“No,” Mobei Jun says.

He is silent the entire time he stalks angrily, with Shang Qinghua in his arms, back to his room. Why is he taking Shang Qinghua back to his room?! Shang Qinghua has his own guest room he can pass out in!

Mobei Jun deposits Shang Qinghua gently onto his bed, and doesn’t move to either speak or leave, until a physician comes.

“I really am fine,” Shang Qinghua tries to insist weakly.

Mobei Jun scowls at him until Shang Qinghua holds his arm out for the physician to take his pulse.

The physician doesn’t tell them anything that Shang Qinghua wasn’t expecting. He has a fever! He needs rest! He’s probably stressed! Why would Mobei Jun need a physician to tell him that? The physician’s fees are probably being deducted from Shang Qinghua’s pay!

Shang Qinghua expects Mobei Jun to leave after being assured that Shang Qinghua isn’t going to die, but he stays around, still quiet and angry, until a servant brings a bowl of medicine to Shang Qinghua.

Shang Qinghua makes a face. “I’ll...have it later?”

Mobei Jun takes the bowl over from the servant, and dismisses her. He settles down on the side of the bed, and brings a spoonful of the bitter-smelling concoction to Shang Qinghua’s lips.

“I don’t like the taste of it,” Shang Qinghua says. He’s truly having the worst day. He should’ve just escaped back to Cang Qiong after that night with Mobei Jun. Curse him for having some work ethics!

“Nobody does,” Mobei Jun snaps. “Eat your goddamn medicine, Shang Qinghua.”

Shang Qinghua swallows spoonful after spoonful of the terrible medicine, fed to him by Mobei Jun. He feels on the brink of tears again by the time the bowl is empty, and only like maybe half of that can be attributed to the bitterness of the liquid. Mostly, he’s feeling aggrieved at being treated like this by Mobei Jun. Has he not done all he can to serve Mobei Jun properly? Has he not put his own personal feelings aside to still secure him a standout potential furen?

Some of his feelings must show on his face, because Mobei Jun leaves his bedside, and brings some honey-preserved plums to him.

“I’m not a child you can placate with some sweets,” Shang Qinghua blurts out.

“I’ll take them back, then,” Mobei Jun says easily.

Shang Qinghua snatches the packet out of Mobei Jun’s hands. “No!”

Mobei Jun waits for Shang Qinghua to pop one of them into his mouth before he says, “I’m sorry. I was being petty this morning, and you had to suffer for it.”

Shang Qinghua blinks at him. “Petty?”

Mobei Jun doesn’t look at him. “I wanted you to be at that meeting,” he says quietly. “I wanted you to see me with her. I wanted to see what it would be like for you.”

Shang Qinghua stares at him. Mobei Jun was...trying to make him...jealous?

Mobei Jun clears his throat. “Will you be honest with me?”

“Of course, my king,” Shang Qinghua says on reflex.

“Do you really want me to marry Lady Bai?” Mobei Jun asks.

Shang Qinghua averts his gaze. “Lady Bai is a good match.”

“That’s not what I’m asking.”

“There’s…” Shang Qinghua fidgets with Mobei Jun’s blankets. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t marry Lady Bai.”

Mobei Jun lets out a frustrated sigh. “That’s also not what I’m asking,” he says. “Shang Qinghua, do you want me to marry Lady Bai?”

Shang Qinghua doesn’t speak. He’s always thought that Mobei Jun’s interest in him was sparked by curiosity, that it would be fleeting, but… This…

“I don’t want to marry her,” Mobei Jun tells him. “I don’t want to, but if you asked me to… I would marry her, if you asked me to.”

Shang Qinghua doesn’t end up finding the words to say to that declaration. “I…”

Mobei Jun swallows, his disappointment plain on his face. “Rest well,” he tells Shang Qinghua. “Lady Bai is acceptable. You have my permission to start planning the wedding once you are feeling better.”

Shang Qinghua catches Mobei Jun’s sleeve in his hand as Mobei Jun turns to leave. “Don’t go,” Shang Qinghua whispers, heart in his throat. “My king...don’t go.”

Mobei Jun turns back to look at him.

“I don’t want you to marry Lady Bai.”

It’s barely a whisper, but Mobei Jun’s gaze turns fierce and determined the moment the words leave Shang Qinghua’s mouth, and he settles down by Shang Qinghua’s side again, carefully sweeping his hair away from his face, so that he can press a kiss to Shang Qinghua’s brow.

“Rest, Qinghua,” Mobei Jun says gently. “This lord will not leave your side.”

--

“Oh! I’m the person who talks too much!” Shang Qinghua cries out, shooting up in bed, much later that night. He turns to look at Mobei Jun, pouting. “Do I talk too much? Is it annoying?”

Mobei Jun drags him back down to bed. “I like it when you talk,” he reminds Shang Qinghua, but he kisses the next words out of Shang Qinghua’s mouth, which is very contradictory.

But he’s being kissed! And it’s nice!

Any clarification can be sought in due course.