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The Shang Qinghua Effect

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“I really, really don’t think I should be here,” Shang Qinghua says, the third time in as many minutes. “Why do you even need me for this? I’ve seen you talk your way out of anything and everything under the sun. I’m just taking up space, if we’re being honest.” 

Around them, the clatter of the restaurant rises and falls. Somewhere across the room, a raucous cheer sounds. It’s nearly enough to drown out Shen Yuan’s put-upon sigh. The look he levels Shang Qinghua is unimpressed, but most looks he gives him are, so Shang Qinghua doesn’t take it to heart. “Shang Qinghua,” he says, “stop being a coward and enjoy your fucking drink. I’m not buying you another one.” 

Shang Qinghua doesn’t want to do either of those things. “If you really didn’t want to do this, why did you even agree?” he asks. “And don’t tell me it was because you couldn’t. It’s harder to get you to say yes to anything rather than no.” 

Shen Yuan scowls. It scrunches his handsome face nicely. Shang Qinghua wonders what it’s like to look like that; attractive, but in an unthreatening sort of way. Pleasant. Charming. Until he opens his mouth and the sharp barb of his tongue lashes out, at least. 

Shang Qinghua wouldn’t know. His appearance is not particularly handsome, and his tongue isn’t exactly barbed. In college, his professor once reduced him to tears with one mediocre grade. Shang Qinghua would like to think he has grown if not exactly armored his backbone since that incident, but he does not excel in the fine art of deception. 

“Listen,” Shen Yuan says, pointing at him with his mostly empty beer glass. “If I have to suffer through this, I’m not doing it alone. You said you weren’t busy and owe me, remember?” 

Shang Qinghua sighs, tracing his finger atop the wet condescension lingering on the tabletop. It doesn’t seem like anybody has wiped it since the customers before them left. He hopes he catches something awful. A night in the hospital sounds like the peaceful retreat he could use right about now. 

“Won’t they wonder why I’m here?” he asks. He pauses. “Do they even know I’m going to be here?” 

“I told them I was bringing a coworker with me.” 

“A coworker - we’re in entirely different divisions!” Shang Qinghua says, affronted. “We’re only ‘coworkers’ in the sense that your brother signs my paychecks, and sometimes I get to see your ugly mug in the elevator at work instead of eating the last of my ramen at home.” 

“And now you get to see it over drinks, be grateful,” Shen Yuan says, merciless. He twists in his chair, peering over Shang Qinghua’s shoulder. “Oh fuck, I think that’s them. Shut up and look respectable.” 

Shang Qinghua doesn’t know how he’s expected to look ‘respectable’ when he doesn’t even want to be here. He’d planned a nice night, really. The convenience store down the street had gotten his favorite flavor of shrimp ramen back in. There were nearly two hundred new comments on the latest chapter of his novel he hadn’t had the chance to read. Daringly, he thought he might even find the energy to write - something that had come less and less often since he’d been promoted to head of accounting and Shang Qinghua’s limitless well of free time rather abruptly dried up. 

No. Instead, he’s sitting in a crowded restaurant acting as Shen Yuan’s plus one to an informal business meeting he has no place in. The next time Shen Yuan offers to beta read for him in exchange for a ‘small favor’ Shang Qinghua is going to take his chances.

A chair beside Shang Qinghua rattles free, and Shen Yuan has that incredibly fake smile he pastes on from time to time that make him seem like the rich young master it’s easy to forget he actually is. Shang Qinghua looks up to see a shockingly handsome young man sinking into the free seat; impeccably dressed, dark hair styled into an artfully casual look Shang Qinghua could never hope to achieve.

“Luo Binghe, I assume,” Shen Yuan says. “It’s an honor to finally meet you.” 

The smile Luo Binghe gives is charming and equally as plastic. Shang Qinghua feels like a small fish in a big pond. And the worst of it hasn’t even started. He sneaks a glance at his watch. He gives it ten minutes. twenty, tops. Any more than that and it might be a new record. 

“I hope I’m not too late,” Luo Binghe says, sounding almost earnest. “It was harder than I thought to find the meeting spot.” 

To his credit, he shows absolutely no discomfort about being dressed in a designer suit while a waitress wobbles past in the background with three mugs of piss-cheap beer on a stained tray. Around them, the crackle of salaryman coming off work flows like background noise. The smell of fried food is thick in the air, and the ground is moderately sticky under foot. 

Surely, it’s enough to make somebody like Luo Binghe, who seems as if he has never known a world outside of high-rise buildings and penthouses, uncomfortable. Shang Qinghua knows that this stunt has been designed to make somebody like Luo Binghe uncomfortable. 

Luo Binghe doesn’t even blink. 

Shen Yuan surveys him calculatedly, and then says, “What would you like to drink?” 

Luo Binghe gives a sunny smile. “Whatever you’re having will be fine.” 

Shang Qinghua barely gets an introduction, not that he really minds. He sits there, nursing his beer, watching the back and forth conversation lose the sharp edges of a well-oiled business transaction. He sneaks a subtle look at Luo Binghe’s face, and then another at his watch. He settles back.

Seven minutes. That’s all it takes in the end. Seven damn minutes. Shang Qinghua is almost impressed. It’s a record alright - a record low, as far as these things tend to be. He’d really thought with his smooth voice and well-pressed suit, Luo Binghe might be made of sterner stuff. 

Instead, when Shen Yuan twists in his seat to snag the attention of a passing waiter, Luo Binghe’s guard drops, and there’s naked interest in his eyes - watching Shen Yuan with curiosity and something that lingers close to desire. 

Christ, nobody’s succumbed to his charms this quick since Liu Qingge. If he’s lucky, Shang Qinghua might be able to get all three of them crammed into a room one day. Premium entertainment, really, especially if the shy smile Luo Binghe gives when Shen Yuan asks him how he’s enjoying his time visiting their company so far is any indication. 

What about that question had spoken of romance? Maybe Shang Qinghua just doesn’t understand. Sure, he’s written enough about it, but there’s that and then there’s this - the phenomenon that he has tentatively entitled ‘The Shen Yuan Effect’. 

Shang Qinghua drinks the last of his beer, observing the pair of them. What is it that does it? Pheromones? Charisma? Witchcraft? Some incredible combination of all three? What is it that makes grown fucking men lose their heads the moment Shen Yuan looks at them for a moment too long? What is it, and how can Shang Qinghua bottle some of that incredible, wasted potential for himself? 

Luo Binghe laughs at a joke. It sounds genuine. Shang Qinghua knows his best friend isn’t that funny. 

He clears his throat, setting down his empty mug. “I’m going out for a smoke.”

Shen Yuan frowns. “You don’t smoke. It makes you want to puke.” 

“Prove it,” Shang Qinghua says, and scampers out of his seat, beating a retreat before Shen Yuan can process how dumb that last remark was. Not that it matters anyway, because Luo Binghe’s attention is already back on Shen Yuan, dazzling him with a smile, and Shen Yuan, who has a weakness for pretty things, lets himself be dazzled. 

There’s a door leading out the back to a small off street alleyway that Shang Qinghua is long familiar with from a dozen evenings much like this one, and he slips outside it now, grateful for the cool air on his overheated face. Most of the time, he doesn’t mind watching the Shen Yuan Effect in action. If he’s in the right mood, it’s even a good chance for inspiration for his next novel. 

He’s not in the right mood at the moment. He’d been feeling tired and cranky most of the day, and the single beer he’s had has gone right to his head. Shang Qinghua thinks he’s a patient man, but even he has his limits. 

Sometimes it gets exhausting sitting on the sideline watching Shen Yuan lure another unexpecting young man to his side with a flutter of his eyelashes alone. Sometimes even somebody as patient as Shang Qinghua tires of being the NPC best friend who’s only purpose is to make the protagonist look better by comparison. 

Is it really so much, Shang Qinghua wonders, that just for once he might be the one on the receiving end of such attention?

Beside him, a deep voice says, “Move.” 

Shang Qinghua jumps out of his fucking skin. He yelps, spinning on the spot and nearly losing his footing on the rain dampened pavement. A hand reaches out, snagging him by his coat and hauling him upright before he manages to brain himself on the half-empty trash bin beside him, and Shang Qinghua comes face to face with what is, without a doubt, the face of a serial killer. 

A handsome one, sure, but the icy blue eyes that bore into him threaten to flay the skin from his body all the same. 

“Holy fuck,” Shang Qinghua whimpers, struggling to keep his knees from giving out. “I am - I am so sorry. I wasn’t - I didn’t - please, I don’t have any money on me, but my best friend does, I’m sure, if we just ask him - oh fuck!” He flinches, throwing a hand over his face as the man in front of him moves, miserably preparing to die. 

Well. This life hasn’t been all that bad. Maybe in his next one, he’ll at least get an upgrade in the face department. He can live with that. 

He does not die. Instead, the hand on his arm pulls him upright. The touch is rough but not murderous, and Shang Qinghua dares to pry his eyes open. 

In front of him, his would-be murderer has an eyebrow raised. He lets go of Shang Qinghua’s shoulder and reaches up to pluck the cigarette from his mouth, tapping the ashes away to fall to the pavement. “You,” he says, “are still blocking the door. It’s a fire hazard. Move.” 

Shang Qinghua stares. Dumbly, he turns to peer over his shoulder. The door into the restaurant is right at his back. He turns around again and slides out of the way, just a smidge. The man beside him huffs and turns away, blowing a cloud of frost-white smoke into the evening air. He doesn’t say anything else; not an apology for scaring the shit out of Shang Qinghua, and not another ominous remark that sounds a lot more like a threat. Nothing. It’s like Shang Qinghua isn’t even here anymore. He might as well be part of the brick wall. 

Now that he doesn’t think he’s going to be gutted in an alleyway, Shang Qinghua takes a moment to, you know, actually look. 

He’s handsome. The man, that is. Not Shang Qinghua. His dark hair short and silky, bangs framing ice-blue eyes. He’s taller than Shang Qinghua. Like, by a lot. It’s kind of giving him a crick in his neck, if he’s being honest. But goddamn if he doesn’t look like he stepped right off a runway; broad shoulders, thin waist, flawlessly pale skin. He looks like something Shang Qinghua might have created while on his third day of an energy drink bender with a deadline looming. 

That is, of course, to say he looks like Shang Qinghua’s wet fucking dreams come to life.

“You’re staring,” the man says. He blows out of the last of his smoke, drops his cigarette to the ground, and crushes it mercilessly beneath the toes of his expensive looking loafers. Then, finally, he looks up to catch Shang Qinghua’s guilty gaze. “Is there something you wanted?” 

“Uh,” Shang Qinghua says, because he feels rather suddenly that he has the combined IQ of a cucumber patch. “I just - I wanted to thank you. For, uhh, making sure I didn’t…” he makes a vague gesture he hopes conveys what he means without actually embarrassing himself enough to say it out loud. 

The stranger beside him has no such compunction. “Making sure you did not break your neck on the pavement?” 

Shang Qinghua cringes. “That,” he says. “Yes. Thank you. For that.” 

Once, he thinks mournfully, he was capable of speech. Clearly, if not exactly suavely. It seems like so long ago now. He’d never take it for granted again.  

The man looks him up and down. Shang Qinghua can feel every inch of his gaze from his messy hair down to his scuffed shoes. It takes everything he has not to fold his arms over his chest and huddle out of sight. And he’d actually dressed up for this stupid meeting too! Looking at the man’s impeccable suit, the creaseless collar unbuttoned to show his throat, Shang Qinghua certainly didn’t feel dressed up. 

“Hm,” the man says. “You are welcome.” 

Well, not exactly the conversation starter of the century, but Shang Qinghua has worked with less. He digs deep into the reserves of his limited courage and look up, smiling as broadly as he can manage. “You scared the shit out of me though! You shouldn’t just say things like that right in people’s ear! I didn’t even know somebody else was out here!” 

The man’s expression doesn’t so much as change an inch. “Say things like what? ‘Move’?” 

“Well!” Shang Qinghua flounders. “You could have gotten my attention, at least!” 

“I did. I told you to move.” 

To think, Shang Qinghua had thought he would find no poorer conversationalist than Shen Yuan’s dear brother. He sees now he was mistaken. They’re everywhere, when you least expect it. Hiding their ineptitude behind a pretty face and leaving Shang Qinghua to scramble beneath their cool gazes. 

“Okay,” Shang Qinghua says, still striving to salvage things for some unknown reason. “But next time, maybe just… lead with something a little less abrupt, is all.” 

“Do you anticipate there will be a next time?” the man asks, almost curiously. 

It takes everything Shang Qinghua has not to wither beneath that. He’s just making conversation! Have some mercy here! “No,” he says. “I suppose not.” 

Behind him, the door back to the restaurant abruptly cracks open, and a crowd of mostly drunk salarymen slip out, talking jovially as they dig around in their pockets for crumpled cigarette cartons. Shang Qinghua takes advantage of the distraction to step back, slinking back into the welcome warmth of the building. 

“Well,” he says. “It was good to meet you.” Not a lie, really. Shang Qinghua never passes up a chance to ogle some eye candy. “Thank you, for before. Sorry for inconveniencing you. Bye!” 

He turns around, not even pausing to catch more than the bemused look on the stranger’s face as he shoulders his way across the room. He makes it back to the table just in time to see Luo Binghe leaning forward like he intends to do - something. Shang Qinghua isn’t sure what. He doesn’t have the guts to make a guess. Shen Yuan catches sight of him though, and turns away easily, utterly oblivious, to scowl at him. 

“You were gone a while,” he says. “What happened?” 

Yeah. What happened indeed. The back of Shang Qinghua’s neck is sweaty, sticking the collar of his shirt to his skin. From the corner of his eye, he sees Luo Binghe ease back in his seat, turning his gaze slowly to Shang Qinghua with bloody murder in his eyes. Clearly, Shang Qinghua had interrupted a very important moment for him.

Ignoring Luo Binghe, he sinks back into his chair. Despite his empty threats of only ordering him a single drink, Shen Yuan has very generously retrieved him a fresh beer while he was gone, and Shang Qinghua wraps his palms around it gratefully. “Sorry,” he says. “It was busy out there.” 

“Is that so?” Luo Binghe asks. “You needn’t have rushed back on our account.” 

Shang Qinghua offers him a tremulous smile. “It was no rush.” 

Luo Binghe smiles at him. It does not look like a smile at all. Shang Qinghua suddenly wishes he’d stayed outside. Before he can say anything placating though, Luo Binghe’s gaze ticks over his shoulder and his frigid smile melts into something more genuine. “There you are!” he exclaims. “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you.” 

A shadow looms over the table behind Shang Qinghua. His stomach flips. Stupidly, he thinks the silhouette seems a little familiar. 

“Hm,” says a voice behind him as the last chair at the table is dragged free. “Unexpected complications.” 

It takes all of Shang Qinghua’s willpower, but he manages to peek to his left at their new guest. Blue eyes stare back at him, unflinching. There’s no expression on his face that Shang Qinghua can read, but his gaze is, if only a little bit, amused. 

Slowly, Shang Qinghua turns away. He does not see him. If he does not see him, then the man is not there. It’s simple, really. Across the table, Shen Yuan catches sight of his red face and frowns in silent inquiry. Shang Qinghua shakes his head mutely, hiding behind his beer like it’ll salvage his pride. 

Luo Binghe’s hand falls down on the stranger’s shoulder like a man who’s not worried in the least about losing it. “This is Mobei Jun,” he says. “You’ll have to forgive his reticence; he can be a bit antisocial.” 

“Luo Binghe,” Mobei Jun says, like a scolding. 

Shang Qinghua still isn’t looking at him, but he thinks he can feel the press of his gaze against the side of his neck. He wonders what great crime he’d committed outside to be subject to this attention. Was it the babbling? Something in the babbling? The part where Shang Qinghua had absolutely no clue that Mobei Jun was the wayward fourth member of their little drinking party? 

He takes another gulp of his beer. This is fine. Shang Qinghua is used to pissing off attractive people all the time. It’s the price you pay when your best friend is Shen Yuan, who attracts pretty, angry people the way honey attracts flies. 

“This is Shen Yuan,” Luo Binghe says, continuing introductions, absolutely oblivious to Shang Qinghua’s silent meltdown. “And his coworker…” he pauses. “Sorry, I don’t think I caught your name before. Incredibly rude of me, I do apologize.” 

He doesn’t sound apologetic. Shang Qinghua steadfastly keeps his eyes forward as he wheezes, “Shang Qinghua.” 

“Oh, that’s right. And his coworker Shang Qinghua, from Qing Jing Industries.” 

“A pleasure,” Mobei Jun says. 

Is he still staring? It feels like he’s still staring. Bravely, Shang Qinghua glances beside him before ripping his gaze away again. Yep. He’s still staring. He’s not even being subtle about it. The man’s almost as bad as Liu Qingge, who wouldn’t know delicacy if it punched him in his pretty-boy face. 

“Shen Yuan and I were having the most interesting conversation before you arrived,” Luo Binghe says, and launches into a rambling explanation of something that doesn’t sound that interesting at all. Still, with the attention off him, Shang Qinghua is granted the honor of slowly fading into the background again. This time, he takes it gratefully, sipping at his beer and keeping his eyes on the tabletop. 

His little rabbit heart isn’t meant to handle situations like that. He’d thought he was immune to the general charms of the studiously beautiful after so long in the company of Shen Yuan’s friends, but it turns out he might have overlooked a very small factor in his considerations. 

Shang Qinghua has a type, and he’s sitting several inches to Shang Qinghua’s left, surveying the assembled party with the regality of a king. 

At least he hadn’t mentioned their run-in outside. And, now that he’s not staring at Shang Qinghua, it doesn’t seem like he’s mad about it. Or if he is, he’s doing an admirable job pretending otherwise. He’s not actively contributing to the conversation, but he’s listening, gaze flicking between Luo Binghe and - 

Shang Qinghua’s stomach turns over again. 

Shen Yuan is smiling. The barely there soft one that has lured a half dozen men to the death of swift and brutal rejection. Luo Binghe, it’s clear, is a lost cause. He’s got a foot in the grave already. Shen Yuan hasn’t noticed his enraptured look, but to be fair he rarely does. For some reason, he is always surprised when one of his many admirers finally work up the nerve to make a move. 

Shen Yuan is smiling. Shen Yuan is smiling, and telling a joke, and Luo Binghe is looking at him like he hung the moon and the stars - and Mobei Jun is watching too. 

Shang Qinghua tears his gaze away, frowning down at the forlorn froth on his mostly untouched beer. It doesn’t hurt. That would be stupid. Shang Qinghua knows better than anybody that he doesn’t get a second look so long as Shen Yuan is around, and he’s never begrudged it before. It’s not like he really gets a second look when he’s alone, either, if he’s being honest. 

Luo Binghe’s enamored laughter rises and falls across the table. Shang Qinghua isn’t quite brave enough to check Mobei Jun’s face. Determined, he takes another drink of his beer. 

Well, if he wanted to make a good impression, maybe he shouldn’t have word vomited all over Mobei Jun in the alleyway before beating a retreat like a bat out of hell. Maybe he should have picked a type that was, if not in his league, at least took residence on the same planet as him. 

“Hey,” Shen Yuan says, snatching Shang Qinghua’s attention back. His brows are raised, and Shang Qinghua has the feeling that it’s not the first time he’s said his name. “Are you okay? We were going to order something to eat.” 

“Oh! No, yes, that sounds good,” he says eagerly. 

“Excellent,” Shen Yuan says, pushing back his chair, surprising Shang Qinghua. “Let’s go order, shall we?” 

Luo Binghe blinks, taken aback. “We can just ask the waiter to -” 

Shen Yuan seizes Shang Qinghua’s wrist, dragging him to his feet. “We’ll be right back,” Shen Yuan says cheerfully, and brutally drags Shang Qinghua across the room like a teacher leading their stubborn pupil.

They come to a pause just before the bar, and Shang Qinghua takes his wrist back, bemused. “What’s up with you, bro?” 

“What’s up with me? What’s up with you.” Shen Yuan pokes him in the chest. “You’re spacy as hell. Did something happen?” 

He sounds gruff, but Shang Qinghua knows him well enough to hear the underlayer of concern there. It softens some of the bruises on his ego he’d been prodding at all evening. Say what you will about the Shen Yuan Effect and its impact on Shang Qinghua’s confidence; Shen Yuan is and has always been a good friend, even if he has the self-awareness of a sea slug. 

“It’s fine,” he says. “I’m just, you know, making sure I don’t put my foot in my mouth. They seem like a big deal. I don’t wanna fuck anything up for the company just because you couldn’t stomach doing one little meeting alone.” 

Shen Yuan studies him silently for a moment, sharp gaze unusually astute. “You know, if you really don’t want to be here, I can make excuses for you.” 

“What makes you think I don’t want to be here?” 

“Do you?” 

“No! But neither do you!” 

“Well,” Shen Yuan says, his gaze flicking consideringly over Shang Qinghua’s shoulder, back to the table. “It hasn’t been too bad.” 

Shang Qinghua stares at him, disbelieving, before craning his neck to look too. Luo Binghe is staring unrepentantly in their direction. Mobei Jun might be, too, but it’s harder to tell. He’s not making quite the show of it as his friend. 

Shang Qinghua turns back around. “Bro,” he says, “are you checking out Luo Binghe?” 

Red chases briefly across the bridge of his nose. “What? No!” He slaps Shang Qinghua’s shoulder. “Just that he seems like he knows what he’s talking about, you know? The way my brother talked about him, I really thought he was going to be insufferable. But he’s just a normal kid.” 

‘Kid’ might be a generous description. He seems like he’s only a few years younger than them, but Shang Qinghua does not doubt he could bench press them both without breaking a sweat. He sincerely hopes than Shen Yuan doesn’t call him a ‘kid’ to his face. Shang Qinghua isn’t in the market for seeing heartbreak tonight, thanks. 

“Really, bro, I’m fine,” Shang Qinghua says. “Might as well get a free dinner.” 

Shen Yuan sighs, but it’s fond. “Alright,” he says. “But you’re not getting another out, you hear me?” 

“I know, I know.” 

Shen Yuan pauses. The restaurant continues to move around them. He says, “You know, I can’t help but notice -” 

“Do not -” 

“Mobei Jun seems a lot like the protagonist of your last novel, doesn’t he?” Shen Yuan finishes, pitiless. “Or all of your novels, if we’re being honest. Almost like you have a type.” 

Shang Qinghua buries his face in his hands. “Please leave me to die,” he says. “My will is in the second drawer of my desk. I leave nothing to you.” 

“Please. I wouldn’t go near your desk for your will even if you left me everything. That thing ought to be condemned.” 

“I have penned so many of my masterpieces from there, show it some respect.” 

“I think you and I have a very different idea of masterpieces,” Shen Yuan says, as if they didn’t meet arguing in the forums of Shang Qinghua’s magnum opus. “Anyway, I’m going to flag down somebody and get us some actual food, think you can entertain the table in the meantime?” 

Shang Qinghua definitely doesn’t think that, actually. “Why don’t I organize the food and you hold down the table? You’re the important one here, anyway.” 

Shen Yuan gives him a flat look. “You’ve spent half the night so far hiding outside, this is the least you can do.” He gives Shang Qinghua a pointed shove back the way they came. “Come on, put some of those old customer relations skills of yours to use. Besides, the night will be over before you know it.” 

He vanishes, leaving Shang Qinghua to begin the tentative walk back to the table, steeling himself. Luo Binghe perks up as he approaches but deflates again when he notices it’s just Shang Qinghua. “Where’s Shen Yuan?” 

Isn’t this man meant to be some super important employees from one of their rival companies? What gives him the right to sound like a spoiled brat with his favorite toy confiscated! Shang Qinghua plasters on a smile. “He’s just talking with the waiter, he won’t be long.” 

Luo Binghe sighs, leaning back in his chair, fingers tapping on the table. He doesn’t even pretend to hide his aggravation. It’s not like Shang Qinghua even likes him that much either, but still, his confidence has taken enough blows tonight already, thank you! 

From the other side of the table, Mobei Jun says, “Sit.” 

Like a dog, Shang Qinghua obeys. He’s kind of frightened of what will happen if he doesn’t. Luo Binghe isn’t paying attention to them, looking around the restaurant like he can manifest Shen Yuan through sheer willpower alone. Mobei Jun’s long fingers set a fresh mug of beer in front of Shang Qinghua. He stares at it blankly. 

“You finished your last one. We ordered you another.” 

We? What we is there in this equation? Certainly not Luo Binghe, who hadn’t even remembered Shang Qinghua’s name! Still, it’s the same beer he’d been drinking earlier, and there’s no sign of his empty mug anywhere. Shang Qinghua is not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. 

He wraps his palm around it and looks up, smiling weakly. “Thank you,” he says. “That was - you didn’t have to.” Mobei Jun’s expression seems to shadow, and he rushes to add, “But I’m grateful! Very grateful!” He hides behind the drink in question, even though he really has had more than enough tonight already, especially for an informal business meeting like this. 

Ah. Well. Shen Yuan will have nobody but himself to blame if Shang Qinghua has to be carried home. After the mess it’s been so far, he deserves this last drink. 

Across the table, Luo Binghe sighs like a forlorn bride awaiting his lover’s return from the war. Mobei Jun is staring at Shang Qinghua silently. It is so indescribably awkwardly. The sweat on the back of Shang Qinghua’s neck has returned. 

“So,” he says, as jovial as he can manage, “how have you two been enjoying your time here so far?” 

There is no answer. Luo Binghe doesn’t seem like he’s even heard, and Mobei Jun - well, he’s still just staring at Shang Qinghua, as still as the marble it looks like he’s carved from. 

Shang Qinghua wants to cry. The night will be over before he knows it, his ass! Cucumber-Bro, come back! 

--

When Shang Qinghua gets home, he barely remembers to kick his shoes off at the door. The four beers he’d had went straight to his head, and all he can think of is his bed across the apartment, calling to him. 

“Watch where you’re walking,” Shen Yuan scolds behind him, straightening Shang Qinghua’s mess. “How much did you even have to drink?” 

“Not that much,” Shang Qinghua lies, wobbling his way to the kitchen for a glass of water.

Shen Yuan follows after him, still in full mother hen mode. “And where’s your jacket? Did you leave it at the restaurant? You didn’t have it in the cab, now that I think about it.” 

Shang Qinghua can’t even remember, but honestly his jacket seems like a small price to pay to escape the torture of the evening. Somehow, he manages to turn to tap on and fill up a mostly clean drinking glass. He slops half of it down his front. 

“You’re a mess,” Shen Yuan sighs. “At least the others didn’t seem to mind.” 

“They’d have to notice me to mind,” Shang Qinghua says, which sounds perfectly reasonable until he notices Shen Yuan’s brow furrowing. 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” 

Oopsie. Maybe Shang Qinghua shouldn’t have said that out loud. He crosses the kitchen patting Shen Yuan heavily on the shoulders. “Cucumber-bro,” he says, “if you ever drag me to a dinner like that again, I will throw myself off the top floor of the office building.” 

Shen Yuan scowls, brushing off Shang Qinghua’s hands, sufficiently distracted. “Stop calling me that,” he says. “It’s been years, can you let that stupid name go?” 

“I cannot,” he says. “It would make me a bad friend.” 

“You’re already a bad friend,” Shen Yuan says, but he’s got ahold Shang Qinghua’s arm, dragging him through the apartment like he doesn’t know the way to his own room. It might even be true, actually. Shang Qinghua is feeling awfully turned around. All he can focus on is the fact that Shen Yuan’s fingers are digging into his soft skin right where Mobei Jun had grabbed him. It makes him oddly sad, like one touch might erase another. “God, why do I put up with you?” 

“My charming deposition and first rights to read my writing,” Shang Qinghua says, right before Shen Yuan kicks open a door and tosses Shang Qinghua onto his bed. 

“Go to sleep, you drunkard,” Shen Yuan says. “We have work tomorrow, and I’m not letting you skip out if you have a hangover.” 

“I would never!” 

“Oh? Really?” 

“Really,” Shang Qinghua says, earnest. “Your brother fucking terrifies me.” 

Shen Yuan laughs. He sets down the glass of water Shang Qinghua had been struggling to drink on his bedside table, an act of kindness unbecoming of him. “He does, huh? Smart of you. Go the fuck to sleep, you hack writer.” 

Shang Qinghua has something smart to say to that, he’s almost certain, but he must take too long to think of it because Shen Yuan disappears from the room before he can manage to get it out. He watches blearily as the door shuts behind him, leaving Shang Qinghua alone in his room, sprawled on his bed in his crumpled business clothes. 

He rolls over, burying his face in his pillows. So. The night had been… it had been a night. He’d suffered silently through the dinner portion of the evening, barely having the stomach to pick at the really quite nice offerings sprawled across the table, and at some point a fourth drink had appeared at his elbow although Shang Qinghua certainly didn’t order it, and Luo Binghe and Shen Yuan had been too wrapped up in their conversation to so much as remember he was there. 

More than once, he’d looked up to find Mobei Jun looking back. He’d glanced away as quickly as he could, but Shang Qinghua dares any reasonable human being to feel the cool pressure of such a handsome man gazing at them and keep their head. 

By some miracle of fate, he’d kept his mouth shut, at least. He doesn’t know if it quite repairs the damage of his babbling from earlier in the evening, but eventually, the night had drawn to a close, and Luo Binghe had been determined called a cab for Shen Yuan them and they’d been able to escape back to their apartment. 

He’d seen Mobei Jun through the car window as he hunched against the door; hands tucked into the pockets of his expensive coat, hair artfully framing his blue eyes as he watched the cab pull away. Shang Qinghua, whose willpower is only so strong, had stared back until they rounded the corner out of sight. 

Dramatically, he rolls onto his back and throws a hand over his eyes. What was it Shen Yuan had said earlier? The night hadn’t been too bad, in the end. Sure, he’d had to suffer the Shen Yuan Effect in action, but gotten to bask in the presence of an attractive man. And even - although Shang Qinghua is still not entirely sure he hadn’t imagined it - his attention. 

A win is a win, and Shang Qinghua takes them where he can. 

He hears Shen Yuan puttering about the apartment, the click of the TV coming on, and the rush of the kitchen sink. It’s comforting stuff. They’ve been living together, what, three years now? A little more than that? He’s the best roommate Shang Qinghua’s ever had, and kind of the only friend. It’ll suck when he eventually picks somebody from his long line up of suitors and Shang Qinghua has to return to sharing space with roommates from Craigslist. 

Shang Qinghua sighs, wrestling the knot in his tie as loose as it’s likely to go. He doesn’t know why he always gets melancholy like this when he drinks. Sure, he might not exactly be the hot commodity that Shen Yuan is in the real world, but online! Online he’s - no, even Shang Qinghua can’t pretend like the thousands of people who read his subpar porn actually constitute something to brag about. 

At some point, he drifts off like that, sulky and cranky, one finger trapped in the knot of his tie and belt buckle digging sternly into the pudge of his stomach. 

Technically speaking, he does not sleep well, but if his dreams are pleasant, sultry, and blue-eyed? Well, nobody has to know. 

--

Work the next day is awful. 

Shang Qinghua had known it would be. He sits at his desk, head cupped in his hands, and wishes for his youth where four beers wouldn’t lay him flat the next morning. Is he really so old now? He’s only twenty-eight! He has so much life ahead of him yet! 

“Oi.” A folder swats his shoulder, making him wince. “Are you sleeping on the job?” 

Reluctantly, Shang Qinghua pries his eyes open to find Liu Qingge glaring at him. To be fair, Liu Qingge glares most of the time at pretty much everyone. Shang Qinghua knows better than to take it to heart by now. “I’m not sleeping. I’m just resting my eyes.” 

Liu Qingge squints at him. “Are you… hungover?” 

“No,” Shang Qinghua lies, absolutely miserable. He holds out his hand for the folder. “Is that for me?” 

Liu Qingge drops it on his keyboard, as if the very act of handing something to Shang Qinghua is repulsive. “This got fucked up. Fix it.” 

Shang Qinghua opens the folder, peering at the documents tucked inside. “This isn’t even my work!” 

“That sounds like a you problem,” Liu Qingge says, then pivots on the spot, disappearing back the way he came. Shang Qinghua stares after him, affronted. He’s head of accounting! Why does everybody think he’s the department assigned dumping ground for all errors and mistakes? As if he doesn’t have enough work of his own to do without fixing everybody else's too!

He bets Shen Yuan doesn’t get treated like this. Oh, what he would give to be the beloved younger brother of the company president, adored by many, and peripherally feared by everybody else. 

Beside him, somebody clears their throat, and Shang Qinghua turns to see one of the juniors in his department looking at him anxiously. He hadn’t been there when Liu Qingge had stopped by, Shang Qinghua is almost certain, which means the little bastard had hid until he was gone. Smart. Shang Qinghua begrudges him all the same. 

“There’s somebody asking for you outside,” says his junior. “I don’t recognize him, but he looks important.” 

What now? “From another department?” 

“I don’t know, sir. He seemed impatient though. I don’t think you should keep him waiting.” 

Shang Qinghua sighs loudly, slamming closed Liu Qingge’s folder. “No, heaven forbid I keep anybody in this place waiting.” His chair squeals as he pushes it back, getting to his feet. He drops the folder into the startled junior’s hands. “You deal with this,” he says, feeling vindictive, and turns on his heel. 

The door to the hall outside is frosted glass, so Shang Qinghua doesn’t see who’s waiting for him until he’s pushed it forcibly open, a combination of his lingering hangover and irritation making him bolder than he’d normally dare. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” he says snidely. “I’m sure whatever it was is dreadfully important, but… ” his cutting remark falters and dies on his tongue. “Oh.” 

Mobei Jun meets his shocked gaze evenly. “Good morning.” 

Shang Qinghua doesn’t know what to say. “Good morning,” he parrots back. “Why are you…” He definitely cannot ask somebody like Mobei Jun a question like ‘why are you here’. What the fuck is he thinking? At the last moment, he swerves and manages to say, “What can I help you with?” 

Mobei Jun glances over his shoulder, back to the bustling department visibly through the cracked door. Shang Qinghua hopes he can’t see his desk from here. He’s got more empty coffee mug than visible work crowding it right now. “I was told I could find you here.” 

By who? Shang Qinghua is drawn up short by the notion that Mobei Jun had asked after him. “Oh,” he says again. “If this is something related to the business, you’d be better talking with Shen Yuan, I’m not -” 

Mobei Jun moves, and Shang Qinghua flinches, but all the man does is extend his arm. In his hand is a jacket. A very, very familiar jacket. Shang Qinghua stares at it blankly, then looks up to meet Mobei Jun’s eyes. 

“You left this behind last night,” Mobei Jun says. 

Tentatively, Shang Qinghua reaches out to take it, still staring. “And you… brought it back to me?” Mobei Jun raises a brow and Shang Qinghua realizes how ungrateful that had sounded. Rushing, he adds, “Not to say I’m not thankful! I am! Very much! But surely you’re too busy for something like this! You could have just… left it at the front desk. Or sent somebody else over. Or - or called me to retrieve it instead.” 

“Hm,” Mobei Jun says. “Good idea.” 

Shang Qinghua’s throat is dry. What was? Shang Qinghua doesn’t have good ideas! Ask anybody! He rambles and once in a blue moon something useful might just fall out of his mouth! “What?” 

“Next time I’ll call you,” Mobei Jun says. He holds out his hand expectantly. “Give me your phone.” 

Shang Qinghua isn’t entirely certain he’s not being mugged right out front of his own office, but far be it for him to put a stop to destiny. He fumbles, fishing out his phone obediently. He watches, wide-eyed, as Mobei Jun punches in his number before handing it back. Shang Qinghua accepts his phone like it’s a snake waiting to bite. 

“I…” What is he supposed to say here? He makes a gamble. “Do you want my number too?” 

Mobei Jun hands over his phone like it’s the most natural thing. Maybe it is. Maybe Shang Qinghua is the weird one here. He wouldn’t know. He literally cannot remember the last time he exchanged phone numbers with somebody like this. 

Mobei Jun’s phone is some fancy top-of-the-line thing, and it takes Shang Qinghua a very long moment to even figure out how to add himself to the contacts. He sweats profusely all the while, conscious of Mobei Jun looming in front of him, arms crossed tightly over his perfectly chiseled chest. Shang Qinghua feels like he’s one mistake away from becoming a smear on the hallway carpet. He doesn’t know why that’s kind of doing it for him. 

How had he forgotten how big Mobei Jun is since last night? It’s all he can do not to stare at his broad shoulders from the corner of his eyes. His hands feel awkward and uncoordinated. He hopes he’s gotten his fucking number right, because his brain isn’t exactly operating at maximum potential here. 

“There,” he says, locking the phone screen with a nervous laugh. “This should save you the trouble of hunting me down again, if you - if there’s a next time, I mean. If something happens.” 

Mobei Jun accepts his phone. “Good,” he says, and then turns away, heading in the direction of the elevators without so much as a word of farewell. Shang Qinghua stares after him, mouth ajar, until he disappears around a corner. 

If it wasn’t for the jacket in his arms, he’d think he imagined the whole fucking thing. 

A head pokes out of the door behind him. “Sir?” 

Shang Qinghua startles, turning around to look at his pale faced junior. “Yes, sorry. I’m here.” 

“Is everything okay?” 

“Of course! Why wouldn’t it be!” Shang Qinghua lets out a reedy laugh that is in no way convincing. 

“It’s just, you seem a little… flustered.” 

Shang Qinghua thinks it’d take a stronger man than him to face down Mobei Jun like that and come out of it not flustered. He shoos his junior back inside, closing the door behind them as they go. “If you have time to ask pointless questions, you have time to work,” he says, and the junior bolts before Shang Qinghua can drop more unexpected tasks in his lap. 

With a sigh, Shang Qinghua returns to his desk. He drapes his jacket gingerly over the back of his chair before dropping down into the seat, leaning his head back against the inexpensive material. 

He expects it to smell like cigarette smoke and beer after god knows how long of languishing in the restaurant. It does not. Instead, it smells soft and clean. Shang Qinghua stares blankly at the opposing wall as he has the realization that Mobei Jun had washed his jacket for him before returning it. 

The mortification is enough to kill him. Had it smelled that bad? Had it been so offensive that Mobei Jun didn’t dare so much as touch it until it’d been cleaned? 

Or, whispers a guilty, traitorous part of himself, he had just wanted to do something nice, something kind, and - 

Shang Qinghua squashes the thought down before it can go too far. No. Indulging in idle fantasy like that, while fun in the moment, only ever winds up hurting him in the long term. And Shang Qinghua is getting too old to allow himself to scratch at scarred wounds. 

He dutifully does not let himself think about it for the rest of the day. He works long, and he works hard, and maybe when he goes out to fetch lunch he pauses by his chair, hesitating, before slipping the jacket over his skinny shoulders but so what? 

It’s cold outside, that’s all it is. 

--

The thing about being Shen Yuan’s best friend is that it comes with a lot more fucking responsibility than Shang Qinghua really thinks it ought to. Certainly, when he’d first responded to his snippy message on the forums all those years ago, he never would have imagined what burdens he was signing himself to bear in the not so distant future. 

But Shang Qinghua is a good friend, even when he doesn’t want to be. So when he gets home from work and sees that Shen Yuan has ordered dinner from his favorite restaurant halfway across town, he doesn’t turn around and walk right back out the door again, even though he has the impression that he’s about to sorely regret it. 

“Okay,” he says, standing at the threshold of their cluttered living room. “What do you want?” 

Shen Yuan does his best to appear innocent and demure, smiling at him over a piping hot bowl of noodles. The good stuff, not what Shang Qinghua chokes down every weekend when he locks himself in his room, glued to the computer screen. “Why don’t you sit down?” 

Shang Qinghua stays where he is. It’s unfortunate for his friend that Shang Qinghua is one of the only men on the whole planet that is immune to the Shen Yuan Effect, even when it’s out in full force. He supposes that’s just what happens when you knew somebody as ‘Peerless Cucumber’ before you knew them as a charming, charismatic young master. It takes the shine off things, just a little. 

Shen Yuan, seeing that Shang Qinghua won’t be swayed by bribery, flattery, or anything else, sighs and gives up pretenses. “I have another favor to ask.” 

Shang Qinghua groans. “Bro, really? Last night wasn’t enough? What more do you have to inflict on me!” 

“I got you food! You love food!” 

“Yes! I do! You know what I love more than food? Not embarrassing myself!” 

“Okay, now that’s untrue, you love embarrassing yourself, you have to, you do it all the fucking time.” 

Shang Qinghua reels back, clutching theatrically at his heart. “I don’t know why you’re so cruel to me,” he says. “After everything I do for you.” 

Shen Yuan sighs again, patting the table across from him pointedly. “Sit down,” he says. “The food’s going to get cold, and I’ll bet you haven’t eaten anything solid all day.” 

He hasn’t, but if he admits as much, Shen Yuan is likely to strangle him. He takes the seat. The look Shen Yuan shoots him says he probably already knows anyway. Shang Qinghua snaps the cheap delivery chopsticks then pauses, squinting. “You’re not going to hold me to this favor just because I ate your stupid bribe, are you?” 

Shen Yuan rolls his eyes. “You know I’m not.” 

“Ok. Just wanted to be sure.” 

Shen Yuan gives him a moment to eat in peace, which is a moment more than Shang Qinghua was expecting, and then he says, “So the thing is, my brother is meant to be meeting with Luo Binghe tomorrow to discuss the finer details of this whole business deal.” 

Shang Qinghua looks up, noodles hanging from his mouth. “And?” 

Shen Yuan’s mouth pinches in the corner. “They’ve both asked me to be there. They kind of… don’t get along. They need a buffer or the deal is never going to go fucking through.” 

“Since when does anybody get along with your brother?” 

“Don’t be rude,” Shen Yuan scolds. “That’s your boss you’re talking about.” 

“Yeah, and he once threatened to fire me just because I sent the wrong form to his fucking secretary,” Shang Qinghua says. “I think he might have done it too, if you hadn’t intervened.” 

“He wouldn’t have,” Shen Yuan says, but it doesn’t sound convincing. “Shen Jiu isn’t cruel, he’s just oblivious.” 

Oblivious. Like having a nasty streak a mile wide is just something of a personality oversight. Well, Shang Qinghua supposes obliviousness comes in all shapes and sizes - for then Shen brothers, at least. 

“I still don’t see what this has to do with me? You’re not asking me to be there, I assume. I work in accounting. I’m pretty sure your brother would never let me sully his office with my presence, especially not during something as important as this.” 

“No, of course not,” Shen Yuan rushes to assure him. “It’s… well, Mobei Jun isn’t exactly invited to the discussion either, but we can’t just leave him all on his own while his boss is having his big important meeting, that would be incredibly rude -” 

Something is occurring to Shang Qinghua now that hadn’t occurred to him earlier. When Shen Yuan had said ‘hey, I need your company while I greet some potential investors’ he hadn’t exactly clarified who those people were. Shang Qinghua, who had agreed to much worse with much less information, kind of just went along with it. 

He’s second guessing that now. 

Setting down his chopsticks, he says, “Bro, who exactly are those two?” 

Shen Yuan looks a touch guilty. “Uh, did I not say?” 

“No. You did not.” 

“Luo Binghe is the current president of Bailu Industries. Mobei Jun is his vice president.” 

Shang Qinghua’s appetite is gone. “I thought Tianlang Jun was the president of Bailu Industries?” 

“Yeah. He was. That’s Luo Binghe’s dad. He retired last year, so his son took over.” 

“Bailu Industries,” Shang Qinghua repeats. “As in, one of the biggest companies in the whole country? That Bailu Industries?”  

“Who else did you think would be big enough to invest in Qing Jing?” Shen Yuan asks, like it was supposed to be oblivious. “That’s why I kind of have to make sure my brother doesn’t slaughter him tomorrow.” 

Slowly, Shang Qinghua folds his arms atop the table, settling his head in them like the darkness can chase away the chill crawling down his spine. “Bro,” he says. “I am dead.” 

A hand lands on Shang Qinghua’s shoulder. “You’ll do fine! Mobei Jun asked -” 

“No, you don’t understand. Last night, I totally embarrassed myself. It was awful. And then today, I don’t know, something happened, I don’t know what, but I’m sure I didn’t come off much better.” He peeks out, peering up at Shen Yuan balefully. “Why would you take two of the most powerful men in the country to a dive restaurant? Why would you bring me with you?” 

“You did fine,” Shen Yuan says. “All you did was sit there and get drunk, anyway.” 

Shang Qinghua cannot bring himself to tell him about his encounter with Mobei Jun out in the alley. He cannot. “Why can’t Mobei Jun just sit in on the meeting? He’s the vice president, isn’t he? That sounds important.” 

“Because my brother would prefer he didn’t,” Shen Yuan says, which, of course, kind of obvious in hindsight. The high and mighty Shen Jiu would never allow that many metaphorical cooks in the kitchen. Makes everything a bit harder to control. “But we can’t just kick him out and let him be, that would be a huge slight.” 

“And you expect me to do what, exactly?”

“Take him on a tour of the office,” Shen Yuan encourages. “Then out for lunch. It’ll be a work expense. You can eat somewhere high class and make somebody else deal with the tab!” 

“Shen Yuan, I’m head of accounting - I deal with the tab!” 

Shen Yuan ignores him, like usual. “Besides, you two seemed like you got along last night, didn’t you?” 

Sure, if that’s what you wanna call Mobei Jun staring him down like Shang Qinghua was a very small bug and he was a very large slipper. “Did we? I don’t recall.” 

“Besides,” Shen Yuan continues, “he asked for you himself.” 

Shang Qinghua’s world comes to a screeching halt. “He did?” 

“By name and everything!” Shen Yuan confirms. “I wouldn’t be asking you for this otherwise, I promise.” 

“And what does your brother think? Surely he doesn’t want to stick such an important guest alone with me.” 

“Shen Jiu told me to take care of it, and I’m taking care of it,” Shen Yuan says, showing absolutely no guilt at taking advantage of his brother’s vague words. “If you really don’t want to, then -” 

“No,” Shang Qinghua interrupts. “That’s not the problem. I don’t… I don’t mind.” 

If Mobei Jun had asked for him by name then maybe he wants to talk about something? Or, at the very least, Shang Qinghua hadn’t made a complete fool of himself yet? He’d been worried he’d overstepped with the phone thing earlier, even though it had been Mobei Jun who’d initiated it, but if he was asking after him, then that meant things were okay, right? 

The look Shen Yuan is giving him is annoyingly knowing. He pats Shang Qinghua’s shoulder before drawing back. “You know,” he says, “I’ve heard he’s single.” 

Shang Qinghua does not want to think about that right now. What does Mobei Jun being single even have to do with him? And if Mobei Jun had told Shen Yuan that himself - well, Shang Qinghua would rather not know. 

“Fine,” Shang Qinghua says, instead of any of that. “I’ll do it. But bro, you really do owe me this time. Not just for the… whatever I’m gonna have to do tomorrow, but for playing coy about them from the start.” 

Shen Yuan doesn’t even have the good grace to pretend at guilt this time. “You get weird about things like that, I don’t know why. It’s not like you’ve ever held back with me, is it?” 

“That’s different and you know it. You were my friend before you were my superior.” 

Shen Yuan gets to his feet, gathering up the empty take out bags. “Fine, fine. I’m sorry, does that help baby’s hurt feelings? Now, make you wear something nice to work tomorrow, we don’t need Mobei Jun thinking our employees dress like slobs.” 

He sweeps back towards the kitchen, and Shang Qinghua sits there, gaping after him. “Slobs? Slobs? I dress fine at the office! Besides, it’s a work meeting, not a date, what does it matter what the fuck I wear!” 

Shen Yuan pokes his head out the door. His glasses catch the shine of the light. “Wear that grey tie you have,” he instructs. “The one without the pattern on it. Brings out your eyes.” 

He ducks out of sight again, but not before Shang Qinghua manages to lob a wadded-up napkin at him. 

--

Giving Mobei Jun the tour of the Qing Jing offices had seemed like such a simple task when Shen Yuan had assigned it. After all, it’s a big building! There are so many departments! Some of the other department heads even deign to interact with Shang Qinghua of their own freewill, even if it’s just because they’re worried he might take it out on their budgets. 

It is not simple. Mobei Jun trails after him, listening in icy silence as Shang Qinghua narrates every single room they walk into with a completely unnecessary amount of babbling. He looks just as severe and intimidating today as he had every day so far, and what little confidence Shang Qinghua had worked hard to gather overnight withers rapidly. 

“This,” Shang Qinghua says, throwing open the door in front of him like it’d done him a personal wrong, “is the finance department! Which you knew, of course, because you stopped by yesterday.” 

Still, Mobei Jun is silent. The room bustles around them, but nobody dares to approach. Shang Qinghua can’t figure out if it’s because they assume Shang Qinghua is busy or because they’re too fucking terrified of Mobei Jun’s frigid gaze. 

“Anyway,” Shang Qinghua babbles, “I’m head here, which sounds boring, and it kind of is, but it also means you’re never bored because you’re always busy! And when I say busy, I mean it. Sometimes we don’t even eat lunch here, we just don’t have the time.” 

Mobei Jun’s eyes bore into the back of his neck. Shang Qinghua wants to cry but bravely does not. Someday, he thinks, he will earn a medal for his service. “Anyway, speaking of lunch, how are you feeling? Do you want to head out now? There’s a bit more to see, but I’m sure you’re sick of looking at it.” 

For a moment he is absolutely certain Mobei Jun isn’t going to answer, but then he says in his deep, crisp voice, “Yes.” 

Shang Qinghua waits for more. No more is forthcoming. “Yes… to lunch?” he prods. 

Mobei Jun glances at him, and then turns away, sweeping back towards the door. Shang Qinghua assumes that means yes in whatever complicated body language governs most of Mobei Jun’s interaction. He chases after him, pausing only to snag his jacket from the back of his seat and leave instructions with the nearest junior to keep things running smoothly in his absence, and no, he’s not available to be called back for anything short of the whole building burning down, and maybe not even then. 

Mobei Jun is waiting by the elevator for him, and Shang Qinghua hurries to catch up, sliding his arms through his sleeves. “Sorry, sorry,” he says as he jams the call button. “What are you in the mood for lunch? Anything in particular? Oh, there’s a really nice cafe a few blocks over, I go there to eat sometimes, that might be -” Abruptly remembering what Shen Yuan had said about going somewhere nice and that he’s talking with the literal vice president of Bailu Industries Shang Qinghua abruptly backtracks “- oh, but that’s probably a little out of your taste, isn’t it? We could -” 

“Sounds good,” Mobei Jun says, cutting him off. 

Shang Qinghua blinks owlishly at him. “Sorry?” 

“Wherever you want to go,” Mobei Jun says with a remarkable amount of patience. “That’s fine.” 

He sounds… well, kind of bored but also weirdly nice about it. Not mean, at any rate, which is more than Shang Qinghua usually gets from these kinds of interactions, and not what he’d been expecting from Mobei Jun of all people. It sends a delightful shiver racing through his blood. 

Still, if he’s just being polite, Shang Qinghua can’t let that stand. “We don’t have -” 

“Shang Qinghua,” Mobei Jun says. “Shut up.” 

Shang Qinghua shuts up. Beside him, the elevator dings cheerfully and the doors roll open. Mobei Jun steps inside without a backwards glance, and Shang Qinghua has to scramble to follow or risk being left behind. The doors close again, and they’re alone in the mirrored compartment, soothing jazz music playing faintly above them. 

The silence isn’t exactly awkward, but they have over twenty floors of it to get through, and Shang Qinghua’s willpower is only so strong. He can’t keep his mouth shut for twenty seconds, let along twenty floors! He clears his throat, and Mobei Jun’s attention latches onto him. “So,” he says, striving to sound professional, “Shen Yuan mentioned that, uh, your boss was meeting with our boss today too. How do you think it’ll go?”

Mobei Jun faces forward towards the shiny elevator doors again. “Well,” he says. “Luo Binghe will get what he wants.” 

That sounds vaguely threatening, although Shang Qinghua isn’t sure why. “I’m positive they’ll reach a good agreement! Shen Yuan is really quite amenable, and Shen Jiu -” he scrambles for something positive to say about Shen Yuan’s beloved brother “- is very detail-oriented.” 

Mobei Jun makes a noise that doesn’t help Shang Qinghua in the slightest. Silence returns with a vengeance. Shang Qinghua eyes flick to the display panel where the floors are slowly crawling by. The still have nineteen to go. He’s not sure he’s going to make it to the ground at this rate. 

Suddenly, as if the universe had heard him, the elevator groans and abruptly lurches to a stop. Shang Qinghua yelps, arms pinwheeling as he slams into a wall, and it’s only a strong grip on his arm that keeps his feet from giving out under him. The elevator goes pitch black and then the emergency light kicks on, bathing the compartment in a dim red. 

For a moment, Shang Qinghua just stands there, mouth hanging open. No. No, surely not. Not even he has luck this shitty. This has to be a mistake. A delusion. Any second, the elevator is going to start moving again. Any second now. Any second now. 

It does not. It stays solidly stationary beneath his feet, and Shang Qinghua stays solidly stuck in it with nobody but Mobei fucking Jun for company. 

The hand on his arm squeezes, catching his attention. “Are you alright?” 

Mobei Jun’s voice is as flat as ever. If Shang Qinghua didn’t know better, he’d say that Mobei Jun hadn’t even noticed their abrupt change in circumstances. Mutely, Shang Qinghua nods, and the hand gives one more squeeze before it drops. 

“Stay here,” Mobei Jun orders.

Where does he expect Shang Qinghua to go, exactly? “Sure.” 

Mobei Jun looks at him, dark eyes shadowed in the unnatural light, and turns around to hit the emergency button on the elevator panel. Shang Qinghua stays where he is, sagging against the wall and trying to calm the hammering of his heart, watching as Mobei Jun has a short and incredibly terse conversation with the elevator repair company. When he turns around again, his fine features are narrowed in annoyance. 

“I’m sorry,” Shang Qinghua blurts. 

Mobei Jun pauses. “Why?” 

“I…” Shang Qinghua doesn’t know. It just seems the thing to say when somebody looks at him like that. Covering for himself, he laughs awkwardly. “I promise this isn’t how our tours normally go.” 

Some of the tension in Mobei Jun’s face smooths out. “They seem to think it won’t take too long to get the elevator moving again.” 

“Did they say what made it stop?” 

“They did not.” 

“What if it’s something bad?” Shang Qinghua’s imagination is off like a racehorse. “Oh my god, what if it loses power completely? What if the cable snaps? What if -” 

“Shang Qinghua,” Mobei Jun says, and Shang Qinghua slams his mouth closed wicked fast. Mobei Jun is surveying him intently, and Shang Qinghua makes a concentrated effort to seem less rattled. He’s not sure it works, because Mobei Jun says, “Sit.” 

He’d said that the first night, too. Again, Shang Qinghua sits. His legs eagerly let him fold himself into the corner without a single complaint, even though Shang Qinghua wants to say something snarky back, like ‘I’m not a dog’. He’s not quite rattled enough to lose all sense of self-preservation though, so he keeps his mouth shut. 

He’s rewarded for his good manners because a moment later Mobei Jun sits down beside him without so much as blinking. The elevator is small and Mobei Jun is big, and they’re near enough that their elbows could knock. 

“Um,” Shang Qinghua says, lacking much else. 

“The elevator isn’t going to fall,” Mobei Jun says. “We’ll be here an hour at most.” 

Shang Qinghua, who doesn’t actually want to think too hard about all the worst can scenarios he can still taste on his tongue, says, “Okay.” 

Mobei Jun is still looking at him. “Do you need to contact anybody?” 

“To let them know I’m stuck in our own elevator?” Shang Qinghua repeats. “No thanks. I barely get any respect here as it is, I don’t need that getting around too.” Mobei Jun frowns, his perfect brow creasing. He looks like he has something to say to that, but Shang Qinghua rushes to add, “What about you?” 

Mobei Jun shakes his head. “I would not disrupt the meeting over something like this,” he says, which, well, fair enough Shang Qinghua supposes. If Luo Binghe is even a fraction at all similar to Shen Jiu, he can guess how that might go over. “We were to be having lunch anyway. It is not wasted time.” 

Shang Qinghua disagrees. Just because he routinely gives up his lunch hour does not mean he enjoys it. “Sure,” he says. “Right. If we’re lucky we might still have enough time still. It’s not like the tour was that exciting anyway.” 

Mobei Jun’s elbow brushes against his forearm. It’s stupid, but an electric crackle chases down from the point of contact. How many times is that now? That they’ve touched, he means. Other than Shen Yuan, Shang Qinghua is sorely unused to even the most fleeting touch of any kind, let alone from a man of Mobei Jun’s caliber. Shang Qinghua hopes the red in his cheeks can be passed off as the glow from the emergency light. 

Beside him, Mobei Jun says, “The tour was… good.” 

Shang Qinghua squints at him, disbelieving. “You don’t have to say that just to be polite,” he says. “I know I’m not exactly a good tour guide, and if you’ve been in one office building you’ve been in them all. I’m not even sure why you asked for me, truthfully.” He pauses, a horrible thought occurring to him. “You did ask for me, right? Shen Yuan wasn’t lying? If he did, I’m so sorry to assume, it’s just -” 

“I did,” Mobei Jun says. “Ask for you.” 

Shang Qinghua’s rambling patters out. He stares at him; the perfect arch of his brows, the flawless smoothness of his skin. Don’t ask, Shang Qinghua encourages himself. Don’t do it, bro. Don’t - 

“Why?” he blurts. 

Mobei Jun’s dark eyes consider him silently. He does not say anything. Shang Qinghua’s cowardly little heart is tripping in his chest, catching on his ribcage with every beat. It’s like being stared down by a Greek God. They’re near enough that Shang Qinghua can smell him; the same soft, spicy scent that still lingers on his coat. 

It’s everything he can do not to whimper.

“You’re sweating,” Mobei Jun says. 

“Am I?” Shang Qinghua says weakly. He is, he can feel it. It’s hot in here, after all, and he’s so flustered that it’s frankly a miracle he hasn’t melted into a puddle. He gives an awkward laugh. “Sorry, sorry.” 

Mobei Jun blinks, thick lashes fanning over his eyes. “Are you claustrophobic?” 

Is he claustrophobic? It’s nice of Mobei Jun to assume it’s fear that’s turned him into a mess and not overwhelming horniness. 

“Yes,” Shang Qinghua says resolutely. “I am very claustrophobic.” 

Mobei Jun’s frown deepens, and he goes to pull back, give him space. Without any input at all from his brain, Shang Qinghua’s hand shoots out, latching onto his sleeve. Shang Qinghua stares blankly at it; his own hand has never looked so foreign to him than it does in this moment. He cannot believe his own audacity! 

“I am,” Shang Qinghua says, voice wavering, “so sorry, here, just let me -” 

Before he can even let go, broad palms settle on his cheeks, turning his face sharply up. Shang Qinghua is treated to a fantastic close up of Mobei Jun’s flawless face for all of a second, and then Mobei Jun kisses him. 

For a moment, Shang Qinghua is absolutely certain that Mobei Jun had been wrong. The cables had snapped after all, and Shang Qinghua had plummeted to a swift and untimely death. This is his heaven, clearly, his light at the end of the tunnel for all the shit he’s put up with over the years; every harsh word, every night of unpaid overtime, ever mean comment online (other than Cucumber-bro, of course, who’d proved his worth in the end). 

Then reality reasserts itself. He’s on the floor of the company elevator, and his back kind of hurts because of the angle he’s twisted into. Mobei Jun’s mouth is very warm, his hands so soft, and Shang Qinghua has forgotten how to kiss back. 

Mobei Jun seems to realize he’s frozen at the exact same moment Shang Qinghua does, because he goes still, pulling back until Shang Qinghua can see his tight expression and dark eyes. 

“Shang Qinghua,” he says. “I -” 

If the next words out of his mouth are ‘didn’t mean to do that’ Shang Qinghua thinks he might actually die for real. It’s not courage so much as desperation that has him throwing his arms around Mobei Jun’s neck like a noose, dragging him back in so quick that their noses bump before Shang Qinghua can manage to mash their mouths together. 

The angle is awful; their teeth clash and Mobei Jun hisses under his breath. Shang Qinghua doesn’t know how to do this at all, it’s been too long and his brain is too scrambled, and he’s absolutely convinced Mobei Jun is going to peel him off and deposit him on the floor like he’s nothing. 

Instead, a hand slides into his hair, yanking his head forcibly, and this time when Mobei Jun leans in, they line up perfectly. 

Shang Qinghua can count the amount of times he’s been kissed on one hand. The amount of times it’d been good with just a few fingers. This? This is nothing at all like any of his previous experiences. Mobei Jun’s lips are clever and warm, and the hand in Shang Qinghua’s hair is bossy. The other presses against the wall beside him, keeping Mobei Jun hovering over him through strength alone, and that’s way, way hotter than it has any right to be. 

Mobei Jun’s tongue slips into his mouth. Shang Qinghua’s brain short circuits. 

I’m so sorry, Shang Qinghua thinks, a little delirious. All my trolls were right; I really didn’t know how to write a good love scene to save my life. I had no idea it could be like this. 

Shang Qinghua is so busy having an existential crisis at Mobei Jun’s hands, that it takes him a moment to realize that the emergency lights have been replaced with the stead, familiar glow of the regular ones. It’s only when the elevator lurches, nearly sending them both sprawling, that it clicks. 

“Oh,” Shang Qinghua says, peering over Mobei Jun’s shoulder where the display panel is cheerfully rolling through the floor numbers. “I, uh, it looks like we’re moving again?” 

Mobei Jun is still on top of him, pressing Shang Qinghua into the corner with what looks like absolutely no strain on his part at all - and wow Shang Qinghua really cannot afford to think about that. He pauses, leaning away too, and lets out a sound that almost seems annoyed. His hand is still in Shang Qinghua’s hair. 

Slowly, he pulls back, getting to his feet. Shang Qinghua feels a sharp pang of disappointment, but when Mobei Jun holds out a hand to him, he takes it. The broad press of his palm feels so much different now that he can remember what it’d felt like against his skin, and Shang Qinghua just knows his face is blood red. 

Mobei Jun hauls him upright, surprisingly gentle. He brushes down Shang Qinghua clinically, straightening the strangled knot of his tie. Shang Qinghua is so surprised he can’t do more than stand there and let him. Mobei Jun’s knuckles brush against his throat, and Shang Qinghua swallows deeply. 

Somehow, Mobei Jun looks unruffled. His hair is perfect, his clothes are creaseless. There is absolutely no sign that only seconds ago Shang Qinghua’s hands had been clinging to him for dear life. 

“Hm,” he says, which could mean anything at all. 

The elevator dings pleasantly and the doors open to the ground floor. Thankfully, nobody is waiting outside, so Shang Qinghua manages to follow Mobei Jun out into the foyer with at least a scrap of dignity. 

Is he meant to say something? Does Mobei Jun expect him to say something? Is he not aware that Shang Qinghua cannot dare open his mouth or he’ll be forced to remember that Mobei Jun’s tongue had been inside it only moments ago? 

That had happened, right? It had to. Not even Shang Qinghua has an imagination that vivid. 

“Shang Qinghua,” Mobei Jun says, startling him. 

Shang Qinghua tries his best to meet his gaze. “I - uh. Yes?” 

Mobei Jun looks him up and down. The contemplative coolness of his blue eyes makes Shang Qinghua shiver. So small that Shang Qinghua nearly misses it, the corner of his mouth curls up in some kind of dark satisfaction. 

Shang Qinghua feels like he can’t breathe. 

“Take me to that cafe you favor,” he says, and turns around, strolling towards the doors out to the street without a backwards glance, confident that Shang Qinghua will follow in his footsteps. 

And, like a moth to a flame, Shang Qinghua does. 

--

Shen Yuan still isn’t home by the time Shang Qinghua is able to escape work for the day. It’s a relief, actually, because Shang Qinghua isn’t sure he has enough of a handle on himself not to just dump all of his problems squarely at Shen Yuan’s feet, like he could help at all. 

Lunch with Mobei Jun had been a surreal experience. They’d sat politely across from each other, looking exactly as to colleagues out for a meal together might. By the time Mobei Jun had ordered - for both of them - Shang Qinghua’s mind had finally rebooted and his verbal vomit had begun anew. Benign, pointless stuff - nothing even remotely approaching what had happened in the elevator. 

Mobei Jun had sat there and weathered all of it. At one point, when Shang Qinghua’s nervous fidgeting had nearly sent a saltshaker flying, he’d reached out, stilling Shang Qinghua’s hand with one of his own. 

“Shang Qinghua,” he’d said, voice low and sultry, “calm down.” 

Shang Qinghua hadn’t, of course. But Mobei Jun’s touch had rendered him silent for at least five straight minutes, and going by the look in his eyes, Mobei Jun hadn’t minded in the least. 

Afterwards, while Shang Qinghua settled the bill, Mobei Jun had checked his phone and announced he had to go. Shang Qinghua couldn’t tell if he was disappointed or relieved, honestly, but he cheerfully waved him off all same, and pretended as if the hand Mobei Jun had let innocuously graze against his side hadn’t nearly sent him into convulsions. 

The rest of the day had passed in a blur. By the time he tripped his way back to the apartment, Shang Qinghua still hadn’t entirely processed it all. 

He beelines straight for his bedroom, climbing gingerly into his bed so that he can suffocate his face in his pillow, barely holding back the urge to scream into it like a teenage girl. Now, in the safety of his own home, Shang Qinghua can feel the inevitable breakdown he’d barely been staving off settling around him like a shroud. 

It’s probably safe to assume that Mobei Jun likes him at this point, right? Like - at least a little. Or is, for some unknowable reason, attracted to him? He doesn’t know which scenario sounds less likely. Honestly, they both just kind of sound like wishful thinking. 

But Mobei Jun had kissed him. He’d kissed him and it’d been one hell of a fucking kiss. Who the fuck does that to somebody out of the blue, if they don’t at least like them a tiny, tiny bit? Or is that an old-fashioned assumption? 

Shang Qinghua doesn’t know. He doesn't like to admit it when he’s starting to see thirty creep closer every year, but his limited experiences had tended to be at the end of first dates that never seemed to reach a second, and parties where people could have cared less about the fact Shang Qinghua’s face was plainer than a sesame seed bagel than the fact he was available and willing. 

These days, it’s not like he goes to many parties, and he hasn’t exactly had the time for dating, especially when it only ever leads to embarrassment and disappointment. So maybe things have changed. Maybe it’s perfectly reasonable to just… push your professional acquaintance to the ground in a darkened elevator and ravish them. Maybe Shang Qinghua is just behind the times. 

God, he hopes not. If Mobei Jun had just intended that to be a one off, Shang Qinghua thinks he might die. 

From where it lays abandoned on his nightstand, his phone vibrates. Shang Qinghua manages to lever himself up, pushing his hair from his face as he drags it over. The name staring back at him from the screen is nearly enough to send him into conniptions all over again.

One New Message: Mobei Jun 

How did he know! How did he know that Shang Qinghua was rolling back and forth on his bed, agonizing over him? Is he psychic? Or is Shang Qinghua just that predictable? 

Tentatively, he thumbs the text open. 

Thank you for lunch, it reads. That’s it. Nothing else. No indication as to why he’d be texting Shang Qinghua utterly unprompted at - he checks the time - nearly eight in the evening. As far as conversation starters go, it’s sorely lacking. 

ur welcome! he replies. thats kind of u to say, im sure it was not up to your level, but im glad you liked it! pls let me know if theres anything else i can do to make your time here more comfortable!

Is that too suggestive? It feels too suggestive. Does Shang Qinghua want it to be too suggestive? He sends it before he can second guess himself. Shang Qinghua could talk himself out of anything and everything with enough time, and he’s learnt over the years that sometimes it’s better if he does not give himself the opportunity.

Mobei Jun comes back quick as lightning. Next time, I will take you out for lunch. 

Shang Qinghua stares at his screen. What does that mean? Does Mobei Jun anticipate that he’ll be here long enough that they’ll have time for another meal like that? Or does he just have that much free time on his hands? Would it be rude to ask? It would, wouldn’t it? 

sure, he shoots back, because that seems like a safe enough answer. looking forward to it! 

There’s the sound of the front door rattling open, and Shang Qinghua tucks his phone in his pocket before trailing out into the living area. Shen Yuan is kicking his shoes off by the door, and he looks exhausted but not irritated, which means that whatever negotiations had happened today had managed to go off without a hitch. 

“Welcome home,” Shang Qinghua says, leaning against the wall. “You look like you’ve had a rough day.” 

Shen Yuan sighs. “Well, it wasn’t fun. If I never have to be trapped in a room with Luo Binghe and my brother again, I’ll die happy.” 

“Did it go okay, at least?” 

“Thank god,” he says. “They’re both fucking snakes, haggled everything down to the smallest detail, but the deal went through.” He gives Shang Qinghua a smile. “I’m sure you’ll have a lot of exciting paperwork to look forward to.” 

Shang Qinghua deeply does not want to consider the amount of paperwork this is going to generate for his poor department. He follows Shen Yuan to the kitchen where he grabs a beer from the fridge. “So, I guess this means… they’ll be going back soon?” 

“Who? Luo Binghe?” 

Shang Qinghua really couldn’t care less about Luo Binghe. “And his vice president, too.” 

Shen Yuan hums, slouching against the bench. “I think they’re going back Saturday,” he says. 

Shang Qinghua’s heart sinks. That’s the day after next! That’s so soon! Too soon, in fact! Shang Qinghua still hasn’t figured out what’s even going on between him and Mobei Jun! “That’s quick, isn’t it?” 

“Well, nobody wants to stay on a business trip longer than they have to,” Shen Yuan points out, quite responsibly. Then, eyes narrowing, he says, “Why does it matter?” 

Shang Qinghua strives to mask his face. “It doesn’t!” 

Shen Yuan straightens up. “You have that suspicious look on your face. You’re hiding something.” 

“Bro, this is just how my face is, I can’t help it if it looks suspicious!” 

Shen Yuan reaches out to pinch one of his cheeks meanly. “If you’re that attached to them, you can always exchange numbers or something and see if they’d like to meet up some time,” he says. “Bailu is only an hour or so away from here. It’s not that far.” 

Shang Qinghua strives to steady his expression. Shen Yuan sees through it in an instance. 

“Shang Qinghua, have you already exchanged numbers?” 

“No,” Shang Qinghua blurts, answer muffled by the stretch of his cheek. Then, at Shen Yuan’s expression, amends, “Well, Mobei Jun asked, and I couldn’t say no, and -” 

Shen Yuan’s grip on his cheek loosens, and he pats it condescendingly. “Ah, I guess Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky is finally growing up,” he says. “About time.” 

“Oh, like you’re any better than me,” Shang Qinghua says, batting his hand away. Feeling petty, he says, “How was Luo Binghe today?” 

Shen Yuan’s cheeks bleed with color. He reels on the spot, rustling around in the fridge with his back to Shang Qinghua. He knows Shen Yuan would call it a strategic retreat. Shang Qinghua knows better. He knows cowardice when he sees it. “Anyway,” Shen Yuan says, “I thought it’d be nice if we took them to a farewell dinner tomorrow.” 

“Oh. How many people are coming?” 

Shen Yuan emerges with a covered dish that Shang Qinghua is no longer certain is all that edible. “Just us,” he says, as he peels the lid back. “Luo Binghe said he preferred it that way.” 

Shang Qinghua is certain that Luo Binghe hadn’t meant for Shang Qinghua to be included - again - in that number, but he’s also certain that he wouldn’t dare say as much to Shen Yuan’s face. So long as Shen Yuan is there, Shang Qinghua is probably safe. 

“Okay,” Shang Qinghua says. “Sounds fun.” 

Shen Yuan pauses in what he’s doing, looking up at him. “What do you mean ‘sounds good’? You bitched so much last time.” 

“I didn’t bitch,” Shang Qinghua protests, even though he absolutely had. “I’m just, you know, being professional?” 

Shen Yuan is staring at him. “Are you sure there’s nothing you want to tell me?” 

“Nope!” Shang Qinghua says, voice high. “Goodnight!” 

He scampers back to his bedroom before Shen Yuan gets it into his head to really dig into him. Shang Qinghua’s defenses are weak, and Shen Yuan can be a tenacious beast when he wants to be. Shang Qinghua supposes he had to get something from his brother other than his pretty face. 

Back in his room, he pulls his phone out again, biting back on the instinct that says it’s much too presumptuous to be the one to text first. I mean, when he thinks about it, he’s technically just responding to the last message that went unanswered, right? 

heard from shen yuan that negotiations went well. guess we’ll have to give that lunch a miss, huh? im glad everything went so smoothly tho! 

He drops down on the side of his bed, cradling his phone in his hands, anxiously awaiting a response. This time, it seems to take an age, and when his phone goes off, Shang Qinghua nearly drops it. 

It might be his imagination, but Mobei Jun’s reply seems… more distant than before. Terse. Professional. 

I will see you at dinner tomorrow. 

That’s it. Nothing else. Nothing like ‘we can still go out after I return home’ or ‘I look forward to tomorrow’. Nothing. Despite himself, Shang Qinghua feels his heart sink right now to his toes. 

Had he upset him somehow? All he’d done was pass along what Shen Yuan had said! It’s not like Shang Qinghua isn’t perfectly aware of how busy somebody like Mobei Jun must be! He doesn’t want to be a bother and assume things! 

He wrangles with himself for a moment before managing to work up the courage to respond, yes, i’ll see you then! thank you so much for all your care the past few days. goodnight! 

Was that too much? Well, it’s too late now. Shang Qinghua drops his phone on his bed, resolutely gathering up his pajamas and heading for the bathroom before he can get too wrapped up in his own head. Shen Yuan is still in the kitchen, texting idly on his own phone, but he doesn’t look up as Shang Qinghua passes by. 

It’s fine! Everything is fine! 

(in the bathtub, Shang Qinghua jerks himself silently off remembering the press of Mobei Jun’s hand tangling his hair and promptly spends the next half an hour breaking down quietly over it until Shen Yuan pounds on the door to make sure he hasn’t fallen asleep in the tub again.) 

By the time Shang Qinghua returns to his room, absently toweling his hair dry, he almost doesn’t have the guts to check for a reply. He stands there dithering for a good five minutes before he flicks the screen on. 

There are no new messages. 

Disappointment tastes foul and thick, but Shang Qinghua is a pro at biting it back. He leaves his damp towel at the foot of his bed even though he’s sure he’ll regret it in the morning, and crawls under the sheets. Twice more, he rolls over to check, but each time his phone is just as unwelcoming as the first, and eventually not even his sulking can hold sleep at bay. 

Shang Qinghua goes to bed that night tired, sad, and, most hurtful of all, utterly unsurprised that he’s managed to misread the situation so badly. 

--

The day does not start well for Shang Qinghua. His alarm does not go off, and he rolls out of bed flustered and confused, already late to work. By the time he makes it to the office, it becomes quickly apparent that the work resulting from their deal with Bailu is already beginning to make itself known, and Shang Qinghua spends the entire morning chained to his desk, a fresh folder appearing at his elbow every time he turns around. 

It is not fun. It is, arguably, hell. 

The only reason he gets a lunch break is that Shen Yuan benevolently appears to drag him away before the day can get too late. Shang Qinghua could weep from gratitude, but manfully manages to refrain. 

They eat in the lunchroom for Shang Qinghua’s department because he’s much too scared to venture anywhere near where Shen Yuan works in case he’s unfortunate enough to catch Shen Jiu’s attention. Luckily, every time somebody thinks to approach him, Shen Yuan turns his smile on them and the ever-shining halo of the Shen Yuan Effect is enough to keep them safe. 

“You didn’t forget we’re going out for dinner tonight, did you?” Shen Yuan asks as Shang Qinghua unenthusiastically picks at his food. 

“Huh? No, I remember.” 

“And you’re not going to be weird about it now that you know who they are?” Shen Yuan asks. 

“Bro, who do you think I am?” Shang Qinghua says, rather than things are well beyond weird now. 

Shen Yuan rolls his eyes, wiping his hands on a napkin as he gets to his feet. “I’m going to the bathroom,” he says. “Try and actually eat something, will you?” 

Obediently, Shang Qinghua takes a bite out of… something. He’s not sure if it’s Shen Yuan’s lunch or his, truthfully, but Shen Yuan looks appeased. He vanished out the door, leaving Shang Qinghua alone in the mostly empty breakroom. 

Surreptitiously, he checks his phone. Still no new messages. With a sigh, he sets it down again, but before he can start to mope, he feels the table vibrate underneath his fingertips. His head snaps up, but disappointment sets in quick as he realizes it’s Shen Yuan’s phone and not his own. It’s sitting just close enough that Shang Qinghua can see the name dart across the screen - the disappointment turns to horror. 

One New Message: Mobei Jun, it flashes cheerfully before the screen goes dark. 

Shang Qinghua’s world reels. There’s a reasonable explanation for this, he tells himself. Shen Yuan has been in charge of making sure both Luo Binghe and Mobei Jun are looked after and settled during their trip. It makes perfect sense that they’d have each other’s numbers! 

Except… why would he text Shen Yuan? Why wouldn’t he call the offices? Or call Shen Yuan directly? Texting is just so informal that it’s hard to imagine Mobei Jun engaging in it casually with somebody like - 

Mobei Jun had messaged him though. If Mobei Jun had messaged Shang Qinghua, who’s to say that he doesn’t make a habit of it, actually? Maybe Shang Qinghua isn’t special after all. Maybe for a reticent guy like Mobei Jun, texting is actually his preferred medium of communication, and Shang Qinghua had just made assumptions exactly as he promised himself he wouldn’t. 

He’s so distracting with his crisis that he doesn’t realize Shen Yuan’s returned until he settles right down across from, shooting him an odd look. “Shang Qinghua?” 

Shang Qinghua jerks back to reality. “Oh - I, uhh, sorry. I was. Thinking.” 

“About the next dumb story you’re going to write, I assume,” Shen Yuan says lightly. 

Shang Qinghua offers him a weak smile. “You know me,” he says. Then, as casually as he can make it which isn’t very casually at all, “You got a message.” 

Shen Yuan doesn’t even glance at his phone as he picks his chopsticks back up. “It can wait,” he ways dismissively. “We’re having lunch.” 

Bro, Shang Qinghua begs silently, I appreciate your consideration, but I’d really much rather know what the message says! 

They talk idly for the rest of the break, and no matter how many times Shang Qinghua tries to figure out a non-suspicious way to direct Shen Yuan back to his phone, nothing comes to him. Eventually, Shen Yuan sweeps out, back to his own work, and takes his phone with him, leaving Shang Qinghua nothing to do but sit there miserably as his brain kicks into overdrive. 

At the very least, when they have dinner tonight, Shang Qinghua will be able to moon over Mobei Jun like an idiot. Sure, it’ll probably be pathetic and one-sided, but when has that ever stopped him before? He could go for gold in the pathetic Olympics and come out on top in something for the first time in his life! 

The rest of Shang Qinghua’s day passes miserably and slowly. His phone screen stays as dim as his optimism. 

--

Because Shang Qinghua’s life has all the cringe of a particularly subpar TV drama, their big farewell dinner is at the same restaurant as they’d gone to that first night. According to Shen Yuan, Luo Binghe had liked their dumplings. Given that he cannot remember Luo Binghe so much as touching the dumplings last time, Shang Qinghua doubts that, but he can’t exactly begrudge the man his emotional attachment to the place that had introduced him to his dear Shen Yuan. 

Inside, it’s even more crowded than it had been last time. At least their table seems like it’s been wiped this time, and because Shen Yuan isn’t trying to ruffle any feathers, he’s paid to give them a nicer one in the corner, away from the worst of the noise. 

Shang Qinghua feels like he’s going to jump out of his skin every time somebody laughs too loud or a waiter slams down a tray. Even putting aside the nerves making a mess of a stomach, there was a reason he didn’t get out much. He doesn’t have the constitution for social situations like this! 

“When are they getting here?” Shang Qinghua says, as he does his best to mop his sweaty forehead discretely with his sleeve. 

Shen Yuan checks his phone. Shang Qinghua does his best not to peer over his shoulder like a creep. “Hmm, they shouldn’t be long,” Shen Yuan says. “Luo Binghe says their hotel is in walking distance from here.” 

“Okay. Good. That’s good.” Shang Qinghua drums his fingers on the table. He glances nervously over his shoulder, like he’s expecting to find Mobei Jun lurking there. He sees nothing but the crowded restaurant. “You know what, I’m not feelings so good, and I’m sure they’re not all that excited to see me anyway. Maybe I’ll just -” 

“No!” Shen Yuan’s hand darts out like a viper, dragging Shang Qinghua back down into his chair. “It’s just one dinner, you can get through one dinner, can’t you?” 

Shang Qinghua stares at him. “What does it even matter if I’m here? I’m head of accounting. It’s not like -” 

“You were here when I greeted them so you should be here when I say goodbye too,” Shen Yuan says, doubling down like Shang Qinghua has never seen. Usually, if Shang Qinghua whines enough, he tends to let him squirm his way out of most things, even if just to shut him up. “So keep your ass in your seat, okay?” 

Shang Qinghua wants to protest, but, like deja vu, Shen Yuan is already smiling over his shoulder. Only, this time there’s nothing plastic about it; welcoming, warm even. “You’re late,” Shen Yuan admonishes. 

Luo Binghe is smiling too as he slips into the chair closest to Shen Yuan. “My apologies,” he says. “We got held up. It wasn’t my wish to keep you waiting.” 

Beside Shang Qinghua, long fingers land on the back of the remaining chair. Slowly, it draws back, and Mobei Jun sinks down next to him without a word. 

He’s as gorgeous as ever. Really, it’s almost too much. Shang Qinghua doesn’t know how he’s supposed to look at him and not be blinded by it! He’s in a different suit than he’d been the first night, but it’s just as well fitting, the blue of it so dark it’s almost black. He’s not wearing a necktie, and the top few buttons of the shirt beneath are undone, showing his throat. 

Shang Qinghua wants to run his fingertips along it like he’s never wanted anything in his whole fucking life, and Shang Qinghua is a greedy, greedy man. 

He thinks Mobei Jun’s looking at him. He doesn’t want to know if he’s not. Either option seems unfathomable right now. Shang Qinghua turns in his seat and manages to flag down a waiter before he says something stupid. 

Their drinks and food arrive relatively quickly - by the careful way they edge around Luo Binghe, Shang Qinghua has a sneaking suspicion a visit might have been paid to the kitchen - and the evening goes off with a bang, pleasant and companionable. Shen Yuan and Luo Binghe talk like they’ve known each other their whole lives. From what Shang Qinghua can overhear, very little of it seems to be about work, too. Every now and again, Mobei Jun adds something, but Shang Qinghua can’t bring himself to contribute. It’s too risky. Who knows what’ll come out of his mouth if he opens it for more than a moment at a time? 

Instead, he sits there, mechanically chowing his way through most of the dishes at the table like so long as his mouth is occupied it’ll keep him out of trouble. He’s so conscious of Mobei Jun beside him, and it occurs to him how natural it feels like it’s becoming. Even when they’d been out yesterday, Mobei Jun had never strayed too far ahead, had always waited for Shang Qinghua to fall into step beside him. 

It shouldn’t be that endearing, but Shang Qinghua, who is used to scrambling not to be left behind, had felt it like a physical blow. 

Now though, he doesn’t feel endeared. He feels awkward and forgotten, watching Shen Yuan, Luo Binghe, and Mobei Jun bounce conversation gracefully back and forth. Luo Binghe is, of course, riveted to Shen Yuan like looking away might kill him. Shang Qinghua had expected that. 

He hadn’t been prepared to see Mobei Jun doing it too. 

Unlike their first night here, he seems to be listening to Shen Yuan; nodding at the appropriate spots if not engaging. When Shen Yuan turns to him, he answers readily enough, and when Shen Yuan tells a joke he smiles. 

It’s thin. It’s brief. But it’s a smile. 

He hasn’t smiled at Shang Qinghua before. 

There it is, he thinks, positively wretched with misery. The Shen Yuan Effect in action. 

He doesn’t know why it surprises him. He ought to be used to it! He should! How many times has it been now? He has no right to start being disappointed by it after all this time. 

Except… Shang Qinghua had maybe, in the smallest, darkest corner of his heart, gotten his hopes up. He’d thought that maybe, just this once, he wasn’t seeing things that weren’t there - that Mobei Jun was interested in him too. 

Stupid of him. Shang Qinghua knows very well by now that people like Mobei Jun don’t look at people like him. 

He’s not going to cry, because he has his pride, but it does feel awfully crowded at the table suddenly. Shang Qinghua clears his throat, getting to his feet, and the attention jerks to him even though he’d hoped it wouldn’t. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m not feeling so well. I’m just going to…” he makes a vague gesture over his shoulder, and then beats a retreat before anybody can think to ask what that means. 

He narrowly avoids upturning a passing serving tray and walks straight into a wall before he orients himself enough to slip out the back door. Thankfully, nobody is around, and although the air smells of smoke, it’s crisp enough to clear some of the miserable fog laying claim to his head. 

Shang Qinghua squats down, lacing his hands together over his knees and burying his face in his wrists. Okay, maybe he’d lied. He might cry after all. Just a little. He thinks he has that right! If you look at it from a certain angle, this kind of counts as being dumped. 

He’s just getting worked up to have a nice little sob when he hears the door swing open behind him, and he coughs, scrambling back to his feet, wiping an arm frantically over his eyes as if it could hide the puffy redness or the wetness on his cheeks. “Sorry, sorry,” he laughs. “Had too much to drink, I don’t mean to -” 

A hand seizes his wrist, pulling it away from his face, and Shang Qinghua comes eye to eye with a very thunderous looking Mobei Jun. 

His heart dips again. Oh, hell. Is it not enough that he had to deal with whatever was happening at the table? Couldn’t he just have a single moment to himself before going back inside and trying to salvage things? 

“You,” Mobei Jun says, and it sounds like a threat. “You’ve been… crying.” 

One of Shang Qinghua’s hands is still trapped in Mobei Jun’s grip, but the other isn’t, and he uses it to frantically scrub the evidence from his face. Unfortunately, Mobei Jun seems to have predicted that, because he grabs that one too, holding both of Shang Qinghua’s hands by the wrists.

Like this, they’re close. Shang Qinghua can smell him again; sharp, cold, spicy. It makes him think of the elevator. He doesn’t want to think of the elevator right now. 

“Let me go,” he snaps, trying to pull his hands free. “Geez, you can’t just bully somebody like this! I’m just -!” 

He’s cut off as Mobei Jun spins him around, pressing him against the wall, pinning Shang Qinghua’s hands to the brick. He’s so winded that he can’t even react as Mobei Jun steps closer, his knee sliding in between Shang Qinghua’s legs. “Why,” Mobei Jun says, as if Shang Qinghua hadn’t spoken at all, “are you crying?” 

Shang Qinghua stares at him incredulously. The nerve! The sheer gall! As if he doesn’t know! As if Shang Qinghua isn’t a well-worn book that anybody can read at a glance! It’s not like Shang Qinghua’s exactly been subtle about his feelings here! 

“Are you serious?” he asks. “Why would you - there’s mean, and then there’s cruel.”

Mobei Jun’s face is so surprised that Shang Qinghua finally manages to tear his hands free. He shoves at Mobei Jun’s well sculptured chest, but he’s as unwavering as the wall at his back. “Why am I crying? Why am I crying? Why do you think I’m crying, you asshole!” He shoves again, harsher this time. “It wouldn’t be so bad if you’d just let me down gently, but you had to - yesterday, in the elevator - and now this.” 

Mobei Jun catches Shang Qinghua’s wrists again, keeping them pressing to his chest to stop the pummeling. “Shang Qinghua,” he says, “I don’t understand what you mean.”

Shang Qinghua wants to keep hitting him, but the thing is, he looks confused and sounds genuine. It really seems like he can’t comprehend why Shang Qinghua might be a little heartbroken upset about the whole thing. 

And wow, isn’t that a fresh hurt all of its own? What happened between them is such a small things that Mobei Jun can’t figure out why it mattered to Shang Qinghua. 

Shang Qinghua takes a deep breath, and then another when the first doesn’t help at all. His face still feels wet. In fact, he’s relatively certain he’s still crying, but he’s already embarrassed himself, so it doesn’t seem like there’s much further to fall. 

But that’s okay. He can still salvage this. Shang Qinghua can be like one of those self-sacrificing B-plot heroines he writes about so often. They always get the short end of the stick, but their selflessness makes them good, admirable people. He can be like that. 

He can. 

“If you,” he says, only to falter. He clears his throat, looking up, determinedly meeting Mobei Jun’s bemused gaze. “If you want to win him over, I can help.” 

“Win who over?” Mobei Jun asks, like an idiot. 

“Shen Yuan!” Shang Qinghua snaps, because really, his self-sacrificing can only go so far. Does Mobei Jun have to dig the knife in like that? “He doesn’t really notice these kinds of things, he’s thick like that, but he’s my best friend, and I can… help you win him over, if you want.” 

Ouch. It’d hurt to get out, but he feels good for it too. There. Shang Qinghua can be a redeemable person if he puts his mind to it! He’s sure he’ll even bounce back from this in a year or ten! He might even have the courage to crush on somebody again by the time he’s ready to retire! 

Still, Mobei Jun is staring at him like Shang Qinghua is speaking Latin. “Why would I want to win over Shen Yuan?” 

“I…” He’d known Mobei Jun was oblivious, but this is too much! “Because that’s what you do when you like someone?” 

Revelation appears in Mobei Jun’s dark eyes. He tilts his head back, looking towards the sky in frustration for a moment, then he looks back to Shang Qinghua. “Shang Qinghua,” he says, sounding strained, “I don’t like Shen Yuan.”

Shang Qinghua stares at him blankly. “You… don’t?” 

“No,” Mobei Jun says. His thumbs are rubbing gently along the pulse points of Shang Qinghua’s wrists. “I like you.” 

Shang Qinghua thinks his heart has stopped. It has to, because it doesn’t seem like there’s any blood making its way to his brain. “You do?” 

Mobei Jun rolls his eyes. He lets go of one of Shang Qinghua’s hands so he can slide his palm behind his neck, thumb tracing the soft skin beneath the shell of Shang Qinghua’s ear that makes him shiver. “Of course,” he says. “What did you think I was doing?” 

Shang Qinghua really can’t answer that, and not just because he’s not sure he has any higher thought processes going on right now. “I don’t know,” he says faintly. “I mean, I kind of thought, or at least I hoped, but then it felt like maybe not, and I didn’t want to presume, and it didn’t seem to make sense. I just… I don’t get it, I think. Shen Yuan is right there.” 

“Shen Yuan’s fine,” Mobei Jun says, with the tone of voice one might have about a wilting cabbage. Then, darker, “But he’s not you.” 

Nobody has ever said that to him as a compliment before. Shang Qinghua thinks he might faint from the shock of it. The hand on the back of his neck and the leg between his are the only things keeping him upright. He fists his hand in Mobei Jun’s jacket. “I think maybe you’ve just got bad taste,” he says nervously. “Have you seen me?” 

Mobei Jun’s eyes drop from his, tracing along the line of Shang Qinghua’s throat, then down, down, down. He can feel the weight of all the way down his spine, an invisible touch against his bare skin. He bites his lip and tries not to shiver. Mobei Jun’s gaze snaps back up again. “Not as much as I would like,” he says. “And my taste is flawless.” 

Oh, Shang Qinghua thinks, and drags Mobei Jun in for a kiss. 

Yesterday, in the elevator, things had happened so fast that Shang Qinghua had barely gotten to enjoy it. Later that night when he’d been alone with nothing but his imagination and his right hand, all the little details had seemed smudged beyond repair, and he’d struggled to even remember what Mobei Jun felt like in his hands. 

The answer is cold. He hadn’t put on his coat before chasing Shang Qinghua out, and his skin had grown frigid as they stood their arguing. Now, Shang Qinghua warms it the best he can, chasing the chill back with his hands and his fingers, biting desperately into Mobei Jun’s mouth with reverence and awe. 

Mobei Jun keeps him pressed to the wall, his weight bearing down on him. The hand on the back of Shang Qinghua’s neck is commanding, and when he slips the other beneath Shang Qinghua’s shirt, it makes him squirm, pressing back into it without thought. He can feel Mobei Jun smiling against his mouth, and it is nothing at all like the polite glimmer of the one he’d given Shen Yuan at the table. The thought that this is for him, and that Mobei Jun means it to be, makes Shang Qinghua actually moan. 

Somebody could come out here any minute. Shang Qinghua doesn’t fucking care. Let them. Let everybody. He digs his hands into Mobei Jun’s shoulders and tries to remember how to breathe. 

Eventually, Mobei Jun pulls away. His lips are red and wet in the dim overhead light, and it makes Shang Qinghua swallow thickly, barely holding himself back from dragging Mobei Jun in again. It must show on his face though, because the corner of Mobei Jun’s mouth twists in that unrepentant smile. He reaches up, brushing the pad of his thumb along Shang Qinghua’s bottom lip. 

“I hope,” he says, “that you understand my intentions now?” 

Shang Qinghua nods helplessly, eyes moon wide. The thumb at his lip slips higher, prying his mouth open to rest against his tongue, keeping him from talking. 

“My hotel is ten minutes away,” Mobei Jun says. “Do you think you can wait that long?” 

Weakly, Shang Qinghua manages to slur, “What about dinner -” 

Mobei Jun presses against his tongue in warning, and he falls silent. “Yes or no, Shang Qinghua. Do you want to come back to my hotel?” 

Like there’s anything else Shang Qinghua is going to say to an invitation like that. He nods like a puppet on a string. The dark, possessive look on Mobei Jun’s face should scare him. Instead, it makes his dick pressed against Mobei Jun’s thigh twitch. 

The thumb slips from his mouth, and a hand smooths down his chest. “Come,” Mobei Jun says. “Let’s go.”

--

The only reason Shang Qinghua manages to hold out until the hotel room is because the only thing worse than not getting publicly fucked against the wall by the vice president of Bailu Industries is winding up spread across the papers for it. 

Right now, the only thing Shang Qinghua is interested in being spread across is Mobei Jun’s sheets. Thankfully, Mobei Jun has no qualms following through on his promise in the least. 

They’re barely through the door to his expensive suite before his hands slide underneath Shang Qinghua’s thighs, plucking him from the floor like he weighs no more than a paperclip. It’s all Shang Qinghua can do to throw his arms around Mobei Jun’s shoulders for balance as he walks Shang Qinghua backwards to the bed. 

“Oh my god,” Shang Qinghua huffs, clutching to his shirt. “This is really happening, right? I’m not imagining this. It’s not a dream?” 

He thinks he hears Mobei Jun laugh, but he might be imagining that too. Shang Qinghua’s back hits the bed, and the covers billow out beneath him like silk. Mobei Jun crawls between his spread legs, dark hair falling in his face, and already looking like sin incarnate. Shang Qinghua thinks he might explode just looking at him. 

“We can stop,” Mobei Jun offers, but the way his fingers are already deftly slipping loose the tie around Shang Qinghua’s throat tells him that it’s a tease. “If that’s what you want.” 

“If you don’t touch me I’m going to cry,” Shang Qinghua says honestly, and Mobei bends down to press his sharp smile into the hollow of his throat. 

After that, things get blurry again. He has lucid flashes that he thinks he’ll remember for the rest of his life; Mobei Jun’s shirt sliding off his shoulders, the clink of a belt buckle coming undone, the hot press of Mobei Jun’s mouth as it slides down, down, down - 

Reality shudders back into place just as Mobei Jun goes down on him, and Shang Qinghua is left gasping at the high ceiling, hands clutching Mobei Jun’s hair as he tries to keep himself from coming in a fucking instant. It’s hard though, because Mobei Jun has the mouth of a sex god, and the closest Shang Qinghua has ever gotten to being laid is when he came in his pants while making out at a party in college. 

“Holy shit,” he whimpers, digging his heels into the mattress. His lungs feel like they’ve seized up. “I’m going to - you’ve got to stop, please, holy fuck.” He pulls frantically at Mobei Jun’s hair. “Please.” 

The mouth lingers for a moment more before pulling off excruciatingly slowly. Mobei Jun blows a small breath of cold air across his aching tip, and Shang Qinghua gasps like he’s been electrocuted. 

“Too easy,” Mobei Jun says as he crawls his way back up Shang Qinghua’s body.

Shang Qinghua gives a winded laugh. “Yeah,” he says. “I’ve, uh, I’ve never done this before.” 

Mobei Jun pauses, the teasing look in his eyes faltering. One of his hands slides up Shang Qinghua’s stomach, and Shang Qinghua feels kind of self-conscious about it, but his complete lack of stomach definition doesn’t seem to bother Mobei Jun in the slightest. “You’re a virgin?” 

Shang Qinghua blushes so hard he can see it spreading across his chest. “Is that… a problem?” 

The look on Mobei Jun’s face is very dark and equally unreadably, but his tone of voice is not. “No,” he purrs. “Not a problem at all.” 

By the time Shang Qinghua is face down in the sheets, Mobei Jun’s fingers opening him up with agonizing precision, he has to agree. He’s waited all these years for this - every single night spent jerking off alone in his bed is immeasurably worth it just for how good this feels. Isn’t your first time meant to suck? He’s heard that somewhere, he knows. At the very least it’s meant to be a little painful, surely! 

Shang Qinghua does not feel in pain right now. He feels like he’s shaking out of his skin, brain a scrambled mess, and if Mobei Jun doesn’t fuck him right this second he’s going to come all over these lovely, expensive sheets and be absolutely useless for the right of the night. 

He tries to say that, as much as he can when his face is pressed firmly into a pillow and Mobei Jun fingers are stretching him like a god send. “I think - I think that’s enough. I’m ready. Fuck, I’m so ready.” 

“Hmm.” Mobei Jun’s fingers twist abruptly, pressing right against Shang Qinghua prostate and he sees stars. “Are you sure?” 

Shang Qinghua can’t tell if the pillow is wet from drool or tears. Either way, it’s gross and he’ll feel mortified by it in the morning. The morning isn’t right now though, and he’s not feeling anything other than the driving need to be railed into oblivion right now. “Yes,” he gasps, trying to twist and glance over his shoulder. “Yes, c’mon, please, please -” 

Mobei Jun’s hand tangles in his hair, turning his face back away again before Shang Qinghua can see anything at all. “If we go too quick, you’ll regret it.” 

Shang Qinghua squirms, pressing back against him. He feels Mobei Jun’s dick bump against the curve of his ass, and wow, okay, that feels big, and Shang Qinghua is a lot of things but he isn’t a quitter. He’s going to get that thing in him, and he’s going to come so hard he’ll forget his own fucking name, just knows. 

“If you don’t fuck me soon,” he begs, “I’m going to -” 

Again, the fingers twist, and his words trips into an embarrassing keen. “You’ll what?” 

He should have known Mobei Jun would be mean in bed too, but that’s okay, because it’s really doing it for him, actually. “I’ll come,” he says. “Fuck, I don’t want to. Not right now, not until - please.” 

There’s the creak of the bed behind him shifting, and then Mobei Jun’s fingers withdraw. He doesn’t even have a moment to adjust to the emptiness of it before he feels big hands gripping his hips, dragging him down the bed. Helplessly, Shang Qinghua rucks up the sheets as he goes. “Can’t have that,” Mobei Jun says, and one of the hands flutters up to push Shang Qinghua’s hair over his shoulder before tracing down his back. “Stay still.” 

Shang Qinghua tries his best. It’s hard when he feels like his skin is splitting open with need. Something hot and heavy bumping against his thigh; deliciously wet and frighteningly hard. 

“Oh my god,” he wheezes, burying his face in the pillow.

Mobei Jun laughs. Then, just like that, his cock begins to press in. 

Shang Qinghua has thought about sex a lot over the years. In a purely professional capacity, he means. All those late nights staying up writing thousands and thousands of words of awful smut fiction had to come from somewhere in his imagination. So it’s safe to say that he has considered, once or twice, what it feels like to get fucked. 

It turns out it feels, quite simply, overwhelming.

For a moment he can’t breathe. Everything is just too much. Then Mobei Jun runs his hand down the curve of his spine again and Shang Qinghua gasps deep enough that his head spins. 

“Doing okay?” Mobei Jun asks, voice a deep rumble behind him. 

“Yes,” Shang Qinghua lies, and then lets out a cry as Mobei Jun slips further in. 

It’s not like Shang Qinghua is totally unfamiliar with the feeling of penetration, not when he’s a young man in his prime with a healthy intellectual curiosity, and plenty of working fingers. But there’s a pretty solid difference between clumsily getting yourself off with a bit of extra stimulation, and this. This, of course, being the way he’s slowly being split open, pressed against the bed, Mobei Jun’s hands holding him firmly in place as he presses in and in and in. 

When Mobei Jun bottoms out, Shang Qinghua almost cries from relief. “Shit,” he says. “I didn’t… wow. Okay. Fuck. Please don’t move.” 

One of Mobei Jun’s hands is pressed into the blankets next to his head, and he leans down, his teeth grazing across Shang Qinghua’s shoulder. It makes him jolt, and that makes the dick inside of him move, and fireworks go off in front of his eyes, rendering him useless. 

“I told you to stay still,” Mobei Jun says, but it doesn’t sound like a rebuke. 

Shang Qinghua says something back, he thinks. It’s hard to tell. It comes out a bit lost in translation. 

Mobei Jun’s hands return to his waist. “I want you on your back.” 

On his back? On his back? He expects Shang Qinghua to move right now? It’s all he can do not to just collapse! “What’s wrong with this position?” he manages to ask, winded. 

“I want to see you come,” Mobei Jun says, and then, without any warning, flips Shang Qinghua over in a single move. 

Shang Qinghua lands on his back. Mobei Jun looms above him, looking decidedly smug. He slips a hand under one of Shang Qinghua’s thighs, slinging it over his waist. Like this, Shang Qinghua gets his first real look at Mobei Jun’s dick, and it’s enough to make his brain crash all over again. 

“Are you sure you had that inside of me?” he asks. “That… that doesn’t seem possible.” 

Mobei Jun reaches down, taking himself at the base as he lines himself up. “Let’s find out,” he says, and presses back in. 

Like this, it’s harder to keep himself grounded. He has to scramble to grip at the sheets, legs split wide open and Mobei Jun cradled in his thighs. His dick is painfully hard by now, leaking on his stomach, and when Mobei Jun pauses Shang Qinghua foolishly hopes this will be his chance to adjust. 

Then Mobei Jun starts to move. 

“Oh,” Shang Qinghua whimpers, spine snapping straight. “Oh, fuck. Oh, oh, oh -” 

So this is what it’s like to get fucked, huh? Every other thrust, Mobei Jun brushes against his prostate and Shang Qinghua sees stars all over, jerking and twisting in his grip. Mobei Jun has his hands under Shang Qinghua’s thighs, keeping them spread, and he lets one fall to the bed so he can spread his broad palm across Shang Qinghua’s chest, bumping his hardened nipples, rubbing against his ribcage, pressing him into the bed. 

His movements don’t falter, and glancing down to see how fucking big his hand looks when compared to Shang Qinghua makes him curse all over again, pressing desperately back against him like he can do anything at all when he’s pinned like this.

Mobei Jun’s hand slips down, passing through the wet puddle of precome on his belly. Shang Qinghua knows it’s coming, but it’s still somehow a shock when his warm fingers encircle him, squeezing tight. 

He doesn’t even have to jerk him off. The pressure at his prostate, the tight ring of his fingers, it’s enough. 

“Oh fuck,” Shang Qinghua slurs, back bowing, and comes messily all over them both. 

For a moment, he exists in an in between world where the only sensation is gut wrenching euphoria. Then, slowly, he drifts back into awareness to realize that Mobei Jun has stilled between his legs, is slowly running his hands up and down Shang Qinghua’s sides as he stares at him, gaze hungry. 

He’s just come, but his dick twitches all the same. Holy shit, what kind of look is that? 

“Why’d you stop?” he rasps. Clumsily, he wraps his legs tighter around Mobei Jun’s waist. “You haven’t come yet, right? Keep going.” 

Mobei Jun’s eyes darken. The hands on Shang Qinghua’s skin tighten to bruising. Then he’s moving again; harder this time, powerful pushes of his hips that make all the air leave Shang Qinghua at once. It’s too much. It’s too fucking much. Shang Qinghua fucking loves it. 

Eventually, after what feels like an eon, Mobei Jun’s breath goes sharp and his thrusts stutter. Shang Qinghua recognizes the tension in his face and he squeezes as tight as he can around the cock buried in him. 

It works. Mobei Jun’s fingernails break his skin as he convulses, coming nearly silently as he grits his teeth. Shang Qinghua would do many, many things to hear just what he sounds like when he’s not biting his tongue, but right now he’s sore, and he’s still existing in this perfect state of post-orgasmic bliss, and all he really wants is for Mobei Jun to join him there. 

He reaches up, pushing Mobei Jun’s sweaty hair from his face. “Hey,” he says, and offers him a smile. “All good?” 

Mobei Jun lets the touch linger for a moment before he gently pushes Shang Qinghua’s hand away. He pulls out of Shang Qinghua’s body slowly and carefully, but it makes him wince all the same. “Stay here,” Mobei Jun instructs, which seems to be his favorite irrational command, because it’s not like Shang Qinghua is in a state to go anywhere. 

Shang Qinghua stays where he is, watching Mobei Jun vanish in the direction of what he can only assume is the bathroom. The sheets beneath him are kind of a mess, but whatever, Shang Qinghua just had the orgasm of his life, he’s beyond caring about that right now. 

It really is a nice hotel, he supposes. It’s a pity he hadn’t really gotten to see more of it before Mobei Jun had fucked up into the mattress. 

Mobei Jun’s back before he can consider getting up to explore, minus condom and plus washcloth. Shang Qinghua lounges on the bed, feeling embarrassingly pampered as Mobei Jun cleans him up with a single mindedness that feels almost more clinical than romantic. After, they scrub the worst of the, uhh, fluids, from the sheets, and the bed is mostly serviceable. 

Shang Qinghua wiggles over, trying to ignore the pain shooting through his back, and pats the mattress beside him. Mobei Jun climbs up to join him. Shang Qinghua has a moment where he wonders if he’s going to have to find a way to ask how Mobei Jun feels about cuddling, because Shang Qinghua would like that very much please, but the words doesn’t get a chance to leave his mouth. 

Mobei Jun slips a hand around Shang Qinghua’s shoulders, guiding him to lean into his chest. He feels a little stiff, and Shang Qinghua gets the impression that if getting railed isn’t exactly a daily occurrence for him, maybe after-railing cuddling isn’t exactly a daily occurrence for Mobei Jun, which seems kind of sad. 

He sets his head again Mobei Jun’s chest and breathes out a contented sigh when Mobei Jun tentatively rakes fingers through his hair. 

“You’re being quiet,” Mobei Jun observes. 

“I think you fucked me so hard my brain leaked out my ears,” Shang Qinghua says bluntly. He can feel the chest beneath his cheek shake with what might have been a laugh. “My mouth will come back online soon, I think.” 

“Hm.” Mobei Jun tucks a wayward strand of hair behind Shang Qinghua’s ears. Urg. He's sure his hair is a mess. “Why did you think I liked Shen Yuan?” 

Shang Qinghua had really been hoping that they wouldn’t discuss this, actually. Especially not five minutes into post coital cuddling time. He supposes he shouldn’t be surprised. Mobei Jun seems like the kind of person that doesn’t care about particulars like. 

All the same he twists, burying his face in Mobei Jun’s glorious, glorious abs so he won’t have to meet his expression. “I didn’t! Well, not really, I think. I just… I just got confused?” 

“Confused?” Mobei Jun doesn’t sound impressed. 

“You got weird when we were texting yesterday,” Shang Qinghua mumbles. “I thought maybe I’d… misread things.” 

“Misread me pushing you down in the elevator?” 

He flushes. “You brushed me off later!” 

“I asked you out. You turned me down. I thought you weren’t interested.” 

Shang Qinghua frowns. He pushes himself upright to look at Mobei Jun. His face is mostly expressionless, but his mouth is very thin. “Do you mean when you said you’d take me to lunch?” 

The arch of his eyebrow says ‘what else?’ 

Shang Qinghua slaps him gently on the bare chest. “I thought you were being polite!” he says. “Like, a work thing! And then when I found out you would have to go home tomorrow, it didn’t seem like there would be another chance!” 

“It’s not that far,” Mobei Jun says. Then, as if Shang Qinghua hasn’t gotten the picture yet, “I would like to take you out again.” 

“I want that too,” he manages to say. “I just didn’t realize that was what you were saying before.” 

There’s a pause. “And you thought that meant I liked Shen Yuan?” 

Shang Qinghua groans, burying his face in his hands. “No, not that. You didn’t text me back, and then I saw you messaging Shen Yuan, and you didn’t seem like the type to just do that -” 

“I was asking him about you. I wanted his advice.” 

“And then at dinner, you smiled at him, and you hadn’t even done that with me -” 

“Luo Binghe told me to be nicer to him,” Mobei Jun says. He adds, “He’s in love with Shen Yuan.” 

“He’s known Shen Yuan for less than a week, he’s not in love with him,” Shang Qinghua sighs. “That’s just the Shen Yuan Effect.” 

Mobei Jun pauses, looking at him with a frown. “The Shen Yuan Effect?” 

Shang Qinghua sits back on his heels, blankets slipping around his waist. “Yeah. It’s like, I couldn’t tell you why, but Shen Yuan just makes the most unlikely men go absolutely batshit for him. I wouldn’t believe it myself, but I’ve seen it in action for literal years.” 

Mobei Jun seems to think that one over. “Luo Binghe is certain he’s in love with him.” 

“He probably is. Sucks to be him. Shen Yuan is as dense as a brick.” 

Mobei Jun levels him with a look. He reaches up, flicking Shang Qinghua in the center of the forehead. 

“Ow! What was that for?” he complains, reeling back. 

“Hm.” Whatever it is, Mobei Jun seems mollified now. He drags Shang Qinghua back beneath the covers with him. “I don’t want to talk about Luo Binge or Shen Yuan,” he says. “Go to sleep.” 

It’s so stupid, but the finality with which he utters those words makes Shang Qinghua smile like an idiot. It’s just nice, okay? Nice to be the center of somebody’s attention like this, not to be competing with even the thought of people who are way more attractive and just all-around better prospects than him.

He rolls onto his back, dragging Mobei Jun’s arm around him. For once, he feels just uncomplicatedly good. It’s nice. 

He thinks maybe he should get Mobei Jun to fuck the anxiety out of him more often.

--

Shang Qinghua is the first to wake the next morning. He supposes that isn’t really a surprise when he considers how busy Mobei Jun must have been these past few days between travel, business deals, and seducing a very flighty Shang Qinghua. 

No matter how nice cuddling with Mobei Jun is, Shang Qinghua is too wired to just lay in bed once he’s awake. His mind is finally back online, and he can’t make himself just stare at the ceiling and think empty thoughts, enjoying the warm heat of his boyfriend’s body. 

Mobei Jun is his boyfriend now, right? He kind of has to be, or else Shang Qinghua is going to demand a refund. 

Gently, he extracts himself from bed, doing his best not to wake Mobei Jun and somehow managing. Walking is kind of rough, but he limps his way to the bathroom to wash up and rummage around in Mobei Jun’s suitcase. More than one button on his shirt had fallen casualty to Mobei Jun’s hands last night, but thankfully his pants had made it out alright. Just as well, because Mobei Jun’s shirt positively hangs off him, Shang Qinghua cannot even imagine trying to wear his pants. 

Once he’s mostly dressed, he peeks back into the bedroom where Mobei June is still passed out. With nothing else to do, he makes a cup of coffee and heads for the expensive balcony jutting off the living area. With a hotel this expensive, Shang Qinghua cannot wait to see the view. 

He rattles the door open, stepping barefoot onto the smooth stone. He’s roughly god knows how many stories up, and the city is a sprawling, waking mess in front of him. He’s just leaning against the railing, enjoying the view and enjoying life, when he hears the sound of the door for the balcony next to him opening. Frowning, he glances over and freezes. 

Shen Yuan stares back, one foot out the door, coffee mug cradled in his hands, looking like a deer caught in headlights. A mostly undone shirt that Shang Qinghua knows does not belong to Shen Yuan hangs off his shoulders and some very obvious hickeys line the column of his throat. 

Shang Qinghua has to resign himself to the fact he does not look much better, if he’s being honest. 

“I thought you went home last night!” Shen Yuan hisses.

“I thought you went home last night!” Shang Qinghua says. “What are you -” realization hits like a bullet. “Oh my god, is that Luo Binghe’s room?” 

“No!” Shen Yuan is bright red. 

“Did you fuck Luo Binghe?” Shang Qinghua asks, incredulous. “Bro, are you serious? Out of all the people who’ve been throwing themselves at your feet, you went for Luo Binghe? Seriously?” 

Shen Yuan points at him threateningly with his cup of coffee. “I don’t want to hear anything from you of all people,” he says, and then turns on his heel, disappearing back into Luo Binghe’s room in a huff. Shang Qinghua stares blankly after him, reassessing the events of the past few days in light of the revelation that maybe Shen Yuan isn’t as oblivious as he actually seems. 

Disturbed, Shang Qinghua turns around to retreat into the hotel only for two broad arms to catch him, walking him backwards until his back hit the railing. Shang Qinghua has to fumble to avoid dropping his coffee. 

“Uh, good morning to you too, I guess,” he says, reaching up to clumsily pat Mobei Jun’s cheek with his free hand. 

“Good morning,” Mobei Jun says, and bends down to kiss him. He tastes like toothpaste, which means he’d thought to brush his teeth before coming out here to see him. It’s stupid. It makes Shang Qinghua feel on top of the world. 

Shang Qinghua grins up at him. “What time are you heading off today?” 

Mobei Jun makes a contemplative noise. “Noon.” 

Shang Qinghua doesn’t quite hold back his disappointment. “Oh. That’s soon.” 

“I wouldn’t worry,” Mobei Jun says. “Luo Binghe is already plotting another business trip.” 

“Well, you can’t both go away all the time! Who’s in charge of the company if both the president and vice president are off doing…” Shang Qinghua doesn’t know how to clarify what they’d be doing. 

Mobei Jun raises a brow. “Doing you?” 

Shang Qinghua flushes bright red, swatting at his arm and nearly dropping his coffee again. “Can I stay here until you have to go, at least?” 

Mobei Jun’s brow furrows and for a moment Shang Qinghua thinks he’s asked something wrong, but then he says, “Where were you planning on going?” 

“Well, nowhere if I’m welcome here,” Shang Qinghua says. 

Still bemused, Mobei Jun says, “You’re always welcome here.” 

Too much! Really too much! Shang Qinghua buries his face in Mobei Jun’s chest. “Okay,” he says. “That’s good. Thank you.” 

The coffee cup in his hands is plucked away and set on the table in the corner of the balcony. Then, without any warning, big hands swoop under Shang Qinghua’s thighs and haul him off the ground. Shang Qinghua yelps, wrapping his legs around Mobei Jun’s waist and knotting them behind his back before he falls. Mobei Jun just looks down at him with that expression that means he’s smiling. “We have the room for a few more hours,” he says. “And the bed.” 

Well, if Shang Qinghua hadn’t been red before, he is now. “I don’t think I can do last night again,” he warns. “I’m still sore.” 

One of the hands holding him slips up, massaging the small of his back. “There are other things I’d like to try,” Mobei Jun says, and it sounds like a promise. 

Shang Qinghua would like that very much, but he can’t exactly just give in so easily, especially when he knows he’s going to be begging for it the moment he hits the sheets. “How much stamina do you have? Are you usually this insatiable?” 

Mobei Jun makes a contemplative noise, kicking the balcony door carelessly open and then closed behind them. Back in the hotel, he presses Shang Qinghua against the nearest wall, mouth at his collar where Mobei Jun’s shirt is slipping off. “Not usually,” he says. “I think it’s the Shang Qinghua Effect.” 

Shang Qinghua jolts, head hitting the wall as he throws it back, laughing. Against his throat, Mobei Jun smiles. “I don’t think that’s a real thing, actually.” 

One of Mobei Jun’s hands slide under his shirt. “It is.” 

God, Shang Qinghua feels so overwhelmed with affection he’s going to break. “Oh yeah?” he says, grabbing Mobei Jun by the collar to drag him up to his mouth. “Why don’t you prove it?” 

He does. 

Thoroughly.