Shift just finishing up. Be there in an hr.
I can drive.
Nah. Train’s fine. Remember when you had trouble parallel parking?
Sorry, but just looking out for you, and the rear end of your car!
“Excuse me, sir?”
Mo Xuanyu slid his phone into the pocket of his apron, putting his customer service smile back on as he gave some extra sugar packets to a customer. They were holding a tray of various lattes, so he made sure to be the good samaritan and pack them in one of the wax paper pastry bags. So what if his manager gave him flack later? He was in a good mood, and it wasn’t as if they would run out before closing. He silently wished the haggard customer good luck at probably an overnighter at work to reach a deadline. At least he didn’t have to worry about those anymore since he stopped working at Jinlan.
Sure, he had to move into an apartment that didn’t allow pets, and the healthcare package wasn’t nearly as good, but it's saying a lot about Jinlan that his mental health improved more working at a coffee shop in the center of a metropolis than at his father’s company.
Twenty more minutes of last-minute caffeine junkies as the sun began to dim from where it shined into the store, then he finished his shift, helped clean up for another twenty, and he fished his phone out of his apron pocket.
On my way!
-thumbs up emoji-
Mo Xuanyu had to contain himself from fondly rolling his eyes.
How much do I owe you?
One of these days I WILL steal the check from you. It’s not fair.
It is. I am the host.
And I’m the guest. Okay, we’ll squabble later. Heading into the subway and service is shit.
Mo Xuanyu swiped his train card in, then headed for the nearest line uptown. The triple shot espresso he had at his last meal break was hours past now, and he was very much looking forward to the food. This turn of events had become routine. If Lan Zhan wasn’t away on business and he wasn’t covering someone’s shift at work, they made time to hang out one night a week. Though Mo Xuanyu had made more friends through work and an art class he took on the side, he couldn’t say he went out of his way to hang out with them as he did this man.
When they walked down the street, most would have trouble understanding their friendship, but then again, most of what they had in common was underneath the surface. Sometimes, when annoying intrusive thoughts tried to make Mo Xuanyu isolate himself, he thought about all the things he and Lan Zhan shared.
First: They both loved animals. Mo Xuanyu, to fill the void the ‘no pets allowed’ landlord stabbed in him, volunteered at a local shelter. Lan Zhan had heard they were the only shelter in the area that had rabbits. A very tall and very handsome older man struck Mo Xuanyu with fear and admiration. He expected it might be a pet gift for a lover of his, and made sure to warn him that they preferred not to have to find another family for the small black and white rabbit he picked.
“He will be staying with me.” The smooth and melodic voice responded, and Mo Xuanyu’s perspective went a complete 180. “... But, first time owner. Done research, but…”
“We can have someone come over to check if your home is rabbit proofed.” Mo Xuanyu replied. Though his expression didn’t change, there was a glow behind his steely gaze.
And that was the start of a long and so far happy friendship.
Second: They were both awkward, if in different ways. When not in a structured conversational, like when Mo Xuanyu was at work, he could go on for minutes and minutes about a topic without stopping, while Lan Zhan would be more likely to stare to the side and say nothing when he had nothing constructive to say to someone. Both of them could be a bit offputting to others.
“Um, sir… would… would you like to order?” The customer behind the counter asked as Lan Zhan continued to stare above their head at the menu. No one was behind them, but the silence was probably unnerving.
“You still have the dairy-free options, yes?”
“Uh, yeah, we do.”
“Great! Sorry, you didn’t have them up on the board. Could you tell us what they are again?”
“They’re…” The server listed them.
“...Mm. He’ll have mulberry, and I’ll have the chocolate.” Mo Xuanyu then quickly laid down his money before Lan Zhan could get his card out. “Sound good?”
They got their ice cream and sat just outside the store, returning to people watching.
“... Mo Xuanyu.”
Mo Xuanyu shrugged. “No trouble at all. If they have something, they should remember to write it on the board. Though… that kid was nervous. Maybe he was new.”
“He didn’t look much younger than you.”
“And not you? Don’t make yourself sound like an old geezer when you’re not.” Mo Xuanyu replied. “I might be younger, but my looks will probably fade with time. You, on the other hand, will age with grace. Probably won’t start graying until you’re sixty. And then you’ll get this whole “silver fox” look.”
“...You have spent a long time thinking about it.”
“More preparing myself for when you’re the only one who will go with me to bars as my designated driver, and all the men will come onto you instead of me.”
Lan Zhan scowled.
“... Fine, fine, or you will have a villa in the country with Wei Ying--”
“Not that.” Lan Zhan interrupted, which he hardly ever did, and Mo Xuanyu felt a faint sense of satisfaction at the soft pink on his ears. “... You will not end up alone. You are a good person.”
It was still hard for Mo Xuanyu to believe that, after how much shit he had to dig himself out of in his twenty-four years of life, but that someone as kind as Lan Zhan saw him that way was… well, it was nice.
Third: They were both gay.
Super, duper, unadulterated gay .
Mo Xuanyu had known from a young age that while he appreciated the aesthetic beauty of women, he only ever had a romantic and physical attraction to other boys, and then to men. Lan Wangji, meanwhile, was heading into a new decade of his super mega ultra crush on a biochemical engineer named Wei Ying. They had only been friends for about a year now, but Mo Xuanyu was ready to have a conniption over it.
“You babysit his son .” Mo Xuanyu said on a walk through the lovely park in Lan Zhan’s area one night. “And he invited you to New Years, which like a gallant fool, you declined.”
“I had made plans with you.” Lan Zhan answered simply. “And busy with brother and uncle in the evening. I still gave A-Yuan’s money, even though not married.”
“You could have canceled them! I wouldn't have minded.” Well, he would have a little, since he didn’t really have anyone to go to. His mom lived too far away, and no way would he attend a Jin family get together.
He was borrowing one of Lan Zhan’s many turtleneck sweaters, and while talking sense into his friend was also calculating if he could squirrel it away to his closet for an extra layer. Winters could get cold, and his building wasn’t as insulated as Lan Zhan’s!
“Just… it feels like you’re purposefully making it harder for yourself. Don’t you want to tell him how you feel?”
“I wish to be part of his life. Telling him when he doesn’t reciprocate will only cause trouble for him.”
“But maybe it won’t.” Mo Xuanyu wrapped his arms around Lan Zhan’s waist without thinking about it. “It’s okay for you to be selfish, you know?”
This was the first time they hugged. Was this something Lan Zhan would like or even tolerate? Oh no. He didn’t want him to be uncomfortable. He needed to let go--
Long arms wrapped around his shoulders and pulled him closer to the other warm body. He heard the steady rhythm of Lan Zhan’s heartbeat. It was only then that Mo Xuanyu realized: when was the last time he was hugged? Hugged, with no expectation of further reciprocation, with no feeling of discomfort.
The two of them stood there and hugged one another for some time. It was a cold night, and very few people were out.
Mo Xuanyu… felt at peace.
It wasn’t an attraction. At least, not one he had ever experienced before. Perhaps the word for it was affinity. They did match each other in strange ways, but it wasn’t in romance. Or, perhaps… no, Mo Xuanyu didn’t care. He felt warm and safe. He didn’t care to ruin it.
“...Hey, we should hug more often.” Mo Xuanyu, like usual, was the first to break the silence.
“We have been hugging for eleven minutes.”
“You kept count?”
“Well. I mean like, as a regular occurrence. Maybe not this long, but hugging is nice.”
Neither particularly wanted to let go, but Lan Zhan eventually said something about bringing back some sweet tea from his trip, and they went back to his condo to have some.
Mo Xuanyu waved to the doorman as he passed by, then typed the appropriate floor and went on his way. He had done it enough times now he no longer felt nervous. Part of him wanted to joke that Lan Zhan should just make a key for him. That it would be much more straightforward. The more sane part of him talked him out of joking about something like that. What would he do? Move-in with Lan Zhan? This building was way, way, waaaaay over his budget.
No, it’s better just to visit.
When he knocked on the door, it opened calmly and without fanfare. Lan Zhan was dressed in his usual home wear, constituting a soft sweater and yoga pants, with Jiji the rabbit snuggled into the crook of his arm. Even if it were summer or winter, Lan Wangji would wear something long-sleeved. It was something Mo Xuanyu wanted to ask him about, but once more, he was afraid if he overstepped another boundary.
“Good evening.” Lan Zhan replied.
“Hey,” Mo Xuanyu smiled, giving him a side hug, and Jiji a few rubs across the back. “Mmm. I smell food.”
“Arrived just a few minutes ago.” Lan Zhan replied, his chin gently resting on top of Mo Xuanyu’s head. The small weight on top of his head felt nice. “You smell like vanilla syrup.”
“Ughhh, I spilled some on myself taking an order for some high schoolers. They were too loud, and I fumbled while restocking.” Mo Xuanyu pulled away and slipped off his work shoes, substituting them for some cute black cat slippers Lan Zhan picked out for him when he mentioned liking cats, because he was thoughtful like that. “Mind if I wash and borrow some clothes after dinner?”
Lan Zhan shook his head. “Don’t mind. Eat first.”
They had their dinner, a lovely collection of dishes from the Thai restaurant both of them liked. There were two sets of meat dishes, and only one vegetarian, which meant Mo Xuanyu would have to return the favor next time they ordered in.
Mo Xuanyu washed, and when he was finished, a sweater and some baggy sweats were waiting for him. For a moment, he took in the sight.
He didn’t know why it felt a bit different today, but he thinks that silent gestures like this, maybe, are Lan Zhan’s way of expressing affection. It makes sense. The clothes in the small wooden basket… really, why did it make him feel so overwhelmed all of a sudden?
After taking a few deep breaths, he put the clothes on and wrapped his dampened hair up into a bun. When he walked out, Lan Zhan was sitting on the couch, reading a book while Jiji snoozed in his lap. Mo Xuanyu spent a minute staring, before Lan Zhan looked up, head tilted slightly in confusion.
“Oh, it’s nothing.” Mo Xuanyu waved off, walking over and settling on one side, a little bit farther than usual. “Want to watch that period drama?”
“... Mn. Interested.”
Mo Xuanyu grinned, picking up the remote and scrolling to find its place among the video apps. They picked off from where they left off in episode count, in some of the less monumental scenes continuing to chat about what they said over dinner. Jiji went back to his designated area of the space. Lan Zhan, strangely-- well, it wasn’t that strange, he had done it more often lately-- moved over and rested his head against Mo Xuanyu’s shoulder. Mo Xuanyu untucked his legs so he could shift closer, resting a cheek into his hair, which always had a pleasant, clean scent.
When the third episode finished, it was getting close to Lan Zhan’s usual bedtime, and Mo Xuanyu was feeling a bit sleepy himself. Maybe that’s why he didn’t stop himself this time.
“Hey, Lan Zhan? If neither of us ends up with anybody, do you wanna live together when we’re old so that we won’t be lonely?”
Well, what a pathetic way to put it. Of course, Lan Zhan wouldn’t agree to something like that. Who would? If only out of their own sense of pride. It was only Mo Xuanyu’s neediness catching up to him.
But then Lan Zhan’s head shifted from under his cheek, and he looked at Mo Xuanyu. He blinked slowly, face relaxed, and then, he nodded.
“En. That sounds nice.”
“It’s… you don’t find it weird? Or depressing?”
He shook his head. “I like being with you. If you don’t mind.”
Mo Xuanyu couldn’t help but let out a small, high-pitched laugh. “I don’t mind in the least!”
Lan Zhan tucked his head under Mo Xuanyu’s chin. “Good.”
“Really, just because we agreed to be old age failsafes doesn’t mean I’ll be your mattress.” Still, Mo Xuanyu wrapped his arm around Lan Zhan’s broader shoulders, keeping him tucked against his chest as his breaths began to even out. Soon, Mo Xuanyu ended up the same.
“A life with you, my friend… sounds wonderful.”