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THE WEEK BEFORE

“So,” says Jiang Cheng, leaning against Lan Wangji’s doorway with his arms crossed tight over his chest. “Did you see the email.”

Lan Wangji does not look up from his computer, which has one sentence written in Microsoft Word. That sentence is Ideas For Saturday. There are no ideas for Saturday listed. His phone has been vibrating in his pocket ever since the email arrived in his inbox, which means that Wei Ying has also read it, even though Lan Wangji has taken away his email access while he recuperates. It is obvious that there is no loyalty among Lan Wangji’s staff.

“Lan Wangji,” Jiang Cheng says, stubborn. “Did you see. The email.

Lan Wangji is trying to pretend that Jiang Cheng is not there. He is always, on some level, trying to pretend that Jiang Cheng is not there.

Eventually, he accepts the reality that he lives in, which is the one where Jiang Cheng is in his doorway and that there is an email sitting in his inbox that he did, in fact, have the displeasure of reading.

He says, “I read all my emails promptly.”

“You’re such an asshole,” Jiang Cheng mutters. “Why are you like this. Who made you like this. Was it Wei Wuxian.”

Lan Wangji considers this, then bows his head in acknowledgment that, probably, it was indeed Wei Wuxian.

He says, “Was there something regarding next week’s celebrity guest that you feel it important we discuss?”

“Yeah,” Jiang Cheng snaps, “Regarding next week’s celebrity guest, I would like to discuss the following point: what the fuck?”

“He agreed to come on short notice,” Lan Wangji explains, looking back at his very empty document. His phone vibrates again, and then again, and then rings four times before he sends it to voicemail. “As a favor to the show. It was very gracious of him.”

Jiang Cheng throws his arms up into the air, coming more fully into Lan Wangji’s office, which is the opposite of what Lan Wangji wants him to do. “He’s not even that famous! We couldn’t get someone else?”

“Whom would you have suggested, on this schedule?” Lan Wangji returns, keeping his tone even.

“I don’t know. Anyone. We’re a very popular show. People like us.”

“Perhaps next time you could offer the names and contact information for more famous celebrities you would prefer we ask to donate a week of their time after a last-minute cancellation,” suggests Lan Wangji. He knows he’s being an asshole, but he can’t help it. Something about Jiang Cheng brings it out in him, and mostly always has. He doesn’t know what.

(He knows what. Wei Wuxian told him once, laughing: He’s the only person in your life you can be an asshole to without feeling bad about it.)

Jiang Cheng flips him off. “You’re really okay with this,” he says flatly. “I thought you’d be even more pissed than me, because of the thing with his manager.”

“I don’t know what gave you that impression,” Lan Wangji answers serenely, and then looks pointedly back down at his computer so that Jiang Cheng knows the conversation is over.

There’s a pause where Lan Wangji can feel Jiang Cheng’s eyes on him, but eventually he gives a disgusted snort and storms out.

Lan Wangji stares determinedly down at his laptop. Under Ideas for Saturday, he writes: Murder is forbidden on NBC premises.

-

It is Friday, the second busiest day in Lan Wangji’s already punishingly packed schedule, and his to do list is so long that it’s taken up two pages of printer paper, a napkin, the back of a Subway receipt, and fourteen post-its. Lan Wangji is typically more organized than this, but he recently filled up his notebook, and traditionally Wei Ying always buys them for him. On Monday he’d stood in a CVS for twenty minutes that he didn’t have, staring at them, and then left without buying anything except a terrible green juice that he didn’t even want.

Being head writer at SNL is a lot like being a child with untreated ADHD responsible for wrangling a staff full of smaller children with untreated ADHD into solving the Riemann hypothesis, and also all of those children missed the unit of math where they learned long division, and you, the older child, have This Is Halloween from The Nightmare Before Christmas playing on repeat in your head, but the way your brain thinks it would sound if it were sung in Russian, a language you don’t speak, so you have bigger problems than teaching long division to children who don’t want to learn it, even though at this rate, none of you are ever going to solve the Riemann hypothesis.

That could be a sketch, Lan Wangji thinks to himself, making a mental note but not a physical one. Maybe it’s a little weird, but Wei Ying likes sketches that are a little weird. Wei Ying is always trying to push the format forward, to bring in animators for the digital shorts and feature weird underground musicians that nobody knew. There was a slam poet he kept pitching before his hiatus, but Lan Wangji is eighty percent sure that’s a bit.

Once, in the early days, Lan Wangji and Wei Ying locked themselves in their shared dressing room for twenty hours straight, writing until they were both delirious, and the sketch they came up with featured Jiang Cheng as a rabbit turned into a Playboy Bunny, trying to get people at a fancy Hollywood party in the forties to feed him a carrot.

The point is, Lan Wangji is busy, so he ignores his phone for two more hours before he gives up and answers. He makes a brave attempt at crisis mitigation by saying, “It’s one week. It won’t be that bad. Also, I know you can’t get into your email, because I changed the password, so which of my disciples has betrayed me?”

Wei Ying lets out a long, ugly groan. “I am fine, Lan Zhan. Everybody is overreacting, it’s so embarrassing for all of you.”

“You had undiagnosed pneumonia, which you walked around with for weeks until you passed out during dress,” Lan Wangji corrects him. “It got a big laugh, until everyone thought you were dead.”

He keeps his voice even and does not tell Wei Ying that it had been Lan Wangji who had taken him him to the hospital, where he was yelled at by nurses who wanted to know why he hadn’t noticed that Wei Ying couldn’t stop shivering or string proper sentences together, a question he could not answer.

“Rumors of my demise have been vastly overstated,” Wei Ying says. “Unless of course we are talking about le petit mort, in which case I would hate to insult your prowess. Anyway, I’m already much better. Basically fine. Really almost completely back to normal, so stop babying me and tell me why the fuck you let your stupid brother let the worst man in the world host our show.”

Lan Wangji sighs, looking across 30 Rock at where a gaggle of high schoolers are skating. He’s grateful that Wei Ying is on the phone and not here in person, so that for once he doesn’t have to school his features when Wei Ying once again brings up That Time They Had Sex On Lan Wangji’s Couch as if it were the world’s funniest joke.

“The Zodiac Killer,” Lan Wangji says. “Wen Chao. Harvey Weinstein.”

“What is this list. It’s a bad list.”

“Worse individuals.”

Wei Ying makes another little noise. Lan Wangji frowns; he can still hear a slight rattle. He probably isn’t even drinking the soup Yanli had couriered over to him, stubborn bastard. “Hm. But are they? Because making Yanli cry is a crime,” Wei Ying argues. “It’s the worst one. It’s against the Geneva Convention. It’s worse than murder. The fact that you fail to realize this makes me think that maybe you should be on the list.”

Lan Wangji resolutely does not smile as he finishes his sandwich and readies himself to head inside. It’s only 10am, but Fridays are always hectic, more hectic even than Saturdays, so Lan Wangji is given the gift of not being able to think about next week. He focuses instead on cutting down the script, getting through the producers’ meeting with Yu Ziyuan and Nie Mingjue, fixing the order of the sketches, and sending everything to Lan Qiren for final review. Usually this leads to another round of edits, but since Wei Ying has been stuck at home, he’s received very little pushback.

He supposes his uncle thinks this is subtle. It is not.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees. “Eat your soup and take a nap and stop making Jingyi read you your email.”

“Nice try,” Wei Ying tells him, sounding amused. “It’s not Jingyi.”

“Then Wen Ning.”

“Nope.”

“It’s not Sizhui,” Lan Wangji says doubtfully, brow furrowing. He doesn’t think Sizhui would betray him, but then, Sizhui adores Wei Ying, and Wei Ying can be terribly convincing.

“Of course it’s not Sizhui. He’d never disobey his father like that.”

Lan Wangji sighs. “Eat your soup,” he says again, and hangs up.

-

Look, he’s not thrilled about it. Of course he’s not. Lan Wangji doesn’t like Jin Zixuan any more than any of the rest of them; he’s arrogant, and his stupid action movies are bad, and he’d once replied to rumors linking him with Yanli by telling a TMZ reporter that “he couldn’t respond to every c-list actress who was obsessed with him.”

Also, and really more to the point, he had the world’s most irritating manager, who for some reason hated Wei Ying and liked to be a really loud asshole about it.

Lan Wangji doesn’t love the idea that Wei Ying’s first week back after a three-month, doctor-mandated period of bedrest is with someone against whom he has a personal grudge, but it’s not like they haven’t had shitty hosts before, and Lan Wangji will simply run interference between him and Jin Zixuan’s manager Jin Zixun.

“I just think it’s fucked up that he and his manager have, like, the same name,” Ah Qing says, frowning down at her clipboard. “Am I blind, or is Xue Yang about to miss his cue a-fucking-gain? If he fucks this up during the live show, he owes me eight hundred candy bars from the vending machine on the fifth floor.”

They've been working on getting the blocking right for this skit for half an hour, which is too long by far. Xue Yang skids out on stage as Ah Qing finishes speaking, already saying his line. Lan Wangji doesn’t think it looked that bad; almost like it had been a bit put in on purpose. It would be extremely like Xue Yang to do exactly that, because Xue Yang loves attention.

On her other side, Zizhen frowns and asks, “Wait — are you not blind?”

“Only mostly,” Ah Qing tells him, “and on Tuesdays. Anyway, your wig is crooked and that’s your cue.” She cheerfully shoves him cheerfully onstage three lines too early.

Lan Wangji sighs. “You’re fired,” he says.

“Prove it, tough guy,” she answers.

“Can you guys shut up? I’m trying to get in character,” snaps Jiang Cheng.

Jiang Cheng is dressed like a lobster unicorn, half-emerging from a city dumpster. Lan Wangji does not care to know what kind of Meisner technique he feels he needs to do in order to embody this particular creation, but nevertheless he leaves Ah Qing to her stage direction and Jiang Cheng to his art. He’s got to get some makeup trials done, anyway; the hair and makeup people are always yelling at him for not giving them enough time to practice character looks, and then yelling at him for being a “twenty-eight-year-old with perfect skin,” which seems unfair, as this is not Lan Wangji’s fault.

He’s sitting in the chair, Jinzhu bustling irritably around him and threatening to crush him into dust if he doesn’t start showing up to hair and makeup when he is scheduled to show up for hair and makeup, when Zizhen’s voice asks, a little nervously, “Uh, hey, Lan Wangji?”

He doesn’t open his eyes, because Jinzhu is putting some kind of something on his eyebrows and he’s afraid to move. “Yes?”

Zizhen clears his throat. “Uh, I just, I wanted to ask? Because Ah Qing said — I mean, when she said earlier, about being blind — ”

Jinzhu’s hands are pulled away from Lan Wangji’s face with a put-upon sigh. “Does nobody in this fucking building have anything better to do than gossip while I am trying to work,” Jinzhu gripes. “I worked on The Greatest Showman. I never had to deal with this shit with Hugh Jackman.”

Lan Wangji puts a hand on Jinzhu’s wrist, so that she knows he is taking her complaints seriously and also so that she won’t hurt him with the eyelash curler she’s waving dangerously close to his face. “Zizhen, what is the question?”

“Just — I thought she was blind? Because of her weird eyes? I mean. Not weird. I think they’re pretty. But they’re — you’ve seen them. They’re very ... white.”

No educator on earth could teach these children long division, Lan Wangji thinks.

“I will answer your question with a question. Have you ever seen Ah Qing read?”

Zizhen is quiet for a long moment. Jinzhu looks down at Lan Wangji with pursed lips and uses two of his fingers to gently slide his eyes shut.

“Oh,” mutters Zizhen.

Jinzhu says, “Okay, my little hanguang-jun. Pucker up.”

-

As per usual, the first readthrough suggests the show will run about ten minutes over, which means most sketches will need to shave off any unnecessary jokes, and they may have to cut the musical number. He always tries to let the writers decide themselves what jokes to cut, with the asterisk that anything which kills during dress will have to stay in; but often he ends up making the changes himself, because half the time nobody is willing to kill their darlings, and Lan Wangji, frankly, isn’t bothered.

(“My favorite darling serial killer,” Wei Ying sometimes calls him, fondly. Sometimes less fondly.)

He stays late because he always stays late, because there isn’t anyone at SNL that doesn’t stay late. Wei Ying texts him every ten minutes, asking about the sketches and the host and whether his green room is clean and ready for him and also his thoughts on the narrative arc of Scooby Doo! Mystery Inc, which he has been watching during his convalescence and become very invested in.

Lan Wangji has a policy of only answering once per twenty texts, both to discourage Wei Ying and to keep himself from spending his entire ninety-hour work week texting his stupid best friend.

His stupid, stupid best friend, who, as far as Lan Wangji can tell, thought it was hilariously funny that he’d accidentally almost killed himself. Who, when he’d woken up in the hospital, cracked a terrible smile at Lan Wangji, Jiang Cheng, and Yanli and said guys I gotta be honest this hotel room sucks as if he hadn’t been living with undiagnosed pneumonia for weeks, giving himself potentially permanent lung damage.

(“Lungs!” he’d cried jovially, having to pause walking up the four steps to Lan Wangji’s front door. “Who needs ’em?”)

He’d come in the year after Lan Wangji, him and Jiang Cheng and Yanli, hired off the back of their wildly successful YouTube sketch channel. Lan Wangji had hated him. He’d hated his bad posture and the way he tore pen caps to pieces chewing on them, hated the way he wrote notes on everything, any scrap of paper he could find; hated how quickly he made jokes, how fast they slid out of his mouth, funnier than everyone else in the room; hated how often he’d hand those jokes over to the other writers, filling out their sketches and not taking any writing credit; hated how he’d sit next to Lan Wangji with their shoulders touching and slide him little doodles when other people were talking.

He hated his easy laugh, his small ears, his perfect mouth, his dancing eyes, his frenetic hands, always moving. Always moving. Lan Wangji hadn’t been able to focus on anything else. It had wreaked havoc on his sketches.

He’d hated him, and then one day Wei Ying had fallen asleep on the couch in their shared office in a horrible old tank-top that said “2001 SENIOR WOMEN’S BOCCE BALL COMPETITION” with his mouth hanging open, drooling onto the cushions, and abruptly Lan Wangji had not hated him, had never hated him, was shocked and upset to realize that there was not one person in the world whose drool he’d rather have staining his shitty velvet.

“Mn,” he’d said, dismayed at himself.

Wei Ying had startled awake. Dried spit flaked off the corner of his mouth. He looked terrible. Lan Wangji wanted to bury his nose in his armpit, which was appalling. “Lan Zhan! Ah, sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I meant — well, okay, yes I did. But only because you weren’t here and it’s so fucking noisy downstairs. I came here not to sleep but to tell you that I had this idea, and stay with me for a minute, that we add a rap verse to the opera parody song, and we get Yanli to do it.”

Lan Wangji had said: “...”

And Wei Ying grinned, somehow already knowing he had won.

Lan Wangji rubs at his eyes. He should go home. He needs to go home. It’s Friday; he needs to shower before the live show, and he won’t have time tomorrow to leave and come back. He’s pretty sure he needs to refill the bunny feeder, because knowing Cloud and Snowball, they’ll have emptied it already.

He looks longingly at the couch. It’s much nicer than the one he’d had with Wei Ying. More comfy. Big enough, on late nights, to fit the both of them.

He blinks the memory away. Lan Wangji is not thinking about it. He has been valiantly Not Thinking About It since it happened, four and a half months ago, at the cast party after the fiftieth anniversary. The office was closer than the train, and it had been so late, and Wei Ying had said bet we can both fit on the couch, and —

And then they’d —

He goes home to shower and feed the rabbits.

-

They get through exactly zero orders of business on Saturday morning before Jiang Cheng once again brings up the fact that Jin Zixuan is hosting and Lan Wangji once again has to remind him that he’s just the head writer and has nothing to do with booking.

Wen Qing sighs with the attitude of someone who knows she’s going to be asked to compose a magnum opus at 4am the day before the show. Nie Huaisang darts a look at Yanli, then Mianmian, and then immediately begins plotting out sketch ideas that Lan Wangji already knows are going to involve weird kissing. Mianmian drops her head onto the table and says, “That fucker is gonna make us do a dance number. I’ve seen his fucking thirst trap TikToks.”

Yanli rolls her lips inward and says nothing.

The featured players — Lan Wangji likes all of them, mostly; at least, he likes that they are afraid of him — glance at each other and then the room at large and then Zizhen bursts out, “Bruh. Did you hear he got hired to play the new Batman?”

“I thought that we weren’t, like, talking to that guy?” Jingyi asks. “As, you know. A group.” He thinks that he is sneaky about looking at Yanli. He isn’t.

Lan Wangji says, as evenly as possible, “Saturday Night Live is not fighting with Jin Zixuan. It is a television show.”

“Yeah but Jiang Cheng hates him,” Jingyi points out.

“Jiang Cheng doesn’t hate him,” Sizhui tells him, clearly trying to cut this discussion off at the pass.

“No, Jingyi’s right, I hate him,” says Jiang Cheng. “He sucks.”

Yanli reaches across to give Jiang Cheng’s arm a hard pinch. “A-Cheng,” she hisses. “Don’t say that. He’s a good person.”

“He is very much not a good person,” Jiang Cheng corrects her. The featured cast members swivel their heads to stare at him, except Sizhui, who puts his face in his hands. “You’re too nice. I have to be extra mean because you’re too nice and that fucker Wei Wuxian isn’t here to share the burden til next week.”

“It was just a misunderstanding,” Yanli says, in a voice that suggests that there was nothing just about the misunderstanding, and that if anyone talks about it for even one more second, she will burst into tears.

Beside her, Jin Ling leans heavily against her shoulder and submits to a series of painful-looking head pats.

“If we refused to book all the people in the world that Jiang Cheng hates, we would be terminally short on hosts,” Lan Wangji says, to end this conversation. He ignores the irritated look that Jiang Cheng sends him, and also the grateful one from Yanli, because her emotions — right at the surface and for some incomprehensible reason not politely repressed into the size of an atom — have always flustered him, and he never knows what to say except to quickly change the subject.

“Well, I also hate him,” volunteers Wang Lingjiao, studying the nails on her right hand and making a point of not looking at Lan Wangji. “Last time he was here, he picked a skit where I had to play a centipede.”

Lan Wangji does not laugh, remembering this. It had been written by Wei Ying. He’d made Wang Lingjiao tuck her chin into her chest so that it doubled, “for the character.” Lan Wangji doesn’t much care for Wang Lingjiao, but she is a good actress. She had done the double chin.

Jiang Cheng makes a face. “Don’t agree with me,” he snaps at her. “I’ll have to change my mind on principle.”

“I’m reading from the room that our feelings on Jin Zixuan are complicated, so I’m gonna do only fifty percent shitty sketches that heavily imply he’s a Brony or like, into hentai,” Jingyi surmises, slumping against the back of his chair in disappointment. Beside him, Sizhui gives his shoulder a comforting pat.

Lan Wangji does not have favorites amongst his cast, but if he did have favorites, it would be Sizhui, who writes sweetly weird skits and always makes sure that the host feels that their opinions are being heard and honored. He’ll be a good head writer, one day, if he sticks around long enough to be promoted.

Lan Wangji masks a grimace by scratching the bridge of his nose. He misses having a co-head, but the idea of doing it with anyone who wasn’t Wei Ying, even on an interim basis, had made something in him ache like a bad tooth.

Anyway, he reminds himself soothingly, it doesn’t matter now. Monday. On Monday, things will be — how they were.

“Nevertheless, he’s hosting,” Lan Wangji says. “Now, some of you might recall that today is Saturday, and no one has written the monologue, which we need by 1pm.”

It does not surprise Lan Wangji to be met with silence; no one ever wants to write the monologue. The monologue always sucks. With a sigh, he says, “Fine. Jingyi, you do it,” because Jingyi has caused him trouble today and Lan Wangji is not above labor as punishment.

“I’ll help you,” Sizhui offers in that soft voice of his as Jingyi opens his mouth to protest. “Come on. I’ve got some ideas.”

Lan Wangji doles out the rest of his assignments, leaving Nie Huaisang to deal with this week’s host, a truly insane popstar named Mo Xuanyu, whose insistence on covering his face meant that every sketch had to have a mask for it. They’d decided to increase the complexity of the mask with each sketch and never comment on it or address it within the world of the sketch; when in doubt, Lan Wangji has realized over the course of his tenure as a writer on SNL, lean into the host’s weird quirks and make meta bits.

He is gathering his things to go back to his office and give a final glance over tomorrow’s production notes when Sizhui pokes his head back into the meeting room. “Uh, Lan Wangji? Sorry.”

He smiles down at his watch. “Stop apologizing so much. People won’t take you seriously.”

Sizhui makes a face, but he’s clearly blushing, a little. “Maybe I’m just sucking up to you,” he says. “Maybe this is all part of a ploy to get promoted.”

“I will take this suggestion under advisement,” says Lan Wangji dryly. “What can I help you with?”

His eyes skitter away, and then back. Sizhui is many things, but stoic is not one of them. After a brief pause, he clearly steels himself and then blurts: “I just wanted to make sure you were, uh, okay. About. With. I mean — next week. Wei Wuxian coming back.”

Lan Wangji blinks.

“I have no bad blood with Wei Ying,” he says, not bothering to mask his confusion. “We are — very good friends.”

Sizhui says, “It’s just that, well, I don’t know if ... but at the Christmas party, you — they gave you some of the Zombie Punch that Wen Ning made, remember? And ... when I was putting you in a cab to go home, you said — ”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji interrupts quickly. He does not, in fact, remember this; he never remembers anything that happens when he’s drunk. It’s the best part of being drunk. The worst part of being drunk is all the times he’s woken up and had to piece together the mystery of why his house looks like someone took a leaf blower to it. One time he woke up with a tattoo over his heart that matched the one he’d seen on Wei Ying that night on their couch, a terrible secret that he will take with him to the grave or the tattoo removal place Jiang Cheng used. “Don’t worry about that.”

“But — ”

“Aren’t you supposed to be helping Jingyi with the monologue?”

Sizhui closes his mouth with a sigh. He gives Lan Wangji a look that suggests he’s not fooling anybody, but turns and lets himself out.

-

After the show is the afterparty, which Lan Wangji hates and always tries to skip. Tonight, Mo Xuanyu says, “New York’s hottest club is TASTE, which answers the question: huh?!” fluttering his eyelashes in invitation, and Lan Wangji answers, “I did not ask that question,” and spins on his heel, walking so quickly to the elevator that he nearly brains himself tripping over a loose carpet edge.

He finds Jiang Cheng and Yanli already there, repeatedly smashing the “door close” button. Jiang Cheng yanks him inside as it closes, hissing, “Get in or he’ll see us.”

“I do not want to go anywhere that Mo Xuanyu would take me,” Yanli says fervently. “He said we should go somewhere that was ‘built from the bucket list of every dying pervert.’ I don’t even know what that means.”

“Nothing good,” Jiang Cheng mutters darkly as the elevator pings and the doors slide back open, depositing them into the lobby. “Thank God Wei Wuxian isn’t here. He’d be so into how weird that guy is.”

Lan Wangji hums his agreement. Wei Ying always dragged him to the after parties and then stuck by his side and accepted all the drinks people bought for him. He said it was a fair trade for Lan Wangji always making sure he got home when he was too drunk to take the train alone.

“He misses you,” Yanli says, in the sweet, musical voice she only uses when she’s trying to get someone to do something for her.

“Today he texted me seventy-two times,” Lan Wangji tell her, “he does not have time to miss me,” but by the way Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes Lan Wangji knows he’s horrifically transparent in feeling pleased by Yanli’s report.

Yanli tuts at him, linking their arms. “Texting isn’t the same. You should come over tonight. Don’t go home alone, that’s so sad.”

“Ugh,” says Jiang Cheng with feeling. He hails a cab and stamps an irritated foot as Lan Wangji hesitates and takes too long getting into it. “Let me go in first. I don’t wanna be around when A-Xian gets all weepy and embarrassing.”

Yanli elbows him. “A-Cheng,” she scolds. “It’s not that he’s playing favorites.”

Jiang Cheng snorts, leaning forward so he can see Lan Wangji, on the other side of Yanli. “I don’t care about that,” he splutters. “Wei Wuxian can do whatever he wants. I don’t — I’m not jealous. I’m just saying we had a roommate contract, that we all signed, which agreed: no overnight guests on Fridays, and anyway, he’s supposed to be getting lots of sleep. He’s sick.”

“I won’t spend the night,” Lan Wangji tells him, a little stiffly.

“Liar. You’re going to stay for dinner and then end up writing a bunch of sketches for next week. Just don’t fucking blame me when he collapses again,” Jiang Cheng tells him flatly, and crosses his arms over his chest. “I’m not gonna give a shit.”

He leans his head back against the seat rest and closes his eyes. Yanli sighs, patting his knee comfortingly, and then says to Lan Wangji, “I’ve been tossing around this character for a while — it’s like a spin on Cinderella, a girl who can talk to animals and nature and things, but the punchline is that she’s a butcher.”

Lan Wangji blinks. “...Dark,” he says, but not necessarily with disapproval.

“Yeah,” she agrees cheerfully. “I was thinking we do the set dressings really cartoony and Disney-fied, to get the full effect.”

“It should be an ad for a Disney princess doll,” Jiang Cheng advises, without opening his eyes. “Work with Wen Qing to make it a digital short, so we can animate the birds and stuff.”

Lan Wangji hums in approval. “That’s good.”

Jiang Cheng cracks an eye at him. “Gosh, thanks,” he says sarcastically. “Always the tone of surprise.”

“There’s no way we’ll be able to animate the whole thing,” Yanli muses, ignoring her brother except to put a gentle hand on his knee and give him a half-comforting, half-scolding pat. “I wonder if we could do a blend. A Who Framed Roger Rabbit kind of deal.”

“Jin Zixuan can play one of the birds. We’ll make him do death screams in the recording booth until he loses his voice.”

Yanli frowns at him. “A-Cheng. We can’t do that. We need him to be able to perform on Saturday.”

“We never get to do what I want to do,” Jiang Cheng mutters, and the cab pulls up in front of their building, a neatly appointed loft flat in Red Hook in a converted warehouse. Lan Wangji has only ever been once before, the first night Wei Ying came home from the hospital; Yanli and Jiang Cheng had refused to let him go back to the shithole of a closet he shared with a small village of strangers on the edge of Alphabet City, next to the Marble Cemetery, which was very cheap because the building caught fire every few months due to rats chewing through various wires at the hairdresser’s on the first floor.

(“It’ll only be for a few more years,” Wei Ying had said, the first time Lan Wangji had seen the apartment and not been able to disguise his horror. “I really, uh. Racked up a lot of debt in college. Not all of us come from money, you know. Higher education in this country is a nightmare.”)

The loft is surprisingly massive, with huge bay windows and what Lan Wangji suspects is original exposed brick interiors, situated above a Fairway. Jiang Cheng, jaw tight, had made a sharp remark about hoping it was “up to the Lan standards” when he’d caught Lan Wangji looking around the first time he’d been there; Wei Ying, still mostly unconscious, had mumbled, “Don’t be mean to Lan Wangji. He didn’t kill the Lotus Grocery chain with his low low pricing,” and then giggled himself back into a brief coma.

So there was clearly a lot to unpack there.

Anyway, Wei Ying spent his convalescence with Yanli and Jiang Cheng, except for the three-day reprieve where he came to Lan Wangji’s because their parents were in town, and as the owners of the loft apartment would have — Lan Wangji was told — “fucking lost it” if they found out Wei Ying was staying there.

(“They hate me,” Wei Ying had informed Lan Wangji, leaning heavily against his front door, sweaty and pale. Lan Wangji had, almost without thinking about it, hauled him up onto his back to carry him over to the couch, because the idea of making him walk even one step further was ... untenable. “Shi-jie was supposed to be a doctor. A-Cheng was supposed to go to, like, Harvard Business School and restore the family to their former Grocery Overlord Glory. Then I showed up and got everybody into clown school.”)

Yanli lets them in, then tosses her keys into a bowl by the door and shouts, “A-Xian! We’re home! I brought you a present!”

“If it is more soup, please, I am begging you to have mercy, I can’t do it,” begs Wei Ying’s voice from one of the bedrooms. He sounds good, Lan Wangji thinks. Better than he did over the phone. “It’s all I’ve had since January and if I am not allowed to chew something all my teeth will fall out. I looked it up. That can happen. Nine out of ten dentists agree that I deserve a hamburger. Or a BLT. Or KFC.”

Lan Wangji pokes his head into the bedroom and says, “Not soup.”

Wei Ying’s eyes light up.

He leaps out of bed, his pajamas — too big now after so many months of being ill — sliding off his shoulders and a little bit down his hips. He drags them up impatiently with one hand, skidding to a stop in front of Lan Wangji, smile wide and beaming.

Some day, Lan Wangji is going to learn not to have any feelings about it, that smile, the one that says Lan Zhan is here and I’m so glad to see him. It’s different from his Yanli smile, from the ones for Jiang Cheng or Wen Qing or Wen Ning.

Wei Ying loves enough people to have a whole catalogue of smiles; Lan Wangji actively likes maybe five, and he’s related to two of them.

Mostly people are ... fine, in Lan Wangji’s opinion. Sometimes they are terrible. Often they are fine but annoy him anyway, by not being good enough at their jobs, and then he has to talk to them about it, and when he has Wei Ying it’s all right because Wei Ying can do it. But for the last three months, he’s had to have all those conversations himself, and it turns out, he’s terrible at them.

He made Jin Ling cry. Twice.

He feels his lips twitch up, pleased by Wei Ying’s obvious delight. “You look terrible,” he notes, which isn’t strictly true. Wei Ying never looks terrible. Probably better to say he looks thin. A little tired. Wan.

“Yeah, big undead vibes, I know,” Wei Ying agrees, and flings himself dramatically into Lan Wangji’s startled embrace. “They’ve been forcing me to live on soup. And turnips.

“The soup has braised pork in it,” Yanli yells from the kitchen. “And you like turnips.”

Wei Ying flutters his eyelashes up at Lan Wangji, sorrowful. “The question is not whether or not I like turnips. The question is whether man can live on turnips alone.”

Jiang Cheng snorts as he comes in, dropping himself dramatically onto the second bed. “Literally last night you had Insomnia Cookies delivered,” he comments dryly.

“Snitch,” mutters Wei Ying, and untangles himself from Lan Wangji with obvious reluctance. Lan Wangji lets himself be guided back into the front area, where they are instructed firmly by Yanli to sit on the couch while she chooses a takeout place.

“Are you staying for Saturday Second Dinner?” she asks Lan Wangji, coming round to sit on one of the massive beanbags, feet tucked under her.

He hadn’t planned to. He really was just going to say hello. But then Wei Ying says, “Don’t be insane, shi-jie, of course he’s staying, he only just got here,” as if there isn’t any question, so Lan Wangji gives Yanli a nod and settles back against the couch cushions. She smiles at him, and calls the place around the corner. She orders double of everything, which Lan Wangji knows is by design so that she can force it on him to take home because “we couldn’t possibly eat this much, you’d be doing us a favor.”

“Called it,” yells Jiang Cheng from the bedroom.

“Called what? And also shut up,” Wei Ying shouts back, before turning conspiratorially to the couch. “Hey, Lan Zhan. Do you have draft copy for the host promos? I’ll bet they suck. Give it to me, I’ll fix it.”

“I’m told you’re not supposed to work,” Lan Wangji informs him.

“Laughter is the best medicine!” Wei Ying wheedles. “Come onnnnn, Lan Zhan, I’ve been rotting away for months and months, if someone doesn’t let me get a joke on TV in the next twenty minutes I’ll die. I’ll literally be forced to fling myself out of the Jiang family’s beautiful bay windows, and on the way down I’ll shout, ‘This was avoidable! This is because Lan Zhan wouldn’t let me punch up the promos!’ and then you’ll be fired for secondhand murder and it’ll be a tragedy like the sketch comedy circuit has never seen.”

Lan Wangji says, “Second-degree.”

“What?”

“Murder. Not secondhand.”

Wei Ying furrows his brow. “...I’ve heard it both ways,” he says. “That would make a good detective show spoof skit, though. Secondhand Murder.”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees. “Murder She Wrote, but an idiot.”

“Keeps suggesting a series of increasingly implausible manners of death,” Wei Ying agrees, scribbling on the back of the takeout menu. Yanli and Lan Wangji share a look. “All the deaths are like — incredibly obvious and she goes buckwild with her theories anyway.”

“Police keep asking her to leave.”

“I want to be one of the victims,” Yanli says. “Put like, a sword right through my chest, but I’m still alive, telling the cops what happened, and she’s still like, ‘No no, that’s what the murderer wants you to think.’”

“Gruesome! Love it,” says Wei Ying, making a note.

Jiang Cheng’s head lolls off his bed and into view of the open doorway. “That doesn’t sound like not working,” he accuses. “Also: what’s for dinner and is Lan Wangji paying since he horned in on our last night with A-Xian?”

“That’s fine,” Lan Wangji concedes.

“Lan Zhan, don’t let A-Cheng bully you,” Wei Ying scolds him. “You don’t have to pay just because you’re our richest friend.” He puts his feet up in Lan Wangji’s lap and leans back against the overly plush cushion. He really does look tired.

Maybe he’s coming back too soon. Maybe he’s doing it because he knows how miserable Lan Wangji is without him, even though Lan Wangji has tried so hard to pretend like he isn’t, for precisely this reason. Like the fun of the job is the job itself and not just doing it with Wei Ying.

Wei Ying at the Weekend Update desk, grinning across at Lan Wangji, flirting as if it were on the cue cards. Lan Wangji, carefully stone-faced, shooting him down. Wei Ying strung out on Lan Wangji’s couch even though they had their own offices now, across the hall from each other, because Lan Wangji’s was “more comfortable.” Both offices had the same couch. Wei Ying just didn’t like to be alone.

To his surprise and dismay, it has become clear, these past three months, that neither does Lan Wangji.

“I’m not,” Lan Wangji says.

“Not our richest friend?”

“Not letting Jiang Cheng bully me. I’m definitely your richest friend.”

“I could bully you if I wanted,” says Jiang Cheng. “I could bully the shit out of you.”

“You could not,” Lan Wangji assures him. “Name one non-work thing about me that you even know.”

Jiang Cheng opens his mouth, then closes it again. “... Holy shit,” he says. “We’ve worked together for three years. I just realized I don’t even know where you’re from.

“And you never will,” Lan Wangji says, and that’s when the food arrives.

-

“Manhattan,” Wei Ying murmurs sleepily at three a.m., as Lan Wangji nudges him up off the couch and back to the bedroom. Lan Wangji should have moved him hours ago, but Yanli had overfed him and then given him a blanket and it had seemed impossible to get up, so instead he’d let himself be lazy, lounging on the couch with Wei Ying’s legs tangled in his own. Wei Ying had a bed to go to, but had elected not to, first because he wanted to harass Lan Wangji about next week and then because he claimed to be too sleepy to move.

But it’s time to go home. Lan Wangji has rabbits to care for, and even if he didn’t, he spends most of the week sleeping on a couch in his office and isn’t eager to spend the one night he can sleep in on another.

“What?” he whispers to Wei Ying as he deposits him onto his mattress.

In the dark, Wei Ying’s eyes look liquid, and a little amber in the dotted apartment lights from outside. “Where you’re from. Manhattan. The Upper East, right? Sutton Place? I remember we walked past that boar statue and you said that’s why you’re vegetarian. Because you liked it so much as a kid. And you put Sutton East in a sketch once — we filmed there, remember, and the guy at the front desk knew you by name. He asked after Snowball and Cloud. Everyone thinks you moved there once you got here, but my theory is: it’s not that you got here, it’s that you came back.”

Sometimes Lan Wangji wishes, very fervently, that Wei Ying were less observant of the world around him. Sometimes it feels like everything Lan Wangji says and does is a tiny clue that Wei Ying is collecting in a jar somewhere, to take out and examine under a microscope.

Tucked underneath his blankets, Jiang Cheng snoring across from them, Wei Ying’s smile is quick and almost invisible in the dark. Lan Wangji hasn’t let himself miss him being across the hall or on his couch, because when he did the sting of it was so sharp he couldn’t write, and on a show like SNL there’s no time for writer’s block. But now he feels the weight of missing him shapeshift into the gladness of having him here.

You don’t need to make theories. Just ask, Lan Wangji thinks, but knows he can’t say without it becoming a whole stupid thing.

“Mn,” he says.

“Not answering means I’m right,” says Wei Ying. “Being without me made you all grumpy again. It’s a good thing I’m back on Monday or you’d keep shriveling up like a sad raisin. One of the yellow ones, which are gross. They’re definitely the grossest kind. Hey, Lan Zhan, we should do a sketch about yellow raisins. Remind me. Something about the lady from the Sun-Maid box coming to life.”

Lan Wangji tugs a lock of his hair where it has fallen out of its bun, but gently. “I’ll remind you. Go to sleep,” he instructs.

-

Sunday is his only day off, so Lan Wangji sleeps in all the way until six-thirty a.m., meets his brother for tennis at seven, and then spends two or three hours doing some luxury reading. He’s got a standing lunch appointment with his uncle at one-thirty which always takes exactly forty-five minutes, and then plays music until three, and then the rest of the afternoon is for any errands or life administration he needs to get gone before the following week.

Today, after tennis, he and Lan Xichen get bagels from the bodega at the end of Lan Wangji’s block, which has been there as long as Lan Wangji can remember and was his favorite as a child because their gimmick was hiding fortunes somewhere on the cup of all their beverages. He’s got an abundance of plastic lids in various boxes around the apartment and in storage that he hasn’t been able to make himself recycle, though there are probably close to a couple thousand now; but his mother had collected them, and now he does.

Plus, some of them have given him pretty good life advice.

“I saw our favored and esteemed uncle earlier,” he says, and Lan Wangji does not bother to contain his sigh. They’d gotten so far into the morning without it coming up. He’s managed to go the whole week without having to engage with it any meaningful way. “I thought perhaps he’d wait until the end of the season. Are you all right?”

Lan Wangji levels Lan Xichen with a firm look. “I’m fine.”

He is doing fine. He’s doing perfectly fine. What he’s not doing is thinking about it. He’s focusing on the show and on Wei Ying’s return and his tennis backhand, and he is simply not engaging with his uncle’s impending retirement and desire to promote Lan Wangji to Executive Producer.

“Freaked out, insecure, neurotic, and emotional?” Lan Xichen asks, in an overly-polite therapist voice.

Lan Wangji takes a sip of his coffee and steers them back toward his apartment. Lan Xichen is too polite to invite himself inside. If he can get them to his front door, he can end this conversation without ever having to make a point of doing it.

“Fantastic, incredible, normal, and excellent,” he corrects. “You were slow on your back foot today. Is your ankle still bothering you?”

“My ankle is fine,” Lan Xichen tells him, smiling a little, but in a way that suggests that he’s considering which terrible HR mediation technique to deploy to get Lan Wangji to talk. “You’re dodging the question.”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji says. “I am able to do this because I do not have a swollen ankle.”

The look Lan Xichen gives him is so dry it could wilt even the heartiest of succulents. “It is very hard, sometimes, to have you as a little brother,” he accuses.

This is not news to Lan Wangji.

He finishes his coffee and pulls the lid off to read the fortune on the underside. “Be loyal and filial,” he reads, and taps his nose. “Worth thinking about.”

Lan Xichen laughs, giving up for now, and stops walking as they reach the front of Lan Wangji’s building. Lan Xichen moved to Carnegie Hill years ago, claiming to need the quiet of Central Park, but the doorman still recognizes him and gives him a wave.

“You’re going to have to give him an answer,” his brother tells him gently. “Patience is not his strongest virtue.”

Lan Wangji drops his empty coffee cup, sans-lid, into the recycling. “I can’t give him my answer until I know it.”

“You don’t like change.”

“Change is necessary and inevitable.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to like it.”

Lan Wangji thinks of waking up on the couch in his office. He thinks of the weight of Wei Ying on his chest, his hand curled around Lan Wangji’s wrist as if to keep him in place. He thinks of Wei Ying’s eyes shuddering open, dazed, then confused, then panicked. Thinks of him saying, Wow, I can’t believe we got so drunk last night that we boned, this is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to me, before Lan Wangji had a chance to say what he’d been thinking, which was, of course, I love you.

He says, “The world very rarely has consideration for what we want.”

Which, because what the world does have is extraordinary comedic timing, is when a taxi pulls up and Wei Ying, backpack slung over his shoulder, tumbles out onto the sidewalk.

“Oh, hey guys,” he greets with a sheepish grin. “So, listen. The apartment got set on fire again, and the landlord is forcing everybody out for, like,” he makes air quotes, “‘health and safety reasons,’ but also I think probably so he can gut the place and then hike the rent up. Anyway, I’d stay at the Jiangs, but uh, we sort of had — a big fight this morning. So. I still have a key, from before, and I was hoping maybe I could — ”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji interrupts, not looking at his brother, who he knows is going to be wearing an expression that Lan Wangji won’t care for. But of course Wei Ying can stay. The night, the week, the month. Forever. “What was the fight?”

Wei Ying rubs the back of his neck and doesn’t meet Lan Wangji’s eyes. “It’s ... ah, he’ll tell you anyway.”

Something heavy settles in Lan Wangji’s stomach. “Tell me what?”

“Well, you see, the thing is, I’ve sort of ... while I was sick I had a lot of free time, and nobody would let me write sketches, and hospital bills don’t pay themselves, and anyway you know I’ve always been interested in long form comedy, and I really didn’t think it would, you know, go anywhere, but I’ve got a few meetings now, but obviously it might come to nothing, you know these things often fall through up to the last minute, so there’s really no telling, and Jiang Cheng is just in a snit because if I go he won’t have anyone to run interference with hosts he doesn’t like. Which is, as you know, most hosts.”

Lan Xichen very quietly gives Lan Wangji’s arm a squeeze and excuses himself, patting Wei Ying’s shoulder as he goes. Wei Ying barely seems to notice, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

“None of that was information,” Lan Wangji tells him.

And Wei Ying says, “Oh. Right. Well, the thing is, I sort of ... Lan Zhan, don’t be mad. I wrote a pilot.”

Chapter Text

INTERLUDE

Yanli loves her brother, so the first thing she does is steal his phone and withhold texting privileges.

She watches A-Cheng pace back and forth across the living area, furiously chugging Red Bull. He was already one rejected sketch away from picking up cigarettes, she thinks; this is going to push him to, like, try cocaine.

“I know you’re upset,” she tells him gently, using the same voice she’d used for interviews during her phase freshman year when she thought she wanted to be a Real Journalist, “but don’t let this be the thing that makes the guy at 9th Street Station finally convince you to take up drugs.”

A-Cheng does not stop pacing, but he does level her with a glare. “If three years with those dickheads in the Porc didn’t push me into a coke addiction, that motherfucker isn’t going to do it,” he snaps.

Yanli, who is very brave and moreover knows the limits of her brother’s ability to receive criticism, resists reminding him that joining the Porcellian, Harvard’s Super Secret All Boys Club, was voluntary.

The look A-Chang gives her suggests that he can read this thought on her face. “Mom made me join the Porc,” he protests, a point that Yanli cedes with a dip of her head. “You got to write for the Crimson and the Lampoon with A-Xi ... with Wei Wuxian, and I had to hang out with fifth-generation Harvard assholes who were desperate to do uppers and forget about how much they hated their dads.”

“To be fair, a lot of people at the Lampoon also hated their dads,” Yanli notes, consolingly. “Father’s Day was always an absolute massacre for digital.”

She is hoping to divert some of A-Cheng’s attention to roasting the people he hadn’t liked at Harvard, but instead she sees a cloud pass over his face, and knows he is remembering the time sophomore year that they found A-Xian hanging upside down from a set of monkey bars just off campus, blind drunk, and when they’d asked him what was wrong he’d said, the funniest thing about my parents being dead is that they died doing what they loved: driving away from me, and then played a drum solo on his stomach before promptly losing his balance and falling onto Yanli, who tried to catch him but mostly just served as a landing pad.

“What the fuck is he thinking?” A-Cheng asks. “He has the best job in the world. People would kill for his job. I’d kill for his job.”

“He’s never been the kind to stay put for long, A-Cheng. And SNL burns everyone out eventually. We knew it wouldn’t be forever.”

“Yeah, but we were supposed to leave together,” A-Cheng mutters, and resumes his pacing, clenching and unclenching both his fists. “He needs people to — to keep him from doing dumb shit. He’s so fucking stupid sometimes. And a sitcom — I mean, it’s such an insane risk! Sitcoms have, like, the highest cancellation rate! He should have at least gone for something overhyped and melodramatic that he could sell to HBO.”

In a weird way, she’s grateful that A-Cheng is taking the news so badly. She can distract herself with tending to him and tuck away her own anxieties, her own questions, her own desire to take A-Xian by the shoulders and shake him until his stupid hair falls out of its stupid bun and yell at him that he’s been sick, that what he needs is stability, not to leap headfirst into the incredibly fickle world of network sitcom television, for heaven’s sake.

She can tuck away her own selfish desire to ask A-Xian why loving him has always felt like a chase in which he has a head start.

“He hasn’t sold it yet,” Yanli says, before taking a long sip of tea. “Maybe it won’t come to anything.”

“Of course he’ll fucking sell it, jie-jie,” A-Cheng cries, flinging himself dramatically onto the couch. “I read it before I confronted him. It’s funny as shit, that bastard.”

Yanli cocks her head to the side. “What’s it about?”

A-Cheng gives what can only be described as a snort of disgust. He says: “Ugh. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s basically a fucking love letter.”

-

“Okay, so, you’re mad,” Wei Ying deduces, dropping his bag by the couch and chewing on his thumbnail. “Obviously you’re allowed to be mad, but you can’t be so mad that you won’t let me stay with you because I’ve lived in a lot of shitty places but I really have to draw the line at sharing the floor of Jin Ling’s terrible studio with the demonic creature he claims is a dog.”

Lan Wangji had not said anything after Wei Ying told him; he had spun on his heels and walked quickly to the elevator, blinking away the sudden sting of startled emotion that he knew he wouldn’t be able to hide. Wei Ying had followed quickly after him, repeating his name a few times as they stepped into the elevator and then letting the silence settle on the ride up, chewing his lip and glancing anxiously between Lan Wangji and the floor. Lan Wangji knows that his silence is not helping, but the problem is that all the words have been vacuumed out of him. His head is completely empty except for the sirens from Kill Bill.

He manages to find his keys, open the door, and, he thinks, stand upright in the middle of his kitchen, but he might be lying on the ground, or, alternatively, be in a pile on the floor, because all of his bones have dissolved into dust. In an attempt to convey that he isn’t angry, he pushes his half-eaten bagel in Wei Ying’s direction and gestures at it.

“Eat,” he manages.

Obediently, Wei Ying eats.

They look at one another, Wei Ying chewing too loudly, Lan Wangji trying to scrounge up a sentence from the abandoned Old West town of his brain. A tumbleweed blows by.

Be a good sketch, he thinks. Brain landscapes of stupid people.

“Lan Zhan—”

“I’m not mad.”

Wei Ying blinks. He says, mouth full of bagel, “Frl?”

One of the many skills Lan Wangji has mastered at SNL that cannot go on any future CV is understanding Wei Ying with various types of food in his mouth, so he gives a single, sharp nod to indicate that yes, it’s for real. “It’s,” he begins, and then has to clear his throat, starts again: “What’s the script.”

A grin breaks across Wei Ying’s face, relief obvious. He swallows. “It’s a sitcom,” he explains. “Based on SNL. Extremely silly. Kind of surreal, but in like, half a magical realism way, half a ‘the protagonist hasn’t slept in four days and anyway who’s to say the page boy isn’t a ghost?’ kind of way. It’s — you’ll like it. I think. It’s about the writing staff, and the cast, and all their relationships, and there’s going to be actual sketches built in, and I was thinking if I sold it to the right platform I could even have fake commercial breaks for really weird products, like my Compass of Evil idea that Lan Qiren refuses to green light because he hates me — or remember Sizhui’s Headbands for Emotional Boys? — God that one was so good — and we’d have real numbers you could call to order them but it would be like an answering service — ”

Because Lan Wangji is very brave, he does not go to the cupboard and pull down one of the two bottles of alcohol that he owns, a fancy bottle of whiskey given to him by one of the hosts last year and what he’s been reliably informed by Wei Ying is an incredible mediocre bottle of wine that he bought at complete random from the corner shop just to have something available for guests. He does not chug either of them like he is given to understand they do in fraternities and black out so that he does not have to participate in whatever the hell his feelings are doing. Instead, he hyperfixates on cutting up a carrot, which, if asked, is for his rabbits, and if not asked, is for his agonies.

Wei Ying is still talking. Lan Wangji takes a moment to be grateful to his past self for being a reticent bastard, because very little is expected of him, conversationally. Usually Wei Ying can tell when he’s not paying attention — usually Wei Ying is the only one who can — but today his nervous energy is distracting even to himself, and anyway he’s collapsed himself into a heap by the rabbit cage, stroking Snowball’s nose and not looking at Lan Wangji.

“ —upid, in my opinion,” Wei Ying is saying. He finally looks up. “Wow, did that carrot like, embezzle money from you or what?”

Lan Wangji looks down and is forced to admit that he cannot reasonably cut the carrot up any further without indicating some kind of psychotic break.

He pushes the pile into one of his hands and carries it over to the cage, giving half to Wei Ying and dropping the other half directly inside. Snowball and Cloud fall upon it with great relish, abandoning Wei Ying in favor of burying their tiny faces in the pile of snacks.

Lan Wangji wishes he could bury his face in a pile of snacks. He spares a longing glance for the couch throw pillows, which are not edible but do a great job of muffling screams.

Wei Ying waits politely for Snowball and Cloud to work their way through the carrots in the cage before he offers them the bits that Lan Wangji gave him. Into the quiet he asks, “So. Uh. What ... what do you think?”

I think I probably should have gone into accounting, Lan Wangji thinks. I think my life would have been a lot easier if I’d devoted myself to spreadsheets. Or prayer. Or alchemy.

He says, “Funny.”

“...The show? Or the commercials? Or my joke about embezzlement?”

“All three,” Lan Wangji answers. He manages a tiny smile. He could not, on pain of death, have produced even a single sentence about the plot of Wei Ying’s pilot, but he knows Wei Ying, so he adds: “It’s good. You’ll sell it.”

A slight, pleased flush colors the back of Wei Ying’s neck. “You think?”

“Mn.”

Wei Ying grins, and knocks Lan Wangji’s shoulder with his own before flopping down to lay his head in Lan Wangji’s lap. He reaches up and scratches the edge of Lan Wangji’s jaw as if he were one of the rabbits.

Lan Wangji does not cry about the tenderness of it. He does what he always does when Wei Ying is gentle with him, which is to shove his emotions so far down into his core that the pressure could turn them into diamonds.

Wei Ying chuckles at him. “There it is,” he says. “My favorite look.”

Lan Wangji blinks, looking down. “Look?” he repeats.

“Yeah. The one you always get when I pet you. You like it as much as the bunnies do,” Wei Ying teases, and Lan Wangji cannot stop the laugh that bubbles out of him, because this is it, he thinks: this is the thing that finally makes him fully go unhinged.

“Yes,” he agrees, and knows his tone is off by the way Wei Ying’s eyes narrow, a little.

He doesn’t ask who will be there to be tender to Lan Wangji once Wei Ying is gone, because that’s nobody’s problem but his own, and anyway, there isn’t anyone he’d want.

You or no one, he hears himself think, the thought seeping up and through all the tons of downward pressure he’s using to keep himself from saying anything unwise, like, “why did you write a pilot without telling me” and “what made you want to leave” and “was it me” and “why” and “won’t” and “you” and “stay.”

And “fuck.”

Really what he wants to say, most of all, is fuck.

MONDAY

The break room is strung with banners and balloons, because there is no one in the entirety of 30 Rock that is not devoted to Wei Ying. The banners say things like WELCOME BACK and WE MISSED YOU and IT IS GOOD YOU ARE NOT DEAD. When they arrive around nine-thirty, the rest of the cast and crew are already there, in the break room. Jiang Cheng, Lan Wangji notices, is also present, but in the back with his arms folded across his chest and a scowl on his face. Lan Wangji takes this to mean that Jiang Cheng is unsold on whether or not it is, in fact, good that Wei Ying is not dead.

When the rest of the staff shouts, “WELCOME BACK, WEI WUXIAN,” Jiang Cheng glares hard at the floor and doesn’t say anything.

Wei Ying flings his arms open wide, pretending to faint back into Lan Wangji’s arms. The room, almost as one, takes a panicked step forward, but he pushes himself upright, laughing. “Ah! Sorry, sorry. Too soon.”

“We’re all really glad you’re okay,” Sizhui tells him, so overjoyed that he’s practically bouncing. “Really glad. Really really glad.”

“But are you glad?” Wei Ying asks, but teasingly, before reaching out to ruffle Sizhui’s hair. “Anyway, don’t lie to me. I know the whole lot of you spent these past three months plotting my untimely demise so you could take over from me and hang out with Lan Zhan all day. But joke’s on you, because sharing an office with him sucks.”

“We don’t share an office,” Lan Zhan reminds him.

Wei Ying blinks. “We don’t?” he asks, with what seems like genuine confusion.

“No.”

“You mean they kept mine for me?”

“Obviously.”

“But I’m always in yours!”

Lan Wangji, impassive, says, “Your honor, the defense rests.”

Wei Ying laughs — “Ah, fuck off” — and then abandons him to do a turn around the room, swinging first by the counter to grab three entire donuts to eat while he does. Lan Wangji does not watch him do it, because these are Wei Ying’s friends, and they deserve to talk to him, and it’s not Lan Wangji’s job to make sure he doesn’t get tired. Soon it won’t even be his job to make sure Wei Ying is anything at all.

Jiang Cheng finds him at the coffee machine and leans back against the counter, feet crossed at the ankles, watching Wei Ying get swarmed by the featured actors. He’s got Jin Ling in a headlock for no apparent reason, and is speaking to Zizhen as if nothing at all was happening even as Jin Ling struggles against him and tries to bite his dorsal muscles.

“Did he tell you?” Jiang Cheng asks.

“Tell me what?” replies Lan Wangji placidly, just to fuck with him.

Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes, like he doesn’t know whether or not Lan Wangji is telling the truth. “... About the show,” he clarifies. “His show.”

Lan Wangji takes a long sip of coffee and says nothing. Eventually, Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes and mutters, “Okay, so obviously he told you. Fuck off. Why can’t you just answer me like a normal person.”

“You kicked him out,” Lan Wangji reminds him, pointed.

“So you’re punishing me?”

“I’m not your father.”

“No, but you guys would honestly get along great.”

Lan Wangji is aware that this is very probably an insult. He says, “He told me about the show.”

Across the room, Yanli is whispering something in Wei Ying’s ear. He takes her hand and she holds onto him at the elbow, leaning her head on his shoulder. Jiang Cheng is watching them as transparently as Lan Wangji is, only Jiang Cheng has a right to do it, because Jiang Cheng is his — well, whatever he is. Sometimes Wei Ying says brother. Sometimes he says little shit.

“You know it means he’s going to leave,” Jiang Cheng admonishes, taking a feral bite of donut and then doing absolutely nothing about the jelly on his chin. “He’s going to sell it and leave SNL and probably move to, like, fucking—Los Angeles, the worst place in the world.”

“Trenton,” Lan Wangji counters, to avoid thinking about Wei Ying moving to California. There are direct flights but they take hours, and the time difference, with Lan Wangji’s schedule, will be unworkable. “Far worse.”

“Okay, Trenton is not worse than Los Angeles,” Jiang Cheng argues, as if he can’t help it. “At least in Trenton you can escape. The traffic in Los Angeles is so bad that even if you try to leave, you can’t. Trenton has Amtrak.”

“That’s the first time anyone has held up Amtrak as a gold standard for anything,” muses Lan Wangji.

Jiang Cheng physically removes the cup of coffee from Lan Wangji’s hands and puts it on the counter. “Stop deflecting. Ignoring this isn’t going to make it go away.”

There’s a note of real panic in his voice, so Lan Wangji forces himself to remember that he’s Jiang Cheng’s boss, and this is, in some ways, a professional dispute that he gets paid to mediate. Sort of. He wonders if he could get away with telling Jiang Cheng to take it to HR.

Probably not.

He sighs. “What would you have me do, Jiang Cheng?” he asks. “I can’t make him stay.”

He is startled by the glare that Jiang Cheng levels at him, by its vehemence and its exasperation. He is startled by the way Jiang Cheng half-shouts, “Yes you can! You know you can!” as if Lan Wangji is being willfully obtuse.

Lan Wangji often is willfully obtuse, but in this case, he really doesn’t know what Jiang Cheng expects of him. Wei Ying has written a pilot. It’s almost certainly very good. There is no professional power at Lan Wangji’s disposal that he could deploy to prevent him from selling it, and even if there was, he wouldn’t use it.

Of course he wouldn’t. If Wei Ying wants a sitcom, then Wei Ying should get a sitcom. Wei Ying should get anything and everything he wants.

“It is becoming clear to me that you do not understand how my job works,” Lan Wangji says.

Jiang Cheng opens his mouth to respond, but before he can say anything else, Lan Wangji’s uncle bustles in, Jin Zixuan trailing behind him. Jin Zixuan looks exactly the way that Lan Wangji remembers him: a little haughty, a little bored. Frequently Lan Wangji wants to remind him that his biggest movie was called Tortoise of Slaughter and concerned a big tortoise very slowly terrorizing Los Angeles. It had a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, though Lan Wangji is given to understand it made big money for the studio.

The tagline had been, “All You Can Do Is Run,” and Wei Ying had written and aired a sketch of the marketing team pitching alternates like, “Wow! A Big Turtle!” and “All You Have To Do Is Walk Briskly.”

Someone had gone around the city and vandalized the posters with the latter. Lan Wangji had no proof that it was Wen Ning and Wen Qing, but the comprehensive and solemn commitment to hitting every ad—and the absolute lack of credit-taking—gave him his suspicions.

“Good morning, good morning,” Lan Qiren greets, pointedly not mentioning the banners or Wei Ying’s return. Lan Wangji has often wondered why he promoted Wei Ying to Head Writer if he disliked him so acutely; but then, he supposes that he’d been protected from the full force of Wei Ying’s personality while Wei Ying was just a writer and cast member.

Lan Qiren sits in his usual chair at the head of the room and gestures of Jin Zixuan to join him on the nearby couch. The staff crowds in, taking seats where they can and plopping onto the floor when they can’t. When Lan Wangji was first hired, these meetings were held in Lan Qiren’s office, and had been since the first season of the show. Then Wei Ying was promoted to Head Writer and annoyed Lan Qiren so badly that he instituted a rule that Wei Ying was not allowed in his office, and the pitch meetings moved into the break room.

Wei Ying had shrugged and said, “Cool,” clearly unimpressed that the force of his personality had upended decades of tradition.

“We’re very glad to have this week’s host, Jin Zixuan, here with us this morning,” Lan Qiren says. He claps a few times, as usually this is where the room applauds, but today everyone stares blankly at him until he stops, clearing his throat. “... And before we start taking pitch ideas, I’d also like to let everyone know that our musical guests this week, Coffin City, have requested to be in the digital short, so Wen Qing, we’ll need music for it this week.”

“On it,” Wen Qing says quickly, already typing notes into her phone. “Do we think a parody of Three Blind Mice is like, too on the nose? Ah Qing?”

Ah Qing shakes her head. “Song Lan will love it,” she says. Lan Wangji has a vague recollection that Ah Qing worked on a bunch of music video production teams before getting hired by NBC. “Xiao Xingchen will too but he’s gonna want to play it as straight as possible because, if I’m honest, he’s just not very funny.”

“I’m thinking we do like, an open mic night sendup,” explains Wen Qing. “Like, they’re in a bar, and everyone else is singing about their truck and, I don’t know, football? whatever, and then these two guys get up and start singing this extremely gruesome song about murdering mice and absolutely decimate the vibe.”

“Dibs on being in it,” Xue Yang pipes up, from the back. He hadn’t said hello to Wei Ying. Not that Lan Wangji is paying attention this. That would be an absurd thing to pay attention to.

Wen Qing ignores him completely. “Is it all right if I step out to get a head start on this? If I can nail the music before tomorrow we can knock the short out early and free me up for other writing.”

Lan Qiren nods at her and she exits quickly, giving Yanli’s shoulder a squeeze as she passes and pausing by Wei Ying to whisper something in his ear. He beams up at her and makes a kissy face, which she promptly smushes with the palm of her heel and pushes away, making him laugh.

Everyone loves Wei Ying. Lan Wangji does not blame them, but sometimes he did wish that he understood how Wei Ying did it. It’s so easy for him, making people love him. Lan Wangji is ... mediocre, at people. He mostly finds them bewildering, and he thinks they can tell.

It isn’t that he wants the kind of attention Wei Ying gets, but it would be nice, he thinks. To know how to make — people love you. People that you also love. It would be good to be loved, by ... people.

“I’d like to pitch something,” Jingyi says.

Lan Wangji pinches the bridge of his nose. He knew he had forgotten something.

“Go ahead,” Lan Qiren says, because he doesn’t know the writers like Lan Wangji does.

“So Jin Zixuan, you’d be like, a teen,” Jingyi begins, and Jin Zixuan nods, leaning forward. “And all the girls would be super into you.”

“Well, love it so far,” Jin Zixuan jokes, and a few people laugh, but Jingyi doesn’t. Nor does Wei Ying, or Jiang Cheng, or Lan Wangji. Yanli manages a smile.

Jingyi continues, “But you’d turn them all down. And it would be like, you’d go through classes and hot girls would be hitting on you but you’d keep saying no, and the audience would be like: what’s this guy’s deal?”

“It’s gonna be hentai,” Jiang Cheng mutters, and Jingyi says, “And then you get home and it turns out you’re extremely into hentai.”

Jin Zixuan frowns. “What’s hentai?” he asks, and the look on Jingyi’s face is so joyful that even Lan Qiren looks alarmed.

Well,” Jingyi begins, practically bouncing in his chair.

“I have a pitch,” Yanli interrupts, cutting a glance at him to keep him from saying anything. The room turns as one to look at her. Jin Zixuan flicks his glance at her, then quickly down. Without looking back up, he gestures at her to continue.

Jiang Cheng lets out a sound that might be a growl. From beside her, Wei Ying moves his hand to her knee.

Yanli says, “You play a movie star, at a premiere. And you’re answering really like, generic questions.”

Jin Zixuan frowns. “Okay,” he says.

“And the camera will be slowly panning out,” Yanli goes on, serene. “Starting kind of close up on your face.”

“Sure.”

“And then, as it slowly pans out, the audience will realize that you’d wearing chaps. Without underwear. Don’t worry, we’ll blur it. But the whole front of you will basically be the mosaic. So you’ve been giving this incredibly generic interview about your movie and your fashion choices and you’ve had your dick out the whole time.”

Jiang Cheng rolls his lips inward and looks down quickly, hiding his laugh. Wei Ying doesn’t; nor does the rest of the room, and laughter bubbles through the gathered staff. Wei Ying says, “Also it should be clear during this interview that his dick is distractingly small.”

“Tiny,” Jin Ling agrees. “Microscopic. Can’t even see it.”

“Polly Pocket sized,” muses Jingyi.

“No, smaller,” says Jin Ling. “A grain of rice.”

Wen Ning frowns. “A dick the size of a grain of rice would be monster big on a Polly Pocket,” he says. “Unless we’re saying ‘Polly Pocket sized’ means the dick is the length of a Polly Pocket?”

A thoughtful pause; then Yanli decides, “We could commit and have the dick be a Polly Pocket. Maybe the punchline isn’t that the dick is visible, it’s that the dick is visible and is the one giving the interview.

“Uh,” says Jin Zixuan.

“Anyone else?” asks Lan Qiren, with a hint of desperation.

He looks to Lan Wangji with an expression that says do your filial duty and help me. Lan Wangji inclines his head and offers, “The notion of a dick that can give interviews is very funny.”

“What was the hentai thing, again?” Jin Zixuan asks, a little desperately, and Jingyi claps his hands together with relish.

-

Jin Zixuan gets commandeered by Wang Lingjiao, who is holding onto his arm and murmuring about skit ideas. For another guest, Lan Wangji might try to rescue him by directing Sizhui to intercede, but today he can’t be bothered. For one thing, he’s got enough on his plate without worrying about whatever nefarious plotting is happening among his writing staff; and for another, fuck that guy.

“Lan Wangji, stay a moment,” his uncle commands, as everyone files out to begin writing.

He winces. He’d hoped he could escape before being noticed.

Wei Ying casts him a worried look, but Lan Wangji waves him out. Jingyi, Zizhen, Jin Ling and Sizhui are hanging off his arms, pestering him about co-writing. Well — Zizhen and Jin Ling are bickering about a sketch they want to write, but it’s clear that they’re doing it in the hopes of getting his input. Sizhui is watching Wei Ying with a hawk’s eyes to make sure he doesn’t look too tired.

Wei Ying often jokes that Sizhui thinks of Lan Wangji as his father, just because it was on Lan Wangji’s recommendation that Sizhui got his initial interview, having met him while teaching sketch writing classes at Second City on summer sabbatical. Sizhui had been the best in all his classes, funny in his writing and thoughtful in his feedback to the other students, and Lan Wangji’s first act as Head Writer had been to recommend him to his uncle.

But Lan Wangji thinks that probably, if either of them is a father figure, it’s Wei Ying, who’d let Sizhui crash with him in his terrible apartment with his terrible village of roommates, because Sizhui hadn’t had the money to get something on his own and didn’t know anybody in New York. Wei Ying had taken one look at him on the first day, a little backpack slung over his shoulder, circles under his eyes from sleeping poorly in whatever shithole he’d rented off Craigslist, and said, “Right. Well, anyway, you live with me now,” and moved him in for the whole first year, until he and Jingyi had found a place to split in Queens.

(“We can both be his dad,” Wei Ying had joked, when Lan Wangji first pointed this out. “It’s 2020, Lan Wangji. Having two dads is like, cool now. I’ll be the hip, fun dad that buys him beer and condoms and you can be the boring mean dad that makes him do homework, and eat vegetables.”

Sizhui had protested, “Guys, I’m twenty-three,” but he was beaming.)

They wait for the room to clear. His uncle gestures for Lan Wangji to join him at the table, and Lan Wangji obliges, taking a seat. They look at each other for a long moment.

“I was disappointed to miss you at lunch on Sunday,” his uncle begins, in that way he has that suggests they are not talking about lunch, and also Lan Wangji is a terrible nephew.

Lan Wangji inclines his head. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “Something came up.”

“Wei Wuxian?” Lan Wangji looks up sharply, and his uncle gives him a very dry look. “Lan Xichen did not miss our weekly meal.”

Lan Wangji’s brother is a narc.

He doesn’t sigh, because sighs are a sign of weakness, but he does make a mental note to absolutely decimate his brother at tennis next week. No more Mister Nice Ankle. “Yes. He’ll be staying with me for a few weeks, while his apartment is remodeled. I felt it would be rude to leave him alone on his first day.”

“And yet he didn’t feel it was rude to intrude on your private residence,” his uncle grouses.

Lan Wangji, without inflection, replies, “Wei Ying is never an intrusion.”

“So it would seem,” Lan Qiren says, and then he does sigh, shaking his head. “Fine; that’s between yourself and your colleague. I want to discuss our conversation from last week.”

He’s not “a colleague,” he’s my friend, Lan Wangji doesn’t bother to correct, in part because he knows his uncle truly could not give a shit and in part because “friend” isn’t the right word, either. But Lan Wangji would rather light himself on fire than have that discussion with Lan Qiren, or also, engage in any way with his own internal monologue.

Because he’s annoyed, Lan Wangji waits, patient and blank-faced, rather than saying anything.

His uncle waits back at him.

They sit, in silence, for four minutes and forty-five seconds, which is when Su She pokes his head into the room, wincing, and says, “Sir? Sorry. Your eleven o’clock is upstairs.”

Lan Qiren nods. “Thank you, Su She. Please tell him I’ll be with him in a moment. Please offer him some coffee in the meantime.”

“Yes, sir.” Su She pulls his head back, disappearing into the hallway.

Lan Wangji makes to stand, but is stopped by his uncle’s hand on his own. “Lan Wangji,” he says, which — not that it matters, except that it matters enormously — means that Lan Wangji has won. “I admit to some surprise that this is a question about which you feel you need a great deal of time to consider. Many people would be honored.”

“I’m very honored,” Lan Wangji says slowly. “It’s not that.”

“Then what is it?”

I like my job. I don’t like change. I would miss Wei Ying.

But then — he guesses he’s going to have to miss Wei Ying, anyway.

Lan Wangji says, “It’s unclear to me whether I am fully qualified.”

His uncle blinks, visibly surprised. “Lan Wangji, you’ve been essentially running SNL for the past year and a half,” he points out. “You are more than qualified. And, if I may be frank, I don’t care for the implication that I’m acting out of nepotism.”

“It was less of an implication than an outright concern,” Lan Wangji says dryly. “Uncle Qiren, you know it’s what people will say.”

To be honest, Lan Wangji doesn’t really care what people will say; but his uncle will care. Lan Xichen will probably care. That asshole from Standards and Practices, Wen Chao, will definitely care.

“Then you will prove them wrong,” his uncle tells him sternly. “Lan Wangji. Do you want the job or not?”

No, thinks Lan Wangji. Also yes. Also I don’t know.

“It is Wei Ying’s first week back. Just let me get things here ... resettled, before I decide,” he bargains. “Sunday. I’ll tell you on Sunday. At lunch.”

His uncle sighs. “My eleven o’clock is waiting,” he notes, and stands. “Sunday. Don’t be late.”

“I’m never late.”

“No. Either you’re perfectly on time or you don’t come at all,” his uncle says pointedly, and sweeps out of the room.

“Yikes,” Lan Wangji tells the coffee machine. The coffee machine says nothing.

-

Coffin City arrives right after pitch ends, just after three, to film their promos. Ah Qing has been made their de facto handler, being — it turns out — Xiao Xingchen’s favorite person on the entire planet.

“This feels like something you might have mentioned,” Lan Wangji notes to her, “in the six-page dossier on them you organized for me.”

“It’s in there,” Ah Qing argues unrepentantly. “Page four. I did sound and production on both Distant Snow and Cold Frost. From their first album.”

Wei Ying, who has watched the filming with his chin hooked over Lan Wangji’s shoulder, gives his hip a pinch. “Yeah, Lan Zhan. One does not have to meet our A-Qing more than once to fall in love with her. And they met her twice! They never had a chance.”

Lan Wangji hums neutrally. Wei Ying usually doesn’t bother with the promos, but he hasn’t been far from Lan Wangji all day, presumably because whenever he’s alone he’s swarmed with well-wishes, and when he’s with Lan Wangji, people leave them alone.

“This guy gets it,” Ah Qing agrees, hooking her thumb in Wei Ying’s direction, eyes still locked on the soundstage. “Xue Yang! Cut the shit!”

Xue Yang has wormed his way into the promos, and somehow convinced Wei Ying to let them film one where he forces Xiao Xingchen to carry him piggyback across the soundstage. He’s currently resting his head so that he and Xiao Xingchen are cheek to cheek.

Xiao Xingchen is taking this job very seriously. Song Lan is ... not. He keeps tripping Xue Yang at every possible opportunity.

“I don’t know if this band is going to survive Xue Yang,” Wei Ying observes, dispassionately. “He’s gonna break them up with his sexual agenda.”

Jin Ling, who has been roped into a few of the promos kicking and screaming, perks up. “Wait, a fight?” he asks. “What’s sexual about that?”

“Sometimes, when a man and a band hate each other very much,” Wei Ying says with exaggerated magnanimity, “they get together for some psychosexual roughhousing.”

Jin Ling makes a face. “Gross,” he mutters. “You’re the worst. Shut up.”

“Do you want to hear about my sexual agenda?” Wei Ying wheedles.

“He does not,” says Lan Wangji firmly. “That’s an HR violation.”

“Oh, it’s an HR violation to try and impart a little wisdom on young A-Ling here, but for some reason you’re allowed to lure me back to your office and f ... ” Wei Ying grins at the panicked look on Lan Wangji’s face, “ ... orce me to write sketches until dawn?”

One day, Lan Wangji is going to commit a murder. He’s just going to push Wei Ying right out of the window, and no jury in the world will convict him for it.

“Yes,” he says tightly, instead of, please stop waterboarding me, emotionally.

“Anyway, I wouldn’t worry about Xue Yang,” Ah Qing intercuts, reassuring. “Xiao Xingchen won’t realize he’s being flirted with. He’s the world’s nicest guy, but he’s totally blind.” Lan Wangji, Wei Ying, and Jin Ling all blink at her; she waves an impatient hand. “Ah, you know what I mean. Blind both literally and figuratively.”

“Little Blind,” Xiao Xingchen calls. “Was that take okay?”

“You’re doing terribly,” Ah Qing calls back, which seems to delight him. “This is the worst acting I’ve ever seen. You’ll never be a proper con artist at this rate.”

Jin Ling makes bewildered eye contact with Lan Wangji, who shrugs. The sooner he learns to accept that everything and everyone at SNL is the weirdest possible version of themselves, he’ll be a lot happier.

Song Lan sighs heavily. He turns toward the sound of their voices. “And we’re sure the piggyback ride is necessary, for the joke?” he asks, for the fifth time.

“It’s necessary,” Xue Yang snaps. “Xiao Xingchen doesn’t mind. Do you, Xiao Xingchen? You’re so strong.”

“Whatever the show needs,” Xiao Xingchen assures them. “I don’t mind. He’s not heavy.”

Wei Ying cackles, flinging an arm around Jin Ling’s shoulder and dragging him in to give him a noogie. “Ah, I’ve missed this place,” he says fondly, and looks up at Lan Wangji with glittering eyes.

Then why do you want to leave? Lan Wangji thinks and does not ask. He says instead, “This place missed you, too.”

“Gross,” Jin Ling declares again, still trapped in Wei Ying’s armpit. “Ah Qing, make Mom and Dad stop flirting at the dinner table.”

“We are not at a dinner table,” Lan Wangji says at the same time that Wei Ying protests, “We’re not flirting! ... Wait. Who’s mom? Am I mom?”

Jin Ling frees himself and looks at both of them with marked disdain. “Obviously,” he snaps, in answer to them both.

“I cannot believe I’m mom just because I birthed all of you with my own body,” Wei Ying protests, but he looks delighted. Jin Ling and Lan Wangji share a look of agreement: Wei Ying is a deeply embarrassing person. “Lan Zhan. How come you get to be the dad? What lies did you tell them while I was gone to convince them that you’re a stern authority figure?”

Lan Wangji says, “I don’t tell lies.”

Ugh,” Jin Ling grumbles.

Ah Qing whacks all three of them over the head with her clipboard in quick succession. “Get off my soundstage,” she demands. “You’re distracting the talent.”

The talent is currently holding Xue Yang in the cradle of his arms like a bride. He is repeating to the camera the lines that Xue Yang is clearly stage-whispering in his ear: “... this week with host Jin Zixuan. I also think that Xue Yang is the most handsome man on television, and deserves all the candy in the world.”

“Xiao Xingchen, you big flirt! All the candy?” cries Xue Yang, batting his eyelashes, while behind him, Song Lan scowls and mutters, “Tune in at eleven-thirty eastern, eight-thirty pacific.”

“This is gonna be a great week,” Wei Ying announces, beaming.

-

It is Lan Wangji’s preference to write alone, or with the new kids as a teaching exercise, or with Wei Ying. He’s never been particularly good at co-writing with anyone else; he’s too precise about his jokes and too unwilling to compromise. If something’s not funny, he’ll say it’s not funny. He doesn’t understand why people get hung up on being polite about it, on this, a comedy show.

But it is Wei Ying’s first day back, and everyone wants to write with him, all crowded into Lan Wangji’s too-small office, making pitches. Wei Ying is sitting at Lan Wangji’s desk, delighted by the attention.

Lan Wangji stands by the door. He’s not going to get any writing done in this environment, but he can’t quite pull himself away, either. What if the staff pushes Wei Ying too far, and he gets tired? He won’t say anything. He never does. That’s what had gotten them all in this situation in the first place.

If Lan Wangji had only noticed. If Wei Ying weren’t so good at hiding. He’d never have gotten so sick, never have been on bedrest for so long, never gotten bored and written himself into excitement over a new job. He’d still be happily strung out on Lan Wangji’s couch, pitching dick jokes and trying to convince him to hire slam poets as the musical guest.

“He looks good,” Wen Qing murmurs at his side. Lan Wangji gives a single, firm nod, a warm feeling spreading through his chest. He does look good. Too skinny, probably, but Wei Ying was always a little too skinny, because he drank nine hundred cups of coffee and forgot to eat. Lan Wangji was frankly just grateful he’d been able to break Wei Ying of his cigarette habit during their first year sharing an office.

(“Lan Zhan, have you seen my cigarettes?” Wei Ying had asked, tearing apart the couch cushions. “I keep losing them. I swear on my life I left them right here.”

Lan Wangji had hummed. “Strange,” he’d said impassively, and then held out a Warhead for Wei Ying instead. Wei Ying, who couldn’t resist sour candy, took it. Two months later he was absently holding out a hand for candy instead of patting himself down for cigarettes, and Lan Wangji had kept obliging him, would keep doing it forever, because it turned out that Pavlov was right and behavioral science worked, and if it had the added benefit of Wei Ying associating Lan Wangji with treats and fulfillment and habit, well, that wasn’t Lan Wangji’s fault.)

“Yanli says he wrote a pilot,” Wen Qing goes on, and the good feeling drains out of Lan Wangji immediately.

“Nobody in this building can keep a secret,” he opines, a little coldly.

Wen Qing grins. “One person can,” she says, somewhat mysteriously, glittering up at him. “But it’s not Wei Wuxian, and it’s certainly not either of the Jiangs.”

He narrows his eyes at her, suspicious. “What do you know,” he demands.

“Oh, I mean, literally everything,” Wen Qing assures him, more cheerful than usual. “Sometimes people don’t even tell me stuff, I just look at them and intuit. Most people are pretty easy to read, but not you, Lan Wangji.”

Which of my secrets, he thinks, keeping his face impassive. He doesn’t have many, but the ones he has are impressive. He’s a go hard or go home kind of a person.

This kind of thing, he is pretty sure, does not happen on other writing staffs. He spares a moment to fantasize longingly about being head writer on The Weather Channel. Surely nobody on the Weather Channel threatened to expose all of your secrets on a Monday afternoon, for no reason at all.

“Nonsense,” he tells her. “I’m an open book.”

“Yeah, written in unbreakable code,” Wen Qing agrees, laughing dryly. “Anyway, I don’t need to know what all your secrets are. I know the biggest one.”

All at once, the teasing lilt falls out of her voice and her expression. She turns to face him fully, stepping between him and his view of Wei Ying. The room is busy and loud enough that no one notices. Wen Qing is short, much shorter than Lan Wangji, but she doesn’t seem small, standing in front of him with her hands on his hips. She seems like she could take him apart with surgical precision.

She says: “If you try to stop him, if you make him feel bad or guilty at all, I swear to God I will never write another digital short again.”

He blinks. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“Hearing is not understanding.”

“Lan Wangji, I’m telling you not to prevent him from going, if he wants to go.”

“Does no one here understand the parameters of my job?” Lan Wangji asks, feeling genuine bewilderment rise in him. First Jiang Cheng, now Wen Qing. What exactly do they think the job of Head Writer is, because Lan Wangji has always felt the title was fairly self-explanatory, but apparently he was mistaken.

Wen Qing rolls her eyes. “I’m not talking about the ‘parameters of your job,’” she echoes, using air quotes. “I’m talking about the parameters of your ... relationship. With A-Xian.”

“Relationship,” Lan Wangji echoes.

“Yes,” says Wen Qing. “You know. How you’re in love with each other.”

She barely lowers her voice when she says it, and it bowls Lan Wangji over, how easily it spills out of her mouth. How matter-of-fact. As if this were not a matter of dispute. As if it were public knowledge, known and accepted and signed on an HR form somewhere.

Or a license. At a courthouse.

His eyes dart involuntarily towards Wei Ying and he manages to choke out, “You are — not in possession of all the facts.”

“I’m in possession of my own two eyeballs,” Wen Qing counters, and then pauses, frowning. “Are you trying to suggest to me that you are not in love with Wei Ying, because I’ll be honest with you, that’s gonna be a real hard sell.”

Well, that’s horrific to know.

That people… know.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji explains, clearing his throat a little and dropping his voice to a whisper, because at least one of them ought to display a shred of professionalism in his fucking office, “is not in love with me.”

“Uh,” says Wen Qing, and laughs.

Lan Wangji says nothing, watching her laughter peter out, until she’s staring at him with wide eyes.

“Oh, my God,” she mutters after a moment, a look of realization on her face. He’s tempted, oddly, to pat her head in comfort: it had been a blow to him, too, to realize, that night on his couch, Wei Ying in his arms saying this is the funniest thing. “Oh my God, this is so tragic, I can’t even look.”

I also would like to not look, Lan Wangji agrees privately, but simply shrugs. His heart is rabbiting in his chest. He wonders who else knows. Wen Qing knows everything, so she is not a good barometer for how obvious Lan Wangji is to — the average person.

How obvious Lan Wangji is to, oh God, Wei Ying.

Wen Qing is still staring at him the way you might stare at a mangled body, or a ghost. “Okay. All right. I have to — wow. Wow. This is. Wow.”

He grits his teeth. “Discretion would be appreciated,” he snaps, and gestures meaningfully to the packed-full room of people who are, thank God, paying rapt attention to Wei Ying and not to the pair of them. Lan Wangji wishes he could join them. He would also like to not be a part of this conversation. He clears his throat. “And. I won’t.”

“Won’t — what?”

“Try to stop him. Or make him feel guilty.”

“Oh,” says Wen Qing, “we are way past that portion of this conversational agenda,” but before she can go on, Wei Ying looks up from where Wen Ning is trying to sell him on a joke about Goth Monster Prom and beams at both of them, calling Wen Qing’s name.

She casts a firm glare in Lan Wangji’s direction. “We’re not finished,” she threatens him, pointing a finger at his chest.

“A good leader is always available for their staff,” he answers blandly and simply resolves to fling himself out of whatever window he can find the next time Wen Qing tries to talk to him.

-

Lan Wangji’s day does not get better from there.

First his uncle, then Wen Qing, then a series of meetings in which Jin Zixuan’s manager makes endless snide comments and Lan Wangji isn’t allowed to hit him even once, and then Sweetgreen is closed for undisclosed reasons and he has to get a dinner from the kosher deli, which is fine but overpriced if you’re not actually buying anything with kosher meat in it, and then, worst of all, when he gets back to his office at almost six, it is empty except for Jin Zixuan, who is sitting nervously on his couch, picking at the fraying edge of the cushions.

Lan Wangji hasn’t seen Wei Ying since the afternoon. Which is fine.

When Lan Wangji comes in, Jin Zixuan jumps to his feet, gives an aborted wave, then blows a long breath out of his nose and shoves his hands into his pockets.

Weird, Lan Wangji thinks.

“Jin Zixuan,” he greets. “I thought you went home.”

“I, uh, sort of did,” Jin Zixuan stammers. “I mean, I did. But I came back. I wanted — I was hoping to pitch a sketch.”

Well. That is not what Lan Wangji was expecting to hear. He doesn’t know what he was expecting. A formal protest about hentai sketches?

He rounds his desk and takes a seat, gesturing for Jin Zixuan to do the same. “Do you mind?” he asks, indicating his uneaten sandwich. He’s usually a stickler for not eating during meetings, but his stomach has been grumbling so loudly for the past hour that he’s afraid he won’t be able to hear anything Jin Zixuan tells him over its loud complaining.

Jin Zixuan waves off his concern impatiently. “I don’t care what you do,” he dismisses, then visibly seems to hear how it sounds and winces. “Sorry. I didn’t mean ... it. Like that.”

Lan Wangji raises his eyebrows.

Jin Zixuan collapses on the couch, looking exhausted suddenly, and young. For some reason, he reminds Lan Wangji of Jin Ling whenever he’s thrown a fit and is feeling embarrassed and apologetic about it. Lan Wangji isn’t good at comforting Jing Ling, either, so instead of attempting with Jin Zixuan he sits patiently at his desk and waits.

Eventually, his throat working around several swallows, Jin Zixuan mutters, “I ... would like to make. A gesture.”

Lan Wangji frowns. “A rude gesture? We’ll have to clear it with Standards and Practices.” Lan Wangji is not optimistic. The guys in Standards and Practices hate SNL with a very specific intensity, with perhaps the small exception of Meng Yao, who hates everybody equally.

Although. Perhaps if Lan Xichen asks.

But Jin Zixuan is shaking his head. “No, I mean — a gesture.” He widens his eyes meaningfully. Lan Wangji ... does not know what the meaning is supposed to be.

“Right,” he says, somewhat helplessly.

Jin Zixuan groans, slumping back against the couch and staring up at the ceiling. “A gesture,” he says again, and then, swallowing thickly, “for — for Yanli.”

Lan Wangji nearly chokes on a bite of his sandwich. “Come again?” he asks.

“A kind of, a way to say, that perhaps I was given bad information,” Jin Zixuan continues, still not looking at Lan Wangji. “And — acted. On that bad information. In a way that was, also, one might say, from a certain perspective, not ... good.”

Lan Wangji furrows his brow, sorting through in comprehensible series of words that Jin Zixuan has pierced together, and comes up with: “An ... apology? You’d like to make an apology?”

“No,” Jin Zixuan mutters. “Maybe. I guess. Kind of.”

Lan Wangji fights a very powerful urge to put his head on his desk. He does not understand why Jin Zixuan has chosen him for this conversation. Lan Wangji is not a particularly inviting person. He does not think he radiates share your feelings with me vibes.

Then again: he takes a moment to wistfully imagine Jin Zixuan attempting this conversation with Wei Ying, who would have undoubtedly been his most unbearable self.

Jin Zixuan must take his silence for rejection, because he adds quickly: “Look. I know everyone here hates me, because of what I said about Yanli.”

He pauses, as if waiting for Lan Wangji to disagree. He does not.

Jin Zixuan clears his throat. “Right. Well, I — shouldn’t have. Said what I said. They sort of — that reporter took me by surprise, and I, and like I said, I had ... what turned out to be bad information, about ... what Yanli ... wanted. Um, from me. After I hosted last time, we — went on a few, I guess you’d call them, uh, I mean, we hung out. A few times. And I thought. But then this reporter said that she was ... ? But you understand, you were there, when I was hosting. You know.”

Lan Wangji, who really is quite fond of Yanli, says, “I assure you, Jin Zixuan, your last time here was entirely unmemorable to me other than its later fallout.”

“Right.” Jin Zixuan clears his throat again. “Well. Fine. I just. I guess I thought maybe I was, you know. Just another notch in the — the — her — bedpost.”

A piece of lettuce falls out of Lan Wangji’s mouth.

“What,” he asks, voice flat around the bits of sandwich he’s managed to contain.

“Well!” protests Jin Zixuan. “How was I to know differently! This guy said he had insider information! He seemed — he seemed so sure! How was I supposed to know?”

Yanli,” Lan Wangji says, for clarification purposes. “You thought that Yanli was using you for ... sexual ... ” What was the word Jingyi loved to use? “ ... clout?”

“Oh my God,” groans Jin Zixuan burying his face in his hands.

“Oh my God,” echoes Lan Wangji.

“So you get it? Why I would like to — to make some kind of — to explain?”

“This kind of thing would never happen at The Weather Channel,” Lan Wangji mutters, and manfully resists the urge to bury his face in his hands. Instead, he takes a long, deep breath and asks, “Is there a reason why you cannot simply apologize to Yanli on your own time?”

Jin Zixuan, ears pink, shoulders hunched, mutters, “That’s embarrassing.”

That’s embarrassing?” Lan Wangji repeats incredulously.

“Look, I want to do it this way, okay? Can you just tell me whether you’re going to help me or not?”

“Hosts are welcome to pitch ideas,” Lan Wangji tells him slowly. “You’ll have to find someone to write it with, if you can’t write it yourself.”

Jin Zixuan frowns. “I thought — you,” he says, and there’s the hint of a whine in his voice. “You’re Head Writer. If you do it, it’ll definitely get through.”

“That’s not how it works,” Lan Wangji explains with a deep sigh. It is true that there is no one in the universe who understands how Lan Wangji’s job operates. “And also, no.”

“Why not?!”

Wei Ying would kill me. I don’t like to co-write. Emotional public apologies are not my forte.

“I’m very busy,” he says. “Try someone else. Perhaps Mianmian. You know each other from her previous film work, don’t you?”

“Mianmian is mad at me,” Jin Zixuan grumbles.

“Everyone is mad at you,” says Lan Wangji. “Mianmian is not special in that regard.”

The actor heaves a long, slow sigh. “Fine. I’ll ask Mianmian. But if she says no, then will you do it?”

Lan Wangji tries to guess whether Yanli would want him to do this. Whether she would want a public gesture of apology, the way Wei Ying probably would, or whether it would horrify her, the way it would horrify Lan Wangji.

He settles on saying noncommittal, “We will discuss it if that happens,” with enough finality that Jin Zixuan seems to understand that he’s been dismissed and pushes up off the couch, grumbling a little. He pauses at the door, glancing back at Lan Wangji and opening his mouth, then closing it again and seeing himself out.

Lan Wangji immediately texts Mianmian: You have to say yes to Jin Zixuan or I will fire you.

The reply is almost instantaneous, just ??? and the eyeballs emoji. He wonders if she’s already gone home or if she’s wandering around the building somewhere.

Say “yes.”

what’s in it for me?

Your job.

that’s not a real threat i know ur too stuck up to get me fired for personal reasons

Lunch for a month.

lunch for two months & i want wwx’s office for naps

Sold.

He hears a cackle from down the hall. He supposes that answers the question of whether or not she’s gone home yet.

“You’re too easy!” she shouts, but Lan Wangji doesn’t care. He’d have given her Wei Ying’s office for free, if it meant keeping him in Lan Wangji’s space. Anyway, it wouldn’t be Wei Ying’s office for long. He’d sell his show, and leave, and it would become the office of whoever was promoted in his place.

Jiang Cheng? Maybe. He has an eye for the production part of it, the cohesion and the details of management. Or possibly Wen Qing, who would run things with an iron fist and could frighten even Wen Chao into letting them slip in a swear word or two when the joke really needed it, and bonded with the cast.

Actually, they’d be a good team, he muses. Wen Qing’s calm with Jiang Cheng’s gift for big-picture thinking.

If he takes the job —

Here you are.” Wei Ying’s voice is warm, and relieved. He slips into Lan Wangji’s office and closes the door behind him, sagging against it. The smile he’s been wearing all day falls off his face and he looks, very suddenly, exhausted.

Lan Wangji half-rises out of his chair, but Wei Ying waves him away, instead staggering to the couch and collapsing onto it, burying his face into one of the cushions with a groan. He’s so bony, Lan Wangji thinks. He wants to — feed him. He wants to feed him literally anything he can get his hands on.

He holds out half of his sandwich. Wei Ying looks up, hesitates, then takes it, pulling himself up to sit cross-legged, facing Lan Wangji with a big grin, realer than the one he’d come in wearing.

Lan Wangji is struck with such a sudden pang of affection that he nearly drops the offering before Wei Ying can take it.

“Ahhh, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying sighs around a mouthful of food. “You always take such good care of me. You’re such a good partner. Whoever comes after me is going to be so lucky.”

Lan Wangji does not wince. He mutters, “Mn.”

“Oh, so you think they’ll be lucky?”

“No. They will have earned the promotion. Hard work is not luck.”

Wei Ying laughs. “Lan Zhaaaaaan, you’re such a fuddy-duddy,” he accuses, but fondly. “I haven’t seen you since this afternoon, and even then, you wouldn’t even talk to me, you were all wrapped up with Wen Qing. Did she usurp me, while I was gone? Is she your favorite now?”

Sometimes it is startling, how stupid Wei Ying is. Lan Wangji loves an idiot.

“No,” Lan Wangji tells him.

“No? Not Wen Qing? Hmm. Maybe Ah Qing, then? You seemed chummy at the promo filming today. She’s very organized and mean, like you. I’ll bet you get together and say judgmental things about people and have a great time.”

“No,” Lan Wangji says again, rolling his eyes this time.

“Mianmian? Wen Ning? Jingyi, Jin Ling, Zizhen, Sizhui? It would take all four of them to replace me, I think. My sons each only have half my DNA, after all.”

Lan Wangji elects to ignore this game, instead opening his laptop to the list of pitch ideas that they’d gotten through this morning and looking them over again, to see what might be missing, thematically. He jots down Jin Zixuan & Mianmian - Gesture Sketch at the end, and then flips over to Twitter to see if he can pick out any early headlines for Weekend Update.

Wei Ying is watching him with careful eyes that Lan Wangji can’t read. “There’s really no one, Lan Zhan?” he asks, voice as light as a feather. “But who did you hang out with while I was dying?”

No one, I didn’t see anyone, is the answer, but that sounds sad even to Lan Wangji’s pathetic ears, so instead of being honest he deadpans: “Jiang Cheng.”

Wei Ying mimes throwing the dwindling sandwich at Lan Wangji, who ducks on instinct from the times the sandwich has actually hit him in the head. “Jiang Cheng!” Wei Ying splutters, indignant. “You can’t replace me with Jiang Cheng. He’s — ! You don’t even like him.”

“Maybe I do,” Lan Wangji lies. “Maybe I am pining away. Secretly.”

“For Jiang Cheng?”

“He’s very symmetrical.”

“Symmetrical!”

“Good eyebrows.”

Wei Ying flops back onto the couch, laughing for a long moment. When he subsides, his hand coming to rest on his stomach, he shifts so that he can grin over and across the desk at Lan Wangji, eyes warm in the fading light from outside.

“You’re such an asshole,” Wei Ying tells him, but he says it like a compliment. “Hey, Lan Zhan?”

“Mm?”

“Can we go home?” Lan Wangji blinks, surprised; usually he’s the one forcing Wei Ying into a taxi at the end of the night. Wei Ying’s smile turns sheepish. “I know it’s early. We can do more work at home. I just — I’m so tired today.”

Lan Wangji closes his laptop with a brisk snap. He shoves it into his bag and brushes a handful of sandwich crumbs into his trash before coming round to the couch and holding out his hand to help Wei Ying to his feet.

“Yes,” he says. “Let’s go home.”

-

The apartment has a guest room, but Wei Ying is loath to use it, instead bullying Lan Wangji into working with him on the couch and then promptly falling asleep, his feet in Lan Wangji’s lap. Lan Wangji massages them almost absentmindedly, watching Wei Ying sleep and pretending that’s not what he’s doing.

He’s — looking him over. For signs of pneumonia. He only remains still enough in sleep for Lan Wangji to do it properly.

Wei Ying: quixotic, brilliant, hilarious, cutting, energetic, smart, savvy, charming, a cult favorite. Wei Ying: the strand of hair that always fell out of every wig, which he always has to pin back especially. Wei Ying: able to put on and discard characters and impressions like they were masks, on camera and sometimes, Lan Wangji thought, off of it. There is no mask he loved more than the smiling mask of Wei Wuxian. It had taken him that whole first year to get him to drop it enough for Lan Wangji to figure out what was underneath.

Wei Ying at the Weekend Update desk, grinning across at Lan Wangji, flirting as if it were on the cue cards. Lan Wangji, carefully stone-faced, shooting him down. It had been a bit, at first; then it had been less of a bit. Wei Ying sprawled out on the couch with his head in Lan Wangji’s lap, trading jokes and sketch ideas, moving so fast sometimes that Lan Wangji often had to record them to make sure that they didn’t forget anything, to make sure nothing was lost. Wei Ying telling Lan Wangji that he was funny, that he was the funniest person Wei Ying had ever met, and Lan Wangji being so surprised that someone like Wei Ying could genuinely enjoy Lan Wangji’s terrible, boring personality that he’d spilled water all over his desk.

(Wei Ying, after the fiftieth anniversary party, laughing in the dim light, head in Lan Wangji’s lap and hands tangled in his shirt, twisting the fabric. He’d said, suddenly, “Hey,” just that, just “hey,” but with a smile that anyone could read, even Lan Wangji, who never felt like he could read anything. And the office was empty, and the lights were low, and Lan Wangji had loved him by then for such a long time already.)

(“Hey,” Lan Wangji had said back.)

“Go to sleep, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji murmurs, giving Wei Ying’s foot a gentle shake.

“I am asleep,” Wei Ying answers, without opening his eyes. “You go to sleep.”

Lan Wangji rolls his eyes, although Wei Ying can’t see it. “To bed, then.”

Wei Ying, stubbornly refusing to admit that he’s awake, flips himself over until he’s pinned Lan Wangji beneath him, chin on Lan Wangji’s chest, laptop gently pushed onto the floor. He settles heavily, nuzzling in. Without Lan Wangji’s input or permission, his hand comes up to cup the back of Wei Ying’s head.

“Shhh,” Wei Ying murmurs, a garbled sound against Lan Wangji’s shirt. “Close your eyes. It’s good, right? Like this?”

(“Your ears are pink,” Wei Ying had told him, and then leaned up and kissed him, flutter-quick, fingers tightening in Lan Wangji’s shirt, as if he thought there was any possibility that Lan Wangji would say no. Could say no. As if there were any universe at all in which Lan Wangji’s world would not narrow itself to the man in his lap.)

“Mn,” Lan Wangji rumbles, and turns the lights off with a clap of his hands. “Right here is just fine.”

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji wakes slowly. His neck hurts, and he’s hot, and there is a mouth. The mouth is on his neck. The mouth has drooled on him. Every few seconds, the mouth brushes against his skin as it mumbles incoherent sleep sounds.

The mouth belongs to Wei Ying, whose hands are clutched right in Lan Wangji’s shirt, a deadweight above him.

Lan Wangji blinks up at the ceiling and heroically refrains from tightening his grip around Wei Ying’s middle, for fear of rousing him. Lan Wangji knows already how this morning will go: Wei Ying will wake, be delighted that he has drooled all over Lan Wangji’s expensive furniture, make a joke about cuddling, and then get up and go about his day without a single care. Lan Wangji, for his part, will say nothing, make them breakfast, and have anxiety.

The problem, of course, is that he knows exactly why Wen Qing thinks that Wei Ying loves him, because there had been a brief time where he himself had suffered the same delusion. He’d thought they had been on the same page, slowly working their way toward one another in careful fits and starts, a sitcom with deeply uneven writing but, he had hoped, a satisfying finale.

And then they’d slept together. This was, it turned out, something of a misstep.

(It hadn’t felt like a misstep while Lan Wangji was taking the stride. Not the first press of his mouth to Wei Ying’s, not the hungry way Wei Ying’s hands had curled in Lan Wangji’s shirt, not the heat of him as he’d flipped them, hovering over Lan Wangji with his hair tumbling over his shoulder. It hadn’t felt like a misstep when his knuckles had brushed against the underside of Lan Wangji’s jaw. When he’d slid his mouth down to follow their path. When he’d kissed Lan Wangji’s clavicle through his no-longer-crisp button-down, muttering senseless things against the fabric and Lan Wangji’s chest. When his hands had run down to the lip of Lan Wangji’s khakis, and then laughed the word khakis against Lan Wangji’s mouth, and then, then, pulling back and looking down at him, looking right down, right into Lan Wangji’s eyes without flinching away, flicked open the button and reached in, curling his hand around Lan Wangji’s dick even as he whispered can I? And Lan Wangji, breathless, weightless, said yes.)

Here, now, Wei Ying stirs. Lan Wangji holds still for a moment longer, then shifts, prodding Wei Ying with a finger.

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying mutters without opening his eyes. “Is that you?”

“No,” says Lan Wangji.

Wei Ying smiles, but still doesn’t look at him. “I knew it. My Lan Zhan would never let me drool all over his nice shit.”

Drool joke: check, thinks Lan Wangji, not without a certain sense of smug pride.

“Mn. He warned me to put a towel under you.”

Wei Ying raises his head, indignant, finally admitting he’s awake. “It’s not that bad!” he protests. “This is slander, and moreover, it’s libel.”

“Libel is written,” Lan Wangji regrets to inform him.

“Well, it’s rude, anyway,” pouts Wei Ying. Lan Wangji waits for him to get up, but instead of pushing off the couch, Wei Ying adjusts so that he’s lying on top of Lan Wangji on his belly, chin resting on his chest. He rolls his head, digging in a little — not hard enough to hurt, just to command Lan Wangji’s full attention, as if he didn’t already, always have it. “Hey. Lan Zhan. Lan Zhaaaaaan.”

“Mn.”

“Do you. I mean — you haven’t asked.”

Lan Wangji furrows his brow. “About what?”

“The pilot,” Wei Ying says, worrying his bottom lip. “You haven’t asked to read it.”

“Ah,” murmurs Lan Wangji, and swallows back what he wants to say, which is that he can’t read it, because if he gets his hands anywhere near it he will destroy it beyond salvage. He cannot give feedback on it because his feedback will be that he hates it and wants it at the bottom of a trash bag, covered in garbage.

Wei Ying waits him out.

Lan Wangji sighs. He hates lying. He particularly hates lying to Wei Ying, who always knows. Eventually, he manages a neat half-truth: “I don’t have to read it to know that it’s good.”

“Ugh, gross. Shameless, horrible,” Wei Ying grumbles. “But — aren’t you curious? I said it was about SNL. What if it’s a terrible misrepresentation and it makes NBC look bad? What if I made us all sexual deviants? What if I made a character of you, and he’s just like, the absolute worst?”

“Did you?”

“Lan Zhan. How dare you accuse me of this.”

Despite himself, Lan Wangji snorts. “Let’s eat,” he suggests, nudging Wei Ying up and onto his feet. “Shower first.”

“Together? But you haven’t even kissed me yet this morning,” Wei Ying jokes, and Lan Wangji, nerves rubbed raw from a whole night of Wei Ying curled up against him, painfully aware that every new thing they did was pushing them closer to the last time that they could, answers without thinking, “Kissing is a post teeth-brushing activity.”

He freezes. Wei Ying also freezes. Snowball and Cloud, who Lan Wangji personally thinks could spare a bit more attention to their best friend and food provider’s agonies, continue their business of hopping about their cage and demanding food.

“... Right,” says Wei Ying.

“Okay,” says Lan Wangji.

“I’m gonna,” Wei Ying hooks his thumb over his shoulder toward the hallway leading to the bathroom, mid-turn, so he ends up pointing somewhere near the hall coat closet.

Lan Wangji nods. Instead of having thoughts, he feeds the rabbits and then begins pulling person-food somewhat blindly from the fridge, flicking through the most complicated recipes he knows, difficult enough to distract him. He could make hollandaise. Or a soufflé. Or — croissants. Yes, they take ten hours to rise; no, that would not be enough time.

He is debating the merits of tempering chocolate when Wei Ying re-emerges, hair wet and freshly brushed, in jeans and an old Lampoon shirt. He blinks at the mess of Lan Wangji’s counter.

“I was thinking bagels?” he says, carefully, correctly ascertaining that Lan Wangji is having some kind of psychotic break. “If you don’t have any we can go to that place you like. With the fortunes in the coffee cups.”

Lan Wangji surveys his food items. None of them are bagels. He thinks perhaps he has some sliced and frozen, but the idea of admitting this to Wei Ying is too unbearable to uncomplate. So he shrugs, and casually begins putting everything away again. Maybe he can swing it like he had been seized, suddenly, by the inescapable urge to clean his fridge.

Wei Ying would probably believe this, because he doesn’t know enough about being a clean and tidy person to dispute it.

“Cool,” Wei Ying says. He leans against the counter, resting his chin in one hand and tapping out a rhythm with the other. “Hey, are those Sour Patch Kids? Were you gonna feed me a breakfast with Sour Patch Kids in it? Wow, Lan Zhan. You’ve changed. I left you alone for three measly months and you became the kind of person who keeps Sour Patch Kids in his house and then eats them. For breakfast. Who taught you this, was it Mianmian? That seems like a real Mianmian move, she’s got terrible eating habits.” He pauses. “Wait. Did you just — do you refrigerate your Sour Patch Kids?”

Lan Wangji frowns. “So they remain fresh,” he says.

“They’re Sour Patch Kids, you extraordinary weirdo,” laughs Wei Ying. “Ah, you’re so cute, I can’t stand it. I can’t even look at you. Go away.”

“This is my apartment.”

This news seems to startle Wei Ying, who looks around as if he doesn’t know how he got here. “Oh yeah,” he muses. “I kind of — forgot.”

“You forgot you were staying in my house?” Lan Wangji reaches out to press the back of his hand to Wei Ying’s forehead, checking for fever. Wei Ying jerks away, rolling his eyes.

“I had pneumonia, not Memento Disease,” Wei Ying tells him with what passes for severity for him, but would be practically obsequious from any given member of Lan Wangji’s family. “It’s just that, you know, you live here, but also, technically, sort of, right now, I also live here. I have a key. You gave it to me! Lan Zhan, you should know that this was, in many people’s opinion, a very bad move on your part. Yesterday I thought Lan Qiren’s eyeballs were going to twitch out of his head.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything; he sifts through the barrage of words to figure out which is the important thing that Wei Ying is trying to bury.

Eventually he finds it. Something warm and sharp blooms in his chest, comforting and painful at the same time. He says, “It is also your house.”

“I don’t pay rent,” Wei Ying points out, picking at the countertop.

Lan Wangji shrugs. “I’m rich.”

Wei Ying slaps a hand to his face, melting helplessly down onto the counter and blinking up at Lan Zhan in dramatic dismay. “Lan Zhan. You can’t say that. It’s — gauche. I think. I’m told talking about money is uncouth in fancy bitch circles, the Jiangs hate doing it, their mother says it’s terribly middle class which is funny because, as you know, in terms of wage distribution and economic disparity there really is no — ”

“Do you want to pay rent?” Lan Wangji interrupts, somewhat impatiently. Now that the offer is there, for Wei Ying to live here, not as a guest but as a fixture, for him to call Lan Wangji’s house his —-- even if it’s only until he sells his pilot and moves away — even if it’s only until this afternoon — Lan Wangji doesn’t want to waste any time talking about the dire straits of late stage global capitalism.

Wei Ying blinks. “What?”

“Will it make you feel that this was also your house if you paid rent?” Lan Wangji clarifies. “Do you want a lease?”

A lease, he thinks, dizzily. He could ask for a year. Wei Ying, if he signed, he’d have to — he’d be bound. By law. A whole year.

Wei Ying is gaping at him. “Lan Zhan,” he says slowly, carefully, “please do not take this in the wrong way, but what the fuck?”

Lan Wangji finishes putting away the peanut butter, in the back cupboard so that Wei Ying can't see his face. This is not where the peanut butter belongs. It belongs in the side cupboard, next to the toaster, altogether too close to where Wei Ying is loitering.

Of course he — of course. Lan Wangji graduated valedictorian from the University of Chicago, but he is, after all, very stupid.

“We should go,” he says, instead of answering.

The look that Wei Ying gives him is considering. Lan Wangji keeps his face carefully blank.

“Okay,” Wei Ying agrees eventually. “Let’s go. But first, bagels? I can’t face that turd Jin Zixuan without carbs, Lan Zhan. I can’t do it. I won’t. Oh! Let’s get bagels for everybody, but not him. Or — does he have any allergies? Can we get him something with an allergen in it? Will they add allergens? Can you add allergens?”

“No poisoning the host,” Lan Wangji tells him firmly, hustling him out the door. Wei Ying pouts, jamming his hands into his pockets. He looks so put out that Lan Wangji can’t help but add, striding past him, “...until after the live show.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying cries, joyfully flinging himself onto Lan Wangji’s back. Lan Wangji hitches Wei Ying’s legs up and traps him there, to be carried. Wei Ying huffs in surprise, and then settles, his chin on the top of Lan Wangji’s head. His arms snake around Lan Wangji’s shoulders and he settles, a warm weight. Sturdy, and solid, and here, in Lan Wangji’s hands.

-

Tuesdays are always chaos, which is why, Lan Wangji suspects, it is Wei Ying’s favorite day. The whole floor is bustling with energy, writers and cast members huddled in various corners and in offices, writing and laughing and shouting at one another across the hall. Wen Qing has her headphones on and is mixing the version of Three Blind Mice that Coffin City recorded for her, for the digital short.

Wen Ning, spotting Wei Ying, stands from where he and Sizhui are bent over a laptop and weaves his way over to the door. “Young Master Wei,” he greets with a teasing grin and a formal bow, a joke that has far outlived Lan Wangji’s memory of the sketch it came from. He thinks it was from Update.

“General Ning,” Wei Ying responds seriously, bowing back.

“And, also, hello, Lan Wangji,” Wen Ning adds, glance darting to Lan Wangji and then back to Wei Ying. Lan Wangji is 80% sure that Wen Ning is afraid of him. He’s not offended; Wen Ning is afraid of most people. If Lan Wangji were a psychologist he’d want to write his PhD on Wen Ning’s inability to so much as meet anyone’s eyes offstage paired with his complete lack of inhibitions on it.

Wei Ying had figured out early how to earn Wen Ning’s ease; Lan Wangji still hadn’t. He’s never had Wei Ying’s gift of being loved; he was too stern, too remote. It’s why they worked as a team. Nice dad, mean dad.

Carrot and stick.

Wei Ying slings an arm around Wen Ning’s shoulders. “Are you going to write Monster Prom?” he asks. “I liked it. It was funny. Jin Zixuan can be a zombie, and we can mess his face up in a very authentic way.” He winks. “If you catch my drift.” He winks again.

“I mean. I could,” Wen Ning agrees dubiously, casting an anxious glance at Lan Wangji. “But I ... I don’t think we’re allowed to hit him?”

“You are not,” Lan Wangji confirms at the same time that Wei Ying says, “Well, rules are made to be broken.”

At Lan Wangji’s look, Wei Ying heaves a put-upon sigh and amends: “Fine. Jinzhu and Yinzhu can do it using hair and makeup. But for the record I could do just as good a job with my own two fists. And it would be much cheaper than paying for their services. I’d do it for free.”

“I will note this to the accountant,” Lan Wangji promises dryly.

Wei Ying grins at him, and Wen Ning waits, expectant. Lan Wangji has no desire to let Wei Ying go to write with anyone else — not when he hasn’t even had the chance to do it himself first — but. It is his job to be generous with Wei Ying’s talent. He doesn’t get to have a claim.

He says, “Well. I have — business,” and turns on his heel.

Business?” Wei Ying repeats, incredulous, jogging to keep up with Lan Wangji’s long strides. He pauses, frowning. “What business do you have? Are you keeping a secret, because Lan Zhan, we had a rule about secrets, or if we didn’t we should have, and I’m applying it retroactively, and that rule is that we shouldn’t have or, I guess, haven’t had, any. And also, second rule, stop trying to be mysterious, you’re bad at it, it’s so embarrassing.”

Lan Wangji blinks at him. “I’m actually told that I’m quite difficult to read,” he points out.

“By who?!”

“Everybody.”

“Well,” dismisses Wei Ying, “everybody is stupid. I’m right. You have a very expressive face.”

Lan Wangji is very sure this analysis is not correct.

“Wen Ning wanted you to write with him and Sizhui,” Lan Wangji explains, because he knows better than to argue. He gestures back toward the staff room.

Wei Ying furrows his brow, glances back to where Wen Ning is still watching them, and waves him away. “Uh, yeah? I know? I was ignoring it on purpose. He and Sizhui work well together, if I join them they’ll both just capitulate to me the whole time. They’ve gotta get more confident doing it on their own.”

Lan Wangji considers this. The last Wen Ning-Sizhui skit that had made it to air was a fake Fisher-Price catalogue. “Moody Cigarette Pack with Zippo lighter, mysteriously engraved with the words think of me fondly. For girls who read The Outsiders too early. Ages eight and up.”

“Anyway,” Wei Ying continues blithely, a whine creeping into his voice, “don’t you want to write with me, my first Tuesday back?”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji answers before he can think better of it. Without any input whatsoever from his good sense, his hand wraps around Wei Ying’s wrist. “I thought you’d want to — spread yourself around.”

“Kinky,” Wei Ying jokes, but it’s half-hearted. He’s pouting, a little, like Lan Wangji not assuming that they’d be writing together this morning has somehow impugned him.

He’s so stupid. What a terrible idiot.

Lan Wangji gives his wrist a little squeeze. “We should address your return on Update,” he suggests. “Any ideas?”

Wei Ying twists his arm so that he can hold Lan Wangji’s wrist, too, an ouroboros of long fingers and pulse points. He says, “A few. Come on,” and drags him toward Lan Wangji’s office.

-

Around the time that normal people with normal schedules eat lunch, Yanli pokes her head into the office. Wei Ying is hanging upside-down off the couch, gesturing fervently at Lan Wangji. They’re writing a sketch which, in Lan Wangji’s correct opinion, should feature Zizhen and Wang Lingjiao, but which Wei Ying wants to give to Wen Qing.

“You can’t play favorites,” Lan Wangji tells him, but fondly.

Wei Ying blows out a dismissive breath. “It’s showbiz, Lan Zhan, the whole thing is favorites.” He pauses for a thoughtful beat. “Also, she’ll hate doing it, which is very funny to me, personally.”

“They might accuse you of sleeping with her.”

“Then I’ll just tell them the truth, which is that I’m sleeping with you.”

Lan Wangji knows this is the portion of the script where he’s cued to laugh. He manages a smile. He hates this movie, for which he didn’t even know he was auditioning. “Is one time many months ago ‘sleeping’?” he asks, aiming for jocular and barely hitting ‘tired.’ Even now, the words taste like all the bitter alcohol that Lan Wangji doesn’t let himself drink. “Perhaps ‘slept.’”

“Pedant,” Wei Ying accuses, pouting again. “I suppose we’ll just have to — ”

Yanli clears her throat, waiting politely for Lan Wangji to beckon her in. Wei Ying flips right-side up, beaming at her and opening his arms wide. She tucks herself into them, and then hides her feet beneath one of the couch cushions. Wei Ying says they get cold; Lan Wangji thinks she has a complex about her small feet.

“I know that you boys are having Super Special Head Writer Time,” Yanli teases, twinkling up at Wei Ying, “but I hoped I could perhaps borrow Brother Wei for a bit of writing.”

Wei Ying raises his eyebrows in surprise. “With you?” he asks. “And Jiang Cheng?”

Yanli’s smile, ever-sweet, sharpens. Lan Wangji is, sometimes, afraid of her. “Jiang Cheng would like to convey his apologies for his behavior on Sunday,” she tells him smoothly. “He recognizes that his response was based in gut emotionality, rather than calm consideration.”

“Bull-fucking-shit he does,” Wei Ying laughs, and ducks his head to nuzzle Yanli’s temple. “You’re a liar and a fraud, shijie.”

She blinks, all innocence, and shifts so that she can meet Lan Wangji’s eyes. “Lan Zhan,” she wheedles, “won’t you defend me?”

Lan Wangji steeples his fingers. He has never quite worked out the boundaries of Wei Ying’s relationship with the Jiangs, which is a jumble of such alarming intensity that Lan Wangji frequently wishes he could put it in a laundry bag and leave it outside until it dries out. “I could not possibly be asked to comment on the complexities of a mind such as Jiang Cheng’s,” he demurs.

Wei Ying and Yanli both glare at him.

“Hey,” Wei Ying protests. “Only I’m allowed to say his brain is stupid.”

“I did not say it was stupid,” Lan Wangji points out. “I said it was complex.”

“Yeah but you meant stupid,” Wei Ying argues, which is true. Lan Wangji did mean stupid.

Nevertheless: “Complex means complex,” says Lan Wangji.

Wei Ying flips him off, then nudges Yanli until she stands. He follows her onto his feet. “We’re going,” he says haughtily. “I’m gonna let Jiang Cheng yell at me for half an hour and shijie is going to write a bunch of great jokes that I’ll get partial credit for by dint having been in the room.”

Yanli smiles indulgently up at him, then gives him a gentle hip check. “You go on ahead,” she says, “I want to talk to Lan Wangji about our Secondhand Murder sketch.”

Wei Ying shrugs. “Fine, but if we’re shouting by the time you get there, that’s not my fault,” he bargains, pointing a finger at her. She nods, and he blows a kiss in Lan Wangji’s direction before flitting out of the office, shout-singing Jiang Cheng’s name.

Down the hall, Jiang Cheng shouts back: “Go away! What do you want! Shut up!”

The relationship between Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying has never made sense, but he's glad to know, at least, that it has also never changed. It was a long three months and Jiang Cheng missed Wei Ying, too.

Yanli sighs, shaking her head at the door before turning back to Lan Wangji. He waits her out. She studies him for a moment, quiet, and then asks, “So. You did?”

He blinks. “Did what?”

She rolls her eyes. Sometimes she looks so much like Wei Ying that he forgets she isn’t really his sister. “Sleep with him,” she clarifies. “I was right at the door. He knew I was there.”

Lan Wangji can feel the tips of his ears go red, which he hates.

“Ah,” he says. “Well.”

Yanli’s gaze goes sharp, hands floating up to land on her hips. Sometimes Lan Wangji thinks that maybe Yanli can read minds, because she says: “He didn’t tell me. He tells me everything, but he didn’t tell me this.”

“Mn,” says Lan Wangji, not sure what else there is.

You didn’t tell me either,” she adds. This confuses Lan Wangji. He doesn’t tell Yanli ... most things. He doesn’t tell anyone most things.

Lan Xichen, he guesses. But that’s less a case of him volunteering information and more a case of Lan Xichen looking at him with soft, knowing eyes until Lan Wangji admits to experiencing an emotion.

“I ... apologize?” he offers.

Yanli snorts. “You do not,” she laughs, and then sighs, rubbing at her forehead in tired dismay. “I don’t know why I said that. I guess I just. I’m not used to him keeping things from me. I don’t like it.”

“I did not mean to be an accomplice,” Lan Wangji says, which is true enough.

“I know why he didn’t.”

Lan Wangji waits. He feels this is probably safest.

Yanli says, “Lan Wangji. Do you know why he didn’t?”

Lan Wangji feels very much like this is a test he did not study for. It is a new feeling. He always studied for his tests. Sometimes he studied just in case there was a surprise test.

After a long moment, eventually he decides to play it safe and jokes again, “I could not possibly be asked to comment on the complexities of a mind such as Wei Ying’s.”

The look that Yanli gives him is so baldly disappointed in him that Lan Wangji winces and looks down at his hands. He hasn’t flinched so badly since he told Lan Xichen he was going to college in Chicago and his brother cried at the dinner table.

Yanli sighs. “Wei Ying says a lot of things,” she tells him eventually, as if he doesn’t know. “Most of them don’t matter. That’s why you have to listen really carefully, to figure out what does. To hear what doesn’t get said.”

From down the hall, Jiang Cheng shouts: “A-JIE I SWEAR TO GOD IF YOU DON’T COME GET THIS IDIOT AWAY FROM ME I’M GONNA PULL ALL HIS HAIR OUT WITH MY TEETH.”

“Gross,” says Lan Wangji, raising an eyebrow.

Yanli, looking very much like Sisyphus upon the arrival of familiar eagles, lets out a groan and stomps out of the room.

-

If Lan Wangji is hoping for a moment of peace, he doesn’t get it. What he gets is an endless parade of people who want his time and attention: he meets with his uncle for fifteen minutes about advertisers, writes two skits with Nie Huaisang and one with Sizhui, and then spends half an hour writing a sketch with Jin Ling and Zizhen, who keeps slipping up and calling one of the characters — a beautiful mermaid — A-Qing.

Lan Wangji sighs. “Zizhen,” he says gently, “you could just ask her out.”

“Oh, that’s rich,” mutters Jin Ling. “Coming from you.”

Zizhen elbows Jin Ling in the side, hard enough to knock his breath out in a gust. “A-Ling,” he hisses. “Shut up!”

“Well, it’s true,” Jin Ling grumbles, unrepentant as he rubs the spot Zizhen hit. “He’s just gonna let him sell his stupid pilot and leave.”

Lan Wangji closes his eyes, very slowly, and massages a few soft circles around his temples. There truly is no such thing as a secret at Saturday Night Live. No one on his staff can keep their stupid mouths shut.

“Be careful who you say that in front of,” he scolds. “How did you know?”

Jin Ling flaps a dismissive hand. “Jiang Cheng told Wen Qing, and Wen Qing told Wen Ning, and Wen Ning told Sizhui, and Sizhui told me. Us.”

Lan Wangji takes a moment to be disappointed in Sizhui, who he thought had better sense than to tell anything to Jin “No Inside Voice” Ling. “So you’re the only ones who know?”

“Well,” hedges Zizhen, “then Yanli told Mianmian.”

“And Mianmian told everybody,” Jin Ling finishes.

Lan Wangji is going to develop an ulcer. Maybe he already has. “What Wei Ying chooses to do with his career is not my responsibility,” he says, trying for patient. By Zizhen’s wince, he doesn’t think he manages it.

But Jin Ling looks mullish. “Well, it should be,” he argues. “You — you should take responsibility! Everybody wants you to! I don’t know why you’re being so — ”

“It’s Wei Ying’s life,” Lan Wangji interrupts through gritted teeth. One thing to fake pride and support to Wei Ying himself; another to be forced to do it to his army of staff, begging him to — what? Tie up his co-head writer and lock him in Lan Wangji’s office? Destroy his laptop and the locally-saved file that Lan Wangji is absolutely sure Wei Ying did not have the foresight to back up?

Do they think he doesn’t want to?

Do they think he has not envisioned with almost sexual delight drop-kicking the terrible, old, clunky laptop off his balcony?

“Yeah!” shouts Jin Ling, leaping to his feet. He’s always been an emotional boy. Lan Wangji suspects it is because he was hugged too much as a child. “His life! And you’re just gonna let him ruin it!”

“Jin Ling. Settle down,” Lan Wangji commands, gathering his own placidity around him like a warm blanket. “If this has upset you, I suggest you talk to Wei Ying about it.”

Jin Ling rolls his eyes. “Well he’s not gonna say anything useful. He’s just gonna be like — ” Jin Ling relaxes his posture into a surprisingly sharp imitation of Wei Ying’s insouciant slouch. “Aww is the baby I birthed going to miss me? I’ll still visit, A-Ling!

“Wow,” Zizhen says. “You’ve been practicing. That was pretty good. Except he’d probably be more like: Now, now A-Ling, just because your father and I are separating doesn’t mean we don’t both still love you very much.

Lan Wangji contemplates whether it is too late to go into meteorology. He’d make a good weatherman, he thinks. He bets nobody ever asks weathermen to keep their coworkers from quitting. People probably leave weathermen alone with their green screens and their cumulonimbuses.

A-Ling, take care of my dearest, most precious Lan Zhan while I’m away at war,” Jin Ling says. “Make sure he eats! Cut the crust off his bread!

Give him warm sponge baths every night. Braid his hair. Tell him he is beautiful eight hundred times a day.

Sing him Hozier songs and kiss him right on his snoot.

His perfect, precious snoot.

His angelic — ”

“That’s enough!” Lan Wangji barks, fists clenched in his lap. Zizhen and Jin Ling both startle, mouths snapping shut. Lan Wangji breathes through his nose. He counts to four, and when that doesn’t work, counts to eight. That doesn’t work either, so he starts counting to one hundred, eyes closed.

When he opens them, Zizhen and Jin Lin are sitting very quietly, hands in their laps, communicating with one another through panicked eyebrow movements.

Lan Wangji asks, “Are you still here?”

“Nope,” says Zizhen, leaping to his feet and dragging Jin Ling behind him.

Lan Wangji puts his head on his desk.

-

At five, Lan Wangji drags himself from his office to his uncle’s, where Coffin City are waiting. Ah Qing is there for reasons that are not and will not be made clear to Lan Wangji. Maybe she’s just decided she wants to be. Ah Qing has always more or less done whatever she wanted to do, whenever she wanted to do it.

“Ah, Wangji,” Lan Qiren greets at Lan Wangji’s knock on the doorframe. “Come in. Ah Qing, is there coffee from the break room?”

Ah Qing blinks at him, blank-faced. “I don’t know,” she says.

Lan Qiren waits a few beats, but Ah Qing makes no offer to go check. Beside her, Xiao Xingchen rolls his lips inward, masking a smile. Lan Wangji has always admired the tried-and-true method of simply refusing to acknowledge a social cue.

“Right,” his uncle cedes, after a moment. “Very well, then. Lan Wangji, I thought perhaps you could take lead today. I’ve got a few things lined up so I’ll have to step out early.”

He gives Lan Wangji what Lan Wangji supposes he thinks is a subtle look. It is not.

Lan Wangji bows his head. “Of course,” he agrees smoothly. “Xiao Xingchen, Song Lan, it is good to see you again.”

“And you,” Song Lan greets warmly, with a little bow. “Our Little Blind talks very highly of you in the group chat.”

“No I don’t, shut up, Medium Blind,” Ah Qing cuts in quickly, elbowing Song Lan in the side. His smile doesn’t budge. Lan Wangji suspects that he is being a shit. “I hate it here. I say bad things only.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lan Wangji tells her with his best I Am Your Manager smile. “I will of course see that this is reflected in your annual review in the hope that we can find you a position that is more suitable.”

Ah Qing flips him off, laughing. Lan Qiren does not make a face, but Lan Wangji sees his thumbs twitch in his lap. Good, Lan Wangji thinks. See how unprofessional I am?

“As you know,” he continues, “we wanted to run through a set list for Saturday. We like to give our musical guests as much leeway as possible, though of course we will have to restrict any songs with explicit material.”

“That rules out Two Swords, One Holster,” Song Lan says regretfully. “And also, probably, Sworn Brother.”

Sworn Brother isn’t so bad,” Xiao Xingchen muses. He taps his chin thoughtfully. “It’s heavily metaphorical. We could just say love instead of fuck in the chorus.”

“I’m not softening the lyrics to capitulate to censorship,” Song Lan informs him primly. “You didn’t leave the priesthood to not be allowed to say fuck.”

Lan Wangji shifts, startled. Xiao Xingchen smiles at him, a knowing expression on his face. What he knows, Lan Wangji couldn’t say. Lan Wangji is not sure he wants to find out.

“We should do Cool Moon and Distant Breeze,” Xiao Xingchen muses. “Oh — and perhaps Bloodied and Blind?”

“That one’s sad,” Song Lan says, shaking his head. “Let’s do something off the Mysophobia album.”

Everything is sad off the Mysophobia album,” Ah Qing cuts in. “The whole thing is, like, ‘I Used To Love God And Now I Love You And I’ve Got Real Tormented Dreams About It.’”

Xiao Xingchen flashes another smile, warm enough that it almost feels like a laugh; Song Lan nods seriously. “A very astute observation, Little Blind,” he agrees. “Hmm. Cold Frost?”

Ah Qing shakes her head. “Too horny.”

Distant Snow?”

“Not horny enough.”

“Is there, perhaps,” guesses Xiao Xingchen, “a song that Little Blind has in mind?”

“Big Blind! I’m so glad you asked,” Ah Qing croons. “I think you should debut the new one.”

Lan Qiren and Lan Wangji glance at one another. “New one?” Lan Wangji prompts, when Ah Qing is met with silence.

Son Lang scowls. “It’s not ready,” he protests. “He only wrote it yesterday. How can we debut it before it’s even been recorded? The band doesn’t even know how to play it.”

“You can do an acoustic version!” chirps Ah Qing. “Big Blind can sing, Medium Blind on guitar.”

“Little Blind on the maracas,” suggests Xiao Xingchen dryly. “You liked it that much?”

“I thought it was very spicy,” Ah Qing says, which is not a yes.

In a bid to save Coffin City from Ah Qing’s machinations, Lan Wangji puts in: “We would have to approve the lyrics. Debuting on SNL can sometimes be a risky move, since you won’t get as much of an audience reaction. That often reads badly on television.”

Ah Qing glares at him. Lan Wangji ignores her.

In the doorway, Su She pokes his head in and says, irritating in a way that Lan Wangji cannot describe, “Knock knoooock. Sorry to interrupt. Lan Qiren, you’ve got a call.”

Lan Qiren rises, bowing to the room at large and then bowing again, pointedly, to Lan Wangji. “Thank you, Su She. I’ll come out. Please, stay as long as you need. I will take the call outside.”

He follows Su She out.

The moment the door closes, Ah Qing says, “No offense, Lan Wangji, but that guy sucks. Is there coffee in the break room. Fuck off. I’m not Su She.”

Lan Wangji acknowledges this with a nod. “That’s between you and HR,” he tells her.

Xiao Xingchen hums thoughtfully, bringing them back to the meeting. “Let’s say we’ll do Distant Snow for now,” he says. “We’ll fiddle with Candy Heart and see if we can get it ready in time.”

This seems to pacify her; she settles with her shoulder against Xiao Xingchen’s side, beaming at a scowling Song Lan. Lan Wangji suspects this interlude is her way of punishing Song Lan for outing her as being fond of Lan Wangji.

“Very well,” Lan Wangji agrees. He claps his hands together once. “In that case, I will release you to the rest of your day. Thank you for coming in. I’ll walk you out.”

They make it as far as the elevator before Song Lan decides he wants something from the vending machine; he drags Ah Qing off to show him where it is, and also, Lan Wanghi assumes, to bicker with her out of Xiao Xingchen’s earshot. They wait in the foyer downstairs; Lan Wangji hates small talk, but leaving a blind man alone in an unfamiliar building feels unnecessarily abrupt, so they sit silently beside one another and Lan Wangji counts floor tiles.

After a long pause, Xiao Xingchen volunteers, “Did you know I used to be a priest?”

“Mn,” says Lan Wangji, which in this case means no but could be interpreted by unfamiliar parties as yes.

“Most people don’t. The label wanted it to be part of our marketing, but it didn’t feel right to take something I loved so much and turn it into some kind of ... soundbite.”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says again, not sure what else to offer.

Xiao Xingchen leans back against the wall, tilting his face up as if he could see the mural on the ceiling. It was originally a commissioned piece from Diego Rivera, called Man at the Crossroads. But he painted Lenin into it, right at the center; so the Rockefellers hired José Maria Sert to paint over it. He’d painted American Progress instead.

Lan Wangji has always thought that was a kind of depressingly apt metaphor for American progress, actually.

That’s a good sketch idea, he notes privately. The ghost of painted Lenin haunting the Rockefellers.

It feels like Xiao Xingchen is waiting for something, so Lan Wangji hazards a guess at it: “Do you ... miss being a priest?”

Xiao Xingchen laughs for a long time. “No,” he says. “That would have been a good life for me. It was scary to leave it behind. But, you know. How could I have chosen otherwise? When leaving held the promise of as rich a reward as Song Lan?”

In hindsight, Lan Wangji doesn’t know how he missed the fact that Xiao Xingchen used to be a priest. Everything he says sounds like a theological quotation.

“I — see,” he says.

“Sometimes,” Xiao Xingchen goes on, “we have to take risks. For and with the people we love. And after all, God seemed like such a small thing to lose, in comparison.”

Look, Lan Wangji doesn’t have great social skills, but what do you say to that? What on earth do you say? Does anybody know?

“Do you have someone?” he asks, as if he were inquiring after the state of traffic, or the timing of the next train. “That you love?”

Xiao Xingchen has his face turned toward Lan Wangji, and although Lan Wangji knows that he isn’t looking at him, per se, he nevertheless feels entirely too sharply perceived.

The elevator doors ping open and Ah Qing bustles out, dragging Son Lang. They’re arguing about Skittles. Lan Wangji has never felt so grateful for anything or anyone in his entire life.

They skid to a stop in front of them, and Lan Wangji doesn’t wait around to get sucked into further discussion. He gives Xiao Xingchen an awkward pat on the shoulder and says, “Well — bye,” before beating a hasting retreat back to the elevators. When he looks back, Xiao Xingchen is cheerfully eating Skittles, as if he weren’t five seconds ago saying things like God seemed like such a small thing to lose, in comparison. Perhaps that is what he traded it for, Lan Wangji thinks. Song Lan and bickering and Skittles, bathed in warm light that Xiao Xingchen could not see.

-

INTERLUDE

Writing goes about as well as Yanli expects, which is to say it goes terribly at first, but by the end A-Cheng and A-Xian are tearfully writing an emotional reconciliation scene between a lettuce leaf and a grilled tomato which features zero jokes. They are doing this without once looking at or speaking to each other.

This sketch is absolutely not going to make it to air.

“Then the — then the tomato should say that it didn’t want to leave the lettuce, it wasn’t about leaving the lettuce, it was about — feeling — like the sandwich had gotten too crowded, and that the tomato couldn’t add anything new to the sandwich, without — being grilled,” A-Xian sniffs. “Yanli, write that down, are you writing it?”

Yanli taps her fingers meaninglessly against the keyboard. “I’m writing it,” she lies, checking her Twitter.

A-Cheng sniffs. “Well then the lettuce should, let’s have the lettuce get up off the bread and tell the tomato that he was just worried about it, because grills are dangerous and the tomato has a history of being extremely careless with its health and its — its — affections. Someone could hurt the tomato. Someone could fuck the tomato right up.”

“But that’s the nature of being a tomato,” A-Xian says, very gently. “That’s — that’s the endgame of a sandwich.”

“Guys, the bacon has to pee,” Yanli tells them, recognizing that they’ve reached the portion of reconciliation where, if they aren’t separated, they’ll devolve back into some new argument.

It is exhausting, being bacon.

They turn to look at her as one. Her stupid brothers. Her terrible, idiot brothers. She wants to tuck them both into the warmth of her cheeks to keep them safe, like a chipmunk with two particularly stubborn acorns.

“A-Cheng, Jin Ling was looking for you earlier. I think he wants to write with you. And A-Xian, Wen Qing wants you to do some stuff on the digital short. I have to ask her a few things about her Gay Hamlet sketch, should we walk together?”

A-Cheng clears his throat. “Uh, yeah. I think — I think the sandwich sketch is in pretty good shape,” he mutters.

This isn’t true, but Yanli will punch it up before turning it in. She’ll just lean into the melodrama of it, and play it up like it’s an opera. Maybe it’s not too late to get Wen Qing to write some music for it. It could have a kind of Les Mis edge, or Phantom of the Opera. Oh — Jin Zixuan has a terrible voice. She should get him to be the main singer, she thinks, and then a second later feels swallowed by guilt. It’s not Jin Zixuan’s fault. She hadn’t been clear with him. She’d tried to play it too cool, and he’d believed her. What had she expected?

A-Xian climbs to his feet, offering her a hand, and then loops their arms together. “A-Cheng, make Jin Ling do a little bit of the writing,” A-Xian instructs. “Otherwise he’ll just watch his idol work with his chin in his hands.”

“I know,” A-Cheng snaps. “Don’t act like you’re the boss of me.”

“I am the boss of you,” A-Xian reminds him cheerfully, and then ducks out of the way of the throw pillow A-Cheng throws at him, dragging Yanli out the door. “Ah, shijie, don’t look at me like that. I know. But it’s cute, how much Jin Ling likes him and how much it flusters him.”

Yanli tuts, patting the back of A-Xian’s hand as they walk down the hallway toward Wen Qing’s office studio. “Don’t draw too much attention to it, or he’ll get weird,” she scolds. “Poor Jin Ling’s heart would break.”

“Shijie, I don’t know how to tell you this, but A-Cheng is already very weird,” A-Xian says seriously, and laughs when she punches his arm. “Oh! You’re so strong now! Have you been lifting? Is that what you did while I was sick? I’ll bet you didn’t even come to work. You just went to the gym and got super swole. Big Sexy Shijie.”

“You know very well that I went to work, because you texted me eight thousand times during every show,” Yanli says primly. “It was distracting and troublesome for me.”

A-Xian pulls an exaggerated face, pivoting so that he’s walking backwards in front of her and then ducking down to meet her eyes with a big pout. “Shijieeee,” he whines. “Don’t be mad. I just missed you.”

She snorts, coming to a stop in front of Wen Qing’s closed door, and shakes off his hand so that she can give his hair a gentle pet. It’s getting long again. The length softens his face, a little. She loves him so much it makes her heart feel full with it.

She wants him to succeed. She wants him to blossom up and beyond SNL, if that’s what he wants. She just wishes he didn’t do it as if it were a crime he were trying to get away with. She wishes he didn’t do it as if the only way he could was far away from her.

Yanli sighs. “My poor A-Xian,” she murmurs, giving him a soft bop on his nose. “You big baby.”

“I’m very little,” A-Xian agrees. His voice pipes up an octave. “Only small. I need constant supervision or I’ll be snatched up off the street by a pervert. Or a cult leader. Or worse: a politician.

“Little Orphan A-Xian,” Yanli jokes, then panics and adds quickly: “Perhaps Lan Wangji can be your Daddy Warbucks.”

A-Xian laughs. “Mmm,” he hums. “This morning he asked me if I wanted to pay rent, and sign a lease. And he almost fed me Sour Patch Kids. For breakfast. And he let me sleep on him, on the couch, which is not the proper place for people to sleep, Yanli. I’ve heard really a lot of lectures about it. Lan Zhan feels very strongly about sleep etiquette.”

“I suspect there are very few transgressions that Lan Wangji would not let you get away with,” Yanli says dryly, as the door opens and Wen Qing pokes her head out. She’s frowning, a little.

“Are you going to come in or just stand out there talking about Lan Wangji all day?” she asks.

A-Xian beams at her, leaning into Yanli’s hand and exaggerating his pout further. “Maybe we were being polite and deferential to the closed door,” he suggests.

Wen Qing snorts. “You’ve never been polite or deferential a day in your life,” she informs him flatly. “We’re going to do the digital short recording tomorrow. Be at the sound studio by nine. Now go find Sizhui, he was looking for you. Yanli can come in.”

She pulls her head back inside. A-Xian shakes his head with a fond grin. “She’s so bossy,” he says.

“I heard that!”

“I wasn’t whispering!”

“If I have to come back out there, so help me God — ”

A-Xian kisses Yanli’s cheek and sprints down the hallway, laughing. The door opens back up and Yanli feels herself get yanked inside — what is it with people treating her like a ragdoll today? — by Wen Qing’s surprisingly strong grip, the door slamming behind her. She drags Yanli over to the couch and they fall heavily down onto it.

Wen Qing’s big headphones are slung around her neck, music still playing out of them. Her eyes are big. “Yanli,” she hisses, “thank God you’re here. I’ve been looking for you all day, but you were with Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng, and I wasn’t gonna touch that with a ten foot pole.”

“Yes, we had a very emotional afternoon talking about sandwiches,” Yanli notes dryly. “What’s happened?”

“I spoke with Lan Wangji yesterday.”

She raises her eyebrows. “So did I. He’s our boss.”

Wen Qing gives her a look. “No, I mean about Wei Wuxian.”

“Wen Qing —

“He doesn’t know.”

Yanli blinks. “He — what?”

“That dumb bitch doesn’t know. That Wei Wuxian is in love with him.”

Yanli sits with this, for a moment. She thinks about Wei Wuxian lying in Jiang Cheng’s bed, weakly and pathetically drinking soup. Asking when Lan Wangji was coming for a visit, and then pretending it had been a joke. Letting her fuss over him in a way he rarely did when he was well, too tired to pretend he felt anything other than rotten. She thinks of the pilot he’s written, forty-five minutes of mooning about the protagonist’s love interest, the horrifically named Steve Wang Shawn.

(“It’s pronounced Wangxian,” A-Xian had told her excitedly, pointing at it on the screen, as if she couldn’t spot blood on white pants. “Isn’t that funny? Because it’s like if you took — ”

“No, I got it,” Yanli had interrupted, slapping a hand to her face. “Yeah, it’s — I got it.”)

Yanli thinks about A-Xian’s voice, raised slightly as he said I’ll just tell them the truth, which is that I’m sleeping with you. He’d wanted her to know, and hadn’t wanted to tell her. He never knew what to do when his feelings got too big.

Eventually, she identifies the feeling in her stomach.

It’s anger.

“What do you mean,” she hisses, “that he doesn’t know?”

“Hand to God, he looked me dead in my eyes and said that Wei Wuxian didn’t love him,” Wen Qing confirms.

“And he still slept with him? He — he thinks he gets to have a ... casual fling with my brother?”

Now it is Wen Qing’s turn to blink. “He what.”

“They slept together!”

“When!”

“Months ago!” Yanli flaps her hands around, helplessly. “Apparently!”

“But,” says Wen Qing, “but — oh my God, I think I kind of thought Lan Wangji was waiting for marriage? Wait. Wait. Do you think that’s how Lan Wangji lost his virginity? Do you think he lost it to Wei fucking Wuxian.” She blinks. “Oh no. He’s ruined.”

Yanli has a headache. “Wen Qing, please,” she begs. “Have mercy. I can’t believe he’d — he’d think that A-Xian would fuck and run. That’s not him at all. He’s a good boy. He’s nice. He would never! Just — just — put men in rice!”

“Oh, men need something far more powerful than rice,” says Wen Qing. “Hit men with one of those keyboard air blasters. Put men in stasis.”

“Are we roasting men?” Mianmian asks, poking her head in. “Can I join?” When Wen Qing beckons her in, she turns around and says, “You! Sit. Stay. I’ll be out in a minute,” and then slips inside, closing the door behind her. “Sorry. I’m supposed to take Jin Zixuan to Lan Wangji’s office but I’ve been with him all afternoon writing this stupid monologue he’s all fussy about, and if I have to look at his face for another second I’m gonna bloody it.”

She flops onto the couch beside Wen Qing, who pats her knee comfortingly. “I mean, you could. No one would tattle on you.”

“Jin Zixuan would,” Mianmian disagrees. “He’s absolutely a snitch.”

“I can hear you,” he calls from the hallway.

“Good!” Mianmian calls back. “Fuck off!”

Yanli reaches out to lightly hit her on the shoulder. “Be nice,” she warns. “He’s — he’s had a long month.”

Wen Qing and Mianmian give her matching unimpressed looks.

Anyway,” Wen Qing says, flatly ignoring this, “Yanli is mad because Lan Wangji slept with Wei Wuxian even though he doesn’t realize Wei Wuxian is in love with him.”

Mianmian gasps. “They slept together?” she asks. “Are you sure? I thought — okay, maybe it’s dumb, now that I’m saying it out loud. But I always assumed Lan Wangji was the type to wait for love.”

“Well, he kind of did, if in fact he was a virgin,” Wen Qing muses. “I mean, he loves Wei Wuxian, anyway.”

“Oh God, what if he thought a casual fuck was the most he could get,” Mianmian whispers. “Oh no. Oh no oh no. That’s so horrific. Oh that’s so bad.”

“Guys,” Yanli interrupts, voice strangled, “please. I’m right here. I’m in the room.”

“Wei Wuxian is hot, babe,” Mianmian tells her, unrepentant. “Lots of people want to fuck him. It’s, like, all over Twitter.”

“Well, Lan Wangji should know better!” Yanli snaps back, then winces in apology for her tone. “He should. That’s not — A-Xian isn’t like that.”

Mianmian sighs, shaking her head, and then puts a comforting hand on Yanli’s arm. “A-Li, listen. Don’t be mad at Lan Wangji. What you have to remember is: he’s very stupid.”

“He was valedictorian! At UChicago!”

“As if that means anything,” dismisses Wen Qing. “Pffft. College. I didn’t even go, and I’m a huge success. Look, he loves Wei Wuxian. He told me so.”

Yanli narrows her eyes in disbelief. “He told you so?” she repeats.

“Lan Wangji did?” Mianmian adds, skeptical. “With his own words, he voiced an emotion? Did you have a knife to his throat?”

Wen Qing laughs. “I might as well have,” she muses, like she’d considered it. “I think he thought I was threatening to, like, tell on Wei Wuxian for his pilot. He looked at me like I had his whole life in my hands.” Yanli makes an impatient noise, and Wen Qing sighs again. “Fine. I told him he was in love with Wei Wuxian, and he agreed.”

Mianmian flops back against the couch. “The tragedy in this one, chief,” she sighs, making a chef’s kiss gesture. “Mm. The flavor. The flavor! I mean. Very sad for our friends, who we love. So sad. Spicy sad.”

Yanli and Wen Qing share a look; Yanli rolls her eyes. “Well, now that Wei Wuxian is going to leave, I suppose that will put an end to it, anyway,” Wen Qing muses, tone clipped. “So we’ll have to find a new soap opera to watch.”

“Yeah, if only there were two other people on this staff who were clearly in love with each other and unable to communicate it,” Mianmian agrees dryly, looking at Yanli, who rolled her lips inward and pointedly did not laugh. “Anyway, you’ll get the job, when he goes.”

Wen Qing snorts. “Me or Yanli,” she says, without rancor. “Jiang Cheng would do a good job, except Lan Wangji would murder him in the first week.”

Yanli shakes her head, patting Wen Qing’s head. “It won’t be me,” she disagrees. “I’d hate it. I’m terrible at the business side of it. I’m not cutthroat enough.”

“Thanks,” says Wen Qing, wry.

“It’s a compliment. You know what works and you do it without fussing over anybody’s feelings. I admire that.”

“Girl boss, baby,” agrees Mianmian, and then lets out a long groan. “Ugh, okay. I’ve gotta drop the baby off at daycare.”

“I’M OLDER THAN YOU,” Jin Zixuan calls through the door.

Yanli wants to smile. He sounds so put out. He was terribly mean to her, but he’s still cute, with his pouting and his terribly sincere attempts to be funny. He tries so hard not to be the worst, but he can’t help it, and Yanli isn’t proud of it, but she finds that inexplicably charming.

Perhaps she needs to spend less time with A-Xian and A-Cheng.

Wen Qing’s eyes light up. “Yanli, you take him,” she says. “Mianmian and I need to work out a few things about her tap dancing murder bees sketch.”

Yanli glares at her, but Mianmian is already nodding. “Good idea. Thanks, Yanli.”

They both smile blandly at her, blinking. Yanli has terrible friends. The only person in the whole world who is loyal and good is Jin Ling, and he’s off somewhere with A-Cheng, probably learning bad habits.

“I hate you both,” she announces. “You’re bad friends.”

“But great comedians,” says Wen Qing cheerfully, ushering her out. Before letting go, she whispers, “Bury the hatchet, but remember where it is.”

The door closes behind her. She looks down at Jin Zixuan, frozen cross-legged on the floor. His eyes widen and he scrambles to his feet, and then they stand, on opposite sides of the hall, staring at each other. She forgets, when they’re not together, he’s… big. Tall. Big.

Eventually he mutters, “Uh — hi.”

She clears her throat. “Hello, Jin Zixuan.”

“How, um ... how have you been?”

Yanli takes a deep breath. She reminds herself that all people can change, and that it is impossible to know the complex inner world of another person’s thoughts. She reminds herself of all the things Jin Zixuan had told her, nervous and not meeting her eyes, about his terrible family, about his exhaustion and the feeling that he wasn’t good enough to do the kind of acting he wanted to do. That he’d be stuck doing Tortoise of Slaughter movies for the rest of his life.

Bury the hatchet, Yanli thinks, but remember where it is.

“Well, my brother has been ill,” she tells him. “And for a while I was the most hated C-list actress in comedy, so it’s been a weird couple of months.”

Jin Zixuan glares at the floor, a twist to his mouth. “Yeah,” he mutters. “I’m ... that wasn’t — I didn’t mean. For that to happen.”

“Hm,” she says. “Well. I’ll take you to Lan Wangji.”

Not good enough, she thinks.

-

There is no “end” to Tuesdays. There is Tuesday, and then later Tuesday, and then midnight Tuesday, and then timeless Tuesday, when it stops being nighttime but isn’t yet morning, and then eventually the sun is up and it’s not Tuesday on the calendar but it’s still Tuesday spiritually, because no one has slept and everyone is all hopped up on caffeine and cigarettes.

Lan Wangji has written or co-written ten sketches and the entirety of Update; he’s punched up the jokes on more sketches than he can count; and he spent a single agonizing hour watching Jin Zixuan practice his monologue, which is where Mianmian had decided to slot his Big Gesture.

He’s bad at it.

He’s really — not a great actor.

Now, at whatever time it is — Lan Wangji has learned to stop looking at the clock when it gets to the part of Tuesday that is Neverwhen — Wei Ying sitting on the back of the couch like a weird monkey, a soda in each hand. They’ve been tossing back increasingly weird and incomprehensible jokes for the past hour and a half. Lan Wangji suspects that there will be no more quality writing done tonight, but it’s too early-late to stop.

The lights are low because Lan Wangji has had so much soda that he has a caffeine headache, and also an exhaustion headache, and also a hunger headache, and also a stress headache, and Wei Ying is lit up like some kind of neon-tube kitsch portrait of the Madonna, tortured and gauche, and Lan Wangji has forgotten what time is like. Was it this morning that he had been pinned to the couch by Wei Ying’s warm weight, nudged by his gentle chin, glittered at with affection and called my Lan Zhan?

Wei Ying, who is laughing himself to tears over the word “conglomerate,” for a reason that Lan Wangji has already forgotten.

“Ah,” he sighs, wiping his eyes. “I’ll miss this. Who do you think you’ll promote, if I go?”

If, Lan Wangji thinks dizzily. He might have a dehydration headache. What a magical word if is.

Wen Qing thinks that he could stop Wei Ying. So does Jiang Cheng. So does Lin Ling. Everyone wants you to, he’d said. I’m talking about the parameters of your ... relationship, said Jiang Cheng.

Go, said Wei Ying.

Lan Wangji hates it, hates the thought of it, can’t stand to consider it, says: “Nobody. It’s not my business who they promote.”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying agrees, cocking his head to the side, “but who would you pick? You’ll have to work with them, you should get a vote. I’ll bet Lan Qiren asks you.”

Lan Wangji feels his mouth twist down. He returns his attention to his laptop, which informs him with great regret that it is six in the morning on Wednesday. The last thing he has written is INTERN: Sir, please, the candelabra.

He doesn’t know what this means. A brief scan of the rest of the script shows no previous mention of candelabras.

If, said Wei Ying.

He mutters, “It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters!” Wei Ying cries, sliding off the couch and bounding over to the desk, leaning an elbow onto it and his chin into his palm. “They’ll be your — your — you’ll spend a lot of time with them. It matters.”

Lan Wangji sighs. He shuts his laptop and looks up, meeting Wei Ying’s eyes. He’d said if but he’d meant when. Lan Wangji knows this.

If, when, now, time is meaningless, Lan Wangji has every headache it is possible for a head to have, and he still hasn’t fed his rabbits, and there are Sour Patch Kids in his refrigerator, and he loves Wei Ying, and is going to lose him.

He says, recklessly, “No, it doesn’t. It’s not you, so it doesn’t matter.”

Wei Ying’s elbow slides off the desk and his chin hits the surface, hard. He lets out a loud, pained yelp from the floor; Lan Wangji scrambles around to him, hands reaching out. There’s blood on Wei Ying’s tongue, which he dabs at delicately with the back of his hand.

“Jeez, Lan Zhan, warn a guy,” Wei Ying mutters, only without moving his tongue, so it comes out thees than than wan a gee.

“Sorry,” says Lan Wangji. “Let’s — ice. You need ice.”

Wei Ying shakes his head. He pushes his tongue around in his mouth, then then, speaking more normally, adds: “I’m okay. I’m fine.”

“Your mouth,” Lan Wangji scolds. There’s a little blood on the edge of it, which he wipes away carefully, with his thumb. Before he can pull back, Wei Ying’s hand shoots up to grab his wrist, holding him there. His eyes are wide. He’s looking at Lan Wangji with an expression Lan Wangji can’t read.

“Then, you — you could — kiss it. Better,” Wei Ying says. “That’s. People do that. It works. Moms say it works.” He sticks his chin out, stubborn. Daring Lan Wangji to suggest to him that perhaps he has motivations other than honoring the medical degrees of all moms, everywhere. "My teeth are brushed."

Lan Wangji is so tired. He doesn’t remember what his point was about the candelabra. The funniest word in the English language is conglomerate. And Wei Ying is sitting on his floor, mouth bloody, asking to be kissed.

“Wei Ying,” he says, helpless.

“No, it’s, don’t, I,” splutters Wei Ying, “listen — listen — ” and Lan Wangji is listening, but he isn’t saying anything, he’s just listing words and still holding Lan Wangji in place. “Ah,” mutters Wei Ying, “fuck it, fuck it! Fuck it, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” says Lan Wangji, not sure what he’s agreeing to, not caring. What does he ever say to Wei Ying, other than yes?

And then Wei Ying gives his wrist a single, determined tug, and in the moment between tipping forward and catching himself with his free hand against the desk, Wei Ying is leaning forward and kissing him, kissing him, kissing him.

Chapter Text

“Ow, fuck, fuck,” Wei Ying says, pulling back. “Is the door locked. What time is it. Let’s have sex. Is the door locked.”

Lan Wangji, dazed, says, “No. Six. Yes. No.”

“That’s fine, who cares, I don’t care,” Wei Ying decides, and kisses him again, mouth a hot smear against Lan Wangji’s lips, hands tightening in Lan Wangji’s shirt, grip strong enough that Lan Wangji spares a thought for his poor buttons, straining against their threads. He bites down on Lan Wangji’s lower lip, hard. He smells like sweat. He smells like donuts. He smells like the cologne in Lan Wangji’s bathroom.

Somewhere, in the back of his dizzy mind, Lan Wangji recognizes that this is a bad idea. That it is a mistake. They’ve only just — the first time they had sex, Wei Ying promptly came down with pneumonia and made plans to leave Lan Wangji behind.

But the plans are already made, he thinks, shifting so that he’s bracketing Wei Ying’s legs, on his knees above him. He shakes his hand free and brings it to Wei Ying’s jaw, holding him in place and kissing him so hard that he has to catch Wei Ying’s head before it slams back into the desk. He wants to catch Wei Ying everywhere. He wants to — somewhere in this room is a set of joke handcuffs, he could — they aren’t really strong enough to keep him here, but Lan Wangji could pretend, Wei Ying might have the patience to indulge him —

The plans are already made. This is a bad idea, but what are the consequences? What could make the already bad outcome any worse?

Wei Ying makes a wounded noise beneath him, an ever-changing mark, a tempest in his hands. His fingers pop open Lan Wangji’s top button, then the second button, then the third, then he loses patience and rips the whole thing open. Lan Wangji spares a single moment to make a mental note to collect the buttons later and have it brought to the tailor; it’s Ralph Lauren.

But for now, he shoves it off his shoulders, not taking his mouth off Wei Ying’s, afraid that if they stop kissing for even one second it’s all going to dissolve into the neverwhen of Tuesday, afraid that when he gives Wei Ying enough time to speak, he’ll say something like looks like having sex has officially become a running bit and not a one-off. Haha. Get it? One off?

He’s going to say it. Lan Wangji knows he’s going to say it. He can’t let himself think, not for one moment, no matter how desperately Wei Ying is pushing up against him, scrabbling with his wrist buttons, looking for the bottom of his undershirt, that Wei Ying is going to say anything about this other than to marvel at how funny it is.

“God,” Wei Ying gasps, arching into him as Lan Wangji attaches his mouth to the dip of his neck, biting down, “fuck, you’re — these fucking tailored undershirts, I — ”

“Tailoring them minimizes visible lines,” Lan Wangji explains. He doesn’t know why Wei Ying is worried about this now. “I’ll take it off.”

“No,” Wei Ying tells him sharply, and bats away the hands that have gone to the hem of the shirt. “No. Shut up. It’s so — oh God, it looks — you — last year, when the AC broke and you had to walk around in — I felt like a Victorian pervert, I could see your biceps, I could see the outline of your, of, nipples, Lan Zhan, everyone could, I had to lock Wang Lingjiao in the bathroom so she’d stop looking at you, I had to lock myself in the bathroom so I’d stop looking at you — ”

“You didn’t,” Lan Wangji blurts out, staring at him.

“I did, it was so bad, Jiang Cheng thought I’d developed a bladder infection — ”

“No,” Lan Wangji interrupts. Either his hands are shaking, or Wei Ying is. “I mean you didn’t have to stop looking.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whines, and then surges up at him, knocking him backwards and down onto the floor and then crawling on top of him, kissing his chin, then his cheeks, then his nose, then his forehead, and then finally his mouth again. He sinks his full weight down, pinning Lan Wangji there, an echo of yesterday morning but better. Worse? He’s hard. He keeps shifting his hips, restless.

Lan Wangji shakes his head, pressing his mouth to the underside of Wei Ying’s jaw. He’s going to suck a mark there. It will be visible. Everyone will see it. He’ll be teased. They’ll both be teased. And he’ll have to say it, over and over: it’s nothing.

Lan Wangji hates lying.

Lan Wangji is going to do it anyway.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying is saying, repeating it again and again. Lan Wangji snakes a hand down between them, unbuttoning Wei Ying’s pants and rolling them over so that Wei Ying is beneath him on the floor, flushed and wide-eyed. He is shaking, Lan Wangji notes. Too much caffeine. They aren’t drunk but they might as well be. Maybe that’s the excuse they’ll use. Caffeine, exhaustion, fever.

It doesn’t matter. Whatever Wei Ying wants to pin it on, Lan Wangji will accept. He’ll stand like a paper donkey and let Wei Yin fasten whatever excuse he wants to him.

But for now —

Wei Ying is hard and heavy in his hand. Lan Wangji remembers this, from before. He remembers the sounds that Wei Ying makes, startled and punched-out. He doesn’t bother pulling Wei Ying’s jeans off; doesn’t have the patience for it; just lowers his mouth and swallows him down, all the way, as far as he can go.

In a perfect world he would take all day. In a mediocre world he’d take his time. In the world he has, he wants Wei Ying to come as fast as he can. He wants him to come now, now, before he can think about it, before either of them can think about it, before anyone can come tumbling through the door —

“Lan Zhan, I, you, oh boy — ” Wei Ying manages, and that’s all, before he’s coming in Lan Wangji’s mouth. Lan Wangji doesn’t like the taste but he swallows anyway, because Wei Ying had, before, and because he can’t bear to let go of any part of Wei Ying that Wei Ying chooses to give him.

He leans his forehead against Wei Ying’s thigh, breathless. Wei Ying’s fingers tangle in his hair and settle on his head, holding him in place. The weight makes Lan Wangji’s headaches recede. He keeps his hand where it is, soft around the base of Wei Ying’s dick, and cracks an eye open. He should memorize this feeling. He doesn’t know if he’ll get it again.

Eventually, Wei Ying shifts beneath him, gently nudging Lan Wangji’s face up with his leg until they’re looking at one another. The light in the office feels warm, a vignette of color around them, cocooning. Everything is quiet except for the ringing in Lan Wangji’s ears.

He’s hard, too, but it feels distant from him, unrelated.

Down the hall, Nie Huaisang’s voice carries. “No, I’m sure they haven’t gone home, they never go home on Tuesdays.”

Wei Ying’s eyes widen. He seems to take in the state of the floor, the buttons all around them, Lan Wangji’s abused mouth, and then they’re both scrambling up, Wei Ying sliding around to the other side of the desk and into Lan Wangji’s chair.

His hair is a mess. There’s a purple bloom on his neck. Several purple blooms. A garden.

His dick is still hanging out of his fucking blue jeans.

Lan Wangji, on his hands and knees, abandons his bid to collect his buttons and crawls directly in front of the desk, blocking view of Wei Ying’s legs just as the door swings open and Nie Huaisang swans in.

He skids to a halt. Lan Wangji does not turn around. Wei Ying, leaning too-casually on the desk, squeaks, “Hello! Nie Huaisang! You are here! So are we. How lucky for all of us. Look, Lan Zhan is collecting buttons.”

There is a long pause. Without turning around, Lan Wangji raises a hand in greeting.

“I see that,” Nie Huaisang notes, very slowly. Lan Wangji can hear his smirk, damn him. “Was there ... an incident?”

“Shirt ripped,” explains Wei Ying promptly. “Hulk sketch. Uh, Magic Mike XXL fusion. We were — practicing. Got too into it. You know how Lan Zhan is. Raw sexual energy. Can’t be contained once it’s unleashed.”

Nie Huaisang hums. “Right,” he says agreeably. “Of course. If there is one thing that I think we can all agree on it is the powerful force that is Lan Wangji’s sex appeal.”

“Exactly,” Wei Ying agrees, gratefully. “You get it.”

Nie Huaisang gives a delicate sigh, nudging Lan Wangji with his foot. Lan Wangji cannot turn around; his erection has faded but not flagged entirely, and he would, quite simply, rather self-immolate than know that Nie Huaisang has seen him even half-hard. “Well. I was going to do a coffee and donuts run. Do you guys, uh, want anything?”

Lan Wangji would like to go home. He would like to be back at his apartment, in the shower, giving himself the world’s saddest handjob. He wants to be asleep. He wants to throw his whole brain out before it can start back up and hold him accountable.

“We’re going to head out for a couple of hours, I think,” Wei Ying answers, glancing down at Lan Wangji and then away. Lan Wangji can’t read his expression.

Oh God.

This was a bad idea.

This was such a bad idea.

Very abruptly, it is no longer neverwhen on Tuesday. It’s six-fifteen, on a Wednesday. They have the round-table this afternoon. They’re going to have to whittle down the sketch selection from whatever insane volume his staff has managed to generate to something that will fit into ninety minutes, then replacement material for what gets cut at dress, and then deal with anyone grumpy that their sketches got cut.

He has to feed the bunnies. He has to shower. He might have to cry for like, half an hour. Possibly forty-five minutes. An hour, max.

Nie Huaisang makes a sound that seems to indicate that Lan Wangji and Wei Ying are fooling exactly nobody. “I’m going to get you donuts anyway,” he decides. “I’ll hide them for you. Strawberry with sprinkles and plain unglazed, right?”

“Yeah. Great. Perfect. Love it. Thanks.”

“Can’t wait to see the Hulk sketch,” Nie Huaisang says, backing out of the room.

Nobody moves.

Eventually, because his knees are starting to hurt, and the taste in his mouth starting to sour, Lan Wangji sighs, settles back on his heels, and looks up. Wei Ying is staring down at his own lap.

His dick is still out, Lan Wangji realizes. His dick had been out that whole time. He — he’d been sitting there talking about donuts while his dick was —

He’s relieved to find that the sound he makes is laughter. He hunches over, hands on his knees, gasping. Above him, he hears Wei Ying startle, then protest, “Hey! What are you — Lan Zhan, don’t laugh at me, how can you laugh at me in a time like this, you — ” before dissolving himself, sliding down and off the chair, into a puddle on the floor. He tucks himself back in and buttons his jeans, then lays flat on the tile, hands on his stomach, laughing up at the ceiling.

Eventually, they pull themselves together. Wei Ying lolls his head to the side, twinkling at Lan Wangji, his eyes two perfect crescents. He’s beautiful. He’s happy. Lan Wangji can still taste him. He wants to taste him again. He wants to taste him as much as he can before he’s gone.

“I’m — I need a shower,” Wei Ying says, regretfully.

Lan Wangji nods. “Let’s go home,” he says, climbing to his feet and offering Wei Ying a hand.

Wei Ying beams up at him and takes it.

-

Wei Ying showers. Lan Wangji feeds his rabbits first, apologetically, because they grump at him and refuse to be pet. He showers while they eat, taking much longer than usual; when he gets out, he will have to ... face Wei Ying. He will have to figure out what to say. He will have to hear whatever Wei Ying has decided, about the — the incident in their — in Lan Wangji’s office.

He looks, somewhat disconsolately, down at his dick. His erection has disappeared. The water, cold as it can get in this apartment, runs down his body with a kind of soothingly painful edge. Clean. He can get clean, and cleanliness will bring clarity. How can he think sensibly with the smell of Wei Ying still on him, the phantom press of his hands in Lan Wangji’s hair? Nobody could, he thinks, nobody should be expected to try.

It will be, Lan Wangji decides, whatever Wei Ying wants. A joke, a whim, an act of sleep-deprived madness; Lan Wangji has never been a particularly good actor but he’s always been an excellent straight man. He never breaks on camera. Wei Ying has been trying since he arrived, and he hasn’t done it yet.

With a definitive nod, Lan Wangji steps out of the shower, puts on a full pajama set, goes into the kitchen, and finds Wei Ying lying on the floor with Snowball and Cloud cuddled up to him, sniffing his cheeks.

His determination dissolves immediately.

Nope, he thinks, as Wei Ying opens his mouth, nope, nope, can’t hear him say it — “Cocktails?” he blurts. “I’ve got — there’s whiskey. And juice. There are ... many juices.”

Wei Ying blinks at him.

“Lan Zhan, it’s seven-thirty in the morning,” he says. “Which is not a disqualifying factor for me, necessarily, but I’m gonna be honest, it feels like kind of a deviation from the norm for you. Especially because you don’t, like, drink.”

“...Mn,” Lan Wangji concedes, glancing away.

After a long pause, Wei Ying asks tentatively, “Do ... um, did you want to try to get a few hours of sleep before we go back in? Or have we reached Gotta Stay Up territory? Obviously I have evolved past the need for such pedestrian things as ‘sleep’ and ‘nutrition’ myself, but I understand that you Lans still believe that old hokum about rest being required for body function.”

Lan Wangji looks at his watch. They could go in and get a head start on re-writes; they record the digital short on Thursday so he wants to get the script out to Coffin City as soon as possible, and he already knows of four sketches that are going to need heavy redrafting if they’re picked, and at least two that he’s going to have to fight for with Standards and Practices. He’s pretty sure that provided they don’t actually show any hentai, they’ll get away with it, but sometimes —

Wei Ying yawns.

“Let’s sleep,” Lan Wangji decides.

Wei Ying beams at him. He gently scoops up Cloud and Snowball, putting them back in their cage with gentle nonsense whispers, then wraps a hand around Lan Wangji’s wrist, warm against his pulse. They both look down at where their skin is touching.

Lan Wangji had touched him. He’d touched him this morning, and he’d touched him months ago, and he wants to touch him again, he doesn’t ever want to not be touching him, he wants —

He wants

He says, “Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying’s eyes dart up to meet his. His hand is warm. “I didn’t — we were interrupted,” he murmurs, stepping in closer. “Lan Zhan. We should talk about it.”

Lan Wangji wants literally nothing less than to discuss any of this, ever, at all.

What Wei Ying has said: This is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to me.

What Lan Wangji would have Wei Ying say: I love you. I’m staying. I’ll never go, unless you come with me, and then I won’t really be going, will I; we’ll be going, together.

“No,” Lan Wangji says. He turns his hand so that he can tangle his fingers with Wei Ying’s. If you know the punch is coming, you can brace for it. Lan Wangji will take the hit, but he doesn’t want to take it yet. Doesn’t want to brace yet. Wants to stay this soft. “Let’s not. Talk.”

Something passes across Wei Ying’s face, too fast to read. He squeezes Lan Wangji’s hand. “All right,” he murmurs, stepping in close, nudging Lan Wangji’s nose with his own. “Thank God. Let’s not talk, then. I hate talking. I’m notoriously tight-lipped.”

He smells like Lan Wangji’s guest soap. It’s the same as Lan Wangji’s soap. He smells like Lan Wangji. He smells like he lives here, like they share a shower caddy, like he wakes up when he wants to and plays with the bunnies while Lan Wangji makes breakfast. He could have Sour Patch Kids every morning, if he wanted. Lan Wangji would buy them in bulk. Lan Wangji would put them in a bowl with a pair of chopsticks.

Wei Ying is closer than he’s ever been and also further, already tethered to leaving, already planning to go.

Lan Wangji wants to kiss him so badly that it’s an ache in the back of his throat, but they haven’t slept, and Wei Ying has been sick, so he says: “Sleep first.”

Wei Ying pulls his head back so that Lan Wangji can see the entirety of his pout. “But sex,” he bargains, “is exercise. You always say I don’t exercise enough.”

“Sleep, then sex,” Lan Wangji allows. “If there’s time.”

Wei Ying doesn’t answer; he drags Lan Wangji down the hall, to his own room, pushing him hurriedly into bed and settling down half on top of him. They’re sleeping together, Lan Wangji guesses.

“Wei Ying,” he starts, but Wei Ying claps a hand over his mouth.

“Shhh,” he scolds, “it’s sleep now, so we have enough time for sex later. That’s your rule, not mine. I didn’t make it. I hate that rule. But look how good I am, obeying it. Remember that later, when we’re getting food and I want dessert first and you don’t want me to have dessert first. Remember it also when we’re having sex because I think positive reinforcement is very important for my development.”

Lan Wangji closes his eyes, smiling a little. “Your development?” he repeats.

“Yes,” says Wei Ying. “Don’t you want me to develop, sexually?”

Yes. No. Only if it’s for me.

“Go to sleep, Wei Ying,” commands Lan Wangji, and Wei Ying does, as if there’s nothing to it, as if it’s as easy as the words coming from Lan Wangji’s mouth.

-

The parameters of your ... relationship, Lan Wangji is thinking, when he wakes. He’s alone. This isn’t surprising; Wei Ying’s ability to sleep has always been mercurial. He’s just as liable to sleep until dinnertime as he is not sleep at all.

Lan Wangji’s bedside clock tells him that it’s almost ten. He can hear noise in the kitchen, and when he goes to investigate he finds Wei Ying perched on the counter with his laptop open, typing furiously. There is a mess of haphazard snacks around him: a half-finished piece of toast topped with cream cheese, sriracha, and Cheerios; a glass of orange juice next to a glass of milk; the Sour Patch Kids mixed into a bowl of cajun cashews; a block of uncooked tofu, several bites missing, lathered in chili paste, fork protruding from the top.

It’s disgusting. It’s a crime against food. Lan Wangji loves him. Lan Wangji would make every dish in his terrible cookbook if only Wei Ying would ask.

“Banned,” he says, instead of — that. “Forever.”

Wei Ying looks up, nearly dropping a Cheerio from his mouth. He catches it and shoves it back, chewing. “You’re awake!” he delights, then pouts. “You can’t ban me. You said ... this morning? Yesterday? I could have a lease. Banning me would be take-backs and we have a rule about no take-backs.”

Lan Wangji does not recall that rule.

“Anyway, it’s not my fault that I’m a food innovator and genius is never recognized in its own time,” Wei Ying continues blithely. His mouth must taste awful. Lan Wangji wants to kiss it anyway. “I know I’m not ‘supposed’ to ‘touch anything’ in the ‘kitchen’ but I was starving literally to death and you looked so cute asleep, I couldn’t wake you, so I had to forage. But you don’t have any savory snacks. Do you really not keep any chips in the house, Lan Zhan? Because everyone else might buy that you treat your body like a temple but I’ve seen your Instacart recurring orders. I know how much you spend on marshmallows.”

“Hm,” huffs Lan Wangji, and goes to the cupboard, above the microwave. It’s just out of Wei Ying’s reach; it was chosen for that purpose. He pulls down a box of Blaze Dorito bags and tosses one to Wei Ying, who catches it with a look of startled delight.

“Lan Zhan! My favorite flavor! Where did you even find these, no one sells them any — Lan Zhan. Did you special order these? Did you buy them in bulk?”

“Mn,” says Lan Wangji, who did but isn’t about to admit it like some sort of idiot.

Wei Ying’s face does something complicated; then he frowns. “... Wait, were you hiding these from me?”

“Mn.”

“But — they’re for me,” Wei Ying says, tearing into the bag. “Why are you hiding them from me if they’re for me?”

When Lan Wangji doesn’t answer immediately, Wei Ying looks up from the chips, his cheeks puffed out and full. There’s Dorito dust on his lips. Lan Wangji, pointedly, says: “Moderation.”

“I don’t know what exactly I’ve done to make you think I am not capable of self-restraint,” Wei Ying grumbles through a mouthful of what Lan Wangji thinks must be half the bag. “I’m very restrained. I’m monklike in my restraint. Monks wish they were me. Lans wish they were me.”

“Lans do not,” Lan Wangji tells him dryly. He would not want to be Wei Ying; then he could not look at him, like this. Then he could not stand in his kitchen in his socks and watch Wei Ying get Dorito dust all over his white countertops, watch him lick his fingers of it, there in his boxer shorts and one of Lan Wangji’s shirts. He’s a mess. He’s a disaster. He’s a pest of the highest order, and Lan Wangji wants him to stay.

Wei Ying huffs. “Big words from Captain Sour Patch,” he mutters. “Hey, c’mere.”

Lan Wangji goes. Wei Ying sets the laptop aside and widens the vee of his legs, making a space for Lan Wangji to step into. He tries to put his hands on Lan Wangji’s shoulders, but there is still Dorito dust on them; Lan Wangji catches him by his wrists, quirking an eyebrow.

“Oh come on,” Wei Ying whines, “come on, I was so good, I napped, I really slept and everything, it’s not my fault I woke up, I can’t be held responsible for the amount of melatonin that my body is able to genera — oh.”

He cuts off as his thumb disappears into Lan Wangji’s mouth. Blaze Doritos are not Lan Wangji’s favorite flavor of Dorito; if he’s honest, he doesn’t particularly care for any flavor of Dorito. But he licks Wei Ying’s thumb clean anyway, thoroughly, carefully. Then his pointer finger, then the middle, then the ring, and then his pinky, then over to the other hand. Wei Ying says nothing, breathing shallowly and watching him with wide eyes. He seems frozen.

Maybe, Lan Wangji permits himself to think, watching Wei Ying’s eyes dart from his eyes to his mouth and back. Wei Ying has stayed here, despite making up with Jiang Cheng. He is sitting on Lan Wangji’s counter, waiting for him. Maybe, if Lan Wangji can prove that he is something worth keeping, Wei Ying will want to. Keep him. Maybe he already does.

When he is satisfied that being touched won’t ruin his shirt, he settles Wei Ying’s hands on his shoulders and waits.

Eventually, Wei Ying makes a spluttering noise. “What — well! That’s! That’s just very — fastidious, of you! And, sexually speaking, just so you know, I’m gonna eat Doritos every day of my life, I’m gonna superglue Cheerios to my hands so you’ll do it every day, I — Lan Zhan, are you really like this? That time before, in your office, you looked at me like — but you’ve really been like this the whole time?”

Yes, Lan Wangji thinks, dizzy with the words every day echoing in his brain: like this.

“Wei Ying is messy,” he says.

“Boy is that elegantly understated,” Wei Ying gasps, and then his mouth is on Lan Wangji’s, as hungry for him as for any number of snack abominations. Lan Wangji had been right: his mouth tastes horrible, like chili and cheese and chips and nuts and orange juice blended together, disgusting, awful; Lan Wangji licks into it. He cleaned his hands and he’ll clean his mouth too, lick all the flavor out, take all the mess into himself and leave Wei Ying clean. He feels Wei Ying’s legs wrap around his middle, clasped at the ankle, arms tightening around his neck, mouth smearing down to his chin and then his neck, biting at his collarbone, making a sound. It takes Lan Wangji a long time to realize that sound is the word please, over and over.

He pulls back, hands on either side of Wei Ying’s face, dragging him off and tilting his face up. “Please what,” he asks, and then, “Yes. What.”

Wei Ying shakes his head, lips rolling inward. He blows out a breath. “I want — can you — will you ... ”

“Yes,” says Lan Wangji, again.

Wei Ying huffs out a laugh. “You don’t even know what I’m asking for,” he points out, eyes searching Lan Wangji’s.

“Inconsequential. The answer is yes.”

Something hollows out in Wei Ying’s eyes. Lan Wangji doesn’t know what. His expression is unreadable. Lan Wangji has given too much away. Wei Ying will startle, and run.

Or — Lan Wangji is trying so hard not to think it — not to let himself plant a seed that will die from drought —

“You’re not a real person, Lan Wangji,” Wei Ying murmurs. His hands come up, flutter-soft, to brush a stray hair out of his face. “They made you, in a lab. It’s the only explanation. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Or maybe I died, like, in an accident or something, and this is my brain’s — last gasp, to shield me from the horror of slowly bleeding out somewhere.”

The word maybe blooms in his chest, bright and red as a wedding gown.

“Your brain could invent something far more exciting than me,” Lan Wangji tells him, but he can feel himself smiling. Wei Ying makes a soft yelp, tracing the smile with his fingertips.

“I assure you, it could not,” Wei Ying returns, bone dry. “Lan Zhan. Why are we still talking. You said we shouldn’t talk.”

“You had a question.”

“You answered it.”

Wei Ying is looking steadily at him. He still has Lan Wangji trapped in the circle of his legs, captured. Kept. The maybe blossoms and twines around Lan Wangji’s ribs as he leans back in and captures Wei Ying’s mouth again, then keeps pushing forward, until Wei Ying tips back onto his elbows, Lan Wangji folded over him. He can’t pull Wei Ying’s boxers down with his legs as they are, and anyway, he — in the back of his mind, he is aware that his rabbits are ... there. But he lines himself up anyway, shuddering against the spark that bites through his body as Wei Ying presses back against him, a warm friction in his soft boxers. Even this is a lot, so much, Lan Wangji wants to pull back and look at the splay of Wei Ying beneath him, but that would mean he’d have to stop swallowing the sounds stumbling out of Wei Ying’s throat, and he can’t muster the willpower.

Wei Ying moves, quicksilver beneath him, hips rocking up, catching against the drawstring of Lan Wangji’s pajama pants, a slow and endless roll, in rhythm and out of it. It has been — many years, since Lan Wangji has felt any kind of desire to, what’s the term, dry hump anyone, but he thinks now that he’s been a fool not to have dreamed of this, this exactly, so close and not close enough, his whole body on fire with the way that he wants, grateful for the fabric between them because if it was gone —

Because if he was given everything he wanted, all at once, he — he doesn’t know that he’d survive. He must take only bite-sized pieces of his own desire, or it will burn them both up.

“Wei Ying,” he chokes out, rocking back against him. He pulls back enough to look down, to see Wei Ying sprawled dark and flushed against his white counters, a strand of his hair caught on the tofu, mouth a bruised, plum color. He rocks against him again, and Wei Ying makes a punched-out sound. He moves to sit up, but Lan Wangji presses a hand flat onto his stomach, rucking up underneath his shirt, splaying his fingers across his belly button and holding him there, against the counter. “No,” he snaps. “Stay.

Stay, stay, stay. Stay here in Lan Wangji’s kitchen, on his counter, in a Wei-Ying shaped mess.

Stay forever, he thinks dizzily, sliding his hand up to pinch a nipple he can’t see, pressing Wei Ying back down as he arches up against the pull of it, grinding their erections together, almost painfully, and then shifting until he is pressed against Wei Ying’s opening, or almost. Where it is. Where, if he tugged his boxers down, he could find it with his hand, where he could open him up, create a space for himself to take up, as close as it is possible to be. Closer than that. I want you to stay.

Wei Ying is talking, has maybe been talking this whole time, but the roaring in Lan Wangji’s ears has drowned it out. “Please,” he’s saying again, or maybe saying still. “Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan. Come on, please, will you, you have to, it’s so unfair that you haven’t, that you aren’t. I’m right here, I’ve been right here, and you won’t — Lan Zhan, look at me, I swear to God if you don’t touch me in the next five seconds I’m going to have a wholeass qi deviation, I’m going to deviate like fuck all over your kitchen, I’m — ”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji tells him, commands him, maybe, and shoves up against him again, scratching his blunt nails hard down his chest, hard enough that Wei Ying cries out, pushing into the pressure of it, thighs tightening around Lan Wangji’s hips. “Do it.”

Wei Ying blinks, looking dazed. “Do what? Qi deviate? Fuck off, I will. I could. I do yoga. I’ve got — meridians, I — I can’t believe, God, Lan Zhan, what the fuck, I cannot believe that people think you’re a nice person, you’re not, you’re terrible, you’re a tyrant, you have not a shred of mercy in you, scratch me like that again, can you? Will you — put a mark there, please, please — ”

Lan Wangji tightens his hands on either side of Wei Ying’s waist and drags him closer, grinding them together, bending over to bite his ear, almost gently, before kissing him again, not letting any of the pressure up. He says, “Wei Ying. Come for me. Right now, or we are going to be late.”

Late,” Wei Ying yelps, half a laugh and half an outraged shout, and Lan Wangji scratches down again, his palm a steady pressure as he goes, and Wei Ying looks up at Lan Wangji, listens with wide eyes as Lan Wangji demands again: “Wei Ying,” and Wei Ying obeys, legs clenching, come darkening the front of his boxers.

Wei Ying’s obedience startles Lan Wangji’s own orgasm out of him, slumping over and pressing his forehead against Wei Ying’s shoulder, both of them twitching. He pulls his hand away and Wei Ying makes a bitter sound.

There is a harsh flick to his ear. He straightens, betrayed, to find Wei Ying beaming at him, eyes bright with laughter. “‘We’re going to be late,’” he repeats, laughing. “Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan, you’re a real asshole sometimes, I like it so much. It’s the best. You’re the funniest person I know, and I know a lot of funny people. I’m a very successful comedian, you know.”

Lan Wangji hopes that his face conveys how unimpressed he is with this analysis; it must, because Wei Ying laughs again, and loosens his grip with his legs, gently pushing Lan Wangji away before sliding to the ground. He keeps one hand on Lan Wangji’s shoulders for balance. Lan Wangji steadies him with his hands on his waist. He’s so close. He smells like sex, and like Lan Wangji’s soap, and there is chili paste on his hair. Lan Wangji wants to suck it off.

“Do I have time to shower again before we go?” Wei Ying asks, and then, without waiting for an answer, decides, “No, then I’d have to get all wet, and then dry off, and that’s so much work when all my limbs feel like my bones are hot noodles. Good work, Lan Zhan. Excellently done, on the sex. We’re good at this. We should have been doing this the whole time, I can’t believe we thought we should only do it once and mostly by accident! We’re gonna do this all the time. This is such a good idea.”

Wei Ying claps his shoulder absently as he pushes past, disappearing down the hall.

Lan Wangji closes his eyes. He has to change. He has to — clean himself up.

He cannot look at his rabbits.

-

They make it to 30 Rock five minutes early, because Lan Wangji has never been late to a meeting in his life, and he isn’t planning to start now. Wei Ying is loose-limbed and close in the taxi over, sprawled insouciantly across the backseat, his feet in Lan Wangji’s lap. He buzzes around Lan Wangji in the elevator, chattering at him, energized and bright. Lan Wangji watches him move with his hands in his pockets, clenched to keep from touching him.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhaaaan, I’ve missed this, you can’t believe how bored I was for those three months. And you didn’t come to see me! I didn’t see you at all except for the one time you agreed to Facetime. I spent the whole time pining away for you, sighing at the ceiling, and all you’d give me was four measly phone calls per day. I’ll bet if we’d realized how good we were at having sex sober before I caught a cold, then you’d have come. You could have had sex with me while Jiang Cheng was in the living room and traumatized him forever, wouldn’t that be fun?”

They stop outside the writers’ room. Lan Wangji levels him with a look and does not touch him. Now that he’s been allowed, he isn’t sure he’d be able to stop, not while Wei Ying stands there and says things like I spent the whole time pining away for you. He wants to pin him down and hold him there. He wants to tie their wrists together with a hundred thousand knots.

Maybe Wei Ying will let him.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

“It was not a cold. It was pneumonia,” Lan Wangji tells him, sternly.

“Po-tay-to, po-tah-to,” chirps Wei Ying, and then prods him into the meeting room. Lan Wangji goes immediately to the coffee machine; Wei Ying beelines towards Nie Huaisang, who wordlessly hands him his donut. Strawberry sprinkles. Wei Ying accepts with a crow of joy, then holds out his hand for Lan Wangji’s plain donut, extricating himself from the boys and picking his way back.

He takes a bite of the plain donut before handing it over. Shameless.

“Check it out, I’m a provider,” he chirps, mouth full of his provisions.

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says dryly, with a deep bow. “This one is lucky and grateful to have such a breadwinner.”

“Fuck off,” Wei Ying laughs, and bumps their shoulders together. “I’m trying to show you what a good stepfather I’m gonna be to your rabbits.” Lan Wangji does not play in this space, because he already has to fight off daydreams of Snowball in a wedding bowtie.

“Shall we begin?” Lan Qiren interrupts before Lan Wangji can respond, appearing in the doorway. Jin Zixuan is behind him, chin in the air. Wen Ning hurries to clear the biggest, most comfortable chair for Jin Zixuan to sit in.

Wei Ying gives a quiet harrumph. “Peacock,” he mutters. “He doesn’t deserve that chair. He didn’t do shit to earn that chair. His movies are stupid.”

Seemingly from nowhere, Yanli’s hand snakes out to gently pinch his ear. “There was a bug,” she tells him serenely, in response to his outraged face.

Beside her, Jiang Cheng snorts. “The only bug in this room is that idiot. Is he wearing a gold headband? Who wears gold headbands? Does he think he’s Rihanna?”

“We should steal it,” Wei Ying decides. “And sell it. To charity.” This last an amendment after a firm look from Yanli, who sighs and pats the back of his hand.

“Please, as if you could be a thief,” Jiang Cheng laughs. “The whole point is to be discreet.”

“I can be discreet!”

“You probably can’t even spell discreet. You wouldn’t know discreet if it handed you its license and registration!”

“Am I a cop in this scenario? A-Cheng, did you just cast me as a cop? This is the meanest thing you or anybody has ever said about me, and one time your mother said I deserved the Hundred Holes Curse for breaking that lamp.”

“It was a Tiffany lamp! You broke it trying to juggle mozzarella balls!”

Lan Wangji watches as Yanli’s eyes roll heavenward, and then she takes one hand from each brother.

“Boys,” she says, soothing, “l think the meeting is about to begin.”

They fall obediently quiet as Lan Qiren begins to talk, but then Wei Ying leans backward and hisses: “I’ll bet you I can steal it. I’ll bet you anything.”

“No!”

“That’s because you know I can do it.”

“No, it’s because I’m not stupid enough to steal jewelry from the celebrity host. Why are you like this? Huh?”

“I’ll give it back, obviously, what do I want with it?”

Yanli gives Lan Wangji a look that suggests he was supposed to step in and make them behave. He shrugs. Nobody could make Wei Ying behave when he doesn’t want to; she knows that.

Fine,” Jiang Cheng hisses. “But if you can’t, you have to give me your VIP membership to CorePower.”

Wei Ying’s jaw drops. “But — you don’t even like yoga! You said it was for Tisch students without backup plans!”

“It is. What I like is being a VIP,” says Jiang Cheng. “And they make good lattes.”

With a huff of disgust, Wei Ying gives a single nod. Jiang Cheng grins. Yanli glares at Lan Wangji, even though he has done nothing wrong, ever, in his life. All his teachers and bosses have said so, explicitly.

You did fuck her brother though, says a voice in his head that sounds distressingly like Jiang Cheng.

Not technically, he thinks back at it.

He hadn’t, in fact, fucked Wei Ying, that night on his couch. They hadn’t had any of the necessary accoutrements (“Can’t believe I’m being cocked blocked by poor office administration,” Wei Ying had complained, and then Lan Wangji had shut him up by flipping him onto his stomach, licking his fingers, and — )

“Earth to Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying hisses.

Lan Wangji blinks. The whole room is looking at him — looking to him. Wei Ying bumps their shoulders together and says, “Sorry guys, Lan Zhan is dissociating because, and don’t tell anyone this, but right before we got here I actually gave him his very first blow — ”

“Wei Wuxian!” Lan Qiren cries sharply.

“ — pop, with the gum inside. You guys should have seen his face when he realized it was a lollipop and bubble gum. Changed the game. Right, Lan Zhan?”

Sometimes, Lan Wangji would like very much to simply be dead.

Or a weatherman. Dead or a weatherman. No other options.

“A revelation,” he deadpans, then clears his throat, bowing his head to his scandalized uncle. “I apologize. I was distracted.”

“Well!” his uncle huffs. “If you aren’t too busy dreaming of children’s candy, perhaps you could lead the meeting?”

Wei Ying frowns, just a little, cutting a curious glance at Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji gives an almost imperceptible shake of his head — don’t ask me — and nods to Lan Qiren.

“Of course. You should all have your assigned sketches; Jin Zixuan, as you know from last time, we will read through everything that’s been written and make decisions after. If you had any ideas while we read, we’ve got some of the crew here who can help flesh out what they might look like.”

“For example, I was thinking we could beat you to death for Monster Prom,” Wei Ying adds cheerfully.

“Uh,” says Jin Zixuan.

“He means Yinzhu and I can make it look like you’ve been beaten to death,” Jinzhu assures him quickly.

“Do I?” mutters Wei Ying, then adds, louder, “Of course, some of our more dedicated guest hosts take a more method approach — ”

He breaks off with a yelp as Yanli’s grip on his hand tightens so much that Lan Wangji can hear his knuckles crack. She then brings them up to her mouth to kiss gently, and Wei Ying slumps back again, giving in.

Lan Wangji continues smoothly, as if nothing had happened: “After, we will break for lunch, to give you some time to think; ultimately, you will have final say.”

“Bet he doesn’t choose any of the hentai ones, the coward,” Jingyi mutters, somewhere in the back of the room.

“It seems Jingyi is volunteering to start us off,” Lan Wangji says, giving him a quelling look. The boy is incapable of lowering his voice to a whisper.

“Yeah,” Jingyi says, ears red. “Super. Uh, right, so the sketch is called Tentacle Love and as you can see it would take place in an aquarium ... ”

And like that, they’re off.

-

Read-through always takes a few hours, and by the time they’ve run through everything, Lan Wangji can see his staff starting to flag after the long night. He sends almost all the writers home; there’s not much any of them can do until Jin Zixuan makes his sketch choices, and in the meantime the makeup and set crew have time to think through ideas for the more complex sketches so that once the final list is released they can hit the ground running.

“I want the Hulk sketch,” Jinzhu tells him with an unholy gleam in her eye as she passes by him on her way out of the door. Beside her, Yinzhu wears a matching expression, spinning a makeup brush in her fingers as if it were a butterfly knife. “I want to make a sexy Hulk, Lan Wangji. I want to make a big, sexy Hulk for live television.” She has a far-off look in her eyes. “This will be my David.”

As it had turned out, Wei Ying’s frantic writing this morning had been to produce the Magic Mike Hulk sketch he’d made up after they’d been — interrupted. It’s funny; Wei Ying wrote it, so of course it’s funny. Lan Wangji had very carefully not looked at Nie Huaisang as they read through it.

“It is up to the host,” Lan Wangji says placidly. “But I will relay your preferences.”

“See that you do,” she commands, somewhat ominously.

Yinzhu points a finger at Wei Ying. “I’m gonna build a prosthetic dick for the interview sketch and it’s gonna win us an Emmy.”

Wei Ying beams. Lan Wangji says, “We’re going to need to have a Standards and Practices rep sit in on this meeting,” pinching the bridge of his nose.

Yanli kisses Wei Ying’s cheek before looping her arm through Jiang Cheng’s and leading them both off to get lunch. They invite him, but Lan Wangji waves them off; eating with the Jiangs and Wei Ying is — a loud experience. Lan Wangji feels too unsteady to wade through the noise. This whole week has been so loud. He feels like every day he’s been walking around with a roaring in his ears: the job offer, the pilot, and Wei Ying, kissing him and reaching for him, wanting things Lan Wangji doesn’t know the shape of.

They’re joined at the elevators by Wen Qing and Wen Ning, and the sound of Wei Ying’s laughter echoes back to where Lan Wangji is decidedly not watching them go.

There’s a soft elbow in his side. He startles; but it’s Sizhui, beaming up at him. “Hey boss. You hungry?” he asks. “I ordered too many noodles, and,” he glances around furtively, “the others have all gone to the Korean place, so they left me behind.”

Lan Wangji nods knowingly. “Spicy,” he agrees.

So spicy, and if Wei Wuxian is there he’s gonna put extra hot sauce on his, and then everyone’s gonna get all competitive about it,” Sizhui agrees, hangdog. “Anyway: noodles?”

Lan Wangji smiles a little and accepts with a nod, following Sizhui to the green room that he shares with Jin Ling. He did, in fact, get a truly unholy amount of noodles delivered (“It’s lunch, dinner, and tomorrow’s breakfast!” he chirps, a clear sign that Lan Wangji has let him spend too much time with Wei Ying), and they sit quietly together on the floor, eating without speaking.

Obviously Lan Wangji doesn’t have favorites, but if he did have favorites, it would be Sizhui, who is capable of simply eating noodles in silence.

Midway through, there’s a soft knock on the door, and to Lan Wangji’s surprise, Lan Xichen appears, a smile on his face. “I heard rumors that there were noodles,” he says, and wrinkles his nose before adding, “Everyone else has gone to that spicy Korean place.”

For reasons Lan Wangji chooses not to investigate, he’s flooded with the strong desire to lay down with his head in his brother’s lap. His brother is looking at him like maybe he knows this. His brother has always been far too perceptive; it’s his worst quality, in Lan Wangji’s opinion.

It hits him, sitting in quiet with Sizhui and Lan Xichen, that it is the first time all week he has felt ... rooted. Steady.

Wei Ying makes him feel many things, but steady is not one of them. Wei Ying makes him feel unmoored, over-full, unhinged. But here, sitting on Sizhui’s floor with his brother’s shoulder pressed to his, eating without speaking, Lan Wangji feels like he can breathe.

Sizhui finishes his noodles, flops back onto the floor, staring at the ceiling. “I’m so tired I think I can taste time,” he mutters. “I’m scared if I try to go home I’ll fall asleep on the train and end up in Queens again.”

Lan Xichen chuckles. “I’ll drive you,” he offers. “I’m headed that way anyway. I’ve got to feed Wangji’s rabbits.”

Sizhui perks up. “Oh! Can I help you feed them?”

He and Lan Xichen turn as one toward Lan Wangji, their faces matching earnest pictures. Lan Wangji takes a final bite of his food, glancing up at the clock, and climbs to his feet, sighing. He offers a hand to Sizhui, who lets himself be pulled upright. “It would be of great help to me if you could let them out of their cage to exercise on the terrace,” he says somberly. “You can nap on the couch while they do.”

Sizhui beams.

-

Jin Zixuan chooses twelve sketches. Jiang Yanli wrote or co-wrote seven of them. He has, in fact, chosen everything Yanli’s name is on. This does not escape Lan Wangji’s notice, nor Wei Ying’s, if the way he’s glaring across Lan Qiren’s desk is any indication.

This meeting is small, just Lan Wangji, his uncle, Wei Ying, Jin Zixuan, Yu Ziyuan, Nie Mingjue, and Meng Yao. Meng Yao’s presence is a slight deviation from the norm, but Lan Wangji hadn’t been joking when he said they’d need a rep from Standards and Practices at the meeting, given how close to the edge so many of the skits are. Lan Wangji doesn’t want any last-minute surprises.

“Could you define hentai for me, please,” Meng Yao says, voice lilting and polite, as always. Lan Xichen really likes Meng Yao. Lan Wangji does not understand this.

He’s pretty sure by the gleam in his eyes that Meng Yao knows exactly what hentai is.

Wei Ying grins, shameless. “It’s anime porn,” he says cheerfully. “In this particular skit, Jingyi and Yanli have highlighted a subgenre which heavily features tentacles.”

“Your influence, I assume,” snaps Yu Ziyuan.

“One can only hope, Madame Yu,” Wei Ying answers, bowing his head in mock respect.

“How lucky we are, that you’ve recovered from your illness,” she tells him, in a voice that suggests she does not, in fact, feel lucky.

Lan Wangji cuts her a look. “Wei Ying has given more to this show than anybody,” he bites out. “We are, indeed, lucky that he has recovered.”

Wei Ying reaches out a hand to spread across Lan Wangji’s thigh, squeezing once. Jin Zixuan firms his jaw. “I think the sketch is funny,” he says, mulish. “All of Jiang Yanli’s skits were funny.”

Wei Ying points at him with the hand not holding Lan Wangji’s leg, in warning. Jin Zixuan makes a stubborn face back.

“You can discuss the hentai but you cannot show it,” Meng Yao says, placatingly. “Or at least, nothing explicit.”

“The tentacles come alive,” Nie Mingjue notes, as if just noticing, as he skims through the sketch. “The punchline of this sketch seems to be that Jin Zixuan — ah. I see. The tentacles don’t come alive, he’s just — wooing a real octopus?”

“Wooing is such a gentle term for what he’s doing to the octopus,” says Wei Ying.

“We’ll have the animal rights people after us,” Yu Ziyuan moans. “Jin Zixuan, please. These sketches you’ve chosen — ”

“They’re the ones I like,” Jin Zixuan says, a hint of familiar arrogance working its way back into his tone. “And I was given to understand, particularly as my last-minute appearance this week was done as a favor to the show, that I would largely be given creative control.”

“Plus, in the end, the octopus kills him,” Wei Ying pitches in cheerfully. “So all’s well that ends well.”

“We can add a PSA at the end,” Lan Wangji offers, keeping his tone carefully neutral and addressing Meng Yao. “And show nothing graphic. Or we can blur it.”

Meng Yao nods. “I will have Qin Su draw up some language to show after the sketch,” he agrees. “You can have someone voice it in a comedic tone, but you’ll have to leave the text as-is.”

“Deal! I love a comedic tone, it’s my favorite kind of tone,” Wei Ying cries, slapping the table as if he had a gavel. “We can have Nie Huaisang do it, he’s great at that stuff. Tones like you wouldn’t believe.”

“And I want it to air second-to-last,” Yu Ziyuan says sharply. “With enough time between it and a break to separate it from our advertisers.”

Lan Wangji accepts this with a nod.

Nie Mingjue clears his throat and says, “Right. So then the order goes Secondhand Murder, Gay Hamlet, Sandwich Opera, Coffin Town one, ad break, Weekend Update, Monster Prom, Digital Short, ad break, Magic Hulk XXL, Peacock Death Match, Dickterview, Coffin Town two and three, ad break, King Midas Masturbation, Tentacle Love, and end with Tortoise of Laughter.”

Jin Zixuan winces at the last one, but doesn’t say anything. Lan Wangji acknowledges that he is clearly committed to this, whatever this is.

Wei Ying is still glaring at him. Wei Ying is clearly less willing to acknowledge Jin Zixuan’s commitment.

“What a line up,” Yu Ziyuan mutters. “Lan Wangji, if this is the kind of thing we can expect from you as executive producer next season, I suppose it will be time for all of us to start making cancellation contingency plans.”

Lan Wangji freezes. Beside him, Wei Ying’s head jerks up, first to stare at Yu Ziyuan, then to Lan Wangji. His hand, which had been drumming a soft rhythm against Lan Wangji’s thigh, stills.

Well, fuck, Lan Wangji thinks.

“Nothing is decided,” he says, instead of that.

His uncle chuckles. “Wangji has always been a considered person,” he tells Nie Mingjue and Yu Ziyuan, tone almost conspiratorial. “But of course he is the right person for the job.”

Before Wei Ying can pull his hand away, Lan Wangji grabs it. He squeezes. Let me explain, he thinks, not looking over, not wanting to see whatever expression is on Wei Ying’s face. “Let us focus on the work in front of us,” he dissembles.

Nie Mingjue hums disapprovingly. “Indecision is not a trait executive producers can afford, Lan Wangji,” he advises.

“Deliberation is not indecision,” Lan Wangji returns. He risks a glance at Wei Ying, but Wei Ying is no longer looking at him. He’s picking at a stain on his jeans.

Jin Zixuan glances between the five of them, then clears his throat mercifully and says, “So — great. That’s settled. I’ve got an audition in half an hour, so if that’s everything ... ”

Lan Qiren claps his hands together once, definitively. Yu Ziyuan leaves without another word; Nie Mingjue clasps Lan Wangji’s shoulder as if he’s trying to impart some wisdom through it and then follows her out. Jin Zixuan glances at Lan Wangji, then Lan Qiren, then says, “Cool. Bye,” and then quickly brings his phone to his ear and starts talking into it as he walks out the door. Meng Yao stays seated.

Lan Wangji wants to stand, and does not want to let go of Wei Ying’s hand. He cannot do both.

Wei Ying pulls free, hopping to his feet. “Great!” He smiles brightly. “Wonderful. Gonna be a great show. I gotta — go. Lots to do.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, half-rising after him as he disappears through the office door, but his uncle puts a hand on his arm, holding him in place.

“Wangji,” he murmurs. “Nie Mingjue is right. It would be foolish to put personal feelings over your career.”

Lan Wangji looks over, surprised.

“Wei Wuxian’s agent called,” his uncle goes on. “He’d like a meeting, to discuss a pilot. He left you to handle the show alone for three months, and took that time to develop and pursue a side project. It would be a grave mistake to throw away an opportunity like this for someone who clearly wouldn’t do the same for you.”

Lan Wangji feels himself frowning. “That’s not — he was sick.”

“Not so sick he couldn’t write forty-five minutes of a television show,” his uncle snaps. “And send it to other networks without telling us first.”

Taking care not to be forceful about it, Lan Wangji extricates his arm from his uncle’s grip. “Thank you for your advice,” he says mildly. “As discussed, I will let you know my decision on Sunday.”

“Wangji,” his uncle begins, but before he can say anything else, Su She is poking his head into the office to tell them that the writers have arrived to hear the sketch lineup, and there isn’t time to escape before Jingyi and Zizhen tumble in with Jin Ling on their shoulders, singing a made-up song about how he’s a golden carp while Wen Ning anxiously trails behind them with his hands up in spotter’s position.

Wen Qing shoots him an odd look as she settles herself on the chair Yu Ziyuan just vacated, but Lan Wangji is a professional, so he schools his expression and does what he always does when the outside world feels like it’s closing in: Lan Wangji does his job.

-

INTERLUDE

A-Xian does not attend the lineup meeting, which is strange because he loves the lineup meeting. He always editorializes the order choices to make everyone feel good about where their sketch falls.

Yanli is ... surprised to note that not one or two or three but all of her sketches have been chosen, including a few that she’s confused to find her name on because she had nothing to do with writing them.

(“Oh — yeah, well,” Jin Ling had said, his cheeks bright read as he elbowed Jingyi. “A few of us ... added you. For solidarity. So that he had to, you know.”

Yanli had blinked at both of them, then covered their stupid faces in kisses that Jin Ling had wiped off in stuttering embarrassment and Jingyi had not.)

A-Xian is not in his office, either, or Lan Wangji’s, or A-Cheng’s green room, or Yanli’s green room.

A-Xian is sitting on the roof, two six packs of beer sitting next to him. He’s worked his way through half of one already. He has been told many times not to go on the roof, but Yanli has never met a rule her brother didn’t love to break, so they settle next to him and look out at New York and wait for him to say something.

After an eternal two minutes, in which A-Xian hands them both a beer and offers no explanations, A-Cheng bursts out: “What? What. Why are we here. What are you moping about? Stop it.”

“A-Cheng,” Yanli scolds.

“A-jie, it’s cold as fuck up here and he’s smoking again. He literally just had a disease of the lungs and this idiot is up here smoking. Forget coming back to our apartment if this is because you had some kind of lover’s spat with Lan Wangji. The resale value goes to shit if there’s been smokers living there.”

A-Xian winces. He sways a little bit, which means he’s not fully drunk but he’s not far off, either. A-Cheng’s eyebrows rise; he opens his mouth, then snaps it closed again, looking at Yanli with an edge of panic.

She sighs. “A-Xian,” she murmurs, reaching out to take his hand. He does smell like smoke, which is alarming. “What’s happened?”

“I slept with Lan Zhan,” he says, then looks surprised, like he didn’t mean to.

A-Cheng chokes, then makes a face like he’s tasted something sour. Yanli makes an encouraging sound, squeezing A-Xian’s hand. You had to be gentle with him, sometimes. Not too gentle or he’d pull away, but just gentle enough to make him break open and tell the truth.

It was often very hard, to get her A-Xian to tell the truth.

“I know,” she tells him. “I overheard.”

A-Xian nods. He looks out over the city and takes a long pull of his beer before muttering, “As it turns out, I love him, probably.”

Probably, he says,” A-Cheng mutters with a snort. “You’re living with him.”

“Whose fault is that? You kicked me out,” A-Xian reminds him, bouncing back a little, enough to give A-Cheng the exact kind of smarmy face that is guaranteed to get under his skin.

A-Cheng throws his hands in the air. “Like, one time!” he cries. “It barely even counts! You could have come back but you don’t want to. Lan Wangji spoils you.”

A-Xian’s expression goes soft and faraway. Yanli sighs, remembering Wen Qing’s surprised tone as she said that dumb bitch doesn’t know that Wei Wuxian is in love with him. She wonders what she’ll say when she finds out that apparently Wei Wuxian had also not known that Wei Wuxian was in love with him.

Because she is very strong, and very brave, Yanli does not bang her head against the wall.

She leans her head on A-Xian’s shoulder. “Just so you know, usually realizing you’re in love with the person you’re sleeping with is good. It’s a cause for celebration. This beer does not seem particularly celebratory.”

A-Xian makes a wounded sound. “He — got a job offer,” he mumbles. “From his uncle. To take over as executive producer.”

Yanli sits up. “What.”

“Madame Yu mentioned it in the meeting today. Starting next season. And he ... I guess he hasn’t accepted yet.”

“Why the fuck not?” sputters A-Cheng, splitting out beer. “Is he stupid?”

You’re stupid,” A-Xian snaps back, then holds both his hands up in Yanli’s direction before she can open her mouth. “Ah, sorry, sorry. It was just weird to hear from someone else. I was caught off-guard. It’s fine. It’s good! He’ll be good at it. He’ll accept. He’s always wanted to be a producer, secretly. You can tell because he gets all bitchy when he thinks his uncle has made a bad decision.”

Yanli blinks. “He gets ... bitchy,” she repeats, trying to remember a time when she’d seen Lan Wangji express any emotion at all.

“Yeah, you know. How he gets that little wrinkle, right between his eyebrows so you can tell that he’s fuming.”

“I simply do not look at Lan Wangji’s eyebrows,” A-Cheng informs them primly. “Anyway, none of this explains why it’s sad bitch hours up here on this fucking roof. So he’s getting a promotion. What do you care? You’re leaving anyway.”

A-Xian, abruptly, looks shifty. He shrugs, too-casual, and says flippantly, “Ah, am I? Who knows. It’s just a pilot. Probably no one will buy it anyway.”

Yanli frowns. “A-Xian. Someone will buy it. You know they will.”

“I don’t know that that’s a thing that I know,” A-Xian mutters. “And anyway, they can’t buy it if I don’t send it to them.”

“A-Xian,” Yanli says, as severely as she can. “What are you saying?”

“Look — I wrote it before I knew,” A-Xian whines. “About how I, you know. Feel. And now I know, and I’ve been in his kitchen and watched him feed his bunnies in his pajamas and found out he buys Doritos for me, probably from Costco or something, and he’s — and all this time I could have been dedicating my whole life to convincing him to marry me but instead I fucked around and got famous on TV like an idiot.”

It takes Yanli a moment to parse all of this, and when she does, the only thing that she can bear to look at is: “A-Xian. Are you telling me that you’re not going to try to sell your show?”

“I’m not even a third of the way drunk enough for this,” A-Cheng groans, and before anyone can stop him, chugs the rest of his beer.

“He didn’t tell me,” A-Xian cries, throwing his hands in the air. “Clearly he doesn’t think I’d care, because I — well, to be fair, I did say it was funny that we had slept together. Just the first time,” he adds quickly, in response to whatever is happening on Yanli’s face. “But only because I was panicking! And now I’m not panicking, and I’m gonna show him. I’m gonna — look, how is he going to know I want to co-parent his bunnies if I move to Los Angeles? I can’t leave.”

Yanli stares at him. She looks to A-Cheng for help, but A-Cheng is furiously cracking open another beer and refusing to meet anyone’s eyes. His eye is twitching, a sure sign that he’ll have a tension headache in an hour.

Yanli, personally, is developing one right this moment. Wei Ying made the love of his life into a — a fucking bit.

A-Xian gently chucks Yanli beneath the chin, then presses a messy kiss to her temple. “Shijie, don’t look like that,” he scolds lightly. “It’s not a big deal. But how can I leave now? I’ve only just realized I’m in love with him, how can I leave before I convince him to chain himself to me, legally, in some way? Someone else might sweep in while I was gone.” His brow furrows. “Oh God. What if Su She tries to seduce him? What if, during some late night of executive producing, he bends over the desk to get a pen and — and — ”

“Please stop,” A-Cheng chokes out. “Please, Wei Wuxian, please don’t make me think about that ever again. I will throw myself off this roof and I swear to God I will take you with me.”

A-Xian laughs. He kisses Yanli’s head again. “Don’t tempt me with a good time,” he jokes, and then looks down at his wrist. “Ah — we’re late! The peacock wants to take the writing staff out for dinner. I guess he forgot he’s supposed to do it on Mondays, or maybe he thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Come on. I’m going to order lobster and make that asshole pay for it.”

“Doesn’t NBC foot the bill for these dinners?” Yanli asks, instead of beating him to death with her shoe for even considering giving up on sending out his pilot. She can’t talk about it now; she’s too — she’s — Yanli doesn’t like being angry. They’ll discuss it when she’s calmer.

A-Xian snorts. “Yeah, but he doesn’t know that,” he points out. “Jiang Cheng, what do you think, a bottle of Veuve for every member of the writing staff?”

“Don’t be stingy,” A-Cheng scolds, giving him a mock-severe look. “Two bottles. At least. They’ve earned it.”

“And of course, seven bottles for shijie,” A-Xian agrees. “One for each sketch.”

Yanli shakes A-Xian’s hand off her shoulder, pulling open the door and ushering them both inside. “Two bottles,” she says primly, “and I’m not sharing.”

A-Xian gives a loud whoop, hooking one arm around her shoulders and one around A-Cheng and dragging them both to the elevators.

-

What Yanli does is: she gets very, very, very drunk.

She sits at the table and she watches A-Xian and Lan Wangji make big eyes at one another whenever they think they’re not being watched, and she doesn’t say anything when Wang Lingjiao leans all over Jin Zixuan and tells him how strong his stupid arms are, and she orders soup instead of lobster because she doesn’t want to give anyone a reason to say that she’s being petty, and she doesn’t elbow A-Xian or A-Cheng for loudly interrupting every time Jin Zixuan tries to talk to her, and she drinks champagne and drinks champagne and drinks champagne.

He’s not going to try to sell his pilot. He’s not going to try to sell his pilot.

His pilot!!!

“Oooooooo-kay,” Wen Qing says, gently plucking Yanli’s glass from her hands. “Maybe that one’s for me.”

Yanli glares at her. It’s not for her. It’s for Yanli. Yanli deserves it. Yanli has had such a hard fucking couple of months. A-Xian got sick and Jin Zixuan broke up with her via TM-fucking-Z and when her parents visited her mother said nothing about Yanli’s career and only noted that it looked on camera like she’d gained weight and now her brother is going to throw his whole life away for no reason at all and it’s so stupid. It’s so tiring being the bacon, and she has to be the bacon all the time, for everybody, and how come Yanli doesn’t get any bacon for herself?

Who is Yanli’s bacon, that’s what she wants to know!

“Let’s go to the bathroom,” Wen Qing suggests, putting the champagne down and guiding Yanli from the table. On Yanli’s other side, she feels someone link their arms. It’s Mianmian. Mianmian also looks very drunk, so at least there’s someone here who can show a little fucking solidarity.

Yanli lets herself be ushered into the very fancy restroom, which has a chaise in it. This restaurant is expensive. Jin Zixuan is going to be so mad when he gets the bill. NBC really should pay for it, which maybe Yanli would have told him if he weren’t sitting there with — with fucking — Wang Lingjiao hanging all over him, saying things about his arms and about C-list actresses as if Yanli couldn’t hear her.

“Wow, you went hard on the champs, girl,” Mianmian says. “You know I like a party but I can see now where Wei Wuxian learned it from.”

“A-Xian,” Yanli begins, and then bursts into tears.

Wen Qing and Mianmian exchange alarmed glances. Mianmian gathers Yanli into a hug; Wen Qing, who is not precisely known for her warmth, awkwardly pets Yanli’s head.

“Uh, there... there,” Wen Qing offers. “Don’t cry. Please stop crying. Your makeup is going to run.”

“Qing-jie, for fuck’s sake,” Mianmian mutters.

Yanli sniffs. “It’s okay,” she manages. “I’m fine. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.”

“I feel like maybe your inconsolable tears are an indication that everything is not fine,” Wen Qing deduces dryly. “What happened? What did that idiot Wei Wuxian say to you?”

“He’s so stupid,” Yanli wails. “He’s so stupid! Everyone is so stupid!”

Mianmian hushes her, brushing her hair out of her face. “Hey, hey, easy. I know he is. All men are stupid, but especially Wei Wuxian. I’ve always said this.”

“And — and Xuanxuan,” Yanli adds, then sets off a fresh wave of tears from the nickname, which she isn’t allowed to use anymore, because he sucks and he thinks she’s a C-list actress and he broke up with her in an interview and then never even called her about it. “He — I don’t know why he — ”

“Would you like me to kill him?” Wen Qing offers, perfectly serious. “I have a lot of mob connections. My uncle still lives in Jersey, if you catch my drift.”

Yanli takes a moment to imagine this, but the idea of killing Jin Zixuan doesn’t make her happy, it only makes her sadder. “He doesn’t have to date me,” she cedes miserably. “But I wish he’d have just told me instead of publicly announcing to the world that he doesn’t think I’m funny and that it was all just... ” She waves a hand in the air to indicate what it all was.

She slumps back against the chaise. Wen Qing and Mianmian sink down onto it with her, on either side. Yanli lets her head list to the side, onto Mianmian’s shoulder, while Wen Qing awkwardly pats her knee.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” she admits finally. “I can’t be bacon all the time.”

Wen Qing frowns. “...What?”

“Of course not,” agrees Mianmian, soothingly. “And you don’t have to be.”

“Then who?” Yanli wails.

“Let me and Qing-jie do it,” Mianmian says. “We’re the saltiest, most delicious bacon you ever tasted.”

“Literally what are you talking about,” hisses Wen Qing, before she’s hushed by Mianmian reaching across Yanli to slap the back of her head.

“Shut up and be bacon,” Mianmian commands, hitting her again.

Wen Qing holds both hands in the air in a gesture of surrender, fending off a third slap. “Okay! Jesus! I’m bacon!”

“Now let these bacon strips get you home, okay?” Mianmian soothes. “You can sleep at mine. I’m closest. We’ll get pizza on the way home. All you had was soup. You need carbs.”

“I’m a vegetarian,” Wen Qing mutters, but she turns to help lift Yanli from the chaise.

Yanli lets herself be hoisted up and shuffled out of the bathroom. When they get to the hall, Jin Zixuan is standing in the doorway, hands shoved into his pockets.

“Jiang Yanli,” he blurts out, taking a quick step forward and then freezing when Wen Qing shoots him a withering glare. “I — are you all right? You looked — I thought maybe you were sick. Was it the soup?”

Yanli feels herself starting to cry again. He’s so nice sometimes. He can be so nice, and so horrible. She doesn’t understand how someone so nice could also be so horrible.

“Oh, please don’t,” Wen Qing says quietly.

“She’s fine,” Mianmian tells him. “Just a stomach bug. She’ll be perfectly fine by tomorrow, no need to worry about the show.”

“I didn’t ask you,” Jin Zixuan says, frowning. “I was asking Yanli.”

“Who said you had permission to talk to her?” Wen Qing snaps, which takes Yanli by surprise. Wen Qing is usually very reserved. Maybe Yanli is not the only one who has had too much champagne. “You don’t get to just come in and be worried about soup when you’re out there telling TMZ her private business.”

Jin Zixuan gapes. “Who are you, to talk to me like that?” he asks, voice taut.

Wen Qing tucks Yanli into her side and knocks against Jin Zixuan’s shoulder as they hustle past, hard enough that he takes a few steps back. At the door, Wen Qing looks over her shoulder and snarls: “I’m bacon, bitch.”

-

Yanli is lying in someone’s bed. Mianmian’s, she’s pretty sure. Mianmian and Wen Qing are on either side of her. They’re talking. Yanli is only sort of paying attention, only catching every few words as she floats.

“ ... gesture,” Mianmian is murmuring. Her hands are in Yani’s hair, soothing. “ ... monologue ... trying, I guess.”

Wen Qing snorts. “He’d ... better than that.”

Yanli hears Mianmian chuckle just before she drifts back off to sleep. She thinks she says something like, “You’d be surprised how hard he can try.”

-

Lan Wangji doesn’t find Wei Ying after the meeting, and they aren’t seated next to one another at dinner. When Yanli is taken home by Wen Qing and Mianmian, Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng hover behind them until the three women are in a taxi.

“This is your fault,” Jiang Cheng accuses. “A-jie never drinks! You’ve pushed her into alcoholism!”

I’ve pushed her?” Wei Ying splutters. “It was that stupid asshole! Flirting all night with Wang Lingjiao while shijie was right there. I should kill him. Should we kill him? He’s still inside, right?”

Jiang Cheng is already rolling up his sleeves. “I’ll find him,” he says darkly. “I’ll drag him out. We’ll kill him.”

Lan Wangji carefully takes a hold of Wei Ying’s wrist. “Perhaps we could kill him after the show,” he suggests. “I do not think your sister would be glad if you killed him before anyone had the chance to humiliate him on live television.”

That makes both Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying pause. They seem to be having a conversation with their eyebrows alone. After a moment, Jiang Cheng slumps, and Wei Ying relaxes against Lan Wangji.

“Fine. Good thinking. We’ll kill him on Sunday,” Wei Ying decides, and then any further words are swallowed by a yawn. “Oof. Lan Zhan. I’m tired. It’s been a long day. Can you take me home? Can we bring the bunnies to bed?”

Lan Wangji’s eyes dart to Jiang Cheng, but he doesn’t seem surprised to hear that Wei Ying is sleeping not just at Lan Wangji’s house, but in his bed. He says, neutrally, “The bunnies have their own bed.”

Jiang Cheng snorts. He hails another cab, and opens the door to it, gesturing impatiently for Lan Wangji to help Wei Ying into it. “You deserve each other,” he says flatly, in a voice that indicates this is not a compliment.

Wei Ying clambers into the taxi, and Lan Wangji gets in after him. Before closing the door, Jiang Cheng bends down and tells him sharply, “I’m glad you finally took my advice. Fuck with his feelings and I’ll fuck with your face.”

He slams the door and goes back into the restaurant before Lan Wangji can ask what the hell he’s talking about.

“Don’t think you’re off the hook, about the job thing,” Wei Ying mumbles sleepily. “I can’t believe you let me find out from Madame Yu, of all people.”

Wei Ying is slumped against Lan Wangji’s shoulder, face nestled into his neck. He doesn’t sound angry. His arm slips around Lan Wangji’s middle and squeezes once, reassuring. It’s not — it doesn’t feel friendly. It doesn’t feel like something that he will say later was funny, was two friends sharing a ride.

“I’m sorry,” Lan Wangji says. “I — ”

“Shhh, I’m sleeping,” Wei Ying scolds. “Take me home for now, okay Lan Zhan? We’ll talk in the morning. You can make me breakfast. We can eat it in bed, and you can tell me all about it. Okay?”

The city lights pass over Wei Ying’s face like a hand caressing his cheek. He’s warm and heavy, and he’s coming home, and plans to stay at least another night. At least another breakfast.

“Okay,” Lan Wangji agrees, and the word in his chest sings maybe, maybe, maybe.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian has had sex before, okay.

In college he had really quite a lot of sex, because he was on the improv team so he had to do something to balance out his hideously embarrassing life, and he looks ...the way he looks. He’s always been very — everyone at school always used to say that he was louche, because Wei Wuxian went to Harvard and all his friends were, like, journalism majors, even Yanli, which is not something she likes to talk about, but people don’t forget.

But the thing is, sex in college was always kind of, like, he liked it but he never really got why people went so insane about it. It felt really good and he liked the people he had sex with, as a general rule, and basically at the end of it he always was sort of tempted to give his partner a high-five, or a tangerine. But it wasn’t oh yeah I’m gonna ruin my whole life for this kind of vibes, like it had been for many of the kids in his improv group who had stopped coming to practice so that they could try to, like, fuck the economics concentrators, even though no self-respecting future hedge fund billionaire would ever fuck someone whose thesis was about neo-industrial design imagery in early twentieth-century German literature, Griffin.

Anyway, college Wei Wuxian was dumb as shit, grown-up Wei Wuxian had decided, because having sex with Lan Zhan was better than, like, literally anything else that had ever happened to him, and Wei Wuxian was currently the Head Writer of the most popular sketch comedy show in the world, so there had been some pretty good things before now. None of them held a candle to — whatever the fuck this was, not even the sex part, just Lan Zhan holding his hand in a taxi cab and looking at him like Wei Wuxian had painted the world just so that they could look at it together. Wei Wuxian would have dropped his art elective so fucking fast if Lan Zhan had been an economics concentrator. Wei Wuxian would have burned the whole arts building down. He would have ruined his whole life, for a glimpse at this. He still might, just for good measure.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, mouth brushing against Lan Zhan’s sleeve. This is delightful! What a sleeve! It smells like sandalwood, which is Wei Wuxian’s favorite smell, for no reason. He looks up at Lan Zhan and gasps.

“What?” says Lan Zhan, tensing up.

Wei Ying beams at him. “You’re so handsome.”

Lan Zhan’s ears go red. Wei Wuxian can tell, even in the dark. Wei Wuxian wants to bite them, and then gobble up the rest of Lan Zhan, too, because he’s so stupid cute and he flushes so stupid pink and basically every time Wei Wuxian tries to think about him directly he has to do laps. He has to send himself to horny court, where the judge is his own self-loathing. One thousand years of jail for Wei Wuxian, who fucked his co-worker and then got so stressed about it he sat outside his apartment all night in the snow, and then got pneumonia and almost died, which is really genuinely so funny if everyone stopped being such a baby about the near-death bit, and also never, ever think about his hospital bills, which Wei Wuxian simply does not.

(The internet claims that being cold does not give you pneumonia, and on the one hand, Wei Wuxian believes in science, but on the other hand, science is a liar, sometimes, he thinks. On a third, secret hand, he’s willing to admit that maybe sitting outside on his stoop in his not-very-good neighborhood all night breathing in deeply suspect fumes may have contributed to his personal medical experience. Or not.)

(Also: alien hand syndrome but one of the hands is just, like, a real asshole. An absolute dick. Jiang Cheng should play the asshole hand. The hands should have eyes and a mouth, but that’s for post-production to worry about; might have to be a digital short.)

Lan Zhan mutters, “Wei Ying,” in that voice of his. He says Wei Ying eight million times a day but never the same way twice. A mood ring of Wei Ying. Wei Wuxian wants to be fully dead about it, wholly and completely excused from this earth because of how Lan Zhan says his stupid name.

“Lan Zhan,” he sing-songs back. “Ah, Lan Zhaaaaan.”

This was not, Wei Wuxian doesn’t think, something that he’d ever thought he’d get to have, back when he was a kid growing up with his born again uncle and aunt, who thought the circumstances of his birth had doomed his parents to hellfire and didn’t want but were bound to keep Wei Wuxian with a roof over his head. This was not something he’d thought he’d get to have when he was at school, and Yanli was falling asleep with her head on his shoulder and Jiang Cheng was yelling at him in whispers so that she didn’t wake up. This wasn’t something he’d thought he’d get to have when he showed up at SNL and there was Lan Wangji, glaring at him, ears red, saying “Shameless,” every time Wei Wuxian made a surprise change to the script just to get him to break.

And Lan Zhan didn’t, he never did, not one time, just darted his eyes toward Wei Wuxian and flexed his hand behind his back and that was it but it was so good, it was like, the best thing that Wei Wuxian had ever seen. It was like being stabbed one hundred thousand times but in a erotic way, like a sexy, sexy acupuncture stabbing session, so that no matter how many times he got scolded by then-Head-Writer Cangse he just couldn’t stop with the lines. One time Mianmian saw it and just whispered to him, “Mr. Darcy,” in a tone of hushed wonder. So. She, like, got it.

And then one day he’d been in Lan Zhan’s office, because he wanted Yanli to have to rap, he just thought it would be very very funny if Yanli had to rap on live television, and then Lan Zhan was suddenly staring down at him with this look on his face that Wei Wuxian had never seen before, sort of surprised and — distraught, maybe, and without knowing why or how he knew it, Wei Wuxian ... realized that they were friends. That Lan Zhan liked him, even if he was clearly horrified by it, and the sweetness of it was so soothing that it took away all the acupuncture needles, and he didn’t stop trying to make him break but he did stop being such an asshole about it.

And now! They were fucking!

Now they were fucking, Lan Zhan wanted to fuck him, which, boy howdy, was not an idea Wei Wuxian had ever entertained at all* (*hm. well — ) before that night after the anniversary party, when suddenly he was entertaining it in a big way, a real mouthful of a way, if you caught his drift, and he doesn’t remember one hundred percent of what happened that night but he does remember looking up at Lan Zhan and seeing his expression, cracked open, staring at Wei Wuxian like Wei Wuxian had done something remarkable, like Wei Wuxian was something remarkable, and it had thrown open this part of Wei Wuxian that he didn’t know existed: the wanting and needing and desiring part. It hurt, frankly, being looked at. Wei Wuxian does not want to be Perceived in that manner. In fact sometimes he doesn’t really want to be Perceived at all, which is the reason for all the, you know, the loudness, because the louder you are the less people really listen, which is nice.

Sometimes it’s nice.

At the same time, if Lan Zhan ever stopped looking at him like that, even for one second, even for a millisecond, Wei Wuxian would die, probably. Not in the fun sexy way he’d like to die every time Lan Zhan says Wei Ying, but in a horrible, deflated way, like being exsanguinated, or dropped off the side of a cliff.

He likes it so much, and also it’s agony. He craves it all the time, and the second it’s given to him he needs it to stop.

Yes and, he thinks dizzily. The first rule of improv.

The taxi stops in front of Lan Zhan’s fancy apartment. Wei Wuxian feels himself being bundled out onto the street, but he is too busy lying like a limpet in Lan Zhan’s arms to really pay attention, because it is extremely fun to whine and make Lan Zhan do things for him. Wei Wuxian is pretty sure he could make all manner of outlandish demands of Lan Zhan and he’d just do them. That’s the kind of person he is. Very good. Very very good. The best. Wei Wuxian’s favorite.

Augh, he likes him so much, it’s terrible. What has Wei Wuxian been doing with his life? Working? Having a career? Stupid. Moronic. Waste of time. Wei Wuxian’s job from now on will be to have sex with Lan Zhan and then, then, then, just — lay around being in love with him. The Lans have money. They won’t need two incomes.

He comes to out of this incredible daydream where he is merely a Lan Zhan Love Machine because Lan Zhan is murmuring, “Do you want a shower?”

Wei Wuxian flutters his eyelashes at him. “Do you want to join me? Hm? Zhan-ge?”

Ha! Aha! The ears! The pink little ears!

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan scolds. Delightful. Absolutely spectacular work from this guy.

“Noted gege fucker Wei ‘Ying’ Wuxian, at your service,” he chirps. Ah, it feels good to be a little drunk, a little tired, and a lot warm, here in the circle of Lan Zhan’s arms, here in his house, where Wei Wuxian lives, kind of. Could keep living in.

He’d been offered a lease! So casually! As if that was just, as if Lan Zhan didn’t have to think twice about living with Wei Wuxian, being tied to him by a legal contract.

Oh, hello, I’m Lan Zhan, I’m so hot and good and I’m a father to various bunnies, and I’m making you breakfast, offering you a house, with me in it.

As if he was — sure. Of Wei Wuxian.

Nobody’s ever sure of Wei Wuxian, especially Wei Wuxian.

He rests his chin on Lan Zhan’s chest and grins up at him. Lan Zhan looks back. He’s not blinking. He doesn’t blink very much. He mostly does it for comedic effect or to let you know that he is thinking mean things about you, which he usually is. Lan Zhan is honestly so mean. It’s so funny. It’s the funniest thing.

One time, one of the hosts had slunk into Lan Zhan’s office and perched on the edge of his desk and purred, what do you say to a drink? and Lan Zhan had blinked at her, long and slow, and said with absolutely no inflection at all, Thank you. I am not thirsty at this time.

Wei Wuxian had laughed so hard he’d had to put himself in time-out in Jiang Cheng’s office.

“Which,” Lan Zhan is saying now, drawing Wei Wuxian’s attention back to him. There’s a tiny, unhappy furrow in his brow.

Wei Wuxian blinks. “What?”

“‘Noted gege fucker,’” Lan Zhan echoes, and Wei Wuxian gets it all at once, a fierce shot of delight lighting him up so bright he thinks maybe he really is having a qi deviation. There’s nothing for it; he has to pepper Lan Zhan’s face with little smooches, one for everything Wei Wuxian likes about him, which means he’ll have to keep going forever and ever and never stop.

“You,” he promises, breathy, and is delighted anew by how swiftly the brow softens, by how the corners of Lan Zhan’s mouth pitch up, just a little. “Absolutely no other geges of note. Lan er-gege or bust, babeeeey.”

Lan Zhan’s arms tighten around him and he buries his face in the crook of Wei Wuxian’s neck, breathing deeply. It’s nice. It’s so nice. Lan Zhan is the very nicest thing.

Maybe Wei Wuxian is more drunk than he thought.

He frowns, poking at Lan Zhan’s ear until he makes a grumpy, disgruntled sound and pulls back, glaring a little. Wei Wuxian accuses: “You didn’t tell me. About the job. We have a rule about how you always have to tell me about job offers.”

“I don’t recall these rules,” says Lan Zhan flatly. “Are they written down somewhere?”

Wei Wuxian pinches his (very pink) ear again. “You’re supposed to have them memorized!” he complains. “If you really valued our creative partnership you wouldn’t need me to write them down for you!”

“Mn,” says Lan Zhan, which means anything from that’s dumb as fuck to I’ve never been happier in my life.

Wei Wuxian glares at him, because yes, he has made up every rule on the spot, but only because he’s never had to vocalize them. They had a gentleman’s agreement! They were simpatico!

“I will write them down, but you have to give me a unique orgasm for each one, as payment and apology for your shoddy scholarship,” Wei Wuxian cedes eventually, just as a nice gesture for Lan Zhan, who likes things to be clear cut. That’s how nice Wei Wuxian is.

Lan Zhan’s eyes darken, instantly. Wei Ying’s breath catches in his throat. He feels like prey, in truly the sexiest, horniest way possible. “How many are there?” Lan Zhan asks, and now he is walking Wei Wuxian back toward the bedroom, his mouth on Wei Wuxian’s throat, a soft heat.

“Um,” manages Wei Wuxian. “Four thousand. At least.”

“That’s a lot of unique orgasms,” Lan Zhan notes, having moved to Wei Wuxian’s left ear. “I might run out of ideas.”

Wei Wuxian hears himself make a sound that he could classify as dog-toy-like. He wraps his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck and lets himself get hoisted up, ankles locked around Lan Zhan’s waist. He likes to do that. It makes him feel rooted. Lan Zhan can’t go anywhere. He has to — stay. Here. Like this. This is a good place for Lan Zhan to be, that’s all.

“I once saw you write two sketches on the subway while doing the NYT crossword,” Wei Wuxian points out. “I once saw you write a sketch while performing another sketch.”

“Bad sketch,” Lan Zhan mutters, shrugging. “Not funny.” He seems not particularly interested in this conversation, but very interested in darkening a bruise on Wei Wuxian’s collarbone, which is — fine. Good. Someone has to do it, and Wei Wuxian can’t reach himself.

He hears himself babbling and accepts, serenely, that he cannot stop: “Of course it wasn’t funny, Wang Lingjiao wrote it with what’s-his-face, the comedian that exclusively does masturbation jokes. Jin Guangshan. That dude sucked. He kept trying to get you to drink at dinner, remember? And then you did, and got drunk and stubborn so I had to keep switching out your vodka for water and you still cried on the train home about a bunny you’d loved and lost in college, after your RA found you were keeping it illegally in your dorm room.”

They’ve entered the bedroom. Lan Zhan drops him unceremoniously on the bed, probably as punishment for bringing up — “Bichen,” Lan Zhan says, a bit mournfully. Then he frowns. “You remember.”

Wei Wuxian brings a hand up to trail down the edge of Lan Zhan’s perfect nose. In the dark, his hair glints blue. He’s — Wei Wuxian is given to hyperbole, but it is not an exaggeration to say that Lan Zhan is the most stupidly beautiful person in the whole entire world, and also the moon and all the planets, even poor Pluto. The whole galaxy.

“Bichen,” Wei Wuxian agrees, swallowing. He feels slightly more sober, but still a little unhinged, from all the moonlight and the kissing and the redness of the tips of Lan Zhan’s ears. “You found him in a hedge. He was missing a bit of his ear. You gave him to the son of your Israeli-Palestinian Conflict teacher.”

I remember everything you say to me, he thinks but doesn’t know how to say yet without it sounding like a joke. He doesn’t want to say it like a joke. He couldn’t bear to say it and have Lan Zhan think he was — making light of it, again, the tumultuous swell of what Lan Zhan makes him feel, so instead of trying to verbalize it he talks around it, pops all the kernels of information Lan Zhan has given him as proof that he can be trusted to hold them in his mouth without biting down.

Lan Zhan is staring at him.

“Ahh, haha, Lan Zhan, don’t look like that,” Wei Wuxian scolds, voice pitching up. “I’m sure he’s still out there, living like a king. I’ll bet he’s gotten very fat, even worse than Snowball and Cloud. So no need to look like that. Stop it. At once.”

He puts a hand over Lan Zhan’s eyes, and hopes it will seem like a game and not like if Wei Wuxian doesn’t escape his unrelenting attention he’s going to combust.

Sometimes it seems like Lan Zhan is the only person in the entire world who looks through the swirling mass of what Wei Wuxian does to see who Wei Wuxian is. The loudness, etc. The trembling mass of him at the center of all his orbiting planets.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, voice calm, “let’s sleep.”

The hand drops. “What!” Wei Wuxian complains. “No! We were going to have sex! You said four thousand orgasms!”

“Write the rules first,” Lan Zhan says, dryer than socks freshly out of the machine. “And: you are drunk. I am not.”

“You want to wait to fuck until you’re drunk?” Wei Wuxian asks, and now he’s the one frowning. “Is this like, a liquid courage thing, because I gotta tell you Zhan-ge, I really don’t know how I could possibly be louder about broadcasting that I’m a sure thing without deeply scandalizing your neighbors.”

Hmmm, although. Now that he’s thinking about it —

A hand claps over his mouth. Lan Zhan is climbing into bed with him, not even changing out of his day clothes, gathering Wei Wuxian up tight. “Behave,” he commands, and Wei Wuxian dutifully takes note of the trill that goes down his spine, at being commanded, at obeying.

It’s not that he doesn’t like rules, it’s just that he’s never met anyone whose rules felt right, whose rules made sense. But Lan Zhan says “behave,” and Wei Wuxian trusts it’s because he must know something Wei Wuxian doesn’t.

Still. There’s behaving and there’s behaving, and Wei Wuxian has never behaved ever in his life. Wouldn’t know how to do it if he tried, so he shuts up but licks Lan Zhan’s hand. He yanks it away, making a face, but there’s interest in his eyes, too. There’s — oh. Okay. Well. It wasn’t like Wei Wuxian hadn’t suspected that his mouth was part of the appeal.

“You want to, though,” Wei Wuxian says, eyes getting heavy. “Right?”

Lan Zhan huffs a laugh. “Every day,” he mutters, mouth a soft caress against Wei Wuxian’s forehead, sealing the deal.

Reassured, Wei Wuxian behaves.

-

“I cannot believe I really thought for more than five consecutive seconds that you weren’t the most sex-addled man alive,” Wei Wuxian says, watching Lan Zhan fry tofu in pajama pants and nothing else. The pajama pants are black with Flying Goose Sriracha cartoons all over them, an incomprehensible thing for him to wear because Lan Zhan’s only flaw is that his taste buds are broken and he only likes foods for people with digestive problems. His hair is a mess, criss-crossed over his head like he didn’t even run his hands through it when he woke up — or maybe ran his hands through it too thoughtlessly. He’s not wearing socks, so his toes are poking out from the bottom of the pajama pants, which for some reason makes Wei Wuxian’s stupid heart want to explode. He’s got very buff arms, which Wei Wuxian knew in an abstract kind of way because of The Incident With The Tailored Undershirts, but had not fully internalized until now, in the daylight, Lan Zhan making vegan scrambled eggs without a shirt on, and pelvis muscles that Wei Wuxian truly cannot think about, simply can’t do it, impossible, don’t ask him again.

Lan Zhan looks up, a puzzled twist to his brow. “I am cooking breakfast,” he says. He points at the tofu using the spatula, rubber because he’s very persnickety about protecting the coating on his no-stick pans.

Wei Wuxian slides onto one of the kitchen island stools, dropping his chin into his hand on the counter and nodding against it. “Yeah. Like a real sex freak.”

The granny Wei Wuxian lived with at the old apartment had not believed that no-stick technology was real, and this had so offended Lan Zhan that he’d shown up, grim-faced, with a fancy pan set from Sur La Table and spent an entire Sunday in the galley kitchen with her, bickering about, Wei Wuxian didn’t know, kitchen stuff. And then everyone had taken to calling him Mr. Rich right to his face, which would have been embarrassing except for how red Lan Zhan’s ears had gotten, and how warm Wei Wuxian had felt when Lan Zhan said flatly, “Please, Mr. Rich is my father. Call me Richard.”

Richard!

How Wei Wuxian had not immediately identified the hurricane of joy that had ravaged him in that moment as Being Very Stupidly In Love With His Nice Co-Worker Lan Wangji, he doesn’t know, but he had really just sat there and thought about how lucky he was to have such a good fucking friend.

“Virgins also eat breakfast,” says Lan Zhan. He adds curry powder and chives to the tofu eggs. He doesn’t even like curry. The toaster pings with two slices of fancy sourdough toast.

I could sign a lease, Wei Wuxian thinks, and have fancy toast every day.

Wei Wuxian’s appetite is fickle and his tastes specific, but he loves .... he likes fancy toast. He likes it so much. Maybe he’s gonna cry about how nice it looks and smells and is to have around, in a stupid little hutch labeled BREAD like Lan Zhan has had a massive head injury and needs constant reminding where his own bread is.

Augh, it’s too much, he can’t look at it that head on, his — toast —

“Oh, is that the game we’re playing,” he purrs, instead of confronting the mortifying ordeal of knowing his own goddamn self at nine o’clock in the morning. “We’re just two innocent virgins learning how to touch each other? Oooo, or am I the virgin, and my impatient gege is going to teach me the ways of the secular flesh?”

Lan Zhan goes still for a moment, mid-spooning tofu scramble onto a plate. He looks up, studying Wei Wuxian somberly.

“Are we?” he asks, voice a blank, which make Wei Wuxian sit up straight; despite popular belief, Lan Zhan is rarely actually expressionless.

“Are we what? Virgins? Uh, I mean, this kitchen counter and a couch at 30 Rock suggest otherwise but I’m told that through the power of prayer all things can be — ”

“Playing a game,” Lan Zhan interrupts, before calmly finishing Wei Wuxian’s plate and pushing it toward him.

The breath catches in Wei Wuxian’s throat. No, he wants to say, simple and sure. He knows. Of course he knows, he knew even before he knew, he knew even while he was writing the first lines of the show, even as the thought occurred to him that it would change everything, ruin it maybe, but he had —

But everything that ever came easy to Wei Wuxian cut his hands to ribbons when it left him just as quickly. And Lan Zhan was — so easy, the simplest, best thing, and he’d thought that maybe if he didn’t try so hard to hold on then maybe losing him wouldn’t be so hard or so permanent, maybe would let him have it again, even on a borrowed basis —

It’s nine o’clock in the fucking morning and Wei Wuxian wants to say this is not a game to me but the words won’t form.

“Lan Zhan,” he says instead, helplessly, and hopes that’s enough to convey I’m not fucking around with you but also I don’t know how to talk about it yet.

Lan Zhan’s shoulders tense, and then relax. He nudges Wei Wuxian’s fork with his own. “Eat,” he dictates, and Wei Wuxian, grateful, does.

-

Thursday is for rewrites and the cold open; they hold off writing it so that they can react if anything big happens in the news, but the world has been quiet, so Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian toss ideas back and forth for most of the train ride in. Wei Wuxian had suggested they do one set in a hospital, to announce his own return, but framing it like he’d died.

Lan Zhan had vetoed it.

“...litical,” Lan Zhan is saying as he pushes through the turnstile, swiping a Metro from the box as he goes.

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. “Lan Qiren never wants to get too political,” he grouses. “Like what is the point of being uncancellable if you don’t use it to stand for something?”

“Nothing is uncancellable,” Lan Zhan recites, but without any conviction behind it. Wei Wuxian knows it’s an argument he’s had with his uncle endless times.

Wei Wuxian grins. “Well, it’ll be different when you’re the EP,” he says, already imagining the possibilities. “I’m gonna do the Reagan Munsters sketch. You’ll let me, right?”

“Timely political commentary, as always,” answers Lan Zhan.

“It is simply never too late to dunk on Reagan,” Wei Wuxian snips primly. “Oh hey, what about for the cold open we do something about like, SNL but xianxia? Like political commentary but at a fancy bitch wizard sect set in Olden Fantasy Time.”

“They’re called cultivators and I think you know that,” Lan Zhan tells him severely, but then makes a thoughtful face. “It’s set in a comedy club, for cultivators.”

“Doing stand up bits about like, how big their swords are.”

“It’s not the size of the sword, it’s how high it can fly.”

“So I met this cultivator, right, and he had a huuuge co—re of gold.”

“Dirtbag cultivators,” Lan Zhan muses.

“Oh, God, say dirtbag again,” Wei Wuxian breathes. “It’s so sexy, it’s like watching a librarian take her glasses off. I didn’t even know you knew that term, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan rolls his eyes and does not say it again. Typical.

Wei Wuxian never gets what he wants.

“Gotta cast Jingyi,” Wei Wuxian decides, cutting his losses. “And Nie Huaisang.”

“Mn. And Mianmian.”

“Oh, she’d have such a good time. I’ve seen her standup, it’s raunchy as fuck. She has this bit about fingering that is both hilarious and educational.” Wei Wuxian does a chef’s kiss. Lan Zhan hums noncommittally, which is interesting. Very interesting.

As long as Wei Wuxian has known him, Lan Zhan has never talked about dating anybody. He’s never hooked up with anyone on nights when the staff goes out and gets rowdy. He never — he’s never said anything about it, at all.

“Have you ever fingered a girl?” he asks, beaming at how instantly red Lan Zhan’s ears get. “Gege, is that how you got so good at fingering me?”

“Oh look, it’s work,” Lan Zhan answers, pushing Wei Wuxian through 30 Rock’s revolving doors with both hands. “Hello, Carl.”

“Hey Mr. Lan,” greets the doorman, whose name is Carl and who sells him weed sometimes but refuses to sell it to the juniors due to his belief that weed is a grownup activity, which is the world’s funniest opinion for a drug dealer to have. Wei Wuxian did a skit about him, his second year. He’d asked Carl what he thought and Carl had said Sorry Mr. Wei, I don’t stay up late enough to watch the show.

Anyway, Wei Wuxian loves Carl.

“Hi Carl!” he greets. He hasn’t seen Carl since he’s been back, and the doorman’s face lights up, coming out from behind the desk to give Wei Wuxian’s hand an almost too-enthusiastic shake. “Ah, ha, yes, hello! I missed you too!”

“It’s good to have you back, Mr. Wei,” Carl tells Wei Wuxian seriously, clasping his shoulder with his free hand. “We missed you — it’s been too quiet for my liking. And nice to see Mr. Lan is capable of smiling again.”

Wei Wuxian looks over in surprise; indeed, Lan Zhan is watching them with a very soft expression, mouth curled up a little. He’s so cute. Wei Wuxian wants to shove him into some dirt. He wants to wait until he falls asleep and then draw dicks all over his forehead. He wants to pepper his face with kisses so firm they border on being violent. He wants to shake him in the exact way that you’re not supposed to shake a baby.

He wants to tie his shoelaces together and dunk him in a pond.

“Wei Ying was missed,” Lan Zhan agrees easily, as if this weren’t the most devastating thing he could have possibly come up with.

They step into the elevator, waving at Carl as he turns back to his monitor, and in the silence as they ascend Wei Wuxian blurts out, “Were you really — did you really miss me?”

Lan Zhan frowns, turning to look at him. “Of course I did,” he says, like this is a stupid question.

But it’s not. It’s not a stupid question, because — “But you didn’t come visit. And you wouldn’t let me Facetime you. I thought ... I know I texted eight hundred times a day but I thought maybe you — ”

He bites off the rest of the sentence, because it’s too horrifically embarrassing to say out loud. That he’d been so sure that Lan Zhan’s refusal to come see him had been because he’d like the space. Because he’d re-learned how nice it was to have a little peace and quiet, without Wei Wuxian babbling constantly at him.

Lan Zhan was staring at him like Wei Wuxian had just suggested they burn the building down. He turns and stares straight ahead, at the Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan reflected in the elevator doors. Wei Wuxian wishes he could melt into that brass Wei Wuxian.

“It was — difficult,” Lan Zhan tells him, after a long moment. “To see you. So unwell.”

Wei Wuxian blinks. “What?”

“You collapsed,” Lan Zhan says. He persists in staring dead ahead, refusing to look at Wei Wuxian while he speaks. “I caught you. You were shaking. In the ambulance, they — you were very hot, and you wouldn’t wake up, and you were shaking, like… like you were going to dissolve. I thought you were going to die. The nurses said if we hadn’t been there to bring you in, you might have. You nearly did anyway.”

Wei Wuxian reaches out tentatively, taking his hand. He’s had this conversation with shijie, and Jiang Cheng. He let Jiang Cheng yell at him while viciously plumping his pillows and ate bowls and bowls and bowls of shijie’s Maladaptive Coping Mechanism Soup while she tearfully pet his head and treated him like a three-year-old. He hadn’t thought he needed to have it with Lan Zhan. He’d known, of course, that Lan Zhan had been worried for him, that he’d been upset that Wei Wuxian let himself get so sick without saying anything, but it just hadn’t occurred to him, that Lan Zhan had — caught him.

That he might have been scared. For Wei Wuxian.

He was just always so put together. Wei Wuxian forgot how good he was at hiding what mattered.

“Hey,” he murmurs. “Lan Zhan. Zhan-ge. Look at me.”

Lan Zhan does, reluctantly. His lips are pursed like he’s annoyed, but Wei Wuxian thinks that his expression lies, even if Lan Zhan never does.

“I’m okay,” he promises. “I’m really okay.”

Lan Zhan gives his hand a squeeze. “I know,” he says. “But that is why.”

“Why?”

“Why I did not come to see you.” He pauses, brow furrowing again. “I should have said so. I’ve hurt your feelings.”

Wei Wuxian feels his face heating. Lan fucking Zhan, always just saying stuff. Doesn’t he know the key to having feelings is not acknowledging them? Doesn’t he know the only way to survive the world is take everything into your hands and crush it into a tiny, condensed ball, and then swallow it and repress it so deep into yourself that eventually you forget where you put it?

“Feelings! Bah,” he mutters, weakly.

Lan Zhan’s look is as dry as it ever is. “I wanted to see you,” he says, ruthlessly, not a shred of mercy in him. “I wanted to see you healthy and well and back on your feet. I don’t like seeing you in pain. I want you to be happy always. I want to see you, happy, always.”

“Zhan-ge, babe, you gotta, you gotta stop,” Wei Wuxian says. He wants the floor of the elevator to fall out and take him with it. “This is horrible. This is literally the worst conversation I’ve ever had, and I once had a conversation with a police officer about how my parents were dead.”

It startles a horrified laugh out of Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian’s humor sometimes skews admittedly too dark, but his shijie isn’t the only one with maladaptive coping mechanisms, and anyway, Wei Wuxian can say anything true and secret as long as he’s kidding.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan scolds. “You can’t make jokes about that, it’s not kind.”

“To who? My parents? They don’t care. They’re dead. And they sucked. My dad was in a band called The Donkeys and forgot me at the venue one time.” Wei Wuxian remembers, vaguely, wandering around at three years old, not yet panicking but knowing that panic was coming, looking for his parents and finding only riotous adults who didn’t look twice at him until someone offered him a glass of something cold and bubbly that made the world tip sideways. Everyone had laughed when he hiccuped. Eventually his mom came running in, shouting at them, petting his head and murmuring apologies, whispering A-Ying, A-Ying, did you drink something? What was it? What did you drink?

Wei Wuxian had a bit about it that he did sometimes when he did stand-up. Everyone loved it. He’d turned it into a sketch his first year, a film-noir send up where a baby sits at a bar getting drunk and talking to the bartender about the dark goings-on at his daycare. It recurs sometimes; they’ve had hosts request it.

“To me,” Lan Zhan corrects. “I don’t want to laugh at things that were painful to you.”

Oh, Christ Jesus, Wei Wuxian thinks, the voice in his head a perfect mimic of his aunt, the kind of exasperated exhaustion at Wei Wuxian’s continued existence, except in this case it was the unrelenting terror of Lan Zhan’s ability to cut Wei Wuxian’s off at the knees simply by saying unhinged things like I don’t want to laugh at things that were painful to you. Who said that. Who said stuff like that. What kind of psychotic nonsense had gone on in the Lan house that made them think it was fine to just — say your feelings like that?

Have feelings and then know what they are and then say them?

He’s saved from responding by the elevator doors opening. Wei Wuxian has never been more grateful to anything, ever, in his life. He allows himself to get quickly swept up by Zizhen and Mianmian, who each grab one arm and start chattering to him about the Peacock Death Match sketch, because apparently word from Wen Chao in S&P is they’re not allowed to show Jin Zixuan’s viscera when he loses the fight, and “the guts are the whole point, like it’s not funny if you can’t see his peacock intestines.”

He waves over his shoulder at Lan Wangji, who’s getting cornered himself by Yinzhu and Jinzhu — something about speedo colors.

“I’ll talk to him,” Wei Wuxian promises, but Wen Chao hates him the most out of everybody that works at 30 Rock, which is impressive because Wen Chao hates everybody a lot. Honestly, it’s unclear why he even works there. Wei Wuxian feels like he’d be a lot happier working at some law firm where their primary clients were like, corporations suing mom and pop craft stores, or oil companies. He amends, “I’ll ask Lan Xichen to talk to Meng Yao. Probably we’re gonna have to add a disclaimer.”

“Cowards,” mutters Mianmian.

“You have to trust your audience,” Zizhen agrees. “Otherwise it’s just — just — patronizing moralist propaganda!”

Mianmian and Wei Wuxian look at him. Wei Wuxian says, “Okay, well, it’s a sketch about two peacocks fighting to death over a grape, so let’s not read too far into it.”

“It could be a metaphor,” Zizhen mutters. “You don’t know.”

“I know all anyone is gonna take from this is how funny the peacocks look in cowboy hats,” Wei Wuxian tells him dryly. “But I love the dedication you bring to your craft, bud. Keep it up.”

“About the cowboy hats,” Zizhen begins, but Wei Wuxian raises a hand to stop him.

“I know you hate the hats,” he interrupts. “But you can’t have an old west duel without cowboy hats. You just can’t. They won’t get it.”

“They’ve got the tumbleweed and the gun holsters!” Zizhen cries. “We don’t have to spoonfeed it!”

“We are on Saturday nights at midnight,” Mianmian tells him, not ungently. She pats his shoulder. “We do have to spoonfeed it. And also, it’s funny. Birds in hats are funny.”

“They’re wearing chaps.

“Birds in chaps are also very funny.”

Zizhen huffs at both of them and storms off. Wei Wuxian barks a laugh. “One day that kid is gonna write the world’s weirdest, eviscerating comedy special and it’s either gonna ruin his career forever or make him better than Berlant.”

“Nobody’s better than Berlant.”

“What about Bamford?”

“...Hm. You might have me with Bamford.”

Mianmian bumps their shoulders together before resting her chin against Wei Wuxian’s bicep, blinking fondly up at him. “Were we ever that dedicated to the art?” she muses. “I feel like I’d have made literally any change anyone wanted if it meant a sketch got to air when I was that new. I’d have sold out so fucking fast.”

“I’d have sold myself, my meager kin, my future children,” Wei Wuxian agrees. “There is nothing holy I would not have desecrated for five minutes of airtime.”

Mianmian snorts. “Please. You came this close to getting fired your first year for saying fuck onscreen. And don’t give me that ‘it was a slip-up’ bullshit, I know you did it on purpose.”

“The sketch needed it,” Wei Wuxian says, serenely. “And anyway, I didn’t get fired, because I was right and even Lan Qiren knew it.”

“You didn’t get fired because Lan Wangji claimed responsibility for it with his uncle,” Mianmian corrects, and doesn’t seem to notice Wei Wuxian’s full-body startle as she pulls away, fixing her hair and digging her phone from her pocket as it starts to ring. “I heard he said if you went he’d go, too, but that’s just what Meng Yao says, and we all know he’s a romantic at heart.”

Do we know that?” Wei Wuxian asks, instead of grabbing her by the shoulders and demanding she tell him everything she knows.

She waves her phone at him with a wince and then takes the call, disappearing down the hallway. Wei Wuxian stands frozen, watching her go. Surely she — surely that wasn’t true. Maybe ... maybe now, Lan Zhan might; now that he liked Wei Wuxian, and trusted him, now that they were — whatever they were. But not then. Not when every time he looked at Wei Wuxian it was with a glare that was working really hard to Force-choke him to death.

But Lan Zhan loves SNL. It’s in his blood. It’s literally his family business. He’d spent his whole life here, in and around 30 Rock, growing up toward being exactly where he is now, still growing toward Lan Qiren’s office. This is all Lan Zhan ever wanted to do. Wei Wuxian had spent time as a kid wanting to be a fireman, and then a magician, and a quantum physicist, and, briefly, a mortician; he’d never cared particularly what he was doing as long as he had the freedom to do it, hungry enough to eat the world.

Comedy had been the boat he’d built to travel it, because it was fun and hard and exciting and he was good at it, but not because it was a dream he’d nurtured since birth.

Lan Zhan’s humor is soft and warm and golden and comes from the core of him; Wei Wuxian’s is darker, less solid; he wears it like a smokescreen around him. He loves it, but it comes from the gallows of him, all his best bits.

And Lan Zhan had —

Even back then?

Even back then?

“Wei Wuxian, you’re just who I was looking for,” a warm voice says from behind him. He whirls around, eyes wide, and grabs Lan Xichen’s hands, squeezing tight. Lan Zhan’s brother looks startled, then bewildered, tilting his head to the side. “Is everything all right?”

“Lan Xichen,” Wei Wuxian blurts, heart a rabbit in his chest, “is it — do you remember — did Lan Zhan really say he’d quit if I was fired, back then? When I said fuck? Do you remember? It was, it was the first sketch we wrote together that made it to air, about a Gay Wizard Hot Spring, and S&P made us change the last line from ‘fucks’ to ‘makes love’ and I — on air, I said — ”

Lan Xichen’s brow furrows. He looks so much like Lan Zhan for a moment that Wei Wuxian instinctively drops his hands, as if he’s been caught in Lan Zhan’s tea drawer again. “As you know, I work mainly in scheduling and talent relations,” Lan Xichen tells him gently. “I’m not typically privy to meetings between staff and management.”

Wei Wuxian’s favorite thing about the Lan brothers is what assholes they can be, politely. He levels Lan Xichen with a look that makes the older Lan laugh, and then soften.

“All right. Yes, I remember. Wangji was very upset at the thought that you might be fired. He felt that the punishment didn’t fit the crime. And,” Lan Xichen’s voice turned wry, “it did get a bigger laugh than it had gotten at dress.”

Wei Wuxian feels dizzy. “And did he ... did he really say ... ”

“My brother is loyal,” Lan Xichen says. His voice, though gentle, holds a warning in it. “Once you’ve earned his affection, it’s very hard to shake, and there are few sacrifices he would not make for those he cares for. In my capacity as his brother, I have always worried that one day he will choose poorly, and be hurt.” He smiles. “In my capacity as external relationships manager, I have found solace in the weight that my poor opinion of someone could have on their career in creative circles, should anything happen.”

The threat brings Wei Wuxian back into his body, from which he had astral projected upon hearing the words few sacrifices he would not make. He blinks. Lan Xichen is still smiling politely, relaxed and easy in the hallway. To anyone watching them, it would look as if they were having a perfectly normal conversation. About. You know. Whatever Lan Xichen talked to people about. Scheduling.

“You know, people think Lan Zhan is the bitchier Lan brother,” he notes, bowing his head slightly to indicate that the threat has been heard. “But you’re just better at disguising it.”

“I did several commercials as a young child,” Lan Xichen agrees, cheerful again. “They said I was the best of all the Gerber babies. Now, I did come find you for a reason. I ran into Wen Qing downstairs — she asked me to tell you that they’re going to start filming the digital short. Your presence is requested.”

“Why didn’t she text me?”

“She did.”

Wei Wuxian checks his phone. It’s dead. He must have forgotten to charge it. he gives Lan Xichen a wincing grin and shoves it back into his pocket. “Right. Sorry. Where are they?”

“In the lobby. I believe you’re filming on location at Strangelove, but she’s still waiting for Coffin City to arrive. Ah Qing has gone ahead to wrangle the extras and, if I’m not mistaken, Xue Yang.”

Wei Wuxian bows his thanks and jogs back to the elevators. Lan Xichen starts back down the opposite direction, then pauses. As the doors ping and slide open, Wei Wuxian hears him say, quietly but distinctly, “My brother doesn’t like change, Wei Wuxian. He needs someone who will help him embrace it.”

The door slide close before he can pop his head out and ask him what the fuck that’s supposed to mean. Fucking enigmas, the Lans.

-

So far the digital short is an unmitigated disaster of the absolute best kind.

Wei Wuxian always loves the chaos of filming; he likes the shorts because they allow for production, for getting things exactly right, and for a little more surrealism, post-production giving them the freedom to add elements that aren’t possible in live performance. They’ve packed the dive bar full of extras made up to look drunk and a little grimy. Xue Yang is playing the bartender, and he refuses to stop heavily flirting with Xiao Xingchen, even though his character isn’t meant to.

“It’s, like, his motivation,” Xue Yang pouts at Wen Qing when she snaps at him about it.

“He’s a bartender in a sketch about karaoke,” Wen Qing snaps back. “He has no motivation.”

“All characters have motivations. It’s where the comedy comes from.”

“Fine. His motivation is that money can be exchanged for goods and services.”

Xue Yang smirks. “Yes. And what gets tips better than flirting with customers?”

Wen Qing steeples her hands in front of her face, taking a long, slow breath. “Fine,” she says after a beat. “You can be a slutty bartender. But say the correct lines at the correct times or you’ll be a slutty bartender without a left pinkie, do you understand?”

“Oh captain, my captain,” Xue Yang drawls, saluting.

Wen Qing turns back to the stage. At the beginning of the short, Wang Lingjiao drunkenly sings two lines of a song to great applause, before the band takes the stage to perform the world’s saddest version of Three Blind Mice. She keeps overperforming it, and doing a weird striptease type of dance that was ... not in the script.

“In her defense, it’s really funny,” Ah Qing sighs at Wei Wuxian’s side. “Like, she does look like a drunk woman performing Toxic.”

“Bad person, good actress,” Wei Wuxian agrees. “Right — Qing-jie, reset?”

Everyone heads back to their marks; Xue Yang hangs over the bar, smiling at Xiao Xingcheng, pretending to buy a beer, like he was trying to pick an apple using only his teeth. If he had tits, they’d be all the way out. He is tapping my tits are out in Morse code on the bar with a bottle opener, which Wei Wuxian bets he thinks no one notices, but Wei Wuxian was exactly the kind of kid who taught himself Morse code in middle school to say rude things to his principal every time he was sent to the office. Which was often.

Behind Xiao Xingcheng, Song Lan is tapping a furious foot beside him, arms crossed. Wei Wuxian suspects that they will just have to embrace this dynamic as part of the skit.

They finish Wang Lingjiao’s cut, then adjust the lighting to catch the first proper scene at the bar. Xiao Xingcheng gets his beer, Xue Yang suggests that they sing, and Song Lan says, “Ah, we’re no good at singing.”

“I’ll bet you’re better than you think,” Xue Yang purrs, reaching out to trace Xiao Xingcheng’s cheek. “Give it the old college try.”

He winks at the camera. Wei Wuxian is pretty sure ‘the old college try’ wasn’t a euphemism for sex until just this moment, but Xue Yang performs admirably with the tools he’s been given.

Behind the camera, Wen Qing rolls her eyes. Ah Qing pinches the bridge of her nose.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to just do one,” Xiao Xingcheng muses, very seriously.

“Mmmm, yeah,” gasps Xue Yang, fluttering his eyelashes. “Just do one. Just do it.”

Song Lan closes his eyes, very slowly, and huffs out a furious breath. “Fine. We’ll sing,” he grits out. He yanks Xiao Xingcheng’s drink from his hand and slams it onto the counter — which was not in the script — before dragging him over to the stage.

“Cut,” yells Wen Qing.

She and Wei Wuxian look at one another. Her expression says that was terrible. Wei Wuxian uses his eyebrows to say back yeah but funny terrible. She nods her head, accepting this, and also accepting that they’re on a tight shooting schedule and it’s too late to recast Xue Yang, probably. Wei Wuxian wouldn’t fit into the hipster bartender costume.

Wen Qing sighs, then nudges Ah Qing and murmurs something in her ear. Ah Qing laughs, then calls out, “All right, boys! You were both awful. So bad, every second.”

Song Lan flicks her off, but he looks considerably more cheerful now that there’s distance between Xiao Xingchen and Xue Yang; for his part, Xiao Xingchen beams. “That means she really liked it,” he tells the room at large. “Shall we go onto the performance?”

Xiao Xingcheng sits at the piano; Song Lan pulls out his violin. They dim the lights and set up the cameras to get close-ups first; they’ll get the wide shots after.

“Mark!” Ah Qing calls. “Action!”

A spotlight opens up on Xiao Xingchen. He plucks a slow, morose chord progression; they’d shifted the melody into a minor key, and it sounds oddly haunting in the grungy bar.

“This is a song is sometimes thought to be a metaphor about the murder of Protestant bishops during the reign of Queen Mary I of England,” he intones as Song Lan twists a melody around him. “It’s called Three Mice, Blind.”

By the time he’s done, there’s genuinely not a dry eye in the room. Even Wen Qing is blinking rapidly, dragging her sleeve across her eyes.

“What the fuck,” she mutters. “You did not have to go that hard. God. Those poor mice, what the fuck.”

Sometimes Wei Wuxian really loves his job.

-

By the time Wei Wuxian gets back to 30 Rock, he’s buzzing. Filming always does this to him; his blood zips with it, cheeks flushed. He loves writing for live performance, but there’s something magical about pre-taped stuff, and all he can think about is getting his hands on the rough cuts to shape it into something steeped in jokes. The camera cuts, the lighting cues, the music; everything is part of it. You don’t just write jokes, you write environments, and it’s — good. It’s so good.

He thinks, fleetingly, of his pilot.

Of a show. A whole show, all his, to make into what he wants it to be.

He’d written the pilot because he was bored, and lonely, and Lan Zhan wouldn’t come see him, and he’d had this idea, this — stupid tiny spark of an idea, about a head writer of an sketch show full of the world’s weirdest people, and his co-writer, who’s the straight man in line delivery only.

Wei Wuxian wants the audience to think he’s the straight man for most of the pilot, almost the whole thing, bit then at the very end, the last scene before the credits, you see him open the door to his office and see that it’s decorated entirely in gaudy bunny paraphernalia and realize oh, he’s as weird as the rest of them.

He shakes his head. He’s happy here. He can be happy here. He can’t — he can’t leave Lan Zhan. Not when he’s only just realized how much he wants him. Not when he’s only just realized how much he’d be leaving behind if he ... left.

Lan Zhan is sitting in his office when Wei Wuxian gets back, frowning at his laptop. His glance flickers up when Wei Wuxian comes in and he flashes a smile, then looks back down at the laptop.

“Jinzhu really is going to win an Emmy for this Hulk design,” he says, without looking up again. “And I’ve got three revisions done — Secondhand Murder’s getting shortened, and King Midas is getting two extra minutes because the cum-to-gold effect takes a bit more time than we thought. I think we need to punch up the middle bit of Tortoise of Laughter; either we tighten it up and add another sketch to fill space or we find a way to mine more out of the basic premise, which will be tough because the basic premise is just that Tortoise of Slaughter was a stupid movie.”

“We could take time from Gay Hamlet for King Midas instead of Secondhand Murder,” Wei Wuxian proposes, flinging himself onto the couch and looking at Lan Zhan upside-down.

Lan Zhan frowns at him. “Gay Hamlet is just a word-for-word performance of a scene from Hamlet,” he reminds him flatly. “I’m not going to edit Shakespeare.”

“Honestly, I think Shakespeare could have done with the Raymond Carver treatment myself,” Wei Wuxian says, just to see Lan Zhan’s eyebrow tic. “I mean, what was The Merchant of Venice even about, other than anti-semitism?”

Lan Zhan pauses, then shrugs. “Not all of them can be winners,” he admits. “Anyway, I’m not trimming Gay Hamlet. The longer it goes without any changes the funnier it is. I’m taking it from Secondhand Murder. There’s a lot of faff in the middle; we can cut one of the repeats.”

Wei Wuxian gives in with a shrug. He likes Secondhand Murder, but he trusts Lan Zhan’s judgment on it.

“When you’re in charge we should petition NBC for fewer ads and longer runtime,” he jokes. “Then nothing has to get axed.”

Lan Zhan pauses. He looks up from his computer, frowns a little, and asks, “We?”

“Well,” Wei Wuxian stutters, throat closing suddenly, “I mean. Unless you’re planning to fire me when you’re head honcho.”

“Head honcho,” Lan Zhan repeats slowly. He blinks. “Wei Ying. I’m not taking it.”

Wei Wuxian sits up so fast he goes blind for a second.

What?” he yelps, sure he’s heard wrong except for how of course he knows he hasn’t heard wrong. “Wait. What? Lan Zhan. You’ve always wanted to be an exec. You could develop all the other project ideas you’ve always talked about. You could start, like, eight hundred new satirical news shows. You’d love that job.”

Lan Zhan shrugs. He closes his laptop and folds his hands primly over the top of it, looking steadily at Wei Wuxian. “Maybe,” he agrees. “But I love this job. With you.”

Everything goes quiet.

My brother doesn’t like change. He needs someone who can help him embrace it, Lan Xichen’s voice says in his head, unbidden.

If you went, he’d go too, adds Mianmian.

Are we playing a game? Lan Zhan asks, this morning in the kitchen, looking at Wei Wuxian with a patience that he has never, ever earned.

“But why?” he manages to ask. “Lan Zhan. That’s — you don’t have to. Take the job. Of course you have to take the job.”

There’s a long quiet, and then Lan Zhan says, seemingly as a non-sequitur, “I don’t often get the chance to see my uncle.”

Wei Wuxian blinks, but indulges him. “You see him, like, every day,” he corrects. “We literally saw him yesterday afternoon.”

“Briefly, for meetings,” Lan Zhan agrees. “And for a meal on Sunday. But otherwise, our schedules largely keep us apart. We have different responsibilities.”

And oh, Wei Wuxian realizes, all at once: Lan Zhan loves him.

Lan Zhan loves him, is in love with him, has maybe been in love with him this whole time, and Wei Wuxian never noticed. Wei Wuxian has joked about their one-night stand a hundred times. Wei Wuxian has hurt him again and again and again.

Wei Wuxian wrote a pilot. Wei Wuxian was going to leave.

Lan Zhan is sitting at his desk, calm as anything, throwing away the only future he’s ever wanted for himself, for a Wei Wuxian who has been ... careless. With him. For a Wei Wuxian who has never been careful with anything at all.

“We’d still see each other,” he says weakly.

“Not enough,” says Lan Zhan, like it’s simple, like trading his most closely-held dreams for the prize of Wei Wuxian is an obvious choice.

Wei Wuxian holds himself very still. It would be so easy, he thinks, to take what is being offered. The easiest thing in the world. They could stay just like this, for as long as NBC would have them. They’d be the longest-lasting head writer team in SNL history. They’d — they’d see cast members come and go, they’d stay through presidential changes and NBC executive changes, they’d — chafe against upper management. Be chained to the format. Never be allowed to experiment, make changes, innovate.

Lan Zhan has always wanted to produce. He’s always wanted to create space for people to thrive in. He’s always wanted to shape the path and let other people walk it.

And Wei Wuxian —

Wei Wuxian wrote a pilot.

Would you take it?” he asks. “If I was gone?”

Lan Zhan sighs. “It does no good to deal in theoreticals,” he mutters, but the way his eyes drop down to the laptop is a clear yes. “Wei Ying, stop worrying. It’s my decision. I’ve put a lot of thought into it.”

“...Okay,” Wei Wuxian acquiesces, the word like a shard of glass in his throat. “Yeah. Okay.”

There are few sacrifices he would not make, says Lan Xichen.

In his pocket, Wei Wuxian’s hand tightens around his dead phone.

-

He passes the rest of the day in what he can only describe as an anxiety spiral, which is to say he experiences an extraordinary amount of anxiety and shows exactly none of it, blaming his shaky hands on Red Bull consumption.

“I thought Lan Wangji was weaning you off those,” Jin Ling accuses him.

“I’m an adult,” Wei Wuxian informs him, primly.

Jin Ling snorts. “Barely,” he mutters.

He and Nie Huaisang make heavy edits to the Hulk XXL sketch, which in Wei Wuxian’s defense had been written in fifteen minutes while he was in a haze of snacks and Lan Zhan and sleep deprivation. Wei Wuxian tries repeatedly to give it to Jiang Cheng, but Nie Huaisang does that thing where he pretends to agree in a way that makes it clear he’ll lie and cajole to get his way behind Wei Wuxian’s back, so as of the end of the day it’s still starring Lan Zhan. It feels like a problem for Later Wei Wuxian.

By the time they’re done, his vision is swimming and he’s desperate for bed. He lets Lan Zhan bundle him into a cab and then into the apartment, and watches while he runs a bath and then feeds his hungry bunnies, late today because Lan Xichen got stuck at the office.

He’d have a more regular schedule if he was the executive producer.

Great, Wei Wuxian thinks. I’m also responsible for his starving rabbits.

When he turns around, the lights from the street make a halo around the back of his head. He looks tired, and a little disheveled, and a lot soft, and Wei Wuxian has never loved anything so much in his life. He’s choking on it.

“Lan Zhan,” he manages.

Lan Zhan reaches out his hands and draws Wei Wuxian toward him, wrapping him up close. It could be like this. If they both just gave up their carefully cultivated dreams, it could be just this, forever.

Wei Wuxian wants it so badly the desire tastes like blood in his mouth.

But there is a pilot on his computer that wants to be made. There is a desk in 30 Rock that needs Lan Zhan in it. They could make each other happy, but they couldn’t make each other satisfied, if they were all they had.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to be the thing Lan Zhan gives up all other things for.

“Let’s take a bath,” he murmurs, pulling away. Lan Zhan is soft in the city lights, and Wei Wuxian can’t bear to look at him so he kisses him instead, warm and slow. Lan Zhan’s hand is large and gentle on his cheek; he’s always gentle with Wei Wuxian. He doesn’t know how he’s never noticed before.

Wei Wuxian is pretty sure Lan Zhan had meant the bath to be for Wei Wuxian only, but Wei Wuxian feels suddenly that if he isn’t touching Lan Zhan constantly, he will die. He will shrivel like a grape. When he disappears into his bedroom to deposit his clothes in the laundry hamper like a sociopath, rather than leaving them in a disgusting pile on the floor like Wei Wuxian has done, Wei Wuxian feels like he’s starving to death for every second until he returns. He waits miserably in the warm water, hair fanned out around him, frowning at the door until Lan Zhan reappears and settles him.

Lan Zhan climbs into the tub. Wei Wuxian watches the pull of the abdominal muscles that are Banned, the flex of his biceps which are also Banned, and the tug of his mouth into a half smile when he realizes he’s being watched, which is the most Banned thing of all.

He pulls Lan Zhan’s arms around him and settles back against his chest. He leans his head back against Lan Zhan’s shoulder and lets Lan Zhan nuzzle in behind his ear before biting down.

“Wei Ying,” he murmurs, hand trailing down Wei Ying’s chest, across his belly button, onto his dick. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes. He wants to hit pause on the remote and freeze himself here, like this. No more decisions to make. No more tough calls. No more cuts for time.

He pushes back against where Lan Zhan’s dick is stirring, shifting his hips until he gets the tiny, shaky breath he was chasing. He wants — God, he wants to just fuck Lan Zhan right now, right here, in the fucking bathtub, no prep, no lube, nothing at all, a bad experience probably but Wei Wuxian doesn’t care. Wei Wuxian wants it to hurt.

But Lan Zhan has always been so careful with him, and he wants, more than any of that, to be careful back. Just once. Just this one time.

Luckily for him, the clawfoot bathtub is big enough that he can spin around in it, never leaving the circle of Lan Zhan’s arms, and sit with his knees bent on either side of Lan Zhan’s thighs. The hard marble doesn’t feel great, but that’s fine, that’s good; Wei Wuxian likes the ache in his knees as he takes a hand around both of them and strokes, careful and sure, watching Lan Zhan’s face. His eyes have drifted shut. His hand comes up, trembling a little, to wrap around Wei Wuxian’s, and together they pull themselves slowly through the bathwater toward orgasm, their own little boat. Wei Wuxian rocks up and Lan Zhan rocks back, water splashing onto the floor; Lan Zhan peels his eyes open but Wei Wuxian kisses him before he can see whatever is happening on Wei Wuxian’s face.

He tightens his grip. Lan Zhan tightens his, too. Wei Wuxian is in his house, in his tub, in his arms. All of Wei Wuxian’s favorite places. With his free hand he buries his fingers in Lan Zhan’s hair and says nothing, doesn’t trust himself to speak.

Lan Zhan whispers, “Wei Ying. What do you want?”

Everything, Wei Wuxian thinks. This, and his pilot, and an SNL under Lan Zhan’s control, and more bunnies, and to lay around all day doing nothing but being in love with him like some sort of idiot. He wants Lan Zhan to be happy. He wants Lan Zhan to be satisfied. He cannot have all these things at once.

“This is good,” he says, which is not an answer, and bucks into his hand.

Lan Zhan chuckles against him. “We’ll have to get out right after,” he says. “The water will be dirty.”

“Not to be the most disgusting person you’ve ever fucked but I would bathe in your cum water any day,” Wei Wuxian says. “I’ll bet it’s good for the skin. I’ll bet it will give me a pregnancy glow.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes darken, which is interesting, and then he’s moving their hands faster, and before Wei Wuxian can fully process what’s happening he’s coming over both of their hands, and Lan Zhan is following him. He looks down at the cloudy water between them and feels himself grinning like a gremlin.

When he looks up, Lan Zhan is already frowning at him. “No,” Lan Zhan tells him flatly, brooking no argument, and then is standing, pulling them both from the bath and wrapping Wei Wuxian in a towel. Wei Wuxian pouts, but lets him, pushing in for a kiss. He lets Lan Zhan walk him backwards, out of the living room and into the hallway, through the bedroom door. He feels the bed knock against the backs of his knees and sits, pulling Lan Zhan down onto his lap, thighs bracketing Wei Wuxian’s. His hair drops onto the bedspread.

Lan Zhan wraps both arms around the back of Wei Wuxian’s head, anchoring him, hugging him so tightly. He feels — grounded. He feels like he’s been hovering his whole life and now, here, for the first time, his feet know what grass feels like.

He sighs. It’s nice here. He wishes he could stay.

Lan Zhan leans forward, pushing until Wei Wuxian takes the hint and goes back until his head hits the mattress. Lan Zhan pulls away, a hand on either side of Wei Wuxian’s ears, and then brings one to cup the top of his head. With his thumb, he strokes gently at Wei Wuxian’s brow. He leans down and kisses him again, but firmer this time, teeth catching on Wei Wuxian’s lower lip. Wei Wuxian hopes it bruises. He always hopes it bruises.

The moment feels quiet. It hurts his heart, the softness of it, the blurred edges.

“Lan Zhan,” he croaks, through the lump in his throat. He thinks his eyes might be wet. He drags Lan Zhan down, a comforting weight, so that he can’t see if they are. “Thank you.”

Lan Zhan chuckles against him, then bullies him unto a more comfortable position. They lay like that, their breath trapped and warm between them. Wei Wuxian won’t be able to sleep like this, but it doesn’t matter; he’s not planning to. He curls up into Lan Zhan’s chest and lets Lan Zhan run his fingers through Wei Wuxian’s hair, over and over.

“For what?” Lan Zhan asks. “Kissing?”

“Yeah, that,” Wei Wuxian answers. “And for — letting me stay.” In his house. In his life. At SNL, all those years ago. “Thank you, and I’m sorry. If I’ve ever made it hard.”

“Wei Ying is never hard to be around,” Lan Zhan says, which must surely be a lie because Wei Wuxian has met himself. He knows what he’s like. “It’s my favorite place to be.”

Wei Wuxian keeps his eyes closed. Fuck. Fuck. He’s definitely going to cry.

“Ahh, get lost,” he jokes weakly, and then presses kisses to Lan Zhan’s mouth until it goes slack with sleep.

-

INTERLUDE

Lan Xichen wakes to the sound of knocking.

His bedside clock claims that it is five in the morning. Lan Xichen does not believe this, because no one he knows would knock on his door at five in the morning.

Nevertheless, it is impolite to leave a door unanswered, so Lan Xichen pushes himself out of bed, careful not to wake Meng Yao, and pads to the door. When he looks through the peephole, he sees the disheveled head of —

“Wangji?” he asks, pulling the door open so fast he nearly catches a toe. “What’s happened? Are you all right?”

His brother’s eyes are pinched. He looks the way he’d looked the night that Wei Wuxian collapsed, shaky and sallow, his breathing uneven. He holds out a piece of paper and Lan Xichen takes it carefully.

The note is written in what can only be described as abominable handwriting, the letters squished together almost illegibly, but he manages to make it out. It says: aha sorry Lan Zhan!! you fell asleep + I didn’t want to wake you — I have early early early meetings with a bunch of networks to sell my show the next few days + didn’t want to bother you so I went back to the Jiangs’. I’ll probably just stick around there til the apartment gets fixed so you don’t have to put up with my mess~ see you at dress!

Lan Xichen looks up. His brother’s mouth is a straight line.

“Oh, Wangji,” Lan Xichen says. “Come in.”

Chapter Text

There is a story that Lan Wangji’s mother used to tell him, about a jade rabbit, Yùtù. He lived on the moon with the goddess Cháng’é, as her companion. Cháng’é was often lonely, because she alone had drunk the elixir of life, to prevent her husband’s greedy apprentice from getting it. But this meant that she was forced to leave Earth, and her husband in it, because the world is not meant for things which neither wither nor renew.

She could not make the elixir herself; only the rabbit could. But: she had the rabbit, and he had her. They spent their days making each other laugh, mixing the elixir which only they could drink.

One day, a terrible plague struck the world, and Cháng’é begged the jade rabbit to make the elixir to cure it. The jade rabbit loved her desperately, and would have done anything to make her smile; so he did, even though it meant they had to part, and that while he was on Earth he would be subject to all of Earth’s withering demands. He traveled to Earth in disguise, giving the elixir to the sick and curing them. But the jade rabbit was not Earth’s creature, and he suffered, growing old and sick himself.

When at last he had cured all who needed it, the rabbit was too weak to return home and no elixir remained to revive him.

Lonely and dying, he lay down in a field and looked up at the clear sky, to his home. From their palace, Cháng’é saw her beloved companion dying. Realizing that she could not save him, Cháng’é began to weep, and her tears, filled with all the elixir she herself had drunk, fell as rain upon the rabbit, healing him. He returned to the moon palace and her side, where he remains to this day, mixing enough elixir to ensure that she never has to weep again.

His mother used to call him Yùtù, when he was allowed to visit her. His mother, who was often lonely, who often wept. Yùtù, whose presence sealed up the tears and made her laugh instead.

Lan Wangji took his job seriously because comedy was important. Laughter was the thing you had when you had nothing else. It was the warm circle of his mother’s arms, whose size diminished with illness but whose warmth never did. It was sitting beside his brother in front of the TV when they didn’t know where their father was, saying lines along with their favorite films and trying to do old Buster Keaton stunts.

It was long nights with Wei Ying, laughing like he never laughed with anyone else, bouncing off each other with the kind of frenetic energy that he’d thought was for other people.

He’d gone into television because his mother had loved it, and because she’d been lonely, and he’d wanted to make enough laughter that it would echo in the room even when he wasn’t in it. Enough laughter that all her illnesses would evaporate from her, like morning fog after a long night of rain. He could make the elixir and he could cry it, he’d thought.

And then Wei Ying had come blistering into his life and the joy of him said: it’s supposed to be fun, Lan Zhan. Said: it’s not worth doing if it doesn’t make you feel good.

Said: you’re supposed to drink the elixir, too.

INTERLUDE: YANLI

A-Xian shows up with his backpack and a smile that shatters the second Yanli opens the door.

“Please don’t ask,” he says, not meeting her eyes. His voice wobbles. “Shijie, please. Please.

Yanli opens her mouth, then closes it again. She takes him in: still too skinny, still too tired, his hands shaking. Yanli had loved him desperately the first moment she saw him, blinking up at her from where he was sitting under a desk, hiding from the Crimson’s editor who was trying to get someone to write a piece on football. He’d dragged her down under the table with him, finger over his lips. And just like that, they were in cahoots.

Yanli had never been in cahoots with anybody. She’d mostly been quiet, and ignored.

And then there was A-Xian, who’d called her A-Li fifteen minutes into knowing her, and shijie thirty minutes after that, when she’d talked one of the other writers into taking the football piece.

He does so many stupid things. Sometimes she thinks he might do them even knowing that they’re stupid, because he doesn’t know how to make choices that won’t hurt him. Maybe he thinks it’s safer, to choose hurt; maybe he thinks the hurt you chose is less painful than the hurt you didn’t.

But hurt is hurt, Yanli knows. It hurts the same whether or not you chose it.

She sighs and opens the door. “A-Xian,” she murmurs, opening up her arms and letting him step into it.

“Don’t ask,” he begs again, into her shoulder, and then tells her anyway: “The good news is, I have meetings to sell the show. The bad news is I realized Lan Zhan is in love with me and was going to throw away his dream job about it, so we broke up.”

She takes a moment to process this, threading her hands through his hair. She thinks about saying love doesn’t have to hurt you. She thinks about saying he’s allowed to make his choices. She thinks about saying why are you the only one allowed to make sacrifices?

She thinks about saying you did this to him on a Friday of all days?

She knocks their heads together gently and says, “Come in. We’ve still got your bed made up.”

-

INTERLUDE: MENG YAO

Meng Yao waits in the bedroom, pretending to be asleep. He doesn’t think that Huan-ge, bless him, would be upset if Lan Wangji learned of their, hm, liaison, but Meng Yao has always believed discretion to be the better part of valor, and anyway, Lan Wangji will definitely tell Wei Wuxian, who will tell the Jiangs, and after that it’s anyone’s guess. Meng Yao himself had heard within the day about Wei Wuxian’s pilot, from Jin Rusong, of all people.

He’s an accountant, for God’s sake. You were bad at secrets if you couldn’t even keep the math people out of it.

Meng Yao listens through the door. Huan-ge has always said Meng Yao’s ability to listen is his greatest asset, and he is correct, but not for the reasons he thinks.

“Wangji,” Huan-ge says gently, voice warm with worry, “tell me what happened.”

Lan Wangji is quiet for a long moment, which is standard conversational fare with him. “I asked for too much,” he explains eventually, clipped. “He spoke of staying. So did I. Evidently this was a mistake.”

Meng Yao frowns.

That can’t be right. As of his last intelligence update, Wei Wuxian had been planning to scrap his pilot entirely in order to essentially spend the rest of his life calling for smelling salts every time Lan Wangji flashed so much as an ankle.

“Oh... dear,” says Huan-ge.

Meng Yao’s attention sharpens. He knows that tone. His b — liaison has done something he regrets.

Huan-ge has been meddling.

Another time, this would fill Meng Yao with amused delight, like when children confidently add three to seven and get five. But as it happens, Meng Yao is in the middle of a very delicate piece of workplace machinations, which could go toppling completely if key pieces go wrong.

Also, his bo — his Hua — his liaison sounds upset. Hm.

He doesn’t, precisely, care for this.

“It’s fine,” Lan Wangji says tonelessly, despite the fact that he has shown up at his brother’s apartment unannounced at five in the morning to do whatever it is that Lan Wangji does instead of crying.

Meditation, Meng Yao assumes. Self-flagellation in the form of one lash per emotion he has allowed to show on his face. He and Wei Wuxian have been living together for, what, three days? So at least thirty.

He honestly cannot believe that Wei Wuxian has done this to them both on a Friday. The busiest, worst of all days to do it. He thinks that at the very least Wei Wuxian could have given some deference to 30 Rock’s incredibly hectic schedule.

“Well,” Huan-ge offers tentatively, “perhaps it is ... better this way? You can take the EP job, and Wei Wuxian can sell his show. Perhaps in a few years, when things have settled — ”

Lan Wangji makes a sound like he’s been branded. “No,” he interrupts, which startles Meng Yao so badly he nearly knocks over a lamp.

“ ... No?” Huan-ge repeats. “Wangji. This is your dream. Ever since you were old enough to understand how television worked, you wanted to be the one who got to be in charge of it. I’ve never seen a more disdainful seven-year-old critiquing news program formats. Uncle banned you from the studio at age nine because you made one of the executives cry.”

The sulking from Lan Wangji is so loud Meng Yao can practically hear it. He mutters, “That was before.”

“Wangji, you dated him for four days.”

Ah, four days. So forty lashes, then.

“It’s not that,” Lan Wangji answers. He sounds ... Meng Yao can’t place it. “It’s ... not because of my feelings.”

Meng Yao smothers a snort. He’s only been sleeping with Huan-ge for a few months, but he already knows that the Lan brothers don’t do “casual.” He’d planned to do it for reasons of professional development, but now he’s probably going to end up fucking married to him, for ... normal reasons. He blanches.

“Then what is it,” Huang-ge asks, exasperation finally creeping into his tone. “Wangji, work with me here.”

“Do you remember when mom was sick,” Lan Wangji asks, a total non-sequitur far as Meng Yao can tell, “and we would do skits for her, when we were allowed to visit the hospital?”

There’s a hesitant beat. Then Huan-ge says, quiet, “You’d get so mad when I forgot my lines. You said my improvisations weren’t funny enough.” Meng Yao is given to understand that the Lans do not often talk about their mother. Huang-ge sometimes mentions her in a tone that suggests if Meng Yao asks even one follow-up question, Huang-ge will be forced to spend a minimum of three years meditating in total seclusion.

“Laughter is the elixir of life,” Lan Wangji murmurs, as if he is quoting something.

There’s a smile in Huan-ge’s voice. “I remember. You were Yùtù.”

Meng Yao recalls: Yùtù, the jade rabbit who lived with the moon goddess Cháng’é, making the potion to grant eternal life, and —

Ah.

Eternal life, and a cure for all illnesses.

“Mn,” says Lan Wangji. “And then she died.”

“Oh, Wangji,” Huan-ge breathes out, and Meng Yao resigns himself to burning down the world to ensure he never sounds like that again. “It wasn’t your fault. She was sick. You couldn’t have — ”

“I know. But she was lonely.”

Another pause. “You got into television because you — you wanted to make programs that would have made her laugh?”

“Laughter,” mutters Lan Wangji again, stubbornly, “is the elixir of life.”

“Wangji ... ” Huan-ge’s voice is muffled, like he’s buried his face in his hands. “I don’t understand. If that’s the case, why won’t you take the job?”

Silence. Eventually, Lan Wangji grinds out, “It was… it felt like a duty. Before. And then Wei Ying made it feel ... ” He lets go of a long, resigned sigh. Meng Yao can relate; he’s been here for five minutes of dredging Lan Wangji for a crumb of emotional honesty and he’s already exhausted.

Huang-ge waits. Huan-ge is the most patient person Meng Yao knows, excluding Meng Yao himself.

When Lan Wangji speaks again, his voice is small. “Ge. It was fun. He made it really fun.”

Meng Yao pinches the bridge of his nose.

God.

Fucking ... Lans.

“Didi,” says Huan-ge, voice breaking, and Meng Yao sighs. Fine. Fine. He can move some things around and meddle in this, for Huan-ge’s sake.

He’s definitely going to have to cancel his brunch plans.

The things people do for love.

-

INTERLUDE: NIE HUAISANG

Honestly, the vibe? Is weird as fuck.

Nie Huaisang doesn’t know what happened between last night and this morning, but what he does know is that when he gets to 30 Rock, Wei Wuxian is in his own office, which is, just, like, repulsive, and Sizhui is basically in tears in the break room, and Jin Ling keeps stomping around yelling at people as if he has a single iota of authority in this building, which Nie Huaisang is going to let slide because he’s clearly under emotional duress.

Zizhen is miserably doodling cartoons on a napkin in his shared green room when Nie Huaisang pokes his head in.

“So, what the fuck,” he asks.

Zizhen droops further. Jingyi, looking up from his phone, says, “Mom and Dad had a fight. Nobody knows what it’s about but they aren’t speaking to each other.”

“God, a fight on a Friday?” Nie Hausiang whines, then processes what Zizhen has said. “Wait. They aren’t speaking to each other? Two years ago Wei Wuxian shattered Lan Wangji’s Emmy and they just ... went out for lunch.”

“Yeah, it sucks,” Zizhen mutters. “Momxian looks like he’s going to cry.”

“It’s probably his fault, anyway,” Jingyi snaps. “Dadji’s like, obsessed with him. He doesn’t even say enough stuff to say anything bad.”

“Silence itself can be hurtful,” Zizhen sniffs.

“Jesus Christ,” says Nie Huaisang, and removes himself from the situation. This is what he gets for going to the children first. The children always get emotionally invested.

He goes to the source instead, not bothering to knock on Lan Wangji’s door even though it’s closed. What’s Lan Wangji going to do, fire him? He can’t. Da-ge would never let him.

Lan Wangji looks up from his desk. Even Nie Huaisang can tell that he’s in a miserable mood, though if you asked him to describe the difference between Lan Wangji’s miserable face and his absolutely normal face, he could not have.

“Wow,” Nie Huaisang says, flinging himself into the seat across the desk. “It is grim in here.”

Lan Wangji sighs. He does not lower his laptop screen in a gesture of attention, which is how Nie Huaisang knows he’s not even going to pretend to engage in social conventions during this conversation. But that’s fine. Lowkey Nie Huaisang thinks that Lan Wangji’s utter lack of social graces is, like, an incredible bit. He wishes they’d put him in more sketches.

“What do you need,” Lan Wangji asks flatly.

“Can’t I check in on an old friend?” Nie Huaisang asks, giving his voice an innocent lilt and tilting it up at the end.

“I’m your boss,” Lan Wangji corrects him.

“Can’t I manage up?” amends Nie Huaisang.

Lan Wangji closes his eyes for a second, then opens them again. He looks — yikes. He looks fucking yikes. “I notice I have been cast in Magic Hulk XXL,” he notes, instead of answering.

Nie Huaisang nods seriously. “A little bird told me that you’ve got sick moves and an uncontrollable sexual energy. Felt apropos.”

“Cast someone else.”

“Shan’t.”

Lan Wangji’s keystrokes get angrier. “Cast someone else.

“Chief, there is no one else. Everyone else needs to be on deck for following skits or is already in it. You want me to make Sizhui a sexy Hulk? You want me to sexualize Sizhui?”

“Why can’t you do it?”

Nie Huaisang lets himself laugh just hard enough to be insulting, but not so hard that it seems intentional. “I dance for personal enjoyment or as sexual foreplay, but never for money,” he sniffs, nose in the air. “Also, my dad watches the show, and honestly? I’d rather be dead.”

Lan Wangji raises his eyebrows in a way that Nie Huaisang assumes is meant to remind him that Lan Wangji’s whole family works for NBC and presumably therefore also watches the show.

“Yeah, but you guys are like, show people,” Nie Huaisang dismisses, waving a hand in the air. “My dad lives in Iowa. He coaches high school football.

It would not be accurate to say that Lan Wangji’s face registers surprise. But there is a certain shift in his aura that implies surprise, which means Nie Huaisang has won.

“Iowa,” Lan Wangji repeats.

“Me Iowa, you Jane,” Nie Huaisang confirms. “Field of Dreams me on it.”

Lan Wangji points at his door. “Get out of my office,” he commands. “Recast the sketch.”

“I will not!” Nie Huaisang sing-songs, climbing to his feet. “I absolutely will not. PS. What happened with Wei Wuxian?”

Lan Wangji says nothing, which of course tells Nie Huaisang everything, and can he just say: it’s going to be a weird fucking episode.

-

INTERLUDE: WEN QING

The costumes for the Sandwich Opera sketch are extraordinary, like everything that Yinzhu and Jinzhu make. Wen Qing would honestly not be surprised to learn that the bread was real. It would be exactly like Jinzhu to have an oven somewhere large enough to bake adult-human-sized sourdough. Jiang Cheng, who had his lettuce fitting early so that he could be fit for his peacock costume, had been weirdly insistent that the bread be ‘good quality.’

“I look stupid,” Wang Lingjiao whines. She’s bread. Beside her, Yanli looks equally ridiculous in her bacon costume; Jin Zixuan, somewhat irritatingly, is kind of pulling off being a slice of tomato. He looks fresh.

“Yes,” agrees Wen Qing, clipped. “That is the point. Jinzhu, is it possible to make Jin Zixuan look just a little more — mushy? I’m going for Subway vibes, not artisanal deli.”

“This bread is better than Subway,” Jinzhu sniffs. “Jiang Cheng — ”

“I know what Jiang Cheng said, and he can have his fancy bread,” Wen Qing interrupts. “I need a mushier tomato. Just ... wetter. All around.”

A gleam lights up in Jinzhu’s eyes. In a single, graceful motion, she reaches for her water bottle and squirts it all over Jin Zixuan’s face, running his makeup and making the tomato costume wilt, a little. He droops.

Wen Qing claps her hands together once. “Disgusting,” she announces. “Love it.”

Jin Zixuan scowls. “How come I have to be mushy?” he grumbles. “Shouldn’t we all be the same amount of wet?”

“Who wants wet bacon on their sandwich?” Yanli counters, frowning.

“Who wants a wet tomato?” Wang Lingjiao snaps back, reaching out to pat Jin Zixuan’s shoulder.

He shifts away, subtly. “I guess it makes — more sense,” he says, as if the words hurt him on the way out. “I mean. Tomatoes are kind of mushy. Bacon is, uh. Crispy. When it’s cooked.”

Wang Lingjiao scowls. Yanli blushes, a little.

Wen Qing is absolutely not going to get involved.

She’d woken up on Thursday still at Mianmian’s, Yanli squished between them. Mianmian had bounced out of bed and gone for a run, like a sociopath; Wen Qing and Yanli had dragged themselves out to the diner around the corner from her apartment to eat disgusting breakfast sandwiches and chug caffeine. Yanli had fallen asleep three times on the train into 30 Rock. Mianmian hadn’t even seemed hungover.

Wen Qing was not used to having ... girlfriends. She’d never been a particularly friendly person; her stand-up had mostly been mostly mean political jokes and pointedly graphic gynecological bits. She’d wanted to be a doctor for a while in high school, before A-Ning got sick and she realized that the healthcare system in the United States was essentially a scam.

Anyway, the stand-up circuit wasn’t exactly overflowing with sorority girl power vibes, so she’d figured she’d hang with Wen Ning and that was fine. And then they’d gotten the call to SNL, and now she had friends, who liked her.

So ... that was cool, she guessed.

“Okay, these are approved. All three of you, change and meet me in my office in an hour to rehearse your music with the backing track. Jin Zixuan, go with Yinzhu back to makeup, we have to test the gold body paint and the dick prosthetics.”

“Great,” says Jin Zixuan, dully.

“You’re gonna love your dick,” Yinzhu tells him very genuinely, clapping her hands together. “It’s so small. I gave him a hat!”

Yanli hides a smile behind her hand, because Yanli is a very soft person. If a man broke up with Wen Qing via a mean quote to a paparazzo, he wouldn’t live to see the following morning, much less get a second chance.

To each their own.

She snags Yanli’s elbow as she begins shedding the bacon costume. “Wei Wuxian was in his own office this morning,” she murmurs, helping her step out and then draping the costume over Jinzhu’s waiting arm. “What happened?”

“In the Who Can Break Their Own Heart Worse event of the Sacrifice Olympics, A-Xian has pulled ahead,” Yanli says tiredly, rubbing at her forehead. “I guess Lan Wangji said he wasn’t going to take the EP job as long as A-Xian is here, for some inexplicable reason, so A-Xian decided to break up with him via a Post-It, for a different inexplicable reason, and then spent all night pretending like he wasn’t crying alone in the dark. A-Cheng had to pretend to have a nightmare so he could make A-Xian drink warm milk with him at 2am.”

Wen Qing steeples her hands in front of her face and carefully does not feel any kind of twinge or flutter at the idea of Jiang “Big Mad” Cheng pretending to be so frightened by dreams that he needs his big brother to make him a glass of warm goddamn milk. Yanli makes a vague that’s what I’m talking about gesture.

“Fuck, on a Friday they are doing this?” she mutters. “We don’t have time on Fridays. I’d expect this level of unprofessionalism from Wei Wuxian, but at least Lan Wangji usually manages to hold it together until after the show.”

“Hey,” says Yanli, but it’s a token protest.

Yanli wipes a miserable hand across her eyes, nodding. Is she — oh God, is she crying? Wen Qing cannot do the crying thing. She’s not programmed for it. She gets sweaty and nervous.

“Right. Okay,” Wen Qing says quickly, before the tears can pick up and become something she can’t pretend not to notice. “I’m going — to talk to him. I guess.”

“If you’re trying to escape tears, I wouldn’t recommend doing it in A-Xian’s office,” Yanli tells her, tipping her head back in an attempt to stop the flow. “He’s been a fountain all day. A-Cheng asked him what he wanted for breakfast and A-Xian said ‘bagels’ and then had to hide in the the bathroom for fifteen minutes.”

Wen Qing winces. “Right,” she says. “I’ll send Wen Ning.”

“Oh, don’t,” begs Yanli. “I saw him this morning and the poor thing looked like he was on the verge of an anxiety attack just looking at A-Xian.”

This is the least professional workplace Wen Qing has ever been in, and she worked in comedy clubs for most of her early twenties.

“Fine,” she grits out. “I’ve got rehearsal for Gay Hamlet in ten minutes, and then I’ll need to talk to clear the final cut of the digital short with Lan Wangji. Can everyone just ... hold it the fuck together until then.”

Yanli gives Wen Qing a tight hug, which she awkwardly returns by sort of ... patting the back of Yanli’s arms. Wen Qing is not a hugger. But she guesses she did just spend a whole night snoring into Yanli’s ear in Mianmian’s bed, so.

She can make an exception.

-

INTERLUDE: SIZHUI

All Sizhui had ever wanted to do, ever, his whole life, was dance. He’d grown up in Fuckall Nowhere, Maryland, on his grandmother’s farm, and she’d helped him clear out the hayloft in the barn to build himself a little studio. He’d gotten into Columbia in Chicago for dance on a full ride, and she had said to him, “The farm will be here if you come back.”

If, she’d said, her belief in him so warm that he’d promised himself he’d prove it was safe inside his chest. He’d said yes to every invite, every opportunity, determined to build himself a life she’d be proud of. And then he’d met Zizhen, who knew someone at Second City that got him a steep discount on classes, and his first sketch—about a ballerina who wished to be a b-girl—had amused Dadji so much his lips had twitched.

Sizhui had felt like all the wheat fields ripening at once. He spent the next four years chasing that feeling.

He’d been home for a visit when, a few years later, he got the call from SNL, Dadji’s voice on the other end. Nobody said it, but Sizhui knew he’d gotten the audition because Dadji had recommended him.

Sizhui would die for Dadji, probably. He’d do murder for Momxian but he’d get murdered for Dadji, and that was really the only way he knew how to think about it in his head.

“I’m sure it’s fine,” Jin Ling is saying, too loudly. They’re all sitting in hair and makeup getting their Monster Prom looks sorted. “And anyway, who cares. They’re not your real parents.”

Jin Ling is the only one who doesn’t call them Momxian and Dadji behind their backs, but Sizhui is pretty sure that’s because Jin Ling is basically a walking Anne Carson poem dragging his childhood parental issues around.

(“Where the fuck do I put them down?” Jin Ling had snapped, when Sizhui had said this; he hadn’t even meant to quote the poem. Jin Ling is not really a poetry guy.)

“Found family is real family,” Zizhen sniffs at him. “And don’t act like we didn’t all hear you slip up and say Jiujiu Cheng last year.”

Jiang Cheng,” Jin Ling grits out. “I said Jiang Cheng, you assholes.”

“Don’t tell Jiujiu Cheng that, he’ll cry for a week if he thinks he’s not your favorite anymore,” says Jingyi dryly, and then, before Jin Ling can argue, continues, “Anyway, I’ll bet it’s because of the pilot. I’ll bet Momxian dumped Dadji because he couldn’t bear the thought of a long distance relationship.”

“He wouldn’t do that,” Zizhen snaps, scowling deep enough that he gets scolded by the makeup artist. “And especially not on a Friday. I’ll bet Dadji cut and run because he felt betrayed.”

“Dadji wants Momxian to have whatever he wants,” Sizhui disagrees, thinking of a night before he moved out of the graveyard-adjacent apartment, Momxian taking him along on what he had emphatically not called a date, the three of them sitting at a restaurant in Chinatown. Dadji’s eyes had been warm in the dim lighting, pushing dumplings onto both of their plates. “And don’t gossip. It’s none of our business.”

Also, talking about it makes him want to cry, but that’s neither here nor there.

Jingyi clucks his tongue. “Maybe they fucked and it was bad,” he muses. All three of them turn to glare at him and he holds his hands up in the air. “Damn, okay. Obviously if they fucked it was a beautiful, tender night of lovemaking. There were rose petals. A beautiful song of longing fulfilled filtered through the window. Really romantic stuff. Tears, probably. And, uh, flutes.”

“Flutes,” Jin Ling repeats, skeptical.

“I don’t know, man. I’m not a musician. Flutes are phallic, aren’t they?”

“What kind of blowjobs are you getting,” says Zizhen, eyebrows raised.

“None,” mutters Jingyi, put out, then brightens. “Hey, Sizhui—”

“No,” Sizhui tells him firmly. Not that it’s anybody’s business, but Sizhui is waiting for love.

He deflates a little, then shrugs. “Fair enough. Anyway, as I was saying, I don’t know who broke up with who but what I do know is that somebody’s got to fix it before Saturday because the vibes in this place are like, rancid. How are we supposed to be funny when the atmosphere literally feels like the courtroom during your parents’ ugly divorce?”

“They’re not divorcing,” Sizhui snaps, and is horrified to hear his own voice break.

Zizhen reaches over and gives his knee a gentle pat.

“They’ll work it out,” he promises. “They love each other. Anyone with two eyes can see that they’re, like, meant to be.”

Maybe, Sizhui thinks. But Zizhen hadn’t seen Dadji, after the Christmas party. He’d been drunk, rare for him, and as Sizhui had poured him into a cab he’d blinked up and said in the worst, quietest voice, Sizhui. I don’t know how to do it halfway.

Do what? Sizhui asked, and Dadji had answered, sounding bewildered: Love people.

He’d looked so — Sizhui still doesn’t know. Intense. Startled, maybe. Like he hadn’t realized he believed what he was saying until he said it.

Not doing it halfway means when it breaks, it breaks the whole of him. Sizhui knows.

If Sizhui’s heart got broken, he’d call his grandmother, or maybe Wen Ning; but Dadji would call Momxian, for everything. Who is he supposed to call now? Who will tell him the farm will be here if you come back?

“You gotta hold it together, buddy,” Jinzhu tells him, patience clearly growing thin. “Or else commit to tear tracks in your makeup because I’m not redoing your eyeliner for a fourth time.”

“Sorry,” Sizhui mutters, and sniffs. Zizhen pats his knee again, and Jin Ling, looking grumpy about it, holds out a — monogrammed handkerchief?

Sizhui takes it, blinking. Before he can ask, Jin Ling says, “Shut up. They’re dignified. Shut up,” and sounds so put out about it that Sizhui just offers him a smile and uses the bit of the kerchief with JRL on it to gently dab at his cheeks.

-

INTERLUDE: JIN ZIXUAN

Jin Zixuan hates SNL. He has always hated it. He only agreed to it the first time because he had a movie to promote and his agent said it would be good for his image. The week is too long, he has to make too many decisions on things he doesn’t care about, and then at the end he has to make an idiot of himself on live television. The first time he hosted, he’d been in a meeting with Lan Wangji when Jiang Cheng barged in wearing a speedo and a big foam head and Lan Wangji had simply said, “Make the burger bigger. Approved,” before turning back to Jin Zixuan as if nothing had ever happened.

It’s weird. The whole place is weird.

But.

Jiang Yanli works here.

The whole thing with Jiang Yanli had just—it had gotten out of hand, is all. Who could say who was to blame, really? Things just, you know, happened. He’d met Yanli, with her soft smiles and gentle voice and the way she said Jin Zixuan like it meant something; he’d asked her to dinner, and then to stay for breakfast; he’d sat across from her on his couch and heard himself tell her things he hadn’t told anybody, and she’d listened quietly and seriously and never made fun of his movies or his admittedly bad dancing; and then that reporter from that magazine had said, my source says Jiang Yanli sleeps with all the hosts and you’re her latest target — is this true? and he’d heard his own voice in his head, spilling secrets to a girl he barely knew, opening himself up for her to — to — tell her friends about, and he’d said, “I can’t respond to every C-list actress who’s obsessed with me,” and then it was too late to do anything about it because the quote was out there and everyone was going to see it.

He hadn’t texted her and she hadn’t texted him and someone defaced literally hundreds of movie posters and by the time he realized that he probably shouldn’t take a dickhead tabloid journo at their word, they hadn’t spoken in so long that he didn’t know how to start.

He’d needed a reason to see her again, he figured. If he had a reason, then he’d... have a reason. To see her again. So he’d called in a favor with Nie Huaisang, and before he knew it, scheduled host Bicao was “too ill to perform” and he was slotting into her place.

(“You do owe me for this and I will be collecting. Also, tell anyone that I was involved and I will blacklist you from every brunch spot in this city,” Nie Huaisang had told him cheerfully when he showed up on Monday, patting Jin Zixuan’s cheeks. “Love this jacket though. And I mean that.”)

The show was supposed to be his chance to make it up to her, to show her that he was — that it was just a misunderstanding. But instead he was getting passed around from staff member to staff member, none of them really letting him talk to her beyond a few words. Worst of all, he’s finally managed to elbow his way to standing next to her during the Magic Hulk XXL rehearsal, and before he can even say anything, the lights are slowly lighting up Lan Wangji in his full Hulk getup, early strains of Versace on the Floor playing, and Yanli is clutching Jin Zixuan’s wrist and gasping, “Oh my God.”

“He’s not that — ”

Shhh! Shut up shut up!” Nie Huaisang hisses from his other side. His eyes are wide, watching. “God, forget Wei Wuxian, maybe I should fuck Lan Wangji.”

“I’m gonna pass out,” Yanli says, faintly.

“I didn’t think I was gay until just now,” says Jingyi from across the room. “But is that what this feeling is? Is this what being gay feels like?” He has a hand clapped over Sizhui’s eyes, to shield him.

Yanli tears her eyes from Lan Wangji to glare at Jin Zixuan, even though he hasn’t even done anything wrong. “A-Xian can’t see this,” she says, voice weirdly intense. “It will kill him. He’ll die. He’ll die.”

“Bad news,” Nie Huaisang says, nodding his head to the doorway, where Wei Wuxian is standing with a white-knuckled grip on a clipboard, frozen.

“Uh,” says Jin Zixuan. “I could have them take it out? They said I had full control over which sketches we do, so... if you want me to — ”

Nie Huaisang grabs Jin Zixuan’s other wrist. His smile is... Jin Zixuan is pretty sure “feral” isn’t the right word, but it’s certainly not the wrong word. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” he hisses, and then his eyes get wide and watery. “I’ll cry. I’ll cry right here on this soundstage so help me God.”

The music stops. Lan Wangji stands in the middle of the stage, clothes discarded. He says with absolutely no inflection, not even breathing hard: “How much for the Cheetos and water?”

The clipboard falls from Wei Wuxian’s hands with a loud clatter, and then he’s turning on his heel and disappearing down the hallway. Jin Zixuan doesn’t know what the whole, like, deal is, because he’s got his own stuff to worry about, but Yanli has buried her face in her hands and is muttering something about bacon, so, clearly everyone here is constantly on the edge of a psychotic break.

“IT’S GREAT, CHIEF,” yells Nie Huaisang, wiping his eyes. “NO NOTES.”

-

Sometime between finishing rehearsals for the Magic Hulk XXL sketch and solving the problem of Mianmian making so many edits to the Dickterview script that one of the camerawomen nearly bursts into tears, Jiang Cheng appears at Lan Wangji’s side to watch Wen Ning deliver a pitch-perfect impression of a goth teenage frankenstein’s monster getting turned down for prom.

“We should have held this sketch for a better host,” Lan Wangji says, in order to head off at the pass whatever has Jiang Cheng shifting back and forth on his feet like a first grader who has to pee at a gas station but is afraid of the automatic flush toilets. He smiles passingly at Ah Qing, who tosses them both a jaunty salute without pausing the tirade she’s unleashing into her microphone.

They’ve made final approvals on makeup and set design for five sketches and the digital short, and thankfully he’s not in any other sketches other than Update.

Jiang Cheng clears his throat. “Yeah. Whatever. Meng Yao was looking for you.”

Lan Wangji’s chest constricts. How is Wei Ying? he wants to ask. They’ve managed to mostly avoid each other all day, while pretending like they aren’t; he doesn’t think most people can tell that anything is wrong. And there’s — and nothing is wrong, he supposes. Wei Ying had made him no promises, and had therefore not broken them.

“Okay,” he says.

“It seemed urgent.”

“Okay,” Lan Wangji says again, and doesn’t move.

Jiang Cheng makes a frustrated sound. “Fine, whatever. It’s your network, I guess. I left him in your office.”

For reasons he cannot put his finger on, Lan Wangji doesn’t love the idea of Meng Yao alone in his office, so he cedes, handing Jiang Cheng his clipboard, with his notes on it. “Have them make these changes, and then run it again. If the runtime still works, tell them it’s got approval to go ahead at dress. If it runs long they’ll have to cut a joke. I recommend the bit about Jingyi’s vampire bite being on his dick.”

“Jingyi will not want to cut that.”

“That is his prerogative,” Lan Wangji acknowledges, and leaves Jiang Cheng there, already jotting his own thoughts down. He half-jogs to his office, turning over in his mind what Meng Yao could want. They’ve got a record number of PSAs in this episode; surely they won’t have to add another.

He’s thinking about whether or not they should push for the chaps in Peacock Death Match to be assless when he opens his office door, nearly running into Meng Yao, who is on his way out.

“Oh, Lan Wangji,” Meng Yao greets, ever-polite. “I was looking for you, but had the good fortune of running into Wei Wuxian. We’ve worked everything out. I hope Jiang Cheng didn’t pull you away from anything important.”

He snakes past Lan Wangji through the doorway without waiting for an answer, leaving Lan Wangji and Wei Ying to stare at one another, in the quiet of his office.

“Sorry we used your office,” Wei Ying mutters eventually, breaking eye contact and kicking briefly at the floor. “Mianmian’s napping in mine.”

“No problem,” Lan Wangji answers tightly. Wei Ying has never apologized for using Lan Wangji’s space before. He’s never thought he’d be unwelcome. At some point between yesterday morning and this one, Lan Wangji must have said something so horrifying to him that its ripples made it all the way to 30 Rock, and the office they’ve never pretended isn’t shared, til now.

Wei Ying’s gaze flicks up to his face and then catches on the side of his head. He reaches out, looking dazed, and runs a finger along Lan Wangji’s ear, coming away with a dab of green along his thumb.

Lan Wangji’s whole body feels like it’s vibrating. Wei Ying has been so far away, all day. Always disappearing around corners and through doorways when Lan Wangji opens the room. Never meeting Lan Wangji’s eyes, or speaking to him directly.

Lan Wangji had not felt him leave the bed. He had woken up and thought he’s already in the kitchen. He’d woken up safe. And then the note had been stuck to the fridge.

“There’s ... you’ve still got ... ” Wei Ying breathes, voice like a granite pestle against its mortar.

Without any consultation with his brain, Lan Wangji brings his head down and tilts it to the side, offering up his ear again. Wei Ying makes a soft sound and drags his thumb again, this time behind the ear and down onto Lan Wangji’s neck.

“You can’t — you can’t do that dance,” Wei Ying is saying, the words rushed together like he was trying to keep them all in his mouth at once. “Where did you even learn that? Who taught you? You can’t do it. It’s vetoed. It’s banned. Forever.”

Lan Wangji looks up, but Wei Ying’s eyes are zeroed in on where he is now gently scratching off dried paint. A shiver unspools down Lan Wangji’s spine.

“Why?” he asks.

Wei Ying swallows. “...You know why.” His grip tightens on the back of Lan Wangji’s hair, holding him in place. Lan Wangji lets himself be looked at. They aren’t fighting. Wei Ying had not let them fight. He had not given them the chance.

What is Lan Wangji going to say? They were — whatever they were, for four days. Lan Wangji asked for too much, too fast. Wei Ying wants to sell his pilot, and was being considerate of Lan Wangji’s sleep schedule.

This is what you wanted, isn’t it? he thinks, bitter even in his own head.

Lan Wangji is not, generally, an easy person. He is too particular in his wants. But Wei Ying makes himself easy. Wei Ying folds his wants away, stashing them like secrets behind loud, foolish demands he has no expectations of being met. Gives himself lung damage because he doesn’t want to let anyone down by being mortal.

Wei Ying wants to be touched by someone who won’t make demands of him. Wei Ying would never ask for this. Lan Wangji wants Wei Ying to get everything he wants.

(Lan Wangji cannot stand the thought of anyone else giving it to him.)

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying begins, and the door slams open, startling Wei Ying’s hand away. Lan Wangji feels it like a sword being pulled from a wound.

He is thinking of jade rabbits. He is thinking of turning what you made for love into what you make for obligation. He is thinking of loving someone so much that you were willing to trust that they wouldn’t send you away without being able to bring you back.

He is thinking of laying in a field, tired and far away from home.

“A-Xian, Wen Qing says she needs you for opera voiceover stuff. She sounds mad,” Jiang Cheng announces.

“Right,” says Wei Ying, and backs away a few steps before turning and slipping out of the office and out of Lan Wangji’s sight.

At least he got to watch him go, this time.

Jiang Cheng stays. Lan Wangji is already tired of whatever he wants to say.

“It’s Friday,” Lan Wangji tells him, going back to his desk and sitting down. There’s a tote bag on his chair which does not belong to him; someone must have left it behind by mistake. He frowns, picking it up so he can sit. “I don’t have time.”

“You don’t know what I’m going to say,” Jiang Cheng challenges, coming deeper into the office, which is the opposite of what Lan Wangji wants him to do.

Lan Wangji settles the tote on his lap and focuses on Jiang Cheng, his expression pointed. “Is it about Monster Prom?”

“ ...No.”

“Then I don’t have time.” Lan Wangji opens his laptop, wincing at the number of emails he hasn’t read yet; he narrowly escapes losing a finger when Jiang Cheng slams it back closed, keeping a hand on it so that Lan Wangji can’t re-open it.

“He does this,” Jiang Cheng says, voice so low it sounds almost like a threat. “He always does this. It’s so fucking annoying, because he’s constantly trying to martyr himself on the altar of love when like, literally nobody fucking asked him to.”

Lan Wangji stiffens. It’s not that Jiang Cheng isn’t right, or that Lan Wangji hasn’t thought this exact sentiment as recently as this morning, standing in his kitchen with a Post-It in his hand.

But he’s not — Jiang Cheng shouldn’t say it, that’s all.

“I told you days ago that I couldn’t make him stay,” Lan Wangji reminds him, brusquely.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t think your shit efforts would involve having to drink warm fucking milk at two in the morning,” snaps Jiang Cheng, incomprehensibly. “Look. He’s obviously, uh, hurt you.”

Lan Wangji’s eyes widen with the horror of Jiang Cheng trying to talk to him about his feelings. Jiang Cheng’s facial expression is twisted in a way that suggests he is also appalled by what he’s doing, but for some reason does not let this stop him from continuing: “You’re not obligated to keep trying. If you want to give up, that’s — your right.”

Lan Wangji frowns. “Give up,” he echoes.

“Yeah. If you’re tired of his bullshit and are ready to call it quits because — ”

“That’s not — ”

“ — it’s too much for you, if he’s too, like, broken, it’s okay. We’ll be completely fine.”

Broken,” Lan Wangji splutters, a quiet, furious spark in his chest.

“I understand,” Jiang Cheng, for some reason, goes on speaking. “He’s so fucking much. Being close to him is, like, a full-time job, and you’ve already got a full-time job, so if you don’t feel up to the task — ”

“Jiang Wanyin,” Lan Wangji interrupts, and that finally makes Jiang Cheng’s mouth snap shut.

They stare at each other for a minute; then Jiang Cheng tosses Lan Wangji’s clipboard onto his desk, notes scribbled at the bottom. “The pilot he wrote is a love letter,” he says flatly. “The entire fucking show is a love letter, to you, and A-Xian fucking sucks sometimes, but he wrote a whole universe just to put you in it so I think the least you can fucking do is read it. Here’s the changes for Monster Prom. They left in the dick bite joke.”

He spins on his heel and leaves.

Lan Wangji sits quietly for a moment, and then, just for something to do with his hands, opens the mystery tote bag to see if there’s any identifying information in it.

It’s empty but for a stapled-together book of pages. The first page says:

30 ROCK
Pilot

by
Wei Wuxian

 

 

Chapter Text

COLD OPEN

EXT. CAIYI BAGELS - SUTTON PLACE, NYC - DAY.

STEVE WANG SHAWN, 29, walks up to the bodega. He’s dishevelled, and clearly just woke up, yawning widely and scrubbing at his eyes. The entrance is blocked by two Upper East Side moms with enormous strollers.

MOM 1
I nursed Thackery until he was 22 months ...

STEVE
Excuse me...

MOM 2
Weren’t you worried about nipple confusion?

STEVE
Excuse me...

MOM 1
No. He went right from the breast to a sippy cup.

STEVE
That happened to me once. Can I get by?

They still don’t hear him.

MOM 2
What about silicone nipple shields?

Steve has no choice but to back up a few steps and take a running jump over the children and into the bagel place. The moms are appalled, but to be clear: Steve is correct, and blocking the entrance of a bodega should be illegal and involve jail time, no matter WHAT is going on with anybody’s nipples.

MOM 1
What is wrong with you!

STEVE
Lady, I do not have time to get into all that with you.

INT. CAIYI BAGELS - NYC - MOMENTS LATER

Steve waits in a long line leading to two registers. A GUY on a cell phone enters. We don’t need to know anything about him because we can tell from looking at him that he sucks. He ignores the line and goes up to the register.

STEVE
Whoa, whoa. Excuse me. There’s a line, buddy.

The guy points to where he’s standing.

GUY
There’s two lines.

STEVE
No, what? No. There’s one line, and all of us are in it.

GUY
I don’t think so.

He goes back to talking on his cell phone, holding up a finger to the counter girl to wait.

STEVE
You don’t think so? You think there’s two lines and we all chose this one
and you’re the only one smart enough to get in the other line?
(looks to others)
Do you believe this guy?

The other people just shrug and avert their eyes. The back half of the line goes and lines up behind the guy.

STEVE (CONT’D)
What are you doing?! He screws you over and
now you’re lining up behind him?

The stroller moms join the back of the guy’s line. They stare Steve down.

STEVE (CONT’D)
WILL NOT ONE OF YOU STAND WITH ME?

He feels as if he is standing on a single plank bridge at night. The world, no matter how big it is, has no place for him. All is dark. Nothing is bagels.

Then, a sound like a light in the dark:

VOICE (OFFSCREEN)
I will stand with you.

The crowd turns as one.

LORNE JUAN GUI, 30, stands in the doorway. His hair is early-morning messy, but his clothes are neat and pressed. He looks like the way your hottest college professor looked when you had sexy dreams about him punishing you for forgetting your homework. Even phone guy, who is probably heterosexual, is struck dumb.

COUNTER GIRL
(flustered, obviously!!!!)
Wh-what can I get you?

LORNE
I’ll take everything.

COUNTER GIRL
An everything bagel?

LORNE
No. Every bagel you have.

COUNTER GIRL
Sir...that’s...like, so many bagels.

LORNE
(without inflection)
It’s my cheat day.

He calmly hands over his credit card. Phone guy splutters beside him, but counter girl has recognized that Lorne is the priority, because she’s smart. She’s probably pre-Med, working her way through school. We will never learn this, but just so you guys know, she was recently dumped by her boyfriend, Gareth, for a steamy online relationship he’s been carrying on with someone he thinks is a German woman called Greta but is in fact called Shelby and lives in New Hampshire.

Lorne comes to stand beside Steve, looking severely down at him as the shop erupts in noise. Steve beams.

INT. NYC TAXI - MOMENTS LATER

Steve and Lorne are in a taxi, the bag seat filled comically with bagels. Steve is tossing them out the window to people on the street, thrilled with life. He does not notice the havoc this is causing.

LORNE
Save some for the staff.

STEVE
What? Absolutely not. The staff don’t deserve these. These are
victory bagels, baked with righteousness. I, Steve Wang Shawn,
stand always with justice and live with no regrets! I am the Bagel
Patriarch! The staff can have Dunkin’.

The taxi pulls up at where they’re going. They get out, bagels spilling onto the ground with them. Steve tips the driver with a fiver. Lorne heads inside, easily and gracefully carrying armfuls of delicious yeasted dough. He should look silly, but he just looks handsome.

Steve takes a moment to hold up one of the bags. There’s a fortune written on the bottom. It says Eating more than 3 portions is forbidden. Kind of a weird business model for a bodega.

Steve looks from the fortune down to the bagels at his feet. It is ... more than three portions worth of bagels by a significant margin.

LORNE’S VOICE
Steve. Are you coming?

STEVE
(looking up, smiling)
I’m right behind you.

He runs inside, dropping bagels as he goes. The camera pans up to the building: it’s 30 ROCKEFELLER PLAZA.

(OPENING CREDITS)

-

Lan Wangji reads it once in his office, and then once on the train, and then once while feeding his rabbits. He reads it three times in bed, and then has to get up and pace around while he reads it a fourth time. The fifth time, he reads it on his balcony, even though it’s horribly cold and it makes his toes numb. Lan Wangji knows that cold isn’t actually cleansing, but he’s grateful for its sting anyway, piercing his lungs as he breathes.

The sixth, and seventh, and eighth time he reads it, he’s sitting in his tub, fully clothed, no water. The porcelain, chilled by the open window, is soothing.

At the end of his ninth read-through, when the Saturday sun is coming up over the tops of the buildings and spilling sunstains onto the bathroom floor, Lan Wangji sets down the script. He does it slowly, delicately, as if it, or he, might shatter. With shaky hands, he skates his fingers across the stack of pages, smoothing them.

Wei Ying loves him.

It’s — he feels flayed open by it, the whole of him spilled across the pages, but so gently. Wei Ying has rendered him with so much care it hurts to look at it, the script a long, fond whisper saying, ah. There you are.

Everything, all of the stories Lan Wangji has told him, his tics, his habits, the way he organizes his bookshelves. His favorite bodega, with the coffee fortunes, transformed into a kind of modern corporate Cassandra. His decision to never adopt the same bunny breed twice, so as not to show favoritism, plays out as an in-universe sketch about Playboy. A scene in which the boar in Sutton Place Park comes to life while possessed by the spirit of Thomas Willet, the first mayor of New York. All the notebooks Wei Ying has bought for him because he knew that Lan Wangji “likes the feel of it, the pen in his hand as he wrote, the motion of his cursive stirring jokes the way you’d stir soup, or potion.”

Lan Wangji has been loved his whole life — by his brother, by his mother, by his uncle; by his father, before things went to shit. He’s never felt as if he wasn’t, even at the worst of times, even when it felt like everything was slipping away from him, even standing in the snow watching the last of his mother get lowered into the ground, still he’d had his brother at his shoulder. Still he’d known what love was, and that he had it.

But he has never, particularly, felt seen. He has never felt — it would not be fair to say he felt unliked, but certainly he has never felt that his presence, his personality, was a source of delight to anybody; Lan Wangji was loved because he was family, not because he keeps Sour Patch Kids in the refrigerator. Loved for the what of him, not the who.

Wei Ying has painted him here with such a warm brush, detailed with so many things which Lan Wangji has not told him but which were noticed anyway: it’s him, lit up from the inside, as if he had swallowed the moon and all the rabbits on it.

And it’s ... God, God, it’s good; he’d known it would be good, it’s Wei Ying, whose talent is bigger than his body, bigger than any show that might get to employ him. But he hadn’t known that it would be good like this. It feels new, delightfully weird and surprising, dark jokes made lightly, light jokes made ominous, and everyone in it so alive. Characters which in any other show would be just puppets for exposition come alive under Wei Ying’s pen, a whole village of other shows’ cameo corpses.

It’s not perfect — he has notes, had at some point during his third read-through begun furiously scribbling ideas into the margins, punching up jokes, cutting scenes, suggesting bits of production flair.

He feels, all at once, a rush of horror, that he had thought — that he had been willing to live in a world where Wei Ying did not get to do this, where Lan Wangji was the reason he didn’t get to do it. Where he had hidden Wei Ying’s talent away at SNL, buried in the slosh of writers and hosts and production notes. Even if Wei Ying had agreed to stay there. Even if he had decided to stay on his own.

To his surprise, Lan Wangji watches a droplet splatter on the bottom of the first page. He’s laughing, he realizes, and crying, too; and oh, what a thing to realize now, all these years later: Lan Wangji, lonely, unchanging, and desperately trying to hand out magic he didn’t know how to make himself, has never been Yùtù.

The entire fucking show is a love letter to you, Jiang Cheng had said, and he was right; he couldn’t be anything but right; what was this pilot if not a rabbit laying down in a field, looking up at the thing that he had loved and left behind and being glad to have loved it regardless?

-

ACT ONE

INT. NBC STUDIOS, NEW YORK - DAY

The studio’s homebase set. Workmen are polishing a big sign that reads, “Friday Night Bits with Jia Chen.”

Pull back through the picture window to where QUENTIN WENNING, a soft-spoken and cheerful NBC page, who Steve suspects has been dead this whole time, is giving a tour. No one seems to mind or notice that Quentin is dead, so Steve hasn’t brought it up, out of politeness. Quentin stands next to a life-size standee of impish comedian Jia Chen.

QUENTIN
And this is the set of “Friday Night Bits with Jia Chen.”
(points to standee)
It’s a real funny comedy show, for ladies. Candy quiz! Can you
name any other shows that ladies like?

TOURIST
The Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch?

QUENTIN
Yes.

Quentin throws the guy a piece of candy.

STEVE
(smiling)
C-SPAN?

QUENTIN
(still cheerful)
Oh, you don’t have to win the quiz to
get a candy, Mr. Shawn. There’s three bags of Warheads hidden
underneath Mr. Gui’s floorboards for you.

Steve looks up at Lorne in surprise. Lorne, who, it must be said, is really very handsome, seems unruffled at this exposure. He gives Quentin a single nod and then walks away, leading Steve to scramble after him, to —

INT. WRITERS’ ROOM

At a large conference table, NEIL HUSSAN, 27, a slim, well-dressed male writer and ANN LEY, 29, an elegant and sweet-faced woman with long hair and glasses, read the papers. In the corner, JENNA LONG, a young 22 year old assistant (of the Instagram Makeup Artist Influencer variety) is ignoring a ringing phone.

STEVE
Hey, Lorne. Lorne. Lorne Juaaaaan.

LORNE
(perceiving him)
Mn?

STEVE
I think that Quentin might be dead.

LORNE
(considering this seriously)
Hm. Evidence?

STEVE
For one thing, he knew about your secret candy,
and I didn’t even know about your secret
candy, and I basically live in your office.

LORNE
Mn...

STEVE
And he didn’t even ask about the bagels,
which just feels weird.

They look behind them, where they’ve left a trail of bagels. The tourists have fallen upon them like a flock of geese with breadcrumbs at a park.

STEVE (CONT’D)
Also, I felt his wrist once, and he doesn’t have a pulse.

-

“This again,” Meng Yao mutters before recovering with a patently false smile, opening the door to Lan Wangji’s brother’s apartment. Why Meng Yao is here at — Lan Wangji glances at his watch; ...oh. Six a.m. — is a matter that he makes an executive decision not to think or ask about. “Huan-ge is in the shower. What are you doing in your pajamas?”

Lan Wangji looks down at himself and realizes that yes, these are his pajamas. Ah. Perhaps in his haste to leave the house he had forgotten a few steps of his morning routine. At least he’d remembered to put on his work loafers.

“Shooting elephants,” he answers, impatient. Meng Yao snorts. Lan Wangji allows himself some bemusement. He wouldn’t have taken Meng Yao for a Marx Brothers fan. He lets himself into the apartment, script tucked into the tote bag.

Meng Yao points at it. “If you’ve come to return my tote bag, I’m very grateful, Lan Wangji, but it wasn’t this urgent.”

“Yours?” Lan Wangji repeats, blinking, and then shakes his head. Of course. Meng Yao had talked to Wei Wuxian in his office; he must have put the tote bag down and forgotten about it. But — “Why do you have a copy of his pilot?”

Closing the door with a gentle click, Meng Yao gives a soft, somewhat flustered laugh. “Ah, that,” he dissembles, waving a hand in the air. “Well, as you know, Wei Wuxian is shopping it around. I’m ... afraid your uncle doesn’t feel it’s the right fit for the network. He’d given it to me to read and see whether I had alternative placement ideas.”

Lan Wangji’s throat dries out. “Mn,” he croaks, meaning what and also no and also if you sell this to Netflix I swear to God I will bring this roof down onto your head.

Because he — because he wants it.

He wants it. He cannot bear the thought of anyone else getting it, of anyone daring to — to suppress even one watt of its weirdness and its novelty. He cannot bear the thought of someone else touching him, this fictional Lan Wangji, who is safe with Wei Ying but not with anyone else.

Cháng’é, drinking the elixir to keep it out of unworthy hands. Cháng’é, who was willing to be alone if it meant giving some of it back to the world.

“You read it?”

Meng Yao hums, moving into the kitchen to pour them both some tea. He’s very comfortable here. This is, again, something that Lan Wangji will think about at a later date. “Well, yes. I thought it was beautifully done. I was sorry your uncle didn’t care for it.” He leans in. “Between us, I think he felt it was too experimental. Ah, but it’s all for the best I suppose; Huan-ge heard he’s going to get offers from a bunch of streaming sites. High budget, low oversight. Such good news!”

Something craters in the pit of Lan Wangji’s stomach.

“No,” he chokes out, and Meng Yao gives him a studied look. “No, it’s — no, we should buy it. NBC should buy it.”

Meng Yao makes a sympathetic face. Lan Wangji wants to punch him. “Not that I disagree,” he says, pushing a cup of tea toward Lan Wangji, nodding, “but your uncle has made his decision, and you know the studio won’t produce an SNL-born comedy show without the EP on board.” He says this to Lan Wangji as if Lan Wangji has just been born and is, additionally, very, very stupid.

“He’s wrong,” Lan Wangji says.

“He’s the EP,” Meng Yao answers, gaze steady.

They look at each other for a long moment. Lan Wangji is still clutching the tote; has made no motion to give it back. Meng Yao has not moved to take it. In the back of the apartment, Lan Wangji distantly registers that the sound of the shower has stopped.

His brother greets, “Wangji. I didn’t realize you were here. I see, uh, A-Yao has let you in.”

Lan Wangji manages to tear his eyes from Meng Yao to glare at Lan Xichen, not because he cares that they’re dating per se — although, did it have to be someone from Standards and Practices, of all departments — but because Lan Wangji is finding this out after he showed up at six in the morning with an emotional crisis.

His brother meets his gaze sheepishly, then shrugs. An argument for later. “Is everything all right?” he prompts, then does a small double take. “Are you wearing pajamas? With loafers?”

“Yes. It’s fine. I have to go,” says Lan Wangji, and spins on his heel, leaving his tea and his manners behind.

As the door behind him closes, he hears Lan Xichen murmur, “A-Yao, what did you — ?” before the rest is drowned out by Meng Yao’s tinkling laugh.

-

INT - WRITER’S ROOM - DAY.

LORNE
We’ll have to cut the front half of “Cranky Baby”
or else the entirety of “Noodle Nuts.”

STEVE
(eating a bagel)
“Cranky Baby” is bloated anyway. Seven minutes is too
long to spend on a “Santa Baby” send up. It’s
not even Christmas.

Lorne hums thoughtfully, writing something in his notebook. On the bookshelf behind him, organized per the Dewey Decimal System, is a row of identical notebooks, labelled by show season number. Lorne prefers to handwrite drafts; he likes the feel of it, the pen in his hand as he wrote, the motion of his cursive stirring jokes the way you’d stir soup, or potion.

As he writes, the letters magically rise up out of the notebook in a blue stream, like liquid. They hover in the air before coalescing into a ghostly blue, grumpy-looking infant with an Elvis hair curl, wearing a diaper and singing into a microphone. Lorne does not seem to be able to see this, but Steve watches with his chin in his hands. It’s unclear whether this is really happening or if it’s in Steve’s imagination.

STEVE
Oh — good, yeah. That’s funny. Love the Elvis hair.

Lorne stops writing; the baby waterfalls onto the floor and disappears.

LORNE
(frowning)
No reading while drafting.

STEVE
(falsely accused!!!!)
I’m not!

-

He’s the EP, Lan Wangji thinks in the taxi.

He’s the EP, he thinks as he skids past Carl in the lobby, and Su She at his desk.

He’s the EP, he thinks, standing in front of his uncle, Meng Yao’s tote still clutched close to his chest.

“...Wangji,” Lan Qiren greets. “You’re wearing — ”

“My pajamas, yes,” Lan Wangji interrupts, waving him off. “I’ll take the job. I want it. I want the job. With a condition.”

His uncle opens his mouth, then closes it again. With a wary look, he goes to sit behind his desk, gesturing for Lan Wangji to take one of the seats across from him. Lan Qiren folds his hands together and gives a single, somber nod. “I see,” he says. “I’ll hear it.”

“I want to make an offer on 30 Rock.”

Lan Wangji braces for an argument. He doesn’t get one. His uncle blinks a few times, then asks, “30 Rock ... efeller Plaza? You want to buy the building?”

He doesn’t know, Lan Wangji realizes. He didn’t read it. He passed on the pilot and he never even read it, he — it had sat on his desk, brilliant, brilliant, and he had given it to Meng Yao and asked him to dispose of it.

Lan Wangji loves his uncle very much, so what he doesn’t do is visit great violence upon him. Instead he grits out, “Wei Ying’s pilot. My condition for taking the job is that we purchase it and order a season.”

“Wangji,” his uncle sighs, “first of all, anything that Wei Wuxian writes is not going to find a solid audience in the network’s demographics. And secondly, ordering a whole season without even seeing a filmed pilot is — it’s not done. It’s against the rules of good network television.”

“Nevertheless,” Lan Wangji returns simply, shrugging. His uncle is wrong, about it finding an audience. Media is evolving too fast for networks not to adapt; digital is everything now, and digital doesn’t wait for pilot season.

There is a long pause. Lan Wangji waits; he is excellent at waiting. And he knows his uncle believes that change is necessary; he would not be hiring Lan Wangji if he didn’t. He wants change and simultaneously cannot stand when it’s happening to him. The human condition.

“If it goes badly, it’s you, not Wei Wuxian, who will bear the brunt of the responsibility with the network. It could damage your career.”

“That is my condition,” Lan Wangji says.

His uncle steeples his hands, gaze inscrutable. After a long moment, he gives his forehead a brief scrub and says, “Wangji. This is your life. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji agrees, looking down at the script, his whole life in his hands.

“Do you?” his uncle asks, studying him. “If the show is a flop, and you’re removed? Who would hire you after that? You’ve worked your entire career for this. You’ve been exemplary. To come on board and, as your first decision, upend decades of best practice — no one and nothing is uncancellable, do you understand?”

Out of respect for his uncle, Lan Wangji considers this. Considers a whole season of failure. Considers defending his choice to purchase a season sight unseen in front of the Chairman, the CEO, the other execs. Considers watching the show limp along into its final episodes, already confirmed to be unrenewed, Lan Wangji’s first decision as EP a failed rebellion.

His uncle has led SNL for decades under an ethos of following a template that works. The show has been steady, staid, secure. It has made no changes to its format, introduced no challenges to its audiences. Its viewership numbers have not changed.

At the end of the story his mother told him, Cháng’é wept, and her tears brought Yùtù back to her. But she could have done something else, he thinks. She could have left her palace instead. She could have cried enough elixir to revive him and then gone back out into the world, together.

“Then,” muses Lan Wangji, “I suppose I will have to strike out with Wei Ying and find something different to do.”

He’s always liked teaching. He bets Second City would take him back, or maybe UCB if Wei Ying didn’t want to leave New York. Perhaps Tisch would take him. Or CUNY. Or they could put a show together and take it on tour, wandering through the country playing at whatever clubs will have them.

Lan Wangji has not, historically, been one for comedy clubs, but he thinks he could get used to any venue as long as Wei Ying’s name was above his on the setlist.

“This has been your dream for a long time. As long as I’ve ... since you were a child,” his uncle murmurs, soft. They are not an emotive family, but there is a slip in his uncle’s professional mask, a blurred edge to his eyes that says he’s thinking of Lan Wangji’s parents.

Ah, there you are. Uncle, Lan Wangji thinks.

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “What I wanted before was a way to bring someone back who was gone,” he says carefully. They don’t talk about his mother. They never have. Uncle Qiren glances away, mouth a stern, unhappy twitch. Lan Wangji doesn’t reach out, but he does lean forward, a little. In a gentler tone, he adds: “What I want now is a way to be happy with someone who is still here.”

This draws a long sigh from his uncle. “This is not a good business decision,” he warns, but the incline of his head means that Lan Wangji has won. “I will draw up the paperwork.”

Lan Wangji knows he is smiling by the surprise that registers on his uncle’s face. He bows once. “Yes, it is,” he murmurs. “You won’t regret this.”

“I already regret this,” his uncle informs him dryly, and then beckons toward the door, a dismissal and a white flag all at once.

-

INT. - WYNN ROWAN’S OFFICE - LUNCHTIME

Lorne and Steve sit gingerly on the edge of the couch. Workmen do... stuff with tools... behind them.

Wynn sits at his desk, which has a lot of exposed wires hanging over it. He is clearly unhinged. Possibly a literal demon. Certainly he’s on some weird shit. Nearby we see the legs of a workman on a ladder.

STEVE
Are we ... allowed to renovate? Isn’t that
against the terms of the lease?

WYNN
A lease is a negotiation.

STEVE
(frowning)
I don’t think that’s right.

He and Steve exchange glances. This is their first meeting with Wynn, who took over from their previous executive, Kieran; it is clear that they are unsold on Wynn’s ability to lead. Wynn’s nerdy assistant, WILL CIAO, appears and hands him a note written on a Post-It. It cannot be overemphasized how much this dude obviously sucks. He’s just a snivelling little worm.

WYNN
Does she have the artifact? If not, I’ll call her back.

Steve mouths “ARTIFACT??” at Lorne, whose brow furrows, just a tiny bit. Will nods. He hands him another Post-It.

WYNN (CONT’D)
Ugh. Tell them I haven’t done necromancy in years.

Will scurries away. He gets a small shock from an electric wire as he goes.

LORNE
We were not made aware of Kieran’s departure.

WYNN
Well, it happened fast. Much like a lease, employment
can be negotiated at any time, according to the whims
of those upstairs. That’s why I’ve been brought in.

LORNE
(unimpressed)
To ... negotiate.

WYNN
Negotiate, indoctrinate ... call it what you want.
I’m sure we’re all going to get along great.

Steve and Lorne look at one another. They do not think that this is going to be the case. Lorne reaches across the couch and takes Steve’s hand, right there in front of Wynn. The meaning is clear: it’s about to get weird, but they’ll face it together.

-

It doesn’t make any sense to go home and change, so Lan Wangji changes out of his pajamas and into the spare set of clothes he keeps in his office cabinet for days when he doesn’t bother going home. What he has to do, he thinks, is talk to Wei Ying. He has to talk to him, and tell him about the offer, and tell him that he — that he knows.

Wei Ying had wanted him to read it. He’s been trying and trying to get Lan Wangji to read his pilot, and Lan Wangji hadn’t, too stubbornly convinced that it would hurt. Too scared to realize that hurt could be sweet, if you chose your hurt well: hurt could mean something breaking open in order to expand.

By the time people start arriving, Lan Wangji has read through the pilot thirty-nine times. He texts Wei Ying thrice inquiring about his ETA; Wei Ying answers only one of them, with just a thumbs up emoji and a green heart, which is not an answer. Lan Wangji doesn’t know what it means that the heart is green. Whether that is different from a differently colored heart.

Lan Wangji doesn’t know what’s good and bad, with emoji.

Wei Ying had wanted him to read the pilot, and yet now that he has, he’s hiding. Saturdays aren’t as busy as Fridays are, and he has some time in the morning before the all-staff meeting to go over any notes, final changes to the lineup, and any pre-show assignments. Wei Ying doesn’t show up until around noon. He does not come to see Lan Wangji, but the energy of the building shifts when he’s in it.

Also, Lan Wangji hears Jin Ling shout, “Shut UP, God, you’re so weird,” in the specific tone he uses for yelling at Wei Ying. Lan Wangji tries to catch them, but Wei Ying is clearly not willing to be caught, giving him a paper-thin smile and wave before moonwalking back into the elevators.

Lan Wangji would bet five hundred American dollars he’d ridden it down to the lobby and then right back up, but he isn’t able to wait around to find out, because he’s quickly commandeered by Zizhen and Jingyi complaining about one of the jokes that got cut and petitioning to keep it in for dress. This wouldn’t have happened if Wei Ying just came into work on time, but Wei Ying has never been a morning person and often doesn’t roll into work before lunch, long after the Jiangs. He makes up for it with his late hours, sometimes not going home until the sun has risen, even on days when it’s not necessary.

(“You try getting that motherfucker out of bed in the morning,” Jiang Cheng had snapped, the only time Lan Wangji brought it up. “The whole house could be in flames and he’d be sleeping in the bathtub.”)

But when he had lived with Lan Wangji, he’d gotten up. He’d come to work in the morning and gone home in the evening. Both of them had. Lan Wangji hadn’t been willing to stay at work at the expense of seeing Wei Ying in his house, without his shoes, comfortable and settled.

He’d wanted — every day. Every day, he had wanted Wei Ying in his house. Wei Ying’s shoes by the door, messy and tipped-over. Wei Ying’s hair ties scattered around his floor, a bunny choking hazard. Wei Ying’s chin on Lan Wangji’s chest while he slept, his hand on Lan Wangji’s cheek while they kissed. He had wanted it to be so commonplace as to be unremarkable. Boring.

He wanted to get so used to it that none of it felt novel, or fragile, or fleeting.

He still wants it. He wants it desperately. He wants it enough to weep a rabbit back to life.

To think that he’d believed it was better to have none of it than only a portion. To think that he’d believed that if Wei Ying moved to Los Angeles, it would be too hard. That if he’d taken the EP job while Wei Ying stayed on as head writer, it would have been too hard. To think that there was any degree of separation, of stress, of distance, that would have tipped the scales and made it not worth the effort.

To think that Wei Ying had laid in bed, unvisited, and written himself a world where he was loved by Lan Wangji, not realizing it was the universe he already lived in.

They were both so fucking stupid.

It was incredible, how stupid they were.

Zizhen and Jingyi extract a promise from him to try out the joke at dress by virtue of his half-attention, and then deposit him back at his office. He turns to cross the hall, to see if he can catch Wei Ying, but he runs into Mianmian coming out, a sheet of paper in her hands. She gives it a little wave and announces, “Boss! Good timing. I’ve got the monologue. And before seven p.m., which has to be a new record for us.”

Lan Wangji does not give a rat’s ass about the monologue. He cares about finding Wei Ying. Also, if he’s honest, he never finds the monologues that funny. They’re fine, but they imitate stand-up, and most actors aren’t stand-up comedians and don’t have the specific kind of stage presence you need to pull it off. It’s harder than it looks.

He holds out a hand for the paper, and Mianmian brings it to him, following him back to his desk and then bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet while he reads.

He feels his eyebrows rise as he sits, and looks up. “Jin Zixuan approved this?” he asks, surprised. “He read it, and approved it?”

Mianmian grins, shrugging. “Look, I know he kind of sucks,” she admits. “But he does really like Yanli. He’s been so pathetic all week. It’s cute, in a horrible way. Anyway, we’re gonna do a fake one first, at dress — he wants it to be a surprise on air.”

Lan Wangji nods. What he wants to do is get up and find Wei Ying and take his face between his hands and say, I can’t let you leave unless you know that I would upend the moon, the stars, my whole life, to make sure you could come back.

To Mianmian, he says, “Fine. Approved. Don’t show Wei Ying.”

The expression on Mianmian’s face can only be described as “unbridled glee.” She leans in, putting both her hands on the desk. This is too close for Lan Wangji’s taste, but he allows it, because Mianmian is his second-best friend, and anyway, he’s feeling — lenient, today. “I diiiiiiiid have an idea,” she tells him conspiratorially. “Just because, like, I thought it would be honestly so funny, and also I feel like making an apology to someone who’s not even in the room is a little ... meh.” She tilts her hand back and worth in a so-so motion.

“...Pitch it,” Lan Wangji allows, warily.

Mianmian beams. “I’m gonna break my ankle!” He looks at her, keeping his expression stony. She waits a beat, then slumps, rolling her eyes. “You’re zero fun sometimes, did you know that? Like, subzero. Fine, I won’t break it. I’ll just ... pretend to twist it. And then I won’t be able to go on because I’ll have to ‘get it wrapped up’ so I’ll send Yanli out in my place and then he’ll have to look right at her when he says — ”

“Lan Wangji?”

Mianmian turns, and Lan Wangji stretches up to see past her shoulder. Wen Qing is standing in the doorway, Wen Ning and Sizhui behind her. “We’ve got Update ready,” Wen Ning says, voice pitching up nervously at the end. Mianmian has always made Wen Ning nervous. Everybody makes Wen Ning nervous, but Lan Wangji thinks Mianmian’s particular brand of ruckus sets him even more on edge.

“Fine,” Lan Wangji says, pinching the bridge of his nose, because every other day of the past five years he’s had Wei Ying glued to his side and now, the one day that he has something important to say, he can’t seem to get into a room with him. Mianmian pumps her arm.

“Yes!” she crows, skipping from the room. “You approved it, I’m doing it.”

“I wasn’t talking to you!” he calls after her.

From the hallway, her voice replies, “What was that? Can’t hear you! See you at dress!”

“What’s she doing?” Wen Ning asks, nervously.

“Crimes, probably,” says Wen Qing. “Anyway, I emailed you the document. I’m not going to enable your paper habit. It’s wasteful. We’re in a climate crisis.”

“When you’re head writer, you and your co-head can institute whatever rules you want,” Lan Wangji tells her distractedly as he opens his laptop and goes to retrieve the script from his inbox, and only registers what he’s said when he realizes all three of them are gaping at him.

He does not make a face. “One day,” he amends. “Who knows what the future holds.”

“Right,” says Wen Qing, but her lips are twitching.

Sizhui looks serious. He leans in, meeting Lan Wangji’s eyes with an intensity that is ... not usual, for Sizhui. “Whatever it is,” he says, “we’ll be here for you. All of us. We’re a family.”

“We are very much just colleagues,” Wen Qing corrects, but at Wen Ning’s sharp elbow to her ribs, corrects herself, looking like it’s physically painful, “uh, who are also very — who ... uh, care ... ”

Sizhui nods fervently. “The farm will be here,” he insists, earnestly and incomprehensibly, his hands clasped together.

Wen Qing, Wen Ning, and Lan Wangji all frown at him. “What farm?” Wen Ning asks, tilting his head to the side like a sweet, puzzled dog.

Sizhui looks back and forth at the others. “It’s — you know, that very well-known phrase, ‘The farm will be here if you come back,’” he cries, throwing his hands in the air. “The farm is a metaphor.”

“I don’t think that’s a very well-known phrase,” says Lan Wangji, brow furrowed.

“Well, it is in Maryland,” Sizhui mutters. “You’ve just never heard it because you’re — you’re — city folk.

So, Lan Wangji doesn’t know what this is about, but he’s feeling soft today, so he reaches out to gently straighten Sizhui’s collar and just says, “All right, Sizhui. Thank you. I will ... return. To the farm. If that becomes necessary.”

Sizhui beams.

“God, this place is embarrassing,” Wen Qing says, pinching the bridge of her nose. “You people sound like a Hallmark card.”

Lan Wangji turns his attention back to her. “Where’s Wei Ying?” he asks, very casually. “We shouldn’t make edits without him here.”

“Oh, he told me to go ahead,” Wen Ning offers helpfully. “He said he’s tied up with Coffin City.”

Of course he is.

Lan Wangji grits his teeth. “Fine,” he mutters. Lan Wangji is a professional. Lan Wangji is perfectly capable of doing his job and yearning at the same time.

Wen Qing, Wen Ning, and Sizhui crowd around the back of his chair, and he opens the Update script.

-

INTERLUDE

Yanli finds A-Xian hiding on the roof. He is poking at his collarbone as if worrying a bruise, but there’s no mark there.

“You know,” she says, careful not to rip her costume, “you do actually have a job you’re supposed to be doing.”

A-Xian looks over at her. He’s got a handful full of Warheads, but he doesn’t smell like he’s been smoking, so she guesses it’s a step in the right direction. He gives her a brief, terrible smile and then goes back to pushing the candy around in his palm.

“I had to take a call,” he mumbles, then sighs. “Uncle Four says he’s got preliminary calls with three networks this week. ABC, CBS, and Fox. I don’t know, though. It might be a little too weird for network television, they’re probably gonna, like — want me to make all these changes. I told him to pitch to some of the streaming services, too. I’ll bet you Hulu would let me do, like, whatever I want, though obviously they might also cancel us if we don’t go viral immediately, so that’s its own risk, but at least I fail on the basis of my own shitty ideas and not somebody else’s.”

Yanli has never asked why Wei Ying calls their agent Uncle Four. It is not the man’s real name.

She nods, waiting him out.

He pops a Warhead into his mouth. “NBC didn’t — I mean. I know Lan Qiren’s never really ... liked my sense of humor. So I guess it’s not a surprise.”

Ah, Yanli thinks. There you are.

“What did Lan Wangji say?” she asks, hoisting herself up to sit next to him, stealing a Warhead. She prefers spicy heat to sour, but beggars can’t be choosers, she supposes. “When you asked him?”

A-Xian shifts, twisting his mouth and looking away. “Well, I ... didn’t, precisely. Ask him. We aren’t really, you know, speaking, per se. I mean, we’re not — we’re not not speaking, but it’s just that speaking requires, usually, typically, two people to be in a room together, or for them both to be using their phones in an active and on-purpose way, which has been not so much the case. For us. Me.”

“I see,” says Yanli.

Her brother shrugs, looking out at the skyline. His eyes trace the outlines of the buildings. He leans his shoulder against hers, slumped a little. “Every time I see him I feel like I swallowed a whole nest of bees, and all the bees are really mad at me. And I’ve already caused him a lot of trouble,” he mutters eventually. “I wouldn’t want to ... make things worse.”

Once, in college, Yanli and A-Cheng had surprised A-Xian at his dorm, only to find that his mattress had such a big hole in it that he’d essentially had to start sleeping curled up in it like a raccoon. When she’d asked him why he hadn’t petitioned the school for a replacement, he’d shrugged and said with an airy laugh, It’s no trouble, it’s warm in there! A-Cheng had been so mad he’d marched directly to the housing office to yell for half an hour; but Yanli had just quietly asked A-Xian to pack his things and come home with them.

He didn’t know how to let people take care of him unless they were over-the-top and silly about it. Jiang Cheng has always excelled at this in a way that Yanli finds hard to duplicate, shouting his care so that Wei Ying can roll his eyes as he accepts it. But Yanli had said, Xianxian, I can’t leave you here, social services will send me to prison for neglecting my duty of care. He had laughed, and agreed to come, just for the weekend, and on Monday no one said anything about going back to his dorm, and he just ... hadn’t.

Yanli came at loving A-Xian from the side because that’s what he’d wanted; never pushed him because that’s what he’d wanted; let him come and go without complaint because that’s what he’d wanted, and she’d thought that maybe he hadn’t often gotten what he’d wanted, and she could give it to him.

“Wei Wuxian,” Yanli says, taking his hand, “has it ever occurred to you that you don’t have the right to choose how much people love you?”

He startles, head jerking to look at her. “What? No. That’s not what I’m doing.”

“I don’t know why you think you are the only person who sees things clearly, when you’re emotionally wearing a blindfold at all times,” she goes on, ignoring his protests, stroking the back of his hand. Idly, she traces the outline of a lotus. She thinks that maybe she is angry. She thinks maybe she’s so angry she feels fizzy with it, an uncorked bottle looking to pop. “I don’t know why you think that you’re allowed to make executive decisions about what choices other people get to make.”

“I don’t,” A-Xian protests, trying to pull back his hand, but she doesn’t let it go.

“You do,” she corrects him simply, and there’s a soft roil in her chest. It’s been such a long week. Jin Zixuan has watched her the whole time, and she knows he’s sorry, but he hasn’t said it, and if he can’t, then being sorry isn’t enough. It’s not. She can’t live on glances.

Her brothers, who love her desperately, have not asked her how she feels about this. They have threatened Jin Zixuan and reminded her one hundred times that she is too good for him, but they have not asked. “You do.”

A-Xian shakes his head. He has an awful, patient look on his face, like Yanli is stupid, like she must be protected from all the things that only the great Wei Wuxian can handle. “Lan Zhan — ”

The pot inside her chest boils over. Yanli interrupts, “I’m not talking about Lan Wangji! I don’t give a shit about Lan Wangji! I’m talking about me!”

He blinks, stilling in her grip. “...What?”

On the one hand, Yanli wishes she weren’t such a crier; wishes she had a little of A-Cheng’s ability to sublimate everything into being angry and loud. But even when Yanli is angry, she gets teary, and being teary makes her angrier, and that makes her more teary, and on it goes.

On the other hand, tears completely paralyze both her brothers, so, it’s not like they don’t serve a purpose.

“Shijie,” A-Xian says, voice pitched up in panic.

Yanli is sitting, so she can’t stamp her foot, but she knocks her ankle hard enough against his that they both wince. “Don’t shijie me!” she cries. “Don’t — no, don’t say anything, just — just shut up for a second!”

He blinks at her, mouth snapping closed.

“You always ... you always do this,” Yanli accuses, voice wobbling, which just makes her madder. “You always make me watch you do this and I’m — I don’t want to anymore! You’re my brother, and where you are matters to me, and what you’re doing matters to me, and your stupid fucking happiness matters to me, and I’m — I’m allowed! You can’t avoid it, I’m allowed!”

“Shijie,” he says again, voice pinched. His eyes dart back and forth, looking for an exit. She squeezes his hand harder, kind of wishing she could break it.

“You didn’t tell me about the pilot!” she yells, pushing up onto her feet again and pacing in front of him. “You didn’t tell me you slept with Lan Wangji, and you didn’t tell me when you started to feel sick, and you didn’t tell me you were writing your way out of — out of the team, but we were supposed to be together forever, the three of us. That’s what we said, and then you just make all these decisions without us and — and you never even asked me how I felt about Jin Zixuan coming back and I always feel like I just have to let you hurt yourself because if I don’t you’ll push me away and it sucks, it — it fucking — ”

She stops when he yanks her forward into a hug, arms tight around her shoulders, slotting her in between his knees.

“Are we a team or not?” she demands, voice muffled against his shoulder.

A-Xian is quiet for a long moment, but she can feel his throat working, so she knows it’s only because he’s probably having a panic attack. She’s never yelled at him before. She’d thought it would scare him away.

She digs her hands into his shirt, gripping it close enough that if he tries to run away he’ll have to rip the fabric.

“We’re a team,” he murmurs eventually, his voice gravelly. “Shijie. We’re a team, of course we’re a team. I’m sorry. I’m not going to push you away. You can — you can be mad. At me. You can say whatever you want. I’m not going to push you away.”

“I can worry about you if I want,” she grumbles, dabbing at her tears with the back of her hands. “I can make sacrifices for you, if I want. You can’t stop me.”

He sniffs. “Okay,” he says. He sounds wretched. “I won’t stop you.”

For good measure, and because he said she could, Yanli adds, “What you did to Lan Wangji was shitty. It was really, really shitty. He doesn’t have to forgive you.”

“I know,” A-Xian says. Yanli pulls away to look at him. His eyes are rimmed. He doesn’t look like he’s going to make a break for it, but she keeps her hands fisted in his shirt, just in case. He’s sneaky, her A-Xian.

“I don’t have to, either,” she adds stubbornly, even though she’s still clinging to him like a three-year-old, and his face softens, a little amused.

“I know,” he says again, softer this time. “Hey. How do you feel about Jin Zixuan coming back?”

She glances away, her cheeks heating. “I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it with you.”

“You just told me to ask!”

She huffs. “Well, I want you to ask and I want to tell you that I don’t know and that I don’t want to talk about it! It’s embarrassing! I have other friends. I don’t need my dumb brothers interfering.”

A-Xian laughs, giving her a squeeze. He ducks his head and widens his eyes, bottom lip wobbling exaggeratedly. “Shijieeeeee,” he whines. “I’m sorry. Don’t tell A-Cheng I made you cry. He’ll hit me.”

The roiling thing in her chest calms, a little. Maybe not all the way. Maybe there’s some yelling left to be done. But for now, she loosens her grip on A-Xian’s shirt. He isn’t running. He isn’t going to run.

He’s her brother.

“I won’t tell him if you don’t,” she jokes, smiling a little, and holds up her pinky. A tremulous smile blooms across her brother’s face and he hooks his pinky in hers, giving it a warm little shake.

Cahoots, Yanli thinks, and smiles.

-

INT. - WRITER’S ROOM - CONTINUOUS

Steve enters to find everyone excitedly enjoying the stack of bagels with fancy, salted butter that Lorne has produced from his office, alongside an edible fruit arrangement. Neil salutes him with a cup of coffee.

STEVE
Have they finished tomorrow’s monologue?

NEIL
(shaking his head)
I dunno.

STEVE
Well, has Jia shown up yet?

NEIL
(shaking his head)
I dunno.

STEVE
Okay. And how many pleats does a
toque blanche have?

NEIL
Exactly one hundred, why?

Steve laughs and ducks into his office.

INT. STEVE’S OFFICE - CONTINUOUS

Lorne is writing in his notebooks. Filling the office around him are watery wisps of ideas, each of them in their own little world. When he looks up, they dissolve into waterfalls like the cheeky Elvis baby had done.

STEVE
Wow, I hate that guy. That guy sucks.

LORNE
(agreeing)
Mn.

STEVE
If they were gonna fire Kieran, they
should have promoted you.

LORNE
(disagreeing)
Mn.

STEVE
I’m just saying. Something’s definitely up.
Maybe we should quit.

LORNE
(unsure)
Mn.

Lorne puts his pen down, leans back in his (expensive) chair, and gives Steve his full attention. He’s not smiling, but his eyes are wrinkled, and that’s — worse. Oh God it’s so much worse.

STEVE
No, you’re right. We can’t quit, who would take
care of Quentin?
And who would keep your bunnies in
the lifestyle to which they have become
accustomed? I’ve seen their cage. It’s a McMansion.

LORNE
(unashamed)
They have expensive taste.

STEVE
We’ll stay and make this show the most insane, most irritating, most unsalvageable thorn in his side, and the network will fire him for messing up a perfectly decent Friday night slot and hire you instead. He thinks we’re stupid now? He cannot imagine how stupid I can be.

Lorne doesn’t smile but he does that thing with his eyes where you know that spiritually he’s smiling. That thing where he looks at you and you don’t know what he’s thinking, per se, but you know he’s thinking it fondly. You know that whatever plan he’s hatching, it’s one where you’re safe.

-

Honestly, Lan Wangji feels ... a little insane.

Wei Ying is nowhere.

He’s nowhere, but he’s been here, at some point, because when Lan Wangji went into his drawer to grab the charging cord for his phone he notices that his bag of Warheads is missing. He is on his way to Jin Zixuan’s dressing room, where, he’s been told, his host is having what can “generously be called a panic attack, but honestly, I think it’s probably closer to like, a full mental breakdown.”

“Okay,” Lan Wangji had said, before he realized that he was being told this because, for some reason, he was supposed to do something about it.

Jin Ling had snorted, pointing toward the host greenroom impatiently. “What, like Wei Wuxian is gonna do it?” he asked incredulously. “Get real. He’d make it worse on purpose.”

Unfortunately, this was a point that Lan Wangji could not argue, so here he is, knocking on the door and kind of hoping that Jin Zixuan is too far gone to answer. He wonders, abstractly, what a host-less show would look like.

“Go away!” Jin Zixuan shouts.

“You got it,” Lan Wangji says, relieved, and is turning to go when the door flies open and a hand closes around his wrist, dragging him inside. Jin Zixuan is dressed for rehearsal already, which is a relief because they don’t have time for both a mental breakdown and hair and makeup.

He looks great, except for the fact that he’s definitely messed up his hair by trying to rip it out of his scalp.

“...Hm,” says Lan Wangji.

Jin Zixuan sits on his couch, then stands up, then sits down again. “She’s gonna — what if she doesn’t like it?” he asks, words running together. “What if she thinks it’s stupid?”

Lan Wangji considers this. “It’s a distinct possibility,” he allows.

This was clearly not the right thing to say; Jin Zixuan groans, long and loud, and flops back on the couch, shoving his face into a pillow. He says, muted, “This was a bad idea. I shouldn’t have done it. I hate this show. I honestly, I really hate it, I don’t like doing it, it’s fucking stupid and I don’t get like, ninety-nine percent of the jokes.”

“You aren’t very funny,” Lan Wangji agrees, not without sympathy.

Jin Zixuan drags the pillow off his face. “You really suck at this,” he accuses. “You’re supposed to make me feel better. That is your job.”

Lan Wangji shrugs. “I do not have the capacity for both your emotional turmoil and mine. Also, once again, absolutely not my job.”

“I can’t do it,” Jin Zixuan groans.

“Then don’t,” says Lan Wangji.

“Write me a new monologue.”

“That is not an option.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?!”

Lan Wangji considers this. “Improvise?”

Jin Zixuan blanches. “I can’t improvise, are you literally insane?” he hisses. “I can barely talk to her, much less confess my feelings in front of a live studio audience.

“You approved the script,” Lan Wangji reminds him. “Mianmian—”

“She bullied me! She’s, like. She can really bullseye the things you’re sensitive about.” Jin Zixuan pauses. “Wait. What’s your emotional turmoil?”

Lan Wangji opens his mouth, and then closes it again. This is not the person he’d have chosen to talk to about this, but the person he’d have chosen is somewhere. On a roof. In an elevator shaft, maybe. Eventually, he mutters, “I have ... regrets.”

This does not seem to be the right answer. Jin Zixuan makes a face. “Wow, good talk,” he says.

Lan Wangji shrugs. Jin Zixuan opening his mouth to say something else when the door swings open. It’s Wang Lingjiao, dressed in deep red cultivator robes and an ornate headpiece.

She narrows her eyes at both of them, then gestures between them. “What is this,” she asks flatly. “What’s happening here.”

“I’m helping him,” Lan Wangji explains. “With his emotional crisis.”

Wang Lingjiao’s eyebrows rise. “...You are?” she asks, which, although Lan Wangji recognizes his own shortcomings in this arena, he feels is a little rich coming from her.

“Mn,” he agrees.

She makes a face at Lan Wangji and then flutters her eyes at Jin Zixuan. “Uh, okay, well, it’s time for sound check. Xuanxuan, are you ready?”

Jin Zixuan clears his throat. “You can just call me Jin Zixuan, actually,” he tells her, voice firm, and then looks at Lan Wangji as if Lan Wangji will save him. But honestly, Lan Wangji is dealing with his own stuff and his hands are full. He claps Jin Zixuan’s shoulder.

“Good luck, Xuanxuan,” he intones seriously, and deftly skirts Jin Zixuan’s panicked hands, abandoning him to the harsh light of the dress rehearsal.

-

Lan Wangji’s first time on camera is for Update, but Wei Ying is in the cold open, to announce his return. He’s dressed in black robes with red accents, his long wig tied back with a crimson ribbon. He looks — good. He hasn’t been willing or able to meet Lan Wangji’s eyes, even now, but he’s relaxed during the sketch, smiles through a long pause as the audience applauds and whistles for him, thrilled by the surprise of him.

Lan Wangji is always thrilled by the surprise of him.

“Thank you, thank you,” Wei Ying laughs, holding up his hands a little helplessly when the noise doesn’t die down. “Guys — it’s, there’s a script to this sketch. You gotta let me get through it. We’re on a tight schedule.”

Lan Wangji is supposed to be paying attention to details, runtimes and audience response and camera angles, but he can’t do anything but watch Wei Ying move, watch him be warm and energetic and alive. He should star in the show. The pilot. Lan Wangji won’t have time to join him, given his other responsibilities, but that’s fine; he’s never wanted to be an actor. He’d never even meant to be featured cast on SNL, but they’d thrown him into a sketch as an unimpressed teenage journalist during his first season and it had spiralled from there.

He’d been a meme for a while, he thinks. He’s not — memes are a little beyond him. Wei Ying loved them though. So Lan Wangji stayed a cast member.

“So are you going to stand there with your tongue hanging out or are you going to, like, let me do my job?” Ah Qing asks him impatiently, gesturing for Lan Wangji to get out of her way. “Big and Medium are backstage. They’re fighting about whether to do the new song or not. Xue Yang is insisting it’s about him.”

Lan Wangji raises his eyebrows. “Is it?” he asks.

Ah Qing snorts, covering her headset microphone with one hand. “Even if it is, it doesn’t matter. At best he’ll be, like, a visiting third.” She pauses, then makes a face. “Actually, I bet that would be his dream scenario. All sex and no responsibility. Did I accidentally give Xue Yang a present? Fuck.

She hustles him back toward where Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan are murmuring to each other; Xue Yang is watching cheerfully from a ledge nearby, legs swinging and a Caramel Apple Pop in his mouth. When he spots Lan Wangji, he gives a wave.

Lan Wangji sighs.

“Lan Wangji!” Song Lan greets, then squints, peering closer. “...I think. You’re a bit far away still.” Xiao Xingchen takes the opportunity to sneak in and buss a kiss to his cheek, then excuse himself, disappearing down the hallway to his green room. Xue Yang hops off the ledge and makes to follow him, but Lan Wangji grabs him by the collar of his shirt.

“Gay Hamlet is on deck and you don’t have your wig on,” he reminds him sternly, turning him by the shoulders and shoving him back toward the stage. “You don’t have time to flirt.”

“There’s always time to flirt,” Xue Yang corrects, pouting a little. “C’mon, let me honor the spirit of Hamlet and blow that guy in his green room.”

“I’m literally right here,” Song Lan growls.

Xue Yang flutters his eyelashes at him. “I mean, you can come too if you want, but I just don’t think we have time for a full Eiffel — ”

Go,” Lan Wangji interrupts, giving him another shove. Xue Yang pouts, but the beginning lines of Secondhand Murder ring out and he sighs, submitting to the furious attentions of Yinzhu as she begins wrestling the wig onto his head. Lan Wangji nods at Song Lan. “Apologies.”

Song Lan shakes his head, rubbing at the spot between his eyebrows. “No, it’s — I’m not worried about us, Xingchen has always loved a broken toy.” He offers up a tired shrug. “It’s just that this one’s as crazy as he is hot and we’ve already got a lot going on with the new album tour.”

“...Okay,” says Lan Wangji, neutrally.

“He has a hard time saying no,” Song Lan goes on, in answer to a question that Lan Wangji did not ask. He was sure he didn’t ask. “People — take advantage. They always have.”

Lan Wangji isn’t sure what he’s meant to be saying here, so he makes a sort of muted what can you do? gesture, then abruptly remembers that Song Lan’s vision is limited to mostly shapes and colors and does it again, but more dramatically.

Song Lan laughs. “I met him when he was still a priest,” he recalls, and distantly Lan Wangji hears the audience applauding the end of Secondhand Murder. He glances at his watch; they’re on schedule. Good. “I went because my aunt dragged me. We’re not even Christian, she just had a crush on the organ player. Anyway, there he was. Just the blurry shape of him, and his voice. The first thing he said was ‘How I wish that I could see you.’ That’s not even what you’re supposed to say. But it felt like he was talking to me.”

The first thing Wei Ying had ever said to Lan Wangji, arm dangling out of the window in the break room, was I’ll buy you a beer if you don’t tell anyone I was smoking inside.

“After the sermon I waited in the parking lot and I kissed him and he said ...” Song Lan swallows, then laughs a little. “He said, ‘Ah. There you are.’ Like he’d been waiting.”

Lan Wangji turns to look back at the stage. Wei Ying is gone again, having his makeup fixed for Update.

They have, Lan Wangji thinks, been waiting and running away by turn. They have been both the priest and the supplicant, and this whole time, all they ever really needed to be was a band. A duo.

“I don’t know why I’m telling all this to you,” Song Lan says, laughing a little. “I’ll bet you have one of those faces.”

Lan Wangji snorts. “I really don’t,” he assures him, and then, in a flash of hitherto inaccessible EQ, adds, “Xue Yang’s dad sucked.”

“All our dads sucked,” Song Lan answers dryly. “He’s not special.” But his face softens, and when Xue Yang comes bounding offstage, he hooks an arm around his neck, dragging him in for a none-too-gentle noogie. “Let’s chat after the show, hm, Yang-di?”

Xue Yang tosses a triumphant look in Lan Wangji’s direction. Lan Wangji shrugs back at him, turning away. He absolutely does not want to know about Xue Yang’s sex life. He wishes that he knew less about it than he already does.

Song Lan lets go of Xue Yang just as Xiao Xingchen emerges back on set, smiling. He takes Song Lan’s hand and both of them are ushered impatiently by Ah Qing onstage just as Jin Zixuan finishes shouting, “—rm welcome ... to Coffin City!”

The lights swoop down, spotlighting them, and Xiao Xingchen says into the microphone, “Hi. This is a song you haven’t heard before. It’s brand new. We hope you like it.”

There’s a moment of loud applause, and then Song Lan draws his violin bow across the strings and it goes quiet and hushed. Ah Qing bumps her shoulder against Lan Wangji’s, grinning. “Candy Heart,” she tells him, conspiratorially.

The music starts slowly, and Lan Wangji feels himself rocking unconsciously forward, as if pulled by it. The silence among the audience is complete. Something settles in Lan Wangji’s chest, warm and heavy.

Xiao Xingchen sings, “A sweetness writ in blocky font, when I’ve been used to bitter salt; hands full of what you taught me how to want, and given room to bloom along my lines of fault.”

Beside him, Ah Qing sniffs. “It’s good, right?” she whispers. “I told them it was good.”

“I’m gonna go to Paris so hard they’re both gonna get their vision back,” Xue Yang breathes.

“Brew a cup of joy and grief, my candy heart dissolves between your teeth. Be mine. Be mine. Be mine. I’m spun sugar on your tongue, I’m sweeter now than I ever was, be mine. Be mine. Be mine.”

Movement catches across the soundstage and snags Lan Wangji’s attention; half-bathed in shadow, standing still for the first time all day, is Wei Ying. He’s looking at Lan Wangji, eyes bright. He has always looked at him like this, Lan Wangji thinks; he doesn’t know how he missed it before. He doesn’t know how he could have known, known to his marrow, that Wei Ying tucks all his wants away and not gone looking for this particular one, hidden between punchlines, words on paper, jokes written just to make Lan Wangji laugh.

This is the funniest thing that has ever happened to me, Wei Ying had said, his body soft and pliant and warm and there in Lan Wangji’s arms. Lan Wangji had thought it meant he did not want the same things Lan Wangji wanted, but all it meant was that Wei Ying wanted it so desperately he could not bear to look at it directly. That it happened to fulfill everything Wei Ying ever wanted, at once.

“There is no risk I would not take,” Xiao Xingchen sings, voice twining with Song Lan’s violin, weaving together into a braid. They are smiling at each other. Ah Qing tucks her head against Xue Yang’s shoulder. “No god that I would not forsake, a single rule I would not break; even a candy heart like mine can ache, so be mine.”

You have loved me for such a long time, Lan Wangji thinks, and he can feel his ears grow warm as Wei Ying keeps watching him, doesn’t look away. After a long moment, the corner of his mouth pitches up and he gives a helpless shrug, as if he can hear what Lan Wangji is thinking. Maybe he can. Maybe it’s written as clearly across Lan Wangji’s face as it had been in Wei Ying’s pilot.

Lan Wangji thinks: Wei Ying. Wei Ying. There you are.

And then the lights dim, and he’s being hustled onstage.

-

“Hi,” Wei Ying says. He’s got Yinzhu in his face, grumbling about wig hair. Lan Wangji always wears a suit for Update; Wei Ying always wears a hideous t-shirt with a suit printed on the front. “I haven’t seen you all day.”

The fucking gall, Lan Wangji thinks, giving Wei Ying an unimpressed look. “I’ve been here. You’ve been avoiding me.”

Wei Ying waves a vague hand through the air. “Ah, well,” he laughs weakly, “yes, but only a little. I thought you might want some space.”

Lan Wangji frowns. “No, you didn’t,” he scolds flatly. He has a pilot’s worth of evidence that proves Wei Ying knows Lan Wangji inside-out. He has a pilot and five years of evidence that Wei Ying is not fooled by Lan Wangji’s general vibe, and knows that he does not like to be left alone.

That he has been left alone quite enough, actually.

Wei Ying flinches. “No, I didn’t,” he admits.

“Then why?”

“Countdown in five,” yells Ah Qing.

Wei Ying doesn’t answer, though it seems as if he wants to: his mouth opens, closes, then opens again.

“Four,” yells Ah Qing.

Lan Wangji asks again, more urgently, “Wei Ying. Why.

Ah Qing mouths silently, “three, two, one,” and the ON AIR sign lights up. They aren’t live, but they do record the shows for later review. Wei Ying says, “Hi, good evening everyone, welcome to Weekend Update. I’m Wei ‘Stop Telling People I’m Dead’ Wuxian.”

Lan Wangji swallows his sigh. “And I’m Lan Wangji. As you may have heard, internationally acclaimed pop star Mo Xuanyu removed his mask publicly for the first time yesterday, only to reveal a full face of clown makeup. When asked why, we can only assume he said, ‘Doctor, I am Pagliacci.’”

There’s a pause where Wei Ying is supposed to say his line; when he says nothing, Ah Qing looks down at her clipboard in confusion. She makes a gesture at Wei Ying, pointing at the cue card with a joke written on it about bodega cats as predatory landlords. It was a good joke.

Wei Ying does not say it.

An unreadable expression crosses his face; he gives his head a little shake, turns back to the cameras, and says, “The MTA announced this week that they would be postponing construction on the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway another year, to the surprise of exactly zero New Yorkers, who know that we cannot let ourselves believe that we will ever see the full Second Avenue Subway, because we want it so badly that if we — if we were to let ourselves believe, even for a second, that we could have it, that the Second Avenue Subway was something that we were — that we deserved, then losing it would ... be unsurvivable. So instead we say, well, we got the first phase, that’s pretty good. We can live with only ever getting the first phase, of the Second Avenue Subway, if it means that the Second Avenue Subway doesn’t have to give anything up for us, not one single thing, not when what we want is for the, the Subway, to get everything it’s ever dreamed of, not when your stupid feelings for the Subway mean it’ll have to, uh, dig through seventeen miles of — emotional concrete. And that’s why I’ve been, uh ... taking taxis.”

The PA holding the cue cards cranes her neck forward to read them, looking bewildered. Wei Ying is looking at him with a kind of helpless urgency.

And Lan Wangji...

...laughs.

He throws his head back, free hand coming up to clap against his chest. Someone in the audience whisper-shouts, “Oh my God, Lan Wangji broke,” and there is a swell of laughter, of applause, of delight so potent that Lan Wangji thinks that he could bottle it.

Ah Qing is lying on the floor, clipboard covering her face, and the poor PA is frantically shuffling her cards, clearly thinking that she’d somehow gotten them out of order. Lan Wangji turns, takes Wei Ying’s face into his hands, pointer finger tracing along the edge of his ear, thumb running a soft line beneath his eyes. Beneath him, Wei Ying shivers. He’s an idiot. He’s a messy, stubborn, bossy, brilliant fool, and there is nothing at all that Lan Wangji would not do for him.

The Second Avenue Subway. For God’s sake.

“Sightings of a brave new hero protecting New York bodegas have been reported throughout the city,” he murmurs. “He calls himself the Bagel Patriarch, and I hope he is watching, because I want to produce a show about him. I’m going to produce it.”

He can’t seem to get a grip on the outer edges of himself; they blur and bleed out, blend into the messy watercolor of Wei Ying beside him, eyes caught on his own. His voice is so tender that he can feel his ears going red, but he can’t stop it pouring out of him, can’t keep from looking down at his rabbit and jumping off the moon.

He says, “I would buy every bagel in this city if he asked. I would dig through any number of miles of concrete. New York deserves the Second Avenue Subway, if that’s what New York wants. It belongs in New York. It belongs to New York.”

Wei Ying is gaping at him, knuckles white with how tightly he’s gripping Lan Wangji’s wrists. He turns his face into Lan Wangji’s palm. “Lan Zhan,” he stutters, “you — you — !”

Lan Wangji cuts him off by dragging him forward onto his lap and bruising into his mouth, Wei Ying’s smiling face a gift held tight between Lan Wangji’s hands; distantly he registers Jiang Cheng’s voice announcing, “NOPE,” and the studio lights go abruptly dark. He doesn’t care. Wei Ying is a soft weight on his lap and then a laughing warmth drawing him up and away from the flickering light that still says ON AIR.

-

INTERLUDE

“What the fuck was that,” Jin Ling asks, and Yanli realizes that at some point during A-Xian’s speech, she had grabbed Jin Zixuan’s hand and is now holding it up against her mouth, teeth set against his knuckles. She’s bouncing up and down, vision a little blurry as A-Xian drags Lan Wangji offstage and away, her brave idiot brother, who’d held her hand today and said you can say whatever you want. She loves him. He’s so stupid.

When Yanli chances a look up, still clutching Jin Zixuan’s hand, he is staring at her with wide eyes.

She lets go like it’s burned her, but he quickly grabs her hand back, linking their fingers. “No, it’s, don’t,” he stutters. “I mean. If you need ... to hold a hand. It’s — I can do it. With my hand.”

Wen Qing and Jiang Cheng scramble into the Update seats, lights shuddering back on. Wen Qing says — something about bodega cats. Yanli doesn’t know.

Jin Ling gives Jin Zixuan a very dubious look. “If she needs to hold a hand she pick whatever hand she wants,” he grumbles, crossing his arms over his chest. “You don’t get to decide.”

Yanli stares down at their twined hands. Mianmian says Jin Zixuan is a good person with a bad attitude; Wen Qing says bury the hatchet but remember where it is. Yanli doesn’t like to fight. She wants to be gentle with the world and have it be gentle with her.

She looks up at him and says, “It really hurt my feelings. The article. Your quote.”

Jin Zixuan stares down at the floor. “I know. I didn’t want to hurt you. I — it was an accident.”

“But you said it,” she reminds him. “How can it be an accident when you said it?”

He shifts his weight a few times, until Jin Ling jabs him hard in the ribs and hisses, “The lady asked you a question.

The other kids call A-Xian Momxian when he’s not in the room, but Jin Ling never does. Once, late at night, when she’d roused him from a nap he was taking in the break room, Jin Ling had called her Mom. She isn’t sure he was awake enough to know he’d done it, and she’d never brought it up, just made sure to take more care of him than he probably deserved.

“Jin Ling,” Yanli soothes nevertheless, because everyone is always so willing to be mean on her behalf, as if she couldn’t do it for herself, as if she wasn’t choosing every time to be kinder than her upbringing wanted her to be.

Jin Zixuan swallows. “I believed something he said, about you. I shouldn’t have. Yanli, I — I came to host this week because I wanted to see you. I wanted to say that I’m ... that ... ”

You can do it, Yanli thinks at him, loudly. You have to do it so I can forgive you.

“Spit it out,” grumbles Jin Ling.

“I’m sorry,” Jin Zixuan blurts, and takes her other hand in his. “That’s what I’ve been wanting to say. All week. Longer than that. Yanli, I’m really, really sorry.”

Yanli smiles so widely it hurts her mouth. She stretches up to press a soft kiss to his cheek, giving his hands a squeeze. “Thank you.”

Beside them, Jin Ling makes a retching sound, and then sniffs like he’s holding back tears, then quickly harrumphs, to cover it up.

“You’ve still gotta do the monologue thing,” he insists, dragging his sleeve across his eyes. “Don’t think you don’t.”

“What monologue thing?” Yanli asks, and Jin Zixuan groans and buries his face in her shoulder, arms snaking around her middle, holding onto her tight. She wraps her arms around his shoulders and holds him tightly back.

-

INT. - WRITER’S ROOM - NIGHT

The break room is emptying out as people leave for the day.

JIA
(to Anne, a continuation of a conversation we’re
tuning into, as they pack up and head toward the door)
... free mojitos, and just kept bringing them,
and I didn’t want to be rude —

ANNE
Of course not. You’re very polite.

JIA
Right? And I usually don’t drink hard
liquor cause I’m so small and I can get drunk
so easily —

ANNE
But last year at your birthday party —

JIA
— I’M JUST SAYING, if I look a little green,
there are extenuating circumstances.

ANNE
Hey, did Quentin just lock himself in a closet?

JIA
(unconcerned)
Yeah. He like, lives there, I think.

They exit. The camera pans the empty room, then moves toward Lan Juan Gui’s office and through the door.

It is decorated entirely with bunny paraphernalia. Bunnies in framed photos, bunny-themed decorative plates, stuffed animal bunnies on the chairs facing his desk. Lorne sits behind it, with Steve laid out on his couch. All around them, Lorne’s water-shaped ideas are moving around the office. The camera pulls past Lorne’s shoulder, and through the window, zooming out and out and out until the light of the office is just another bright dot in the high-rise starscape of New York City.

-

Wei Ying drags him back to the — to their office. Lan Wangji kicks the door closed behind them, and locks it. Wei Ying drops his hand, pacing forward to the desk and then back, hands going first to Lan Wangji’s lapels, then his tie, then his collar, then away again, clenched in fists at his sides.

He’s vibrating.

The look he gives Lan Wangji is full of something that Lan Wangji is just learning how to read, having spent all of last night living in the running internal monologue of how Wei Ying looks at him. Seeing himself as Wei Ying sees him. Seeing all the places that Wei Ying stores his wants, where he folds them and tucks them away. Asking for bagels when what he wants is justice. Asking for a subway when what he wants is Lan Wangji.

He wants to say you have me. He wants to say you’ve had me all along. He wants to say you’re my favorite person in the whole world.

He says instead the thing he should have said months ago, on his couch; what he should have said years before that, the very minute he had known it: “Wei Ying. I’m in love with you.”

Wei Ying makes a sound like a temple collapsing. “Lan Zhan,” he cries, hands shooting back out to grab at Lan Wangji’s jacket. His face crumples. “You can’t just say that to me. You have to give me a warning. Lead time. A notarized declaration of intent, days in advance. Okay?” He is definitely ruining the fabric of this very nice suit, but Lan Wangji brings his hands up to cover Wei Ying’s, securing him where he is.

Lan Wangji smiles. “Is that,” he asks, “one of the four thousand rules?”

Wei Ying breathes out a startled laugh, tipping forward until his forehead is pressed against Lan Wangji’s chest. Lan Wangji loosens one of his hands to wrap around Wei Ying’s shoulders, drawing him in. Keeping him still, and here.

“You’re my favorite person,” Wei Ying mutters, and Lan Wangji feels his own grip tightening. “Everything about you is so — you’re — God, it’s horrible, it’s the worst, with your face and, and your smile and, you laughed today, you broke on camera, I’ve never wanted to have sex so bad in my life, I really wanted to, right there on stage, but also I was — but also I wanted to blind everyone in the audience and break all the cameras because I want that to be just for me, do you understand? If you gave me half a chance I’d take absolutely everything you’d give me, and you’d give me — too much. You’re too good. You’d be too good, to me. For me. And I’d just, I’d take it and take it and take it and that’s — that’s why. That’s why I...”

He swallows, shuddering. That’s why I left, Lan Wangji hears.

“That’s why you were avoiding me?” he prompts, keeping his voice gentle.

There’s a long pause; Lan Wangji waits. Song Lan in a parking lot. Cháng’é on the moon. Wei Ying says, sounding grumpy: “It was difficult. To see you unwell.”

His own words on Wei Ying’s tongue startle a breath of laughter out of him, and Wei Ying makes another whimpering sound, burying further into Lan Wangji’s chest, almost like he wants to climb inside and live there, safe and kept in the rabbit cage of Lan Wangji’s ribs.

He’d be welcome.

“Wei Ying,” he scolds, but the words, as ever, sound fond. So fond it’s embarrassing to hear. Wei Ying’s name in Lan Wangji’s mouth always has soft edges. “If I want to give you too much, I’m allowed. It’s not yours to decide what I do with it. It’s mine.”

“I know,” Wei Ying grumbles. “Yanli yelled at me.”

Lan Wangji makes a mental note to buy Yanli flowers. Some jewelry. Perhaps a car. He doesn’t yet know what Jiang Yanli likes but she’s about to get it in comical excess.

He pets Wei Ying’s head, fingers tangling in his hair. He wants to grab it by the fistful, but he keeps his hands gentle, for now. There’s time to be gentle. He doesn’t think that Wei Ying is going to run again.

“I’m like this,” Wei Ying is saying, dragging his head up and resting his chin against Lan Wangji, eyes bright. “I can’t help it. It’s — spiders. Up here,” pointing to his brain, “If you ... if you really want — there’s just going to be spiders all over the place.”

Lan Wangji hums. “A spider brings happiness in the morning and wealth in the evening,” he recites.

“Lan Zhan.”

“They are vital to a healthy ecosystem.”

“Lan Zhan!”

“They make efficient use of resources, often recycling and repurposing their old webs.”

“They’re venomous!”

“Spiders rarely attack humans unless surprised.”

Wei Ying narrows his eyes. “Okay, well, we’re gonna table your apparently endless array of arachnid facts for a later time,” he says. “My point is — ”

“I know,” Lan Wangji interrupts. “Wei Ying. I know who you are.”

How is it possible, he wonders, that Wei Ying could write Lan Wangji so perfectly, render him so affectionately, and still not realize that he is known in return? How could he describe the way that Lan Wangji looks at him and not understand what it means?

Wei Ying: sharp and funny and often sad. Wei Ying: so given to love that, like a gaseous substance, it fills any room that he is in. Wei Ying: an endless pit of desire that he refuses to acknowledge or sate. Lan Wangji has a flash of a scene for 30 Rock, Wei Ying in a bedroom with a demonic, bubbling pool that is roped off with crime scene tape, blithely ignored while he goes about his otherwise normal life.

Wei Ying, who claims that he would drain Lan Wangji dry while in the same breath refusing to take a sip.

The hands in Lan Wangji’s suit tighten and then loosen, a little. Wei Ying reaches up a shaky hand to trace the line of Lan Wangji’s jaw and murmurs, “You said — onstage, you said ... you read it. The pilot.”

Lan Wangji smiles. “Mn.”

“Then ... ” Wei Ying clears his throat, then gives a shaky laugh. “Then you know. About how I — feel. Ah, Lan Zhan. I didn’t mean to be so obvious, you know. I didn’t even realize what I’d done until Jiang Cheng read it and yelled at me about it being an embarrassing love letter. I didn’t even know I loved you then. I only thought that you were good, so good, the best, my favorite person, and that I missed you, and would miss you more when I was gone. I don’t know. I thought — it was like keeping you, keeping a piece of you, to put you in the show, but the more I wrote the more of you there was, the more I wanted to put in. I wanted to write a show that was set in just one room, with you at the center of it, so I could — look at you. Just look and look and look.”

A smile blossoms across his mouth, plush with delight. He reaches up to run his thumb along the edge of Lan Wangji’s ears. “Ah,” he murmurs. “Your ears. Your little pink ears. Lan Zhan, do you know how much I love it when they get like this? I say so many stupid things just to get you to blush. I’d say anything. I like it so much. It makes — it’s like — I want to bite them, they’re so cute.”

“You can,” Lan Wangji blurts out before he can help himself. “You — yes. Yes. Please.”

Wei Ying’s eyes go dark. He steps in closer, but there isn’t any way for him to be closer, so instead they both go stumbling back against the door. The gentle stroke of his hand against Lan Wangji’s ear becomes a pinch. “Lan Wangji,” he warns. “If — you have to mean it. Because if you let me, from now on, what you say to me, what you do for me, I’ll take all of it. Whatever I want. I won’t say no to a single thing.”

Lan Wangji feels dizzy with the promise of it, of being allowed to give, of being trusted with the cliff’s edge of Wei Ying’s wants.

He’s appalled to hear his own voice shaking when he says, “Do you want to move into my house?”

“Yes,” says Wei Ying, kissing Lan Wangji’s throat. “That’s what I want.”

His heart is a construction site, knocking like a crane against his chest. “Do you want me to cook for you?”

Wei Ying pushes his mouth up against Lan Wangji’s jaw. Bites. “That’s what I want,” he says.

“Every day?”

“Every day,” Wei Ying confirms, lips messy against Lan Wangji’s cheek. “Three times. All the meals, plus snacks.”

Something breaks in Lan Wangji, imagining it: Wei Ying looking up from his desk and asking for food, expecting it. Wei Ying accepting Lan Wangji’s gifts without any need for obfuscation, without any pretense other than that Lan Wangji loves him and wants him to have them.

He drags Wei Ying up against him, one arm hooking around his waist and the other finally tightening in his hair, pulling their mouths together, biting down on Wei Ying’s lower lip. He feels — ravenous, he thinks, starving; he wants to swallow the whole of Wei Ying and keep him, safe and warm in the clutch of his chest.

That’s fucked up, he thinks distantly, and truly, sincerely, absolutely does not give a fuck.

He walks Wei Ying backward, toward the couch, the terrible, stained couch where everything started and fell apart and then started again, where he’d first realized he loved Wei Ying and where he first kissed him. When the backs of Wei Ying’s knees knock into the cushions, he tumbles them down onto it, one knee on either side of Wei Ying’s hips, pinning him. He can’t get up. He can’t go. Lan Wangji won’t let him.

Wei Ying makes no move to go. He sinks back into the couch, dragging Lan Wangji with him. His hands are pushing impatiently at Lan Wangji’s suit jacket, and without breaking apart for even half a second Lan Wangji rids himself of it, then starts working on his shirt buttons as Wei Ying frantically loosens his tie.

But he — before Wei Ying can toss it, Lan Wangji plucks it from his hands, then yanks Wei Ying’s t-shirt up over his head. Wei Ying chuckles a little, hand running down Lan Wangji’s arm to his wrist; when his fingers get to where the tie is still clutched tight, he taps on Lan Wangji’s knuckles.

“Offer,” he murmurs, voice knowing. “Zhan-ge. Offer it to me.”

Lan Wangji swallows. His skin feels buzzy with something too precious to name, too skittish to be looked at directly. His voice is hoarse when he asks, “Do you want me to tie you to me?”

Wei Ying catches Lan Wangji’s gaze, steady and sure. “Yes,” he says, slow and deliberate. “That is exactly what I want.”

Lan Wangji turns his arm so that they are gripping each other’s wrists; with his free hand, he wraps the tie around them, looping again and again, and tying it tight. Too tight, maybe; the blue binding chafes a little against his skin. He doesn’t care. He threads his fingers through Wei Ying’s, an added promise. The buzzy thing settles beneath his skin, caught. Secure. A bird finally safe in his hands.

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying murmurs, tender, “there you are.”

Lan Wangji kisses him. He presses his unbound hand flat against Wei Ying’s chest, thumbing his nipple, soft enough that Wei Ying presses up into his touch, asking for more without saying it. That’s all right, Lan Wangji thinks; he can ask however he wants, as long as he asks. He rewards the demand with an answering pressure, and then drags his mouth down to Wei Ying’s collarbone, mouthing against his skin.

Wei Ying’s free hand flies up to the back of Lan Wangji’s head, holding him in place. “Put them back,” he gasps, grip tightening in his hair enough for it to hurt. “All the bruises that you — they were gone when I woke up this morning and I hated it, I don’t ever want them to go away, I want you to put them back, I want them back — ”

Lan Wangji does not think the sound he makes is particularly dignified, but he doesn’t care. He bites down and Wei Ying cries out but pushes into it anyway. Lan Wangji will give him as many marks as he wants, and then some. So many that they’ll be impossible to count. At least four thousand.

Lan Wangji sucks a trail of red blooms down Wei Ying’s chest, his sternum, his belly. He slides off Wei Ying’s lap and onto the floor, resting his mouth against the lip of Wei Ying’s jeans. Lan Wangji wears a suit to do Update, to be professional, and this asshole wears jeans. He’s the worst. Lan Wangji wants to kiss every terrible fucking inch of him. “Wei Ying,” he says, and a thrill runs through him, that he’s allowed to do this, that he’s allowed to ask: “What do you want?”

Wei Ying’s eyes are soft as they look at him. Lan Wangji can feel his dick, twitching and hard against his throat. “Everything,” Wei Ying says, half-laughing. “Lan Zhan. I don’t know. It’s too much. I can’t narrow it down. Look at you. I —” He brings the hand not tied to Lan Wangji up to cover his eyes; with his bound hand, he gives Lan Wangji a squeeze.

“Okay,” Lan Wangji murmurs, soothing. He strokes his hand against Wei Ying’s thigh, then moves back, toward the desk. Wei Ying makes an upset sound, but settles when Lan Wangji is stopped by the tie of their wrists. It seems to occur to him that the binding goes both ways: he can’t run from Lan Wangji, but neither can Lan Wangji run from him.

Priest and supplicant at once, Lan Wangji thinks fleetingly, and then pushes the thought from his mind, returning to his original project, which is to lean over the desk — Wei Ying elects not to make it easier by scooting closer — and opening the top drawer to pull out lube and a condom. When he turns back around, Wei Ying’s eyes dart from Lan Wangji’s hands up to where Lan Wangji is watching him. There is warm surprise pooling in his gaze. Surprise and delight and relief.

“You!” Wei Ying cries, tugging Lan Wangji forward hard enough that he stumbles a little, catching himself on Wei Ying’s shoulder. There’s something unsettled in his voice. “This! You, with this! Lan Zhan, how many people do you seduce in this office? Is this what it takes to get a sketch on air? If I’d known —”

“Only you,” Lan Wangji interrupts seriously, and Wei Ying settles, smile small and soothed. “I was made to understand that not being prepared indicated a lack of proper office administration.”

Wei Ying’s eyes widen, and then he barks out a delighted laugh: “Lan Zhan,” he crows, “really? Since then?”

“I loved you,” Lan Wangji answers simply, shrugging. “And I was unprepared.”

Wei Ying goes liquid, covering his eyes again. “Jesus fucking Christ, get a load of this guy,” he mutters. “I just — you’re, and I mean this, I really mean this Lan Zhan, you’re fucking unbelievable, I feel like all my insides are melting, so what you need to do is fuck me right now, this very second, because it’s probably your last chance before I go full Alex Mack all over the floor.”

Lan Wangji laughs, and it draws another distraught sound from Wei Ying’s mouth; he resolves to laugh more often. Louder, and all the time, if it’s what Wei Ying wants. If it makes him that happy. He knows what Wei Ying meant, now: this is the funniest thing to ever happen to him. The absolute funniest thing.

He glances up at the clock on the wall — dress rehearsal is usually about two hours, start to finish; they have some time, but not a lot. Later, at home, at the home that they’re both going to live in, at the home that Wei Ying will mess up and make cluttered and dangerous for unsupervised rabbits, Lan Wangji will take his time. Maybe he’ll take so long that they’ll have to break for lunch, and he’ll tie both of Wei Ying’s hands to the bedpost so that he’ll have to let Lan Wangji feed him, dick hard and leaking as he takes what Lan Wangji has made into his mouth with delicate chopsticks.

He hums, kneeling down between Wei Ying’s legs and unbuttoning his jeans. Yes. Later. At home.

For now, Wei Ying lifts his hips and Lan Wangji undresses him. He hitches Wei Ying’s legs up so that his heels are sturdy on the edge of the couch, exposing him, and with their bound hands he squeezes lube onto his fingers. One day he’ll figure out how to tie them together so that they can both finger Wei Ying open, but his brain can’t handle that kind of logistical processing just now; it’s all he can do to coordinate sinking his mouth down Wei Ying’s dick and his finger inside him.

Wei Ying whimpers, body jerking like it doesn’t know whether to push up into Lan Wangji’s throat or down onto his hand, so Lan Wangji draws outward with his finger and up with his mouth, then drives down and in at the same time. Wei Ying’s bound hand digs into his arm, nails imprinting half-moons onto his skin.

Good, Lan Wangji thinks, doing it again. Wei Ying wants bruises; Lan Wangji wants scars.

He pushes in another finger, without warning, and Wei Ying curls up over the back of Lan Wangji’s head, uselessly arching toward him. His hand ends up on Lan Wangji’s ear, kneading gently where it gets red.

“Zhan-ge,” Wei Ying mumbles. “Zhan-ge, I swear to God.”

Lan Wangji hums, and adds a finger. “Be polite,” he scolds, pulling off, “when you talk to God.”

It startles a laugh out of Wei Ying, which turns into a groan when Lan Wangji swallows him down again. He’s heavy against Lan Wangji’s tongue, salty; he shifts restlessly, rocking back against Lan Wangji’s fingers and then up into his mouth.

You be polite,” Wei Ying says senselessly, and Lan Wangji shifts his hand inside him until he rubs up against the place that makes Wei Ying shudder and hiss, “Ah! That’s! NOT polite, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, that’s — who taught you this? Who taught you how to do this? Who taught you how to dance and fuck, was it the same person? Who were they, don’t love them, don’t, I want, I’m grateful to them and I want to push them off a cliff, don’t stop, you can’t, ah, shit, your mouth, you’re — don’t stop, but fuck me. Fuck me right now.”

It is not physically possible for Lan Wangji to both continue what he’s doing and fuck Wei Ying, so he splits the difference and swallows him as far back into his throat as he will go, rubbing relentlessly against his prostate, and then pulling off and out all at once before standing and climbing onto the couch, turning Wei Ying as he goes so that he can crawl back between his legs, tear the condom open with his teeth, slip it on one-handed, and slide into him, not bothering to take his pants all the way off, just shoving them down.

No one taught me, he thinks, remembering hours of standing in front of a mirror practicing, bored and lonely with no one to make laugh. Hours of fingering himself open because there was no one there to do it for him.

Practicing all that time for this, for now, for Wei Ying.

He fucks in and Wei Ying makes a long sound like a sigh, relaxing against the couch, liquid and warm. His legs wrap around Lan Wangji’s back and he murmurs, “Here I am, here I am, here I am,” while Lan Wangji’s breath stutters against him, sheathed and still, heart so full that he thinks it must be spilling over, staining both of them.

“Take your time,” Wei Ying murmurs, blurring a kiss against Lan Wangji’s temple. “Stay here forever, I don’t care. I’d like it, I think. You’d have to carry me everywhere. You could come and then just — just hang out in there, till you got hard again. Meetings. We’d take meetings like this, me on your lap, and everyone would — every time they annoyed you, you could just fuck up into me, and you’d feel better. It’s okay if you’re, if it’s a little rough, I don’t mind, I want to be gentle with you but sometimes I think it would be good if we weren’t, sometimes when you’re annoyed in a meeting you get this look on your face and I think God, God, if you took all that irritation and just gave it to me — I want it, all the bad stuff, everything that’s under the hood, do you understand? Everyone thinks you’re so perfect but I want you to give me all the things that aren’t, all the bad bits, all the worst ones, I want those, I want you to fuck them into me, I know that doesn’t make sense, shut up about sense, I want — do you know what I want, do you understand?”

“Yes,” says Lan Wangji, and moves, drawing out and pushing back in slowly at first, but then faster, rougher, he wants to be gentle with Wei Ying but he thinks that this can be a form of gentleness, too: meeting the rough edges with his own. A knife is pliant against a whetstone.

He bends over and drags his teeth against Wei Ying’s jaw on his way to his mouth, kissing him and fucking into him and holding onto him where their hands are bound. He curls his free hand around Wei Ying’s dick and strokes in time with his own hips, like he had done with his mouth and his hand. One day he won’t. One day Wei Ying will come just from Lan Wangji inside him. One day he’ll come just from Lan Wangji’s fingers, one day just from his mouth, one day from nothing at all, just Lan Wangji whispering filth into his ears; four thousand ways. Lan Wangji had promised.

But now, here, on this couch that has borne them through so many missteps, he jerks Wei Ying steadily, kissing all the breath out of him, kissing him until he’s struggling a little, surrounded, engulfed. Lan Wangji doesn’t want him to feel anything else, just Lan Wangji, in him, on him, around him. Just this. Only this.

He fucks in and grinds down against the shuddering spot, twisting his wrist on Wei Ying’s dick, and Wei Ying is coming, shouting into Lan Wangji’s mouth for him to swallow. Lan Wangji strokes him through it and a little past, until Wei Ying’s hips are jerking back from his hand, which drives his prostate down onto Lan Wangji’s dick.

“Ah! Fuck!” he hisses, but doesn’t stop, shifts against it. “It’s too much. I like it. Come on. Come on.” Lan Wangji closes his eyes and buries his face in the curve of Wei Ying’s neck and lets go, fucking him without any rhyme of reason, Wei Ying’s body a river beneath him, rolling. When he comes, it’s almost a surprise: he bites down on Wei Ying’s shoulder hard enough to leave teeth marks.

The moment breathes between them. Lan Wangji doesn’t raise his head. Wei Ying’s hand comes up and cards through his hair, soft.

“I love you,” he whispers, like it’s a secret. Like Lan Wangji doesn’t know. Like maybe Wei Ying himself had not known. “I hurt you. I’m sorry.”

Lan Wangji lolls his head back and forth, as close to a headshake as he can get without sitting up. “No need for sorry,” he says, the words a promise against Wei Ying’s skin. “You were right. It was stupid of me to think I could not love you and executive produce at the same time.”

Wei Ying’s hand stills in his hair. When Lan Wangji pushes up into him, he chuckles a little and moves again. “You took the job,” Wei Ying deduces.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji confirms. “This morning.”

“And you ...” Wei Ying swallows. “You like the show? You really want to buy it?”

Lan Wangji raises his head. They are still tied together. If Lan Wangji had it his way, they’d never be untied. “I really like it. I love it. I want it. Don’t take it anywhere else, or if you do, let me produce it anyway.”

“Lan Zhan, is this just because — ” Wei Ying begins, but Lan Wangji cuts him off with a shake of his head, afraid suddenly that he’s going to say any number of stupid things, like is this just because you love me?

“It’s not because of anything else,” he says firmly. He stretches up to kiss the corner of Wei Ying’s mouth. “It’s brilliant. It’s perfect.” He pauses, reconsiders, and corrects: “Well. I have some notes.”

Wei Ying lets out a wet laugh, and peppers Lan Wangji’s face with kisses, biting his ear gently. “Of course you do,” he murmurs. “I’ll — yes. I didn’t want to sell it to anybody else. It can’t be anybody else. You can give me whatever notes you have. I’ll accept everything, as long as you’re willing to — ah, Lan Zhan! Are you crying?”

Lan Wangji brings his free hand up to his face, startled. Oh. He is, a little.

“Happy,” he says.

Wei Ying stretches up and presses his mouth to the tear track, tongue darting out to catch the salt. He hums, a smile on his lips as he draws back. “Aiyo, you know what? It’s so strange, but for some reason I’ve just thought of a story that someone told me once, about a little jade rabbit who lived on the moon.”

-

“...t’s my time, cultivators and cultivesses,” says Wei Ying, dressed in his dark robes and his long wig. The red ribbon is back in his hair. Above his head, the ON AIR light is warm and steady. He’s laughing, not quite a break, not quite in character. His eyes meet Lan Wangji’s where Lan Wangji is standing beside Ah Qing.

He grabs the microphone between his hands and says: “You’ve been a great audience, you truly have, and before I go I really just want to say that LIVE, FROM NEW YORK, IT’S — ”

Chapter Text

SUNDAY

On Sundays, Lan Wangji sleeps all the way until six-thirty, meets his brother for tennis at seven, and then spends two or three hours back in bed, reading with his book balanced on the top of Wei Ying’s head. Wei Ying never quite wakes when Lan Wangji climbs back beneath the covers, but does claim just enough consciousness to snuffle his way over to Lan Wangji’s side of the bed and drape himself over Lan Wangji’s chest, leg hooked over Lan Wangji’s knee. He does this with an air of immense patience, like Lan Wangji’s insistence on “waking up” and “accomplishing things” and “exercising” is a tremendous burden to him, but which he puts up with only because of his fondness for the man doing the accomplishing.

Right now, he is drooling heavily on Lan Wangji’s laundry-fresh undershirt, which he’s taken to wearing around the house because for reasons he cannot begin to comprehend, they make Wei Ying come unglued. Lan Wangji is waging a war of exposure therapy, because they’re his daily undershirts and he needs to be able to wear them without having to have sex with his boyfriend about it.

It’s the most wonderful war that’s ever been fought, in his opinion.

Wei Ying’s mouth moves sleepily against Lan Wangji’s chest, and he sniffs himself awake, furrow appearing between his brows. He squints up at Lan Wangji, who moves his book aside to look back at him, hand threading through Wei Ying’s knotted hair.

“You got up,” Wei Ying accuses, as if this is not something that happens every week. “Without me.”

“I came back,” Lan Wangji soothes him, reasonably. He refrains from pointing out that he had attempted to get Wei Ying out of bed with him on Sundays for the first few months of their cohabitation, and the experience had been traumatic for the both of them.

“It’s a rule,” Wei Ying insists. He’s always like this, when he’s had a good sleep, his brain slow and petulant until it finishes rebooting. “Bed always. Tennis never.

“We did not agree on this rule,” Lan Wangji says. “This rule was not ratified.”

Lan Wangji is, in fact, keeping track of the rules. Wei Ying had bought him a notebook. There are four sections: “Rules Wei Ying Claims Were A Gentleman’s Agreement Between Us,” “Rules That Can Apparently Be Broken At Any Time,” “Proposed Rules Currently Under Advisement,” and “House Rules.”

There are currently four hundred and thirty seven. In the back of the notebook is a list of tally marks. Lan Wangji made a promise; he thinks the best way to keep it is to keep up. Four thousand is a long ways away.

This rule was not ratified,” Wei Ying mimics, but he’s burrowing deeper into Lan Wangji’s chest, arms wrapping round his middle. “It’s so sexy when you use your University of Chicago Valedictorian Voice. Tell me about it in latin.”

Lan Wangji huffs a laugh. Technically, he was merely a student representative, chosen supposedly on the basis of his academic prowess but almost certainly because he was the only one of his cohort who didn’t get debilitating stage fright. He scratches down Wei Ying’s scalp, to his neck, and Wei Ying stretches out with a little sound like a contented cat. A smile breaks across Lan Wangji’s chest. “Oho,” Wei Ying hums, closing his teeth on the thin fabric of the undershirt. “Hello, old friend.”

Lan Wangji uses his book to gently bonk Wei Ying’s head. “No,” he scolds. “This is practice. It’s good for you.”

“Ridiculous,” Wei Ying hums, pushing his fingers up under the lip of the shirt and skating upwards, toward the place on Lan Wangji’s chest where Lan Wangji’s ill-advised tattoo is. He’d planned for years to get it removed; Jiang Cheng had done it immediately, but Lan Wangji ... well, he’d liked it, the secret of having something permanent that matched something permanent in Wei Ying. And then he’d sort of forgotten, and then it was too late, because Wei Ying had noticed.

(The tattoo was white, which Lan Wangji hazily remembers is because the tattoo artist had insisted. “Y’all are a mess,” he’d said, in a friendly way. “Like, you guys are way too drunk for me to be doing this. I mean, I’m gonna, but only if you let me do it in the least dramatic way possible. It’ll look more like a scar than anything else, but that’s kind of metal.”

Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji had clung to each other’s shoulders in delight. “A scar,” Jiang Cheng had breathed, bouncing on the balls of his feet like Yanli did when she was excited. “Cooooooool.”

Anyway, what it meant was that Lan Wangji had gone a surprisingly long time having sex with Wei Ying in dim or dark places before his gaze had finally zeroed in on the faded white sun and he had pressed trembling fingers to it.

“When? How?” he had asked, eyes dark, and Lan Wangji had told him primly, “I will never, ever tell you,” and Wei Ying’s delight at the whole thing meant that he was never going to the tattoo removal place.)

Wei Ying glares at him, but there’s no heat to it; the corners of his eyes are too wrinkled with fondness. “You’re the only man in the world who doesn’t want his partner to be constantly horny for him,” he accuses affectionately. “I mean, are you even human?”

Lan Wangji does not say that of course he wants Wei Ying to be ... lustful ... for him; that he personally goes throughout every day with a kind of vague sense that his precious time is being wasted whenever he doesn’t have some part of Wei Ying under his hands.

Tragically, however, they live in a society. This is unfair and, Lan Wangji personally thinks, a bad idea, but nevertheless, it’s where they live, and Lan Wangji would like to be able to continue wearing quotidian clothes without getting a boner every time he pulls one from the laundry, remembering.

Wei Ying perks up suddenly. “Hey,” he says. “It’s Sunday.

“Yes,” Lan Wangji agrees. He reaches above the lamp to tap the empty square of today on the bunny novelty calendar that Wei Ying had bought him for his birthday. Lan Wangji knows it was a joke, but sometimes he likes to torment Wei Ying for fun, so he had accepted it very seriously and now crosses each day off with somber diligence while Wei Ying watches him with soft soft soft soft eyes.

“Sunday means tomorrow is Monday,” Wei Ying tells him, very factually.

“Yes,” Lan Wangji agrees. “The day after is Tuesday. Wednesday comes next.”

The hand beneath Lan Wangji’s shirt pinches his nipple, a rebuke. Lan Wangji startles beneath it, but otherwise doesn’t move away; Wei Ying’s grin turns a little devious, and his thumb moves a slow circle around the now-sore spot, slow but firm.

Lan Wangji is not making a lot of progress, with the shirts. Instead of training Wei Ying out of being horny, it is possible that he is training himself into it.

Monday I have my host meeting,” Wei Ying reminds him. “All your little minions are gonna have to pitch to me, because I’m the host.

A look of manic glee crosses his face. Lan Wangji does not panic. “Oh man. Jiang Cheng is gonna be such a little bitch about it. Do you think he’ll let me do Update? Oh man do you think they’ll let us both do Update? As, like — c’mon, for old time’s sake. It’s where we fell in love. It’s romantic.”

“It’s not where we fell in love,” Lan Wangji tells him sternly. He fell in love with Wei Ying over the course of many days, in many rooms, in the back of many taxi cabs, on the punchline of a hundred, thousand jokes.

Wei Ying claps a hand over Lan Wangji’s mouth. “Don’t say it,” he warns. “I can see what you’re thinking, and it’s gonna make me too gay to get out of bed.”

Lan Wangji blinks. “I don’t think that’s,” he begins, but Wei Ying cuts him off by hauling himself up to messily kiss his mouth. His breath tastes like — “You had candy after I went to bed,” Lan Wangji accuses. “And — is that chili onion crunch from Trader Joe’s?”

“I put it on the Swedish Fish,” says Wei Ying shamelessly, as if this weren’t a crime against food. “Hey, are you saying you don’t want to kiss me, just because my mouth tastes bad? Because I take offense to that. You love me. You’re supposed to think everything about me is delicious and delightful. You’ll swallow my come but you won’t kiss a tiny bit of chili oil out of my mouth? What kind of fucked up palate do you have, Zhan-ge?”

Something runs the entire length of Lan Wangji, from his ears to his toes, at how easily Wei Ying says it, even now. You love me. Like he knows it without thinking. Like he doesn’t mind.

“Do not speak to me of palates,” Lan Wangji tells him archly. “You just said you put chili oil on Swedish Fish.”

“Yeah, ’cause I’m an innovator,” Wei Ying informs him, breezy. His nail catches on Lan Wangji’s nipple again as he grins downward. “I thought you liked my innovations. I thought that’s why you’re so obsessed with fucking in the kitchen. But hey, if it’s too gross for you — ”

Lan Wangji knows that he’s being baited, but he caves anyway, surging up to capture Wei Ying’s mouth again. It still tastes disgusting, but he doesn’t care. It’s Wei Ying.

Wei Ying, who laughs against Lan Wangji’s lips and settles down on top of him, a comfortable weight. His leg shifts, thigh rucking up against Lan Wangji’s dick, soft pajamas bottoms catching on his zipper. He looks confused, then heaves a sigh. “Lan Wangji,” he scolds against his mouth, “are you wearing khakis. Did you bring khakis into bed with me?”

“They’re nice,” Lan Wangji tells him. “Also, it’s the daytime. Daytime is a pants time.”

Wei Ying makes a sound of outrage, rearing his head back and giving Lan Wangji such a look of betrayal that he has no choice but to relent and kick his khakis off, leaving them in a heap on the floor he knows will wrinkle them. Lan Wangji’s Wei Ying makes all kinds of sounds, all the time; hums to himself when he’s writing, mutters while he’s in the shower, narrates his monstrous snacks as he stares into the refrigerator for what can only loosely be termed ingredients.

Lan Wangji tries to categorize them all neatly in his head, but they don’t stick to their categories. This does not surprise him. Wei Ying has never done what was expected of him.

“Ahh, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying murmurs now, sinking back down onto him, giving a slow roll of his hips against Lan Wangji’s before climbing up and onto his lap. “You! Youuuuu. Khakis, honestly, I just don’t know what I’m going to — ”

Lan Wangji kisses him. He winds both arms around Wei Ying’s waist, drawing him in close, as close as he can get. Wei Ying braces one hand against the headboard and hooks the other around the back of Lan Wangji’s neck, rolling his hips again, rolling their dicks together. He likes to do this, Lan Wangji has found. He likes being close but not close enough, likes the terrible denial of almost but not quite getting what you want.

Like anything else, Lan Wangji is happy to oblige. To slide one hand down Wei Ying’s back, under the waistline of his pajamas, and skirt a finger over his hole, pressing up against the rim but not in. Wei Ying whimpers a little, flinching back; Lan Wangji’s hand goes with him, and doesn’t increase the pressure. What Wei Ying wants is to not get what he wants, and so Lan Wangji will give it to him by not giving it to him. He uses the arm still wrapped around Wei Ying’s middle to drag him against Lan Wangji’s chest, to grind down against him, finger still barely a caress against him, dry.

“Zhan-ge,” Wei Ying whimpers. “Please. Come on. Please. I want it. You said you’d give me everything I want.”

“I did say that,” Lan Wangji agrees. “Yes.” He pushes in, just a little. The tiniest bit. Enough to make Wei Ying’s breath hitch. But before he can push back for more, Lan Wangji moves his hand out of Wei Ying’s pants, tugs them down instead, not so much that he needs to get up but enough that Lan Wangji can bring his own dick up and slide it between Wei Ying’s cheeks, squeezing them together with his hands and digging his nails in, a little. There’s lube in the drawer but this is better, he thinks, a little meaner even, making Wei Ying wait while Lan Wangji fucks up and down, getting just enough friction to make Wei Ying’s eyes flutter shut but not bringing his hands anywhere near Wei Ying’s dick, and not letting Wei Ying do it either.

“You’re a bully,” Wei Ying mutters, but his voice wobbles, hips stuttering as Lan Wangji’s dick leaks against him. “You’re so fucking mean, you’re such an asshole, I like you so much, do you know how much? I tell you all the time but do you know?”

“Mn,” says Lan Wangji, clenching his nails into Wei Ying. He knows.

Wei Ying’s hands curl in Lan Wangji’s undershirt and his dick rucks up against it, pink and wet at the tip. It’s going to stain. Lan Wangji is running out of undershirts. He lets Wei Ying rub against him, but not enough for him to come; instead, he keeps Wei Ying in place and fucks up again and again, against but not in, grazing Wei Ying’s asshole, and slowly sucks a bruise high enough on Wei Ying’s throat that it’ll be impossible to hide at dinner.

“Khakis in bed,” Wei Ying is saying, and Lan Wangji doesn’t even always really listen to him anymore, just lets the babble wash over him like a warm wave, “you absolute sociopath, how is it possible that you look so hot in pants that only fucking Mormons wear? I thought Stephanie Meyer was on some bullshit in Twilight but you know what, I was wrong, she knew what she was about, she was a prophet, she’s the only person who’s ever understood what true fashion is, God, God, fuck, please get in me, please, you’re right there, it hurts how much I want you, I want you all the fucking time, I never stop thinking about it, I’ll let you fuck me with the fucking khakis still on if that what it fucking takes to get you to just — ”

When Lan Wangji’s orgasm hits, it’s with a kind of syrupy feeling, his mouth warm and wet against Wei Ying’s skin, Wei Ying’s arms secure around his head. Wei Ying yelps, clearly furious that Lan Wangji’s dick is out of the running for being inside him, but in a calming gesture Lan Wangji brings a hand around and finally pushes two fingers into Wei Ying, the slide made slick and easy with his own come.

The sound that Wei Ying makes then is soft, and satisfied, like Lan Wangji’s fingers inside him have soothed an ache. It is a balance, Lan Wangji thinks; gentle and ungentle. Getting and not getting. Sometimes both at once.

He finds the spot with practiced ease and presses up against it with relentless, small circles. Two fingers are fine; Wei Ying grinds down with a series of tiny, aborted hip jerks.

“This isn’t,” Wei Ying huffs out, “you can’t just — ”

But actually, Lan Wangji can, which he proves with a particularly vicious thrust up, and then Wei Ying is coming all over the very undershirt that Lan Wangji was trying to save. He doesn’t take his fingers out, and in fact keeps going, a little, just to watch Wei Ying twitch, just to hear him whimper, a little. He never pulls away. Never once, when Lan Wangji has done this, has Wei Ying ever pulled away.

“If you finger me hard again and then have the fucking gall not to put your dick in me, I’m filing for divorce,” Wei Ying mumbles against the side of Lan Wangji’s head, and then bites his ear for emphasis before gentling, running his tongue along its delicate rim.

Lan Wangji smiles into Wei Ying’s shoulder. “We’re not married,” he reminds him.

“You can’t prove that,” says Wei Ying, breezily.

Lan Wangji huffs. “There’s no marriage certificate,” he points out. “Nobody poured tea for anybody else.”

“Absence of evidence is not evidence,” he is told, as Wei Ying pushes back against his fingers even while his hips jerk away. “Hey, do you think we fuck enough? Or too much? What’s a normal amount, do you know?”

Lan Wangji knows that most of the time, when Wei Ying asks these kinds of questions, he’s not looking for an answer; he just wants to make noise. So instead of trying to do sex math, Lan Wangji focuses on pressing up into Wei Ying until the jerks of his hips stop being from discomfort and start to be from pleasure. He likes to watch the transition.

He likes to give something to Wei Ying until he wants it. Pleasure. Peace. Care.

“Will you — can you — Lan Zhan, for fuck’s sake, it’s a Sunday, Sunday is the Lord’s day, the Lord preaches kindness, be kind, do the right thing — ”

“We’re not Christian,” Lan Wangji reminds him, quirking an eyebrow.

“No but I think they made a good point about weekends,” answers Wei Ying, “and furthermore I think that if any afterlife at all exists then God or whatever omnipotent being exists definitely wants us to fuck, my evidence being the existence of the prostate and the shape of your hands.”

“Your theology is unparalleled,” Lan Wangji informs him, laughing. Wei Ying beams down at him, like he always does.

“If you do not put your dick in me right now this very second, you’re gonna find out exactly how unparalleled my theology is,” Wei Ying threatens, which doesn’t mean anything, a fact he seems to realize when a confused look passes over his face. “Ah. Shut up,” he adds quickly, before Lan Wangji can comment. “Shut up, shut up, I’ll fight you, I’ll — ”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji tells him, and the fondness in it is thick as it ever is. He shifts up and pushes in, still only half-hard but not worried about it. Sometimes he just likes to be close. Sometimes he just likes to — to hang out. In and around Wei Ying.

Wei Ying, at last, settles.

Neither of them move, but the heat is good, the heat of him is always so good. Lan Wangji’s favorite place.

Wei Ying smiles. “Hi,” he says, soft. He presses a kiss to the space between Lan Wangji’s eyebrows, then to his eyelids, then to his nose. “Good morning. Happy Sunday.”

“Blessed are we, on this, the day of the Lord,” Lan Wangji agrees dryly, and it startles a laugh out of Wei Ying, whose hands come up to play with Lan Wangji’s hair. He’s been cutting it shorter, since he took the EP job. It’s dumb but it seems to matter to the other execs that he looks ... Lan Wangji doesn’t know. Professional.

(“Like a cop,” Wei Ying had laughed. “They made you look like a fucking cop.”)

He’s going to start growing it out, next year. If things keep going this well. He figures once he has enough evidence that he is smart and capable, he can have whatever haircut he wants.

He feels lazy today, easy; they have nothing to do today but the Lan family dinner, because Lan Wangji does not work on Sundays. He turns off his phone completely, which everyone had insisted he could not do until he went right ahead and did it anyway.

Wei Ying also does not work, but he doesn’t turn off his phone either. He claims this is allowed because “I use my phone for a host of entertainment options, and if my brain is not stimulated every second of the day, I will die. Also, you like it when I show you the funny tweets.”

(“They’re your tweets, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji always says, and Wei Ying always answers, “Yeah, obviously, those are the funniest ones.”)

Today they’re going to fuck, and then Lan Wangji is going to play music while Wei Ying lies on the floor listening and playing with the bunnies and doing whatever it is on the internet that he does when he’s not being paid enough attention, and then Lan Wangji will make them lunch, and they’ll eat it on the balcony, looking out at the city, joking back and forth about nothing. Wei Ying will eat til he’s full and it will make Lan Wangji feel warm, and needed, and good.

So, so good.

Now, on his lap, smiling so softly down at him that it hurts Lan Wangji to look at, Wei Ying asks, “So are you going to fuck me or are we gonna keep talking about God?” and Lan Wangji smiles, smiles, takes his face between his hands and immediately fucks upward into Wei Ying hard enough to be rewarded with a sob and thinks Wei Ying, don’t you know those are the same thing?

-

“Wangji,” his uncle greets, voice as warm as it ever gets. He shifts his attention to Lan Wangji’s shoulder, where Wei Ying has hooked his chin. He’s draped along Lan Wangji’s back, grinning.

“Hey Uncle Q,” Wei Ying says cheerfully. “Thanks for having us.”

Behind Uncle Qiren’s back, Lan Xichen mouths, “Uncle Q?” and Lan Wangji shrugs back. If Wei Ying wants to deal with their uncle’s dislike by tormenting him with aggressive affection, then that’s between them. Anyway, Lan Wangji thinks his uncle is kind of coming around to it, evidenced by the fact that he has stopped “forgetting” to serve Wei Ying his food.

They follow Lan Wangji’s uncle and brother into the dining room, where Meng Yao is already sitting. Wei Ying makes a wincing kind of face at him, and Meng Yao makes a wincing kind of face back. Lan Wangji does not know what this exchange means.

“Lan Wangji,” Meng Yao offers, bowing his head.

Meng Yao is ... fine. He’s fine.

It’s whatever.

They work together more these days, since Wen Chao was fired for office misconduct after a series of incriminating photos found their way to the press. Meng Yao had been named his replacement as head of S&P, and thankfully took Su She with him. Meng Yao claims to like Su She, which is, in Lan Wangji’s opinion, the shadiest thing about him.

HR had provided Lan Wangji with a replacement named Sisi. She is efficient and effective and terribly mean, and Wei Ying adores her.

“Are you excited for next week, Wei Wuxian?” Lan Xichen asks, pouring Wei Ying and Meng Yao a glass of wine and sparkling apple cider for the rest of them. “I know the staff is thrilled to have you back.”

Wei Ying snorts. “The staff is excited that they’ll finally get to pitch the weird shit,” he corrects, but he’s grinning. “Yeah. I am. I’ve got like, four sketches that no one would let me put on air when I was on staff that I’m gonna demand we do. Jiang Cheng will be furious. It’s gonna be great.”

“If they didn’t make it to air, there was probably a reason,” Lan Wangji’s uncle grumbles.

“Yeah,” agrees Wei Ying, “and that reason is: cowardice and bad taste. I will be the only brave host SNL has ever had.”

“‘Brave,’ is not the word I would choose,” Uncle Qiren tells him, sniffing. “Perhaps ‘outlandish.’ Perhaps ‘buffoon.’”

Wei Ying beams at him. “I take ‘buffoon’ as a compliment, and I think you know that,” he answers, and Lan Wangji has to fight to keep from smiling down at his food. Three years ago, his uncle had banned Wei Ying from his office; now he invites him here, to his home, and bickers with him about whatever stupid thing they hit on every week.

Retirement’s been good for him. He plays a lot of golf and does a lot of reading. Lan Wangji thinks maybe he’s going to write a book on producing. Lan Xichen says that there’s been interest from Tisch to have him teach a seminar. He’d be good at it. He’d taught his nephews, after all.

Across the table, Lan Xichen is looking at Lan Wangji with a softly happy smile.

“Lan Wangji,” Meng Yao interjects, before Wei Ying and Uncle Qiren can really get going, “how is Sisi getting on?”

Lan Wangji blinks. “... Fine,” he says. “I didn’t realize you were friends.”

Meng Yao’s smile is flat and cheerful. He’s the blandest person in the world, maybe, Lan Wangji thinks, or else the world’s stillest waters are hiding the Mariana Trench. “Oh, I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say friends, per se,” Meng Yao explains pleasantly. Wei Ying and Uncle Qiren have both settled back against their chairs, looking grumpy to have been stymied in their battle. “She and Qin Su are quite close. I used to see her at lunch sometimes, that’s all. She always seemed nice.”

“‘Nice?’” Wei Ying repeats skeptically. “Lan Wangji’s Sisi? The woman who tried to fistfight a waiter for suggesting Meng Shi stick to salad? The woman who once cut a paparazzi’s camera off his neck using her, and I quote, purse knife? That Sisi?”

Meng Yao looks down at his plate. Lan Wangji thinks that maybe his lips twitch, but he can’t be sure. “Well, she was perfectly nice to me,” he says mildly. “Uncle, would you care for some more rice?”

Lan Xichen is staring down at his lap like he’s trying not to laugh. Wei Ying goes on, “I can’t believe it. She’s gonna be horrified that there’s someone in the world who thinks she’s nice. I don’t know who she worked for before us but I assume it was like, the mob.”

“The Weather Channel,” Meng Yao supplies. “She moved over after they were sold to Entertainment Studios.”

Lan Wangji’s head whips around so fast he sees spots. “NBC owned The Weather Channel?” he asks. The rest of the table stares at him. Lan Wangji can hear the intensity of longing in his own voice. He does not care.

“...Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks, confusion coloring his tone. “You thinking of becoming a meteorologist?”

“The Weather Channel,” Lan Wangji whispers. “Good God. All this time. I was so close.”

The office. The quiet of The Weather Channel office.

“Well, I guess I know what sexy roleplay we’ll be doing tonight,” Wei Ying announces to the table, probably just to make Uncle Qiren and Lan Xichen blush. Sure enough, he glances around the table with a devious look and then gives his arm a victory pump. “Meng Yao!” he cries. “Check it out! Six red ears. That’s a strike, baby. That’s a Lan Clan Strike.”

“Congratulations,” Meng Yao says, voice perfectly even, and pops a dumpling into his mouth.

-

MONDAY

The signs read WELCOME BACK and WE MISSED YOU and IT IS GOOD YOUR SHOW DIDN’T FLOP. Wei Ying throws his head back and laughs, swiping all three strawberry sprinkle donuts from the box and one plain, unglazed for Lan Wangji. He tosses it over Sizhui’s head, where his old featured cast — now full cast members — have flocked to him. Yanli has her arm snaked around his own, and she’s very fondly fixing his hair; Mianmian has commandeered Wen Ning to wrangle the newbies to meet him. One of the new featured cast members is Mianmian’s distant cousin and has the same name; the rest of the cast have taken to calling her Mianmianmianmian, which Lan Wangji already knows Wei Ying is going to have a field day with. He bets they do an office mockumentary sketch about it.

Nie Huaisang is delicately drinking tea and taking photos on his phone; Jingyi keeps joking that he’s going to pivot and become an influencer because it will get him better access to brunch.

(“I don’t need better access to brunch,” Nie Huaisang says, voice dripping with disdain. “I’ve got the New York City brunch community on lock, bitch.”)

Lan Wangji leans against the counter. He feels ... full, he thinks. Overflowing.

“So,” says Jiang Cheng, coming to stand beside him. His eyes track Wei Ying moving through the room, a small quirk to his lips. “We really couldn’t get anyone else? People like us. Our ratings are higher this year than they’ve been in ages.”

“Yes, Wen Qing has lived up to my every expectation,” Lan Wangji answers flatly, just to annoy him. Jiang Cheng sputters, then punches Lan Wangji’s shoulder. Lan Wangji raises an eyebrow. “You’re fired,” he says flatly.

“Good. This place sucks,” Jiang Cheng shoots back. “Ugh. He’s going to make me let him do Update. The head writers always do Update, but this asshole is just gonna make his dumb big eyes at Wen Qing and she’s gonna — ”

“What’s Qing-jie gonna do?” Wei Ying interrupts, popping up suddenly in front of them, mouth full of donut.

Wen Qing’s hand shoots out from nowhere to snatch the remainder of the donut from his hand, taking it for herself. (“Where did you even come from,” Jiang Cheng mutters, not unhappily.) “Fuck around and find out,” she tells him darkly, before leveling him with an accusatory finger point. “Listen. Do not pitch me Horny Court: The Musical again. We’re not doing it. I’m head writer now, I don’t have time to write you a fucking opera.”

“Technically, it would be an operetta, because there’s quite a bit of dialogue,” Wei Ying wheedles, and receives a smack to the back of his head for his troubles. “Ow! You can’t hit me, I’m the celebrity host!”

“Celebrity my ass,” Jiang Cheng says. “You were viral for like, fourteen seconds, half because of Lan Wangji and half because the internet is made up of perverts who want to see you guys kiss. Anyway, all sitcoms do their best in their first season. I’ll bet you don’t last another.”

“You — !” Wei Ying cries, and they’re off, Wei Ying chasing Jiang Cheng around the break room with a couch cushion. Wen Qing settles next to Lan Wangji, and they both watch as Sizhui tries to separate Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying while Jin Ling and Jingyi team up to launch Zizhen onto Wei Ying’s back until everyone goes tumbling down onto the couch and then the floor.

Lan Wangji can, at any time, call the meeting to order; but it feels good, to watch. It feels almost like it’s a year ago, two years, three, and Wei Ying is the brightest part of any room Lan Wangji is in. He imagines them going back to their old office, settling in to bicker about what sketches to write, fending off their staff and managing the host.

30 Rock films at Silvercup studios, in Queens; it’s only 20 minutes on the train from Sutton Place, and a quarter that in a taxi. They don’t share an office anymore, aren’t living in each other’s pockets at all hours of the day. Lan Wangji often misses it. There is no amount of Wei Ying that would be too much, no number of hours that would exhaust him. But they meet, most days, for lunch back at the apartment, or else Lan Wangji takes a taxi to the studio to stand at craft services eating terrible sandwiches, watching.

Plus, Wei Ying sends him approximately 8,000 texts and memes and voice notes a day, so. There’s that.

“I think it was closer to fifteen seconds, to be fair,” Wen Qing muses. “People really loved watching you guys make out.”

Lan Wangji does not blush, no matter what Mianmian would say. “Mn,” he says, and then, raising his voice a little, adds, “Wei Ying. Let’s get started.”

Wei Ying’s head pops up from behind the couch. His hair has come loose from its tie; Jiang Cheng is pink and sputtering beside him. Yanli is standing with Jin Ling, fussing over the coffee stain on his designer sweatsuit; Jin Ling is glaring furiously at where Jingyi is mockingly doing the same to Sizhui.

Sizhui lets him, too blatantly over-the-moon about having Wei Ying back to care.

“Right!” Wei Ying cries, hopping to his feet. “Pitch to me, peasants. I am your lord now. I want the weirdest shit you’ve got. I wanna make the guys in S&P cry. I wanna say ‘fuck’ on camera.”

“I hate you,” Jiang Cheng says flatly.

“Not a pitch,” Wei Ying answers crisply. “Next.”

I think we should vote on who gets to say fuck,” adds Mianmian.

Yanli bursts into tears, then says, “Ah, sorry, it’s the hormones,” and the pandemonium that breaks out as Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying whip their heads to look at her, shouting, “WHAT,” is roughly when Lan Wangji gives up on having a normal week.

-

“You knew,” Wei Ying accuses him the second they’re alone, in Lan Wangji’s office while the studio downstairs sets up to film the promos. “I saw your face! You weren’t surprised! You knew!”

Lan Wangji quirks an eyebrow at him. “She put in for maternity leave,” he allows. “She wanted to tell you herself. Am I in trouble for respecting your sister’s wishes?”

Wei Ying makes a furious spluttering sound, flinging himself onto the couch that Lan Wangji had moved from what is now Jiang Cheng’s office into his own. (“Our love couch,” Wei Ying had crooned.) It’s a horrible couch, really, and doesn’t match the rest of the furniture, but Lan Wangji hadn’t been able to countenance the idea of anyone else having it. Plus, hygienically and morally speaking, he really felt it wasn’t right to gift it to Wei Ying’s brother. In deference to the rules of polite society, he did have it re-upholstered for guests.

“Don’t — don’t you come at me with your ethics,” Wei Ying mutters. “I’m yelling at you, and you come back with manners? With politeness? With consideration of my shijie? Fuck off. Fuck all the way off. I know what you’re doing.”

“What am I doing?” Lan Wangji asks, coming back round his desk to kneel in front of where Wei Ying is slouched. He puts a hand on each knee and rubs a small circle with his thumb.

Wei Ying shudders and relaxes, slumping forward until their foreheads are resting together. “I forget,” he says, “but whatever it was, I was right. Hey! I’m gonna have a niece. Or a nephew. Do you think she’ll let me help pick out the name? She’s got to. She can’t let Jiang Cheng do it, he’s terrible at names. I’ll bet Jin Dicks-uan is even worse. I’ll bet he names him, like, Junior or something.”

Lan Wangji grins. “Do you have a better suggestion?” he asks. He happens to know that Wei Ying is no better at names; when they adopted their third bunny, Lan Wangji left him in charge of names, and now they’ve got a brown spotted baby called Whatever.

“Ru-Lan,” Wei Ying says.

Lan Wangji’s throat goes dry. “Wei Ying,” he manages, but before he can say anything else, Wei Ying is leaping to his feet and skittering toward the door, hands flailing.

“No! Stop! Whatever, who cares. We gotta go film, come on. You promised you’d do the promos with me. It’s what the people want, because you’re so handsome and they miss us being on their screens every week. Plus, the boys from Coffin City are gonna be there, so it’s like a big happy reunion. Lan Xichen is a romantic, I guess.”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees, and masks his smile but not his fondness, following Wei Ying into the hallway and waiting patiently with him by the elevators until he breaks, making an irritated sound and then dipping in to press a kiss to Lan Wangji’s cheek.

“Don’t look so smug,” Wei Ying scolds him as the doors open.

Lan Wangji puts on his most blank expression. “Do not exult in excess,” he recites, pushing his hands together into a prayer and bowing slightly.

“Lan Zhan, quoting fake fortunes from my fake television show bodega to flirt with me is not allowed,” Wei Ying informs him primly. “Add it to the notebook you think I don’t know about.”

“Category?”

“Gentleman’s Agreement.”

“You said we had covered all those.”

“Well I forgot this one! I have a terrible memory. I’m notorious for it.”

They ride the elevators down to the studio, where Ah Qing, Wen Qing, and Coffin City are indeed all waiting. Lan Wangji has agreed to be in one of the promos; Nie Huaisang had rightfully pointed out that a big reunion spot would do wonders on social, but Lan Wangji is determined to let the episode be Wei Ying’s.

Ah Qing gives a little cheer and bounds over to Wei Ying, crushing him in a hug. He laughs, swinging her around a little.

“Tiny Qing-jie,” he greets. “You look mad as always.”

“Tiny nothing,” Ah Qing grumbles at him. “You show people are just circus freaks. Did you get the scripts?”

“Yeah, but I think we both already knew I was gonna rewrite them. Xiao Xingchen, Song Lan. Lovely to see you.”

“Can’t relate,” says Xiao Xingchen cheerfully. “But how wonderful your voice is!”

Wei Ying flushes a little. “Ahh, this guy,” he dissembles. “Hey — where’s Xue Yang? I thought he was, like, your roadie now.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t know what, exactly, the word is for what Xue Yang is — not a member of the band, certainly. He travels with them and dances onstage, which Lan Wangji hates to admit does add an extra dynamic to the performances.

It’s ridiculous, but it seems to work for them, so.

“We left him in Prague,” Song Lan says.

“On purpose?” Wei Ying jokes, and Song Lan answers, dry as dust, “If you miss the plane, you miss the plane.”

“Yang-di is a free spirit,” Xiao Xingchen adds. “It’s good for him to explore the world.”

“Good for him, maybe,” Ah Qing mutters. “Not too sure about the world.”

Wen Qing leans in to Lan Wangji. “Okay but like ... are the three of them fucking, or ... ?”

“That is more information about Xue Yang than I care to have,” Lan Wangji replies flatly, which gets a barked laugh that draws the attention of the others. Wei Ying’s eyes are warm when he looks at them, happy. He likes to see Lan Wangji’s friendships. Lan Wangji has not yet found the words to explain that friendships like this are a gift Wei Ying has given him.

It is good, he thinks, to be loved. By people.

Wen Qing, with her knife-sharp wit, the edge of meanness that reminds Lan Wangji of his uncle, and the underlying softness that does the same.

Sizhui, who sometimes struggles to write in the chaos of the SNL offices and comes instead to sit quietly in Lan Wangji’s biggest chair, eating carrots with hummus and occasionally asking for advice on wrapping up a joke. Lan Wangji likes him there. It reminds him of being young, reading books from his uncle’s shelf while he waited for his meetings to wrap.

Jingyi and Zizhen, who think he doesn’t know they call him Dadji behind his back. Jin Ling, who doesn’t call him Dadji but does, sometimes, ask for his advice on what auditions he should take during the offseason, or how to write a sketch that will make Sizhui laugh.

Mianmian, who’d written a joke into her Netflix standup special that told a story about him and said he would be “my best friend, if I had to pick a dude. Obviously I wouldn’t pick a dude, but if I had to.”

Yanli, whose sweetness is so deliberate, who’d stood in his office with nervous hands and blurted out, “I’m pregnant. Nobody knows yet,” before hurtling into his arms, crying for reasons Lan Wangji had absolutely no hope of identifying, and then had the grace to give him time to wade through his panic before adding, “You’ll help me keep it a secret for now, right?” so that he was — so that they were in — in — cahoots.

Lan Wangji had never been in proper cahoots before, not even with Wei Ying. He thinks he’s probably not good enough at it yet, to keep up. He likes the idea that he and Yanli could practice first. She’s a very patient teacher.

“Well, are we going to stand around staring at each other or are we going to get something on film?” Ah Qing demands. “I know the rest of you are lazy good-for-nothings, but I, for one, am on a schedule.”

Wei Ying throws his head back as he laughs, and then goes to take his place in front of the camera.

-

Wei Ying insists on hosting the traditional dinner, even though, in Jiang Cheng’s words, “the point of these is to get to know each other and I, frankly, wish I knew you less.”

Wei Ying jumps onto his back and knocks his baseball cap off his head. “You have to come anyway, it’s tradition,” he insists. “Plus, it means I get to pick the restaurant and you know what I’m gonna pick.”

Jingyi perks up. “The Korean place!” he cries joyfully, pumping his fist. “Aw man, I’ve been really working on my heat tolerance, I think I’ve got a real shot at the crown.”

“Come for the king, you best not miss,” Wei Ying tells him sternly, but his tone is belied by the grin overtaking his face.

Sizhui glances back at Yanli and wrings his hands, a little. “Is spicy food good for the baby?” he asks, which Lan Wangji guesses is 50% honest concern and 50% Hail Mary to escape the vagaries of spicy Korean food.

“Spicy food is great for babies,” Zizhen announces with what Lan Wangji suspects is unearned confidence.

“Aw, it’s you,” Wei Ying jokes, pulling Jin Ling into a noogie. “You’re baby.”

“Fuck off,” Jin Ling mutters, pushing him off.

Jiang Cheng sighs heavily, drawing Jin Ling to his side. “I thought the whole point of the Peacock’s monologue last year was that he recognized he wasn’t good enough for jiejie,” he grumbles. “Or else what was the point of that whole bit about soup-on-demand?”

“He’s a little soup boy,” Wei Ying nods. “C’mon, Jiang Cheng. If you don’t come, I’m gonna make a whole point of having gross, commemorative sex with Lan Zhan in our old office.”

Jiang Cheng shakes him off, making a disgusted face. “Do not fuck in my office,” he commands.

Wei Ying, in a heap on the floor, looks surprised as he squints up at Jiang Cheng. “Wow, A-Cheng, that yoga membership is really doing wonders for your core strength,” he notes. “And who’s to say we haven’t already?”

“I swear to God I will report Lan Wangji to HR so fucking fast,” Jiang Cheng hisses.

Wei Ying climbs to his feet and puts a protective arm out in front of Lan Wangji. “Don’t treat your brother-in-law like that,” he scolds. “That’s not filial at all.

Yanli’s head whips around so fast that Lan Wangji winces on her behalf (the books he’s read for her says she has to be careful with her muscles right now), but Jiang Cheng just says calmly, “Until somebody pours tea for me, nobody is married, I don’t care what the documentation says.”

“Everybody’s real hung up on this tea-pouring thing, huh,” Wei Ying pouts, and then beams up at Lan Wangji. “Well, guess there’s nothing for it, Zhan-ge. One day when we get bored of living in sin we’re going to have to do the whole rigamarole. I’ll bet your uncle doesn’t even let me make it a costume party.”

Lan Wangji has a flash of a vision of his uncle dressed up like Dracula while Wei Ying, dressed as Dr. Frankenstein, pours him tea. He grips Wei Ying’s shoulder so he doesn’t fall over.

Wei Ying laughs. “All right, sorry, I’ll stop,” he promises. “Come on, who wants to go burn what’s left of their taste buds off? Drinks on NBC.” He lets the staff hustle him to the elevator, the joyful noise of them drowning out anything he might have said to Lan Wangji in the moment. But it’s all right; Lan Wangji doesn’t mind sharing, now and then. He likes to watch Wei Ying be loved.

He likes to know he’s not the only one who does.

A small hand slips into his own. Beside him, Yanli has her other hand low on her belly, a big smile on her face.

“All that secrecy and you just blurted it out at the pitch meeting,” Lan Wangji says, shaking his head.

She giggles. “I was going to do a whole thing, but then I just thought, God, you know what would just be so funny?”

Lan Wangji huffs a laugh, then reaches into his pocket. He’s been carrying it around for days, but never found the right time, or the right words; hasn’t known how to frame all the things he wants to tell her, and thank her for. Knows she’d be angry at him if he tried to say thank you for loving him before me. Knows she’d be angry if he tried to say thank you for letting me love him, too.

He gently extricates the hand holding hers and pulls it toward him instead. Yanli tilts her head at him, curious and patient. Soon, he thinks, he’s going to have to sit her and Jiang Cheng down and tell them that he wants to plan a wedding. Soon he’ll have to talk Wei Ying into doing, “the whole rigamarole,” which honestly Lan Wangji would pass on too, if it weren’t for all the people who love them and would be furious.

But today isn’t that. Today, he pulls a small object from his pocket and places it gingerly in Yanli’s palm. “For the baby,” he says, and draws his hand back to leave them both looking down at the gift in their joined hands: a small, laughing little rabbit made of jade.

(art by @carriecmoney - see her art on twitter)