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a worm's love

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“I want you to go as Slutty Sasuke with me to the costume party at Nie Huaisang’s tonight,” said Wei Ying, on the last day of final exams. 

Lan Zhan paused. There were a lot of things to take in about that sentence, but most concerning—

“Nie Huaisang’s house?” he asked warily. 

For the most part, university was everything that Lan Zhan had expected from undergrad: debauchery in the dorm rooms, universal hatred for his messy freshman year roommate, a busy schedule and professors whose expectations of reasonable workload stemmed from their misconception that students only took one class. Where university expectations deviated, however, was everything about Wei Ying.

Wei Ying, who had befriended him despite Lan Zhan's best efforts at persuading him otherwise during second semester of freshman year in Molecular Biology. Wei Ying, who had dragged him to every event on campus, thriving in the school festivals at the last Friday of every month, insisting that it wasn't "living in college until you blow out your ears and throw up from terrible food at least once, Lan Zhan." Wei Ying, who had smiled at him beneath the blinding fireworks that Lan Zhan hadn't even watched on the last festival of freshman year and every year since, too entranced by the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed. 

But also, this was Wei Ying, who had taken him to Nie Huaisang's party on Halloween last year as a part of his birthday present. It was the one and only time Lan Zhan had ever gotten drunk, and the horror stories that he had to hear secondhand about how he challenged Wen Ning to a fistfight, or refused to let Wei Ying stray even two feet away from him, or even how he almost kissed Wei Ying, was enough to turn him off drinking and Nie Huaisang's house forever.

So the costume party—Lan Zhan is not looking forward to it, despite Wei Ying's coaxing smile. No.

“Oh, don’t look like that.” Lan Zhan tried to erase the instinctual terror of Nie Huaisang’s house off his face, but it must’ve been a useless effort, because Wei Ying just laughed and patted his cheeks. “Or don’t. I promise no one will make you drink. I’ll be your protector! Anyways, I want to go as Slutty Naruto because I have a very cute orange crop top that I’ve never been able to use out of fear that it would make me look like a human Skittles bag, but I want to be like, Shippuden Naruto.”

“Shippuden Naruto,” said Lan Zhan, as if these words meant anything to him.

“Yeah, I want to be Slutty Shippuden Naruto who has friends and is beloved by all and believes in the ninja way. Mianmian agreed to be Slutty Sakura already! It’ll be a group thing. Say you’ll be the Slutty Sasuke to my Slutty Naruto.”

“Please stop saying Slutty Sasuke,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Ying grinned so hard his dimples showed, his crooked, flyaway smile becoming something even more blinding, and Lan Zhan looked down at his collection of Muji pens that he had yet to pack. Wei Ying was distracting. 

“Come on,” Wei Ying wheedled, while Lan Zhan attempted to remember which pen went into which pencil case. “Say you’ll be my—Harlot Sasuke? My Sasuke Whore?”

“That was not a request for synonyms of Slutty Sasuke, Wei Ying.”

“Anything to make you say Slutty Sasuke again,” said Wei Ying, winking, and then hopped off his desk with a wave. “Anyways, it starts at 11 PM! Celebrating the end of finals! Don’t you forget, Slutty Sasuke!”

“I never agreed,” Lan Zhan tried to say, but Wei Ying plugged his ears and fled from the room, singing at the top of his lungs the whole while, and Lan Zhan bit down on his smile as he watched him leave. 

But that was seven hours ago, and now Lan Zhan is standing on Nie Huaisang’s fairy-light lit balcony in a dark, cropped muscle tank two sizes too small—courtesy of Wei Ying, who insisted on providing for his “Slutty Sasuke, my one and only nakama”—and a pair of white leather pants that he doesn’t want to know how his brother acquired. 

It’s a pleasant May night. While there's a veritable circus going on inside the house with bass so loud that it that makes his bones chatter and his ears ache, the night air outside is warm and almost soothing, giving him space to breathe. 

Key word being almost. 

“Drink this water,” Lan Zhan says to a boneless Wei Ying presently flopped on an iron-wrought garden chair. He'd looked away from Wei Ying for ten minutes in his search for the bathroom in Nie Huaisang's Eldritch house of ever-shifting horrors; in that time, Wei Ying had imbibed more alcohol than Lan Zhan has ever seen him. When Lan Zhan found him again, he was curled up in the corner of the main dance floor, surrounded by a half-empty bottle of strawberry tequila.

Lan Zhan keeps his eyes fixed on Wei Ying’s face and not the crop top riding up his chest, kneeling beside him. He allows himself to brush a few sweat-plastered strands of hair away from his forehead, resisting the urge to kiss the space of skin there. “Wei Ying,” he says. “It will make you feel better.”

“I feel fine,” Wei Ying mumbles, then gags a little, throat convulsing. Lan Zhan winces and pats his head in what he hopes is a soothing manner. “Okay, never mind, maybe I'm not fine.”

“Drink some water.”

“What if I don’t want to? What if I'm too busy thinking about cell mutation?"

"Cell mutation?"

Wei Ying's eyes open slowly, the grey hazy like smoke smudged on the rims of scented candle jars. Lan Zhan gazes back, because he can't not look at Wei Ying when Wei Ying is looking at him.

Which is why it startles Lan Zhan when Wei Ying's fingers wrap around his wrist in a trance: “Lan Zhan," Wei Ying begins, "suppose that my cells transform rapidly. Right here and now. They make awful bubbling sounds like overboiling pasta. Pop. Bubble. Gurgle. It’s a little horrifying to watch. Have you watched X-Men before?”

“We watched it together two months ago, Wei Ying.” It was deeply confusing. The science made no sense, not to mention the range of mutations involved in their superpowers, but Wei Ying clucked at him about suspension of disbelief, so Lan Zhan suspended such disbelief with a heavy hand. 

“Excellent,” says Wei Ying. His eyes flicker closed, back open with mighty effort, fixing his gaze on Lan Zhan’s face. “Now, suppose my cells mutate, like Raven. My physical form shifts but instead of becoming a sexy blue alien, my body shrinks.”

It’s a little concerning how eloquent Wei Ying is now. Perhaps he’s reached a stage of drunkenness that Lan Zhan has never witnessed before. Stranger things have happened. Namely in sophomore year with that incident involving the spray paint and the goats. “Wei Ying, you are drunk. Please hydrate yourself.”

“I’ll do it after. Listen to me. Are you listening?” Wei Ying stares until Lan Zhan nods, at which point he hums and lets his eyes fall closed. “Good boy, good boy. Now, my limbs retract into my joints, and then further still into my torso, and disappear. My eyes become beady little circles with no whites. I have no eyelids. Are you following me?”

“Yes.”

“Fantastic. Now, imagine my hair falling off. My follicles close up, and I am incapable of growing hair anywhere. I am smoother than a naked mole rat. Would you still love me then?”

Lan Zhan blinks, disoriented by the image of Wei Ying as a naked mole rat. “Yes?”

“You sound unsure,” Wei Ying says smugly, with a firm nod. “That’s okay. I’ll keep going. Envision my body shrinking. I am just a hairless torso with beady eyes. One day, you see my skin turning pink all over, not unlike the underside of a cooked salmon, mildly steamed, and I am wrinkling.”

“Is this what you’re like when you are drunk?” Lan Zhan asks, concerned. He tries to look around to see if anyone is nearby to help should Wei Ying's incredibly vivid rat transformation occur, but no such luck. Inside the party is still raging, pulsing lights flashing across Wei Ying's face. “Please drink some water.”

But Wei Ying grips his wrist tighter and gazes deep into Lan Zhan’s eyes. “You are horrified but you cannot stop it,” he tells Lan Zhan, like he’s trying to brainwash him, followed by a swell of tequila-breath that should be disgusting, but only makes Lan Zhan want to taste the strawberry flavor off his mouth. “My transformation continues, day after day. I shrink. I grow smaller and smaller, until I am no bigger than the size of your pinkie. What then?”

A strange mix of dread and amusement begins to pool in his stomach. It feels oddly like nausea, or arousal. It’s getting difficult to tell the difference these days with Wei Ying.  

“What then, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying presses.

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan.

“Hm?”

“Are you asking me if I would still love you if you were a worm?”

“Well, would you?”

In answer, Lan Zhan bites down on his smile and tucks a few wayward strands of hair behind Wei Ying’s ear. “Yes. Now please drink this water.” He pauses, fingers lingering in Wei Ying’s greasy party hair, and then adds, “Worms need to be hydrated.”

“Kept moist,” Wei Ying murmurs, entranced. “Yes, yes. Can we cuddle after?”

It’s such an abrupt change of topic that Lan Zhan can’t help but stare.

“Cuddle?” he asks after a moment.

“Cuddle. You know, you and me on this chair. I think we can fit.”

Lan Zhan casts a dubious glance at the chair in question. It is most certainly not big enough to fit two people, much less two tall men cramped together in one seat. 

“Perhaps we could sit on the floor,” Lan Zhan suggests delicately.

“Innovative,” Wei Ying breathes. “I like that in a man. Wonderful. After I drink your water, I am going to read your palm. Wen Ning paid forty bucks to get swindled by a fake tarot reader, and then he almost had a breakdown over it, and then he taught me how to swindle people, so now I’m going to use my new skills to read your future.”

“That does not seem accurate.”

“And yet you’re going to give me your palm anyway,” says Wei Ying, giving him a sleepy smile that makes Lan Zhan think, Yes, I would do anything for you. Wei Ying pats Lan Zhan’s wrist. “Excellent. Now give me the water, baobei.”

After Wei Ying has guzzled the water like a voracious predator tearing the meat from a prey animal’s bones in a vicious yet serenely narrated nature documentary, they settle against the walls of the house, looking out into the night sky. The party music pulses on the backs, but more than that, Lan Zhan feels Wei Ying's breaths syncing up with his own, the chatter of people inside dying away as he listens to Wei Ying's soft humming. Wei Ying leans against his side, a warm weight while he takes Lan Zhan’s hand into his own, tracing the lines of his palm with a finger. 

“Your hand is so big,” Wei Ying murmurs. Then, pointing at a steady line in the middle of his palm: “This is your love line. You see how it’s long and smooth?”

“Yes.”

“That means you have a long dick.”

Lan Zhan nearly chokes. 

Peacefully, Wei Ying continues, “I can see it in your palm. Your dick is bigger than average. Gut destroying. Eight inches. Perhaps eight and a quarter. Yes?”

What on Earth did Wen Ning teach you, Lan Zhan wants to say, but all that comes out is a strangled, “Mm.”

“Now, this line here,” Wei Ying taps at a curving line around the base of his thumb, “is your life line. Notice how it’s long. Also unbroken. I don’t know what that means, probably that you’ll find a way to live forever, but look. Here is my hand. Look at my life line. It’s long.”

Obediently, Lan Zhan looks. It is indeed also very long, and very curved. He tries not to linger on that too much. Think about Shufu, Lan Zhan.

“I am going to teach you a secret technique,” Wei Ying whispers. “Observe.”

Before Lan Zhan can process his alarm at the words secret technique, Wei Ying grabs Lan Zhan’s hand and entwines their fingers together. 

“See,” says Wei Ying. His eyes slip closed again, his smile blooming slow and bright like sunflowers in the spring. “Our life lines are connected. Now we’ll stay together forever, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan stares at their hands, winded. He knows that on some objective level, Wei Ying must be making this up. Surely no fortune teller or palm reader would ever imply that two people's lives can be connected forever just through the sheer act of hand holding. That's ridiculous.

But at the same time, there's something about the image of their entwined hands that makes Lan Zhan's throat ache. Like all the edges of his desire and love are on the verge of spilling out of his body, like every part of him strains to be connected with Wei Ying: life, love, all the lines.

“Lan Zhan,” says Wei Ying quietly, breaking into his thoughts. “I have to tell you something. But you have to promise not to tell anyone.”

Lan Zhan lets out a short huff of laughter. “Like your worm transformation theory?”

“Exactly like that. Are you ready?”

“Mm. What is it?”

For a moment, Wei Ying stays silent. He drums his fingers on Lan Zhan’s knuckles, squeezes intermittently. One deep breath. Another. 

On the third inhale, Wei Ying’s breath hitches. Lan Zhan's eyes go wide.

"Sweetheart," says Wei Ying, sounding like he's on the verge of drunken tears, "I like you so much I don't know what to do with myself. It's crazy how much I like you, Lan Zhan, it really is. Do you mind if I call you that? Sweetheart? Because you are. You're so sweet."

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan, strangled.

“I want to adopt a million rabbits with you,” Wei Ying goes on, listing into the crook of Lan Zhan’s neck, a warm, heavy weight against his shoulder. He feels a mouth against his pulse-point, the touch gentle and warm. Lan Zhan swallows, mouth painfully dry. “I want to make you watch movies you don’t understand the appeal of, and I want to cuddle with you everyday, and I want to know what it’s like when you really, really love someone.” An exhale. “And I want that someone to be me.”

You already are, Lan Zhan wants to say.

“I’m rambling,” Wei Ying mumbles, “but this is nice. This is really nice. Can you just—hold me? For a few minutes? It’s getting a little cold.”

It’s May. But maybe Wei Ying is right. It’s chillier, the wind more biting. Or perhaps that’s just Lan Zhan’s shivers. He gathers Wei Ying up in his arms and buries his face in his hair, while Wei Ying makes content noises and clings to Lan Zhan’s waist. I love you, I love you, I love you, Lan Zhan thinks, in time to the thudding of his heart.

“This is good,” Wei Ying sighs after a moment. “It’s real, real good. Hey, Lan Zhan, tell me you like me too. Tell me like you mean it.”

Lan Zhan swallows. There is a chance that the alcohol will blur Wei Ying’s memories of this in the morning. Perhaps he won't even remember that this night happened at all. But if this is the only chance Lan Zhan has, then he'll take it.

One breath.

“I like you," Lan Zhan whispers. "I like you so much that I also do not know what to do with myself, Wei Ying. I mean it.”

“You sound sure.”

“I am sure.”

“You sure?”

“I am.”

“Hmm.” Another pause, and then: “In the morning,” Wei Ying mumbles, halfway to sleep, “remind me to tell you I love you, Lan-er-gege." Lan Zhan sucks in a sharp inhale, but Wei Ying continues, "And tell me you like me back. I want to be Slutty Naruto with you again next year and all the years after that. All the slutty characters. Maybe we can be Slutty Captain America and Slutty Winter Soldier. You can be Slutty Captain America, because you’re good and sweet and kind, and I am an emo fuck with trauma. I want to tell you I love you. Every day. Every month. Every year. Does that sound good with you, baobei?”

Lan Zhan presses a kiss to Wei Ying’s hand, right on his love line, and then says, heart flying, “Yes. It sounds perfect.”