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***

“I have a suggestion for your rabbits.”

Lan Zhan blinked at the subject change. His rabbits? “Mn?”

Lan Huan smiled. “You said that you needed someone to help you care for them when you were working late.” Lan Zhan nodded understanding. “Well my friend knows someone who has a non-dog walking business.”

“Non-dog walking?” Lan Zhan thought he must have misheard.

“Yes, non-dog walking. Apparently he will take on the walking or supportive care of any animal, except dogs.” Lan Huan cocked an eyebrow. “I understand he has a phobia.”

Lan Zhan frowned. Who would start a pet walking business and not walk dogs? It was counter-intuitive.

“Anyway,” Lan Huan went on, “he does pet feeding and in-home care, so I thought he might be what you were looking for.”

Lan Zhan had been struggling with the care for his two rabbits since starting his new job. His normal teaching days were fine, but one of the things that had drawn him to this school had been the chance to run their comprehensive non-academic music activities. And that meant up to two evenings a week he was home late. It also took up some weekends. While the rabbits managed, he felt a lot of guilt at feeding them later than they were used to and missing their chance to socialise. A person to come in and play with them and feed them was a perfect idea.

Except for how Lan Zhan really didn’t want a stranger coming into his home while he wasn’t there.

“Which friend knows them? How do they know them?” Lan Zhan wanted some details before he even agreed to meet this person.

Lan Huan smiled like he had expected this. “You know Jiang Cheng?” Lan Zhan nodded. “It’s his brother.”

Lan Zhan considered what he knew of Jiang Cheng. They had met a number of times when Lan Huan had brought him along to family gatherings. Lan Zhan suspected that they may have been dating at some point, or still were, but he wasn’t sure. Lan Huan would tell him if it was serious enough, anyway.

Jiang Cheng was a very brusque person. He seemed angry a lot of the time, but Lan Zhan had seen him laughing and joking often, too.

“I was not aware that Jiang Cheng had a brother.” Lan Zhan poured some more tea for them both.

Lan Huan sipped at his tea. “I think they had a falling out for a while. They only recently started talking again. I think Jiang Cheng is trying to help his brother, in a roundabout way, by making more people aware of his business.”

That sounded reasonable. Lan Zhan would also help Lan Huan if he had a business that needed more attention. As it was, Lan Huan could possibly do with less attention. Being CEO of the Lan Corporation was a high-profile position.

Lan Zhan made a decision. “I will take the details.”

***

Lan Zhan exchanged a number of emails with Jiang Cheng’s brother and arranged for him to come to Lan Zhan’s house to meet the rabbits. Lan Zhan was really trying to see if he would feel comfortable having this stranger in his home. Even if he didn’t, he supposed he could always leave the rabbits in the outside hutch on the days he would be working late. He didn’t like doing that, though, in case it was cold.

Lan Huan was right that he likely doted on the bunnies too much. He didn’t care.

The doorbell rang, only one minute past the appointed time, and Lan Zhan was glad that he wouldn’t have to wait for someone who could not be punctual. He opened the door to find the most beautiful man he had ever seen.

“Hi!” The man’s voice was as lovely as his face, his smile, his long, lithe body. Lan Zhan stared and the smile faltered slightly. The man glanced away to the house number, then back. “Um, I have come to the right house, haven’t I? Are you Lan Zhan?”

Too many years of ingrained politeness saved Lan Zhan. While his higher brain functions still tried to process how attractive this man was, his reflexes took over. “I am.”

The smile came back full force. “Great! Hi, I’m Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying. His email handle had been Yiling Laozu, like the business name.

Lan Zhan licked lips which had gone suddenly dry. “Please come in.”

He stepped back to let Wei Ying pass him and take his boots off. Lan Zhan couldn’t help his eyes drifting down Wei Ying’s body. He was wearing tight, ripped black jeans and a black t-shirt, tucked in. Over the top was a black and red checked shirt, tied at the waist to crop it. The clothing choices highlighted his ass, fully on display. Lan Zhan wanted to reach out and see if it felt as firm as it looked.

He dragged his eyes back up and his mind out of the gutter, just in time for Wei Ying to turn back to him and again dazzle him with that smile.

“So, Lan Zhan, you promised me bunnies.” Wei Ying rubbed his hands together. “You’re not going to disappoint me, are you?”

Lan Zhan shook his head, still not trusting his voice, and led Wei Ying through to the spare room where the rabbits had their indoor run. When he spotted them, Wei Ying made an ‘Ahhhhh’ sound, then dropped to sit on the floor outside the pen.

“Lan Zhan, they’re beautiful!” Wei Ying clearly knew how to act around rabbits as he sat still and kept his hands away. Lan Zhan immediately felt more at ease with the thought of Wei Ying caring for them.

Lan Zhan sat down near to the pen and reached in to pick up the little black rabbit. “This is Baobao.” He hesitated and then placed her carefully into Wei Ying’s arms.

Wei Ying’s eyes went wide, like he had never seen a rabbit so close before, and cradled her close and carefully. “Baobao,” he breathed. He looked up at Lan Zhan, eyes crinkled. “Such a cute name.”

“They were named when I adopted them.” Lan Zhan felt awkward for taking credit from Wei Ying for something he hadn’t done. He reached back in and picked up the little white rabbit, holding her close to his body. “This one is Caishen.”

Wei Ying wriggled his fingers at her in a wave. “Hi Caishen.” He continued stroking Baobao. “They’re beautiful.”

You’re beautiful. Lan Zhan kept the thought to himself.

“Thank you.” Lan Zhan hoped his voice did not betray too much. It would be inappropriate for him to invite this man here for a business consultation and then make him feel uncomfortable with unsolicited sexual advances.

They sat for a few moments, petting the rabbits in silence, before Wei Ying broke it.

“So, what would you need me to do?” His gaze was open and friendly.

“I work late most Tuesdays and Thursdays.” Wei Ying nodded. “So they would need to be fed and socialised.”

“Okay.” Wei Ying wriggled his fingers between Baobao’s ears and Lan Zhan was distracted for a moment by how long and well shaped they were.

He dragged his eyes away from Wei Ying’s hands. “As the academic year progresses, I will also have some weekend commitments.”

Wei Ying cocked his head at Lan Zhan. “Ah, academic year?” He looked confused. “You are Lan Huan’s brother, right? As in those Lans?”

Lan Zhan nodded. “Mn. However, I do not work for the family business. I am a professor of music at the Gusu Academy.”

‘Wow! Music, that’s so great!” Wei Ying was beaming. “What do you play? I bet you play really well. You look like you would” - he hesitated - “play...beautiful, er, beautifully.” He blushed.

“I play a number of instruments, mainly the piano and guqin.” Lan Zhan hesitated and then went on, emboldened by Wei Ying's apparent interest. “I am better suited to music than business.”

Wei Ying snorted. “Ah, yes, I know the feeling of not being suited to business.”

Lan Zhan had a thought suddenly occur to him. Jiang Cheng’s brother. Jiang, as in the Jiang family and corporation. “You do not work for your family, either?”

Wei Ying shook his head, smile slipping slightly. “Adopted family, hence the ‘Wei’. And no, I don’t.”

Wei Ying didn’t elaborate, so Lan Zhan didn’t pursue the topic. “Instead you care for animals?”

“I do!” The smile was back in full force as he beamed down at Baobao. Then he looked back up at Lan Zhan. “Animals and music. Much better than business, right?”

“Mn.” Wei Ying’s eyes were little crescents above his cheeks. Lan Zhan felt a surge of affection for him. “Far superior.”

They sat in a comfortable silence for a few moments and Lan Zhan tried to remember the questions he had planned to ask. Considering Wei Ying did not walk dogs, the most common animal care activity, Lan Zhan had wondered at the sustainability of his business plan. He did not want to hire someone and get into a routine, only to have to go through it all again because the business had failed. He felt nervous at asking those questions of Wei Ying, though. He wanted Wei Ying to like him.

Lan Zhan tried to mentally pull his professionalism back around him. “I understand that you do not walk dogs?”

Wei Ying pulled a face. “No. I, ah, don’t like dogs.” From the face Lan Zhan interpreted ‘don’t like’ as ‘am afraid of’ and nodded. As hoped, Wei Ying went on. “I love all animals, though, so when a friend asked me to walk her cat, I said yes.” The half-moon eyes were back. Lan Zhan felt his professionalism slipping again. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to walk a cat?”

“Was that how your business started?” Lan Zhan asked.

“Yep. She offered me some money to do it and I was broke,” Wei Ying shrugged like this was not a revealing statement from someone who was a child of the Jiang family, “so it became a thing. Then her friend was joking about how her boyfriend had this iguana that he worried about, so they started paying me to take the iguana out on my shoulder when I walked the cat.”

“An iguana,” Lan Zhan repeated. He had a mental image of Wei Ying walking through a park with an iguana on his shoulder and a cat ambling at his side.

“An iguana,” Wei Ying confirmed. “And it was just as ridiculous as it sounds. Even more when I tell you that the iguana is called Trevor.”

Lan Zhan couldn’t help the small smile and he ducked his head. When he looked back up Wei Ying was staring at him, eyes bright. Lan Zhan felt his ears heating under the scrutiny. He swallowed. “Are those your only clients?”

His words seemed to make Wei Ying jump. He laughed and looked down at Baobao. “Um, oh, yeah, no.” He shook his head and then looked back up at Lan Zhan. “It seems that there’s actually a lot of people out there with pets who need some help. I sort of have this weekly itinerary that I follow.” He laughed. “I had to use my vaunted business skills to create a spreadsheet so I can remember the details. Who gets what medicine when, what animals can spend time around each other, things like that.” He wrinkled his nose at Baobao and Lan Zhan thought he was cute. “For example, I don’t think Baobao and Caishen would like Xiao Mi the cat.”

“Mn.”

Lan Zhan tried to remember his other questions, but nothing was coming back to him. He knew that he should be thinking with his logical brain and not the combination of lust and interest that Wei Ying was inspiring, but all he could think about was seeing Wei Ying again, of having him not only in his house but in his bed. He swallowed against the thought of Wei Ying’s long hair pulled out of the scruffy ponytail and spread out across Lan Zhan’s pale blue pillows while he fucked him.

Eventually he spoke. “Would my rabbits fit into your spreadsheet?”

“I’m sure I can squeeze them in.” Wei Ying winked. “You said Tuesdays and Thursdays?”

They confirmed the details, requirements, and payments while Wei Ying helped Lan Zhan put the rabbits back in their run. Lan Zhan showed Wei Ying where the rabbit food was kept and handed him the spare key that he’d had cut at the weekend, in case this worked out.

“Oh! We should probably exchange numbers,” Wei Ying said. “Um, you know, in case of any emergencies.”

Lan Zhan nodded and held out his phone for Wei Ying to programme his number in. Wei Ying sent himself a text.

“Okay. Great. Um, nice to meet you Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying grinned at him.

Lan Zhan nodded. “It was nice to meet you, too, Wei Ying.”

***

The first few times that Lan Zhan knew Wei Ying would be letting himself in to care for his rabbits, he couldn’t help being distracted. He kept his phone off silent, half fearing an emergency call or text, but none arrived.

Wei Ying did, however, leave notes. When Lan Zhan let himself into his house, there was a little note on the coffee table, just confirming that Wei Ying had been there and what food he had given to the bunnies. It was reassuring and Lan Zhan appreciated it. He sometimes texted Wei Ying to say thank you and received an array of smiling emojis back.

The notes became a regular occurrence.

***

Hey Lan Zhan! I hope your class was good this evening. I’ve fed the rabbits and sat with them for an hour or so. They are so cute and friendly, you’ve done a great job raising them.

I’ve left an envelope for you. I saw this and it made me think of you and I wondered if you would enjoy playing it. You might even have it already, but either way I hope it’s okay that I left it.

Wei Ying

 

Lan Zhan read the note twice before picking up the envelope that had been sat underneath it and pulling out sheets of music. It wasn’t something he recognised and he ran his eye across it, getting a feel for it. It was such a thoughtful gift.

Lan Zhan pulled out his phone and messaged Wei Ying.

 

Lan Zhan
- Wei Ying, thank you for the music. I have not heard it before, but will enjoy playing it. It was very kind of you to buy it.

 

Wei Ying: Bunny Wrangler
- No need to say thanks! It wasn’t expensive and I was there anyway. Glad you like it.

 

Lan Zhan
- I do like it. Thank you.

 

Wei Ying responded with a series of thumbs up emojis. Lan Zhan put down his phone and decided that he would have to keep an eye out for something for Wei Ying in return.

***

Lan Zhan went into the kitchen to make dinner and spotted a cup on the drainer that had not been there this morning. His own breakfast dishes were still there, dry and ready to be put away, but a second cup sat alongside.

Wei Ying.

Lan Zhan had told Wei Ying to make himself comfortable while he spent time with the rabbits, to make himself drinks and to even have some food if he wanted, but this was the first time that Wei Ying had done so. Lan Zhan picked up the cup and turned it in his hands. Seeing it gave Lan Zhan feelings in his chest that he struggled to identify.

He put the cup away, along with his own breakfast dishes, and continued to make dinner. As he did he breathed deeply and tried to follow his feelings, to unpick them the way his therapist had taught him.

He felt happiness at Wei Ying making himself at home. Knowing that Wei Ying had come into Lan Zhan’s kitchen, made himself a drink, taken some degree of creature comfort from Lan Zhan - it pleased something primitive inside him. It felt surprising how much he wanted to care for Wei Ying and make him feel comfortable and happy in Lan Zhan’s house. He wanted Wei Ying to feel at home. Seeing the cup, knowing that Wei Ying felt relaxed enough now, it soothed Lan Zhan’s desires.

Lan Zhan sighed. It wasn’t like his own fierce yearnings were news to him, he knew the shape of his own needs from years of self-reflection and therapy. He could see the links between the media he consumed, the things he craved and the websites he frequented.

What was new was how quickly Wei Ying had come to be a central player in his desires. Wei Ying was beautiful, good with animals and, apparently, kind enough to see something he thought that Lan Zhan would like and buy it for him. Was this really enough for Lan Zhan to have formed an attachment?

Apparently it was.

There was more, however. Lan Zhan chased the feelings further, trying to understand why just a cup left to dry on the side could make him feel so strongly.

Wei Ying had washed up the cup.

There it was. It was such a simple thing, one that politeness didn’t even really require. It would have been perfectly acceptable for Wei Ying to use a cup and then put it on the counter to be washed with the evening’s dishes. He was a guest in Lan Zhan’s house, after all. But he hadn’t. Wei Ying had washed the cup. It made Lan Zhan feel...feel - he tried to nail it down - feel seen. Perceived. Wei Ying had seen Lan Zhan’s own dry dishes and cared enough to wash up his cup.

Maybe Lan Zhan was reading too much into the gesture. Possibly Wei Ying was just a clean, tidy person who preferred to be neat. Yet Lan Zhan could not shake the feeling that Wei Ying had washed his cup because he knew Lan Zhan would appreciate it.

As Lan Zhan finished cooking and sat down to eat, he decided what small gift he would get for Wei Ying in return.

***

Wei Ying

I hope that your day has gone well and that you enjoy your time with the rabbits this evening. I was recently replenishing my tea stocks and saw that the shop carried some interesting coffees. I bought this one for you. I hope that you enjoy it.

Have a good evening.

Lan Zhan.

 

Lan Zhan read back over the note, frustrated by his own formality, but failing to see how he could write it in any other way. He thought of Wei Ying’s casual tone in his notes, but Lan Zhan could only be himself. He wanted to say more - he often felt that he could express himself more fully in writing than out loud - but if he added anything else he would risk pushing the gesture from thoughtful into inappropriate. He didn’t want Wei Ying to feel uncomfortable.

Lan Zhan left the note and went to work.

It was a long day, but a productive one. The orchestra practice had gone very well: the students were quickly warming to his more disciplined teaching style, and everyone had been very proud of the successes they were seeing. For the first time since he started the job, some students had approached him after practice to ask more questions. He was confident that this indicated an understanding that his strict rules were beneficial, rather than authoritarian. This evening he had been able to offer praise to everyone for their achievements and the students had left looking pleased, flushed with their own progress.

The previous orchestra teacher had allowed the students to do as they pleased in rehearsal, seemingly offering no real guidance or order. One of the more timid students had told him that evening that the group had advanced more in a few months under Lan Zhan than they had for more than a year under the old teacher.

By the time Lan Zhan let himself into his house, he had almost forgotten the note he had left for Wei Ying, but as he took off his shoes and put them away the memory came flooding back.

Lan Zhan walked into the lounge and saw immediately that his note and the coffee were gone. He thought that was a good sign. In place of his own note was another, in Wei Ying’s hand. Lan Zhan picked it up.

 

Lan Zhan! How did you know how much I love coffee?

Thank you for this - you really didn’t have to. This is much nicer than the coffee I have at home. I’m going to have a cup every morning and will think of how kind Lan Zhan is when I do.

Wei Ying

P.S. I think Baobao and Caishen really like me now. They come out straight away when I arrive, rather than taking some coaxing. I can now honestly tell people that I have bunny friends, rather than bunny acquaintances.

 

Lan Zhan felt his ears heat at Wei Ying’s effusive thanks. He knew that Wei Ying drank coffee because he saw that his coffee, reserved for guests as Lan Zhan mainly drank tea, had been used. However, it made Lan Zhan feel warm to think he may have made Wei Ying feel noticed and valued. He felt a flush of pleasure to know that Wei Ying would be drinking his coffee first thing in the morning. He pictured Wei Ying, still in sleep clothes, hair adorably rumpled, cradling a cup of the coffee that Lan Zhan had bought for him.

Lan Zhan ducked his head at his own ridiculousness.

He looked back at the note and smiled at the bit about the rabbits. Of course they liked Wei Ying. Lan Zhan struggled to understand how anyone could not.

***

“Oh, hey! Lan Zhan!”

Lan Zhan turned from ordering his tea to see Wei Ying waving at him from a table, not caring that other patrons were also turning to look at him. He felt slightly breathless. Wei Ying’s smile was just as bright as he remembered. Wei Ying was also just as hot as he remembered. Lan Zhan had started to wonder if he had just been overwhelmed, and was misremembering. But no, seeing Wei Ying again was like seeing the sun come out.

He blinked at his own dramatic thoughts. But no one he had ever met before had lingered in Lan Zhan’s mind like Wei Ying did. Their notes to each other just whetted Lan Zhan’s appetite. He liked Wei Ying. A lot.

Lan Zhan nodded to show that he had noticed and Wei Ying pointed at the seat across from him. Lan Zhan nodded again.

Lan Zhan picked up his tea and wove his way to Wei Ying’s table.

Wei Ying beamed at him. “Hi! Fancy seeing you here.” He waved at the seat again. “Sit down!” Then he frowned. “You have time to sit, right?”

Lan Zhan nodded and pulled out the chair. The smile came back. Even if Lan Zhan hadn’t, he would have made the time. As it was, he was running early to meet his brother, and had at least thirty minutes to spare. He could think of nothing better than to spend some of that time getting to look at Wei Ying’s beautiful face.

Wei Ying had a laptop on the table in front of him, but he closed it when Lan Zhan sat and pushed it aside. He leaned back and picked up his coffee.

“How are my favourite bunny friends?” he asked.

Lan Zhan placed his tea down and held on to it so he had something to do with his hands. “You saw them on Thursday.”

Wei Ying grinned. “Yes, but it’s Saturday now. What if something drastic has happened since then?”

Lan Zhan couldn’t help his small smile. “They are still fine.” He paused for a moment and then added, “They miss you.”

Lan Zhan was delighted to learn that Wei Ying threw his head back when he laughed, a joyful sound. He traced his eyes over the long column of Wei Ying’s throat.

“Of course they miss me! I’m lovely.”

“Mn.”

Wei Ying stopped laughing but eyes still had a gleam in them. “Ah, Lan Zhan, did you just agree that I’m lovely?”

Lan Zhan wasn’t sure exactly what to say. He wasn’t particularly good at flirting. “Mn.” Wei Ying laughed again, his eyes scrunching up. Lan Zhan felt flustered, so he pointed at Wei Ying’s laptop. “What were you doing?”

Wei Ying looked down at the laptop. “Mmm? Oh! Nothing exciting, just business finances.” He pulled a face.

“You do not like doing them?”

Wei Ying shook his head. “No. It takes way too long.” He shifted his cup on the table, rubbing at the slight ring the mug had left on the surface.

Lan Zhan thought he understood. “I went into music partly because of how much I hate maths, despite the similar underlying principles. I am too gay for it.”

Wei Ying snorted just as he took a sip of his coffee, causing a slight spray of coffee droplets to hit the table. “Lan Zhan!”

Lan Zhan felt smug at making Wei Ying laugh, as well as playing the game of making Wei Ying aware that he was gay. Wei Ying grabbed at some paper napkins from the dispenser on the table and dabbed at his chin, then the table, still laughing.

It was not entirely right to be flirting - or attempting to - with someone he was paying to care for his rabbits, but it would also be terrible to miss a potential chance with someone as open, friendly, and beautiful as Wei Ying was.

Finally, when he had cleaned up the coffee, Wei Ying shook his head at Lan Zhan. “I don’t believe that stereotype, anyway.” Lan Zhan tilted his head and Wei Ying went on. “I am great at maths. I love it!” Wei Ying had a slight blush on his cheeks and Lan Zhan felt a pleased thrill. “Although, I’m bi, so maybe that’s why.”

Lan Zhan nodded. “Then why do you hate it?”

“Don’t get me wrong, I am very into the spreadsheets. Lan Zhan, you would not believe the amazing and gorgeous spreadsheets that I have. Spreadsheets and loud music on a Saturday used to be one of my favourite things.”

Lan Zhan could not relate, but he loved watching Wei Ying being energised. “What changed?”

“Suibian did.” Wei Ying stroked a hand across the top of the laptop. At Lan Zhan’s confused frown he patted it. “My laptop is called Suibian.”

“‘Suibian’?” Lan Zhan repeated.

Wei Ying laughed. “Yeah, don’t you name your technology, Lan Zhan?” Lan Zhan shook his head. “Ahhh, no fun.” Wei Ying pouted and patted the laptop comfortingly, as though Lan Zhan had offended it.

“I do name my instruments,” Lan Zhan offered, not wanting Wei Ying to think him entirely without whimsy.

Wei Ying beamed at him. “Lan Zhan! Of course you do. What are their names?”

Lan Zhan felt his ears heating up. “My guqin is called Wangji and my piano is Bichen.”

“Great names! Way better than mine.” Wei Ying’s eyes turned teasing. “I guess it’s your gay artist’s heart, right?”

Lan Zhan smiled. “Mn.”

Wei Ying smiled back at him and the moment drew out, like a long lingering note. Wei Ying’s cheeks grew pinker and eventually he looked down at the table again, biting his lip.

“Um, well, Suibian is on its way out.” He put his hand back on the laptop. “It takes ages to do anything and my spreadsheets keep crashing, so I have to start over again.”

Wei Ying lifted a hand to hide his mouth, like he was going to tell Lan Zhan a secret. Lan Zhan leaned closer. “I’m saving for a new one.” Lan Zhan huffed a small laugh at the dramatic whisper and Wei Ying grinned back at him.

This time it was Lan Zhan who broke the moment by checking the time. “I have to leave. I am meeting my brother for lunch.”

“Ah, well, thank you for coming to keep me company.” Wei Ying nodded happily. “Say hi to your brother from me. Enjoy lunch.”

Lan Zhan stood up. “I hope Suibian starts to cooperate.” Wei Ying laughed again. “Goodbye Wei Ying.”

“Bye, Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying waved and Lan Zhan left, feeling a buzz under his skin.

***

Lan Zhan!

I hope orchestra practice went well. I’m so glad they’re improving and if you have any recordings of them I would really love to hear it. I can even play it for Baobao and Caishen so they can hear what their Baba is up to when he stays out late.

I stumbled across this book that I thought you might find interesting. I hope you like it.

Wei Ying

 

Lan Zhan turned over the book that had been sitting under the note. It was a book about the history of the guqin. Lan Zhan smiled, hand stroking the cover. There was no way that Wei Ying “stumbled across” this book. Lan Zhan already had a copy and it had taken him months to track it down, due to it being out of print. It hadn’t been coveted enough to be overly expensive, just uncommon, but Lan Zhan knew that Wei Ying must have gone to a lot of effort to find it. It made him feel warm inside. It made him feel hope. He would sell his own copy of the book and keep this copy that Wei Ying had bought for him.

Lan Zhan tried to plan for a way that he could see Wei Ying again in person, and wondered if he could convince Wei Ying to stay for dinner one evening.

***

Wei Ying

I hope that you are well. I have left a recording of our latest session for you. I hope that you enjoy listening to it. I added on some other classical pieces that often make me think of you when I play them. I hope you like them.

Have a good evening with the rabbits.

Lan Zhan

 

Lan Zhan

Thank you for the music! I played it for the bunnies and for me this evening. I didn’t get through it all, but what I heard sounded wonderful. I’d love to hear you play in person sometime.

Wei Ying

***

Hi Lan Zhan

Don’t think I didn’t spot the new coffee that you bought. It tastes amazing, so thank you!

Baobao and Caishen were really active tonight, running around, jumping on each other and me. It was really cute! I took some video and will send it to you later. When they had worn themselves out they settled in my lap for ages, all curled up together. I hope you don’t mind but I took a photo and set it as my background!

Speaking of rabbits, I found this notebook and who else would it make me think of but you? I couldn’t believe how perfect it was, I had to get it for you. I hope you like it.

Wei Ying

 

Lan Zhan picked up the notebook and turned it over in his hands. It was beautiful. The cover depicted rabbits and musical notations. It really was perfect. Lan Zhan decided he would start using it for work.

 

Lan Zhan
- Thank you for the notebook, Wei Ying. I really like it.

 

Wei Ying: Bunny Wrangler
- Isn’t it just the most YOU notebook?

- I couldn’t believe it when I saw it!

 

Lan Zhan
- It is strangely appropriate.

 

Wei Ying: Bunny Wrangler
- [Video attachment]
- Your bunnies being the cutest.

- [Photo attachment]
- And my new phone background, if that’s alright?

 

Lan Zhan
- Thank you, Wei Ying. I am pleased that you would want my rabbits as your background.

 

Wei Ying: Bunny Wrangler
- Of course! They’re my favourite animals, belonging to my favourite Lan Zhan.

 

Lan Zhan
- You are also my favourite, Wei Ying.

 

***

Wei Ying

I hope that your day has gone well and that Pidan is feeling better.

I found this book that I thought you might enjoy. It is about animals that are on the verge of extinction and the efforts to save them. I hope you enjoy it. I think it is encouraging to see people recognising the need to preserve our environment and the animals we share it with.

Enjoy your evening with the rabbits.

Lan Zhan

 

Lan Zhan

Pidan is feeling much better. He was allowed out of his paddock again today, which made him very happy, but that just meant that he tried to eat my jumper.

And wow, this book! I read the first few chapters while I hung out with the bunnies (don’t worry! It was after they had been fed and were settled down grooming each other on my lap. They are the CUTEST) and it is so interesting. It’s heartbreaking to learn about the situations, but also really great to read about how people are trying to help. I’ll have to see if I can do anything as well.

Thank you for this.

Wei Ying

***

Hi Lan Zhan

Another interesting coffee in your cupboard I see? I know that you don’t drink coffee so you’re just taking up space with things only I can drink! So, to balance it out I found this six month fancy tea subscription. Apparently it introduces you to all sorts of unusual teas and then gives you the option to get more of the ones that you really like. I hope you like it!

The bunnies are doing fine and were as cute as ever. Every time I think that they will reach a cuteness plateau they do something else adorable and explode my heart all over again.

Wei Ying

 

Lan Zhan
- Wei Ying, you did not have to get me the tea subscription. It is very kind, but not necessary.

 

Wei Ying: Bunny Wrangler
- It is also not necessary for you to get me all of the interesting coffees that you do, so I’m just returning the favour.

 

Lan Zhan
- You are a guest in my home when you are there. Making it more comfortable for you is only right.

 

Wei Ying: Bunny Wrangler
- Lan Zhan, you are too nice! People might take advantage.

 

***

Wei Ying

I hope you are well.

I have been enjoying my selection of teas. I have found a number that I think will become regulars in my cupboard in the future.

I know that you like coffee, but I also remember you mentioning wine. Therefore I have arranged for you to have a tour of a local winery. I hope it is something that you will enjoy.

I hope that you have a nice evening.

Lan Zhan

 

Lan Zhan

How did you know that Emperor's Smile is my favourite wine? And now I get to tour the winery, stealing tastes along the way? Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you spoil me too much.

Thank you. You are too good to me.

Wei Ying

***


Wei Ying: Bunny Wrangler

- Hey Lan Zhan.

- I don’t know if you have any friends, or students/parents at your school who are looking for help with animals, but if anyone mentions anything I would really appreciate you pointing them in my direction.

 

Lan Zhan
- Of course, Wei Ying. Have you lost some clients?

 

Wei Ying: Bunny Wrangler
- No, nothing like that.

- I’m just taking on some more work, so any referrals would be helpful.

- Suibian finally died. RIP. She served me well.

- But my laptop fund is not quite up to purchasing levels.

- So: new clients.

 

Lan Zhan
- I am sorry for your loss.

***

Wei Ying

I hope you are well.

I was considering your situation with Suibian and how your laptop savings will not have been increased by your kind and thoughtful gifts to me. Therefore, please accept this laptop as a thank you from me.

Lan Zhan

***

Lan Zhan opened the front door and the first thing he spotted was Wei Ying’s bike, tucked neatly against the wall. He also spotted Wei Ying’s boots. He hadn’t seen them there since Wei Ying’s first visit, but Lan Zhan didn’t own black boots with big silver buckles. His concern at Wei Ying’s reaction to his gift calmed and rose at the same time. Surely Wei Ying would not have stayed if he was offended by the gift? But why would he have not left a note instead of staying behind? Maybe he was so offended that he was going to resign?

Lan Zhan took his shoes off, put his keys down in their usual spot, and walked into the lounge, to find Wei Ying sitting on his sofa. He was even more beautiful than Lan Zhan remembered.

Wei Ying stood up, face looking very serious. “Lan Zhan, I can’t believe you did this. You can’t buy me a brand new laptop!”

Lan Zhan had considered it and it seemed like a very sensible idea. “Why not?”

“‘Why not?’” Wei Ying repeated. “Because it’s way too expensive! Lan Zhan, be serious.”

Lan Zhan frowned. He was being serious. “You need a new laptop. I can afford to buy one.” Wei Ying opened his mouth and then closed it again. Lan Zhan realised that he had an opportunity.

“Would you like to stay for dinner, Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan hoped that he would say yes. He had plenty of food and the thought of cooking for Wei Ying was oddly pleasing. He had only ever cooked for his brother before, and that wasn’t the same.

Wei Ying looked confused. “Huh?”

Lan Zhan started walking into the kitchen and Wei Ying followed him. “I am making dinner. Would you like to eat with me?”

Wei Ying held his hands out. “Lan Zhan!”

“Are you not hungry?” Lan Zhan asked.

“Of course I’m hungry.” Wei Ying shook his head. “That’s not the point.” He looked at Lan Zhan for a few moments. “Lan Zhan, why did you buy me a laptop?”

Lan Zhan continued the motions of preparing food. Having something to do with his hands made him feel less flustered by Wei Ying’s presence.

“We have been buying gifts for each other,” Lan Zhan pointed out.

Wei Ying laughed, a bright sound. “Yes, small ones. Not a whole laptop.”

Lan Zhan felt his ears heating. He had known that it was a big gesture, but he wanted Wei Ying to be happy. To be comfortable. He paused in pulling out ingredients and glanced over at Wei Ying. “I apologise if I offended you.”

Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying watched Lan Zhan for a moment. “I’m not offended. It's just too much. You can’t spend that much money on me.”

Lan Zhan frowned. “It is not too much money.”

“It is!” Wei Ying practically wailed. “Lan Zhan, you can’t spend so much of your money on me. It’s not right.”

Lan Zhan considered for a few moments. Was Wei Ying unhappy that Lan Zhan had spent the money, or that he had spent it on Wei Ying?

“Wei Ying, you know that my family are very financially comfortable,” he said.

Wei Ying nodded. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean that you should be spending money on me.”

Lan Zhan felt that he understood a little more. He resumed food preparation as he spoke; not looking Wei Ying directly in the eye helped him to speak his mind more clearly. “You have bought me some gifts. They will have cost you a certain percentage of your income.”

“I could afford it, though,” Wei Ying mumbled.

“Of course. However, the percentage of your income that you have spent on me is far greater than I have spent on you, even if you include the laptop.” Lan Zhan hoped that Wei Ying understood. He turned to look at Wei Ying. “The financial cost to me will be negligible, but the benefit to you will be large. Why would I not make the choice to buy it, then?” Wei Ying stared at him, eyes searching Lan Zhan’s face as he spoke. “You are having to save for months to afford this, and I will not even have to rebudget for the month to absorb the cost. How is that fair?” Lan Zhan took a small step towards him and continued quietly. “Wei Ying, I mean no obligation from this. You are working hard to maintain a business and I am your” - Lan Zhan almost hesitated, hoping he wasn’t assuming too much - “friend. I wish to help.”

Wei Ying’s eyes finally softened and he sighed out a small laugh. “Aiyah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. You are too much for me.” He shook his head. “Fine, fine. I’ll keep the laptop.” Lan Zhan smiled. “But,” Wei Ying held up a finger, “you have to let me do something for you to say thank you.”

Lan Zhan nodded, then turned back to preparing dinner. Whatever Wei Ying wanted to do with Lan Zhan was fine by him.

He heard Wei Ying moving behind him and glanced back to see that Wei Ying had boosted himself up onto the worksurface of the centre island. He perched there and watched Lan Zhan cooking. At first Lan Zhan felt a little self-conscious, but Wei Ying’s casual observations and questions about what he was making quickly made everything feel quite domestic. Lan Zhan tried not to think about what it would be like to cook for Wei Ying every day.

When they sat down to eat, Lan Zhan placed a bottle of chilli oil out and Wei Ying made appreciative sounds. Wei Ying ate with gusto and Lan Zhan felt a deep sense of contentment.

Later, Wei Ying strapped the laptop box into one of his bike panniers, taking time to make sure it was sufficiently secure. When he stood up he looked at Lan Zhan with his hands on his hips. “I still can’t believe you bought this for me, Lan Zhan.” Lan Zhan didn’t say anything. “And you made me dinner! I’d offer to make dinner for you in return, but I actually want you to like me afterwards.”

Lan Zhan smiled. “There is no need, Wei Ying. I like cooking.”

“Oh, really? I hate it. I’m good at eating, though.” Wei Ying laughed. “And for someone who doesn’t like spicy food you definitely made it tasty.”

“You added chilli to it,” Lan Zhan pointed out.

Wei Ying grinned. “Yeah, but I add chilli to everything. At least yours was tasty before I added it.”

“If you like, you can stay for dinner on the evenings that you come over,” Lan Zhan offered. He felt a low buzz of anxiety.

Wei Ying put his hands on his hips. “I can’t make you cook for me every time I’m over.”

“I am cooking anyway, and it is no more trouble to cook for two than one.” Lan Zhan felt like he was balancing a fine line, trying to figure out if Wei Ying’s ‘no’ was because he didn’t want to, or if he was being self-deprecating because he didn’t want to trouble Lan Zhan. He didn’t want to force Wei Ying into something that made him uncomfortable.

Wei Ying looked down and hummed. “Yeah, I guess…” He met Lan Zhan’s gaze again. “But then you have to put up with me here.” Wei Ying laughed as though he had made a valid point.

Lan Zhan spoke quietly. “I would like to have you here.” As he watched, Lan Zhan saw a blush creep steadily over Wei Ying’s cheeks.

“Well.” Wei Ying paused and checked the pannier again. “I mean, if Lan Zhan wants me here then who am I to refuse?” He glanced back up at Lan Zhan and then away again with a small smile. Lan Zhan felt his own answering smile.

Wei Ying coughed. “Um, well, I should get home.”

Lan Zhan opened the front door for Wei Ying to lead his bike outside and watched as he climbed on, checking the pannier one more time.

“Bye, Lan Zhan. See you on Thursday.” Wei Ying waved.

“Thursday,” Lan Zhan agreed and waved him off.

***

Lan Zhan stepped in through the door, immediately looking for Wei Ying’s boots and feeling a quiet satisfaction when he spotted them. Wei Ying stayed almost every evening that he cared for the rabbits now, but Lan Zhan still felt pleased when he knew he would get to look after Wei Ying. To cook for him and care for him.

Lan Zhan made his way into the rabbits’ room. Wei Ying now tended to carry on playing with them until Lan Zhan got home. It was nice: Lan Zhan got to play with the rabbits a little, before they put them away and made dinner together. Wei Ying was right that he could not cook, but he was great at helping with preparation. Lan Zhan found that he enjoyed even just the simple routine of moving around the kitchen together.

When Lan Zhan walked into the room, Wei Ying was already looking up at the door. “Lan Zhan! Welcome home.” He made Baobao wave a paw at him, Caishen still settled on Wei Ying’s lap.

“Good evening.” Lan Zhan sat down on the floor and accepted Baobao from Wei Ying. He stroked her as she nuzzled into his chest. “How was your day?”

Wei Ying told him about the animals’ latest escapades and asked Lan Zhan about practice. It felt very domestic. After a small amount of basking, Lan Zhan lifted Baobao over into the pen and settled her down. He then held out his hand for Caishen.

Wei Ying handed Caishen back across. He nuzzled her nose as he did so. “Back to your Baba, to your favourite.”

Lan Zhan took her and petted her head before placing her down with Baobao. “I am not their father.”

“Hmm?” Wei Ying looked up from the rabbits to Lan Zhan.

“I am not their father,” Lan Zhan repeated. Wei Ying’s smile became amused and Lan Zhan felt the need to explain further. “I do not refer to myself as my pet’s parent.”

Wei Ying was grinning now, wide and beaming. “So you’re not ‘Baba’?”

“No.” Lan Zhan felt his ears going red and wished he hadn’t said anything. Wei Ying was definitely teasing him now. “I am not their parent.”

Wei Ying leaned back on his arms. “Well sure, you didn’t birth them with your own body, but you adopted them.” He pulled a clearly mocking shocked face. “Lan Zhan, do you think that adoptive parents aren’t real parents? You monster!”

“I do not think that.” Lan Zhan poked Wei Ying with his foot and Wei Ying pealed into laughter. “They had their own parents. I merely” - he wanted to stop himself saying this, he knew that Wei Ying would just laugh more - “want to respect that they had their own parents and not try to supplant them.”

As expected, Wei Ying started laughing so hard that he rolled on his side. Lan Zhan sighed, unable to help his own smile at Wei Ying’s antics.

“Lan Zhan! Oh my god!” Wei Ying leaned over and put his forehead on Lan Zhan’s knee, still breathless with laughter. “You are the cutest thing.” He gasped for breath. “I can’t believe you’re giving consideration to their little bunny parents.” Wei Ying almost sounded like he was sobbing now. His forehead was knocking against Lan Zhan’s knee in time with his hitching breath.

Lan Zhan ducked his own head, amused mainly by how funny Wei Ying found it. He placed a hand on Wei Ying’s shoulder.

Wei Ying lifted his head and Lan Zhan could see tears streaming down his face. “You get a knock on the door one day and it’s their bunny parents come to find them!”

Wei Ying was laughing so hard by the end that Lan Zhan could barely understand him. Wei Ying toppled forward again and Lan Zhan caught him, so that Wei Ying was leaning across Lan Zhan’s lap, shuddering with laughter.

Eventually Wei Ying seemed to get himself under control and sat up, wiping his eyes. “I’m sorry.” He didn’t sound sorry. He sounded like the slightest thing would make him laugh again. “You’re just too cute, Lan Zhan, I can’t cope.”

Lan Zhan smiled and shook his head to show it was fine. In honesty he loved being able to make Wei Ying laugh. He was used to people thinking he was odd. Most didn’t also think he was funny.

Wei Ying took a deep breath to settle himself. “So, if they don’t call you Baba, or Diedie” - his breathing hitched slightly - “or anything, what do you call yourself to them? Do you just introduce yourself as Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying started laughing again a little.

Lan Zhan shrugged. “I do not think I have a name to them. I am a familiar smell and pair of hands.”

“Okay, but how do you refer to yourself when you talk to them? Like, when I come in I say ‘Hi bunnies! It’s me, Uncle Wei!’ and they come out to see me.” Wei Ying raised his eyebrows in question at Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan thought that Wei Ying calling himself ‘Uncle Wei’ to the rabbits was too adorable, but didn’t say anything. He considered how he spoke to them, keeping them familiar with his voice. “I do not use my name. I will say good morning or good evening to them, and then maybe discuss my day and ask about theirs. I presume they will recognise me because of my smell and voice, not a name they cannot understand.”

Wei Ying tilted his head at Lan Zhan. His gaze was definitely fond, tinged with the promise of further laughter. “So you’re...” Wei Ying leaned in and hovered his nose close to Lan Zhan’s neck. Lan Zhan felt a warm flush go through him. “Mmmm, wow, you smell good.” Wei Ying leaned away again. “You’re ‘Sandalwood Man’ to them?”

Lan Zhan looked at Wei Ying who was still leaning close. There was a tension there now that Lan Zhan didn’t want to break. He nodded and, feeling daring, he leaned in to smell Wei Ying in return. He breathed in deeply, nose almost touching Wei Ying’s skin and was sure he heard an answering stutter in Wei Ying’s breathing.

He leaned back. “And you smell of vetiver and bergamot. Also very good.”

“Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying smiled and ducked his head, blushing an attractive pink. “I don’t even know what ‘vetiver’ is. How can you pick that out?” He looked up at Lan Zhan from under his lashes.

“It is a common scent used in men’s body care products. I like it.” Lan Zhan glanced over at the rabbits. “The bunnies must, too, as they appear to enjoy spending time with Uncle Wei.”

Wei Ying burst out laughing again. Lan Zhan felt a smug smile pull at his lips.

This time, as Wei Ying’s laughter tapered off, he cast an appraising look over Lan Zhan. “So I’m guessing you also don’t add them on to greetings cards when you send them?” Lan Zhan shook his head. “No celebration cards from ‘Lan Zhan, Baobao, and Caishen’? Or with little paw prints?”

Lan Zhan scowled. “No.”

“So boring.” Wei Ying blew out a breath. “I think it’s really cute. It recognises your pets as part of your family. You’re no fun, Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying stuck out his tongue and wrinkled his nose.

Lan Zhan wanted to kiss him so much. Instead he stuck his own tongue out at Wei Ying and smiled again when Wei Ying went off into further gales of laughter.

Later, when Lan Zhan was preparing dinner, he still felt a warm buzz inside.

“There’s this one dog that I think I might actually be starting to like.” Lan Zhan made a sound of interest and Wei Ying continued. “Yeah, Ming-Hua. He makes this howling, barking noise when he sees me. His owner told me that it’s a friendly greeting, but it really freaked me out.”

Lan Zhan looked over at Wei Ying, who was again perched on the counter. He had only recently started talking about his phobia to Lan Zhan, who took it as a sign of trust. “It no longer freaks you out?”

“Well, yeah, it still does, but...” Wei Ying paused like he was thinking. “Hmm, it’s hard to explain. He’s just so determined to be friends with me. As soon as he sees me, he wags his tail and does the howling-bark. I still don’t want to go anywhere near him, but I’m getting better about it. And I like that he is so determined to be friends that he’ll keep trying with someone who is wary of him.” Wei Ying laughed. “Reminds me of me!”

Lan Zhan smiled. He enjoyed hearing about the antics of Wei Ying’s animals. He had been dubious of Wei Ying’s business model to start off with, but there were clearly very many people with unusual pet needs out there. It kept Wei Ying busy and his business appeared to be thriving. He had confessed to Lan Zhan that he had used the saved up laptop money to take out a couple of small adverts, which had brought in enough interest that he was considering hiring some part-time help. He had a friend who was also good with animals who could support him.

“Is your aim to eventually be able to walk dogs?” Lan Zhan asked.

“No.” Wei Ying shuddered. “I don’t think that will ever happen. I can only cope at this park because it has a very strict rule that all dogs have to be on leads. In other parks it was bad enough when a dog might be able to run up at me unexpectedly, but if I’m dealing with other animals, especially cats, it would be a nightmare.” He pulled a face. “But being less jumpy around them would be great. I’m trying to convince myself to like this particular dog as a way to feel less wary overall.”

“Mn. I hope it works for you.” Lan Zhan turned off the ring and started serving up the food. Wei Ying grabbed bowls to take over to the table.

***

Wei Ying had been joining Lan Zhan for dinner for two months before Lan Zhan asked Wei Ying to come to an upcoming orchestra performance. Wei Ying was always interested to hear all about Lan Zhan’s practices and Lan Zhan found himself talking about his favourite students, the progress everyone was making, and the planned performances.

“Oh my god, are you serious? I’d love to come!” Wei Ying’s face was bright and excited. Lan Zhan felt some of the anxiety release from his shoulders.

“Good. If you don’t mind going in slightly early, I can pick you up on the way.” He placed some steamed vegetables in Wei Ying’s bowl.

Wei Ying waved a hand. “You don’t have to do that, it’s off your usual route. I can make my own way there, don’t worry.”

Lan Zhan frowned. He felt like he was constantly trying to navigate knowing if Wei Ying didn’t actually want something, or was just being overly cautious about asking too much. It was hard work, as Wei Ying’s default assumption was apparently that anything anyone ever did for him was ‘too much’ to ask of them. Lan Zhan had picked up enough from their conversations to have figured out that this was likely due to his family situation, and dearly wanted to have stern words with everyone involved. His own perspective was that nothing Wei Ying could ever ask for would ever be too much for Lan Zhan to give.

“It is not too far out of my way.” Lan Zhan hesitated. “We could get dinner afterwards.”

Wei Ying perked up. “Oh, could we go to that place you mentioned?” Lan Zhan had talked about a small family-owned restaurant near the school that did amazing dim sum.

Lan Zhan nodded. “Mn.”

“Okay, I’m in. Just tell me what time to be ready.” Wei Ying grinned and continued eating. Then he paused, chopsticks halfway to his mouth. “Hang on, wait. I usually look after the bunnies on the evenings that you have to do performances.”

Lan Zhan felt his ears heat up. “I have asked Brother to feed them that day.”

Wei Ying looked at him for a few moments. “Lan Zhan, thinking of everything.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan ducked his head and continued to eat. He felt warmer as he realised Wei Ying hadn’t returned to eating and was still watching him.

Finally Wei Ying spoke again. “So, you will have to tell me what to wear. I don’t want to embarrass you.”

“It’s fine, there is no dress code.”

Wei Ying shook his head. “Okay, yes, there’s no dress code, but it’s still a bunch of parents coming to see an orchestra performance at a fancy school. I don’t think this” - Wei Ying gestured to his own black combats and ripped red t-shirt combo - “will go down well.”

Lan Zhan loved the way Wei Ying dressed. There were always rips in his clothes that gave tantalising glimpses of skin underneath.

“You could wear trousers and a shirt. That would be fine.” Lan Zhan didn’t want to make Wei Ying feel uncomfortable if he was coming along on his behalf.

“I can do that. Tie?” he asked.

Lan Zhan shook his head. “A tie will not be necessary, unless you want to wear one.”

“Lan Zhan, I can safely say that I never want to wear a tie.” Wei Ying popped a mushroom into his mouth. “Have you thought about how ridiculous ties are anyway?” Lan Zhan raised an eyebrow. “They don’t actually achieve anything! In the past they used to hold the collar together, I think, but now we use buttons to do that. So really, the tie is a purely decorative item of clothing that men wear to communicate ‘I’m being smart’. It’s a social signifier, disguised as an item of clothing.”

Lan Zhan tilted his head. “That is true of many items of clothing.”

“Yes, but mainly women’s clothing,” Wei Ying said. “Men like to tell ourselves that women are frivolous dressers, whereas we are sensible and functional in our clothing choices. But ties blow that argument out of the water.”

Lan Zhan hummed in agreement. “I do like some frivolous clothing, though. Clothing that is worn only because it feels nice.”

“Lan Zhan, is this where you tell me that you wear lingerie under there, because I think I would need some warning.” Wei Ying’s tone was teasing, but Lan Zhan felt his ears heat anyway. He stopped himself before he could point out that it was actually Wei Ying who he would prefer to see in flimsy underwear. Lan Zhan did, however, have a leather harness that he had worn a couple of times and enjoyed.

“I believe we were talking about ties,” Lan Zhan teased.

Wei Ying blushed. “Right! Ties. No tie for me. But I can manage a shirt and trousers.” He held up three fingers. “I promise not to bring shame on you, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan smiled. He was looking forward to it.

***

Lan Zhan picked Wei Ying up and admired how smart and handsome he looked dressed up. He had layered black on black, but it suited his long lines. His hair was still up in its usual ponytail, but he had added some small plaits to give it a more structured feel.

Lan Zhan left Wei Ying milling with the crowd who were waiting to be seated, then ducked backstage where he was meeting the students ahead of the performance.

The performance itself was seamless. Everyone was nervous, but in an excited way. They knew the hard work that they had put into practicing, and the whole group had built up a trust in each other’s abilities that Lan Zhan was proud to see.

Once the concert was over and the students were pouring out from the backstage area to greet their parents, Lan Zhan found Wei Ying standing off to the side, waiting.

“Lan Zhan, that was so amazing! I’ve never seen a group of students perform so well!” Wei Ying’s face was flushed.

Lan Zhan ducked his head. “They played very well.”

Wei Ying opened his mouth to add something, but a group of three students almost barrelled into them.

“Hanguang-jun! Thank you for lending me this.” Lan Jingyi shoved a sheaf of papers into his hand: he always brought spare for those who inevitably forgot their own music. It wasn’t always Jingyi, but it often was.

Lan Zhan accepted the music and, when the three hovered awkwardly, introduced them to Wei Ying.

“These are three of my students, Wen Yuan, Lan Jingyi and Ouyang Zizhen.” He pointed at the three in turn.

“So, are you Hanguang-jun’s boyfriend?” Lan Jingyi asked.

Lan Zhan flinched internally. He should have known that Lan Jingyi would ask an inappropriate question.

Wei Ying threw his head back and laughed while Lan Zhan was still trying to consider how to answer. “Wow, are you all aiming to give me cute shovel talks on his behalf?”

There was general laughter, but Lan Zhan noticed that Wei Ying didn’t actually deny that they were together.

“Wei Ying is my friend,” Lan Zhan said, using his firm tone. It was as much of an explanation as he was comfortable giving in front of his students, and also avoided saying that they were ‘just’ anything. If Wei Ying wanted to be friends, Lan Zhan would be content with that. But if there was a chance of more, he was not going to miss it.

Wei Ying turned and gave him a smile, eyes scrunching, then turned back to the students. “Why do you call him Hanguang-jun, anyway?”

Lan Jingyi immediately perked up, but Wen Yuan placed a hand on his arm and Lan Jingyi quieted. Interesting.

“This one is for Zizhen to explain. He came up with the name,” Wen Yuan said.

Ouyang Zizhen beamed, and Lan Zhan mentally sighed. At least if Lan Jingyi had been telling the story, it would have been told factually, if at too many decibels. Ouyang Zizhen, however, had a tendency to romanticise everything.

Wei Ying seemed rapt, however, as Ouyang Zizhen set the scene, describing how the power cut had hit just as they were mid-practice. The music room, pitch black due to having no external windows, became a death-trap of legend, told this way: everyone tripping on instruments, music stands, chairs. The real risks - minor injuries, damaged instruments - became life or death in Ouyang Zizhen’s narrative. Wei Ying was laughing along, eyes sparkling.

“Then,” Ouyang Zizhen emphasised the word, pausing for dramatic effect, “just when we thought this was it, we were stuck in the room forever, a light appeared, held aloft!” Ouyang Zizhen stood with his hand in the air. “A tall, statuesque” - Lan Zhan closed his eyes and shook his head - “magnificent figure from legends, bringing light back to the mortals! Hanguang-jun!”

Wei Ying turned delighted eyes on Lan Zhan. “Hanguang-jun!”

“I merely turned on the torch light on my phone.” Lan Zhan tried to quash a smile.

Wei Ying laughed. “And none of you kids, glued to your phones, thought to do that?”

They all looked offended, but it was Wen Yuan who spoke up. “Hanguang-jun makes us switch our phones off and leave them in our bags on the other side of the room when we’re practicing.”

“Ahhhhh.” Wei Ying nodded in understanding. “A very sensible policy. I definitely disrupted practice with my phone a number of times.”

“Oh, what do you play, Mr Wei?” Lan Jingyi asked.

Wei Ying smiled self-deprecatingly. “I play the dizi. Not very well, though.”

Lan Zhan was surprised. In all of their talk of music, Wei Ying had never mentioned playing an instrument.

Ouyang Zizhen spoke up again. “You should come to a practice and play with us!” The others joined in the call.

Wei Ying laughed, lifting his hands to quiet them. “Hey, you’re meant to practice in those sessions, not have me coming in to disrupt you.” There were general sounds of dissatisfaction. “Plus, I can’t come to practice because I have to look after Lan Zhan’s bunnies while he’s helping you lot.”

Lan Zhan groaned internally at Wei Ying’s words just as the group burst into delighted raptures.

“Hanguang-jun has bunnies?!” Lan Jingyi exclaimed, voice going high enough to make Lan Zhan wince. Three sets of wide eyes turned on Lan Zhan and he saw Wei Ying turn with them, shamelessly laughing at the commotion his words had set off.

Lan Zhan pursed his lips. “I have two rabbits that Wei Ying feeds and socialises on the nights that I teach late.”

The children all looked at each other with matching expressions of joy. Lan Zhan knew he would never stop getting questions about the rabbits now.

“Should you not all go and greet your parents?” Lan Zhan asked. There were grumbles, but they all politely said goodbye to Wei Ying and moved away. Lan Zhan saw them quickly merge into another group, saying something that caused squeals and eyes to turn back towards Lan Zhan.

“Everyone in the class is going to know about your bunnies by tomorrow.” Wei Ying’s eyes were still laughing.

“Mn.” Lan Zhan agreed.

“They’re lovely kids.” Lan Zhan felt pleased at Wei Ying’s praise. “They like you so much.”

“They are dedicated, if overly dramatic,” Lan Zhan admitted.

Wei Ying laughed. “Well, take it from someone who was an overly dramatic kid who grew up into an overly dramatic adult - having a great teacher who you trust is a massive benefit.”

Lan Zhan looked at Wei Ying’s sunny face. “Wei Ying, I didn’t know that you played an instrument.” It hadn’t been what he had intended to say, but Lan Zhan was curious.

“Ahhh, yes.” Wei Ying ducked his head. “I used to play, but I don’t anymore.”

Lan Zhan waited to see if Wei Ying would elaborate, but he didn’t go on. Lan Zhan didn’t know if he should prompt further, or if it meant that Wei Ying didn’t want to talk about it. The choice was made by Wei Ying, who suggested that they go and get something to eat. They were then drawn into multiple discussions with various other students and parents, so Lan Zhan let the subject go and didn’t raise it again.

Later, after dinner, when Lan Zhan had dropped off Wei Ying and made it home, a flurry of texts came through.

 

Wei Ying: Bunny Wrangler
- Thank you for a lovely evening.

- And for introducing me to your students!

- And for just being really great and nice to me.

 

Lan Zhan felt his heart constrict. Of course he was nice to Wei Ying. He stared at the texts for a few moments, trying to decide how to respond. He needed to make sure that Wei Ying never felt like his job would be impacted by his friendship with Lan Zhan. But he also liked Wei Ying and was becoming more sure that Wei Ying might like him back.

 

Lan Zhan
- I like being nice to you, Wei Ying. Thank you for coming to the performance; it meant a lot to me to have you there.

 

Wei Ying responded with a series of blushing face emojis and then smiling faces. Lan Zhan smiled to himself.

***

Lan Zhan was taking out the music for the day’s practice when his phone started buzzing. He had not yet put it onto Do Not Disturb. He glanced across to see who was calling him. It was an unknown number. He answered.

“Is that Lan Zhan?” The voice was familiar but he could not place it.

“It is.”

“Oh, okay. Good. This is Jiang Cheng, Wei Ying’s brother. Lan Huan’s friend?” Lan Zhan hummed recognition. “So I’m calling to let you know that Wei Ying won’t be able to feed your rabbits or whatever this evening, sorry. Something’s happened.”

Lan Zhan felt cold fear wash through him. “What has happened? Is Wei Ying alright?”

“He’s fine, don’t worry. There was an incident with a dog.” Jiang Cheng sounded like he was trying to get Lan Zhan off the phone.

“I will come around tonight, when I am done.” Lan Zhan told him.

Jiang Cheng sounded slightly surprised. “No, it’s okay you don’t have to, I’m here. He’s fine.”

Lan Zhan knew he should accept that, but he needed to see Wei Ying. To check that he was okay. He estimated the time it would take to get to the address Wei Ying had given him when he picked him up for the student concert. “I will be there around seven.”

Lan Zhan actually made it to Wei Ying’s apartment by 6:45pm. He hadn’t broken any speed limits, but he had definitely cut short the post-practice flocking and driven more determinedly than usual.

When Wei Ying’s door opened, Jiang Cheng was standing behind it. “I said you didn’t have to come.”

Lan Zhan ignored him and stepped inside, removing his shoes. He had not been inside Wei Ying’s apartment before, but it was clear which direction the main living room was.

Wei Ying was on his sofa, swaddled in a bulky quilt, looking pale. He had some scratches on his face. When he looked up and saw that it was Lan Zhan he looked bereft. Lan Zhan felt his heart constrict.

“Lan Zhan, shit. I’m so sorry about tonight.” He tried to untangle himself from the quilt and stand up but Lan Zhan placed a hand on his shoulder to make him stay.

“Wei Ying, it’s fine. The rabbits will be fine. I was worried about you.”

Wei Ying scrubbed a hand across his face. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”

Jiang Cheng, who had followed Lan Zhan back into the living room, snorted. “‘Fine’.” He turned to Lan Zhan. “He was attacked by a dog off the lead in the park.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes widened but Wei Ying jumped in. “It didn’t attack me, really. It was after Xiao Mi.” Lan Zhan knew that was one of the cats that Wei Ying walked regularly. He presumed the scratches on Wei Ying must be from a frightened cat.

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes at Wei Ying’s interjection and continued. “The dog wasn’t on a lead like it should have been. It ran at him and tried to get at the cat.”

Wei Ying laughed, but it was a horrible, disquieting sound, not his usual bright, happy self. “Ming-Hua dragged his owner over to get between me and the dog. Can you imagine?”

Wei Ying looked so miserable and pale. Lan Zhan felt helpless, unsure of what he could do to help. If Jiang Cheng hadn’t been there he might have tried sitting next to Wei Ying, maybe even reaching out to him, but Jiang Cheng’s presence made him feel more awkward and unsure.

“Wei Ying.” Wei Ying looked up at him. “Can I help?” Lan Zhan felt like he needed something to do. Some rule he could follow. If he had been Wei Ying’s boyfriend, he could have pulled him into his arms and held him. But he wasn't.

Wei Ying shook his head. “God, I’m sorry. Look, I’m fine, I’m just being irrational and pathetic.”

Lan Zhan was ready to deny this, to defend Wei Ying from Jiang Cheng if he was the reason Wei Ying was speaking this way, but Jiang Cheng spoke quickly.

“No, A-Ying, no. Shut up.” Lan Zhan couldn’t help the slightly shocked expression that he turned on Jiang Cheng. “You’re not pathetic, you’ve never been pathetic.” Jiang Cheng sat down next to Wei Ying and actually put an arm around him, pulling him into a hug. Wei Ying made a sound that was half-sob, half-laugh and hugged back.

Lan Zhan appreciated Jiang Cheng’s vocal support, but felt more needed to be said. “Wei Ying, a phobia is irrational by its definition.” Wei Ying looked up at him from his hug with Jiang Cheng, eyes glittering. “Attacking yourself for feeling the consequences of a phobia will not cure it. It will only make you feel worse.”

Jiang Cheng pulled back from the hug and pointed fiercely at Lan Zhan. “Will you listen to him, at least?”

Wei Ying laughed self-consciously, shaking his head. “I know, I know, but” - he made a frustrated sound - “I just feel like I should be better. I should be able to manage. And I have been! And then something like this happens.” Wei Ying flopped back on the sofa.

“Wei Ying, you have been doing so much better.” Wei Ying made a disbelieving sound, but Lan Zhan went on. “You have said yourself that you can actually spend time around dogs on leads now, when in the past that was not true.” Wei Ying was still frowning but didn’t disagree. “In fact, you said that the one dog protected you and Xiao Mi. That would not have happened if you had not built up a relationship with it, something you would not have been capable of if you had not made progress in overcoming your fears.”

Jiang Cheng was listening with an incredulous look on his face. “There’s a dog you like?”

“I don’t like him, but he likes me and I’m” - Wei Ying shrugged - “trying to be okay with him.” He sighed. “I should like him more after this but-” He made a frustrated sound and wrapped his arms around himself, pulling his legs up. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have to take Xiao Mi and Trevor back there tomorrow, and then Zhenzhen.” He groaned.

“I can do that for you,” Lan Zhan said. Wei Ying looked up at him, puzzled. “I can walk Xiao Mi and do your other tasks.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying frowned and shook his head, “you can’t do that. You have work tomorrow.”

“I will take a personal day.” Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng were both staring at him, but he continued. “I am owed many, and Fridays are my quietest day anyway. My classes can be covered.”

Wei Ying started shaking his head. “I can’t ask you to do that.”

Lan Zhan pursed his lips. “You are not asking me to. I want to help.”

“But, you don’t even know what I’m meant to do,” Wei Ying said.

“You can send me your spreadsheet with the Friday timetable.” Lan Zhan was already planning the day in his head. “You can then take tomorrow and the weekend to recover.”

“Lan Zhan-”

Lan Zhan interrupted. “I will be taking the day off anyway, so it will be wasted if I do not do this for you.”

“I want to help, too. I can take a day off.” Jiang Cheng spoke suddenly. Lan Zhan and Wei Ying both looked at him and he blushed. “I can help.”

Wei Ying started to shake his head again, but Lan Zhan crouched down in front of him and placed a hand on his leg. “Wei Ying, let us help you.” Wei Ying caught his gaze and they stared at each other for a long moment until Jiang Cheng coughed.

Wei Ying glanced at Jiang Cheng and then back at Lan Zhan. He sighed. “Fine, okay. Sure.” He rubbed his forehead and laughed. “So stubborn. I’ll send you the spreadsheet.” He pointed over at the side table. “Jiang Cheng, pass me Chenqing.”

Lan Zhan stood back up as Jiang Cheng turned with a frown and looked at Wei Ying’s laptop. He picked it up and handed it to Wei Ying. “I thought your laptop was called Suibian?”

“Oh, uh, yeah I got a new one.” Wei Ying caught Lan Zhan’s eyes and smiled slightly before looking back down. Jiang Cheng frowned at their interplay.

“You said that you didn’t have enough savings yet,” Jiang Cheng pressed.

Wei Ying made an exasperated sound. “Are we here to talk about my laptop finances, Jiang Cheng? Let it go!”

Jiang Cheng didn’t seem inclined to let the subject drop. He looked between Lan Zhan and Wei Ying angrily. “So you’ll let him buy you a laptop, but when I try to buy one for you I’m interfering?”

“It’s different.” Wei Ying was still leaning over the keyboard, not looking at either of them. Lan Zhan was desperate to know what Wei Ying meant by ‘different’, but he was aware that this was not when he should push Wei Ying for answers on their relationship status.

Jiang Cheng opened his mouth but Lan Zhan spoke first. “This is not the time.”

Jiang Cheng glared at him but closed his mouth again, looking mullish. “Fine,” he muttered, looking away. Wei Ying glanced up at Lan Zhan and gave him a grateful, flat smile before turning back to the laptop screen.

After a few moments Wei Ying closed the laptop and looked up. “I’ve sent it.” Lan Zhan nodded.

“To both of us?” Jiang Cheng asked. Wei Ying nodded again. “Fine. Where shall we meet?”

“You do not need to come along.” Jiang Cheng seemed a lot angrier than he recalled from when he had met him with Lan Huan. He didn’t like the thought of spending a day with him.

“I’m coming.” Jiang Cheng’s tone was firm, as was his glare. Lan Zhan sighed, and pulled out his phone to bring up the spreadsheet from his email.

“The first task is at ten. I will meet you outside the address at nine forty-five.” Lan Zhan turned back to Wei Ying who had flopped back and looked exhausted. “Wei Ying, have you eaten?”

Jiang Cheng jumped in again. “We have food on the way.” The implied ‘you are not needed’ was very clear.

Wei Ying looked up at him. “Thanks anyway, Lan Zhan. I really appreciate you coming over.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan ached for it to just be him and Wei Ying. Never before had he wanted so badly to evict someone physically from the premises. But could he really blame Wei Ying’s brother for being protective? “I will leave you to eat, then. Please let me know if I can do anything else, Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying smiled wanly. “Thanks.” Lan Zhan hated to see Wei Ying so subdued, but with Jiang Cheng standing guard and his own lack of surety around what his relationship was with Wei Ying - how much he was wanted or required - he couldn’t press.

Wei Ying went to stand and see Lan Zhan out, but Jiang Cheng pushed him back down. “I’ll do it.” Wei Ying nodded and waved at Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan waved back.

At the door Jiang Cheng seemed less irate. “Look, thanks for coming around and for helping him. He’s really bad at accepting anyone’s support and, well, I guess I’m happy that he has someone else looking out for him.”

Lan Zhan wondered why Jiang Cheng didn’t say such things in front of Wei Ying, instead seeming angry at his brother. “I am happy to help Wei Ying.”

“Right. Well. I’ll see you in the morning,” Jiang Cheng huffed.

“Mn.”

Lan Zhan left and went home.

***

The following day was a strange one. Lan Zhan was easily able to arrange cover for his classes and was ready well before the 9:45 meet time. He had studied the spreadsheet and dressed in what he thought were appropriate clothing choices.

Jiang Cheng arrived to meet him in good time and had brought the relevant sets of keys with him. Lan Zhan had asked Wei Ying to let his clients know that someone else would be attending due to an emergency, just in case any were around.

Lan Zhan had anticipated that he would do most of the work, with Jiang Cheng just supporting, and was prepared for that. However, Jiang Cheng threw himself into everything with apparently no reservations. He walked Xiao Mi the cat, no worse for wear from his scare the day before. He allowed the donkey, Little Apple, to eat from his hand, and shovelled shit without complaint. He was wary of letting Trevor ride on his shoulder, but laughed when Trevor decided he liked Lan Zhan’s hair and tried to eat it.

They fed cats, played with two very adventurous ferrets, gave medication to chinchillas. They fed some goats, one of which tried to chew on Lan Zhan’s jacket while Jiang Cheng laughed again. They even walked a pig, larger than a big dog, lumbering around a wide yard while it snuffled in the undergrowth.

The day was packed with tasks, moving from location to location. Wei Ying had mapped the most efficient routes, making sure that he grouped visits for places that were close together, but it still took them all over the city. Lan Zhan marvelled at Wei Ying doing it all with no car, just on his bike. No wonder he had such excellent thighs.

At one point, when they had stopped briefly to grab some lunch between two stops, Jiang Cheng expressed amazement. “This is exhausting!”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan knew Wei Ying worked hard, but it was one thing to hear about it and another to do it yourself.

“I thought he was just,” Jiang Cheng made a sweeping gesture with one hand, “messing around with animals, you know?” Lan Zhan didn’t grace him with a response. “He was always causing trouble and doing stupid shit. My mum was always saying-” He broke off. “Well, how was I meant to know that he actually took this seriously?”

Lan Zhan considered saying many things about how Jiang Cheng could have asked, could have displayed an interest, could have not allowed his mother’s opinions to colour his perceptions. Instead he just looked away.

He heard an annoyed huff from Jiang Cheng. “So are you and my brother dating?”

Lan Zhan turned back and stared at Jiang Cheng. “That is a question for Wei Ying to answer.”

“Well of course it is!” Jiang Cheng burst out. “But he won’t answer the question, either.”

Lan Zhan turned his head so Jiang Cheng wouldn’t see him smile. If Wei Ying wouldn’t answer his brother, did that mean he was interested in dating? There was always the possibility that Wei Ying just liked messing with his brother, leaving him frustrated, but it was another good sign.

***

Wei Ying felt able to take back over his rounds on Monday, and when Lan Zhan cooked them dinner on Tuesday evening as usual, he seemed back to his normal self. Something had changed between them, though. The air seemed more charged when Wei Ying thanked him for helping, when they prepared the food, when they washed the dishes, and when Lan Zhan saw Wei Ying off at the door.

They had a routine and they were friends, but Lan Zhan didn’t eat dinner with his friends twice a week. He didn’t excitedly buy little (and not so little) gifts for his friends. Wei Ying didn’t seem to either. Wei Ying went out to bars with his friends, drinking, gossiping. Bringing stories back to tell Lan Zhan. He didn’t go to his friends’ students’ orchestra performances.

The tension was thick when they were together, but Lan Zhan knew he couldn’t push it. They were friends now, but Lan Zhan was still paying Wei Ying. He was still employing him. He could not bear if his urgency to touch and taste Wei Ying ended up with Wei Ying losing a client out of discomfort. There was always a seed of doubt, the possibility that Wei Ying cared for him, valued their time together, but didn’t want what Lan Zhan did.

It was an evening like any other. Lan Zhan came home, Wei Ying helped make dinner, and then they washed the dishes together. They finished, and Lan Zhan dried off his hands with the teatowel, setting it aside to dry. He started to roll his sleeves back down as he turned back to Wei Ying and saw Wei Ying’s eyes shift suddenly up to Lan Zhan’s face. He raised his eyebrows in question.

“Ah, um, Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying laughed; his nervous laugh. “You should leave your sleeves rolled up. It looks good.”

Lan Zhan was fascinated by the blush spreading across Wei Ying’s cheeks. He looked down at his own forearms and turned them, trying to see them as Wei Ying might. He looked back up at Wei Ying with another questioning eyebrow. He wanted Wei Ying to elaborate. To hear why Lan Zhan’s arms made Wei Ying blush. He thought he knew, but if Wei Ying didn’t want to say it, he wouldn’t push too hard.

Lan Zhan rolled them back up. “Like this?”

Wei Ying nodded and then reached out, hesitated. Lan Zhan offered up his arm before Wei Ying could pull back, and Wei Ying’s fingers brushed along the sensitive skin of his inner elbow. He rolled the sleeve up one notch higher, twitching it neat and then pressing it down with a sweep of his hands. They were standing so close, but when Lan Zhan lifted his eyes, Wei Ying’s gaze was still on where he was touching Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan’s breath caught, and Wei Ying looked up. Lan Zhan felt a sudden flood of heat down low in his gut and he stepped closer to Wei Ying, crowding him with the counter behind. Wei Ying let him, fingers still touching Lan Zhan’s forearm lightly.

“Wei Ying.” It was part question, part affirmation. Lan Zhan wanted this so much, but if Wei Ying didn’t, he would step away.

The fingers on Lan Zhan’s arm moved around until Wei Ying’s whole palm was holding Lan Zhan’s elbow. “Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying’s voice was low and warm.

It was all the confirmation Lan Zhan needed. He pressed Wei Ying against the counter as he slipped his hand behind his neck and kissed him. Wei Ying made a needy sound that went straight to Lan Zhan’s cock and he grabbed at Lan Zhan’s shoulders, opening his mouth and tilting his head so the kiss went from intense to utterly filthy in seconds.

Lan Zhan felt like floodgates had finally opened. Every ounce of restraint he had mustered around Wei Ying let go in an instant, and he kissed him with a fierceness even he had not expected. For a few seconds he worried that he might be going too fast, too impassioned for Wei Ying, but he was so responsive and pulled Lan Zhan tighter against him. Lan Zhan inhaled deeply, the scent of Wei Ying all around him, exhilarating and heady.

Lan Zhan broke the kiss to follow the line down Wei Ying’s throat and Wei Ying spoke, voice ragged. “Fuck, Lan Zhan, how are you so hot?”

Lan Zhan reached down to finally get his hands on Wei Ying’s ass, and Wei Ying made an indecent sound, rocking against Lan Zhan’s thigh. Lan Zhan kissed back up to his mouth. He wanted to fuck Wei Ying right there, turn him around and bend him over the counter. But he knew he wouldn’t last through that this time, and from the frantic motions of Wei Ying’s hips, he hoped he wouldn’t either.

He used his hands on Wei Ying’s ass and the solid press of the counter behind to thrust firmly against him, relishing the feel of Wei Ying’s gasp against his lips. Oh, he liked that a lot.

Wei Ying turned his head out of the kiss slightly. “Should we take this somewhere else? I’m presuming you have a bed?”

Lan Zhan shook his head. “No time.” He leaned down and wrapped his hands under Wei Ying’s thighs and lifted him up onto the counter.

Wei Ying laughed and gripped Lan Zhan’s shoulders. “Lan Zhan! So impatient.” Wei Ying’s breath caught as Lan Zhan started to undo his fly.

When Lan Zhan got his hand on Wei Ying’s cock, Wei Ying’s dropped his head back, exposing his throat. Lan Zhan gave him a couple of strokes, leaning in to kiss his neck again and suck a bruise into the perfect skin. Wei Ying’s hips skittered forward, thrusting his cock harder into Lan Zhan’s palm, and he made a broken sound.

Lan Zhan pulled his mouth away to look down and watch his hand stroking down Wei Ying’s cock. Wei Ying’s t-shirt was in the way, obscuring the view, so he pushed it up with his other hand, skimming his palm up the planes of Wei Ying’s stomach and chest. He let himself look, licking his lips.

Lan Zhan felt Wei Ying looking at him and lifted his gaze back up to meet his. Wei Ying reached down towards Lan Zhan’s fly.

“No fair if I don’t get to look too.”

Lan Zhan let go and grabbed both of Wei Ying’s wrists. Wei Ying’s breath stuttered again and Lan Zhan pushed Wei Ying’s hands back to his sides, gripping firmly to hold him still. Wei Ying’s eyes were wide and his lips parted. He squirmed slightly against Lan Zhan’s grasp, but Lan Zhan held him tight. When he couldn’t get loose, Lan Zhan saw Wei Ying’s cock twitch and his breath came faster.

“This okay?” Lan Zhan checked. He knew he should have asked Wei Ying about this beforehand, but they were here and he wanted to know he wasn’t overstepping.

Wei Ying nodded and licked his lips. “Oh yeah.” He leaned down to kiss Lan Zhan again and Lan Zhan lost himself for a few moments in kissing Wei Ying, holding tightly onto his wrists. He pulled away when the risk of him coming in his own trousers just from pressing his cock against Wei Ying became too much.

He pressed Wei Ying’s one hand down to the counter in a wordless demand to leave it there, then pushed Wei Ying’s t-shirt back up.

“Hold this here,” he said.

Wei Ying’s hand came up and held the t-shirt up at his chest. Lan Zhan let himself take in the sight while he reached down to undo his own fly and draw his cock out, gripping the base firmly so his own touch wouldn’t send him over the edge.

Wei Ying made a low whining sound and Lan Zhan looked up to see Wei Ying’s eyes wide and staring at Lan Zhan’s cock. Lan Zhan let himself stroke it once and Wei Ying’s whole pelvis jerked.

“Oh god, Lan Zhan. Can I touch you? Please?” Wei Ying’s voice was strained and breathless. “I’ve wanted to touch you for so long. Oh, fuck, please, let me touch you.”

Hearing Wei Ying begging, begging for Lan Zhan’s cock, was almost too much. Lan Zhan again had to stop and grip himself firmly. He hadn’t been this trigger-happy since he was a teenager, but Wei Ying was here, on display and pleading so beautifully for him. It was like a dream come true. He wanted to reward Wei Ying for being so good, but he knew if Wei Ying got his hand on Lan Zhan, nothing would stop him coming immediately.

“Next time,” he promised, and Wei Ying arched his whole body forward with a deep moan. His cock was flushed so dark, Lan Zhan knew that Wei Ying must be pretty close too. He pressed himself up flush against Wei Ying again, pushing his cock against Wei Ying’s and wrapping a hand around them both. The angle was slightly off due to the height of the counter, but it was enough that they could feel it. He stroked them both and Wei Ying arched again.

Lan Zhan ran his free hand up Wei Ying’s back, eyes roaming over his stomach and chest. “So beautiful.” Wei Ying jerked again and Lan Zhan was close, so close. He wanted Wei Ying to come, he wanted to watch him make a mess of them both, but he realised he likely wouldn’t make it.

He let his gaze drift down to admire the thick black hair that led down Wei Ying’s stomach, the hair that Wei Ying was going to make a mess of when he came. He fucked hard up into his own fist, rubbing over and over against Wei Ying’s cock. That feeling, and the sounds that Wei Ying made, pushed him over the edge and Lan Zhan came hard, hips shuddering and legs almost buckling under him. He kept enough awareness to keep up the quickening stroke of Wei Ying’s cock and was rewarded only seconds later by Wei Ying’s low, guttural groan as he came, head thrown back but somehow keeping a tight hold of his t-shirt in place.

Wei Ying finally tilted forward, loose against Lan Zhan, who braced against the counter to hold them both up.

Lan Zhan licked his lips. “You can let go.”

Wei Ying laughed and dropped his t-shirt. He wrapped his arms around Lan Zhan’s shoulders. “Oh my god. That was amazing.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan smiled against Wei Ying’s neck.

“‘Mn’? Is that all you can say? After you just did that to me?” Wei Ying’s voice was mock-indignant and Lan Zhan closed his eyes at the wave of adoration he felt. “I can’t believe you don’t have more to say.”

Lan Zhan realised with a slight start that Wei Ying was wanting feedback. This was why it wasn’t a great plan to do even light things without discussing first.

Lan Zhan stroked his clean hand down Wei Ying’s back. “Mn, you were too good. Took my words away.” It was partly true, anyway.

Wei Ying laughed and Lan Zhan tilted his head up to kiss him. The kiss was slow and soft. Lan Zhan pulled out of it and let himself look over Wei Ying, cock still out, messy and flushed. He smiled. “Breathtaking.”

Wei Ying’s eyes went wide. “Lan Zhan!” He blushed even more red and ducked his head. “You can’t just say that!”

“Why not? It’s true.” He stepped back and helped Wei Ying hop down from the counter, catching him around the waist and kissing him again.

Wei Ying pulled out of the kiss and looked at Lan Zhan. Then he turned and walked away, tucking himself back into his boxers and jeans. Lan Zhan’s arms dropped to let him go, doing up his own trousers, but he walked slowly after Wei Ying, unsure where he was going. As Lan Zhan followed him into the lounge, Wei Ying pulled off his t-shirt and threw it onto the sofa. Then he headed to the stairs, throwing an arched glance over at Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan smiled.

By the time Lan Zhan made it up the stairs and into his room, Wei Ying was already naked and on his bed, hands folded behind his head.

“You know, I shouldn’t have, but I totally snuck a look in here a couple of times.” Wei Ying was stunning, all long lines and golden skin, broken up by dark hair and scars that Lan Zhan wanted to run his mouth over.

Lan Zhan started to unbutton his shirt and saw Wei Ying’s eyes following his fingers, though he kept talking. “I imagined you sleeping in here. I thought about using your key to sneak in and climb into your bed.”

“Shameless.” Lan Zhan removed his cufflinks and placed them on the bedside table.

“I wondered how you would react to waking up to find me sucking your cock.”

Lan Zhan licked his lips at the thought, as he shrugged out of his shirt. Wei Ying’s mouth opened and his eyes roamed across Lan Zhan’s chest and shoulders.

“Fuck. I knew you were hot under those shirts.”

Lan Zhan placed his shirt aside and pulled off his socks. Then he dropped his hands to his trousers, undoing them and pushing them, along with his underwear, down and off.

Wei Ying made an appreciative sound and brought one of his hands down to stroke his own inner thigh. “Lan Zhan, I want you to know that if I was still seventeen, I would absolutely be hard for you again right now, just at the sight of you.”

Lan Zhan huffed a laugh. “We’ll get there.”

Wei Ying grinned at him. “Come here.”

Lan Zhan climbed onto the bed and on top of Wei Ying, skin to skin. They both made breathless sounds as Lan Zhan settled between Wei Ying’s thighs.

“Hi,” Wei Ying said. Lan Zhan kissed him, sweet and slow. Wei Ying hummed, then pulled back to rest their foreheads together. “What do you think of my plan to sneak in, Lan Zhan?”

“I like the plan very much.”

Wei Ying laughed, low and throaty. “God, I like you so much. Did you know? Was I really obvious?”

Lan Zhan shook his head. “Not obvious, but I hoped. I didn’t want to assume.”

“Well,” Wei Ying wriggled his hips under Lan Zhan’s, “you can assume all you like now.”

“It’s not assuming when you have told me, Wei Ying.” He smiled. “Or when you are naked in my bed.”

Wei Ying arched his back slightly. “Mmmn, I like the sound of that. Being naked in your bed.” He pressed a kiss against Lan Zhan. “Laid out for you.” Another kiss. “Ready to have you do what you want with me.” Kiss. “Helpless against Hanguang-jun’s strong arms” - a kiss - “and, frankly, hot body.”

Wei Ying leaned up again, but Lan Zhan pressed him down into a bruising kiss. He pulled Wei Ying’s arms from where they were wrapped around Lan Zhan’s shoulders and pinned his wrists against the headboard of the bed. Wei Ying gasped, and Lan Zhan could feel him starting to get hard again.

Lan Zhan pulled back slightly, still holding Wei Ying’s wrists. “Wei Ying, if you want me to stop, you can tell me. I will stop immediately.”

Wei Ying smirked. “Now, why would I do that? I’ve been wanting you to do this to me from the first moment we met.” He shifted to wrap his legs around Lan Zhan. “I thought ‘Now there’s a man who can tie me up, pin me down, and fuck me until I cry’. Was I wrong?”

Lan Zhan made a sound deep in his throat and pushed Wei Ying’s wrists down hard, kissing him deeply. Everything about that mental image aligned so perfectly with what Lan Zhan wanted to do to Wei Ying that for a moment he felt lightheaded. Like he was going to wake up from a too-perfect dream. But the friction of his own gradually hardening cock against Wei Ying’s was too visceral for it to be anything but real.

They kissed for what felt like hours, Wei Ying squirming beautifully under him. Lan Zhan kept his grip firm on Wei Ying’s wrists. Every time Wei Ying writhed in his hold and couldn’t break it, he made a small whining sound deep in his throat, and thrust his hips harder against Lan Zhan.

Eventually Lan Zhan pulled back out of the kiss and released Wei Ying’s wrists. “Hold them there.” Wei Ying nodded, face flushed and gorgeous. Lan Zhan kneeled up between Wei Ying’s thighs and looked down at him. Lan Zhan ran his hands down over Wei Ying’s chest, brushing each of his nipples, touching and stroking all of the points where dark hair contrasted against his skin.

He again ran his fingers down the dark trail of hair on Wei Ying’s stomach, following it to the thatch of black hair at the base of his cock. He bypassed it to run his fingers down the inside of each of Wei Ying’s thighs, earning him a groan. He smiled at Wei Ying, who was watching him.

“Too cruel, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said, but he didn’t bring his hands down. Lan Zhan saw that he had wrapped his hands around the slats in the headboard and was holding on there. Lan Zhan wouldn’t physically restrain Wei Ying this time, they would build to that. Wei Ying could move at any time if he wanted to. Lan Zhan just hoped he wouldn’t want to.

Lan Zhan continued his journey down, reaching behind to run fingers down Wei Ying’s calves. Then he ran them back up, following the same path, but this time instead of moving up onto Wei Ying’s stomach, he wrapped one hand around Wei Ying’s cock and stroked the fingers on his other hand down behind Wei Ying’s balls, brushing against his hole gently.

Wei Ying made the loudest sound yet and arched into the touch. “Oh god, are you going to fuck me, Lan Zhan? Please, please tell me that you’re going to fuck me.”

Lan Zhan continued stroking gently, not wanting to hurt Wei Ying while he was dry. “Is that what you want?”

“Hngh, yes, yes, oh I want it so much, please fuck me, please.” Wei Ying spread his legs wider, and Lan Zhan felt almost wild with how easily Wei Ying begged for him. He hadn’t necessarily planned to fuck Wei Ying like this yet, but he was so good. Lan Zhan wanted to give him what he wanted.

He pulled his hands away and Wei Ying protested, but Lan Zhan leaned back. “Turn over.”

Wei Ying looked up at him with blissed-out eyes and rolled, shifting his hold on the bed, but not letting go. Then he shifted to get his knees up and under him, spreading out to each side and raising up his hips. “Like this?”

Lan Zhan took in the obscene image Wei Ying made and ran a hand down his back. He let his hips push forward so the tip of his cock brushed behind Wei Ying’s balls. “Perfect.” Wei Ying made a pleased sound.

Lan Zhan leaned down and over to kiss Wei Ying, who had his head turned to the side, trying to watch. He pulled out of the kiss but stayed close enough to watch Wei Ying’s face. “You stay just like this. Don’t let go here” - he touched Wei Ying’s hands on the headboard - “and you don’t move here.” He ran his hands again across Wei Ying’s back and then down his thighs. “Okay?”

Wei Ying nodded. Lan Zhan leaned back down to kiss him again. “If you want to stop-” Wei Ying shook his head vehemently, but Lan Zhan continued. “If you want to stop, you tell me. Okay?” Wei Ying didn’t answer. “Okay?

Wei Ying huffed. “Okay, okay. But I won’t. Fuck, I swear I won’t.”

Lan Zhan nodded and leaned over to get his lube and a condom from his bedside table, placing them next to him on the bed. Wei Ying watched him, and a thought occurred to Lan Zhan. “Did you check my drawers when you came in here, Wei Ying?”

Wei Ying hesitated for a moment and then nodded. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to know if-” He trailed off. “Just the bedside ones. God, I’m sorry.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan wondered if punishment was something Wei Ying was into. Lan Zhan was only really into it if his partner liked it. He liked their enjoyment, rather than specifically craving it himself. They were really going to have to have some conversations, but right now he had one plan and Wei Ying seemed very on board with it.

Lan Zhan opened the condom and rolled it on, then squeezed some lube out onto his fingers and rubbed them together, enjoying the slide. He reached down with one hand to stroke himself, just to take the edge off. Just the sight of Wei Ying like this, hearing him beg, was overwhelming, despite having already come once this evening.

Lan Zhan reached out with his other hand to rub his slick fingers across Wei Ying’s hole before pressing a finger inside. Wei Ying twitched his hips and gave the filthiest moan Lan Zhan had ever heard. Lan Zhan stopped himself from automatically speeding up his hand on his cock. He removed it entirely, instead wrapping it around Wei Ying’s cock again. Wei Ying gasped and his hips twitched again, but he didn’t move.

“Mn, good,” Lan Zhan praised him.

Wei Ying panted. “I’ve thought about this so much.” Lan Zhan added some more lube and then pushed a second finger inside, moving them in time with his slow glide around Wei Ying’s cock. “Every night after we had dinner, I went home and fingered myself, imagining it was you.”

Lan Zhan’s lips parted. “Wei Ying.” His voice was deep and breathy.

“I came so hard every time.” Wei Ying was almost whispering.

Lan Zhan couldn’t wait any longer. He pulled his fingers out and slicked up his own cock again. He nudged forward and pressed himself into Wei Ying, tight and wet and slick.

“Fuck, yes, Lan Zhan, yes, please.” Wei Ying was babbling, and Lan Zhan could understand the sentiment. Wei Ying was so tight around him, so hot. He pushed his hips forward slowly until he was seated deep inside, skin to skin against Wei Ying. Without conscious input, his hips pulled back and thrust back in. He gripped Wei Ying’s hips to steady himself against the breathtaking feeling. Wei Ying made an almost animalistic sound, but still didn’t move.

Lan Zhan thrust in and out a couple of times. It felt unbelievable, having Wei Ying like this. He leaned over, draping his body over Wei Ying’s and pushing his knees further out. He reached out and pulled Wei Ying’s hair out of his ponytail, his hair splaying everywhere. It was just as gorgeous as Lan Zhan had imagined. He wrapped some around his hand and gripped, pulling slightly.

Wei Ying shuddered underneath him. “Fuck, yes, yes.”

Lan Zhan held Wei Ying’s hair tight as he let himself fuck into him over and over. Like this he didn’t have as much leverage as when kneeling up, but he loved feeling Wei Ying underneath him as Lan Zhan pushed him down into the bed with every thrust. He pressed his lips to Wei Ying’s neck, open-mouthed kisses, as his hips jerked harder and faster.

“Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan couldn’t quite reach far enough to be able to kiss Wei Ying lips. He wished he could see Wei Ying's face properly, but doing this for the first time face to face would have been tricky. Besides, putting Wei Ying face down on his bed was just too irresistible.

Lan Zhan spread his legs slightly to get a little more leverage, pushing Wei Ying’s knees even wider apart. He heard the gasp from Wei Ying as his hips dropped far enough for his cock to rub against the bed. Lan Zhan fucked him with faster and faster strokes, bodily pushing Wei Ying deeper into the bed. He could feel that the combined friction of Lan Zhan’s cock inside him and Wei Ying’s cock against the bed was winding Wei Ying higher and higher. He felt him tightening around Lan Zhan’s cock until finally Wei Ying let out a shocked sound and shuddered, whole body jerking as he came.

Lan Zhan slowed his strokes to ease Wei Ying through it, fighting his own desire to keep going hard; he was so close. When Wei Ying finally went limp under him, Lan Zhan resumed his fast pace, smiling at Wei Ying’s overstimulated whine. He pushed in deeper and deeper, hips snapping until he couldn’t stop it anymore and he came in intense pulses, shivering as everything faded out for a few seconds.

When he finally came back to himself, Lan Zhan could hear and feel Wei Ying laughing breathily. “Are you alive back there? I think I’ve died.”

Lan Zhan huffed. “Mn.” He pushed back up onto his knees and gripped the condom so he could pull out. Wei Ying made a noise of complaint, but didn’t move as Lan Zhan removed and disposed of the condom, then settled back onto the bed. He lay on his side next to Wei Ying and stroked down his back, kissing him.

“You can move now,” he said.

Wei Ying groaned and shifted his knees down so that he could collapse fully onto his stomach, letting go of the headboard. “Lan Zhaaaan, I think you broke me. You’ve ruined me for anyone else.”

Lan Zhan ran possessive eyes and hands over Wei Ying’s body. “Mn. Good.” He kissed Wei Ying again.

Wei Ying laughed softly against Lan Zhan’s lips. “You’ve also left me lying in my own wet spot, which I think is very rude.”

Lan Zhan smiled and shifted to pull the covers open. Wei Ying huffed and shifted until he could get under them, pulling Lan Zhan against him as he also climbed in.

“I’m still dirty, Lan Zhan, you should make me go and get clean before you invite me under your covers. I’ll make everything messy.” Wei Ying’s eyes were sparkling with humour.

Lan Zhan reached out and pushed the waterfall of Wei Ying's hair back over his shoulder, dropping a kiss onto his clavicle. “Kissing now, cleaning later.”

Wei Ying laughed and Lan Zhan kissed him.

***

Wei Ying

I cannot stop thinking about you. I hope you know that you are a distraction and that photo you sent me yesterday arrived when I was teaching a class. As a result, I will only be checking texts from you at set times during the day, when I can be alone.

Note: this is not a request for you to stop sending such photos. You may even send more if you wish.

I look forward to seeing you when I finish work tonight. When I get home, I expect you to be on my bed, naked except for the item that I have left in the blue box.

You are not allowed to touch yourself until I say you can when I get home.

Lan Zhan

 

Lan Zhan

You are so cruel. Just reading your note made me hard and now I can’t touch myself at all? So mean! I sent you the photo of how hard I am to show you how much you will have to take responsibility when you get home.

I have no idea what it is you’re expecting me to wear, I won’t look until I go upstairs as I don’t think it’s fair to the bunnies that I spend all our time together thinking filthy thoughts. I won’t let how horny you are ruin my hard-won bunny relationships.

When you’re reading this, I’ll be upstairs waiting for you. Hurry up.

Wei Ying

***

Wei Ying

I am excited to see you later. I find it harder and harder to sleep without you by my side and, as such, this gift is also a question.

I know you have had the key to my front door since we met, but in the envelope is a full set of keys. Will you move in with me?

Please do not feel an obligation. If it is too soon or you would like time to think about it, that is fine.

I love you.

Lan Zhan

 

Lan Zhan

I can’t believe that you made me cry with a note. I also can’t believe that I now have a key to your secret shed. I know you SAY that there are just gardening tools in there, but I can now check for myself if it’s your collection of ex-partner’s heads. If it is, and you catch me checking, just know that my head will make a beautiful addition to your collection.

I’m really not sure why you would consider that I’d need to take time to think about your question because I stay with you most nights anyway. I don’t think I’ve been home for three days at this point. The only reason I actually spend time at home is because I didn't want you to worry that I was just moving myself in without asking!

Which is all to say that I’ve gone back to my apartment to pick up some more stuff. The bunnies are, of course, fed, and we can make dinner when I’m back. Well, after we’ve had moving-in sex, which I’ve heard is excellent.

I love you so much.

Wei Ying

***

Wei Ying

Today is the first day of us officially living together now that the lease on your apartment is up. And while we have had breakfast together many times now, somehow doing it as a cohabiting couple has made me feel very happy.

I know that I don’t really need to leave you these notes anymore when we see each other every morning and night, but I wanted to take this chance to tell you how happy you make me. I thought you were beautiful the first moment I saw you, but I couldn’t know that you would end up owning my heart. It is yours, forever.

I love you, my Wei Ying.

Lan Zhan

 

Lan Zhan

When I saw your note I got emotional in advance as I knew whatever you wrote would make me feel a lot. I was right.

You also own my heart, Lan Zhan. Come home and take your poor emotional boyfriend to bed.

I love you.

Wei Ying

***

Wei Ying

I know we haven’t done these notes for a while, but somehow this idea occurred to me and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Our relationship started with these notes, sent back and forth, getting to know each other through written words.

I want to change the nature of that relationship, and I considered all the ways that I could do that. Yet somehow doing it this way felt appropriate.

There is a box hidden under this table, taped to the underside. Take it out and open it. It is again both a gift and a question.

Lan Zhan

 

Lan Zhan

I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU PROPOSED TO ME IN A FUCKING NOTE. A NOTE.

I should be SO mad. What happened to going down on one knee? Or dinner and flowers? And yet I can’t imagine any other way that would feel more appropriate to us and therefore be more romantic.

I can’t even write this damn note back to you. Of course I’ll fucking marry you.

Fuck it. I’m coming to the school. I don’t care if I interrupt your practice or that your students are going to see me kiss the hell out of you. You proposed in a NOTE, you don’t get to complain.

I love you, you hopeless romantic. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life getting held down and fucked by you, which you are definitely going to do tonight.

Yours, waiting to see how amazing engaged sex is going to be,

Wei Ying

***