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Covered in Bees

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“Just fucking hit it with a rolled up newspaper or something!”

Wei Ying thinks that Jiang Cheng is not clear on the scale of the problem.

“Not a bee, singular!” he says into the phone, peering through his shitty blinds. “Bees. A fuckload of them. There is a veritable hailstorm of bees outside my door, Jiang Cheng.”

There are. The seething mass is still swirling around, a hazy cloud in the air. Wei Ying will never in his entire fucking life forget coming home from the store and getting out of his car and immediately finding himself surrounded by a million buzzing deadly weapons. He got into the house by the skin of his teeth and now he’s trapped here by, he cannot emphasize this enough, bees.

“So get some bug spray,” Jiang Cheng says dismissively. Wei Ying thinks he wouldn’t be nearly so calm if he were the one trapped in his house by a massive collection of tiny stabby murderers, not with the way he squealed that time Wei Ying found a cool beetle and then accidentally dropped it on him. He was eight at the time, but still.

“What part of ‘hailstorm of bees’ don’t you understand, didi?” Wei Ying snaps. “How am I supposed to get bug spray when I can’t even leave my house?”

“Because of the bees,” Jiang Cheng says flatly.

“Because of the bees!” Wei Ying yells. There are so many of them! A million, potentially!

Jiang Cheng sighs, and Wei Ying can hear the eyeroll even over the cell phone connection. “I have to go pick up Wen Qing from work,” he says, long-suffering. “Try calling an exterminator or something.”

“Do exterminators carry flamethrowers?” Wei Ying asks. “I think they’re going to need a flamethrower.”

“I’m hanging up now,” Jiang Cheng says, and does. Wei Ying squints out the window at his current captors and their evil buzzing and decides to try doing something a little smarter.

He calls his sister.

“It’s like an apocalypse of bees out there, jiejie,” he whines into the phone, once she’s picked up and they’ve exchanged general pleasantries and he’s apologized for not calling her sooner just to chat. “What’s the word for an army of bees? You know, like a murder of crows?” Wei Ying peers through the peephole on his door and gets a close-up, blurry view of too many legs. He jumps back and barely avoids yelping into the phone. “Is it a murder of bees? It feels like it should be.”

“I think that’s a swarm, A-Ying,” Jiang Yanli says, her voice soft but amused. Right! Swarm! That’s the word he’s been looking for, and the one he hasn’t been able to remember, beset as he is on all sides by a forboding of fucking bees.

“What am I supposed to do about a swarm of bees, jiejie?” he wails, but not too loud, in case the bees can hear him and will fight their way into the house once they sense his fear.

“If they’re honeybees,” Jiang Yanli says thoughtfully, “maybe someone would want them? I remember reading about that.”

“Oh, right!” Wei Ying says, smacking himself in the forehead. “All that save the bees stuff!” He’d definitely retweeted things about that, and maybe signed a couple petitions to ban pesticides? Whatever. He has a bad memory and he thinks he can be forgiven for not remembering that after the shock of nearly dying at the hands of an entire tornado of bugs permanently armed with knives. He peers through the blinds again. There are really so many bees. “Do you think they come with like… big nets?” he asks, envisioning something like a butterfly net, probably from a cartoon.

“I don’t know,” Jiang Yanli says fondly. “You’ll have to report back to me on how it works.”

“I will!” Wei Ying promises, the panic fading now that he has half of a plan and also the opportunity to learn a weird thing. He hopes it’s a big net. Or maybe a vacuum that shoots the bees into… What would bees travel in? Some kind of bee house? “Okay, jiejie, I’m going to go find someone to adopt my bees,” he says, and Jiang Yanli’s laugh is still ringing in his ear when he hangs up.

It takes some googling, because “who wants bees?” is not a useful search string, and neither is, “please take my bees.” Eventually he figures out that the word he wants is beekeeper, and from there he finds the word apiary, which does not at all sound like the place where you keep bees, it sounds like the place where you keep apes, it’s not at all his fault that he wouldn’t have known that, thank you very much. Eventually he starts searching locally, and the world is smiling on him (after pranking the fuck out of him with bees ) and he finds the Cloud Recesses Apiary. It has a nice website, very minimalist, apparently sells honey, and thank fucking hell, it’s only about a twenty minute drive from his house. His long national nightmare is soon to be over. He dials a number with more joy and hope than he has ever felt before in his life and waits for it to connect.

“Cloud Recesses Apiary,” says a toneless, deep masculine voice, with zero question in it. Wei Ying doesn’t care, because whoever possesses that voice is probably going to come save him from bees like a fucking hero while wearing like, a suit of armor. That’s what you wear to catch bees, right?

“I have like, so many bees outside my front door right now,” he says, mouth running out ahead of him before he can even begin to think about reining it in. “It’s like a sandstorm of bees out there. There are so many bees. I got out of my car and there were just bees and I don’t want these bees. Do you want these bees? Please tell me you will come get these bees. I can’t leave my house and I have enough food for maybe a week but then I’m gonna have to learn how to cook dry beans and no one wants that, especially not me.” Wei Ying runs out of air, takes a breath, and belatedly adds, “My name is Wei Ying. Hi.”

There’s a startled kind of silence on the other end of the line, which is a common response to Wei Ying’s particular brand of talking. “Are you calling about a swarm?” the voice asks, still so flat it’s hardly a question.

“Yes,” Wei Ying says, peeking through his blinds, because if he opened them entirely, then the bees would be able to see him back. He squints, suspiciously, because the bees are not flying around nearly so much now. Instead they’ve sort of clumped into an amorphous, gross bee mass in the tree to the right of the path from the driveway. It looks like if he got too close they'd reach out a big, slimy bee-tentacle and drag him in. “Not today, Satans,” he whispers under his breath, and then, into the phone, “They seem to have made a bee blob. Is that. Is that normal?”

“Yes,” says the phone voice, just as flatly. “Address?”

Wei Ying rattles it off. The voice reads it back and says, “I will be there shortly.” Then the man (presumably, though Wei Ying isn’t gonna judge anyone based on their voice and will use whatever pronouns he’s given) hangs up without so much as a good-bye. Wei Ying eyeballs his phone balefully and shoves it back in his pocket. Whatever. Bee-catching heroes don’t need to be polite, as long as they show up and take away the bees.

Belatedly (bee-latedly? Hah!) Wei Ying realizes that maybe he should be outside to greet the bee-taker when they arrive. That would be polite, right? He can’t just like… Yell through the front door, and now the bees are mostly clumped up in their incredibly creepy amoeba thing, so they’re not super visible from the street. What if the bee-person (no no no! Too creepy! Abort, abort!) bee wrangler (much better) thinks this isn’t the house with the bees and keeps driving? Wei Ying will still have all these bees! That’s exactly what he doesn’t want!

Wei Ying peeks through the blinds again, like a snooping neighbor in a sitcom, and makes a decision. He’s gonna have to face the bees. He nods, once, and squares his shoulders.

Then he walks to his bedroom, fully on the opposite end of the house, and climbs out the window. Once outside he sneaks very, very slowly around the house to his driveway. Can bees only see you if you’re moving? That sounds right. He makes it to the driveway without being bug-stabbed to death, which is great, and then hides on the opposite side of his car from the bees. This is fine. He’ll just hang out here until the bee-collector comes and saves him.

Some agonizing amount of time later, during which Wei Ying livetweets the saga thus far and risks life and limb to get a couple blurry pictures of the bee blob, a pristine white pickup truck pulls into his driveway. It says “Cloud Recesses Apiary” on the door, with a minimalist logo of a bee flying through swirling clouds, and it’s the most beautiful thing Wei Ying has ever seen in his life, up until the truck door opens and a fucking model-hot man unfolds himself from the driver’s seat. This is seriously the hottest dude Wei Ying hath ever beheld with his own two eyes, a tall drink of water in impeccably clean jeans on legs that have clearly never even considered quitting, broad shoulders under a white henley, and long black hair pulled into a low ponytail. Don’t even get Wei Ying started on that fucking face. It’s like a marble statue, if old-school marble sculptors had actually sculpted Chinese men, which probably someone has, Wei Ying isn’t an art historian.

“Are you here for the bees?” he asks, unnecessarily, since the man’s truck says he’s from the place Wei Ying called. The man blinks at him slowly and shuts the door.

“Yes,” he says, and that deep, flat voice is even deeper in person. Wow, this dude is hot. “Are you Wei Ying?” the hot bee herder asks, and Wei Ying realizes he’s crouching next to his car like a total fucking dingus. He starts to stand up and then a bee flies overhead so obviously Wei Ying flings himself onto the driveway to avoid being bee-stabbed. When no stabbing occurs, he rolls over and squints up at his sexy, blank-faced savior.

“Yes,” he says. “Wei Ying. That’s me. With the bees.”

The bee-savior blinks down at him again. Wei Ying is used to being looked at like he’s the most ridiculous person in the room, and that’s fair, since he usually is, but this guy looks like he’s never previously experienced ridiculousness and is finding it a new curiosity. What a way to find out about it, having Wei Ying be your first introduction. “You were trapped,” he says, and in spite of the flatness this does have the shape of a question.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, still laying on the ground. “I couldn’t go out my door. Because of the bees. But then I thought you might not find the bees so I went out my bedroom window and came around.” He points toward the horrifying living lump in his tree. “The bees are there,” he says helpfully.

His bee hero looks deliberately between him and the direction he’s pointing, says, “Mn,” and then walks directly at the bees, dear god, what the fuck.

“What are you doing?” Wei Ying blurts, scrambling to his feet and giving chase. “You’re gonna get bee-mobbed!” He skids to a stop at the edge of his driveway, because if they both get bee-mobbed then no one can call 911, and stares in shocked silence as this--this fucking bee whisperer walks straight up to the horror movie that has moved into his tree and examines it from like three feet away. He seems unconcerned. More impressively, the bees seem unconcerned. They buzz past him without reacting at all. Wei Ying gapes at him. “Are you magic?” he asks, as the bee-bender turns around and walks back to the truck. “Do you have bee powers?” Something buzzes in his direction, and Wei Ying flees into the driveway again, ducking.

“No,” the bee-mage says, opening the passenger door and pulling out a bundle of white fabric.

“Then why do the bees love you and hate me?” Wei Ying asks plaintively, hiding behind his car in a way that is definitely cool and casual.

“If they hated you,” the bee hottie says as he unrolls the fabric to reveal a white jumpsuit, “you would be dead.”

“Not reassuring!” Wei Ying says, because it’s not. “What’s happening? Why are there bees at my house? Why do they hate me? Is that bee armor?” The bee man pauses, one leg in the white jumpsuit, and he looks up at Wei Ying thoughtfully.

“This is a swarm,” he says, in careful, precise tones. “The bees are seeking a safe home. They stopped here to rest. You are wearing black, so they instinctively think you are a bear or other large animal threat. This is a bee suit.” He puts his other extremely long leg into the jumpsuit and adds, “They also find the flailing threatening.”

“I’m not flailing!” Wei Ying insists, and then flails away from a bee. “So it is bee armor, then?”

Bee Hottie zips up the jumpsuit (which is loose and bulky, RIP Wei Ying’s view of those shoulders) and gives that some thought. “It could be termed as such,” he allows. Yes! Check one for the suit of armor idea. Wei Ying trails him over to the truck and snoops shamelessly in the bed, where there’s a wooden box and some other stuff that he doesn’t recognize.

“So how are you going to trap the bees?” he asks, looking at a tiny… bellows? Maybe? Weird.

“They are seeking a safe home,” Bee Hottie repeats. “I will provide them one.”

“How?” Wei Ying asks, forgetting about the actual issue here (mostly) now that the opportunity has arisen to ask questions about something he doesn't know yet, especially something weird. He can’t help it, it’s how his brain works. People’s names? Useless, won’t hold onto it, why would you think he’d remember those? Pointless trivia? Hell fucking yeah, that gets filed away immediately and permanently. Wei Ying is the kind of person who answers rhetorical questions because he usually knows the actual answer. It’s one of his best (most annoying) traits.

Bee Hottie reaches out and grabs his wrist before Wei Ying can touch the weird little bellows thing, not that he was actually going to touch it, he was just gonna hover his hand over it like a weirdo. (He was totally gonna touch it.) His hand is large and warm and easily encircles Wei Ying’s whole wrist and it’s unfairly attractive. Bee Hottie stares him down for a long moment, the attention a physical weight against Wei Ying’s skin. “Are you actually interested?” he asks, and Wei Ying thinks he sounds like he expects the answer to be no.

“Absolutely,” he says, and means it. “I have as many questions as there are bees in that weird disgusting mass. I wanna know everything about how this works.”

Bee Hottie narrows his eyes slightly. “You have thirty thousand questions?”

Wei Ying blinks at him. “Are you able to estimate bee blob population by sight?

“It’s average,” Bee Hottie says, and releases his wrist. He gives Wei Ying another appraising glance. “I have a second bee suit,” he offers, and Wei Ying grins like he hasn’t since he came home to find approximately thirty thousand bees between him and his front door. (On average.)

“Hell yeah,” he says. “Armor me up.” Bee Hottie does not seem to appreciate the humor in this, simply reaches into the cab of the truck and pulls out another white jumpsuit. These aren’t as clean as everything else, being stained with dark drips all over the shoulders and front, dirt ground into the elbows and knees. That’s reassuring, actually. It means there’s actual work involved in this, and that the Bee Hottie doesn’t just like, whistle and make bees obey his will.

“Normally I know a dude’s name before I start borrowing his clothes,” Wei Ying says cheerily, shaking out the jumpsuit and wiggling it on over one boot. The cuffs are elasticized, so it takes him a second to get his foot through.

“Do you frequently borrow other men’s clothes?” Bee Hottie asks, deadpan, pulling long gauntlet-style gloves out and draping them over the edge of the truck bed. He doesn’t seem to be flirting, but he doesn’t seem to be not flirting, so Wei Ying dials up the smile another notch and throws an extra shimmy into his hips as he gets his other foot through the jumpsuit leg and pulls it up.

“God, I wish,” he says, pulling on both arms at once and zipping up the suit. The smell of it hits him in a wave, salt from someone’s sweat, a cloying sweetness that can only be spilled honey, and a campfire kind of smokiness. He inhales deeply, trying not to be creepy about it, but it’s a really good smell. Like, if he was a perfumier he’d probably spend years trying to recreate it, there are just so many layers to it that keep pinging his brain with each breath. Wei Ying shakes himself and refocuses on Bee Hottie, because he had an objective, here. “Not borrowing any dude’s clothes. Chronically single. Anyway, that was supposed to be a clever way of asking for your name.”

Bee Hottie hands him a weird space helmet and says, “Lan Zhan.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying repeats, tasting the name on his tongue. “Nice to meet you.” He looks at the space helmet, which is actually mostly mesh and therefore would not actually be useful in space. “How does this work?”

Lan Zhan, aka Bee Hottie, helps Wei Ying zip the helmet onto his bee suit. The world goes the slightest bit fuzzy and indistinct when the helmet is on, the mesh not obscuring his vision so much as softening it. Lan Zhan’s own helmet goes on much more quickly, and the gauntlet gloves are leather to the wrists and then fabric to the elasticized elbows. Wei Ying feels very protected, and a little silly, and slightly sweaty once he’s fully suited up, and he flexes his hands in the gloves clumsily. “Wow, you don’t mess around, do you?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, climbing into the truck bed like he does it all the time, which he probably does. “It does not take many stings to kill.” He hefts the wooden box over to the tailgate and jumps down. “Also, it hurts. Best avoided.”

“Okay, but you just walked right the fuck up to that swarm without one of these on,” Wei Ying points out, helping Lan Zhan carry the box over to the swarm in question. “Why didn’t they sting you to death? Are you sure you don’t have bee powers?”

“I do not have bee powers,” Lan Zhan says. Wei Ying keeps flinching at the bees, in spite of his space suit, so Lan Zhan easily takes the wooden box from him and carries it directly to the tree like a stone-cold badass who definitely has bee powers. “Bees are not aggressive when swarming,” he says, settling it under the still-terrifying bee slime and cracking the lid partway open.

Wei Ying inches closer, a little more confident both from hearing that and from wearing armor specifically designed to keep out bees. “They definitely like, flew at me, though.”

“You were in their airspace,” Lan Zhan says calmly, standing up and stepping back. “Honeybees only sting if provoked.”

“Why?” Wei Ying moves half a step closer. Maybe if he goes slowly enough the bees won’t notice.

“They die.”

“Yikes.” Wei Ying is close enough that he can pick out individual bees on the seething, buzzing blob. “So why are they here? I know you said they’re resting, but why are they here and not in, like, a bee house?”

“Hive,” Lan Zhan corrects. He really doesn’t seem to be doing anything, just standing there in his weird white bee armor. Maybe Wei Ying is getting in the way of him using his bee powers. “Bees swarm when the hive becomes overcrowded. The reigning queen leaves several larval queens behind and takes half of the workers to start a new colony.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, “like how I couldn’t stand living with my brother after a year and got my own place.” He thinks that Lan Zhan gives him an unamused look, but it’s hard to tell through both of the mesh masks. Feeling very daring, he walks up to stand next to Lan Zhan, and stays there through sheer force of will. A bee comes over to investigate his approach, and he points at it warily. “Don’t try me, mister.”

“Miss,” Lan Zhan says. “Or Ms.” Wei Ying tilts his head at him in question, which is probably very dramatic with the whole weird astronaut mesh helmet, and he clarifies, “Worker bees are female. You have probably never seen a male bee.”

“What, are they shy?” That might, almost, just a little bit get a smile. Again, the mesh makes it hard to tell.

“Drones only leave the hive to mate with a new queen on her mating flight--”

Nice,” Wei Ying cuts in.

“--whereupon the drone that successfully mates has his genitals ripped out in the process and he dies,” Lan Zhan finishes, very calmly.

Wei Ying winces. “Less nice.”

“They are also driven out of the hive in the winter to die so they do not remain a burden for the rest of the colony.” Lan Zhan’s voice barely has any inflection, but Wei Ying gets a sense that he’s amused by getting to explain all of this. “Worker bees do all the tasks of actually keeping the colony safe and healthy.”

Wei Ying squints at him. “Are you telling me,” he says, slowly, raising one hand to point at the creepy bee thing, “that those are all girls? Who would happily murder a dude given the chance?” Lan Zhan nods, and Wei Ying grins. “So. They’re les-bee-ans?

Lan Zhan gives him a look so withering Wei Ying can feel it through the helmets. He doesn’t let up, though. “So it’s an LG-Bee-T commune?”

“No.”

“Are any of them en-bees?”

Lan Zhan cocks his head at that. “It could be argued that worker bees are a third gender, between the male drones and the fertile female queen,” he says thoughtfully. There’s a pause, just long enough for good comedic timing, before he continues, “I have admittedly not asked their pronouns.”

Wei Ying cackles with laughter and his already-simmering crush on Bee Hottie Lan Zhan flares into a full boil. He’s funny! Fuck. “How could you, Lan Zhan?” he wheezes, waving at the swarm. “You ask all thirty thousand of those bees to introduce themselves  and you make sure you remember.”

“I will take that under advisement,” Lan Zhan says solemnly, and Wei Ying laughs until he has tears in his eyes, which he then absolutely can’t wipe away because of the mesh bee suit mask. He discovers this when he punches himself in the mask and then has to try and play it off as… something else, he never really manages it. When he stops laughing he just stands there and watches bees with Lan Zhan for a while.

For quite a while, actually. Wei Ying isn’t sure exactly how much time has passed when he finally asks, “So do you do anything else now, or?”

“I have provided them with the perfect home,” Lan Zhan says, apparently content to stand still and stare at bees for hours and hours. “They will investigate it and report back to the queen.”

“How long will that take?”

Lan Zhan shrugs. Wei Ying’s worst nightmare unspools in front of him: Staying still and quiet with no known end time. (Okay, that’s not his worst nightmare. His worst nightmare is the one where he’s being chased by dogs and he can’t run because the air is glue and he’s naked and also forgot to study for a test at school and his teeth are falling out.) He fidgets, looks around for anything else he could ask a question about, and ends up with, “So why is that the perfect home?” He points at the wooden box. It just looks like a weird wooden box to him. Maybe he’d see the appeal if he was a bee.

Lan Zhan turns to look at him (it’s obvious, with the helmet) and then tips his head toward it as he walks forward. Wei Ying is still not excited about being that close to the bees, but he’s not a coward, and Lan Zhan is really, really hot, so he follows. They crouch next to the box and Lan Zhan takes the lid off slowly (there are quite a few bees buzzing around the opening) and sets it aside. The inside is full, which Wei Ying wasn’t expecting, some kind of wooden things hanging like vertical files.

“The hive is sheltered,” Lan Zhan says, a little quieter, like he’s being polite to the bees and it’s unfairly cute, “out of the wind. Would protect them from the weather. Easily defended entrances.” He taps the front of the box, where there’s a little slit at the bottom above a sort of wooden driveway. Is that a landing pad for bees? Adorable. “It is prepared for them.” He lifts one of the wooden vertical files to reveal it’s a whole frame, sized to fit precisely inside the box, and it already has… Well, it has honeycomb in it, a wafer of it in the center of the frame in neat hexagons.

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, thinking that through. “So you just… You showed up in front of a caravan of homeless lesbians and offered them a fully furnished rent-free apartment building that they can turn into an intentional community?”

Lan Zhan blinks at him, slowly. “I suppose,” he allows, sounding like he very much doesn’t suppose.

“Wow,” Wei Ying says, peering into the hive, as it’s apparently called. “That’s really cool. And then you just take them home with you?”

Lan Zhan nods, replacing the frame with the honeycomb and the lid. “Once they are inside I will close the lid and seal up the entrance so I can take them to the apiary.”

“Wait, so you’re tempting them into an intentional community and then kidnapping them? Beenapping them?” Wei Ying swats at Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “For shame, Lan Zhan!”

Lan Zhan dodges the swat easily and blinks at Wei Ying again. “Did you wish to keep them? I recall you specifically asking me to take these bees.” Another one of those perfectly timed pauses. “Several times. You were insistent.”

“I was under a lot of pressure when I made that call,” Wei Ying says. “I’m normally way cooler than that.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, skeptically, which: Fair. Wei Ying stands up in a huff, which brings him face-to-mass with the bees, and he squeaks a little bit in surprise, taking a wild step back and immediately tripping. He collides with a solid, immovable, warm surface, and Wei Ying realizes after a startled moment that it’s Lan Zhan. Damn. He hadn’t even seen him move.

“Stay calm,” Lan Zhan says, his gloved hands on Wei Ying’s shoulders, settling him back upright. “The bees take their cues from you. If you are agitated, they will become so.”

“Right,” Wei Ying says, still far closer to a big pile of bees than he ever thought he would be. “Just be chill in the face of thirty thousand little murder machines, that’s easy.”

“They are not aggressive when swarming,” Lan Zhan repeats, sounding a very little bit exasperated, and then he grabs Wei Ying’s wrist and shoves his hand under the bee blob right as a knot of them fall off and into his hand oh fuck oh fuck shit--

“See?” Lan Zhan says, keeping hold of his wrist and bringing the handful of fucking bees closer to Wei Ying’s face. “The bees are not concerned with you.” Wei Ying pries his eyes open (yes he shut them, he didn’t want to watch himself be attacked by a bunch of bees) and… Huh. The bees actually seem pretty chill. He can barely, barely feel the movement of them through the leather of the glove as they trundle around on his hand, maybe a little more warmth than without them. They walk and bump into each other’s little bee heads and investigate the crooks between his fingers, one occasionally flying off to do bee business elsewhere.

“Huh,” he says, his heart rate calming, that burning desire to know everything rearing its head again. Lan Zhan releases his wrist now that he senses Wei Ying isn’t going to run screaming (a pity, it was a nice firm grip, even through two layers of leather) and Wei Ying lifts his hand to the edge of the mesh mask. This close the bees are weird, but he can see the little articulations of their legs, the individual stripes. They’re fuzzy. He hadn’t really thought about bees being fuzzy before. “They’re actually pretty cute, aren’t they?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. “If they are not cute, they are wasps.”

“And wasps are?”

Wei Ying is expecting some kind of technical answer about the differences between various insects that buzz. What he gets is Lan Zhan gritting his teeth and saying, “Assholes.

Wei Ying works very hard to smother his laughter, because he doesn’t want to just lose it with a handful of bees right next to his face. “Good to know,” he wheezes. He waves his bee-covered hand gently in front of Lan Zhan’s helmet. “Tell me stuff about these little ladies that I don’t already know.”

Lan Zhan huffs out a breath but complies, and by the time the last of the bees have flown away from Wei Ying’s leather glove, he knows all about their anatomy, coloration, the little baskets on their legs where they store pollen, and their multiple stomachs. He also learns that honey is dried-out bee barf, which is gross, and he says so.

“How else would they get nectar back to the hive?” Lan Zhan asks. “Where did you think they carried it?”

“I didn’t think about it at all before today!” Wei Ying protests. “I’m just saying it’s a little weird we’re all so cool with it!” A bee lands on his forearm and he gives it a nod hello. “Is honey like, your main product?”

“Yes. And beeswax.” Lan Zhan rolls his shoulders. They’ve been standing out here for a while, now, and Wei Ying kinda wants to sit down, and thinks maybe Lan Zhan does, too. “Our largest income is from pollination services.”

Wei Ying squints at him. “So you charge a fee to people with gardens? You’re like, the bee mafia?”

“No.”

“You just go around to everyone with flowers in front of their house and shake them down for pollination money? ‘That’s a nice garden ya got there… Be a shame if no one was ta pollinate it.’”

“That is not accurate.”

Sweat trickles down Wei Ying’s back, and Lan Zhan looks kinda shiny under the mesh, too. Before he can actually explain how pollination services work, Wei Ying lifts a hand and says, “Hey, if these bees aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and aren’t gonna stab us to death, you wanna take these space helmets off and have a glass of water? I think I have some lawn chairs, too.”

Lan Zhan turns to look at him, surprised, maybe? After a moment he nods with an “Mn,” and then, “Thank you.”

“I’ll be right back,” Wei Ying says, and then walks calmly to his door (so as to not disturb the bees) and tries to open it to discover that it is still locked. You know. To keep the bees out. He turns to Lan Zhan, says, “This is gonna take a little longer than expected,” and jogs around the side of the house to his bedroom window. He knocks something off his nightstand and whacks the helmet on the frame as he makes it in, feeling oversized and clumsy in the bee armor. Eventually he succeeds, and he strips off the gloves, fills two novelty plastic beer steins with water, and makes it back out the front door with them.

“Here,” he says, handing them both to Lan Zhan. “Let me find the chairs.” Those are in the weird shed that came with the place, and Wei Ying doesn’t remember buying them. It’s the type with two folding fabric chairs linked together, cupholders in the arms, and he shakes the worst of the dust off of them before he drags them out.

“Sorry, we’re gonna have to cuddle,” he says, and tries to get his bee-helmet off. That doesn’t go well, he can’t see what he needs to do, and he ends up knocking it halfway off his head in the process.

“Let me,” Lan Zhan says, when he apparently gets tired of watching Wei Ying struggle. He hands him back the water and unzips the helmet with brisk, efficient movements, during which he definitely puts his hands on Wei Ying’s shoulders in a professional way and not a flirty way which is no reason for Wei Ying’s stomach to go all swoopy. He doesn’t need any help getting his own helmet off, more’s the pity, and they end up in the conjoined lawn chairs without sitting on any bees. (Lan Zhan insisted on checking. Once Wei Ying learned that was a thing that could happen, he also insisted on Lan Zhan checking.) Bareheaded and bare-handed, Wei Ying unzips the white jumpsuit a little and hands Lan Zhan a water.

“Okay, so if you’re not shaking down little old ladies with rose gardens, what are pollination services?” The folding chair is cheap and shitty and possibly made for children, and while there’s technically an armrest between them, it is made of fabric and therefore not doing a lot to separate the torsos of two grown-ass men. Lan Zhan is attempting to sit with perfect posture and thus his knees are pulled up hilariously high in front of him. Wei Ying is just trying not to tip all the way over and into his lap.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, taking a sip of his water, and Wei Ying absolutely does not stare at the bob of his adam’s apple as he swallows. “Commercial farms hire us to pollinate the crops.”

“Huh,” Wei Ying says, eyes on the blob of bees still in his tree. “Right, because they can’t just keep their own bees, right?”

“Mn. It is… Complicated. We come for a week or two, and then leave. They are free to use pesticides as needed when we are gone.”

“But that’s leading to that--that whatever--the Creedence Clearwater Revival thing that’s killing all the bees, right?” Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan in time to catch what may have been a miniscule upturn at the corner of his mouth. It may also have just been him twitching in pain at Wei Ying’s useless memory. Wei Ying would lay even odds on either option.

“Colony Collapse Disorder,” Lan Zhan corrects. “That is a likely cause. We attempt to work with organic farms.”

Wei Ying nods. That makes sense, and it seems to fit the little he’s sussed out about Lan Zhan so far. He thinks about an orchard, and Lan Zhan walking through it in his weird white space-bee-suit, and buzzing hives in between the trees, and-- “Wait, how the fuck do you get the bees to the farm?”

Lan Zhan gives him a look that can only be described as long-suffering. “On a truck.”

Wei Ying gives him a returning look that’s as disbelieving as he can make it, and he has a mobile face. He’s good at expressions. “So you just drive down the freeway with bees flying out of the truck at sixty miles an hour like the worst parade float?”

Lan Zhan’s face does a very small thing, like he’s figured out where Wei Ying’s question is coming from. “We load the hives very early, while it is still dark and the bees are asleep.” Wei Ying makes a face at how early that has to be, which Lan Zhan ignores to continue, “We stop up the entrances and cover them with a net.”

“Ah, a baby gate for bees,” Wei Ying says. “A bay-bee gate.”

Lan Zhan does not dignify that with a response, which: Fair. “Once the bees are unloaded we re-open the hives.”

“And then the ladies go to work?”

Lan Zhan nods and takes another drink of water. His hair is still perfectly sleek in its ponytail, barely out of place after being mushed under the helmet. It’s unfair. Wei Ying had better keep looking at him, just so he can really, truly understand how unfair it is.

“Do you like honey?” his mouth asks without his permission, and Wei Ying wants to throw his stein of water directly into his face. What the fuck, what kind of question was that? Lan Zhan turns to look at him, perhaps also wondering what the fuck kind of question that was. Wei Ying does his best to look sincere and not embarrassed, and ends up probably looking sincerely embarrassed. “I mean, you must, right?” he says, a little wildly, “otherwise, hah, how ironic would that be, a beekeeper not liking honey, oh god, forget I said anything, I just ran out of questions about bees--”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, blessedly cutting off Wei Ying’s ramble. He makes an interested noise, and Lan Zhan adds, “I like sweet things.” He’s still looking directly at Wei Ying, and Wei Ying’s stomach does that weird swooping thing again even though Lan Zhan isn’t touching him this time.

“That’s. Good.” Wei Ying is sweating like he still has the helmet on.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, staring at him for a moment longer. He turns back to the bees and Wei Ying can suddenly breathe again. “Raspberry is my favorite,” he adds, and now Wei Ying has a lot of questions about honey.

“Like… Raspberry flavored?” Wei Ying tries to imagine that and doesn’t get very far. It would be fruity, he guesses? And sweet?

“From raspberry blossoms.” Lan Zhan keeps looking at the bees, and Wei Ying guesses they’re interesting but not nearly as interesting as learning that there are different kinds of honey from different plants. He pesters Lan Zhan about that for a while. Lightest honey? Fireweed, from the mountains after logging. Darkest honey? Cascara, which they collected on accident once when the bees stayed in the woods too long, so deeply colored it looked like molasses. Most overrated? Clover. Most common? Wildflower. “All honey is wildflower honey, to some extent,” Lan Zhan explains, looking very serious. “We cannot control where the bees forage.” That leads Wei Ying to ask how the bees know where to go, which leads to Lan Zhan telling him that bees dance for each other to give directions, which is the cutest thing he’s ever heard in his life.

“That is the cutest thing I’ve ever heard in my life, Lan Zhan,” he says. “And the other bees just understand that two chasses and a dip means ‘There are delicious flowers two miles east?’”

“Different dance steps,” Lan Zhan says, “but yes.” He sets aside his beer stein and stands. “The swarm is ready.”

Wei Ying looks at his tree and finds, to his dismay, that the warm, friendly pile of bees that used to be in it are gone. A few forlornly buzz around the branches, but the entrances to the hive below are busy with activity. “Oh,” he says, surprisingly disappointed. “I guess the les-bee-ans like their new intentional community, huh?” It’s good that the bees are in their hive, and will no longer live outside his front door. It’s just. He was actually really enjoying talking to Lan Zhan about them, and now Lan Zhan is going to leave and take away the bees and Wei Ying won’t get to pester him with more bee questions while looking at his ridiculously gorgeous face. He plasters on a smile and struggles out of the tiny chair, looking around for his bee helmet. “Once more unto the breach! The… bee-ach? The bre-beech?”

“Stop,” Lan Zhan says flatly, zipping his helmet back on smoothly and then helping Wei Ying with his. His hands end up on Wei Ying’s shoulders again, firm and warm through the jumpsuit as he holds the fabric taut, the clicking of the zipper tingling down Wei Ying’s spine. They sort out their gloves and then Lan Zhan goes to the truck and comes back with some tools, including (fuck yes) the tiny bellows. Wei Ying has a million questions about the tiny bellows. Lan Zhan lights it(???) and pumps it a few times until smoke comes out and Wei Ying realizes this is why his bee suit smells like a campfire.

“Okay,” he says, as Lan Zhan puffs polite little clouds of smoke at the bees on the edges on the hive, “are you just. Are you just getting the bees high now?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says, as he continues doing a thing that looks like exactly that. “Smoke makes the bees think the hive is threatened by fire. They retreat to drink as much honey as possible in case they need to flee. When they are full of honey, they are docile.”

“I feel that,” Wei Ying says, and then watches avidly as Lan Zhan uses a soft brush to sweep any remaining bees off the edges and into the hive so he can secure the lid without squishing anyone. He screws the lid in place, repeats the brushing process with the hive entrance, and screws a small piece of wood in place to block that up. They’re left with a quietly buzzing wooden box and a few confused bees still hovering around.

“What about these ladies?” Wei Ying gestures to one. “They haven’t moved in yet.”

“They will die,” Lan Zhan says, with some regret as he stops up the little bellows with some wadded up fabric. “It is unfortunate but unavoidable.” 

“Aw, man.” Wei Ying frowns at him, much more upset at that news than he thought he would be. “But they worked so hard!”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. He rests one gloved hand on the lid of the hive and pets it, just a little. It’s adorable. “We have saved the main colony. Those left behind have fulfilled their purpose.”

“I guess,” Wei Ying says. He pats the hive lid, next to Lan Zhan’s hand, a little apology and thank you. “Should we get this back in your truck?” he offers, as much as he doesn’t want to. He’d listen to Lan Zhan talk about bees for the rest of the day if he could.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. Wei Ying thinks he might sound a little bit reluctant, but that could just be wishful thinking. Between the two of them they carry the now-heavier, definitely more ominous (the buzzing is a thing) hive over to the driveway and get it strapped in safely.

“Thanks for visiting me, les-bee-ans!” Wei Ying says, waving as he jumps down from the truck bed. “I hope you like your new place!” He turns to Lan Zhan. “They’re gonna like their new place, right?”

Lan Zhan unzips his helmet and blinks at Wei Ying, slowly. “We have received no complaints,” he says, deadpan, and gets Wei Ying’s helmet off while he’s laughing too hard to help.

“Good to know,” Wei Ying says as he strips out of the bee suit, sighing in relief as the breeze hits his sweaty everything. “So how much do I owe you for this?” He jerks his thumb at the hive and tries not to stare as Lan Zhan strips back to the still-perfect white henley, all those gorgeous shoulders coming into view. Beekeeping must be a lot of upper body work.

“No need for payment,” Lan Zhan says, folding up both jumpsuits and putting them back in the cab. Wei Ying’s jaw drops, because no way.

“Lan Zhan!” he says, following him over, “you drove over here! You saved me from the bees! You let me take up like three hours of your time! You can't just do that for free.

Lan Zhan tips his head a little. “My payment was the bees,” he says, like that makes sense. “A new colony costs over a hundred dollars.”

Wei Ying gapes at him again. “You’re telling me that’s a hundred dollars worth of bees?” he squeaks, pointing at the hive.

“Mn. Up to two hundred.” Lan Zhan looks perfectly serious, and now Wei Ying has a fresh slew of questions about the relative prices of bees, and how you buy live fucking bees, but he pushes that aside.

“Well, you still saved me from thirty thousand bees and used a big chunk of your day to do it,” he says stubbornly. “Let me buy you a beer? As a thank you?”

“I do not drink,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying wilts a little but rallies. “Coffee, then?”

“I prefer tea.” Well, this could be going better.

“A baked good? I just--it was very cool of you to come over and I appreciate it.” Wei Ying forces his mouth shut, because three tries is enough tries. Lan Zhan looks at him with an unreadable face for a moment. Wei Ying squirms, oh god, too forward, he should have just let him leave with the bees instead of hitting on him while he’s working, Wei Ying is such an asshole, he’s probably straight, too, just because he makes jokes about asking bees for their pronouns doesn’t automatically mean he’s queer. “Sorry, forget it--” he starts to say, just as Lan Zhan’s face changes, like he’s suddenly figured out the answer to a complicated math equation.

“Oh,” Lan Zhan says, cutting Wei Ying’s apology off. “I see. You are asking me on a date.” He squares his shoulders and nods. “I accept.”

Wei Ying’s brain stutters to a halt. “Uh,” he says, blankly. “I. Uh.”

Lan Zhan frowns, his shoulders curling in the barest amount. “Were you not?” he asks, uncertainty creeping into his voice. “If I misunderstood--”

“No!” Wei Ying almost yells. “I totally was! Yes! A date! You! And me!” He swallows and moderates his tone to something closer to how a normal fucking person would talk. “I really liked talking to you about bees,” he admits, absently grinding the toe of his boot into the driveway. “I’d like to talk to you about other stuff, too. On like. A date.”

Lan Zhan’s face goes a little soft around the edges. It’s very, very cute. “I would enjoy that as well,” he says. “May I see your phone?”

Wei Ying unlocks it and hands it over, and Lan Zhan adds his contact information. When he hands it back their fingers brush, and Lan Zhan leaves his hand where it is and makes very direct eye contact for long enough that Wei Ying starts to blush. “I am free tonight,” Lan Zhan says. The eye contact is really very intense.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, a little squeaky. Lan Zhan’s hands are so warm. He clears his throat. “I’ll text you. About where.”

Lan Zhan nods. “I will respond after I unload the bees.” He releases the phone into Wei Ying’s fumbling hands, and it’s a miracle Wei Ying doesn’t drop it.

“Great,” Wei Ying says, and follows Lan Zhan around to the driver’s side of the truck. He recovers mentally enough to be ridiculous again before Lan Zhan leaves, thankfully. “Be careful with them,” Wei Ying says as Lan Zhan opens the door. “Those are our thirty thousand stripy daughters in that hive, Lan Zhan. When I come visit for shared custody I want to see them doing well.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, the very tips of his ears going a little red. “You may visit our daughters whenever you wish. I would be happy to give you a tour of Cloud Recesses.”

Wei Ying grins. “Oh, I don’t know, Lan Zhan. Taking a man home to show him your bees sounds like a second date choice to me.”

“Noted,” Lan Zhan says, and turns that ridiculously intense gaze on Wei Ying again. “I will check my calendar for second date availability.”

Wei Ying feels his face go red. Words abandon him. He’s going to go on at least two dates with the world’s hottest beekeeper. Who could have guessed, when he exited his car into a maelstrom of bees, that his day would end so well? “Great,” he says. “Great.” Wei Ying waves his phone, a little weakly. “I’ll text you,” he says, again.

“I look forward to it,” Lan Zhan says, with perfect, deep sincerity, and he closes the truck door. Wei Ying watches him drive off and wanders back into his house in a daze.

Well.

Wow.

That happened.

Wei Ying pulls out his laptop. He has a date to plan.

---

Three months later, Wei Ying lifts his head from Lan Zhan’s chest, both of them naked and a little sweaty in Lan Zhan’s bed, tangled in his ridiculous fancy sheets. “Hey, gege,” he says, trying to keep his voice serious. “You remember that first day? When you came to my house to get the swarm?”

“Mn?” Lan Zhan says, a little warily. That’s fair. He knows what Wei Ying sounds like when he’s about to make a horrible joke, and that’s exactly what’s about to happen.

“Would you say,” he starts, pushing up on his elbow to get a good look at Lan Zhan’s face, “that it was a bee-eet cute?”

Lan Zhan hits him with a pillow.

Worth it.