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light travels faster than sound

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Two years later

Lan Wangji is in a hotel room in Beijing.

He has a show tonight, the first in a string that will take him across the country and then briefly overseas, to play at some venues in Europe and Japan. It is his first tour in three years, and he had insisted on a shorter run than his earlier promotions. The company had pushed back, as he had known they would, but he had stood firm — if they wanted him to go on tour at all, he said, they would have to agree to his terms.

He is working less now, at his own pace: one studio album, composition credits for other artists, occasional appearances at charity concerts. Lan Zhan’s retreat from public life had not been entirely shocking: he had always been private, after all, and was never one for publicity stunts. If anything, the choice had only increased his allure. Lan Wangji, famously talented and famously secretive, the articles said.

Lan Zhan does not really care what the articles say about him, because working less means more time to spend with Wei Ying.

Exactly two weeks and four days after they had kissed for the second time, they had left A-Yuan with Wei Ying’s sister, and Lan Zhan had cooked noodles for dinner. When they were finished, Wei Ying had come over to sit on Lan Zhan’s lap, straddling his thighs. “Lan Zhan,” he had said, his voice a low purr, “are you sorry to be here with me, instead of traveling?”

“Never sorry,” Lan Zhan had answered, his hands on Wei Ying’s hips. “Always want to be with you.”

“That’s good.” Wei Ying had smiled wickedly. “But I think you deserve compensation. Lan Zhan, I think tonight you should visit somewhere you’ve never been before.”

Lan Zhan had carried Wei Ying into the bedroom after that.

They had gone to Lotus Pier, when A-Yuan came back, Lan Wangji citing personal health reasons for the cancellation of his tour. It was two weeks under Yunmeng’s purple sunsets and crystalline skies, two weeks with food that was still too spicy for Lan Zhan’s preference but he ate anyway, because he was with Wei Ying, and that was worth all the heat in the world. Wei Ying taught A-Yuan to swim in the lakes, all of them brimming with lotus blossoms; he had dragged Lan Zhan in too, laughing, and how could Lan Zhan possibly be upset if he was drenched with water from head to toe, when Wei Ying’s smile was so bright and so beautiful?

They had been caught by paparazzi less than one year later. Wei Ying had wrung his hands and said that it was fine, Lan Zhan, of course you need to deny that this — that this is happening, I understand. Lan Zhan had sat down for an interview the very next day to address the rumors. “Yes, Wei Wuxian is my partner,” he had said. “Please respect his privacy at this time.” When he went back home again, Wei Ying was there at the door, his eyes damp, and he had thrown himself at Lan Zhan and had said weakly: You made me cry, Lan Zhan. How will you make it up to your poor boyfriend? Like this, Lan Zhan had said, and kissed him.

And now he is here, in Beijing.

He places a video call to Wei Ying. Wei Ying is at his art studio, the same little room as all those years ago, even though Lan Zhan has insisted that he deserves more space, and wouldn’t Wei Ying let him pay for one? Wei Ying was firm. He likes the old studio, he said. He wouldn’t even let Lan Zhan replace that wobbly old table, for reasons completely unfathomable to Lan Zhan.

“Are you alone?” Lan Zhan asks him.

“Yeah.” Wei Ying shows him the empty studio, then turns the camera back to himself, waggling an eyebrow suggestively. “Why, do you have something to say to me?”

Lan Zhan has many things he wants to say to Wei Ying, but now is not the time. He ignores the hook Wei Ying had offered. “How is A-Yuan?”

“Oh, he’s great,” Wei Ying says, sitting down on his stool. “Doing his homework before dinner and everything, even when I say he doesn’t have to. He’s more responsible than me.”

“Hm.” Lan Zhan thinks this is probably true. “How is his science project going? If he needs more print sources, I left some books on my desk. Are you making his lunches like I showed you? Please tell me you have cooked some form of dinner besides microwavable noodles.”

“Science project is fine, he has the required number of sources, and I’ve never seen a prettier diorama in my life,” Wei Ying says promptly. “And yes, of course I’m feeding him! Following all your lunch rules, don’t worry. We’ve only had noodles once.”

Lan Zhan nods, the knot of worry in his chest loosening. “And your commission?”

“Coming along,” Wei Ying says vaguely, which means that he is still working through his tangle of ideas and is not yet ready to share any of them. “The bunnies are fine, too, Lan Zhan, don’t worry about them either. But I still don’t think they like me very much. They’ll only let A-Yuan snuggle with them.”

“Ridiculous,” Lan Zhan huffs. “How could they not like you?”

Wei Ying shrugs, the gesture causing one side of his shirt to slip down over his shoulder, exposing his collarbone. Lan Zhan hates traveling. “Anyways. Tell me about the hotel! Did they give you any of those fancy little shampoo samples?”

“Yes. I will bring them for you,” Lan Zhan says. “The room is fine. But you are not here.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying clutches his chest. “You have to stop saying such things! Such a romantic! I’ll positively collapse, and you’re not even here to catch me.”

Lan Zhan fights back a smile. “Tomorrow.”

“Yeah.” Wei Ying grins. “Won’t you be tired, flying back right after a show?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says. Because I will see you is what he wants to say next, but he is not given the chance, because there’s a crash as Wei Ying’s little table crumples to the floor next to him, taking all of the opened paint bottles with it.

“Oh, fuck,” Wei Ying’s voice says, somewhere off-screen. “Shit. I’ll have to glue it back together. Fuck, and these oil paints were new. Oh, actually — actually, I think they’re fine. I can use the floor as a kind of palette, right? Maybe some pieces of wood will get in there. It’s a new art form!”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, half exasperated and half terribly fond. “I will buy you a new table.”

“No!” Wei Ying reappears, clutching at the detached table leg as if it is made of gold. “Lan Zhan, I like this table.”

“It is quite literally falling apart,” Lan Zhan points out.

“Yeah, but…” Wei Ying looks shifty. “Okay, fine, I’ll tell you. This is going to sound silly, but I drew my first sketches for you at this table.”

“Oh,” Lan Zhan says, warmth flooding his chest.

“So!” Wei Ying grins, quick and easy. Lan Zhan wishes they were together, so he could kiss him. “How can I get rid of it? It’s practically the force that brought us together!”

“I see,” Lan Zhan says. How can he argue with that? “Very well. But let me buy you another table. Not a replacement. Only an addition.”

“Deal,” Wei Ying agrees.

Lan Zhan’s phone buzzes: a string of incoming messages from his manager. “Wei Ying, I must go,” he says reluctantly. “A fitting.”

“Ah, it’s always so hard, dating someone as famous as you.” Wei Ying sighs dramatically. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. He misses Wei Ying already.

“Don’t pout,” Wei Ying laughs at him, in that little studio with the sun pouring through the windows. “You’re coming back tomorrow! Good luck tonight, Lan Zhan. I love you!”

“Love you,” Lan Zhan echoes, his eyes softening. “See you tomorrow, Wei Ying.”

He hangs up, looks over at the nightstand table: a tiny jeweler’s box, crimson velvet, an entire future waiting inside.