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jiejie 💜
A-Xian!!
I think I snagged a new commission for you 😊

Wei Ying
omg???
jiejie!! you didn’t need to do that!!! 😭😭
i can find my own work!!

jiejie 💜
I know you can! But this was just too tempting to pass up...
A-Xuan and I were at a gala yesterday evening, and I might have name-dropped you.

Wei Ying
ooooh a gala, so fancy
jiejie u cannot name-drop someone as unsuccessful as me
that only works with famous people

jiejie 💜
You are very successful!! Don’t be hard on yourself. 🙁
You won that fellowship last year, and one of your prints was just in The Art Press!

Wei Ying
yes but….
that’s not. anyways
you were at a fancy gala! tell me more!

jiejie 💜
We’ll come back to your self-esteem later. 🙁
Yes, we were at a gala. It was hosted by the Lan Academy of Music.
A-Xian, have you heard of Lan Wangji?

Wei Ying
i don’t live under a rock so. yes
doesn’t EVERYBODY know lan wangji?
he’s like the modern mozart
except chinese
and with twitter stans

jiejie 💜
That’s him. 😅
He was there.
He’s going to be performing at a charity concert in a few months, and we started talking about that.

Wei Ying
omg jiejie you MET LAN WANGJI
how do u feel?? now that u have been in the presence of a ~ god~

jiejie 💜
I don’t think I feel any different.
He was very polite, and very nice!
But A-Xian! Focus! The best is yet to come!

Wei Ying
OKAY I AM SORRY
🤐🤐🤐

jiejie 💜
Thank you 😊
Lan Wangji will be performing at the charity concert, and he needs promotional posters for it.
His marketing team has already put some art together, but he doesn’t like any of their ideas.
And… well, I thought of you!
I told him that my little brother is a very successful (!) freelance artist, and I thought he would be a great choice to design the posters!
I still have some scans on my phone... Do you remember the lotus pond you painted after we visited Yunmeng last year, and the mountains from Yiling? I showed them to him.
And he really liked them!
He agreed to meet with you!
Isn’t that exciting?
A-Xian, are you still there?

Wei Ying
i’m here

jiejie 💜
What do you think? 😊
This could be a great opportunity for you!

Wei Ying
i dunno, jiejie
lan wangji is fancy. like, Fancy, with a capital F
my work is totally not up to par

jiejie 💜
That isn’t true. 🙁
He was very receptive to the pieces I showed him!

Wei Ying
😬

jiejie 💜
Just meet with him. Please?
If you really get a bad feeling, then you can turn it down.
But you never know!
Plus, it would pay really well….
Do it for me? 😊

Wei Ying
you KNOW i can’t say no when you ask like that 😭
ok send me the contact info

jiejie 💜
Yay! 🤗🤗

***

Things That Wei Ying Knows About Lan Wangji
A List by Wei Ying

— plays the guqin
— old people love him
— but young people also love him?? literally has twitter stans???
— v classy v fancy v sophisticated probably lives in a mansion

***

Wei Ying does not know very much about Lan Wangji.

Hearing his name is unavoidable: they’re always mentioning it on the news, and on the radio, and on social media. But Wei Ying doesn’t really know anything about him. Just that Lan Wangji is famous, and last year he won the Sexiest Man in the World title or something, and the whole universe is apparently in love with him.

And now Wei Ying has a meeting with him: next Friday, one o’clock sharp.

The whole thing feels a little hopeless and overly ambitious, if he’s being honest. Wei Ying’s art has never made it past the local papers, and Lan Wangji is definitely not Local Paper Famous. He’s International Famous, and way too fancy to hire an obscure painter with no important accomplishments to his name.

But Wei Ying had promised to do this meeting for his jiejie, and he never backs down on a promise when his jiejie is involved. He really could use the money. And, hey — the Sexiest Man in the World! It will be a great story to tell at parties, even if it has to end with the Sexiest Man laughing Wei Ying out of the room.

He opens a new page in his notes app.

***

Things That Wei Ying Knows About Lan Wangji
An Updated List by Wei Ying

— graduate of a v prestigious music school
— ugh the lans are so rich
— i should have guessed that. he knows jin zixuan
— eat the rich!!!
— lan academy of music etc etc
— his uncle teaches there
— his brother is a LAWYER why are these people so successful
— is it not enough to be rich???? u have to be smart and talented too???
— smh save some luck for the rest of us
— he doesn’t have any social media wow so ~cryptic~ and mysterious
— HDKJFKFJ#%DFJJS$%$% ?? HE REALLY LOOKS
— LIKE THAT?????//??/?
— omg his voice is so sexy
— like. when he speaks
— does he sing? he should sing too
— HE COMPOSES HIS OWN SONGS THOUGH
— THREE ALBUMS AND ALL OF THEM MULTI PLATINUM HOLY SHIT
— wait he plays really really well
— he;s so PRETTY
— his hair is so PRETTY
— he really likes traditional hanfu huh
— oh its like his stage Uniform. tm symbol
— sexiest man in the world ok yeah Deserved
— help

***

After Wei Ying finishes his tutoring session, he heads downtown to his studio to start on the sketches for next week.

It’s a stretch to call the studio a studio. It is a single room, only a little larger than the Jiangs’ dining hall back in Yunmeng, and he can only afford it because he shares it with three other people. They’ve each claimed a corner as their own; the middle area is the Neutral Zone, with a ratty old sofa and a table for snacks and alcohol. The stash is raided regularly by all four artists. There are a lot of existential crises between them, and wine helps.

The wall backed up against the street is one huge window, pouring sunshine across the scuffed wooden floor. This place has fucking great natural lighting, and it’s why Wei Ying just knew he had to get in on it when Nie Huaisang told him about the space for rent. The apartment that he shares with Jiang Cheng is fine, but the building faces another building and it’s almost always a little gloomy. Wei Ying needs light to work. He can get paint all over the floor here at the studio without getting yelled at, too, which is always a nice bonus.

And so he had paid his portion of the rent and taken over one of the corners by the window, where the sun hits his canvas at just the right angle. Nie Huaisang has the other window corner for his fashion school projects, and Mianmian is directly across the room from him with her pottery, and Qin Su has the last spot.

It’s mid-afternoon now, leaving a few hours of decent sunlight left for sketching. Wei Ying snags a packet of peanuts from the Neutral Zone, then drops his bag down on the floor in his corner and drags his stool away from the easel and towards a rickety little table. He’d picked it up from a curb, where someone was giving it away for free. It wobbles every time he puts his elbow on it, but now he’s attached and can’t bear to trash it. They’ve been through a lot together, Wei Ying and this little table.

So: Lan Wangji, and promotional art.

Musical genius and insanely good looks aside (seriously, how has Wei Ying never seen a photograph of this man? the universe has conspired against him), there isn’t much to be said about Lan Wangji. He is notoriously private. His interviews are methodical and matter-of-fact, talking about his work and very little else. It’s thrilling, in a way: trying to puzzle out someone like that, piecing together clues to make a picture of a whole.

He has a few pieces of the puzzle already. Wei Ying has never listened to a lot of traditional music, but Lan Wangji seems like a very traditional sort of person. There’s the fact that he got famous playing the guqin, of all things, and he only wears hanfu on stage, and he doesn’t even have a social media account. He is definitely the type who reads all of the title cards in museum exhibits, Wei Ying thinks, and his house is probably very stuffy and boring, with a bunch of expensive vases everywhere that no one is allowed to touch.

It’s the trade-off for being so attractive, Wei Ying decides, readying his watercolor palette. No one can be that beautiful and interesting. It simply isn’t fair.

He manages three sketches, in the end, all echoing a traditional Song dynasty style: a tall mountain, clouds clustering at the peak; an ocean wave, the swell rising towards the sky; and a kind of spoof on a classic imperial court scene, with a tiny Lan Wangji in a pavillion. He paints them in soft, muted colors, pale blue and sage green and a very faint red.

He’s a little disappointed with them. They’re nice enough, but they’re boring, and it feels like something he would have done in art school just to get a passing grade from a particularly stuffy teacher. But commissions are about tailoring work to the client, Wei Ying thinks; his own creative preferences come later, for personal projects. He eats another packet of peanuts, waiting for the paint to dry, and then he packs them carefully into his portfolio and steps into the hallway and locks the studio door behind him.

If Lan Wangji doesn’t like the sketches — well, that’s to be expected. Wei Ying should not have gotten this far to begin with. If Lan Wangji doesn’t like them, Wei Ying will just throw the drawings away, and forget all about it, and pretend this whole thing had never happened at all.

Chapter Text

Friday comes, and Wei Ying is at the Lan Academy of Music to meet with Lan Wangji.

He has tried to look professional, or at least a little more polished than his usual combination of ripped skinny jeans and oversized shirts allows. Jiejie had come over to the apartment earlier in the day with a wine-red blazer, convincing Wei Ying to wear that instead of his usual leather jacket. “Just for first impressions!” she had said brightly. It does look nice, and he’s still wearing his combat boots and his earrings. So it’s not an insufferable compromise.

Wei Ying often passes by the Lan Academy of Music — on the bus, mostly, when he’s going to a student’s house, or going to jiejie’s — but he’s never been inside. The campus is huge, sprawling across acres of lush green lawn, and the main entrance hall is big enough to be a cathedral. There’s a front desk there, where Wei Ying has to present his identification card before going through a metal detector. It’s like a fucking airport. Wei Ying is astounded.

“I’m not going to kill him,” he insists to the guard who is searching his bag. “It’s just a meeting.”

This earns him a glare and an extra five minutes of inspection.

When he is finally deemed a non-threat, Wei Ying is released and another guard arrives to escort him through a maze of corridors, ending up in a little meeting room: just a long conference table, six chairs clustered around it. “Mr. Lan will be with you shortly.” She shuts the door, and Wei Ying is left alone.

He wanders around, studying the old scrolls on the walls. Authentic, by the looks of them: relics from centuries past, when minimalist depictions of nature were in vogue. They're all waterfalls, mountains, peaceful little riverside villages. Maybe his sketches aren’t too far off, Wei Ying thinks, a little pleased with himself. Maybe the Lans all like this sort of stuffy, traditional thing. Wei Ying is not a traditional artist, but he can pretend to be one, for a commission of this size. Feeling slightly more cheerful, he takes a seat in one of the chairs, putting his portfolio on the table in front of him.

Then the door opens, and Lan Wangji glides in.

Glides, because Wei Ying can’t think of another word for it. Lan Wangji moves like he’s floating through water, elegant in a silk shirt and grey slacks, his inky black hair tied back with a blue ribbon. He is, if possible, even prettier in person.

Wei Ying closes his mouth. It had dropped open, when Lan Wangji walked into the room.

“You are Wei Wuxian,” Lan Wangji says in greeting. It is not a question.

“That’s me!” Wei Ying bounces up, extending a hand. Lan Wangji looks at it, then back up at Wei Ying’s face. His eyes are the brightest amber Wei Ying has ever seen. Like honey, or pure gold — do they even make a paint color that vivid? Wei Ying drops his hand. “Ah. Well. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lan.”

Lan Wangji just crosses the room, pulling out a chair and sitting at the opposite end of the table. Wei Ying hastens to follow suit. Lan Wangji folds his hands in front of him. “You are an artist.”

There it is again: the non-question. Wei Ying puts on his brightest smile. “Yes! I don’t know how much my jiejie has told you — Jiang Yanli, I mean. I went to the Zhang School of Design, and now I work freelance and tutor kids on the side. I do contemporary art, mostly. Abstract, figurative, still life, that sort of thing. But I know most styles.”

A single nod, from across the table. “You brought samples with you?”

“Actually, I sketched a few things just for you,” Wei Ying says, winking as he digs them out of his portfolio and hands them over. “To prepare for today.”

Lan Wangji silently flips through the papers, his expression unreadable.

“To be honest, I don’t know a lot about your music,” Wei Ying admits, “but I did some research and sketched based on that. These were just… the vibes I got, you know?” He’s talking to fill the silence, because right now it’s too quiet, and his heart is doing a funny pounding thing, and for some reason he can’t explain, he really wants Lan Wangji to look at him again. “Very classic. And the colors, I know you like white, so I thought of lighter shades. Not to say you don’t like other colors, ha.”

The man across the table finally looks up, pushing the sketches away — just an inch, just enough to be noticeable. His eyes meet Wei Ying’s, cool and impassive. “Boring.”

Wei Ying bristles. Of course the sketches were boring; he had thought so himself, when he was doing them. But that doesn’t mean he likes hearing it. “Well, Mr. Lan,” he says, tilting his head, “what would you prefer, then?”

“You said you were a contemporary artist. These are not contemporary.” Lan Wangji pauses. “Your sister showed me a very nice lotus painting last week.”

“You liked that?” Wei Ying can’t keep the astonishment from his voice. “It was so... “ He waves a hand vaguely. “You know. Don’t you want something a little more… sophisticated? Or extravagant? Isn’t this event a big deal?”

“I thought that painting was perfectly appropriate,” Lan Wangji says. “Having passion for what you do… that is most important. There is no passion here.” He taps the sketches in front of him. “And I saw passion before. That is what I would prefer.”

Wei Ying blinks. He had thought Lan Wangji was a little cold, when he had come into the room like an icy wind, when he didn’t even try with the pleasantries, but this is — well, Wei Ying doesn’t really know what this is. Refreshing, maybe, that Lan Wangji values craft over prestige. Admirable, that he can be so honest about it.

“I’m curious, Mr. Lan,” Wei Ying says lightly. Keep your mouth shut and don’t ruin this for yourself, the reasonable little voice in his head says — but then, Wei Ying has never been very good at listening to that voice. “Doesn’t it bother you, that I’m not famous? Didn’t you want someone more important than me to design the art for you?”

“No,” Lan Wangji says, as if the answer should have been obvious. “Why should a thing like that bother me?”

Wei Ying can’t find the words to answer him. Speechless — he’s speechless! Wei Wuxian is never speechless. What the hell has happened to him?

“My assistant will be in touch.” Lan Wangji, oblivious to Wei Ying’s internal crisis, is standing up again. “She will negotiate the commission details with you, and make arrangements for the final paintings to be delivered.”

“You’re hiring me?” Wei Ying blurts out. “For real?”

“I don’t lie,” Lan Wangji says, turning those insanely golden eyes back to Wei Ying.

“Oh. Okay.” Wei Ying stands up, too. He has barely been in the room for ten minutes. Everything has happened so fast — but here he is, hired! “Thank you.”

“Likewise,” Lan Wangji says, a little stiffly, after a beat. “I look forward to your work.” He tucks the chair neatly back under the table, glides back across the room, pauses with one hand on the doorknob. “Wei Wuxian.” Wei Ying startles. “You are too harsh with yourself. You are very talented. Do not downplay your abilities like that in the future.”

“Okay,” Wei Ying says again. It comes out like a squeak. Then, before he can stop himself: “You can call me Wei Ying.”

Lan Wangji blinks, and for just a moment he looks like he wants to say something else — but then he nods, and the moment slips away. “Goodbye, Wei Ying.”

He’s gone in a swish of inky black hair and pale blue ribbon. The door clicks shut behind him, and Wei Ying is alone once more.

Chapter Text

Wei Ying doesn’t speak to Lan Wangji again after that. His life falls back into a regular pattern: art lessons with his students on weeknights, brunch with Jiang Cheng and jiejie on Saturdays, waking up hungover on Sundays. In the mornings, when the late winter sun shines through the clouds, muffled and watery, he takes the subway downtown to his studio and works on the paintings for the charity concert.

He has always liked to paint lotus flowers, ever since he was a little kid messing around with cheap watercolors. It reminds him of home, of summers spent at the docks with kites soaring overhead and laughter ringing out over the water. Even now it’s nostalgic, comforting, a guaranteed method of getting his creative energy flowing again when he’s in a slump. The brushstrokes come easily, as practiced and instinctive as breathing. Wei Ying had thought that he might feel nervous, with such an important project — he’s never gotten a commission that pays this well, or gives his name this much exposure — but it never happens. It feels… right. Peaceful.

He paints the lotus in shades of blue: indigo and cobalt and cerulean. When he starts out, it’s meant to be clever, a play on the Lan of Lan Wangji’s name — but then Wei Ying realizes that Lan Wangji really does radiate blue. Calm, serene, ethereal. Like ocean waves, or a clear, cloudless sky.

(Wei Ying is not normally in the habit of thinking about his clients in metaphors like this.)

Lan Wangji’s marketing team emails him once a week, asking for updates and photos of his progress. Wei Ying had been a little disappointed when the first email came: but of course Lan Wangji wouldn’t email him directly; of course he has an entire staff to do that kind of work for him. Mr. Lan is very pleased with your work, one of the emails says, and Wei Ying feels warmth spreading through his ribs. He floats on air for the next three days.

(Wei Ying normally does not get quite so emotionally invested in the opinions of his clients.)

Exactly one month after he met with Lan Wangji at the Lan Academy of Music, a well-dressed assistant is buzzed into Wei Ying’s studio, and they whisk the finished paintings away in the back of an expensive black car. Wei Ying is sent a very hefty paycheck, more money than he had made from all of last year’s commissions put together.

And Wei Ying thinks, a little wistfully: Well, that’s the end of that.

***

The concert comes and goes. Winter fades into spring.

Wei Ying is unlocking his apartment door one evening, fried chicken takeout in one hand, when his phone buzzes.

jiejie 💜
Congratulations, A-Xian!! 🥰
[Link Attached: Lan Wangji Dazzles at Charity Concert]

Wei Ying kicks off his shoes and fumbles for the lightswitch on the wall, the apartment dark aside from the dim glow of his screen. Jiang Cheng must still be in class. Wei Ying likes these kinds of evenings, because it means he can eat dinner on the living room sofa without being scolded for it.

Once the chicken containers have been opened and boxed wine has been procured from the kitchen — it was on sale! he’s on a budget! — Wei Ying flops onto the sofa and opens the link.

For many supporters, the highlight of last week’s annual charity concert for the Qishan Orphanage was its closing act. Lan Wangji, who has attracted international fame for both his guqin performances and his godlike image, closed the concert with three songs from his latest studio album.

“This cause is very important to me,” Lan Wangji said, in a speech made before his performance. “I hope you will consider donating tonight.”

As always, the musician looked resplendent on stage, dressed in his trademark hanfu. His preference for white robes has earned him the title Hanguang-jun from fans.

Equally stunning were the promotional posters designed for Lan Wangji’s appearance at the concert. The blue lotus flowers, a combination of traditional landscape painting and more modern aesthetics, received praise from critics and guests alike.

“I am very happy with the art,” Lan Wangji told Entertainment Today. “I would like to thank Wei Wuxian again for his work and commitment to this project.”

Lan Wangji’s last studio album, The Cloud Recesses, became the decade’s best-selling instrumental album just one week after release.

By the time he finishes the article, Wei Ying has choked on two different bites of chicken and has had to drink half the box of wine to clear his air passage out.

Critics liked Wei Ying’s art. Critics didn’t even know Wei Ying’s name before his concert. But here was the proof — they didn’t just like it, they had praised it.

And Lan Wangji had mentioned him. By name!

It’s like falling down a rabbit hole. Wei Ying opens a new browser window and searches for photographs of the concert, ostensibly to look at his own art in the venue — but then he’s looking at photographs of Lan Wangji, too, and watching videos of his performance, and marveling at how ethereal Lan Wangji had looked up on that stage, his white robes glowing like the moon under the bright lights. I would like to paint that, Wei Ying thinks, taking another gulp of the boxed wine. The stuff isn’t bad: a little too sweet and fruity, but his skin is tingling pleasantly with it, his veins thrumming with warmth. It might actually be a little too good, because suddenly it is three in the morning and Wei Ying has been scrolling through news articles and blogs and concert websites dating back years, and when he wakes up the next day, still a little fuzzy in the head, there is a folder in his phone’s gallery called WORLDS MOST BEAUTIFUL MAN!!!!

The world’s most beautiful man, apparently, is Lan Wangji.

“You are smitten and you met him once,” Jiang Cheng says in disbelief, when Wei Ying tells him about the folder over breakfast.

“I am not smitten!” Wei Ying says defensively. It was funny, he had thought. “I was drunk! And anyways, it’s client research.”

“Sure. It’s definitely normal to research someone when they aren’t even your client anymore.”

“What if he calls me again, huh?” Wei Ying crosses his arms over his chest. “He loved what I painted for him! Now I’ll be full of ideas. I’ll get paid so well, you won’t even be able to see me under the pile of cash. Check and mate!”

“You went on Pinterest and saved over a hundred photos of this guy,” Jiang Cheng says flatly, reaching for another fried egg. “Client research, huh? Bullshit.”

Wei Ying chugs an entire glass of orange juice to avoid answering.

It’s weird. Wei Ying doesn’t really know how to explain what he’s feeling, or how to deconstruct the logic behind it. There’s just something about Lan Wangji, something that draws Wei Ying to him like a moth to a candle. It’s more than the physical appearance — Lan Wangji is fucking beautiful; his drunken self had been right when he named that folder. But that’s not all it is. It’s the way Lan Wangji is so composed, the way he carries himself like he’s carved from jade. There’s got to be something else under that impassive surface. Wei Ying is just… curious. Interested. It’s totally normal to be interested in another human. No romantic feelings need to be attached.

God, but what if Jiang Cheng is right? Does Wei Ying have a crush? Wei Ying doesn’t get crushes. He flirts, sure, and goes on dates, and even has casual hookups. But he doesn’t get crushes. Especially not on clients, or handsome musicians, or similarly unreachable people whom he will never see again.

It’s got to be a passing infatuation. Nothing more.

Still chewing on these thoughts, Wei Ying returns to his room after breakfast, shutting the door just in time for a message to pop up on his phone.

Unknown
Hello, Wei Ying. This is Lan Wangji.
My son is quite taken with you after seeing the work you did for the concert posters. Would you be available for tutoring? I would, of course, pay you for it.

This has to be a joke.

“Very funny, Jiang Cheng!” Wei Ying yells into the hallway. “I know it’s you!”

“What are you talking about?” Jiang Cheng shouts back, muffled, as if he is talking around a toothbrush.

“If you want to tease me, Jiang Cheng, I need to give you lessons first,” Wei Ying says, only half amused. For three glorious seconds he had thought — well. It isn’t. “You aren’t slick at all. Pretending to be Lan Wangji, five minutes after that conversation? Anyone could see through it.”

“Someone messaged you, pretending to be Lan Wangji? That wasn’t me,” Jiang Cheng says, sounding delighted, “but I wish it was. That’s fucking brilliant.”

Wei Ying shuts his door loudly in response, frowning. So if it’s not Jiang Cheng — is it really — it’s really Lan Wangji? Wei Ying’s heart is flopping around in his mouth. Since when has it lived there?

My son is quite taken with you after he saw the work you did for the concert posters. Would you be available for tutoring? I would, of course, pay you for it.

Wait. Lan Wangji has a son? Does this mean he also has a wife? Oh my god, he has a wife. Wei Ying has been collecting photographs of a married man. He definitely can’t have a crush now. Wei Ying is many things, but he refuses to be a homewrecker.

“Calm down, Wei Ying,” Wei Ying mumbles to himself, pacing around the room. So what if it’s not Jiang Cheng — this is someone else, someone who is not Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji can’t be texting him. Real life is not like those cutesy romcom dramas that jiejie watches.

He sits on the edge of his mattress and types out a response.

Wei Ying
hmmmm catfish? how do i know you are REALLY lan wangji? 🤨

Unknown
I will call you. Is now a good time?

Wei Ying
DKFJDKFJDDF
i mean. yes

Wei Ying hadn’t meant to send a keysmash, but then — his brain is one giant keysmash right now, so it should have been predictable.

His phone rings ten seconds later. Wei Ying barely has time to leap from the bed, straightening his shirt and checking his reflection in the mirror. No, that’s stupid, this is a phone call. The person on the other end won’t be able to see him. How lucky, Wei Ying thinks. He is still wearing the shirt he had slept in. What a successful homewrecker he would make.

He clears his throat, hits the Accept button. “Hello?”

“Hello, Wei Ying,” the voice on the other end says, and — fuck, okay, it’s definitely Lan Wangji.

Fuck, his voice is so deep. Wei Ying wants that voice right in his ear — not over a phone call, like this, but right there, in person, with Lan Wangji’s mouth at the side of Wei Ying’s neck. Like, in bed. That would be ideal.

What is he doing? God, he needs to focus.

“So it really is you!” he says now, pinching his forearm just to be safe. Nope, not dreaming.

“Of course it’s me,” Lan Wangji’s very deep voice says. “Were you expecting someone else?”

“No, it’s just… I thought, my brother… never mind.” Wei Ying winces at his reflection. Smooth. You’re a real charmer.

“Did you receive all of my messages?” Lan Wangji asks, mercifully pretending as if Wei Ying had answered his phone in a normal way.

“Yes, I did!” Wei Ying says. He takes a breath through his nose, lets it out slowly through his mouth. He is a professional, damn it. “Art lessons for your son.”

“He liked the paintings you did for the concert very much,” Lan Wangji explains, “and is now convinced he wants to be an artist. You had said that you offer lessons for children. Do you have time in your schedule for another student?”

“Of course!” Wei Ying says. “Anything for my favorite client.” Then, hastily, because Lan Wangji is no longer his client and because Wei Ying cannot flirt with a married man: “I would love to teach your son.”

“Would once a week be acceptable?” Lan Wangji asks. There’s a sound like a door shutting. “I’m afraid he does not have time for more frequent lessons.”

“Once a week is fine,” Wei Ying assures him. “That’s my standard, anyways.”

“Next Thursday, at 4pm? Does that work for you?”

“Yes,” Wei Ying says, scribbling it down on a loose sticky note, the pen cap between his teeth. He feels a little dizzy.

Another door shutting. “I must go,” Lan Wangji says. “I will text you the address. Thank you, Wei Ying.” A click, and the line goes silent.

Wei Ying sinks down onto his mattress again and sits there for a while, staring at the incoming call history on his screen. He carefully taps the most recent number, editing the Unknown into Lan Wangji.

So. That happened.

Art lessons. For Lan Wangji’s son.

He has to be calm, he tells himself: calm, and cool, and collected. Cool as a cucumber! This is just another student. Lan Wangji is just another parent.

Shit. He forgot to ask about the kid.

Wei Ying
i’m sorry!!! i forgot to ask!!! how old is your son?

Lan Wangji
He is six.

Wei Ying
gotcha. see you next week, mr. lan! 👍

His heart is pounding a little too fast to be normal. Wei Ying realizes, with a sinking feeling, that there is only one explanation for this.

Wei Ying has a crush.

He hates it when Jiang Cheng is right.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji’s house is on the grounds of the Lan Academy of Music, hidden behind a brick wall. Wei Ying has to press a button on an intercom and announce himself — to whom, he is not sure; there was no vocal response from the other side — before the gate unlatches itself.

The house behind the wall is large, but not ostentatious. There’s a little forest of pine trees and a koi pond, and an abundance of flowers in the front garden. Wei Ying climbs up to the front door, steels himself, and knocks.

The door is opened immediately, but not by Lan Wangji. Wei Ying looks down — a small child is there, bouncing on his heels in excitement. Ah, so that’s who had opened the gate.

“Hello!” Wei Ying grins at him. “Are you Young Master Lan?”

The child considers this. “No,” he says, very seriously. “I’m Lan Yuan.”

“I see.” Wei Ying adopts the same tone. “I’m very sorry for the misunderstanding.” He drops his bag on the porch, kneeling down to the child’s level and extending a hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Lan Yuan. I’m Wei Ying.”

“I know. You’re Wei-laoshi!” A-Yuan takes his hand and shakes it solemnly. “You’re going to teach me art.”

“Yes, I am.” Fuck, Wei Ying loves kids. A-Yuan is cute, too: all big brown eyes and dark hair, one of his bottom teeth missing.

“A-Yuan,” a voice says from inside the house, and then Lan Wangji comes into view, and — god, was he always this tall? Had Wei Ying really not noticed that, back at the Academy? Lan Wangji is really fucking tall. He’s wearing a soft blue button-down today, and his hair is tied back again, but he’s in socks and slippers. The socks have a cloud pattern on them. It makes him look strangely soft and vulnerable. It’s reassuring, to see that the Sexiest Man in the World wears patterned socks just like everyone else.

“Baba, Wei-laoshi is here!” A-Yuan says happily, tugging on his father’s hand.

“Yes, he is.” Lan Wangji dips his head in Wei Ying’s direction and gently steers A-Yuan back into the front hall. “Let’s step aside and allow him to come in. Wei Ying, thank you for making time in your schedule.”

“Ah, no need for thanks,” Wei Ying says airily, standing up again. “Money exchanged for goods and services, right? You’re paying me for it!”

Lan Wangji gives him a strange look. “That is one way of phrasing it.”

Wei Ying smiles sunnily. Conversations — he’s good at those. He can do this. “Nice place you have,” he offers. “Very… clean. I like the front door.”

“Thank you.” Lan Wangji is still giving him that look. “A-Yuan chose the color.”

”Great taste in art already! He has potential.” Wei Ying rubs his hands together “So: logistics. Lessons last for an hour. Different themes every week. I like the kids to have some autonomy — keeps them interested — so I’ll adapt to what they like and we’ll go from there. I’m not big into structure, to be honest — I think it stifles creativity. For him, and for me! We’ll learn way more if we’re having fun.”

“That sounds fine,” Lan Wangji says, A-Yuan bouncing in place beside him. “You are the expert.”

“Aw, Mr. Lan, you’ll make me blush.”

Lan Wangji ignores the tease. “Will you be painting today? The playroom is carpeted, so I will get you an old sheet to cover the floor.”

“Ah, not today,” Wei Ying says. “We’ll start small. Pencils, crayons, that sort of thing. Paint can come next week, if my pupil can behave himself this afternoon.” He winks at A-Yuan.

“I can behave!” A-Yuan cries, immediately ceasing his bouncing and standing perfectly still. “I’m a really good student, Wei-laoshi.”

“Are you?” Wei Ying arches an eyebrow. “Well, then I’ll have to get my paints ready for next time!”

A-Yuan beams.

Lan Wangji rests one hand on his son’s back. “Can you show Wei-laoshi where your playroom is?”

“Yes,” A-Yuan says, with all the gravity of someone who has just been entrusted with an extremely important mission. “Go work on your music now, Baba.”

Wei Ying laughs. “Do you hear that, Mr. Lan? You’re being banished.”

“So it seems,” Lan Wangji agrees, and Wei Ying catches something new in his expression: soft, fond. “The music room is three doors down. Please do not hesitate to ask if you need anything.”

Wei Ying nods, readjusting the bag on his shoulder. “I’m sure we’ll be fine! Lead the way, A-Yuan.”

A-Yuan takes Wei Ying’s hand in his and guides him down a hallway and up a set of stairs to the playroom, which is directly adjacent to A-Yuan’s bedroom. (Wei Ying knows this because A-Yuan tells him so. “That’s my bedroom!” he had said proudly, pointing to it. “Very nice,” Wei Ying had said obediently, even though all he could see of the room was its closed door.)

The playroom is bright and sunny. There’s a child-sized tent in one corner, a sizable collection of stuffed animals in another. A half-completed Lego rocket is spread out across the middle of the rug. A small guqin is on a table against one wall — and on the opposite wall is a pen with two fluffy rabbits inside.

“A-Yuan!” Wei Ying points to the rabbits. “Are these your bunnies?”

“Yes!” A-Yuan tightens his grip and pulls Wei Ying towards the pen. “The white one is Marshmallow, and the black one is Cocoa. They’re very cute.”

“They are very cute,” Wei Ying agrees. “How lucky you are, to have bunnies like this!”

A-Yuan pokes a finger inside the pen, scratching Marshmallow on the ear. “They weren’t always my bunnies,” he whispers loudly, as if telling Wei Ying a great secret. “They were Baba’s! They’re almost as old as me! But we share them now.”

“That’s very nice of your baba, to share them with you,” Wei Ying says, trying and failing to suppress his delight. He never would have guessed it — the frosty Lan Wangji, a bunny enthusiast!

“Sharing is very important,” A-Yuan says firmly. He turns away from the rabbits and looks back up at Wei Ying, eyes latching onto one of Wei Ying’s ears. “Wei-laoshi, you have earrings!”

“Oh.” Wei Ying fingers one of the hoops absently. “Yeah. I guess I do.”

“They’re pretty.” A-Yuan tilts his head. “I think it would hurt, because it’s getting a hole in your ear! But I like them. I want earrings, too.”

“I think you need to ask your baba about that,” Wei Ying hurries to say. They have, he realizes, gotten very far off track, and the last thing he needs is to get Lan Wangji’s small son thinking about body piercings. “Right now we are going to talk about art! Are you excited?”

“Yes! I want to paint!” A-Yuan, all solemnity forgotten, resumes his excited fidgeting.

“Excellent. Are you ready?” Wei Ying claps his hands together, then beckons A-Yuan closer. “Today I am going to teach you the biggest art secret in the world.”

“Really?” A-Yuan’s eyes are huge. “Wow!”

“Yes. Wow! Today, we are going to learn about…” Wei Ying reaches into his bag and pulls out a collection of plastic spheres and boxes with a dramatic flourish. “Shapes!”

“Shapes?” A-Yuan wilts a little. “Wei-laoshi, I know all of my shapes. I’m in first grade already!”

“I’m sure you do know all of your shapes. You are very smart, A-Yuan. I just met you, and I already know that! But shapes are very important for art. Do you know why?”

A-Yuan’s brow furrows, an adorable crinkle on his forehead. “No,” he says at last.

“It’s okay that you don’t know,” Wei Ying chuckles at how serious this little boy looks. Lan Wangji’s son, indeed! “That’s why I’m here to teach you, hm? Here is the secret: art is all about shapes. Shapes are the foundation of art. Do you know what a foundation is?”

“Yes,” A-Yuan answers immediately. “When you build a house and you use blocks and the blocks at the bottom have to be very strong. Or the house will fall down!”

“That’s right! The blocks at the bottom are the foundation. It’s the same with art.” Wei Ying picks up one of the spheres. “Shapes are the foundation of art. We’re going to make your shapes very strong, so your art will be strong too.”

“Oh!” A-Yuan’s eyes have lit up. “You’re really smart, Wei-laoshi!”

Wei Ying laughs. “Thank you, A-Yuan. Now, today we are going to use pencils. If your shapes look really good by the end of today, next time we can use paint. How does that sound?”

“It sounds really good, Wei-laoshi.” A-Yuan jumps up. “Can we start now? I want to show you my shapes.”

They move over to the little child-sized craft table beneath the window. Wei Ying arranges the shapes at the center of the table so A-Yuan can see them, and his tiny student gets to work, solemnly tracing them out on the big sheets of paper that Wei Ying had brought with him. Wei Ying draws shapes, too; he has always liked to do the lessons alongside his pupils. He peeks over at A-Yuan’s papers from time to time, exclaiming over an excellent rectangle or gently correcting the number of sides on a pentagon.

“A-Yuan, tell me,” Wei Ying says some time later, twirling his pencil between his fingers. “Who told you about house foundations? That’s very impressive, for someone who is six years old.”

A-Yuan doesn’t look up from the square he is drawing. “Baba told me! We play with Legos.” He finishes the square, looks up to closely examine a triangle, and returns to his paper. “Also,” he says, like an afterthought, “I’m six and a half now.”

First bunnies, and now Legos! And he had thought Lan Wangji was cryptic and mysterious. Ha!

“Does your mom play with you, too?” He should not have asked it; Wei Ying knows this as soon as the words have left his mouth. He had always hated it, as a kid, when he was asked about his parents. And it’s just — it’s just wrong. Inappropriate, to go fishing for information like this. Especially when he’s using this innocent kid to gather intelligence about Lan Wangji’s romantic life. This is a new low, Wei Ying thinks deploringly.

“I don’t have a mom.” Despite the serious subject, A-Yuan does not seem upset by it. He continues working on his triangle, kicking his legs cheerfully. “Baba adopted me! But it’s okay, because my baba is the best.”

“I’m sure he is,” Wei Ying says, a little weakly. That conversation could have turned very emotional very quickly, and he is relieved that A-Yuan does not seem bothered by it — but then. No wife. Excellent. Just fantastic, for Wei Ying and his active imagination, and for this feeling that is maybe — probably — a crush.

The rest of the session passes uneventfully. Wei Ying packs the shape collection back into his bag and trails out of the room after A-Yuan, who is soaring towards the kitchen. There is the sound of a lid closing over a pot, and the smell of rice cooking.

“Baba, look! I drew shapes!” A-Yuan waves his completed drawings. “Shapes are the foundation of art!”

Lan Wangji appears from the kitchen entryway, and he’s wearing an apron, and every single one of Wei Ying’s brain cells turns to static because this is so fucking domestic he might just combust on the spot. He’s pretty sure this isn’t scientifically possible. But you never know.

The apron-wearing Lan Wangji kneels on the floor in front of A-Yuan, taking the papers and examining each one just as closely as he had examined Wei Ying’s sketches back at the Academy.

“These are very good,” Lan Wangji says seriously. “I have never seen such excellent shapes before.” His eyes are soft, the honey melted down to golden pools, and the static in Wei Ying’s brain buzzes more loudly. “You did well, baobao. Would you like to put these on the fridge?”

“Yes, please!” A-Yuan, still beaming, takes his shape drawings back and disappears into the kitchen to find a magnet.

Lan Wangji rises back to his feet, facing Wei Ying. “I hope he was well-behaved for you.”

“Oh, god, yes,” Wei Ying says, rallying his brain cells back into formation. “He’s a great kid. I always start with the basics, but he’s ahead of the game. His shapes are already so good!”

“Yes. His teachers tell me that A-Yuan is advanced for his age.” Lan Wangji’s eyes are still soft. He’s proud, Wei Ying realizes. Cute.

“He really seems to be enjoying himself,” Wei Ying says instead, pushing that particular adjective aside. “Honestly, I think it’s great that you’re letting him explore the things he likes. Letting him find his passion, you know?”

“Well,” Lan Wangji says, seeming a little hesitant. “When I was his age, I was not —”

“Baba,” A-Yuan asks, coming back into the hallway from the kitchen, “can I get earrings like Wei-laoshi?”

Lan Wangji glances over at Wei Ying, who tries to smile apologetically. “Maybe when you are as old as Wei-laoshi.”

A-Yuan pouts. “But that’s a really long time!”

“Hey!” Wei Ying pouts, too, over in the doorway. “How old do you think I am?”

A-Yuan looks thoughtful. “Fifty,” he says at last.

It happens automatically: Wei Ying and Lan Wangji look at each other, in the way that adults often do when a child says something innocently outrageous. Can you believe this kid? Wei Ying looks at Lan Wangji, and he catches it: a tiny twitch at the corner of Lan Wangji’s mouth, as if he is trying to hold back a laugh.

“We can talk about earrings when you are older. Now it is almost time for dinner,” Lan Wangji says, clearly attempting to redirect the conversation. “Would you like to help with the rice?”

“Okay.” A-Yuan seems to be satisfied with this compromise. “Bye, Wei-laoshi! I had fun!”

“See you next week, A-Yuan,” Wei Ying calls, and then he nods politely at Lan Wangji, and Lan Wangji nods back, and Wei Ying steps outside onto the porch, back into the mild spring air, and then the lesson is over.

He walks back across the lawn in a strange haze, thinking about Lan Wangji’s almost-smile.

Chapter Text

The weeks pass.

Wei Ying is busy, busier than he has been since he was a student in art school. It was just as jiejie had predicted — his paintings for the charity concert had given his name exposure. Commission requests have been pouring in from wealthy patrons, all of them wanting to brag that they owned artwork by the same artist who had partnered with Lan Wangji. Wei Ying is often in his studio until the late hours of the night, coming home with graphite smudges on his hand or clothes smelling of turpentine. He still tutors, too, although he no longer has the time to accept new students.

He goes to Lan Wangji’s house each Thursday afternoon, to spend an hour with A-Yuan.

They move on from shapes to bigger, more exciting things: animals and buildings and nature. With the old sheet securely draped across the playroom floor, A-Yuan paints his house, complete with two tiny figures on the front lawn (Me and Baba!), and he paints a forest with a waterfall (This is where Baba is from). He paints Marshmallow and Cocoa, too, happily munching dandelion greens in a meadow. (“No carrots?” Wei Ying had asked. A-Yuan, in a terrifyingly accurate imitation of his father, had looked back at him disapprovingly. “Carrots are not good for bunnies,” he had informed Wei Ying. “They are a sometimes food. Not an every day food.” But then he had painted carrots anyways, far off in the corner, safely out of Marshmallow and Cocoa’s imaginary reach.)

Art is a story, Wei Ying tells him, at the start of each hour. What story shall we tell today?

Like most children, A-Yuan is inclined to fantasies. His stories change with the calendar. His uncle had taken him to the beach, he tells Wei Ying one May day, eyes wide. Can they paint the ocean? Two weeks later, after completing a Lego castle and reading a book about dragons, he wants to paint those. This phase lasts for quite some time, and Wei Ying and A-Yuan spend several happy Thursdays coming up with increasingly fanciful dragon adventures: birthday parties, swimming, ferrying people around on their backs in the sky.

The lessons always take place in A-Yuan’s playroom. Wei Ying rarely has occasion to venture elsewhere, but he tries to sneak glances at the rest of the house when he can. It’s all shades of blue and grey and cream, with dark hardwood floors and big windows looking out to the pine trees. There are pretty things, to be sure — hanging screens painted with forest scenes, expensive-looking rugs, an elaborate incense burner — and it is meticulously tidy, but it’s very much the home of a parent with a small child. Boxes filled with books and puzzles are tucked beside the living room sofa; A-Yuan’s art is framed and hung on the walls.

It looks… cozy. Lived-in. Not what Wei Ying had expected from Lan Wangji, at any rate.

Lan Wangji is not what Wei Ying had expected.

Wei Ying does not see Lan Wangji often — always at the start of the hour, when he arrives, and at the end of the hour, when he leaves. Wei Ying, of course, goes off with A-Yuan, and Lan Wangji goes off into his music room. What he’s doing there, Wei Ying doesn’t know. Musician stuff, he supposes. He asks A-Yuan about it one day.

“He’s writing,” A-Yuan says. “And practicing.”

Wei Ying can’t hear anything coming from the room, and he says so.

“It has special walls,” A-Yuan simply says, as if this should clear up all confusion.

What Wei Ying does see, he soaks up, like a lotus bud absorbing the sun. The faint line on Lan Wangji’s forehead when he is confused or displeased; the slight raise of an eyebrow when he is amused. When Wei Ying is really lucky, he’ll see that almost-smile again, a twitch at the corner of Lan Wangji’s mouth. It’s the smallest smile Wei Ying has ever seen, and the most beautiful.

He learns things, too: some from A-Yuan, some from observation. Lan Wangji has a soft spot for his rabbits, and he spoils them. His favorite color is powder blue; his favorite season is autumn. He likes to be outside. He likes parks, especially. He often takes A-Yuan to the pond on the Academy grounds, where they feed day-old bread to the ducks.

One week there is a leafy plant in front of the living room window; the next, it is gone. “Ah,” Lan Wangji says, looking a little embarrassed, when Wei Ying asks about it. “It didn’t make it.”

“Not good with plants, huh?” Wei Ying says wisely.

“It would seem not. It was a gift from my brother. He is much better at that sort of thing.”

“Get a cactus next time,” Wei Ying suggests. “Impossible to kill.”

“Hm,” is all that Lan Wangji says, but the next week there is a little cactus on the windowsill.

Wei Ying thinks about that little cactus much more often than he probably should.

When he is not at the Lan house, he tries very hard to keep Lan Wangji out of his mind. He is a little afraid of what he will find there, if he lets himself explore that particular topic. Nothing can come of it, he tells himself firmly: every morning, every evening, every time Lan Wangji’s face floats up behind Wei Ying’s eyelids. What it is, Wei Ying is still not quite sure. He is still reluctant to call it a crush, because giving it a name means that he will have to acknowledge it as something real, and that is a whole new level that he is unprepared to deal with. Wei Ying has never felt this — this much for another person before, much less someone who is (a) the father of one of his students, and (b) a fucking international celebrity who is so out of Wei Ying’s league in every possible way, they might as well be living on different planets.

So. Wei Ying will simply not think about it.

This plan works quite well until one day in June, when Wei Ying is standing in the Lans’ front hall after A-Yuan’s lesson has ended, tying the laces of his combat boots.

“Baba, can Wei-laoshi stay for dinner?” A-Yuan looks at his father hopefully. “Please?”

Wei Ying’s stomach does a funny flip. Lan Wangji is wearing his apron again, damn it. “I wouldn’t want to impose,” he begins, just as Lan Wangji says, “If he wishes.”

A-Yuan’s head snaps over to look at Wei Ying with that same hopeful expression.

“I really don’t want to cause trouble for you,” Wei Ying tries again, but it sounds weak even to his own ears. There’s that static in his brain.

“It is no trouble,” Lan Wangji says. Wei Ying remembers it, from the Academy: I don’t lie.

“Okay, if you don’t mind,” he hears himself say, as he takes off his shoes again. A-Yuan cheers.

Lan Wangji inclines his head. “Make yourself comfortable. The food will be ready in ten minutes. A-Yuan, can you help me carry our bowls to the table?”

When both father and son have vanished back into the kitchen, Wei Ying makes his way to the living room and sits down gingerly on the sofa — soft, extremely plush, probably worth more than three months’ rent at the studio.

Wei Ying
nie-xiong…. huaisang….. best friend of mine….

Huaisang 🥥
what did u do

Wei Ying
nothing!!! such an assumption… u wound me
i just have to cancel our dinner, that’s all 😄

Huaisang 🥥
👀👀👀

Wei Ying
don’t eyeball emoji me

Huaisang 🥥
🍆🍆🍆 ???

Wei Ying
NO
NONONO
i am having a Very Professional dinner

Huaisang 🥥
cancelling on me for something so boring?? 😭
you owe me a meal now, wei-xiong!!!

Wei Ying
and i do solemnly swear i will make it up to you 🥺
thanks!! have fun dining alone!!!

Huaisang 🥥
[Attachment: unamused.gif]

Wei Ying
😇

Lan Wangji’s dining room looks a lot like the rest of his house: dark wooden floors covered with a cream-colored rug, windows overlooking the yard. There is a chandelier — an actual chandelier — hanging from the ceiling. It casts a warm yellow glow over the table.

“We are vegetarians,” Lan Wangji explains, when he brings out the dishes of rice and tofu stir-fry.

“Oh, that’s okay!” Wei Ying says, pushing past the little voice in his head that is yelling he can cook he can cook HE CAN COOK at a volume difficult to ignore.

They settle in. The food is much more mild than Wei Ying’s palate is used to, but the tofu has some kind of sauce on it — garlic and green onion, maybe — that is quite pleasant.

“This is really good!” Wei Ying takes another mouthful of rice. “Not just a musician but a chef, too? You’re a very multi-talented man, Mr. Lan.”

Lan Wangji’s ears flush a pale shade of pink. “You can call me Lan Zhan.”

“Hm?” Wei Ying looks up from his bowl.

“You may call me Lan Zhan,” Lan Wangji repeats, gaze unwavering.

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, feeling his own face flush. What the fuck, what the fuck. “Okay. Lan Zhan.”

“Wow, Baba!” A-Yuan stabs at a piece of broccoli with his chopsticks. “You only let Qing-jie call you that.”

“Is that right?” Wei Ying grins, looking over at Lan Wangji — Lan Zhan. “I guess I’m pretty special then, huh?”

Lan Zhan huffs softly, returning to his own bowl. “Nonsense.”

Wei Ying laughs. “Honestly, Lan Zhan” — he likes the way this name tastes on his tongue, sugary and cool, a peppermint of a name — “you’re a great cook. And normally I don’t even like things that aren’t spicy!”

Lan Zhan frowns a little. “Would you like the pepper?”

“No, no, this is perfect! I’m not converted yet, but who knows. Maybe I’ll start eating less spice now, all because of you.” Still grinning, Wei Ying turns to A-Yuan. “A-Yuan, have you ever eaten Yunmeng food?”

A-Yuan looks to his father, who shakes his head slightly. “What is Yunmeng food, Wei-laoshi?”

“Yunmeng is where I grew up,” Wei Ying tells him, “just like your baba grew up in Gusu. There are a lot of lakes in Yunmeng, and the food there is really, really spicy. It’s delicious.”

“Wow!” A-Yuan’s chopsticks have gone slack in his hand. “I’ve never seen a lake. Zizhen says they’re like the ocean, but small. But oceans have sharks, and lakes don’t. I think it’s better that way. Sharks are scary! I want to see a lake one day.”

“You already have seen part of one! Do you remember those flowers I painted for your baba’s concert? Those flowers are lotus flowers, and they grow in the lakes in Yunmeng. They are my sister’s favorite kind of flower.”

“Wow,” A-Yuan says again, looking suitably impressed. “I don’t have a sister. But my most favorite kind of flower is a gen… gentan.”

“Gentian,” Lan Zhan corrects gently. He has been watching their exchange silently from his side of the table, but there’s something of an amused expression dancing around his eyes.

“Yeah. Gentian.” A-Yuan, satisfied, finally looks back at his dinner and chooses a piece of tofu carefully. “Baba likes them too.”

“Are those the flowers outside of your house?” Wei Ying nods his head in the direction of the lawn. “You have so many of them!”

“Mn. They were my mother’s favorite.”

“Ah.” There’s something a little sad in the rigid line of Lan Zhan’s shoulders, Wei Ying thinks, so he quickly steers the conversation elsewhere. “No luck with houseplants but you’re good with gentians, I see.”

“Neither,” Lan Zhan admits. “I have a gardener.”

Wei Ying almost chokes on a snow pea and has to drink half his glass of water before he can laugh properly. Lan Zhan’s alarm fades into something softer, in the way he looks at Wei Ying after that, and Wei Ying has to finish off his glass even though he can breathe perfectly well now.

When dinner is finished, Wei Ying insists on helping Lan Zhan clean up. “I won’t leave unless you let me,” he threatens. Lan Zhan relents, allowing Wei Ying into the kitchen. They share dishwashing duty at the sink, Lan Zhan scrubbing their plates while Wei Ying stands at his side with a towel.

(Lan Zhan has rolled up his sleeves. His forearms are fucking beautiful: the skin pale and creamy, the veins and tendons like something out of a sculpture. Not a single drop of water lands on his shirt, despite the running faucet. It’s natural for an artist to notice this sort of thing, Wei Ying tries to tell himself. So what if he stares a little? It doesn’t have to mean anything. Artistic research, that’s all it is. Lan Zhan being beautiful has nothing to do with it.)

“You’re very good with A-Yuan,” Lan Zhan says quietly, halfway through the washing. “He is fond of you.”

“I’m fond of him, too,” Wei Ying says enthusiastically. “I mean, I hope that’s not weird to say. But he’s a great kid. He’s so smart and curious, and kind too. And creative! You did really well with him, Lan Zhan.” Before he can think about it too much, he reaches out and pats Lan Zhan on the arm, just once. Lan Zhan freezes for a fraction of a second, the muscles tensing up under his sleeve, and Wei Ying quickly pulls his hand back. “Ah, sorry about that.”

A beat of silence. “No need,” Lan Zhan says.

Another moment of stillness, water on china.

“You know,” Wei Ying says at last, “I never thought I would end up here, when I started tutoring kids. Washing dishes with Lan Wangji! Maybe this career has been worth all the debt and convenience store noodles after all, huh?”

“Convenience store noodles?”

“They’re cheap,” Wei Ying explains. “I guess you wouldn’t know. You don’t look like the sort of person who eats packet ramen.”

“I don’t think I have ever tried it.” Lan Zhan hands Wei Ying a clean bowl to dry. “It’s good?”

“Believe me, you’re better off without it. You haven’t been missing out.” Wei Ying has definitely not given his brain permission to say what comes next, but it comes all the same, in a tone that’s meant to be casual. “Can I ask… who is Qing-jie?”

“Ah,” Lan Zhan says, scrubbing at the rice pot more intently. “Wen Qing is… a close friend.”

“Oh.” Lan Zhan does not seem like he wants to elaborate further, so Wei Ying takes the pot and dries it with his dishtowel. There is some sort of romantic history there, Wei Ying is sure of it. A past girlfriend, maybe, or a current girlfriend. Something burns in his stomach, when he thinks of these possibilities. How stupid, Wei Ying admonishes himself furiously. Get a grip! Pull yourself together!

Once the dishes are completed, there are no further excuses for Wei Ying to linger. He ties his shoelaces for the second time that evening, gathering up his belongings in the front hall.

“That was really great, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says again, when they’re at the door. “Thanks for letting me stay.”

“It was no trouble,” Lan Zhan repeats. He’s rolled his sleeves back down, damn it.

“Can Wei-laoshi stay for dinner again?” A-Yuan has paused his television program to see Wei Ying off. “It was so fun to talk at the table!”

Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan quizzically. “Talk at the table?”

“Baba says there should be no talking at dinner,” A-Yuan informs him. “It’s polite. So you don’t show other people all of the food in your mouth when you chew. But we talked today!”

Wei Ying stifles a laugh. “Yes, that’s right. You should never show other people the food in your mouth when you chew.” He turns to Lan Zhan again. “Lan Zhan, it seems like I really am special! Thanks for letting me stay and for breaking one of your house rules on my account.”

He is not sure if he imagines it, but he thinks he sees a flush on Lan Zhan’s face. “There are exceptions. You are a guest.”

He must have imagined it.

Still, though, when Wei Ying leaves, he feels a little like he’s floating on air. He gets on the bus, chooses a window seat, presses his forehead against the cool glass. Pulls out his phone, opens his contacts: Lan Wangji.

He changes it to Lan Zhan.

Chapter Text

“Fuck, I really outdid myself this time.” Nie Huaisang steps back to admire his handiwork. “Wei-xiong, please reconsider modeling for me?”

Wei Ying wrestles the little mirror out of his friend’s hand, twisting away to check his reflection. Deep red eyeshadow covers his lids, chocolate-brown liner smudged at the lashline and flicking away at the corners. There’s a dusting of something sparkly on his cheekbones.

“Okay,” Wei Ying allows, turning his head from left to right. “I’ll give this one to you. I look hot.”

“You do!” Huaisang beams, reaching into his enormous bag to pull out a small box, from which a pair of red teardrop earrings appear. “Now put these on.”

“Are these rubies?” Wei Ying asks, threading them through his piercings.

“No. Are you kidding me? I can barely afford tuition. You think I go around buying rubies?”

“Well, I don’t know!” He shakes his head experimentally, sending the fake gems swinging. “You think Mianmian would buy real rubies for us if we asked? How much did the museum pay her?”

“I don’t know. Shit, are we supposed to bring her flowers?” Huaisang snaps his bag shut. “I didn’t get any.”

“Eh, we can go on the way. We have plenty of time.”

***

This turns out to be patently untrue. By the time they finish their hair, get dressed, and secure two bouquets of flowers, they are late to the exhibit launch.

The biggest museum in the city had recently purchased three of Mianmian’s pottery pieces, and one of them has been put in the new modern art exhibition. Chaos and Awe, the exhibit is called; Wei Ying has to agree that Mianmian’s vase is indeed chaotic, and he is in awe of it. It’s a tall, squiggly sort of thing, and Wei Ying is not even sure how it’s able to stand upright. Artist secrets and all that, he supposes.

Mianmian, having recently dumped her trash boyfriend, has invited Wei Ying and Huaisang along to the exhibit’s private showing as her guests. It’s a small affair, just the artists and their friends and family. Mianmian is visible almost immediately, radiant in a daffodil-yellow dress.

“You two look incredible!” she says, accepting the bouquets and juggling them with her champagne glass. “Huaisang, is everything yours?”

“Just this.” Huaisang gestures to the forest-green jumpsuit he’s wearing with his closed fan, then snaps it open and glances over at Wei Ying. “Wei-xiong wouldn’t wear my clothes.”

“I wanted to wear this shirt!” Wei Ying protests. “And I let you do these fancy braids in my hair!”

“I’m wounded.” Huaisang sniffs dramatically. “Consider my modeling offer revoked.”

“Boys, enough.” Mianmian flags down a server with a tray of champagne for them. “Huaisang, I love the jumpsuit. Wei Ying, the shirt is… lacy.”

“Yeah!” He beams down at it. “Sexy, right? I’m a little mad about the strategic pattern, though. It’s hiding my nipples.”

“That’s fine,” Mianmian says, wrinkling her nose. “I didn’t invite your nipples anyways. Can you at least pretend to be here for the art?”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Ying says airily, gulping down half of his champagne. “Where’s the chaos vase? Congratulations again.”

“Thanks,” she says, smiling wider. “I’m really happy.”

“You got rid of the trash boyfriend, too,” Huaisang says, slinging an arm around her shoulder. “Truly a memorable day.”

“God, I know, I couldn’t have lasted another day with that asshole. Anyways, come on, Rendition of Turmoil is over here.”

***

They’re in front of the vase, chatting with Mianmian and a few other artists, when something catches Wei Ying’s eye across the room. He wants to rub his eyes, make sure that it’s real — but Huaisang will kill him if he smudges his makeup.

“Wei-xiong,” Huaisang hisses now, digging his elbow into Wei Ying’s ribs. “Is that Lan Wangji?”

So he’s not hallucinating. “Yeah, it is.”

“Can you introduce me?” Huaisang is practically bouncing. “Please, please, please, Wei-xiong?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying hears himself saying. “Okay.”

They make their excuses to Mianmian and cross the room, Huaisang vibrating with excitement behind his fan. Wei Ying just feels… queasy? Nervous? He doesn’t know.

Lan Wangji is standing with a woman in a vibrant red dress that precisely matches the shade of her lipstick. Wei Ying barely notices her, because he’s too busy looking at Lan Zhan, who is wearing a fucking three-piece suit: dark grey, shot with silvery threads that seem to glitter and sparkle under the gallery lights. A three-piece suit. The universe might as well have handed Wei Ying his ass on a platter.

“Lan Zhan,” he calls out, then he wonders if he should have called him Mr. Lan. Will Lan Zhan mind, being called so intimately in public? The word intimate trips Wei Ying up for a minute, and his brain flounders. “Fancy seeing you here!”

Lan Zhan turns — and oh, fuck, he’s wearing makeup, too. A thin line of black on his lashline makes his eyes look even more gold than usual, and his lips have some kind of gloss on them, and Wei Ying is so screwed. “Hello, Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying’s brain slowly circles back to the reason he walked over in the first place. Huaisang is elbowing him in the ribs again, which helps. “Ah. This is my friend, Nie Huaisang! He practically begged me to bring him over here.”

“Wei-xiong,” Huaisang squeaks.

Lan Zhan dips his head in Huaisang’s direction. “A pleasure.”

“I’m a big fan,” Huaisang tells him, still flustered. “Your hanfu for the Sunshot tour — I loved them. That inspired an entire project for me!”

“Nie-xiong is in fashion school,” Wei Ying explains. “Always making clothes and stuff.”

“I’m glad to be of some help to you in that way,” Lan Zhan says. “Best of luck with your work.”

Huaisang speeds up his fan-fluttering, as if trying to calm himself. “Thank you, Mr. Lan.”

“Our friend Mianmian,” Wei Ying offers, “her vase is in the show. We’re here as her guests!”

“Oh, I know Mianmian,” says the woman in red. “Rendition of Turmoil, right?”

“That’s her!”

She nods. “I liked that one. My brother is in the show, too — that sculpture over there.” She gestures across the room, towards a block of marble carved with chains and half-formed faces. “It’s called Ghosts.”

“Oh, that really fits the theme,” Wei Ying says, impressed. “I’ll have to go take a closer look.”

The woman smiles. “It’s good, right? I’m really proud of him. Oh, here — A-Zhan, they’re back.”

A-Zhan? Wei Ying has a funny feeling in his stomach. It must show on his face, because Huaisang is looking at him oddly. Then a small force slams into his waist and attaches itself there, and Wei Ying looks down to see A-Yuan, dressed in a little suit of his own.

“Wei-laoshi!” A-Yuan squeals, looking back up at him with delight. “You’re here!”

“I’m here!” Wei Ying agrees, grinning and patting him on the back. “How are you, A-Yuan?”

“I’m very good!” A-Yuan says happily, waving a paper cup. “I got apple juice! We had to walk really far and the store man asked if I wanted a cookie. But it was oatmeal and I said no. Look, Qing-jie, I got apple juice!”

“I’m glad,” the woman in red says, smiling, and she ruffles A-Yuan’s hair.

So this is Qing-jie, Wei Ying thinks, his heart dropping foolishly. She and Lan Zhan look really good together. They must be together, right? Why else would he and A-Yuan be at this show?

“Thank you for taking him,” Lan Zhan is saying to a man in black.

“Oh, it was no trouble,” the man assures him, voice soft. “We had fun exploring.”

“Yes!” A-Yuan has already finished his juice. “Baba, can we go look at the dragons now?”

“If you’d like.” Lan Zhan brushes A-Yuan’s hair away from his eyes. “A-Ning, A-Qing, I apologize. Do you mind if we slip out for a while?”

“Oh, go ahead,” the woman says, waving her hand at them. “A-Yuan, we’ll see you later, okay?”

“Okay,” A-Yuan chirps. “Can Wei-laoshi come with us, Baba?”

Lan Zhan glances over at Wei Ying — he and Huaisang are still standing there, clumsy interlopers in this family-like scene. “Wei-laoshi may be busy with his friends.”

“I can come!” Wei Ying says eagerly — damn him; does he really always need to sound so eager when it comes to Lan Zhan? “Huaisang, you’ll tell Mianmian where I’ve gone, right? Thanks a billion!” He drops his champagne flute off with a passing server, taking off behind Lan Zhan and A-Yuan before Huaisang has a chance to answer.

The three of them slip out of the gallery doors. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and the halls of the museum are quiet. Now that they’re alone and Lan Zhan is distracted by A-Yuan, too, Wei Ying can gawk properly. Lan Zhan’s legs look so fucking long in those grey suit pants, and his ass — Wei Ying breathes deeply, suddenly grateful for his shirt’s strategic lace placement. Eyes up, Wei Ying, he tells himself, stern.

“I didn’t know they had dragons here,” he says aloud, brightly.

“They do!” A-Yuan is practically skipping. “Baba said there are lots and lots of dragons!”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan leads them to the left, into another gallery space. “They are very old and fragile, so we are only allowed to look at them.”

There are, in fact, many dragons in the room: painted onto vases and scrolls, molded in bronze, embroidered onto silk robes. A-Yuan is too short to see into the cases; after several unsuccessful attempts to stand on tiptoe, he raises his arms. “Baba, can you lift me?”

Lan Zhan scoops up A-Yuan with practiced ease and walks closer to one of the display cases. “Don’t touch the glass,” he says softly.

“Because I have fingerprints,” A-Yuan whispers back.

“Yes, fingerprints. We don’t touch it so the glass stays clean, and then other people can see the dragons, too.”

“Okay, Baba,” A-Yuan says, and dutifully keeps his hands on Lan Zhan’s shoulders.

Wei Ying feels his heart clench. He’s always liked kids; he works with them all the time. But there’s just something Lan Zhan and A-Yuan — Lan Zhan, so stoic and composed, who softens like melted wax when he’s with his son; A-Yuan, bright and kind and inquisitive, already a little adult at age six. Still standing at the entrance, leaning against the doorframe, Wei Ying watches them with a moon rising in his chest: Lan Zhan’s tall figure, A-Yuan in his arms.

“This one has clouds,” A-Yuan is saying, pointing to one of the vases. “Like the sky. He’s flying!”

“Some dragons do fly,” Lan Zhan tells him, shifting A-Yuan to his other arm, “and some swim. There are special types of dragons for the sky and for the water.”

“Ooooh.” A-Yuan is leaning as close to the glass as he can get without pressing his nose flat against it. “I think it would be fun to fly.”

“Mn, very fun. What other things can fly?”

“Birds,” A-Yuan says, tilting his head in thought. “Planes.”

“Butterflies. We have butterflies in the garden.”

“Yeah! I like the orange one.”

“Hey, A-Yuan,” Wei Ying calls out, swallowing the weird fuzzy feeling in his throat. “There’s a dragon on a mountain on this scroll over here!”

A-Yuan tries to turn around in his father’s arms. “Oh! Please, Baba, let’s go see!”

“Quiet in the gallery,” Lan Zhan says pointedly, but he comes over with A-Yuan all the same.

“Sorry,” Wei Ying whispers loudly, giving him an apologetic look.

“Wei-laoshi, Baba lived by lots of mountains when he was growing up! Baba, did you see dragons there?”

“Hm. No, I did not. Maybe they were hiding.”

Lan Zhan is standing really close to Wei Ying now, so close their shoulders are almost brushing and he can smell Lan Zhan’s cologne. It’s sandalwood: earthy, milky, rich. He wants to lean in closer and press his face against Lan Zhan’s neck. He feels lightheaded, almost drunk. There’s no way he can blame it all on the champagne.

No: Wei Ying is officially In Too Deep.

He tries to rally himself, clear his head. “Oh, there’s a phoenix with a dragon on this one. Phoenixes are cool too, A-Yuan!”

“Phoenix,” A-Yuan echoes carefully. “What is that, Wei-laoshi?”

“They’re birds!” Wei Ying grins. “Very special birds. They can live forever.”

“No one can live forever, Wei-laoshi,” A-Yuan says matter-of-factly.

Wei Ying pouts at him. “But a phoenix can! You really don’t believe me? What does your baba say?”

A-Yuan cranes his neck to look back at Lan Zhan. Wei Ying catches his gaze first, widening his eyes meaningfully.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says at last, looking away from Wei Ying. “I do think they can live forever.”

That’s all it takes to convince A-Yuan. “Wei-laoshi, can we paint a ph… phe…”

“Phoenix,” Lan Zhan supplies.

“That! Can we paint that next?”

“Sure we can,” Wei Ying agrees, beaming over at Lan Zhan in thanks. “See, A-Yuan, a phoenix is red! That’s my favorite color. I’ll bring all kinds of red paint with me.”

“I like blue,” A-Yuan decides, after thinking about it for a moment. “I want to make it blue.”

“Hmm.” Wei Ying pretends to consider it. “Blue is also a very good choice.” He fishes out his phone from the back pocket of his jeans. “I’ll write a note to myself right now, okay? Bring blue paint for A-Yuan.

A-Yuan nods, the matter clearly settled. “Baba, you don’t have to hold me anymore. I want to walk.”

“Stay where I can see you,” Lan Zhan cautions, depositing him back on the floor. A-Yuan takes off in the direction of the silk robe display.

“Thanks for backing me up, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying tells him cheerfully. “And sorry for accidentally starting him on a phoenix phase.”

“There’s no need to apologize,” Lan Zhan says, his eyes still on A-Yuan. “It is good for him to learn about new things.” He hesitates. “To be truthful, I have had quite enough of dragons.”

Wei Ying snorts. “It has been a while, huh? Well, then, consider my apology officially revoked.”

They trail behind A-Yuan for a few minutes, following him from one robe to the next as he inspects them for dragon and phoenix stitchings.

“Um, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whispers at last, as they approach the end of the display. “Not to alarm you, but, uh, I think those guys are following us.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes flicker backwards to the three men in black at the gallery entrance. “Yes. I asked them to. Those are my bodyguards.”

“Oh. Right.” Of course: Lan Zhan is famous. Of course he should have protection in a public place like this. “Is it… okay that I’m here with you?”

“Yes.” Lan Zhan’s eyes find Wei Ying’s. That fucking eyeliner — god, Wei Ying is too fragile for this. “A-Yuan asked for you. And I’m… glad for your company.”

There’s that drunk feeling again, like plummeting headfirst over a cliff. Wei Ying is pretty sure he’s grinning foolishly. “Aw, thanks, Lan Zhan! I’m glad to be here too.” Then, because he has no brain-to-mouth filter: “I’m sorry to take you away from your date, though.”

“My date?” Lan Zhan repeats, his brow creased.

“Yeah.” Wei Ying fidgets. “With. You know.” Fuck it, he can’t remember her surname. “A-Qing.”

Lan Zhan’s expression clears. “Wen Qing and I are not together.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says. Now it’s the only word he can remember.

“I am not attracted to women,” Lan Zhan says, perfectly casual, as if he has not just sent a meteor ripping through the fabric of Wei Ying’s entire existence.

“Oh. Oh. Cool! I mean. Me too. I mean, I am attracted to women, but also men. I’m bi. Bisexual.” Coming out to his own family had not been so painful. “So. I get it.”

“I see.” Lan Zhan adjusts the cuff of his sleeve.

Fuck — does he think Wei Ying is flirting with him? Wei Ying wants to flirt with him, of course, but he doesn’t mean to. Not here, not now, not like this. Maybe not ever, actually, since Wei Ying is really trying to work on his self-preservation skills and flirting with Lan Wangji does not seem like a good way to do that.

“Hey, should we catch up to A-Yuan?” Wei Ying asks brightly, quickening his pace. “Maybe there are more immortal birds in the next exhibit hall.”

***

They visit the gift shop on the way out. A-Yuan wanders around with wide eyes, ogling at the shelves filled with teddy bears and carefully turning the pages of books. From what he knows of Lan Zhan, Wei Ying is fully expecting him to be the kind of father who encourages looking but not frivolous spending. He’s shocked, then, when Lan Zhan helps his son haul a sizable load up to the checkout counter.

“You really…” Wei Ying stares at the assortment of items as the cashier gets to work with her scanner. “Lan Zhan, you’ll spoil him.”

Lan Zhan pulls his phone out of his pocket. “The books are educational. Puzzles are excellent for problem-solving skill development.”

“Okay,” Wei Ying allows, “maybe so. But does he really need a stuffed turtle? He has a million stuffed animals at home.”

“No,” Lan Zhan says reluctantly. “He doesn’t need it.”

He buys it anyway.

***

When they part ways at the end of the evening, Wei Ying has to take the bus back to his apartment. Huaisang and Mianmian have already left, and he doesn’t want to pay for an entire Didi ride on his own. He doesn’t mind: he would walk back from the museum if he must, fueled by nothing but the afterglow of his afternoon with Lan Zhan and A-Yuan.

Mianmian 💰💰
so huaisang said you went off with a very dashing man 👀

Huaisang 🥥
🍆🍆🍆🍆🍆
heheheh

Mianmian 💰💰
isn't there a little kid tho

Huaisang 🥥
oh yeah. oops
it can still be 🍆🍆🍆 later
kids have bedtimes

Mianmian 💰💰
damn i really didn't think he'd be next of the 3 of us to get laid

Huaisang 🥥
life is full of surprises, huh

Wei Ying
i hate u both

Chapter Text

Wei Ying
would it be okay if i cooked dinner for you and a-yuan this week??
bring some yunmeng to him 😋😋
i’ll be careful with the spice!! i promise!! i know he’s just a kid
BUT IF NOT!! THAT IS TOTALLY OKAY

Lan Zhan 🐇
That would be fine.

Wei Ying
YAY
i’m so excited!!! 🥳🥳🥳
OH
and it will be vegetarian too so dw!! i know u are a tofu house ✌️

Lan Zhan 🐇
Okay. Thank you, Wei Ying.

Wei Ying thinks he’s a pretty good cook when it comes to Yunmeng cuisine — but this is for Lan Zhan and A-Yuan, so it has to be perfect. And so he had called jiejie earlier in the week, and asked if she could come over to practice with him. “What’s the occasion, A-Xian?” she had asked, eyes practically twinkling through the phone. “Do you have a date?”

“No,” Wei Ying had said quickly, laughing. “No, no, of course not, jiejie. I’m just… I need to cook more. Don’t you think?”

He ended up telling her the truth anyways, though, because Wei Ying is physically incapable of keeping secrets from his sister, and especially a secret of this size.

“I think that’s lovely, A-Xian!” jiejie had said, beaming at him. “I’m so glad this is working out for you! You’ve looked so happy lately.”

“A-Yuan is a really good kid,” Wei Ying had said nonchalantly, focusing a little harder than necessary at the recipe in front of him.

“He sounds like it.” She nudged his shoulder playfully. “What about Lan Wangji?”

“What about him?”

“Are you two friends now? You’ve talked about him a lot since I got here.”

“I have?” Wei Ying rummaged around in his cabinet for the pot lid. It was lucky, really, having his face hidden from jiejie’s view like that. “I guess we are.”

“That’s wonderful, A-Xian. I’m so glad I connected you two back in March.”

“Yeah. Me too.” Wei Ying emerged with the lid at last. “Jiejie, how much spice is too much for a little kid?”

***

It’s a stormy sort of summer day when Wei Ying goes over to the Lans’ that Thursday, the clouds in the sky thick and grey. He’s carrying extra bags with him, full of the ingredients he’ll need to make dinner. A-Yuan, usually a patient and attentive student, has a hard time sitting through his art lesson, stopping every once in a while to ask Wei Ying what time it is and how much longer they have to wait until dinner. When the hour is over at last, he bounces out to the living room, calling for his father.

“Wei-laoshi has to cook first,” Lan Zhan says, emerging from the music room. “We will eat when he is finished.”

“Right!” Wei Ying winks. “Patience, young student. It will be worth the wait.”

“What do you need?” Lan Zhan asks him.

“Uh, just basic cooking pots, I think. I brought everything else with me. But you stay out of the kitchen, Mr. Lan! Don’t you get tired, having to make dinner every night? Go rest! Go relax!”

“Very well,” Lan Zhan relents, turning to A-Yuan. “Will you show me the paintings from your lesson while we wait?”

“I want to help cook!” A-Yuan looks over at Wei Ying pleadingly. “I help Baba with dinner every day!”

“Do you?” Wei Ying taps his chin. “Well, all little helpers need a break. Today you can rest, too.”

“It will be a surprise for us,” Lan Zhan explains to A-Yuan. “Wei-laoshi wants to keep it a secret, so we must stay out of his way.”

“Okay,” A-Yuan pouts, and reluctantly goes off to fetch his paintings.

Wei Ying grins and heads into the kitchen. He’s had to research how to cook tofu, but he practiced with jiejie, and he thinks that will be enough. The rest of the preparations — chopping, mixing, boiling — comes easily. He can hear Lan Zhan and A-Yuan in the living room, talking about guqins now. A-Yuan has brought his little guqin out of the playroom, he thinks, and Lan Zhan’s soft voice is saying something about hand placements. Hand placements, huh, Wei Ying thinks, and then shoves that image out of his head before it can develop further.

“Dinner is served!” he announces triumphantly, poking his head into the living room ten minutes later. “I know it’s past when you usually eat, Lan Zhan. Sorry about that.”

“No need for apologies,” Lan Zhan says, as A-Yuan leaps up eagerly. “You cooked for us, after all.”

“Actually, I was thinking about that.” Wei Ying folds his arms over his chest. “You just let me cook for you, unsupervised in your kitchen. Wouldn’t your company be really upset about that? They practically stripped me nude when I went to meet you for the first time.”

Lan Zhan narrowly avoids tripping over the corner of the rug. “They ran a background check on you before the first lesson,” he says, his voice even, as if nothing at all had happened. “You are not an unknown person.”

“Oh.” That shouldn’t have been a surprise, really. “Well, they didn’t know about the cooking. I could have poisoned this food, and you wouldn’t even know!”

“Did you poison it?” Lan Zhan turns to look at him.

“No, of course not!” Wei Ying says, miffed.

“Well then,” says Lan Zhan. “There is nothing to worry about.”

“It was a hypothetical,” Wei Ying grumbles, trailing after father and son into the dining room. “You need to be careful, Lan Zhan, okay? That’s all I’m saying!”

“Okay,” Lan Zhan agrees. “I will be careful.”

“Thank you.” Wei Ying feels warm now, in a flushed sort of way, and is not really sure how to deal with it. He fans himself with a towel when he goes back into the kitchen to fetch the serving dishes. “Calm down,” he whispers to his reflection, distorted in the smooth surface of the kettle. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

He carries the two dishes out to the table: one a deep red, the second, smaller one much lighter in color. “Today we have… spicy noodles with garlic chili oil! That’s where the red comes from,” he explains to A-Yuan, who is leaning forward in his seat as far as gravity will allow. “Chili peppers are very spicy. My sister said you might not like spice very much, so I made this one just for you! When you’re older, like me and your baba, you can try the other kind.”

“Okay!” A-Yuan has already picked up his chopsticks.

After portioning out generous helpings of noodles into all three bowls, Wei Ying sits down in front of his own, watching eagerly as Lan Zhan and A-Yuan take their first bites.

Lan Zhan’s expression is unreadable as he chews and then takes a sip of water. “It’s very good,” he says. “You are a skilled cook, Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying beams. “How is it, A-Yuan?”

“This is really spicy, Wei-laoshi!”

“Too spicy?” Wei Ying and Lan Zhan ask in unison.

“I like it,” A-Yuan insists, taking another mouthful of noodles. “Jingyi likes spicy food. He brings it to lunch a lot! Now I can eat it too.”

“His best friend,” Lan Zhan says to Wei Ying. He’s pouring himself another glass of water.

Warmth is buzzing in Wei Ying’s chest, watching them: Lan Zhan and A-Yuan, eating food from Yunmeng, food that Wei Ying had cooked. “How about I tell you some Yumeng stories? Do you want to hear about the kites, or about the lakes?”

“Kites!" A-Yuan hastily swallows his bite of noodles to answer.

And so it goes.

Lan Zhan brings tea back to the table after their dishes are empty, then reaches over to wipe a smear of red sauce from the corner of A-Yuan’s mouth with a napkin. “Yes, you may be excused,” he says, apparently anticipating the question from his squirming son. “I will come get you for your bath in an hour, all right?”

“Okay, Baba!” A-Yuan leaps down from his chair and vanishes into the hallway.

It is just Wei Ying and Lan Zhan now, alone in the dining room.

“He has a new Lego set,” Lan Zhan says after a moment. “Disneyland.”

“Ah. Shanghai?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve never been.”

“No. Nor have I.”

Wei Ying is trying not to stare across the table, because Lan Zhan’s hair is only partially pulled back today and a few pieces are falling into his eyes, and his lips are stained a little red from the noodles, and it looks so fucking beautiful. I want to kiss him, Wei Ying thinks suddenly. What the fuck. I want to kiss him.

His palms are getting sweaty. He looks over Lan Zhan’s shoulder instead, and sees a painting on the wall: a little house in a forest, those vibrant gentian flowers covering the front lawn. “That’s a nice painting,” he says, his voice impressively steady.

Lan Zhan twists slightly to look at it. “My brother’s work.”

“Your brother painted that?” Wei Ying tilts his head. “Isn’t he a lawyer? Is this another brother?”

“I only have one brother. He is a lawyer,” Lan Zhan says, “but he’s always liked to paint. He does it now on the side, when he has time.” He looks down at his tea. “He does not have much time.”

“That’s a shame,” Wei Ying says. He means it. “He’s very talented.”

“Yes. But law was more practical.”

“Damn. It’s always about being practical, isn’t it?” Wei Ying rests his chin on his hand. “My brother’s in business school. My parents, my adopted parents, they wanted me to go there too, but I went to design school instead. And, well, you know the rest.”

“Convenience store noodles,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying snorts. He loves it, when Lan Zhan’s sense of humor comes out: it’s like biting into a chocolate, discovering that his favorite flavor is inside. “Yeah. But I don’t regret it. I like what I do. It’s been worth it.” He bites his lower lip — he’s never sure, before he asks, if he’s asking too much. But Lan Zhan has never stopped him. He would stop him if it was too much, wouldn’t he? “Music… is that what you’ve always wanted to do?”

“No.” Lan Zhan says it so readily, as if he’s been waiting all his life to acknowledge it as true — which, Wei Ying thinks, maybe he has been. That’s not something he could really say in an interview, is it? “I like composing. But what I have now… I did not want that.”

It’s strange, talking about this sort of thing with Lan Wangji. Wei Ying has almost forgotten, over the past few months, who this man is, and what he does. “It must be hard,” Wei Ying says thoughtfully. “To be as famous as you are.”

“It is hard,” Lan Zhan says. He doesn’t sound self-pitying: just matter-of-fact. “Still, I’m grateful for what I have.”

“What would you do,” Wei Ying asks suddenly, “if you could do anything? It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not. Just. What would you like to do?”

Lan Zhan thinks about it, staring into his tea again. “Flowers,” he says at last.

“Hm?”

“A florist,” Lan Zhan says quietly. “I wanted to be a florist.”

It’s a lovely image: Lan Wangji in a little shop, all glass windows, surrounded by fields of blossoms. Wei Ying smiles. “That really suits you, Lan Zhan. I think that’s nice.”

“I am not good at it,” Lan Zhan just says. “Flowers. But you know that.”

He does know that, Wei Ying realizes. It’s a thrill, to think that he knows things about Lan Wangji, things that are not discoverable on Baidu. “You can always learn,” he points out. “I don’t know any florists. But if I meet one, I’ll let you know.”

There it is: that almost-smile. “Mn.”

The moment is shattered by a violent pounding on the rooftop. Wei Ying startles; Lan Zhan glances out of the window. “Rain,” he says.

“Oh, shit.” Wei Ying leaps up. “Shit, I have to walk to the bus stop.”

“It’s raining very hard,” Lan Zhan says dubiously.

“It’s just water. I’ll make it.”

If Wei Ying had been looking, he might have noticed that Lan Zhan hesitated, as if he wanted to say something else. But Wei Ying was not looking, and now Lan Zhan just nods and stands up. “Don’t worry about the dishes. I will take care of them.”

“Shit,” Wei Ying curses again. “I’m sorry, Lan Zhan. For this, and for running off so fast!” He’s already in the front hall, hopping into his shoes. “Bye, A-Yuan!” he yells. “See you next week! Thanks for letting me cook, Lan Zhan.”

“Thank you for not poisoning us,” Lan Zhan says, deadpan. “Be careful.”

Wei Ying laughs, waving a hand blithely. “Eh, it will be fine! How bad can rain be?”

It is, actually, very bad.

The rain is coming down in sheets, drenching Wei Ying within five seconds of stepping beyond the safety of the Lans’ porch. It’s so bad that Wei Ying can barely see two feet in front of him, let alone the pathways of the Academy campus. He curses himself for not bringing an umbrella, and struggles along for a few moments — his hair is already plastered to his cheeks, despite the scrunchie that had been holding it up. He cannot tell which direction he is headed.

The porch light is still lit, behind him.

Wei Ying knocks at the front door, a little embarrassed. When it’s opened, Lan Wangji does not seem at all surprised to see him there.

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, his teeth chattering a little from the cold rain. “Would it be okay if I stayed here for a while?”

Chapter Text

“I will get you dry clothes,” Lan Zhan just says. “Come in.”

Wei Ying trails inside after him, too dazed to argue — Lan Wangji’s clothes, he will have to wear Lan Wangji’s clothes, because what other kind of clothes could be in this house?

Lan Zhan opens a door in the hallway and gestures inside. “Wait,” he says, and vanishes.

Wei Ying is left there in the guest bedroom, shivering and dripping water onto the floor, next to a neatly made bed with a navy bedspread. Water stains are collecting on the carpet beneath his feet. Lan Zhan won’t like that, he thinks numbly. Fuck. But if he moves, he’ll get water in other places, too. So he just stands there, not moving, waiting.

When Lan Zhan returns, he’s carrying a towel and a stack of clothes, a pair of fleece pants and a new shirt and what looks like a fuzzy bathrobe. He hovers in front of Wei Ying for a syrupy moment, then hands the towel over. “Take it.”

Wei Ying takes it.

He tries to towel himself off. “Shit, I don’t think these will dry tonight. Lan Zhan, can I take these home? I’ll bring them back. I’ll even do it before next Thursday.”

“Stay the night,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying freezes in the middle of trying to pat his shirt dry. “What?”

“Stay the night,” Lan Zhan says again. “This is a spare bedroom.”

“Shit, Lan Zhan, I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” Lan Zhan asks.

Wei Ying sputters. “That’s a burden to you — I know you’re really private, I would just be getting in the way, won’t A-Yuan be bothered —”

“None of those are acceptable excuses. Wei Ying, it’s still storming. Do you want to go back into the rain?”

“No,” Wei Ying says weakly.

“Then stay,” Lan Zhan says. “Take off your clothes. I will put them in the wash.” He turns around.

Wei Ying stares at it — it’s a nice back, he thinks, with such nice shoulders. Oh. Lan Zhan has turned around because he’s trying to give Wei Ying privacy. Because he wants Wei Ying to take off his clothes. As in — strip. Naked.

Wei Ying takes a breath. This is totally fine. This is totally not a big deal. He can definitely take off all of his clothes, with Lan Wangji in the same room, close enough for Wei Ying to reach out and touch if he wanted to. This is definitely not the beginning of any fantasies Wei Ying has had. Absolutely not.

He’s really fucking glad Lan Zhan’s back is turned, because his jeans are getting a little tight in the front.

He manages to peel them off. “Wet jeans are the worst,” he says, just for something to say. “They get so… sticky. And heavy.”

“Mn.”

The fleece pants are soft and comfortable and very expensive-feeling, and Wei Ying is already warming up when he moves to take off his shirt. It’s just a black shirt, but it’s tight: so tight that Wei Ying really should just get rid of it, but it makes his chest look good, and so he’s never gotten around to it. But now the shirt is tight and it’s wet, and suddenly Wei Ying is stuck with the shirt half-twisted up around his torso, his arms pinned inside.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Uh. Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, his voice muffled. “I’m sorry. I think I need help.”

“Help?” The confusion in Lan Zhan’s voice is palpable.

“Ah, it’s just… my shirt. Is stuck.”

Lan Zhan turns around, slow, and his eyes meet Wei Ying’s, and Wei Ying thinks he might just die right there on the spot, because they are so gold and so fiery and so beautiful, and then Lan Zhan is touching him, with only that thin wet shirt for a barrier, and his fingers brush against Wei Ying’s abs, and it’s like currents of electricity shooting through him. He sucks in his breath, fast and desperate, and tries not to look at Lan Zhan, but his stupid brain betrays him and he looks, and Lan Zhan is right there, and Wei Ying feels faint, like he might actually pass out.

Suddenly the shirt is off.

They stand there, looking at each other, the dripping shirt still in Lan Zhan’s hands. Lan Zhan is so fucking close, Wei Ying thinks. He can see every one of those inky black eyelashes. He wants Lan Zhan to touch him again. He wants those fingertips on his throat, on his chest, on his thighs. He wants to touch, too — wants to touch Lan Zhan’s sharp jawline, and his lips, and his cheekbones, so high they are like the fucking skyscrapers of cheekbones.

Then Lan Zhan’s eyes flit down Wei Ying’s torso and stay there, and Wei Ying tears his gaze away to look down, too — it’s the tattoo, inked across his left ribcage.

“Oh,” Wei Ying says. His voice is cracking. “Crows are symbols of transformation.”

“I see,” Lan Zhan says. He sounds like he’s being strangled. “It’s very nice.”

“Thank you,” Wei Ying says.

Lan Zhan’s eyes lift back up to Wei Ying’s face, and it’s like diving headfirst into an icy pool, the way that gaze lands on him. Lan Zhan’s lips part, just slightly, and he moves as if to take a step forward. “Wei Y—”

“Baba,” a little voice says from out in the hallway. “Baba, what about my bath?”

Lan Zhan blinks, three times in rapid succession, as if trying to wake himself from a dream. “Yes,” he says. “I am coming.”

Wei Ying hurries to put the dry shirt on, and when he pulls his head out from the top, Lan Zhan is gone again. There’s the sound of running water from further down the hall. Wei Ying sinks onto the edge of the bed. His heart is still thumping in his chest. What the fuck just happened?

Wei Ying
fyi i will not be coming home tonight 😶

didi 🐍
where are you??

Wei Ying
i’m. uh. hahaha
i’m at lan zhan’s
i’m staying the night

didi 🐍
oh my god i don’t want the details
don’t you fucking dare say anything more

Wei Ying
JIANG CHENG ITS NOT LIKE THAT
nothing HAPPENED!!!
it’s raining!! he’s letting me stay!!!

didi 🐍
it’s just rain oh my god
now there are two of you

Wei Ying
two of me?? what are you talking about??

didi 🐍
you are so stupid

Wei Ying
????????

didi 🐍
you know what. never mind
honestly i’m impressed. lan wangji, of all people
idk what he sees in you

Wei Ying
HEY! 🥺🥺
i am very loveable!!

didi 🐍
he sure fucking thinks so

Wei Ying
JDKFJDKFJ????
jiang cheng are u drunk???

didi 🐍
no but you are
on oblivious idiot juice
whatever. bye

Wei Ying
HEY
jiang cheng???
are u really gonna ignore me now???
i’ll keep sending messages until u answer meeee~ 🤗
didi
didi i know u are there
a-cheng???
🥺🥺🥺
FINE
i’ll go talk to lan zhan!! lan zhan will talk to me!!
GOOD NIGHT

Wei Ying wanders back out to the living room, peering through the front window. It’s still storming like hell. Fuck.

“Baba, what is Wei-laoshi doing here?” A-Yuan is standing in the doorway, eyes wide. He’s in his pajamas, clutching a stuffed rabbit, his hair still damp from the bath.

“Wei-laoshi is spending the night,” Lan Zhan says, coming up behind him.

“Like a sleepover?” A-Yuan looks to his father excitedly. “Are we having a sleepover?”

Wei Ying smiles. “Sure, A-Yuan. This is like a sleepover.”

“Sleepover or not,” Lan Zhan says, “it’s almost eight o’clock. A-Yuan still has to go to sleep now.”

“I’m not tired,” A-Yuan protests, yawning. “Can Wei-laoshi read my story tonight?”

“Wei-laoshi is tired, too.”

“I don’t mind,” Wei Ying says honestly. “I can do it.”

And so he finally gets to see the inside of A-Yuan’s room: pale blue, the color of a summer sky on a clear day. a herd of stuffed animals on the bed and bookshelves full of books. A-Yuan is already snuggling into bed, pulling the blankets up to his chin.

“This one, Wei-laoshi,” he says happily, pointing to a slim little picture book on his bedside table.

Wei Ying drags over a chair from the side of the room, picking up the book and examining the front cover. “The Lost Book, huh? A-Yuan, you really like rabbits.”

“No. I love rabbits,” A-Yuan says drowsily. “If you love something, you really, really, really like it. I love Baba and Marshmallow and Cocoa. And potatoes. And you, Wei-laoshi.”

“Aiyah, I’m not that special.” Wei Ying laughs, his chest curiously tight. “Potatoes are much better. Is this story about potatoes, too? ‘In Rabbit Town, books were everywhere.’ Ah, no potatoes then.”

He is not even halfway through the book before A-Yuan’s eyes are closing. Suddenly Lan Zhan is there, a silent presence at Wei Ying’s shoulder, taking the book from Wei Ying’s hand and tucking it away neatly on a shelf.

“Baba.” A-Yuan stirs sleepily, pulling the stuffed rabbit closer to his chin. “Will you sing to me?”

“Mn. Yes, baobao.” Lan Zhan sits at the edge of the bed, carding his fingers through A-Yuan’s hair and humming something indistinguishable, his voice low and liquid-smooth and lovely. A-Yuan nestles closer to him, one small hand reaching for Lan Zhan’s free one.

“Love you, Baba,” he mumbles, eyes fluttering closed again.

“Love you too, baobao.” Lan Zhan brushes a stray piece of hair away from A-Yuan’s face, tucks the blanket more securely around his arms, leans over to press a kiss to his son’s forehead. Wei Ying looks away — this feels too intimate, like he’s a voyeur seeing something he has no right to. It feels too much like they are — well, he won’t think about that.

Now Lan Zhan quietly shuts off the bedside lamp, and Wei Ying follows him back out into the yellow glow of the hallway.

“How did you know he was falling asleep, the first time?” Wei Ying whispers, once they are a safe distance away from A-Yuan’s room. “Is that like a seventh sense? For dads?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says. “I was watching from the doorway.”

“Oh.” Wei Ying says.

Lan Zhan had pinned his hair back up, sometime in between now and the dinner table. In this dim lighting, his skin is alabaster-pale, his eyes dark amber. Wei Ying still hasn’t been able to mix the right paint color for those eyes.

He doesn’t know if he should address it, the situation in the guest room from earlier — Lan Zhan taking off Wei Ying’s shirt, Lan Zhan seeing Wei Ying half-naked. He’s pretty sure it’s an experience that a lot of people would pay money for. 33,000 yuan and Lan Wangji will undress you! And here Wei Ying was, getting it for free.

Actually, it might not be free. Wei Ying might pay for it for the rest of his life, in the form of ongoing heart palpitations and dangerously vivid fantasies, the kind that could distract him so well that he might jaywalk right into a bus or cut his finger open with a kitchen knife.

“I go to sleep at nine,” Lan Zhan says now, and Wei Ying’s opportunity to say something — anything — is gone. “I will be preparing for bed.”

“Sure,” Wei Ying says, a little too enthusiastically. “Get your beauty rest, and all that.”

It looks like Lan Zhan flushes, a dusting of pink across his cheekbones — but then, it might just be the lighting. “There is a bathroom adjacent to the guest room. I put a spare toothbrush there.”

“Okay, great. Perfect.” Wei Ying shoves his hands into the pockets of his borrowed bathrobe. It has clouds patterned all over it, and the pockets are shaped like giant clouds, too. “Lan Zhan, really, thanks for letting me stay. I owe you.”

Lan Zhan nods. “Good night, Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying doesn’t really know what to do with himself after that, a stranger in someone else’s house. He brushes his teeth and gets into the bed in the guest room, and turns off the light, even though it’s only eight-thirty. He stares at the shadows on the ceiling, and listens to the rain pounding outside.

It’s a very long time before he falls asleep.

Chapter Text

Two weeks pass. Lan Zhan does not bring up The Incident from the night of the storm, so Wei Ying does not bring it up, either. Outwardly, he thinks, nothing seems to have changed — but the air between them seems a little staticky when A-Yuan is not there, when they are left alone in a room.

Maybe Wei Ying is just imagining it. Maybe he’s reading way, way too much into the whole thing, making up some kind of sexual tension because he wants there to be sexual tension, wants Lan Zhan to desire him in the same way that he desires Lan Zhan. He can’t shake it: this longing, a foolish little seed that had grown roots and sprouted into something wild and lofty and uncontrollable.

Call it what it is, he thinks. Not something. Love. Of the one-sided variety.

There: he’s said it. Admitted it. It’s in the open now, a caged bird set free.

It flutters around his head, settles in, makes a home there.

***

It is late June when Wei Ying shows up to the Lan house and Lan Zhan answers the door. He’s frowning a little, that faint crease showing between his eyebrows. “Wei Ying. Did my assistant not contact you?”

“What? No.” Wei Ying racks his brain, trying to remember if he’d gotten a call and forgotten about it. He does have a fuck-awful memory. But he’s pretty sure he had not missed this.

“Hm,” Lan Zhan says, displeased. “I meant to cancel the lesson. A-Yuan is not here.”

“Is anything wrong? He’s okay?”

“Yes, he is fine,” Lan Zhan assures him. “My brother has him for the afternoon.”

“Ah,” Wei Ying says. “That’s good. That he’s fine.”

It is quiet.

“You came all this way,” Lan Zhan says, a little stiffly. “Of course I will still pay you for today.”

“Oh. Thanks, Lan Zhan. You know what, I never thanked you for before, either.” Wei Ying grins at him. “I got so many commissions after you hired me! I guess everyone wants what Lan Wangji has.”

“What I have,” Lan Zhan repeats slowly.

“Me. Working for you.” God, has he always been this bad at speaking? Wei Ying has gone twenty-six years on this earth thinking he was good at it. Who allowed that? “For the concert.”

“Oh,” Lan Zhan says. “You are welcome, then.”

Another silence.

“Hey,” Wei Ying says, shifting his weight to the other foot. “Before I go, is it okay if I visit the bunnies? My nephew, he’s a little younger than A-Yuan — I promised to take pictures for him.”

Lan Zhan nods. “Mn.”

(Jin Ling had asked for no such thing as bunny pictures. But does Lan Zhan really need to know that?)

In the playroom, Lan Zhan lifts Marshmallow and Cocoa gingerly out of their pen and sits cross-legged on the floor beside them. He looks so fucking beautiful today — always does, really, but Wei Ying thinks he looks criminally good right now, his inky hair twisted into a French braid and his shirt a silky eggshell-blue: billowy sleeves, a bow at the neck. There’s a little triangle of pale skin visible there. Wei Ying has to tear his eyes away from it.

He sits on the floor next to Lan Zhan, and takes Marshmallow onto his lap.

“Ah, they’re so cute,” he sighs. “They should have their own fan club. Hey, Lan Zhan, you could market them. Marshmallow and Cocoa merch! Little rabbits with little guqins… you would rake in the cash from that. They’d be famous.”

“That is exploitation,” Lan Zhan says, frowning.

Wei Ying chokes. “Exploitation? Lan Zhan, they’re rabbits. They don’t even know what that means.”

“I will not market Marshmallow and Cocoa,” Lan Zhan says firmly.

“Hm. Suit yourself.” Wei Ying shrugs. “If you change your mind, I know an artist who would be interested.” He glances up, and there’s a twitch at the corner of Lan Zhan’s mouth. Wei Ying’s heart flounders in his chest, a slippery thing. He watches Lan Zhan’s hands, smoothing the fur on Cocoa’s ears. Those long, lovely fingers, fingers that had made him famous on the guqin. “I’ve never had pets,” he says, talking over the rushing in his ears. “My nephew wants a dog. A dog, Lan Zhan! Dogs are the worst. I should advocate for rabbits. Will you vouch for me, Lan Zhan? Will you tell them that rabbits are better? They have to believe me if you back me up.”

“Nonsense. There is nothing wrong with dogs,” Lan Zhan says, but his voice is too soft to be convincingly annoyed.

Wei Ying grins, then remembers that he’s supposed to be taking pictures for Jin Ling. He pulls out his phone.

“A-Ling is five,” he says. “Ah, but you know Jin Zixuan! I keep forgetting about that. So you must know all about A-Ling. He’s a good kid now, but we have to make sure he takes after my sister and not that peacock. This is the window of opportunity! Don’t they say that about kids, they’re like sponges or some shit? I don’t know. I think I read it somewhere.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says abruptly. “I will have to cancel your lessons with A-Yuan.”

Wei Ying’s heart again: it sinks now, a stone falling to the bottom of a riverbed. He must have done something. What had he done? It was that night, it must have been — that stupid wet shirt. “Is something wrong, Lan Zhan?”

“I will be going on tour,” Lan Zhan says. He is not meeting Wei Ying’s eye. “I was told today.”

“Oh.” Of course this should not be surprising, it should not be unexpected — here, in this house, Lan Zhan is Lan Zhan. But everywhere else he is Lan Wangji, and this is the sort of thing Lan Wangji must do. “Well, congratulations!” Wei Ying says, biting back the cold misery creeping up over his bones. “That must be fun, right? Seeing so many places?”

“You sound like my manager.” Lan Zhan’s mouth is a thin line.

“You don’t like it?”

“It is part of my work.”

“Yes, sure,” Wei Ying says. “But do you like it?”

Lan Zhan runs a hand over Cocoa thoughtfully. “I like the music.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, exasperated. “It’s okay to say that you don’t like something. It’s not being ungrateful or whatever. You know that, right? And I’m not going to tell anyone.”

Lan Zhan doesn’t look up.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, sitting back on his elbows. “I’ll go first. I like painting. I don’t like it when someone asks me to paint a portrait, because that means I have to draw hands, and I’m really bad at that. Hands are the worst, Lan Zhan! Even after art school, I’m still fucking terrible at it.”

“But you draw hands very well. I have seen your sketches, from A-Yuan’s lessons.”

“No. They suck, and don’t try to change the subject. It’s your turn.”

“It is… harder to leave now, with A-Yuan,” Lan Zhan says carefully. “This will be the first time I have left him for so long.”

“Take him with you,” Wei Ying suggests. “Show him the world, and all that. Cultural education! He would love it.”

“He has school.”

“So what? He can catch up on school later. He’s smart. Take a tutor.”

“Hm,” Lan Zhan just says, noncommittal.

Wei Ying looks back down at Marshmallow, who is trying to wriggle off of his lap and escape to Lan Zhan’s. “When do you leave?”

“A month,” Lan Zhan says.

That soon. Wei Ying has always been a practical person, he thinks: ambitious, sure, but never idealistic, never someone who reached for things he knew were not for him. Lan Wangji was one of those things. Wei Ying had fucked up, and had fucked up hard, by falling for him, and by allowing himself to want, indulging in the fantasies that had littered his daydreams for months. It would not hurt as much now, he thinks, if he had just been stricter with himself from the beginning. Now the fall will be slower, longer, more painful.

Well. He brought it upon himself.

“Lan Zhan, can I see your guqin?”

“Why?” Lan Zhan doesn’t sound suspicious. Just curious.

Wei Ying shrugs. “I’ve never seen one up close before.”

(He does not want to leave the house. Not now, not when he does not know when he will get to talk to Lan Zhan like this again.)

It hadn’t sounded like a very persuasive answer, but Lan Zhan nods. “Okay.”

And so Wei Ying enters the music room at last. It’s ridiculously clean and tidy, because it’s Lan Zhan’s — floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with music scores and monographs, a desk with neat stacks of paper, a little table on the floor with the guqin on it.

“I used to play the flute,” Wei Ying says, running a hand along the spines of the books on the shelves. “But that was a long time ago. I probably don’t remember any of the notes now.”

“You can learn again.”

“Sure, I could.” Wei Ying smiles winningly at him, flops down on the floor next to the guqin table. “I’ll make a deal with you, Lan Zhan. If you learn about flowers, I’ll relearn the flute.”

Lan Zhan sighs quietly. “Very well.”

“We have to shake on it.” Wei Ying holds out his hand solemnly.

Lan Zhan looks at him. Wei Ying remembers how, all those months ago, Lan Zhan did not want to touch him at the Academy. He remembers, too, the night they washed dishes together in the kitchen, the way that Lan Zhan had frozen under his touch. But then — but then Lan Zhan had touched him, and not just on the arm, either.

Wei Ying starts to pull his hand back — but Lan Zhan reaches out and takes it, his fingers gentle and warm, a little calloused at the fingertips from his guqin strings — and there it is again, that fucking static in Wei Ying’s brain. He feels electric, a wire fizzling with water, a crack of lightning in a thunderstorm. If he holds on longer, he might burn; he never wants to let go. He wants Lan Zhan’s hands — both of them, everywhere, wants to be torn apart by those hands.

But then the handshake is over, and they are no longer touching.

Wei Ying laughs, a little shaky. “You can’t back out now, Lan Zhan. We have a deal now.”

“We do,” Lan Zhan agrees. His face is perfectly composed. Love. Of the one-sided variety.

“Hey” — Wei Ying is grasping, searching for anything, needing to fill this space — “how about you play one of your new songs? It can be my severance pay.”

“Mn. If you’d like,” Lan Zhan says.

“What? I was joking —” Wei Ying starts to say, but Lan Zhan has already put his hands on the guqin strings and begun to play.

Wei Ying doesn’t know a lot about music, not like he knows about art. He just knows when he likes a song, and when he doesn’t; when a song makes him happy, or when it makes him feel melancholy. This song is different. It is not like anything Wei Ying has heard before.

It starts quietly, shyly — then it rises, gaining strength, soaring and sweeping like a heron over the lakes of Lotus Pier. It’s comforting, soothing — but it’s sad too, somehow, like a yearning. It makes Wei Ying’s heart ache in a way he can’t explain. He could listen to this song for days, he thinks. In this room, with only this song and Lan Zhan’s beautiful fingers on this guqin.

And then it is quiet again: Lan Zhan is finished, hands folded neatly in his lap.

“Wow, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying manages. “That was — that was really amazing! God, now I understand why you’re so famous. Not that I doubted you, before — but this, and — this” — he gestures at Lan Zhan’s face — “fuck. You’re really the package deal.”

“Thank you, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, the tips of his ears pink.

“Does it have a name?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. Wei Ying waits, but that is apparently all the information Lan Zhan is willing to offer.

“Haha, okay. Wait for the album, right? Okay. I can be patient.” He scoots closer. “The guqin — it’s pretty. Are all guqins this pretty, Lan Zhan, or is this one just pretty because it’s yours?”

Lan Zhan looks up. His eyes are molten gold. Wei Ying is suddenly aware — they are very close. Their knees are practically touching.

“Crows,” Lan Zhan says suddenly. “Are they not symbols of bad luck?”

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says. His legs feel weak. How is that possible, when he is sitting down? “You should know by now. I don’t believe in that kind of thing.”

He is not sure who moves first. Wei Ying only knows he is looking at Lan Zhan’s lips, and then he is kissing them.

At first it’s soft, almost chaste: tentative, in the way that first kisses sometimes are. Lan Zhan’s lips are soft, too, warm and gentle and even more than Wei Ying had dared to dream about. He leans into it, or maybe Lan Zhan does, and the kiss deepens. Lan Zhan tastes sweet, like pears and green tea with honey. His teeth are around Wei Ying’s bottom lip, just enough bite to make Wei Ying moan. His arms are on Wei Ying’s waist, gripping them — there will be handprints on his skin tonight, Wei Ying thinks dimly. Lan Zhan’s handprints, burned through the fabric of his shirt. That’s okay. Wei Ying would like that very much. He is delirious with it, dazed with it: Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan’s mouth on his.

A door opens. Lan Zhan pulls back first, his pupils blown dark.

“We’re back, Wangji,” a voice calls.

Lan Zhan’s lips are pink, kiss-bitten — I did that, Wei Ying thinks, still dazed — and his cheeks are flushed. Wei Ying feels like a wild thing, desperate and hungry. He wants a chasm to open on the floor, swallowing them up — then he could stay here, kissing Lan Wangji, and never let go. But Lan Zhan is looking at Wei Ying with a strange sort of look on his face, as if he’s searching for something, and then he stands up.

“Coming, brother.”

There’s a tall man in the front hall. He looks almost exactly like Lan Zhan, Wei Ying thinks — Lan Zhan, a moment ago I was kissing Lan Zhan — except this man is a little softer around the eyes. More inclined to smiles, maybe.

“Wangji,” he says, smiling now. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had company. A-Yuan has already gone to check up on Marshmallow and Cocoa.”

“Brother, this is Wei Wuxian,” Lan Zhan says, sounding remarkably serene for someone who had been doing what Lan Zhan had been doing only a moment earlier. “He is A-Yuan’s art teacher.”

“Ah, the one who painted your promotions for the concert!” The man beams and extends a hand to Wei Ying. He shakes it numbly. “A pleasure, Mr. Wei. I’m Wangji’s brother, Lan Xichen.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t call myself a pleasure,” Wei Ying says nonsensically. “I was just here for…” He waves a hand. “Rabbit pictures. And now I have them. So I will be going.” He tugs on his shoes.

“Don’t leave on my account,” Lan Xichen says quickly. “Wangji, I apologize. I would have called ahead if I had known.”

“It is fine, brother,” Lan Zhan says, still sounding perfectly calm. Wei Ying does not know what this means. Fine, because he is trying to make his brother feel less awkward about interrupting? Or fine, meaning that Wei Ying was not a good kisser at all, and Lan Zhan did not enjoy it, and was actually happy to be interrupted by his brother’s arrival? The second option is more likely, Wei Ying thinks. He’s learning a lot about himself today. He can’t speak, and now he can’t kiss either. His entire fucking worldview needs a revamp.

“Ha, it’s all right, I was really going,” he says to Lan Xichen, trying to smile at him. He can’t feel his own face. Is this normal? He’ll have to search Baidu, when he gets on the bus. “Good to meet you.”

“Likewise, Mr. Wei.” Lan Xichen is looking back and forth between his brother and Wei Ying, a question written between his brows.

“Bye, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, one foot on the threshold. “See you — well. See you.”

“Goodbye, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says quietly.

The door closes.

Chapter Text

The facts were these:

1. Wei Ying had kissed Lan Wangji.
2. Wei Ying had fled Lan Wangji’s house almost immediately afterwards.
3. Lan Wangji had not stopped him.

Wei Ying has done a lot of stupid things in his life, but this is really outstripping all of them.

He can’t remember who moved first: him or Lan Zhan. He thinks it must have been him. He has no reason to think it was Lan Zhan, not when Lan Zhan has never been anything but polite and respectful and appropriate towards Wei Ying. Lan Zhan has never shown the slightest sign that he was interested in Wei Ying as anything more than A-Yuan’s art teacher. It had been Wei Ying all along, all these months, who had wished and dreamed and wanted, and then he just went and acted on it because he is an idiot.

It’s not like he’s never had awkward first kisses, or times when he’s kissed people and regretted it — but those were all people that Wei Ying had met on a whim and had kissed on a whim, too: in some crowded bar, or crushed up against a wall at a party. He had kissed those people for the thrill of it, not because he liked them.

Wei Ying is way past like with Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji, who was beautiful and brilliant and so, so smart, with his pretty hands and his chef skills and his weird sense of humor. Lan Zhan, who played Legos with his son and knew how to braid hair, and who liked flowers but was terrible at growing them.

And Wei Ying had ruined it, kissing a man like that, kissing a man who had not shown a single sign of wanting to be kissed, and yet — and yet he had done it. And then he had just left, without an apology, without giving himself a chance to salvage the situation, and now he doesn’t know when he’ll see Lan Zhan again, and it doesn’t matter, really, because Lan Zhan must hate him and wouldn’t want to see him anyways. Wouldn’t he have stopped Wei Ying from leaving, if he had felt differently?

Wei Ying is in his studio now. He’s been there for the past two days straight, actually, because if he goes home he’ll have to talk to Jiang Cheng, and he doesn’t want to talk about Lan Zhan. He’s been sleeping a little, on the terrible sofa in the studio’s Neutral Zone, but mostly he’s been awake, chugging bottles of 5-Hour Energy and painting shapeless things on canvas, trying to keep his hands busy and his brain occupied. It’s a waste of canvas. He’ll have to find a way to rework the shapeless things into something else. But that is a problem for Future Wei Ying.

Everything he’s painting is blue. He just keeps reaching for those colors.

***

He finally texts Lan Zhan on Monday.

Wei Ying
hey, lan zhan, i have to bail on the lesson this week. something else going on
hope that’s okay!

Lan Zhan 🐇
Wei Ying, are you all right?

Wei Ying
haha yeah i’m fine! just some other art thing i have to do that day

Lan Zhan 🐇
Okay. That’s fine.

And that’s all.

Wei Ying goes over to Nie Huaisang’s corner of the studio, picks up a pile of loose fabric, and wails loudly into it.

***

On Tuesday, Wei Ying drags himself home at last, because he really needs a fucking shower and some clean clothes. It smells like soup when he unlocks the door. Jiejie is in his kitchen.

“Don’t worry, A-Xian,” she says, as soon as she sees him. “A-Cheng isn’t here.”

“Oh, thank god,” Wei Ying says, and slumps onto the living room sofa.

“A-Xian.” Her voice is tender. “Are you all right?”

People keep asking him that. “No,” Wei Ying mumbles, his face flat against a pillow.

She hums, gentle. “Go take a shower, okay? Put on something comfortable, like the maroon sweater I got you last winter. The soup will be ready, and then we can talk.”

Wei Ying showers. He twists his hair up into a towel to dry. He puts on the sweater.

“A-Xian,” his jiejie says softly, once he’s gulped down one bowl of soup and started on another. “What happened?”

“I fucked up,” he says flatly. “Jiejie, hypothetically. If you were to kiss someone that you really liked and it was really, really great — like, so good you want to kiss them forever, maybe — but that person doesn’t like you back, and then you just ran out of their house afterwards, what would you do?” He stuffs a piece of lotus root in his mouth. “I mean. Hypothetically.”

“Well…” Jiejie passes him a napkin. “Are you certain that this person doesn’t have feelings for you?”

“He — I mean, this person, they definitely don’t.”

“Have you asked him?” she says pointedly.

“How could I ask him?” Wei Ying almost chokes on his soup. “Jiejie, I would rather eat my own leg.”

“A-Xian,” she scolds gently, handing him a glass of water now. “Don’t be silly. I think Mr. Lan likes you very much.”

“Mr. Lan?” Wei Ying repeats. He busies himself with a piece of pork. “Hahaha, jiejie, where on earth did you get that idea?”

She’s smiling at him the way she smiles at Jin Ling when he insists that he has absolutely brushed his hair, of course he has. “This isn’t about Mr. Lan?”

Wei Ying wilts. He really can’t keep anything from her. “Okay. Yeah. You caught me. I kissed Lan Zhan! And now he hates me!”

“A-Xian, I really don’t think he hates you. Did he say that to you?”

“No,” Wei Ying mumbles, leaning over to knock his forehead against the countertop. “But he doesn’t need to say it.”

“You know, I’ve been to a few parties with Mr. Lan,” she says thoughtfully. “He’s not close to many people. But the way you’ve talked about him — I think he really considers you a friend. Maybe more.” She nudges him. “He must have a very high opinion of you.”

“Impossible,” Wei Ying says to the countertop.

Jiejie pats his shoulder. “Just talk to him, A-Xian, okay? You’ll never know until you do.”

This is true. But — but. He blows out a puff of air, turning his head to press his cheek to the cool granite. “Jiejie, I’m still hungry. Can I have more soup?”

***

When Wei Ying’s phone rings, it’s early. Really early. Ungodly early.

He scrambles for it, bleary-eyed — Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan is calling him. Something must be really wrong, Wei Ying thinks, panic rising in his chest. He answers, heart in his mouth.

“Lan Zhan?”

“Wei-laoshi?” a little voice says.

“A-Yuan? Why do you have your baba’s phone? Is he okay?”

“Baba is okay,” A-Yuan says — cheerful, not at all like a child whose parent is in mortal peril. “He’s making breakfast! I have to go to school soon.”

“Oh. Okay.” Wei Ying rubs his eyes, heartbeat slowly returning to normal speed. “A-Yuan, why are you calling me?”

“You didn’t come yesterday,” A-Yuan says mournfully. “Why didn’t you come?”

Wei Ying sighs. “I’m really sorry, A-Yuan. I think I made your baba upset, so I’m going to stay away for a while, okay?”

“If you hurt someone’s feelings, you need to say sorry, Wei-laoshi,” A-Yuan tells him sternly.

“Well, yes —”

“Baba is very sad. He said he’s okay and Baba never tells lies, but I think he lied this time. I think he misses you, Wei-laoshi.”

Wei Ying runs a hand through his hair. Of all the things for Lan Zhan to be sad about, missing Wei Ying must be number one million. “Are you sure that’s what’s going on?”

“Yes! He is very sad! He made a song for you!”

“A song? A-Yuan, what do you mean?”

“A song,” A-Yuan says impatiently, as if displeased by how long it’s taking Wei Ying to accept this truth. “Baba only makes songs for people he likes. Don’t you like Baba too?”

Wei Ying’s heart is cracking. There’s got to be a line right down the middle of it. “Yeah. I do.” Lan Zhan’s gentle hands, his golden eyes, his almost-smile. “I really, really like your baba, A-Yuan.”

“Oh!” A-Yuan says suddenly. “Breakfast is ready! Baba made me waffles. I like them with blueberries. Do you like waffles, Wei-laoshi?”

“I like them,” Wei Ying says weakly.

“I like them, too,” A-Yuan says cheerfully. “I have to go now. Bye, Wei-laoshi!” He hangs up.

Lans, Wei Ying thinks, throwing himself back into his nest of blankets — always ending the call first and leaving a flood in their wake, like a spill of water on canvas.

Chapter Text

Wei Ying drags himself to Lan Zhan’s house on Saturday. He takes the bus there, actually, but he has to drag himself to the stop at the corner first, so the sentiment is the same.

His stomach is in knots. Even after jiejie’s attempt at a pep talk (Mr. Lan likes you very much) and A-Yuan’s impromptu call (he misses you), Wei Ying is not convinced that Lan Zhan feels anything for him but contempt. Whatever they had before — a comfortable familiarity, at least, if not friendship — must be gone, after what he had done. How could it not be? Wei Ying had kissed him, for fuck’s sake. How could Lan Zhan possibly look past something like that?

The art lessons are going to be cancelled anyways, he tells himself. He’ll never see Lan Zhan again no matter what happens now, at least not in person, and there’s really nothing Wei Ying can do to make this situation any worse. He’s not very good at talking about his feelings, but — well, he has to apologize. And he wants to say goodbye to A-Yuan, who had been such a perfect little student and an innocent victim of this whole mess.

He isn’t sure that Lan Zhan will even let him past the gate, but it unlocks for him when he hesitantly announces himself over the intercom.

Wei Ying tries to soak it all in, coming up the front lawn: the pine trees, the koi pond, the vibrant blue gentians. Tries to commit it to memory, searing it there to keep. Maybe he could paint it, he thinks. Maybe in a few months, when the sting of loss grows weaker.

He knocks at the door. He waits.

Lan Zhan had clearly not been expecting company. He’s dressed more casually than Wei Ying has ever seen him: soft lounge pants, a plain white shirt, his forearms pale and beautiful. Oh, shut up, Wei Ying thinks furiously.

Lan Zhan looks concerned, too, which just makes this whole thing more agonizing. Concerned. After what Wei Ying had done to him! “Wei Ying? Are you all right?”

“Oh, I’m great,” Wei Ying says, with all the cheer of a practiced liar. “Can I come in for a minute? Don’t worry, Lan Zhan, I won’t stay long.”

Lan Zhan wordlessly steps aside.

In the front hall, Wei Ying shifts from one foot to the other. “Sorry about cancelling this week.”

“It is fine,” Lan Zhan says quietly. “You had something else to do.”

“Yeah…” Wei Ying looks past Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “Is A-Yuan around?”

“He’s in his room. Do you wish to see him?”

“Oh. Okay. Cool. Um, I’m here to see you, actually.” Wei Ying steels himself, looks Lan Zhan in the eyes. They’re tense around the edges: not soft, not like the eyes Wei Ying saw last time in the music room. “Look, Lan Zhan, I’m here to apologize.”

“Apologize?”

“Yeah.” Wei Ying sticks his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. He might do something stupid with them if they’re out in the open. Like touching Lan Zhan’s arm, or reaching for the fine line of his cheekbone. “What happened… last time. I’m sorry. It was wrong of me to do that.”

“You’re sorry,” Lan Zhan repeats. His voice is flat.

“Yeah. I… well. I shouldn’t have done it. There was a line, and I was selfish and I crossed it. And now you’re upset, and — I’m not asking you to forgive me. I just — I couldn’t let you go away like this. Not knowing that I was sorry.”

“Oh,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying bounces on his heels. A nervous habit. “Okay. Well. That was it. I guess I’ll go.” He had meant to see A-Yuan, he remembers, but now he just needs to get out of here as fast as possible. “Say hi to A-Yuan for me. And good luck on the tour.”

His back is already turned when Lan Zhan speaks.

“Selfish?”

Time suspends. When Wei Ying turns around again, he feels like he’s moving through water. His voice sounds as if it’s coming from very far away. “Huh?”

Lan Zhan looks strangely, unusually vulnerable — young, almost small in those soft lounge pants, his hair loose around his face. “You said you were selfish,” he says tightly, as if each word is causing him great difficulty, “and you crossed a line.”

“Well,” Wei Ying says, desperately wishing he had something to hide his face behind, “yeah. Just because I have feelings doesn’t mean I should have acted on them —”

“You…” Lan Zhan takes a step forward. “You have feelings for me?”

Yes,” Wei Ying says fervently. Oh god, it’s happening. He’s going to say it. “Lan Zhan. I really like you.” His throat is searing. “I like you so much. I think you’re really great.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes have widened.

“I’ve wanted to kiss you for a long time,” Wei Ying admits, almost laughing — it’s so ridiculous. How can he not laugh? “And then I did it. And I fucked it up!”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan breathes.

“Because you’re — you’re you, and I’m me, and you didn’t even like it. And I really — I’m really sorry —”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says again, more firmly, and then he’s holding Wei Ying’s arm. Wei Ying freezes, a moth trapped in the amber of Lan Zhan’s eyes. “I liked it.”

A stuttering, in his heart. “Lan Zhan?”

“I liked it,” Lan Zhan repeats. The tips of his ears are flushed: a pretty pink, like cherry blossoms. “I liked it very much. I like you, Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying must be having a really strange out-of-body experience, because everything seems heavy and syrupy-slow. “You… but you never said — I didn’t know —”

“You were not supposed to know,” Lan Zhan says softly. “I thought you did not feel the same —”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying feels faint. “Oh my god, I feel the same. Please. I need you to understand — I have never agreed with anyone more about anything, ever, in my entire life. I want you to kiss me again right now. I want you to never stop kissing me.”

“Ridiculous,” Lan Zhan murmurs. “It’s impossible to live that way.” But then he smiles, and it’s the most beautiful thing Wei Ying has ever seen, and his heart skips like an old record on a turntable.

“You — I can’t believe this,” Wei Ying wails. “I’m going to collapse, right here on your floor, because you’re so — you’re so much, Lan Zhan. I’m too fragile for this. I’m so happy I could die! And you — just standing there. So unaffected!”

Lan Zhan takes Wei Ying’s hand, presses it flat against his own chest: his skin warm through the cotton, his heartbeat racing rabbit-quick. “Not unaffected,” he says, and Wei Ying’s entire body feels drenched in sunlight.

“You have to kiss now!” a small voice says insistently from behind them. “People who like each other have to kiss!”

Lan Zhan flushes deeper. Wei Ying laughs, genuine this time — he leans forward and presses a light, chaste kiss to Lan Zhan’s lips. It burns — fuck, it burns, and Wei Ying wants to throw himself at Lan Zhan and kiss him harder and longer and never let go. But A-Yuan is there, and A-Yuan is six, and Wei Ying is pretty sure that it’s not appropriate for him to see that kind of thing.

A-Yuan, that little matchmaker, seems satisfied with this new development. “You said you really, really like Baba, Wei-laoshi. That means you love him!”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, beaming at Lan Zhan, wrapping his arms around Lan Zhan’s waist. “Yeah, I think I do.”

Lan Zhan kisses him again.

Chapter Text

It’s a warm summer evening, and Wei Ying is hiding behind the bushes in Lan Zhan’s yard.

Hiding, because what else is he supposed to do — sit on the front lawn in plain view, where someone might see him? Then they would call Academy security, and Wei Ying would be dragged away for interrogation, and then he would have to tell them about Lan Zhan, and that would just be embarrassing.

So he is hiding.

Lan Zhan 🐇❤️
He is asleep.

Wei Ying
FINALLY
OPEN THE DOOR IM COMING

Light floods from the porch immediately, and Wei Ying throws himself at Lan Zhan: solid, warm, his. Lan Zhan kisses him, starved like they haven’t seen one another for two weeks instead of two days.

“Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying sighs when they break apart, wrapping his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck. “Lan Zhan, I missed you so much.”

“Mn. I missed you.” Lan Zhan’s lips quirk upwards. He looks so lovely — half of his silky hair tied back with the blue ribbon, his button-up hugging the line of his biceps. The shirt is probably Gucci or some other luxury shit. Wei Ying wants to rip it right off.

“Would you like tea?” Lan Zhan asks, kissing Wei Ying below his ear and taking his hand, leading him backwards into the house.

“No. Just you.” Lan Zhan’s ears flush pink, and Wei Ying giggles. “Lan Zhan, you’re so easily embarrassed! It’s so cute!”

“No. You’re cuter,” Lan Zhan says, still blushing, and Wei Ying whacks him on the arm weakly.

They reach the sofa, somehow, in between trading kisses on the way. Wei Ying drapes his legs over Lan Zhan’s lap.

“So? Did you tell them about your tour decision?”

Lan Zhan nods, tracing circles around Wei Ying’s bare ankle, sending shivers down his spine. “Mn. They were not happy.”

“Hmph. Fuck them.” He laughs at the scandalized expression on Lan Zhan’s face. “I’ll say what I want, Lan Zhan! Defending my boyfriend’s honor is my job now.”

The word is out before he realizes it.

“Boyfriend?” Lan Zhan’s hand freezes.

“I mean…” Wei Ying flounders, a flush rising on his neck. “If that’s okay. If you want.”

Lan Zhan’s entire face softens, the sun breaking through clouds. “I want it. It’s more than okay.” He takes Wei Ying’s hand, flips it over, kisses his inner wrist. “Boyfriend.”

Wei Ying feels faint. “Hey,” he says feebly. “I wasn’t done slandering your company. Stop distracting me, Lan Zhan.”

“Okay,” Lan Zhan agrees, and obediently drops Wei Ying’s wrist.

“You already made an album this year anyways,” Wei Ying starts again, but he is no longer very interested in this conversation if it means that Lan Zhan will not be holding his hand.“Aren’t they rich enough? You need to rest, too.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. “They have a lot of money.”

“Eat the rich, I’ve always said.” Wei Ying sits up straighter. “Hey… Lan Zhan. You’re rich.”

Lan Zhan looks at him quizzically.

Wei Ying smiles demurely. “Lan Zhan.” He takes both of Lan Zhan’s hands in his. “This is a very serious question I must ask you. Lan Zhan… boyfriend of mine… may I have the honor of eating you out tonight?”

“Wei Ying!” Lan Zhan’s grip tightens over his.

“What?” Wei Ying pouts. “Boyfriend privilege!”

“A-Yuan is here.”

“You said he’s asleep.” Wei Ying studies him. “Lan Zhan, do you not want to?”

Lan Zhan looks at him. Swallows, hard: Wei Ying can see his Adam’s apple move. Then he stands, fast, dragging Wei Ying by the hand. “We have to be quiet.”

“I can be quiet,” Wei Ying says, with barely contained glee.

They go into Lan Zhan’s room, creeping past A-Yuan’s. Lan Zhan shuts the door behind them, soft but firm, the lock clicking into place. Wei Ying has never been inside Lan Zhan’s room before, but he doesn’t have time to look around now, because Lan Zhan has pushed him up against the wall and kissed him: hot, hungry, open-mouthed. Wei Ying leans into it, greedy like Lan Zhan is water and he is a man in a desert.

His hands wrap around Lan Zhan’s back, feeling the muscles ripple beneath the shirt. Lan Zhan’s mouth is on Wei Ying’s neck, nipping at the delicate spot behind his ear.

Wei Ying moans. “Lan Zhan, please —”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan breathes, still at Wei Ying’s throat, “do you want this?”

Yes.” Wei Ying is mindless. “Yes, yes, do whatever you want!”

Lan Zhan kisses him on the mouth again, firm, and then he slides down to the floor and unbuttons Wei Ying’s jeans, pulling down his boxer briefs with one tug. Wei Ying’s dick springs out, already hard and flushed, leaking from the tip.

“Fuck,” Wei Ying gasps, palms flat against the wall. “Lan Zhan —”

Lan Zhan looks up at him, golden eyes luminous in the dim light of the room, then he leans forward and licks along the underside of Wei Ying’s length.

One touch — one touch, and Wei Ying is seeing white. The world dissolves. There is just Lan Zhan’s tongue, so clever and so quick, as talented at this as Lan Zhan’s fingers are on the guqin strings. And he’s playing Wei Ying, playing him as Wei Ying has never been played before. Lan Zhan is meticulous; he takes his time, tongue swirling up and down the shaft. Wei Ying, panting with want and anticipation, thinks he knows what’s next — but then Lan Zhan’s mouth moves down, to the tender skin of Wei Ying’s inner thigh, sucking a bruise there.

Wei Ying’s hips thrust involuntarily, and he lets out a louder whine. “Lan Zhan, stop teasing.”

Lan Zhan pretends as though he has not heard this, just sucks a second mark below the first, harder this time. One of his hands is on Wei Ying’s hip, as if holding him down; the other is wrapped around Wei Ying’s thigh. So close, and yet —

Wei Ying moans again. Lan Zhan pulls away, looks up. “You have to be quiet, Wei Ying.” His voice is low, hoarse. It is the sexiest fucking thing Wei Ying has ever heard.

“I’ll be quiet,” Wei Ying swears, barely able to form the words. “Fuck, that was hot — Lan Zhan, please —”

“Thank you,” Lan Zhan says primly, and then he takes Wei Ying in his mouth.

At the touch of Lan Zhan’s tongue against Wei Ying’s slit, stars dance behind his eyes.

It’s almost a caress, the way Lan Zhan laps at it: tender, languid, devoted. Then his teeth are against the tip, grazing the skin, and lightning bolts of pleasure are shooting down Wei Ying’s spine. He whines softly, reaching for Lan Zhan’s hair just as Lan Zhan goes deeper, head moving as he finds a rhythm.

Wei Ying lets out the desperate noise caught in the back of his throat, one hand finding the soft silk of Lan Zhan’s ribbon and giving it a tug.

Lan Zhan doesn’t stop doing whatever he’s doing, whatever incredibly tortuous and wonderful thing he’s doing with his tongue. It slides over a particularly sensitive spot and Wei Ying whites out again, thrusting once, twice, three times, his hands scrabbling against the wall for support. He is on fire; the entire sun is in his core. When his vision clears it’s to the sight of Lan Zhan between his legs: his face flushed, his hair slipping out of its ribbon, his pretty lips stretched around Wei Ying’s dick.

It’s real — how many times has Wei Ying imagined this, the feel of Lan Zhan’s mouth, of Lan Zhan’s hands? Heat is building at the base of his cock, blazing and urgent; he cries out, hips bucking faster.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying chokes. “I’m going to —”

Once again Lan Zhan makes no sign of having heard him. He only speeds up, reaching around to cup Wei Ying’s bare ass in his hands — he squeezes — and the combined stimulation is too much. With a cry, Wei Ying’s muscles tense and he spills down Lan Zhan’s throat.

If he weren’t so incredibly blissed out, he might be embarrassed at his low stamina.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying pants, when Lan Zhan stands up again. “Who taught you all that?”

“Hm. It’s a secret,” Lan Zhan says, and when Wei Ying kisses him again, he can taste himself on Lan Zhan’s tongue.

“No fair,” he pouts. “It was supposed to be me wrecking you.” Lan Zhan hums against his mouth. He’s hard, too, a solid press against Wei Ying’s hips, and god, Wei Ying is coming unhinged. He kisses down the side of Lan Zhan’s neck, licks a stripe on the soft skin below his ear. Lan Zhan shudders.

“That’s better,” Wei Ying purrs. “That’s good.” He pops off the top two buttons of Lan Zhan’s shirt, exposing his collarbone and leaning in to bite a mark there. “Don’t worry, Lan Zhan. I won’t leave them where people can see, hmm?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says, his voice strained, his hands gripping Wei Ying’s waist so hard he thinks he will bruise, too. “Do it. Want you everywhere.”

Wei Ying grins wickedly, sucks a mark on the side of Lan Zhan’s jaw next. “So pretty,” he says, pressing a thumb lightly over the pulsing bruise. “God, you’re beautiful.”

Lan Zhan is still breathing unevenly. His eyes are blown dark, more black than amber.

“I know you’ve been waiting a long time for me. Patient Lan Zhan. Beautiful Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying slides his hands down Lan Zhan’s chest, popping off the remaining buttons of his shirt and flinging it away. That Gucci shit. The skin underneath is warm gold, the muscles taut — because of course Lan Zhan has a body befitting an archaic Greek god sculpture, of course he does. His beautiful hands, his beautiful eyes, his beautiful chest. The man belongs in the Louvre. And instead he is here, all hot skin against Wei Ying’s. “Let me make you feel good. Are you close?”

“Yes.” It’s on the fringe of desperate, frantic. “Wei Ying —”

“Let me take care of you,” Wei Ying says again, and sucks another pair of hickeys on Lan Zhan’s clavicle. One hand slides into Lan Zhan’s pants, into his boxer briefs, and finds what he’s looking for. Lan Zhan is so hot and so, so hard, wet from precum pearling at the tip. Wei Ying wants that in his mouth, wants to taste the strange salty bitterness that only comes from something like this. He wants to taste Lan Zhan. Fuck, he wants.

He palms Lan Zhan’s cock instead, stroking it. Lan Zhan exhales sharply, a hiss caught between his teeth.

“You have to be quiet, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying tells him, batting his eyelashes. “Remember?”

“... I remember,” Lan Zhan says, strangled. “Wei Ying —”

“Good boy.” Wei Ying kisses him, open-mouthed and sloppy; Lan Zhan licks into it, his breathing ragged. It’s all a haze: nothing else exists but this. Wei Ying could stay forever, he thinks. He kisses Lan Zhan again: the corner of his lips, a little clumsy. “Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says. It’s like a gasp. His fingers are tangled in Wei Ying’s hair.

“I like you,” Wei Ying says stupidly. His hand is moving faster, fist tightening around Lan Zhan’s dick. “Lan Zhan, I like you so much.”

Lan Zhan’s whole body shudders. He leans his face into Wei Ying’s neck as he comes long and hard, an orgasm stifled quiet by Wei Ying’s shoulder. It’s a fucking shame about the pants, Wei Ying thinks. He would have liked to see this.

When the orgasm fades Lan Zhan kisses Wei Ying’s throat, quick and a little shaky. “Wei Ying,” he says, and oh, Wei Ying has never heard anyone say his name like that, like he was something to be treasured. “I like you.”

Wei Ying laughs, leaning forward to knock his forehead against Lan Zhan’s. It’s sweaty. He doesn’t mind. “God. Are we a little pathetic? I feel like we might be.”

“No.” Lan Zhan kisses him again, on the mouth. “Maybe. Does it matter?”

“No,” Wei Ying admits. He’s so happy. Fuck, he’s so happy. He pulls his hand out of Lan Zhan’s boxer briefs, wet and covered in the slickness of orgasm, and puts his fingers in his mouth. The salt, the bitterness, the taste that is only Lan Zhan — it’s all there, exactly as he had wanted. Lan Zhan watches him lick it away, eyes burning like twin campfires.

“Let a man rest first,” Wei Ying tells him, only half-joking. He doesn’t know if he could come again now — but Lan Zhan in his mouth, that’s something he would like very much. “Get you out of these first.”

He peels away the messy boxer briefs, shucking off Lan Zhan’s soft lounge pants and tossing them near the door in a bundle. Lan Zhan’s dick is softer now, a subdued thing, but so beautiful. Everything about Lan Zhan is beautiful. Lan Zhan in his mouth. Wei Ying adds that to his mental to-do list, right at the top with a gold star for Priority Item. Lan Zhan is thumbing at Wei Ying’s hipbones now, soft circles, careful like he’s handling a rabbit or a glass vase. Reverent. Like he wants to keep Wei Ying forever, safe in those hands.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, not sure if he is going to cry. He might, and that really would be too embarrassing. “Take me to bed?”

Lan Zhan smiles at him, soft and warm, and kisses Wei Ying’s jaw before he walks them backwards to the bed. It’s soft, too, huge like five-star hotel beds, except better because this is Lan Zhan’s and Wei Ying is in it. He starfishes out, silk beneath him.

“So now you’re a gentleman,” Wei Ying says cheerfully, turning onto his cheek to poke at Lan Zhan’s arm. “Taking me to bed.”

Lan Zhan looks at him, eyes slowly returning to their normal amber. The smile is still dancing around the corner of his mouth. “You asked.”

“I did.” He rests his head on Lan Zhan’s chest. “Lan Zhan, I swear I’m not just saying this because Lan Wangji sucked me off, but that was the best I’ve ever had in my life and you haven’t even fucked me.”

Lan Zhan hums. “You too. I told you long ago — you’re very talented.” He hesitates, then reaches over and pulls off Wei Ying’s shirt, exposing the crow in flight. His eyes are thoughtful.

“I drew it,” Wei Ying tells him, unusually self-conscious.

Lan Zhan doesn’t answer, just leans forward and kisses it: the delicate feathers, each of the wings. “Beautiful.” He presses his palm flat against Wei Ying’s ribcage, gaze flickering upwards again. “Not as beautiful as the artist.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whines, rolling over onto his back dramatically. “I simply cannot handle such compliments! Do you have any idea of the effect you have on me?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says simply, almost smug.

“No one would believe me if I said you were such a tease.” Wei Ying laughs, catches Lan Zhan’s hand, rolls over to hover over Lan Zhan’s chest. His hair has come out of its ponytail, and it falls around them: an inky curtain, dark as nightfall. “Lan Zhan, now that you’re not going on tour… what do you want to do with all that free time?”

“I have some ideas,” Lan Zhan says, blinking innocently. “But you will have to be quiet.”

“I am very good at that,” Wei Ying promises.

“Yes,” Lan Zhan agrees. “I know.”

Chapter Text

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.

Tomorrow.

END.