The first time Lan Zhan kisses Wei Ying, it's almost an accident and definitely a mistake.
Wei Ying is the bane of his existence. Too beautiful, too brilliant, burning so bright Lan Zhan is scorched by proximity.
Wei Ying burns like magnesium. White-hot and fast, sure to burn out all too quickly, Lan Zhan can see it written in every movement, every smile, every laugh, and he's terrified that if he lets Wei Ying get close to him, he'll ignite too.
Wei Ying could destroy him, destroy the orderly future that's been laid out for him since birth. Everyone says he's too wild, too reckless, too thoughtless. He drinks and flirts and teases.
He teases too much, all the time, takes things too far, they're not funny any more, and Lan Zhan hates it and wishes he wouldn't and has a thousand thoughts about how to stop him and never goes through with any of them, because if he did they might work.
High school and college and they have too many shared classes for Lan Zhan's comfort, but Wei Ying is fire and flame and Lan Zhan hates how much he misses the warmth when Wei Ying isn't there.
It's Friday night and his brother drags him to a charity vigil for some clubs he's a member of, and Lan Zhan hears Wei Ying laughing before they're even all the way up the stairs and nearly turns away then and there, but his brother is expecting him, and -
It's noisy. Crowded. Too loud, too full, too chaotic, Lan Zhan goes to the fire stairs for respite, just for a little while.
The last person he wants to follow him is Wei Ying.
"Are you okay?" Wei Ying asks. Lan Zhan doesn't dignify it with an answer, but Wei Ying doesn't take the rejection, he comes closer, white hot, like he doesn't know Lan Zhan is ice and the thaw will shatter him, leave him running in rivulets to annihilation.
He'd like to pretend there's something different, tonight, some reason, something that means he has an excuse for this, like it wasn't inevitable that there would come a time when Wei Ying would touch him lightly on the shoulder and Lan Zhan would grab him and slam him into the wall.
That he wouldn't press him there, breathing hard for no reason at all. Wei Ying's lips parted in surprise and he's frozen like that and Lan Zhan can feel his breath when he exhales, and Wei Ying hasn't been drinking tonight (he drinks too much, but not tonight) and Lan Zhan feels like he's getting drunk anyway.
He'd like to pretend that Wei Ying was the one who started this, that Wei Ying did more than brush their lips together, that Wei Ying didn't smile at him so sweetly it hurt and whisper his name.
That it was him, not Lan Zhan, who answered that by crushing their mouths together too hard, too much, kissing him and kissing him, biting his lip, his jaw, his neck, his collarbone, then jerking away in horror at himself and the marks that would definitely leave bruises, but he can't, Wei Ying didn't do that, Lan Zhan isn't marked at all.
He'd like to pretend he isn't the one who runs away, then. Who leaves Wei Ying standing there without another word and goes home, texts his brother he has a headache, make a donation in his name.
He feels sick with himself all weekend. Come Monday, everyone, everyone will know.
But then he gets to his first class, and no-one looks at him differently.
His second class is one he shares with Wei Ying, though - that one, that one for sure.
Wei Ying is in class, as always, and Lan Zhan's breath catches when he sees him - carrying the marks of teeth and sucking kisses from someone who was far, far too careless, and Lan Zhan remembers the taste of his skin, and -
"Come on, who was she?" someone is asking Wei Ying, and Lan Zhan quells the urge to violence, tenses for humiliation.
"A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell," Wei Ying replies easily, and doesn't even look at Lan Zhan.
Lan Zhan would also like to pretend that he doesn't watch the way the bruises fade over the next few days with real resentment for the sheer fact of healing.
The second time he kisses Wei Ying it's in one of the university gardens, where he went for peace and quiet to meditate away the unruly surging in his blood, only to find Wei Ying sprawled there, smiling too widely at ducklings trailing their mother around a pond.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Ying says, smile undimmed as he looks up at him. "Aren't they cute?"
Like they're friends. Like Lan Zhan did nothing wrong. Like when Lan Zhan comes close to him, drawn there like inevitability, he can tug him down and say, "Look."
Like Lan Zhan will be able to look at anything but Wei Ying.
Do anything but say, "Wei Ying," more softly and gently than he ever has in all the years they've known each other, like it won't seem like the most natural thing in the world to kiss him again, gentle and delicate and tender and everything he wishes he'd been the first time, everything he shouldn't be at all because it will show too much, Wei Ying will know too much.
He presses Wei Ying back into the grass, cupping his cheek in his palm and losing himself in this, in the softness of Wei Ying's mouth, open for him, welcoming, easy like breathing and somehow in that moment just as necessary.
Until Wei Ying pushes him back and says, "Lan Zhan, I was meeting Jiang Cheng and my sister here," arches up to kiss him again and says, "You don't have to go, but -"
Lan Zhan accepts the last kiss, and nods, and then he does leave, because he has no place here with Wei Ying and his too-loud brother and his too-kind sister.
They don't talk about it, but a few nights later, Lan Zhan gets a text message.
Wei Ying: you up?
Wei Ying: can I come over?
... and the thing is, he's heard of this. He knows what that means. It's a solicitation for sex.
While he's thinking about it another message comes in.
Wei Ying: I'm sorry, Lan Zhan! Wrong number.
Because Lan Zhan had just hit send on the word Yes.
Wei Ying: oh shit
Wei Ying: I just realised how that sounds
Wei Ying: it's nothing like that I swear, just Uncle Jiang and his wife are fighting and I need to get out of the house and I was going to ask Huaisang if I could sleep on his couch, this isn't, like, a booty text
Wei Ying: wait what do you mean yes
Lan Zhan has, apparently, lost control of his own hands, because he sends back:
Lan Zhan: I meant yes to coming over. My brother is not home tonight.
There's a long delay.
Wei Ying: did you think it was a booty text when you said yes
Lan Zhan: Yes.
Wei Ying: okay then
Wei Ying comes over.
"I had no idea you did things like this," Wei Ying says, and Lan Zhan does not tell him that he has never done anything like it before in his life, but he does take him to bed and ravage him with his hands and mouth and, eventually, his cock, clinging desperately to his self-control even when Wei Ying whispers like a confession that he has never done this before.
By the time he's done the dawn is breaking and Wei Ying's parting kiss is sweeter than he deserves, because Wei Ying is covered in marks and bruises again, and he knows, he just knows, that Wei Ying won't tell anyone who gave them to him, and he can convince himself that he has not caught flame if still no-one else will know about it.
Fire needs oxygen to burn, after all.
Lan Zhan is smouldering, but he tells himself he is not yet burning, this can be permitted so long as it does not blaze out of control.
And so long as no-one knows, it is under control.
It's fine. He can see Wei Ying in class and still ignore him as coldly as ever.
His brother can go on a research practical that will have him spending six weeks straight in a swamp, and Lan Zhan can text Wei Ying on the very first night and ask if he wants to come over.
And the second.
He can spend every night in Wei Ying's arms, every touch like a brand on his skin, desperate for every moment; he can keep Wei Ying in his bed until the morning and wake him with sex, cook him breakfast, can drive him to university and pretend he doesn't know him when he gets there.
They don't talk about it, even when Lan Zhan hears Wei Ying turn down a girl who shyly asks him out at the start of a shared class with a broad hint that he's unavailable, and on the surge of possessive satisfaction Lan Zhan spends the entire class texting him the purest of filth, all promises of the things he plans that night, and Wei Ying doesn't give the slightest hint of it when he checks his phone, but afterwards he comes straight home with Lan Zhan to do every single one.
They don't talk about it, and they don't talk about it, and then just after he finishes his last exam for the year, Lan Zhan sees Wei Ying across the street and steps out to go to him and he sees Wei Ying open his mouth to scream and that's when the car hits him.
He wakes up in hospital.
He's hazy. He's probably on the good drugs but there's still a dull ache in his leg. There are beeping machines and distant voices, and one voice very, very near.
"Please, please be okay," Wei Ying is chanting. "Please, Lan Zhan, please, you're too good, I can't lose you, I love you, please -" and he doesn't stop, and Lan Zhan wants to tell him that he's fine, he is, he's safe, he's been making sure this whole time he doesn't catch fire, it's all right, but there's something leaden in his limbs that he can't overcome, something that drags at him and keeps him from even speaking.
"Wei Ying." It's a woman's voice. "I thought I told you to go and rest."
"I know," Wei Ying says. "And I will. When - when he wakes up. He's going to wake up, you said."
"He's sleeping off anaesthetic, he's not in a coma," the woman says. "Of course he'll wake up."
"So I can wait that long," Wei Ying says, and Lan Zhan realises the convulsive pressure on his hand is Wei Ying.
There's a long silence. "I didn't know you two were an item," the woman says.
"We're not," Wei Ying says immediately. "We're not, Wen Qing, please, you can't tell anyone, don't say - if anyone has any idea of it he'll end it."
Probably, Lan Zhan thinks. Exposed to the air, he'll ignite, and that's not allowed.
"I'm not ready for that," Wei Ying finishes softly.
"Will you ever be?" she asks.
"No," Wei Ying says. "It's too late for that. But I'm hopelessly in love with him so I'll take what I can get for as long as I can get it."
"Wei Ying," the woman says. "You idiot." She says it strangely softly, warmly.
Lan Zhan wants to tell her Wei Ying is a genius, but he's still being carried by currents beyond his control. He's injured, and drugged, and Wei Ying is in love with him, and it's somewhere around then that he falls back asleep.
The next time he wakes he can open his eyes, but the blurry figure by his bed is the wrong size and shape to be Wei Ying, and Lan Zhan is deeply resentful of that, even when his blinking finally resolves the blur into his brother.
His brother is stupid. Sitting there reading a book and not being Wei Ying.
Lan Zhan sleeps again.
He wakes again clearer-headed. His brother is still there, and this time Lan Zhan finds will enough for words.
"Brother," he mumbles, and Lan Huan looks up from his book, smiles bright and blinding and inadequate, because he still isn't Wei Ying, even if he's home two days early because Lan Zhan got hit by a car.
Brother is there while the doctors explain things, his broken leg and his bruises and how he's going to be fine. Brother is there until visiting hours end, and Lan Zhan is left in the beeping, murmuring dark of the hospital, mostly alone with his thoughts.
Every two hours a nurse comes in to take his blood pressure and stick a probe under his tongue and ask him if he is in pain; when he says no, they leave, until the hour grows late and the kindly woman adds that he should be sleeping, and asks if he knows why he isn't.
Lan Zhan doesn't say, because it's only midnight, and I am no longer accustomed to sleeping this early, because I'm usually in bed with Wei Ying.
Lan Zhan doesn't say, because Wei Ying is in love with me, but he thinks I won't see him if anyone knows that.
Lan Zhan doesn't say, because Wei Ying is right.
So the nurse doesn't know, and simply pats his hand and reminds him to call if he needs anything, and leaves.
Brother returns the next morning, and is there when Lan Zhan is discharged, to take the bright blue bag of Lan Zhan's belongings and to bring the car around, to thank the porter who pushed Lan Zhan's wheelchair and help Lan Zhan get into the car.
Brother waits until Lan Zhan is on the sofa at home, tired and thankful for the peace and quiet, before he says, "I was surprised to see Wei Ying at the hospital. You never told me you two had become closer."
Lan Zhan has always been ice. The chill of it runs through him, cold like Wei Ying's flame is already leaving him.
His brother is undeterred by his silence. "He said that he saw the accident happen, and felt bad about leaving you alone." A pause, in which Lan Zhan can breathe again, and then Brother continues. "I think he oversold it when he pronounced your name wrong. You've shared classes for years. You have mentioned him many times... until recently. Of course, he may not have considered that we live together, and that I would have cleaned your room to prepare for your return."
Lan Zhan feels panic crawling in his spine. He cannot look at his brother.
"A-Zhan," his brother says, softer. "Why would Wei Ying think he needed to lie to me?"
Lan Zhan doesn't answer.
He is aflame, and soon all that will be left of him is ash.
Wei Ying receives texts.
???: I think this is Wei Ying's number?
Wei Ying: yes
???: Excellent. This is Lan Huan, Lan Zhan's brother.
Wei Ying stares for long moments.
Wei Ying: how is he??
Lan Huan: Better. He's being discharged today. I'll be taking him home.
Wei Ying: that's good news
He types in thank you for telling me and erases it; he types in tell him I hope he feels better soon and erases that too.
Wei Ying: I'm sure you're happy about that
Lan Huan: Of course.
Lan Huan texts him regularly. Lan Zhan doesn't text him at all, and Wei Ying leaves him be; if he's lucky, Lan Zhan will still want him when he's recovered enough for sex.
He replies to Lan Huan's texts with caution, doing his best to seem like he's just being polite to the guy, like someone who saw someone they barely knew get in an accident and was just the guy who called the ambulance, even though he's desperately thankful for the updates - to hear that Lan Zhan is recovering, that he's eating, the picture Wei Ying won't admit he saves and looks at often, of Lan Zhan pouting adorably at his brother's camera.
Lan Huan sent it with a message: A-Zhan is tired of his anticoagulant needles. I offered him a hug but he pushed me away. I had to keep trying. A- Zhan always rejects the things he wants most.
So many of the messages make Wei Ying's heart seem to melt with fondness and shatter into razor-sharp fragments, all at the same time.
Lan Huan: I made his favourite soup today. He told me it was unnecessary and an inefficient use of my time.
Lan Huan: I caught him watching a documentary about bunny rabbits. He turned it off and wouldn't put it back on again. (Attached to a picture of Lan Zhan, glaring, ears bright red with embarrassment.)
Lan Huan: Wei Ying, might I ask you to meet with me?
They meet at a coffee shop, where Lan Huan smiles warmly when he sees Wei Ying and buys him coffee.
"I must apologise in advance," Lan Huan begins. "I really don't know you very well, you see, and I suspect I may be about to make you uncomfortable."
Wei Ying nods warily, and takes a sip of his coffee. Lan Huan waits until he swallows before he continues. It's very thoughtful of him, or perhaps just justified self-preservation, because Wei Ying neither chokes nor spits coffee across the table at his next question.
"Are you in love with my brother?" Lan Huan asks, tone entirely mild.
"I - what - but - isn't that a ridiculous question?" Wei Ying splutters.
"I see," Lan Huan replies. "I'm afraid I must take that as a yes. If you were not, you would likely have found it easy to say so." He looks into his tea. "If you recall that I had to get your number from somewhere, and the likelihood that that would be from A-Zhan's phone, and the nature of his last message to you, you might understand why it is not a ridiculous question at all. I am wholly aware that the two of you have been... intimate."
Wei Ying thinks back, sick with horror, and - yes. There's no room at all for ambiguity, there.
"I would not have pried," Lan Huan continues, "but the, ah... state of his bedroom when I went to prepare it for his return from the hospital strongly suggested there might be someone who would be concerned as to his welfare."
"Does he know?" Wei Ying can barely whisper it. "That you know?"
"Yes." Lan Huan's gaze is sympathetic.
"So that's it, then," Wei Ying murmurs, mostly to himself.
"I hope not," Lan Huan says, to Wei Ying's astonishment.
"What?" He shakes his head. "What do you mean?"
Lan Huan smiles sadly. And then he leans forward, and he speaks.
About a little boy who loved his mother, more than anything, and lost her; how after her death he locked his heart away and refused to admit he cared for anything. How he would angrily discard his toys if he found himself too attached to them. About Lan Zhan, and his fear that if he loved anything too much, that would be the moment it would be lost to him forever.
About Lan Huan, the older brother who watched all of this for a lifetime and never found a way to change it.
"Until now, I hope," he finishes, and looks at Wei Ying with gentle sincerity.
Lan Huan has a plan.
Lan Zhan is slumped on the couch. A lifetime of conditioning to hold a proper posture has abandoned him in the face of weeks forced to sit, doing nothing, all the time.
His brother has gone out. Lan Zhan told him it was fine. Brother fusses too much, Lan Zhan was tired of his presence. Lan Zhan resents his absence.
And then he hears the door, but there is - surely, Brother would never make so much noise, and he can hear his Brother's voice. Who could he be talking to?
And then -
And then -
- Brother enters, and Wei Ying comes in behind him.
"Oh, sweetheart," Wei Ying says, when he takes in Lan Zhan's pathetic nest on the sofa. "We got you boba." He sets the cup by Lan Zhan's hand, still- wrapped straw beside it, kisses Lan Zhan lightly on the mouth before he has finished processing the shock of Wei Ying coming home with his brother.
His brother leans in through the door, even as Wei Ying breezes onwards towards - Lan Zhan's bedroom? With a duffel bag?
But his brother doesn't say a word about that. "Were you all right while I was out, A-Zhan? Do you need anything?"
Lan Zhan stares at him.
"All right," Brother says, smiling brightly. "I'm going to make a start on dinner. Wei Ying, are you sure it's all right to add the spices afterwards? I could -" he calls.
"It's fine, I promise!" Wei Ying calls back. He emerges from Lan Zhan's bedroom, right in front of his brother, and sits down beside Lan Zhan on the couch, leaning carelessly into Lan Zhan's side. Lan Zhan's broken leg is propped up on cushions, the other sprawled to the side, knee bent - Wei Ying somehow fits himself into the available space, resting one hand casually on Lan Zhan's thigh. "What are we watching?" he asks lightly, eyes on the screen.
Lan Zhan was hate-watching a fencing tournament, knowing it will be many, many months before he is capable of fencing again. (He loved to fence, of course... of course.)
"Boring," Wei Ying decides, and steals the remote.
Lan Zhan looks towards where his betrayer of a brother stood, but his brother has disappeared into the kitchen.
Lan Zhan doesn't know what to do, so he watches a children's movie with Wei Ying, in silence.
Wei Ying comments on the movie throughout, and Lan Zhan catches himself smiling six times. On two of them, he doesn't know how long he's been doing it.
His brother brings them both dinner on the couch; Wei Ying's is drizzled red with some kind of hot sauce, and Wei Ying eats it with evident relish.
Afterwards, Brother hands Wei Ying a glass of milk. Which would be only mildly perplexing if not for his admonishment, "I think he's suffered enough lately, don't you?"
Wei Ying laughs, and drinks the milk.
After that Brother announces his intent to do some studying in his room. "I think I'll put some music on," he says musingly. "So I won't be able to hear anything that happens out here. At all. You'll have to come and knock really loudly if you want my attention or help with anything, because of how I'll be concentrating and turning my music up loudly."
And then he goes into his bedroom closes the door, and in moments, music does indeed start playing audibly from behind the door.
Wei Ying turns to Lan Zhan. "Hi," he says. "I missed you." He leans in for a kiss, and Lan Zhan should push him away, he should, but he doesn't, he's missed Wei Ying so desperately and he's here - he doesn't, he can't, he lets Wei Ying push him deeper into his pillows, loses himself in it, as helpless as ever, impossible warmth curling through the ashen ruins of him.
And then Wei Ying pulls back and glances down and huffs a laugh, looks up at Lan Zhan through his eyelashes in the way that is his undoing every time it happens.
"I guess I don't have to ask if you missed me too," Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan's hand is in Wei Ying's hair, he doesn't even know when that happened, and it would be no more than a twitch of his fingers to register his disapproval when Wei Ying reaches for the waistband of the sweatpants Lan Zhan's wearing - they're his brother's, and slightly too big for him, Brother likes a looser fit, but they fit over his cast - and tugs them aside, and then -
- Brother is home -
- but Brother in his room, listening to music, he practically shouted that he thought this would happen and was giving his approval, and -
"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says, and his treacherous hands offer nothing but encouragement.
Later, his brother emerges when Wei Ying knocks on the door to help get Lan Zhan to bed, because he could do it himself but the doctors were emphatic about the risks should he fall (or put weight on his broken leg to avoid it) and Brother won't let him.
"Goodnight, A-Zhan. Wei Ying," Brother says with a smile when they're done, and closes the door behind him with Wei Ying still in Lan Zhan's bedroom.
"Big day," Wei Ying says amiably. "Might be time just to check out, I think. Maybe tomorrow we can work out some creative solutions for this." He gestures to Lan Zhan's cast. "I mean... in terms of sex, obviously, in general terms we're just waiting for it to heal right now, aren't we?"
And that's... that.
Suddenly it seems like Wei Ying is just... living there. With him. And his brother. Neither Wei Ying nor his brother says anything, but Brother is buying groceries, cross-checking schedules with Wei Ying, has given Wei Ying a key.
Wei Ying is sleeping in Lan Zhan's bed. Wei Ying and Lan Zhan are having very careful sex every night, because Wei Ying keeps offering and Lan Zhan, it seems, lacks any kind of self-control when it comes to Wei Ying.
Sometimes that makes him angry, and he's coldly silent to Wei Ying, the better to drive him away, and Wei Ying just ignores that.
He spends three hours glowering in sullen silence, and only realises Wei Ying isn't actually oblivious to it when Wei Ying suddenly snaps his fingers, and turns, and says, "You're stiff again, aren't you? Aiya, sweetheart, I told you to tell me," and then Wei Ying gets heat packs for where Lan Zhan's thigh muscles are cramping from immobility and gives him a massage, and it actually does feel a lot better and Lan Zhan is twenty minutes into the makeout session that follows that before he remembers he was trying to be angry.
It turns out that Wei Ying assumes all of his bad moods are because he is injured and hating it, and it's very difficult to get him to take it personally.
Lan Zhan might, in fact, actually have to use words.
"When are you leaving?" he finally manages to say.
Wei Ying blinks at him slowly, expression growing serious. "When you don't want me to be here," he says simply.
Lan Zhan frowns. "No," he says, because - that's not right.
"No?" Wei Ying tilts his head. "Sweetheart, I'm not even sure how to take no for an answer to that."
"That answer is incorrect," Lan Zhan explains. "It is not a valid response to my question."
"Yes it is," Wei Ying says. "Why would I leave before that?"
"Because -" He stops, grappling with the sheer incomprehensibility of Wei Ying's position. This will require emotional vulnerability, he realises with horror, but he can do this. "Because I love you," he says, and looks away.
"I love you too," Wei Ying says. What. "That's a reason to stay, not to leave."
"No," Lan Zhan insists. "I don't even know what you're doing here."
"Right now?" Wei Ying smiles. "Talking to my boyfriend. About how you're my boyfriend and I'm in love with you and I'm not leaving until you want me to."
"That isn't how it works," Lan Zhan says.
"Yes, it is." Wei Ying kisses him, slow and sweet. "It really is, I promise, but you don't have to believe me. You'll see. Eventually, you'll get it." Another kiss. "I'm not going anywhere, because you're my boyfriend and I love you."
Lan Zhan is dubious, but Wei Ying is kissing him, and that's, well... it's pretty good. And very distracting. He'll have to let it slide, he thinks.
Every so often, after that, Wei Ying will tell him again. Sometimes in bed, and Lan Zhan is glad that no-one but Wei Ying has any reason to know just how, exactly, Lan Zhan reacts to that.
Wei Ying stays. Brother keeps smiling and buying groceries for three. Wei Ying's mail starts arriving at their place, and Wei Ying's friends sometimes visit - his family, too. Wei Ying's sister smiles at Lan Zhan and tells him how happy she is that A-Ying has found someone he loves so very much. Wei Ying's brother is grumpy about gross displays of affection unless Lan Zhan's brother is also there, at which point Wei Ying's brother gets suspiciously quiet. (It takes another year before they start dating, and a few months more before Lan Zhan and his brother are living apart for the first time, because their home is not large enough for Wei Ying and his brother.)
Another year after that is when it finally happens.
"I'm Wei Ying," Wei Ying says. "This is my ex-boyfriend, Lan Zhan."
Lan Zhan sighs. "Stop that," he says, not very emphatically. "I'm his husband."