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Chef's kiss

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Friday. 7pm. The dinner rush had just started, and Lan Zhan was studying the line of tickets with a critical eye, checking and double checking that everything was in order.

“Time on fifteen,” she said, and Nie Huaisang, her sauté cook, screeched “Ah, I don’t know! Four minutes?”

“Ready in two, chef,” Wen Qing said, because Wen Qing was an actual professional. Lan Zhan needed to talk to Nie Mingjue about giving her a raise. Dauntless fry cooks like Wen Qing didn’t grow on trees, and Nie Huaisang especially would fall apart without her.

Behind his back, everyone said that Nie Huaisang was only on staff because his older sister owned the place. Lan Zhan never engaged in this sort of conversation, but she knew that it was true. She didn’t approve of nepotism and Nie Huaisang was a whiner and a pain, but she had to admit that he was generally competent. He got flustered but he was easy to talk down with a few sharp words, and he seemed to genuinely love the food, which made Lan Zhan grudgingly respect him. He came in with interesting menu ideas and he worked just as many hours as the rest of them did, albeit not as stoically.

Nie Mingjue didn’t work Fridays. She said that it was her privilege as head chef, and Lan Zhan thought that she was taking liberties there, but when Nie-laoshi was gone Lan Zhan was the highest ranking staff member, and that suited her pretty well.

Tonight she was mostly expediting, trying to keep the tickets in order, trying to keep everybody on the same rhythm and putting out little fires everywhere (both literally and figuratively). The kitchen was tiny and crammed in behind the bar, and in her position as expediter Lan Zhan was standing by the pass where she could glance over the dining room, check how many tables were busy, put faces to the tickets and know who was drinking the expensive wine, who was being picky about their orders. She could see the bar too, where they sat people to wait for tables and occasionally to eat, during busy spells. Tonight was such a busy spell, and the bar was back-to-back with diners. It was mostly couples on dates and two or three businesswomen mainlining cocktails, but right in the middle there was someone incongruous, seated alone.

Wei Ying had already secured herself an Old Fashioned and she had an open textbook in front of her that was huge and imposing and completely inappropriate for the setting. Either side of her diners nudged at the corners of the book with their elbows, but Wei Ying was enraptured by whatever she was reading, and did not seem to notice. She was wearing her white UC Berkeley sweatshirt and there was a large blue inkstain on the left sleeve. More ink on her hands, a cocktail stick hanging out the side of her pink mouth, and a loose ponytail like she’d put it up this morning and not bothered to re-tie it all day. Look up, Lan Zhan thought, and Wei Ying blinked, frowned, and turned a page.

Lan Zhan calculated that she had about thirty seconds to run down to the prep kitchen before the next order was up. She made it there and back in twenty. She checked a platter of appetizers, sent them out, and then waved over her head waiter.

“Chef,” Meng Yao said in greeting.

Lan Zhan had once heard Wen Qing refer to Meng Yao as a bootlicker under her breath and now all Lan Zhan could think when she looked at Meng Yao was bootlicker bootlicker bootlicker. But Meng Yao was tailor-made for this job, meticulous with his tables and ruthless with his waiters, and entirely willing to report every tiny bit of staff gossip and hearsay back to Nie Mingjue, so. Lan Zhan tolerated him.

“Can you send this to seat eleven? At the bar.”

Meng Yao looked down at the bowl of soup she was holding. “Is this going on your tab, chef?”

“It is already paid for.”

Meng Yao gave her a knowing smile. Bootlicker, Lan Zhan thought, and willed him away with her mind.

-

Jin Zixuan was one of Lan Zhan’s old buddies from culinary school; they had bonded over their mutual disdain for French cuisine and especially for those ultra expensive and finicky European knife sets that they were required to carry to each class. “Just give us a cleaver and have done with it,” Jin Zixuan grumbled. He was married now, and lived in Baltimore with his wife and their kid. In late August, he had sent Lan Zhan an email to say that his wife’s younger sister was moving to New York to start her postgrad at Columbia Law, and they were wondering if maybe Lan Zhan could show her around. Maybe even feed her a hot meal or two, Jin Zixuan wrote. It sounds like she might need it.

Lan Zhan had not wanted to do it. She hated showing out-of-towners around New York, and the only thing worse than that was letting them eat at her restaurant, where they inevitably ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, and expected Lan Zhan to come and listen to their idiotic feedback after every course.

So Wei Ying was a surprise.

The first time they met, Lan Zhan had only been planning to take Wei Ying for a quick after-work drink, but after the third round she ended up taking Wei Ying back to the empty restaurant and making her steamed pork and pumpkin dumplings from scratch, while Wei Ying took charge of the radio and told stories about her booze-soaked undergrad in California and her exploits with her asshole brother back in Baltimore.

As they were leaving Wei Ying said, “Let’s just do the same thing tomorrow night, Lan Zhan,” and so they did. Except this time Lan Zhan fed Wei Ying flaky guokui with her fingers, and afterwards roughed her up against the lockers in the staff room, picking her up so she could wrap her legs around Lan Zhan’s hips.

“Won’t this get you fired, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying whispered.

“I have done worse things,” Lan Zhan told her, and got a particular thrill out of Wei Ying’s high-pitched laughter.

Wei Ying was rude from the start, and told Lan Zhan off for not laughing at her jokes. Lan Zhan learned to notice the quiet spots in conversation, where if she stayed silent Wei Ying would continue talking past what she had originally meant to say, and reveal something deeper; an incident with her mother, a pessimistic musing about her future.

They were both second generation, but had also both spent time in China. Lan Zhan had graduated from ICA and then spent three years traveling there, working in various kitchens and exploring different cuisines, doing stints at a few culinary schools and meeting some of her extended family when she had time. Wei Ying had spent a year in Xiaogan as a teenager, “When my American family had had enough of me,” she joked, although there was something in her expression that suggested it had not been very funny. Lan Zhan liked that they could both speak Mandarin, especially when they were out in public, on the subway or sitting in a bar, because she could say anything she wanted and be fairly sure that no one else would be able to understand them (will your pussy be ready for me when we get home she asked Wei Ying once as she was paying for a meal, and Wei Ying had choked on her after dinner mint. Lan Zhan had thanked their waiter and reached out to rub warm, soothing circles on Wei Ying’s back).

After the second time they’d fucked, Lan Zhan had said, “I don’t really have the time to date anyone.” She hated how it sounded, like some arrogant playboy trying to excuse himself, but it was the truth. Lan Zhan worked fourteen hours a day, six days a week. She didn’t take public holidays and she hadn’t celebrated a birthday in four years.

“That’s fine,” Wei Ying said, “I don’t have the time either, do you know how much they make you read in law school? I don’t have time to sleep, Lan Zhan, let alone be your girlfriend.”

So officially they were not dating, but they did go on dates, and they could comfortably share a bed, and once when Lan Zhan sliced her finger open and had to go to the emergency room, she texted Wei Ying that she wasn’t going to make it to their agreed upon meeting for a nightcap in the dive bar beneath Wei Ying’s apartment (and the implicit fucking in Wei Ying’s apartment above the dive bar); Wei Ying had texted back which hospital and then shown up and spent three hours with Lan Zhan in the waiting room, trying to coax her into asking the on-call doctor if she would ever fingerbang again; they called each other up at 6am to watch the sunrise together from their separate apartment windows; and in the few months since they met Lan Zhan had become intimately familiar with every part of Wei Ying’s body.

Maybe they were dating. Whatever. Lan Zhan knew she was in love with Wei Ying. She didn’t really give a shit about the rest.

-

Wei Ying had been campaigning for her to do a lotus root special for weeks, but Lan Zhan had had trouble getting hold of it. Their regular produce supplier could only send them packaged, and Nie Mingjue had an agenda against pre-packed vegetables, it was fresh or nothing. Lan Zhan spoke to two of her other produce guys with the same result, getting increasingly frustrated about it, until finally she went to Chinatown in the early morning before her shift and found fresh lotus root at the very first market stall, bought ten of them, went to the restaurant and used the unoccupied downstairs prep station to brew pork rib and lotus root soup. She’d been studying the recipes for a while, making notes on the process and checking them against her own knowledge from her visits to Hubei and a few good Youtube videos that she found late at night, when she was too buzzed from work and Wei Ying had already fallen asleep beside her.

When it was ready she had taken a sample to Nie Mingjue, who was in her office, busy sweet-talking city officials into letting her break licensing laws. When she saw Lan Zhan, Nie Mingjue said “Hang on, Suzie,” and covered the mouth of the phone against her shoulder.

“What is this?” she said.

“Pork rib and lotus root,” Lan Zhan said. “I think we should run it as an appetizer special. It’s in season, and it looks good written down. People like dishes with bones in the name.”

“Do they,” Nie Mingjue said. Lan Zhan handed her the spoon, and Nie Mingjue accepted it with her free hand, but she didn’t use it on the soup. Instead she tapped it thoughtfully against her moustache.

“Is this about that girl?”

Lan Zhan closed her eyes. “Lotus root is easy to prep. It’s eye-catching. Low food cost.”

Nie Mingjue nodded. She still had the phone held against her shoulder. Lan Zhan wondered how long Suzie would wait on the line. Probably at least an hour. Nie Mingjue had kept civil servants on hold for much longer than that in the past, sometimes just for fun.

“It’s a bit homey,” Nie Mingjue said. “And I disagree about the look. It doesn’t have a wow factor.” She twirled the spoon between two fingers. The corner of her moustache was twitching; she was enjoying herself. “I’m not about home cooking. If you want home cooking, you can cook for your girl at home. My kitchen is not your kitty cat lounge.”

She’s brilliant, Lan Zhan told herself, she is brilliant and experienced and the best mentor you’ve ever had. Do not throw the soup in her face.

There was not enough time to cook it at home. Lan Zhan only took one day off a week, and she generally reserved it for sex or, if Wei Ying was busy, cardio. She took long runs along the Hudson or played basketball with her brother, endless and highly competitive games of H.O.R.S.E and Knock-Out until her body was exhausted enough for her to sleep. She brought home leftovers from the restaurant or ordered takeout from a rigorously tested and regularly updated coterie of late night joints. Lan Zhan had not cooked in her own kitchen in months.

Also, Wei Ying had not said, cook me lotus root at home. She had said, you need to serve lotus root in the restaurant. Lan Zhan did not like to do things halfway.

“Nie-laoshi,” she said. “Will you please just try the soup.”

“I don’t need to try the soup,” Nie Mingjue said. “I don’t care how it tastes. I bet it tastes incredible. It’s not going on my menu.”

Sometimes when Lan Zhan was angry or frustrated she could only react physically. She didn’t like to vocalize her anger unless she knew it was going to achieve something, and Nie Mingjue did not respond well to aggression or complaining; Lan Zhan had seen numerous line cooks, several sommeliers and a decent number of customers learn that the hard way. So Lan Zhan said nothing. She clenched her fists hard, set her mouth in a sharp line, met Nie Mingjue’s eye, and nodded.

“You can keep some ingredients ready, if you like,” Nie Mingjue said. “Make it next time your girl comes by. But you’re paying for everything you use, and don’t try to sneak it on the specials when I’m not here, because I will find out about it.” She handed the spoon back to Lan Zhan. “I have eyes everywhere.”

Not enough eyes to see how useless her younger brother was, Lan Zhan thought bitterly, but she obeyed Nie Mingjue all the same.

-

Lan Zhan wanted to open her own place one day. Vegan and stripped back, a one-page menu and maybe no alcohol, or perhaps only one or two very specific and regionally sourced wines. She would carry over one or two of her entrées from Nie Mingjue’s menu, but she didn’t want to keep the focus on Sichuanese cuisine. Lan Zhan had never been a big fan of chilli; it robbed the mouth of every other flavour.

She wanted to call her first restaurant Gusu, after the town in Suzhou where her parents were originally from. It would be an homage but also a challenge for herself, to live up to the name and feel like she had the right to use it.

Up until recently, Lan Zhan had never told anyone about these plans. She preferred to keep things to herself. But a week after she met Wei Ying for the first time, Wei Ying had shown up at her place late at night with a bottle of Maker’s Mark and said, “I definitely failed a midterm today, you have to get drunk with me to cheer me up.”

Lan Zhan didn’t drink very often—it made her too sleepy and took down her defences—but Wei Ying pouted beseechingly, and until that point in the night Lan Zhan had just been pacing around her apartment, hyped up and awake from a fight between the waiters that had happened on shift. At some point in their conversation Wei Ying started asking her about this stuff, what she wanted for the future, where she wanted to end up, and so they talked about Gusu.

“I think you should really reconsider the alcohol,” Wei Ying said. “How are you gonna make any money without a bar?”

“I could just make less money,” Lan Zhan said, although she knew that Wei Ying was right. She thought about it seriously. “I know that it makes sense to have a bar. I would just need it to be done perfectly, and I don’t know enough about alcohol to get the right selection. And I’m not interested in learning.”

“Lan Zhan, that’s what this is about?” Wei Ying said, grinning. “You need a booze expert? You need someone to sample every expensive niche wine on the planet and then give you a top ten list? Lan Zhan. What do you even think I’m here for?”

She took a pull from the bottle, looking pleased with herself, until she saw that one corner of Lan Zhan’s mouth was tilted up.

“What — oh, fuck you, Lan Zhan. I am here for more than your sexual pleasure.”

“Are you,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Ying scowled into her next shot of whisky. Wei Ying wasn’t all that butch but she liked to wear men’s clothing, and that night she was wearing an XXXL men’s T-shirt as a dress. It had a low-res print of a world map on the front with the caption: WORLD’S GREATEST PLANET ON EARTH. Back in those early days Lan Zhan used to strategize about how to get Wei Ying into one of her shirts or subtly trick Wei Ying into wearing her leather jacket. Later she would strategize about how to get her favorite jacket back off Wei Ying, just for the evening, and mostly just give up.

Lan Zhan waited for her to finish swallowing her drink and then yanked her into her lap, Wei Ying straddling her on the couch, her hair falling down into Lan Zhan’s eyes as they kissed.

“I want to fuck you,” Lan Zhan said. She ran her hands up the outsides of Wei Ying’s thighs, up to her hips beneath her T-shirt. She didn’t know when Wei Ying had taken her leggings off—maybe in the bathroom?—but she was grateful for the initiative.

“Yes,” Wei Ying breathed. “Do you have, do you have a strap?”

Lan Zhan had eight, actually, of varying shapes and sizes, and three different harnesses depending on the fit of the dick.

Normally she made the selection on her own. It was a nice moment of calm for Lan Zhan, thinking through her options, picking out the dick that she thought would most effectively devastate her quarry. But tonight she was a little tipsy and so she led Wei Ying into her bedroom and opened the drawer where she kept them and let Wei Ying go through them all, while Lan Zhan lounged back, observing, on the bed.

“Jesus, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said, bent over to examine one of the dildos in close up. “You’ve been holding out on me.”

Lan Zhan felt tired, but only a little, just enough to make her want to be sweet and indulgent to Wei Ying. Wei Ying had not stopped surprising her, and she liked that she couldn’t entirely predict or track what Wei Ying would do. She liked working out what was going on in Wei Ying’s head, and she wanted to see Wei Ying pick out what Lan Zhan was going to fuck her with. She wanted to give Wei Ying a tiny bit of control, and then take it all back.

Lan Zhan suspected that Wei Ying had slightly overestimated her own bodily capacities. She finally came over to the bed brandishing one of the more natural looking dicks. It was long and heavy, veined, with a wide, rounded end, and it was by far the largest of Lan Zhan’s eight dicks.

“Are you sure,” Lan Zhan asked, after she had strapped it on. She was sitting on the edge of her bed and leaning back on her elbows, watching Wei Ying hover above her lap.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying said. She sounded slightly defensive. “Are you trying to psych me out?”

“Would never try to psych you out,” Lan Zhan said mildly, and waited to see what would happen next.

Wei Ying was slow, sinking down onto Lan Zhan’s dick, her eyes very wide and drilling straight into Lan Zhan’s. She had to lower herself inch by inch, and her mouth was trembling. She was reaching behind herself to hold the base of the dick steady and Lan Zhan reached up to run a finger over Wei Ying’s nipple, following the curve down and across her cleavage, and over the other nipple. She pinched it gently.

“Guh,” Wei Ying said. “How far in is it?”

“Halfway,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Ying started to pant. Little breaths, huh, huh, huh. Lan Zhan thumbed over Wei Ying’s ear, feeling at the hair behind it and checking it for sweat; but not yet.

“Ah, Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan. Should we switch to a smaller one?”

“If you want to,” Lan Zhan said.

“Do you — do you think that we should? So that it’s faster?”

“Wei Ying can have what she wants.”

“I don’t know what I want,” Wei Ying whimpered. Something in Lan Zhan contracted sharply. “I don’t know, it feels so good but I can’t really move, you have to tell me.”

“Maybe you just need to be broken in,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Ying whimpered again, quieter this time, and leaned down so she could rest her forehead on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. It made the dick slip deeper inside her, and that made her whimper too. Lan Zhan stroked her hair.

“You have to,” Wei Ying said. “You have to do it, I can’t, you have to take over,” and Lan Zhan straightened up. She put her hands on Wei Ying’s hips and thrust up at the same time, slow but not gentle. At this angle the base pressed blunt and urgent against Lan Zhan’s clit and she breathed in sharply as she thrust up into Wei Ying again. Wei Ying put her forehead back on Lan Zhan’s shoulder and Lan Zhan wrapped one hand around the back of Wei Ying’s neck, holding her in place there, pressing down gently at the top of her spine as she pushed further inside.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying said, with her mouth open against Lan Zhan’s skin. “Yeah, thank you, it’s, is it all in me now? Is your whole dick inside me?”

Lan Zhan looked down. “There is one more inch.”

Wei Ying wrapped her arms tight around Lan Zhan’s neck.

“Can you take it?”

“Uh huh.”

“You’re almost there,” Lan Zhan soothed, and she put both hands on the small of Wei Ying’s back and pushed all the way in. She could feel Wei Ying’s thighs twitching around her hips, the sweet give of Wei Ying’s insides.

After a moment of laboured breathing, Wei Ying said, “That’s… god. I feel weirdly proud of myself.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan said. “You’re being very good.”

That made Wei Ying shiver, convulsing inside, and she pushed up very slightly on her knees and then pushed down again, nudging the dick against Lan Zhan’s clit. Lan Zhan breathed out long and slow. Her hands had found their way to Wei Ying’s hips again.

“Yeah?” Wei Ying asked. “Should I do it again?” She did it without waiting for an answer and Lan Zhan felt the lazy spark of pleasure, something touching at her gentle and steady while Wei Ying was forced open in her lap.

“Feels like it’s gonna turn me inside out,” Wei Ying murmured. Lan Zhan crooked her mouth in a hot, pleased smile.

“Next time I want you to pick it for me,” Wei Ying continued. She was rambling, Lan Zhan wasn’t sure she even knew that she was speaking out loud. “I want you to decide, don’t even tell me, just pick the dick you want me on and I’ll take it.”

“Slow down,” Lan Zhan said.

“Can’t,” Wei Ying said, “Wait, do you mean my mouth or…”

“Stop talking for a minute,” Lan Zhan said. She wrapped her hands underneath Wei Ying, at the join where her ass met her thighs, and spread the soft skin there. She could feel Wei Ying dripping onto her fingers and she flexed experimentally, the tips of her fingers grazing the sore stretched edges where Wei Ying was squeezing around Lan Zhan’s dick.

“N-no,” Wei Ying said.

“No?”

“It feels, hah, feels delicate there. Lan Zhan, you might hurt me.”

“Focus on my cock,” Lan Zhan said. “Don’t worry about getting hurt.”

“So mean to me,” Wei Ying said, and Lan Zhan felt more wetness slip out of her, and then she started riding Lan Zhan in earnest. It was a hot, steady pressure against Lan Zhan, but better than that was the way Lan Zhan could feel Wei Ying clinging around her, Wei Ying pliable and wet for her while Lan Zhan rocked up to meet Wei Ying’s anxious hips.

Lan Zhan kissed her right nipple and Wei Ying moaned, high and unrestrained as Lan Zhan took it into her mouth, sucking and then holding it between her teeth, letting Wei Ying feel the sharp edges of her incisors.

“Be nice,” Wei Ying whined, and sank down onto Lan Zhan’s lap, collapsing in a heap. Without moving her mouth away from Wei Ying’s nipple Lan Zhan said:

“If you stop riding me again, I will bite you.”

“No, no, Lan Zhan, don’t,” and Wei Ying scrambled upright, tangling her hands in Lan Zhan’s hair and pulling her head back as she rose up on Lan Zhan’s dick again and then slid herself down, over and over, frantic with it.

“Fuck, Lan Zhan,” she said, in between her sweet little breaths. “This was such an ambitious choice for your first time inside me, aren’t you proud of me? I’m gonna be able to feel it all day tomorrow.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan said. “It will be a good reminder.”

Wei Ying paused at the top of Lan Zhan’s dick, staring down at her, quizzical. “Remind me of what?”

“Of who you belong to,” Lan Zhan said, and bit her. She chose a spot high up on her chest, when the skin was closer to the bone, and she sucked as hard as she could through her teeth, letting Wei Ying’s screams reverberate through her, until finally Wei Ying sank back down on her dick like she was supposed to. Lan Zhan took her time dislodging herself, first the top row of teeth and then the bottom, lathing her tongue over the mark she had made.

Afterward, as they were both falling asleep, Wei Ying said, “You know, in some ways I’m kind of depressed. I took your biggest dick on my first try. Now I don’t have anything to build up to.”

“There are bigger ones available,” Lan Zhan said lazily. “I can pay for express shipping.”

The next morning Lan Zhan got up late, for the first time in forever, and allowed herself to make Wei Ying breakfast. It was only an omelette, but Wei Ying groaned and fell onto it as if it was a seven course feast. Lan Zhan fucked her again in the kitchen, choosing a slightly smaller dick this time for her own convenience. She got into work at noon, and she didn’t even care when Nie Mingjue crowed and cajoled her and changed her username in their electronic order system to STUD.

Lan Zhan would own her own place some day, but she knew she had to pay her dues before then. So she boiled pigs ears, and sliced roasted rabbit, and measured peppercorns by the handful. She went home with chilli oil under her fingernails. She did all of this without complaint. She could be patient. She did not mind waiting for things to fall into their places.

-

(The chilli oil led to a terrible incident, the first time Lan Zhan went to Wei Ying’s on a booty call after work. She had washed her hands but some of the chilli residue must have slipped past the soap because she was three fingers deep into Wei Ying when suddenly Wei Ying said, “Uh, Lan Zhan, are you like, trying something new?”

“Hm?” Lan Zhan said, distracted. “No?”

Wei Ying’s voice betrayed a hint of panic. “Okay, because something feels — aaah,” and she cried out, but not in a good way, not an oh shit Lan Zhan what did you just put inside me kind of way, but an expression of genuine discomfort.

Lan Zhan had to run down to the bodega for a bag of ice and dump it all in the bathtub so Wei Ying could sit in freezing cold water and numb her burning vulva. Lan Zhan bought a pail of strawberry ice cream too, and sat on the edge of the tub feeding Wei Ying spoonfuls and talking about Wei Ying’s criminal law discussion group and whether she could put together a paper arguing that plea bargains counted as cruel and unusual punishment.)

(Actually, it was maybe not a terrible incident, but at least an unfortunate one.)

(Maybe not that unfortunate, either. It was a good night. Lan Zhan was having trouble categorizing her experiences, recently.)

-

Lan Zhan was dealing with a sauté disaster when the lotus root soup went out, so she didn’t get to see Wei Ying’s reaction when she saw it.

After the emergency was dealt with and Nie Huaisang had been bandaged up (Lan Zhan had tried telling him that he should just keep working through the pain, he would never develop good calluses if he kept pandering to his hands like this, but Nie Huaisang was sniffling, and it was the Friday night rush, so Lan Zhan didn’t have time to scold him), Lan Zhan was taken aside by one of the busboys.

“Your girl is making a fuss,” he said.

“Address me as chef,” Lan Zhan said.

He bowed in mock-apology. “Your girl is making a fuss, chef,” he said, and smirked. Lan Zhan made a note to have him check all the rat traps before leaving. They never caught any, but it was still an unpleasant job.

(The rats all ran away when Lan Zhan started feeding a stray cat in the alley. She was a one-eyed tabby, and Lan Zhan brought her poached chicken and the occasional portion of raw eel or carp. In return Bichen took care of all the rodents in a half a block radius, and she trotted over purring whenever Lan Zhan came out to feed her.)

(“Oh my god, Lan Zhan, did you name the garbage cat that lives in your garbage?” Wei Ying said, when Lan Zhan mentioned Bichen. It was another drunken overshare; the only one that Lan Zhan genuinely regretted.

“Everything that serves a function deserves a name,” Lan Zhan said.

“Why don’t you just call it garbage cat,” Wei Ying said. “Lan Zhan. Why don’t you just call her your dirty alleycat bitch.”

“Are you trying to ask me for something,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Ying covered her mouth with her hands, scandalized.)

“What kind of fuss is she making?” Lan Zhan asked the busboy.

“She wants us to let her in the kitchen. Bo-di already told her that she’s not allowed back here and she said she was going to scoop someone’s eye out.”

Lan Zhan surveyed the tickets. Nie Huaisang was working three woks with only half-feigned confidence, Wen Qing was humming along with the rock music on the radio, everyone else was heads down, eyes sharp, calling back and forth to each other without needing to shout. Everything looked good. She went out to see Wei Ying.

Some of the other customers turned to look when she appeared. Partly because the chef’s uniform always drew attention, people reacted to her like they were seeing the pilot coming down the aisle of their plane, but partly because… Lan Zhan was sweating very slightly. Her hair was neatly cropped and Wei Ying had touched up her undercut recently, but this far into the shift there were several damp and messy tendrils sticking to the sides of her face. She had long callused fingers and a criss-cross of geometric tattoos on her forearms, and she wore a single silver hoop in her right ear. Lan Zhan was aware of the effect that her appearance had on most people. She let them look.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying said, as soon as the kitchen door opened. She was balancing the soup bowl on top of her textbook, and Wei Ying couldn’t afford her own books, so it was definitely borrowed from the library. She had already spilled some soup on it.

“Lan Zhan! How did you know the exact soup my jiejie makes? Who did you bribe?”

Lan Zhan leaned over the bar and put her palm to Wei Ying’s cheek and kissed her. She was surprisingly cool to the touch, and she keened up into Lan Zhan’s mouth. Slut, Lan Zhan thought. As soon as she pulled away Wei Ying started talking again; Wei Ying didn’t even wait for the line of spit between their mouths to snap.

“It isn’t even on the menu, Lan Zhan. Your waiter was acting really weird about it when he served me. I demand answers!”

“Every professional kitchen can also cook dishes to order,” Lan Zhan said.

“Then when did you even have time to make it? This place is packed out.”

“I prepared it before my shift, when you told me you were coming,” Lan Zhan said. “It’s not a difficult dish.”

“Ah,” Wei Ying said. “Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan cast her eyes down into the ice bucket, and then back up again. She liked the way Wei Ying was looking at her.

“How late can you stay,” she asked.

“As late as I’m allowed,” Wei Ying said, and batted her eyelashes. She only ever did that as a joke, but it worked on Lan Zhan regardless.

“Tell them to put your drinks on my tab,” Lan Zhan said, and swaggered back to her kitchen.

-

Nie Mingjue was a purist and did not believe in desserts, but she was also a capitalist, so they offered a variety of elaborate fruit platters for the rubes to plough into at the end of their meals, everything freshly sourced and daintily cut and served at an absurdly high mark-up. Around 11pm, the last of these left the pass.

Part of Lan Zhan's job was composing the rota and handling most of the ordering, taking care of a lot of the day-to-day shit that Nie Mingjue didn’t have time for, and so she had her own office. It was a quarter the size of Nie Mingjue’s and it was in the basement, but it belonged to Lan Zhan. Once the last of the fruit was out, she scrubbed her fingers for five minutes in scalding water, and then took Wei Ying down to her office and bent her over the desk.

Sitting in her office chair, Lan Zhan ate Wei Ying out from behind, long licks up the whole pink stretch of her. She had one hand tucked under Wei Ying’s pelvis, fingers grazing around her hole without quite pressing in. Wei Ying was making desperate, anguished noises.

“You need to arch your back further if you want me on your clit,” Lan Zhan said.

“It’s, huh,” Wei Ying said. “It’s already catching on the edge of the desk.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Y-yeah.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan said, “then you can stay where you are.”

She slipped her fingers inside, keeping them shallow until she felt the first drips of wetness trailing down her forearm and over the crease of her elbow. With her other hand she was holding onto Wei Ying’s left asscheek, harder than was necessary because Wei Ying was actually being quite good and still, just barely rocking down against Lan Zhan’s desk. Lan Zhan dug her fingernails into Wei Ying’s ass anyway, leaving pale red crescent marks in her wake. Lan Zhan had always kept her nails short for health and safety reasons, but Wei Ying made her want to grow them out, maybe get them filed to tips, scrape them down Wei Ying’s back and leave long red lines all over her skin.

After she came, Wei Ying turned around without pulling up her underwear and tugged Lan Zhan’s hand up to her mouth. Lan Zhan pushed one finger in with interest. Wei Ying licked up and down it and then sucked it back into her mouth, and Lan Zhan said, “Taste good?”

“Yeah,” she said. Her voice was satisfyingly thick. “Your fingers always taste good, Lan Zhan, you have magic chef fingers.”

“They’re covered in you,” Lan Zhan told her.

Wei Ying went red, like she always did whenever Lan Zhan commented on how wet Wei Ying got. One day Lan Zhan wanted to time one of those comments for exactly when Wei Ying was coming, just to see how she handled it.

For now, she put Wei Ying on her knees and unbuckled her own jeans, got them out of the way so that Wei Ying could give over her mouth. She tangled her hand in Wei Ying’s hair, and spread her legs.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said, “how is it so good, it’s so sweet, it tastes like something you made.”

Lan Zhan waited for Wei Ying to look up at her, and then said “Technically you made that taste.” It made Wei Ying splutter against Lan Zhan’s clit, which was also good.

Afterward she set Wei Ying up at the bar with a fresh drink and another serving of the soup, and then went to check in with her cooks and Meng Yao, noting any shortages for the order list tomorrow, accepting Meng Yao’s fevered report on an altercation between their bartender and the smirking busboy (just the usual shit, somebody stole somebody’s dish rag). They had done around 300 covers tonight, not bad, but tomorrow would be busier. She wrote her closing notes for Nie Mingjue and went to the staff room to get changed.

Out in the bar, staff drinks had started. Someone was playing their god awful lofi chill mix on the speakers. Nie Huaisang was walking around looking shell shocked with an IPA hanging limp from his hand. Wei Ying was helping to break down the dining room, hauling chairs onto the tables so that the morning crew would be able to mop. When she saw Lan Zhan she turned and grinned, raised one hand and mouthed hi, as if it was the first time they had seen each other that night.

Lan Zhan kicked out a chair at one of the last uncleared tables and took Wei Ying onto her lap, idly stroking her hip, feeling bone-tired and content.

Meng Yao was smoking a menthol and counting out the tips. The busboys and most of the line cooks were crowded around a phone discussing baseball scores. Wen Qing was already ordering cabs to the nightclub five blocks down, the regular staff haunt on Friday nights.

“You guys coming with?” she asked Lan Zhan.

“No,” Lan Zhan said. Wei Ying was drooping on her lap, something sleepy satisfied about her eyes. “We’re going home.”