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They meet when Wei Ying is new in town.

“Like, so new in town. Everything I own is still in boxes.”

“Not everything,” Lan Zhan observes, because Wei Ying brought all of her own tools to woodworking class. They’re serviceable, but they lack the weight that Lan Zhan’s have. This is a starter set for dilettantes. It will do most household tasks, but would require the wielder to put in a lot of personal power for any tougher jobs. “And you decided that your most important first step was learning to assemble a bird-feeder?” That’s the intro class assignment.

“I couldn’t stay in the apartment, you know?”

Lan Zhan does not know. It seems irresponsible to come to class, and Wei Ying is obviously not a novice and Wei Ying keeps looking around the room, smiling and laughing. It puts Lan Zhan’s teeth on edge to think that perhaps Wei Ying is laughing at the other students, at their inexperience and struggles. She stands there in a decorative plaid shirt worn open over a t-shirt and jeans with converse, like a cartoon of a builder. Compare the flimsy thread in Wei Ying’s shirt with the sturdy flannel that Lan Zhan has buttoned up and tucked into her thick canvas pants. Lan Zhan’s belt is functional and scuffed from having measuring tape hooked onto it and her boots are properly steel-toed. It’s for the shop, but the pieces are similar to what she’d wear in the outside world, perhaps swapping in jeans for that casual flair.

“Besides,” Wei Ying says, “I wanted to meet --” she looks around, “--people.”

Ah. Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying again, a recontextualisation. Not a cartoon, but the best simulacrum she could put together. “There are many people here.”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, eyes shining and blushing slightly. She ducks her head and fiddles with the long dowel that functions as a perch.

“There are more people at the Tuesday advanced furniture class,” Lan Zhan says. She’s not sure what makes her offer.

Wei Ying’s head snaps up. “Do you think I’m ready for that?”

Lan Zhan shrugs and Wei Ying laughs, clear as a bell.

“I see how it is, you think you can tease the new girl. Well, we’ll see how well you can tease me on Tuesday.”

Lan Zhan’s heart thumps. “I suppose we will.”

***

Wei Ying comes to Tuesday class. And she comes to drag king night at the club. And she gets coffee at the place where Lan Zhan likes to go. After their first meeting, Wei Ying is suddenly everywhere.

Whenever she sees Lan Zhan, she smiles wide and comes over to offer Lan Zhan a compliment.

Lan Zhan initially assumed this was flirting behaviour, but every time she lets her gaze linger just a little bit in response, Wei Ying’s entire body locks up. So Lan Zhan chalks it up as a lost cause and doesn’t dwell on it.

Lan Zhan is content enough to let it lie, but Wei Ying is not, as Lan Zhan learns, standing outside the converted warehouse space they use for Tuesday night advanced woodworking class.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable with people, that’s my thing. Doesn’t matter how weird someone is, or anything else about them, I always feel totally ready to talk.”

“Hm,” Lan Zhan says, and thinks to herself that there’s a gap between feeling uncomfortable with someone and enjoying their company, and Lan Zhan would hate to live in a world where she felt like she had to genuinely like everyone she came into contact with. “But you feel uncomfortable with me.”

Wei Ying winces. “Don’t take it the wrong way, Lan Zhan!” Lan Zhan is not taking it any particular way. “This is definitely a me problem. I mean, obviously, because you’re --” and here Wei Ying makes a noise like a hive of bees whistling. It’s buzzy but also high-pitched and Lan Zhan assumes it confers some sort of positive attribute.

“So you want to spend more time together.” That’s how Wei Ying had opened the conversation. She’d bounded up to Lan Zhan during their five minute water break, both of them stepped outside into the dark night air. Outside was always a welcome change from the bright lights and atmosphere of the warehouse, where the air was thick with wood dust and shavings and even with a mask it felt like an attack on the sinus cavities. It made Lan Zhan want to keep her mouth shut, but Wei Ying smiled broadly and waved, leather bracelets falling down her forearm, and said, “I think we should spend lots of time together!” Lan Zhan’s heart had quickened immediately. She’d been watching Wei Ying’s growing confidence with the lathe for a while now. And then all of this ridiculousness spilled out.

Wei Ying nods quickly, up and down. “Yes. So much time. Oodles of time. Like, for example, we could go for drinks after this!”

“I don’t drink.” Wei Ying immediately flushes and starts to apologise. “But I will accompany you to the bar.” Lan Zhan doesn’t need to hear how flustered Wei Ying can get, how awkward her words become. She’s familiar with the phenomenon from months of carpentry workshop and classes. Wei Ying has many skills, and one of them is working herself up to the point of incoherence. Lan Zhan tries not to be charmed by it.

***

The bar is… fine. It’s the only lesbian bar and club in the city and has a couple of floors. The floor that Wei Ying wants to stick to is the ground floor, which has booths, and a bar that’s ringed with soft blue lights. The area is clearly designated for lounging because the music is only extremely loud music as opposed to ear drum shatteringly loud. They do a good shrub, so Lan Zhan gets to hold some bubbly fruit water while Wei Ying orders a pint of beer.

“Ah, you’re so classy,” Wei Ying says. “I should be drinking whiskey or something.”

Lan Zhan stops spinning the metal straw around the glass. “Do you like whiskey?”

Wei Ying deflates a little. “Well, no, but --”

Lan Zhan turns away.

Wei Ying charges around to face her. “Oh, you’re mad. Don’t be mad.” A pause. “Why are you mad?” This last is said quietly enough that Lan Zhan feels the irritation around her heart retract its spikes.

“Don’t force yourself,” she says. Don’t pretend with me. Wei Ying’s eyes go wide.

She reaches back and twists her ponytail in her hand. “Right.” She swallows. “I’m not, I just --”

Whatever Wei Ying just, Lan Zhan doesn’t get to hear it because her friends Luo Qingyang and Nie Huaisang walk up to them. Huaisang and Lan Zhan are ‘best friends,’ which is a terrible term, but she’s forced to acknowledge its accuracy. Being best friends means that whenever Lan Zhan looks away from someone acting unacceptably, she makes eye contact with Huaisang who is doing the same. Huaisang raises an eyebrow at her and Lan Zhan stomps down her irritation, still prickling its way inside of her. She’s annoyed with Wei Ying, but in a way that she can recognise is unreasonably proprietary. She doesn’t want Huaisang joining in.

Lan Zhan shouldn’t have worried, because as soon as they have company, every trace of Wei Ying’s nervousness is gone. She’s in her element, sitting back in the purple velvet booth, arm spread along the back. Her black jeans stretch across her thighs when she spreads them and the collar on her red shirt crumples asymmetrically.

Huaisang is immediately charmed, laughing while Wei Ying gestures. From the motions, Lan Zhan thinks it’s about their woodworking workshop today. The subject was Mortise and Tenon joinery. Lan Zhan was co-facilitating the workshop and several of the students were having issues making their joints tight enough. Lan Zhan supposes this is humorous.

Wei Ying’s joints were, of course, perfect.

“Oh,” Huaisang says, “I’m empty.”

Wei Ying levers herself to her feet, sliding her legs carefully over Lan Zhan’s on her way out of the booth. Lan Zhan holds still and lets her pass, their denim-clad thighs scraping against each other. “Say no more, I’m on it.” She scoops Huaisang’s glass up and checks in with Luo Qingyang, who demurs.

“Where were you keeping this one?” Huaisang says. She’s pulled a fan out of somewhere -- she says it’s a necessary accessory for any club and Lan Zhan has long since stopped asking her where she keeps them. “It’s no fair you get first dibs on all of the fresh ones.”

Finally, a target for Lan Zhan’s ire. She glares. Of course Huaisang can smell the way Wei Ying radiates new to the big city. It wasn’t a small town, Lan Zhan! It had five thousand people in it! So did Lan Zhan’s high school.

Luo Qingyang jumps in. “No, she definitely hasn’t gotten anywhere with this one. You can tell.”

They both peer at Lan Zhan, who crosses her arms. She can feel her jacket creak.

“Oh, you’re right," Huaisang says.

Then Wei Ying is back.

Luo Qingyang blinks. “That was fast?”

Wei Ying is focused on puting the glasses down carefully on the table. There’s a second glass of the shrub that Lan Zhan hadn’t asked for, but is glad to have. “What?” Lan Zhan reaches out to help steady the last glass before it leans over. Why are pint glasses narrower at the bottom? “Oh, yeah, Katie is really nice.”

Everyone looks at each other.

Wei Ying clarifies. “The bartender.”

“I’ve been coming here five years and I don’t know the bartender’s name,” Huaisang says.

Wei Ying startles. “Did you ask?”

Luo Qingyang shoots a meaningful glance at Lan Zhan.

***

Lan Zhan walks Wei Ying home. They both live in the gaybourhood, Lan Zhan because her family has lived here two generations and Wei Ying because if she was going to move to the big city to pursue her dreams in the theatre, then she was going to go all the way.

Wei Ying is quiet on the walk home. Lan Zhan doesn’t mind it, she likes listening to the sound her boots make on the pavement, the low-grade roar of traffic. The two of them weave around other pedestrians, splitting apart and reforming. Wei Ying is still learning a smaller personal space bubble but she’s at least learned not to fully step off the sidewalk anymore.

“You really know everyone, huh, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying doesn’t sound happy when she says it.

“I don’t know Katie the bartender.”

Wei Ying knocks her shoulder into Lan Zhan’s. “You’re so funny, you know that’s not what I meant.”

Lan Zhan shrugs.

“Tonight was ok, right?” Wei Ying asks. Lan Zhan acknowledges that it was. “So we can keep doing this? Not this specifically, but like, hanging out.”

Wei Ying stops walking so she can turn the full force of her pleading stare on Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan wants to push into her space, force her to walk backwards on her scuffed sneakers until she runs out of sidewalk.

“Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan closes her eyes, exhales. Rocks back on her heels. “Yes.”

***

Katie is not the only friend Wei Ying makes. Every time they’re out for coffee, or a run, or at the bar, Wei Ying ends up in an earnest conversation with someone.

Some woman asks about Wei Ying’s bracelets and Wei Ying says, “They’re dead easy,” and proceeds to shred up a bar napkin to demonstrate the process. “Though, haha, guess this one is a little small for your wrist!” That woman, like so many others, walks away slightly glazed and fantasising about how to get Wei Ying to make one just for them.

Lan Zhan might raise her hand to fix her hair, coincidentally letting her cured leather bracelet slide down her wrist. She got hers two weeks into Wei Ying’s desensitisation campaign. Lan Zhan is under no illusions, she knows that Wei Ying will make them for just about anyone, is planning to make them for the crew of the show she’s working on, but, still. She has one and they don’t.

“What’s this for?” Lan Zhan asked.

“I make them for all my friends,” Wei Ying said and tied the knot off.

“Is that what we are?”

“What? Of course we are!”

“You aren’t nervous around me anymore?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that.” Wei Ying nibbled on her bottom lip. “I mean, unless you don’t want me to hang around.”

“No,” Lan Zhan said.

***

Somewhere along the way, Wei Ying decides that Lan Zhan is an expert at everything queer and that’s why she was nervous in the first place. “I just didn’t want to be caught doing it wrong by someone who is the best at it,” she says and smiles wide and genuine, gesturing at Lan Zhan’s everything. Right now Lan Zhan’s everything encompasses her bomber jacket and thin solid tie worn over a shirt with a tight check pattern. Lan Zhan decides not to unpack any of that.

This translates to Wei Ying sending her an SOS text at seven p.m. on a Thursday accompanied by a terribly-lit selfie.

What did you do, Lan Zhan types

You have to help me fix it 😩 😩

What Wei Ying has done is chopped off her ponytail roughly at her chin.

Wei Ying comes over, hysterical. Apparently this decision was not even alcohol-fueled. “I just -- I looked in the mirror and it didn’t look right. It didn’t look like me.”

Lan Zhan understands that. She cut her hair as a teen, despite her uncle’s disapproval, and never looked back. “What do you want me to do?”

Wei Ying brightens. Turns out Wei Ying wants her to cut it, which: no.

Lan Zhan books her in for an emergency appointment at the queer barber down the street for first thing in the morning. They’re there when Taylor shows up to punch in the security code and jangle their very large keys.

Taylor’s breath puffs out in a visible cloud when they say “You owe me,” in meaningful tones. Lan Zhan nods. She makes a mental note to swing by Taylor’s with her toolkit. She knows Taylor has a lighting strip stuck to her ceiling with carpenter’s glue right now; Lan Zhan can put some anchors in and screw that thing back into place. Lan Zhan always repays her favours.

They get Wei Ying into the chair and when she pulls off her toque all three of them wince. It’s worse in the harsh grey light of morning.

“Oh honey,” Taylor says and Wei Ying crumples a little. The curtain of her roughly shorn hair falls into her face. Taylor pauses. “Bud,” they say. “Don’t worry. This is very fixable.”

“Really?” Wei Ying says hopefully.

“Yeah, the only question is what do you want to look like?”

Wei Ying’s eyes widen. And then Taylor pulls out the funniest lookbook Lan Zhan has ever seen. She flips past the pictures of Tessa Thompson and Janelle Monae and goes right to the back of the book: Kristen Stewart, Carmen Esposito -- is that Korra? What the hell. Wei Ying’s eyes flick over the pictures with casual interest and then -- stop. Taylor, who has been watching Wei Ying and not the book, goes, ah.

Twenty minutes later, Wei Ying has a mullet. It’s almost crispy from the amount of product Taylor has put in it and Wei Ying is glowing.

“It’s so light!” she says. “You’re smiling,” she observes and so Lan Zhan is.

“It suits you,” Lan Zhan says.

***

“Wah, Lan Zhan, it’s so hard,” Wei Ying says and huffs.

“Mm,” Lan Zhan agrees. Lan Zhan has been watching Wei Ying try on different button-ups for the last twenty minutes over FaceTime.

“I never dress nice enough, but everything fancy feels terrible.” By fancy, Wei Ying means ‘has a skirt involved.’

“This one looks good,” Lan Zhan says, deliberately keeping her voice light and even. This one does look good. It’s red and wide-collared and Lan Zhan can see the edges of Wei Ying’s collarbones when she primps the collar into position.

“You said that about all of them.”

They all look good. You look good, Lan Zhan doesn’t say. She thinks she could, but she couldn’t survive Wei Ying scrunching her nose and giggling and saying “You’re so funny, Lan Zhan!” Which she would. Because she has before.

And the shirts do look good. But what looks best is the moment of transition where Wei Ying’s shoulders bunch and twist to get the shirt into position. Lan Zhan can see the edges of Wei Ying’s tank top. She notices that Wei Ying has stopped shaving her pits, that each strand of straight hair is thick but the coverage is thin. Lan Zhan can see skin coming through beneath it.

“Please, Lan Zhan, this is the first date I’ve managed to get and I want it to go well.”

This is the first date Wei Ying has managed to realise is a date. Mikaela had unlocked some magical combination of eye contact and refusing to let go of Wei Ying’s hand and eventually the light went off behind Wei Ying’s eyes and she went, “oh, oh!” and said, “it’s a date.”

Mikaela had winked and sauntered off and half of the coffee shop had glared at her like they wanted to put strychnine in her oatmilk latte.

Wei Ying has a reputation, one she is completely unaware of, of obliviousness. The city is big, but the lesbian community is small. And a perfect baby butch like Wei Ying does not show up every day. She was noticed by every queer in the radius, many of whom immediately started projecting their own fantasy life onto Wei Ying. It could have gone badly in either direction, except that Wei Ying could not believe or notice that anyone was flirting with her.

The most egregious example of this ended with Lan Zhan having to go camping.

Two women had approached Wei Ying when they were doing their post-run cooldown stretches. Lan Zhan could understand why. Wei Ying wore a black sports bra under a grey Adidas basketball shirt and the way her sweat patterns worked out turned the shirt translucent. Lan Zhan dressed in more sensible blue compression layers and never had this problem. The women managed to cling onto the two of them all of the way to the juice bar. Normally both Lan Zhan and Wei Ying liked to go straight home and shower, but Wei Ying found it hard to say no.

Everyone got some blackberry protein thing and Wei Ying talked about how silly it felt to buy blackberries when they grew so much, and she talked about hiking and camping and the beauty of nature.

One of them said she’d loooove to go camping, would Wei Ying take her?

Wei Ying startled like she always did when someone said they wanted her and then smiled and said, “Yeah! Lan Zhan, do you think we could get a group together?”

And that’s how Lan Zhan ended up sitting across the fire from Wei Ying, mosquito bites in her eyebrows, listening to Wei Ying sing a sad acoustic version of the Boys of Summer. Lan Zhan truly would never forget that night.

So if Wei Ying struggles to get a date, that is a situation of her own making.

Wei Ying finally runs out of time and goes with the black shirt with the silver pinstripe. Lan Zhan hopes Mikaela appreciates it.

***

The date seems to go fine, as far as Lan Zhan can tell, but nothing special. When Lan Zhan asks Wei Ying about Mikaela, Wei Ying goes, “Hmm? Oh yeah. She’s nice.” That’s it.

This has, however, unlocked the floodgates, and now Wei Ying goes on one or two coffee dates a week. They never seem to go very far. A couple of dates, all of them over at reasonable hours, and Wei Ying is back in her apartment whittling small wooden donkeys.

Wei Ying seems to have a type. They’re all older, but not by much, and well-put-together. They’re the type of woman who could ruthlessly run a bake sale wearing a smile the entire time. They smell nice and they look cute and Wei Ying is very polite with them. Considering that one time, Wei Ying once proved she could stretch her mouth wide enough that she could bite three mantoui simultaneously, Lan Zhan thinks that speaks for itself.

That means when Wei Ying’s sister comes into town as a soloist with the symphony, Wei Ying does not have a girlfriend to ask to attend it with her. Wei Ying is uncharacteristically nervous when she asks if Lan Zhan would like to go.

Lan Zhan is neutral on the symphony, the careful neutrality of someone who played both qin and piano growing up and now regularly mangles her hands on half-sanded wooden planks.

But Lan Zhan can appreciate classical music, and she can appreciate even more that Wei Ying is asking Lan Zhan to meet her sister. Lan Zhan knows how important her sister is, half of her stories start with “Yanli says --” or “One time, Yanli--”

Wei Ying has met Lan Zhan’s brother already and they got on like a house on fire. Wei Ying has an easy personality, when she’s not trying to deliberately be irritating, and an encyclopedic knowledge of sports. Lan Xichen has never outgrown his fixation on basketball, so they were able to have an in-depth conversation about the three-point shot and whether it had overly shifted the balance of the game.

The only awkward moment in that conversation came when her brother asked, guileless, how Wei Ying’s parents felt about her living alone, so far from home. Her smile didn't shift when she explained that both of her parents were dead. Lan Xichen winced dramatically and Lan Zhan had barely enough time to squeeze Wei Ying’s arm before she easily shifted the conversation onto the lovely countertop garden Lan Xichen had growing.

So Lan Zhan appreciates the importance of Yanli’s visit.

They both have driver’s licenses, Lan Zhan for work and Wei Ying needed it in her hometown, but Lan Zhan is the one with the membership to the car share, so it’s Lan Zhan who comes by in the Fiat to pick up Wei Ying. The reflective windows give her the chance to hide her reaction to Wei Ying’s outfit. Lan Zhan didn’t know that Wei Ying owned a dress.

It’s strappy and black and falls mid-thigh. It stretches against her hips and lower belly, gapes a little at the armpit. Lan Zhan wonders if it ever fit or if she bought it back in high school and never bothered with a new one. It would, Lan Zhan thinks, examining it carefully, be better if Wei Ying had a strapless bra on underneath, instead of what she is wearing, which appears to be nothing.

The skirt would be a little short for the symphony without the opaque black tights Wei Ying is wearing underneath. They shine a little in the places they stretch the most, the backs of Wei Ying’s calves and her quads.

Wei Ying twists in her seat to buckle herself in, small silver studs winking in her ears. She catches a glimpse of the bouquet of flowers in the back.

“For Yanli,” Lan Zhan says.

“Oh. I should have thought of that.” She bites her lip.

“You can give them to her,” Lan Zhan says.

“No, no, I can’t steal your work.”

“From the both of us, then.”

Wei Ying thinks it over. “Yeah! That works.” Lan Zhan ignores the thrill she gets from the idea of them giving a joint present.

***

The symphony is fine. They’re playing Saint Saëns' Oboe Sonata in D Major and Lan Zhan appreciates the way the piano and the oboe dance around each other, not in harmony, but in complementary musical patterns.

Wei Ying doesn’t seem to be enjoying it as much. She sits still for minutes at a time and then kicks her feet out to stretch them, or reaches up to check that the straps of her dress are still in place.

When her dress rides up, Lan Zhan can see that she’s got a run high up on her thigh. She drags her eyes away from it, catches them on Wei Ying’s widespread knees, and does not think about how hard she would have to worry her finger to get it to fit into the hole. Wei Ying crosses her arms.

That’s a dangerous position considering Wei Ying’s lack of...architecture...in the dress, so Lan Zhan pulls her arms away. For safety, she puts her own wrist, palm up, on the armrest between them. She’s wearing the friendship bracelet Wei Ying made her even though the braided leather doesn’t match the two-piece linen suit she’s wearing. But the decision pays off. This way Wei Ying can play with the bracelet, lifting and dropping it, wiggling her fingernail between the strands of the braid. Lan Zhan keeps her arm loose and relaxed and focuses on the music. She keeps her hand the same when Wei Ying’s fingers wander off of the bracelet and onto Lan Zhan’s wrist. Wei Ying traces the path of the blue vein that runs up Lan Zhan’s forearm, absent-mindedly pressing and releasing, feeling where it sinks into the heel of Lan Zhan’s palm and disappears. Then her fingers keep going, brushing against the flesh of Lan Zhan’s palm. Can Wei Ying feel the calluses there? Lan Zhan has earned those from years of putting things together.

They stay like that for a long time. Lan Zhan sinks into it.

Then Wei Ying is clapping and standing and bouncing on the balls of her feet in her ballet flats. Lan Zhan comes back to herself.

They wait until everyone filters out of the seats. Wei Ying taps at her phone and eventually nods.

Yanli meets them by the stage door. She looks just like her pictures, maybe a little bit more wan under the streetlights and after a draining performance. But she smiles widely when she sees Wei Ying and Wei Ying shouts and runs at her. Yanli pulls her into a hug so strong and tight that it makes Wei Ying look like the frail one between them. Lan Zhan wonders if she should back away and give them some time.

As she forms the thought, they pull apart, just enough for Yanli to grip one of Wei Ying’s hands and hold onto it. “I can’t believe you still have that dress, that thing barely fit you when you were fifteen.”

Lan Zhan feels vindicated. She steps up and presents the flowers.

“Thank you, they’re lovely,” Yanli says, and smells them. She looks expectantly at Wei Ying. Wei Ying smiles back at her and misses the cue to introduce Lan Zhan to Yanli.

“I’m Lan Zhan.”

You’re Lan Zhan,” Yanli says. Lan Zhan feels her body go into alert. She can’t ask anything about it because Wei Ying is already tugging Yanli along. Yanli lets herself get pulled.

They’re at a dessert place because it’s late and Wei Ying wants to show off a little.

Lan Zhan’s plan was to let the conversation flow over her, but Yanli is strikingly unlike Wei Ying. She listens in this careful way that pulls words out. Lan Zhan describes the project she’s working on, which is a curio cabinet for someone with an expensive doll collection. It needs to be large but also dollscale, simultaneously. It’s been a rewarding challenge.

In turn, Wei Ying talks the same amount, but says more. Lan Zhan thought she heard all of Wei Ying’s thoughts -- case in point, knowing that she wanted to take Yanli to the dessert place to show off -- but it turns out there were more. Lan Zhan didn’t know that the director for their theatre’s staging of The Phantom of the Opera -- not the Andrew Lloyd Webber one, the one that came out a couple years later -- has been putting all sorts of staging pressure that makes Wei Ying worry about the cast. Lan Zhan hadn’t heard that the apartment above Wei Ying’s found termites but the landlord decided to only spray that one apartment and not hers.

“--so now I’ve turned into some crazed Tupperware woman out of the 80s instead of being able to re-use packaging to store my incredibly delicious rice and oats, like nature intended.”

Wei Ying has her arms wide, waiting for the laugh, but Yanli doesn’t give it. Instead she says, “Tupperware stacks nicely, though.”

This seems to be the right answer, because Wei Ying pulls out her phone and says, “it really does, do you want to see a shelfie?”

Yanli looks at the photo, zooming in and very carefully not swiping right or left, and oohs appropriately. Lan Zhan grips her fork. Is this why Wei Ying stopped having her over? Termites?

“You didn’t tell me you had termites.”

Wei Ying’s shoulders go up. “Well, I don’t know if I have them, I haven’t seen them.” There’s silence for a moment. “Enough about me though, how about you? Where’s your next gig?”

Yanli wipes her mouth carefully with the napkin and adjusts her black velvet cardigan. The glass buttons wink in the light. “Well, I haven’t told mother and father yet, but the Berlin Philharmonic reached out to my agent about doing a residency.”

Wei Ying screeches and pushes out of her seat, running around the table to crouch by Yanli’s chair. “Berlin! That’s amazing! You have to tell me everything. Where are they going to put you up? Are you getting your own dressing room?”

Yanli presses her lips together. Lan Zhan can’t tell if it’s in disapproval or if she’s suppressing a smile. “Ying-er, I don’t know any of those details yet.”

The evening ends pleasantly, with the two of them singing along to some song they both loved as kids while Lan Zhan drives Yanli to her hotel. Wei Ying hugs Yanli again when she leaves and even the click of the seatbelt sounds sad when Wei Ying snaps it into place.

The car is silent after that.

Lan Zhan should let it rest, but the question has been burning a tunnel through her heart. She clears her throat.

Wei Ying turns her head away from the window slowly. “Yes?”

“Your sister spoke about… parents.”

“You caught that, huh.” Lan Zhan turns on the turn signal. It clicks loudly in the enclosed space. “Look, she’s still my sister even if I never got adopted, so don’t even think about saying she’s my friend or anything. She told me we’re sisters, so. We are.” Wei Ying crosses her arms, realises how much cleavage that gives her, curses, and drops them to her sides.

This is possibly the closest Wei Ying has ever come to raising her voice at Lan Zhan. It makes the fire inside Lan Zhan burn brighter. She wants to sit Wei Ying down and extract every fibre that has built up inside of her to make her believe that people are going to take her sisterhood away.

Lan Zhan keeps her voice very quiet. “She’s your sister.” Wei Ying seems barely mollified. Lan Zhan uses the buttons on the steering wheel to trigger the stereo system. It starts playing the next track on Wei Ying’s playlist. It’s Wakin Chou, 讓我歡喜讓我憂, and the utter saccharine earnestness of the 90s piano and strings lands in the silence like a public marriage proposal at the grocery store.

Wei Ying cracks up.

***

Lan Zhan bides her time. They’re stripping and priming an old table that Wei Ying found in someone’s alley. What was Wei Ying doing in the alley? Lan Zhan does not ask. Wei Ying thinks this one could look nice in their friend Diana’s apartment. Lan Zhan agrees, maybe if they paint it yellow, that’ll go nicely with her big monstera.

She passes over the coarse grain sanding block and as Wei Ying picks it up Lan Zhan casually asks, “How long has Yanli been your sister?”

Wei Ying flips the block to the correct side and says, “Pretty shortly after I moved in, so I would have been about nine or so?”

Lan Zhan’s fist clenches. Nine years old. And the only person who has visited since she moved out has been her sister.

Wei Ying tries to pass the block back, but Lan Zhan isn’t ready for it and it drops. “Oh,” Wei Ying says, “you’re mad again.”

***

Wei Ying’s big theatre dreams involve her stage managing at a small, very dilapidated theatre. If the rats don’t start a fire, Lan Zhan is sure that it’s only a matter of time before the building owners do. The place is worth more as land than it is as a business.

Lan Zhan wouldn’t even be here except that her construction business is available for jobs of all sizes, and the building of some load-bearing sets fits under that. Also, Wei Ying asked. Come on, Lan Zhan, I can knock together some plywood so it looks good, but we need something that can actually hold weight.

Lan Zhan isn’t sure why Wei Ying thinks she can’t build anything sturdy, but she goes along for the job.

Remembering what Wei Ying told Yanli, she keeps an eye out for the director, who does seem to be unnecessarily posturing.

Lan Zhan is working backstage, not in the theatre proper, but Wei Ying tugs her arm and says that if Lan Zhan is really quiet, she can sit at the back and listen to rehearsal. Lan Zhan isn’t that interested, but Wei Ying acts like this is a very special treat, so she goes.

Wei Ying takes up a place next to the director and pulls out a very beaten notebook and a stubby little pen. It’s round at both ends; Lan Zhan has no idea how Wei Ying keeps it from rolling around and falling to the floor. Wei Ying seems to be taking notes on everything, the point of which becomes clear when the director barks out a question about when they decided it was a good idea for Christine Daae to act quite so naive. The actress in question looks a moment away from bursting into tears, edges of her face going ragged.

Wei Ying flips through her notes. “Two weeks ago at morning rehearsal.”

A smothered giggle travels through the space. The actress’ face smooths out.

Thank you, Wei Ying,” the director says, not thankful at all. Then he pauses. “Where were we?” Wei Ying flips forward in her notebook and rehearsal begins again.

Lan Zhan sneaks out the back and goes back to woodworking.

***

Lan Zhan thinks about the way that Wei Ying tries to make things for other people. Not just her castmembers and co-workers, but everyone. She gives away her umbrellas, she smooths over conversational bumps. Perhaps it follows that Wei Ying would choose to date people who also make her feel comfortable.

But it is still… frustrating to watch Wei Ying go on dates with women she is clearly not attracted to.

Sometimes, when Lan Zhan is having a dull day and wants to give herself the salty taste of suffering, she asks how the most recent date went.

“She had a good time,” Wei Ying says. “I think.”

Lan Zhan is sure she did. She knows that Wei Ying is diligent and courteous in all areas. She never covets, she never grasps.

The knowledge is sour in her stomach. In the smallest, meanest part of her mind, Lan Zhan listens to Wei Ying evaluate a date based on how friendly it felt and wants to hurl cruel words. Are you even a lesbian or does it just feel safer. She manages to stop herself every time.

And.

She knows it’s not true. Because she sees the way Wei Ying responds to her. When Wei Ying is relaxed her eyes track Lan Zhan when she moves. When Lan Zhan talks, Wei Ying leans in. Lan Zhan tries to show her, with her body, with her presence, that she’s here and open for it. But then Wei Ying comes back to herself and shifts to the side.

Lan Zhan lets it be.

***

“Ok, I think I’ve got it,” Wei Ying says and the clippers in her hands buzz to life.

Lan Zhan, sitting on the closed lid of her toilet seat, throws a side-eye at Wei Ying.

“No, really,” Wei Ying says. She puts a hand over her heart. “You can trust me.”

Lan Zhan sighs and bares the back of her neck. Logically, she knows it would be difficult for Wei Ying to damage her hair. Lan Zhan likes a tight buzz on her undercut, and so shaving it in layers should make it pretty foolproof. Simultaneously, there’s something ineffable about the position they’re in. Wei Ying is standing very close to Lan Zhan. She can feel the heat of Wei Ying’s legs through the sweatpants she’s wearing. She wonders if the fabric is rough against Wei Ying’s bare skin.

The clippers are loud, vibrating inside of her skull instead of just against it, but it’s easy to swallow past the volume of them when Wei Ying starts to move them in wide arcs along the base of her skull. The shift and push of the hair tingles and Lan Zhan shivers. She’s so much more sensitive this way than if she were doing it herself.

Wei Ying starts humming to herself, tunelessly. She’s a terrible singer, but it’s nice. The sounds she’s making at the buzz of the clippers blend together. Lan Zhan sinks into it.

Too soon, Wei Ying pulls back. “All done,” she says quietly. Lan Zhan blinks back into herself. She stands up and looks at herself critically in the mirror.

“Do you want me to take a picture of the back, so you can see?”

Lan Zhan hums assent. Wei Ying picks her phone off the counter and takes a snap. Instead of passing it over, Lan Zhan feels her own phone buzz in her pocket.

The photo is the back of her head, but the snap is wider than that. It catches Lan Zhan’s face, relaxed in a way she never gets to see herself. Wei Ying is in the background. The phone is blocking her neck and chin, but she’s there in her athletic shorts, oversized white t-shirt half tucked into the waistband. Lan Zhan stares at the picture, at the lack of space between them, at how absolutely settled they look.

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks. Lan Zhan relaxes her grip on the phone.

“Looks good.”

Wei Ying smiles.

***

Lan Zhan isn’t a masochist and she isn’t wasting away. Living with attraction is a fact of lesbian life. Lan Zhan has preferred short-term assignations, which means she spends time with the people she’s been with regularly. Their shared knowledge of each other’s bodies permeates the interaction. Sometimes that leads to a repeat, sometimes it doesn’t. In either case, the awareness persists. Lan Zhan doesn’t hook up with people she can’t tolerate.

Most of her friends are one or two degrees away from being one of her hookups.

It’s not an issue.

Of course, she’s never hooked up with Wei Ying. Lan Zhan tries to remember that when moments feel particularly -- fraught. It’s so hard to convince her body. Her hands are certain they know the curve of Wei Ying’s spine, her teeth think they know the give of Wei Ying's flesh, her eyes anticipate the shapes Wei Ying would twist into. They act without Lan Zhan’s consent, aching with the remembrance of something they’ve never had.

It’s hard to talk herself down from it, hard to remind herself. At this point, so much of her life has been built with Wei Ying in mind. She runs in the afternoons now, before Wei Ying has to go to work. She’s found a tea order that she doesn’t hate at the coffee place Wei Ying likes and she doesn’t see the point of going to a different cafe anymore. So when she tells herself: no, Wei Ying is not for you, her body says back: oh yeah? Prove it.

***

They’re soaking in the jacuzzi at the gym after their weights routine. Weights are an important part of both of their cross-training. Wei Ying plays soccer, avidly, in a mostly lesbian team in the women’s division. The team has a few straight women on it, because -- and this was before Wei Ying’s time -- when it was all lesbians the sexual drama was unmanageable. Lan Zhan is a traditionalist, so she plays softball, but she likes the meditative focus of weightlifting.

“Ah, this is so nice, isn’t this so nice, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying sinks deeper The water goes up to her shoulders.

Lan Zhan introduced Wei Ying to the gym -- and maybe this is why Wei Ying is convinced that Lan Zhan is an ‘expert’ at being gay, she’ll have to think about that more later. The first time they came to the jacuzzi, Wei Ying got in wearing a combination of a ratty grey sports bra and something that Wei Ying informed Lan Zhan was called a ‘jammer.’ Jammers are a category of swim bottom that look like someone created a cutoff wetsuit by hacking the thick fabric off at the knees. Lan Zhan disdains the name but can’t deny the way they look is powerful. Very… aerodynamic. But for water, not air.

Wei Ying blushed extensively when she realised that everyone else got in to soak naked. Why is it always the clothed who are more conscious of nudity than the nude? The upside was that Wei Ying was relentlessly ragged for her terrible sports bra and the way it sagged and puckered along the elastic as soon as it got wet. Three people offered to take her shopping and one threatened to have bras shipped to the gym, if it would only get Wei Ying to treat her chest friends with some respect.

The second time, Wei Ying blushed just as much but came in naked.Now, months in, she’s comfortably sauntering up to the inset edge of the bubbling water and lowering herself in.

Lan Zhan cracks an eye open. “Mm,” she agrees, “It is nice.” Satisfied that Wei Ying is safely ensconced against a jet, she closes them again.

Wei Ying starts chattering about their day’s performance. “It was so nice that Estefania wasn’t there, don’t you think?”

Lan Zhan sighs and opens her eyes again. “Why?”

“Because she makes me feel so competitive!”

“Is that how she makes you feel,” Lan Zhan says, dry. Estefania is a rugby player who sometimes workout buddies with them if she’s doing rehab. She could lift two, maybe three teammates easily, which is easy to believe because her favourite workout shirt, the one that says “CARDIO DOES NOT SPARK JOY,” strains against her stomach and arms when she lifts. The woman is built like a keg. Wei Ying has actually tripped over trainers once watching Estefania on the squat rack. She and Lan Zhan have eyed each other a few times, but Estefania is very committed to her six foot tall wife who wears stilettos and drives and motorcycle. Perhaps Lan Zhan should get a motorcycle. Wei Ying would look nice on a motorcycle.

Wei Ying blinks at her. “How else would she make me feel?”

For a moment Lan Zhan can only stare. Then she’s cutting through the water, working away the force and pressure of it until she’s crowded into Wei Ying’s space.

The jets frame Wei Ying’s body and push slightly at Lan Zhan’s, walls of a cage that hold no one. Lan Zhan puts one hand on the edge, just enough pressure in her fingers to keep the jets from pushing her away. Wei Ying could slide out the side if she wants, but instead she presses her back into the tiles. Lan Zhan is very conscious of the way the water buoys her breasts, how close they are to Wei Ying’s. The merest shift in current would push them together.

“L-Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying’s eyes are wide.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says quietly, barely loud enough to be heard over the sound of rushing water.

There’s a blush blooming beneath the heat flush on her face, right at the tops of her collarbones.

“What are you doing?” Wei Ying asks.

Lan Zhan says nothing. She relaxes the grip she has on the edge of the jacuzzi, just a little, just enough for the next push of water to bend her elbow and drift their bodies slightly closer together. Wei Ying inhales sharply. Lan Zhan tracks the movement of it from her tightening stomach muscles, to the way her breasts jump, up to her mouth, which parts, pink and shiny.

“I --” Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan drags her gaze up to Wei Ying’s eyes and finds them cast down, fixed on Lan Zhan’s mouth. “You --” she says, and her eyes are roaming, down the column of Lan Zhan’s neck, to the curve of her side, and always, always back to her mouth. Lan Zhan waits and doesn’t move. She just lets herself look at Wei Ying, steady.

Wei Ying swallows and opens her mouth. “You’re scaring me.”

Lan Zhan sighs and pushes off. The space widens between them.

“That’s --” Wei Ying says, and her voice cracks. Lan Zhan looks away and is unsurprised that when she looks up Wei Ying is gone.

***

Wei Ying avoids her for a week.

Lan Zhan takes punishing early morning runs, finishes them up with hill sprints. The sting in her shins feels right. She finishes a custom bookcase and accepts an order for a window seat from the same household.

Her life is as full as ever, but it seems somehow to have more blank spaces in it. She downloads a phone game, one of the ones with the bright colours and thin narrative justification. It vibrates in Lan Zhan's pocket regularly with reminders to collect free rewards.

It’s Sunday night -- Wei Ying’s Friday, Lan Zhan's brain helpfully reminds her -- when her phone buzzes. She ignores it. Her champions are all powered up, so she’s not desperate for crystals right now.

When she does open it up, more than an hour later, she curses herself. Instead of her game, she has a string of messages from Huaisang.

So, I maybe did something bad don’t be mad

🥺🥺🥺

And time-stamped five minutes later:

You didn’t ask but I’m going to tell you anyway

I told Wei Ying she’s attracted to you.

And then maybe we all had a super weird conversation at the bar

And then she left

Lan Zhan types back. When did she leave?

30 mins

Lan Zhan looks out the window. It’s raining heavily, hard enough that each bounces on the asphalt before it lands. It makes the light from the streetlights go hazy.

She’s not surprised when her buzzer goes off. She picks up and hits 6 immediately. Somehow, she is still taken aback when she opens the door to a bedraggled Wei Ying.

She pulls her in by the wrist and shuts the door.

“Lan Zhan…” Wei Ying says, like the soggiest, saddest abandoned kitten .

“Where’s your umbrella?” Lan Zhan asks.

Wei Ying shakes her head. Droplets fly off and disperse into the air. “Gave it to Kat ages back.”

Of course she did.

Wei Ying reaches up with her hoodie sleeve to wipe the rain off her forehead. It doesn’t make an appreciable difference.

“Come on,” Lan Zhan says and unzips it. “Shoes off, let’s get you dry.”

“No, I --” Wei Ying stops and toes her sneakers off. Her socks squelch on the floor. “Later. I need to tell you something.”

The bare skin of Wei Ying’s arms is pebbling up. Lan Zhan can only imagine how raw her thighs must be from her jeans.

“Were you circling my apartment?” It takes ten minutes, at most, to walk to Lan Zhan’s from the bar.

“Yes,” Wei Ying admits with no embarrassment. “Because. Because I need to tell you, you didn’t scare me.”

Lan Zhan stares at her. “I know.”

Wei Ying shrinks somehow even more. Her hair is a small part of her volume, but flattening it down seems to have had a disproportionate impact. “You do?” Lan Zhan nods. Wei Ying rallies. “It was me. I scared myself.”

“I know that too.”

Wei Ying shivers. Lan Zhan reaches out, curls her hands around Wei Ying’s upper arms. They almost burn from how cold they are. She rubs her thumbs.

Wei Ying looks up at Lan Zhan, eyes on fire. “I don’t want to be scared anymore.” Lan Zhan feels her heart pick up. “And I don’t want you to hook up with other women wearing the bracelet I gave you anymore. I don’t like it.” Lan Zhan blinks. Wei Ying has clearly thought about her hooking up. And in some detail. “Didn’t like it, and I thought it was because -- doesn’t matter. But it’s my bracelet, I gave it to you, and I want --” she makes a high, frustrated noise, and closes the distance, bringing her face close to Lan Zhan’s and kissing her.

Lan Zhan’s been waiting. She opens up to Wei Ying immediately, pulling their bodies together. The wet from Wei Ying’s black shirt seeps into the soft fibres of Lan Zhan’s sweater, the tank top beneath, through to the thin fabric of her bra.

It feels cold on Lan Zhan’s skin for a moment, a shock of sensation that drives Lan Zhan to kiss harder, to press into Wei Ying’s mouth. Then she heats up, cold translating into clinging, sweltering heat. Every time they shift against each other their shirts catch on each other’s, refuse to let the other go.

The fabric must drag on Wei Ying’s nipples, because she gasps and breaks the kiss. Lan Zhan looks down and she can see the clear outline of them through her t-shirt. She drags her hands up Wei Ying’s sides until she can circle Wei Ying's nipples gently with the tips of her thumbs. Knows that no matter how softly she goes, it will feel rough.

“Your shirt,” Wei Ying says nonsensically. Then Lan Zhan says, “Oh.”

The neck of her sweater is starting to distort under the weight. Her front is a rorschach blot where the only possible interpretation is Wei Ying.

“It’ll get ruined,” Wei Ying says.

Lan Zhan takes a reluctant half-step back and pulls the sweater over her head. She catches Wei Ying staring at her avidly and tugs her tank top off, too, revealing the straightforward t-shirt bra beneath. Wei Ying has seen this one before, they bought it together when they went to get Wei Ying outfitted with her own selection of supportive and sturdy cotton options, the sort that are more crop top than bra.

“Oh.” Wei Ying says. “Ah--”

“You can touch, if you want,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying makes a high noise and her fingers flex. She doesn’t move. Lan Zhan steps in close, takes one of Wei Ying’s hands and presses it against Lan Zhan’s stomach. The base of it beneath her belly-button where the skin is soft and rounded.

Wei Ying shakes so hard Lan Zhan is surprised she can’t hear her bones rattle.

Lan Zhan frowns. “You’re cold.”

“No,” Wei Ying says and shakes her head again. Fresh drops come off of her hair and some of them sprinkle across the tops of Lan Zhan’s breasts, her collarbones, like perfect snowflakes.

“You are,” Lan Zhan counters. Her fingers are like ice against Lan Zhan’s skin. “Let me get you warm,” she murmurs.

“Ok,” Wei Ying says, and leans in, face cracked open. Instead of kissing her, Lan Zhan presses Wei Ying’s hand tighter into her stomach and starts walking them backwards towards the bathroom.

“Lan Zhan?” There’s an underlying quaver in Wei Ying’s voice.

“Oh, Wei Ying,” she says and pushes Wei Ying against the wall in the hallway to kiss her. Lan Zhan wants her too, wants her desperately. She should never worry. Wei Ying’s skin feels tacky, catching against Lan Zhan’s mouth and hands.

Lan Zhan understands why Wei Ying hesitated, before. The way Lan Zhan feels, knowing that Wei Ying wants her, is like she’s standing in the middle of a black room, stretching out in every direction with no walls in sight. She’s standing on the narrowest beam. It’s a precarious balance and she feels like, at any moment, she could fall and never be able to find her way back again. Who wouldn’t be scared of that? But trying to keep it in a manageable box hurts more than letting it curl out and spread.

“I have to --” Lan Zhan says and gives up, kissing her more. “I have to get you warm.”

“I’m only cold where you aren’t touching,” Wei Ying counters and Lan Zhan presses her body against the long line of Wei Ying’s. But she’s torn. They can’t stay in the hallway forever.

Wei Ying sees the look on her face and offers a compromise. “Only if you come with me,” Wei Ying says and Lan Zhan’s far enough gone to agree.

In the bathroom, leaning over the shower, Lan Zhan fiddles with the tap, getting the temperature right. It only takes a moment, but when she turns back, Wei Ying is already naked. Something inside of Lan Zhan’s mind fizzes out and dies. She’s seen Wei Ying naked before, but finally Lan Zhan's hands and brain are in perfect alignment. She could touch. She could reach out and bring her hand up along the back of Wei Ying’s thigh to the crease of her ass. She could dig her fingers in until the tips of her fingers could brush where Wei Ying is wet.

“Your turn,” Wei Ying says, and Lan Zhan, altogether disarmed, lets Wei Ying give her a hug to unhook her bra. Lets her untie her sweats and pull those off with her underwear in one efficient movement.

Wei Ying steps under the shower spray and Lan Zhan joins her. She barely has the presence of mind to close the shower curtain, but what does she care, she could drown the bathroom and ruin the floors and not mind because the only thing that matters right now is getting her hands back on Wei Ying.

Wei Ying looks gorgeous like this, in the soft light filtering through the shower curtain and spread out for Lan Zhan under the spray. Her skin shines where the water hits it.

For a long moment, Lan Zhan can’t do anything but look.

“When are you going to touch me?” Wei Ying asks and there’s a light in her eyes, a heat that pushes out the cold uncertainty of before. There’s nowhere to hide like this, nowhere for either of them to hide their want.

“I’ll touch you,” Lan Zhan says.

“But when?

Lan Zhan bites her own smile.

“You can’t wait?” she asks.

Wei Ying whines.

“I waited,” Lan Zhan says, like she’s confiding a secret.

Wei Ying makes a sharp noise and says, all in a rush, “I did too, I just didn’t know that I was. I knew there was something. Lan Zhan, it was like an itch, all of the time, and nothing I did ever made it better, and it was so bad, there were times I thought I’d shake apart from it.” Lan Zhan’s heart twists. Lan Zhan has wanted like that, she knows what it feels like. “Back at the gym, when you got so close, I felt like I was cracked open, like I would fall to pieces and fly away. Like nothing would ever put me back together again. And I. I wanted you.”

Lan Zhan swallows.

She has to be careful, she knows this. Their footing is uncertain. She can’t push, or they might fall, but it’s hard when the water hits both of them, bringing up steam and Wei Ying is pulling her in until their breasts are pressed together. The water pools on top of them, in the shape their bodies make together, a resting place until it overflows and runs down their sides. Lan Zhan pulls back slightly to bring her mouth down to Wei Ying’s breast and the water falls, loud and heavy.

She sucks on the skin beneath Wei Ying's nipple, letting her nose press into the skin. Wei Ying tastes clean, a mixture of ozone from the rain and warm water from the shower. It’s a freshness that Lan Zhan wants to pull into herself. Wei Ying keens, high in her throat.

Lan Zhan pulls back. “I haven’t done anything to you yet.”

Wei Ying’s mouth is open, water streaming down her hair and nose. “It’s just -- I want you to. I want you to so much.” It’s Lan Zhan’s turn to shiver, from the look in Wei Ying’s eyes as much as her words. “Please let me.”

Lan Zhan nods, helpless to do anything else; she’d say yes to anything. She doesn’t expect Wei Ying to slide to her knees.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, voice dark, “I want --”

“I know, but I think I’ll die if I don’t get to taste you.”

Lan Zhan puts a hand out to the tile wall to brace herself. Lan Zhan props a foot up on the edge of the tub like she would if she was going to shave and fuck the shower curtain, if the floor gets wet, it gets wet.

That’s all Wei Ying needs before she’s nosing in, parting Lan Zhan’s curls and finding her way to where Lan Zhan is hottest. Despite the steam and water, the tip of Wei Ying’s nose is cold. The cocoon of the shower feels like a fantasy, but the cold of Wei Ying’s nose is very real; it’s soothing. Lan Zhan shifts her hips into it, enjoying the feel of it nuzzling in. Wei Ying puts one hand on Lan Zhan’s back, steadying.

Then Wei Ying noses in with more purpose, butting her nose against Lan Zhan’s clit, little shocks of pleasure before she tilts her chin and licks, tongue wide and strokes long. Lan Zhan watches Wei Ying, palms the back of her head, burrows the tips of her fingers into Wei Ying’s hair to encourage her to tilt her head back, just a little bit more, so Lan Zhan can see the expression on Wei Ying’s face when she licks into where Lan Zhan is hottest. Wei Ying looks utterly lost to the world, concentrating on nothing but Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan sinks into it, into the feel of Wei Ying’s tongue working. Wei Ying is more enthusiastic than expert, but that’s its own heady rush. Lan Zhan could teach her a little about using her lips and tongue together. But this is heady, knowing that Wei Ying wants her so much, wants her to the point of sloppiness, like she needs to taste Lan Zhan more than she needs anything else. It makes Lan Zhan want to lose control.

Lan Zhan watches Wei Ying and lets the fire build in the bottom of her spine.

“You’re beautiful,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying turns toward the sound of her voice, bottom lip brushing Lan Zhan’s clit. Her eyes are closed, water clumping on the lashes.Lan Zhan wipes it away before cupping her hand against Wei Ying’s forehead to shield her from the stream. Now safe to open her eyes, Wei Ying blinks up at her, eyes gone unfocused.

She’s trying to say something, but Lan Zhan only perceives it as vibrations, a rumble that makes her slam her hand against the tile, the sting enough distraction to keep her legs under her. She moves her hand back to grip Wei Ying’s hair and Wei Ying’s eyes fall shut again as soon as the water hits her forehead. Lan Zhan tests her, a small shift of her hips and Wei Ying moans, a sound that goes straight to Lan Zhan’s head. She wants to hear it again.

She rolls her hips again, and again and Wei Ying keeps her mouth open and points her tongue. Fuck, she’s so good. It’s hard to believe that the Wei Ying holding so steadily against Lan Zhan is the same one who looked away every time Lan Zhan made her blush.

Lan Zhan tugs Wei Ying’s head back again. “Wei Ying, is this--” what you want? She needs to know.

Wei Ying pulls against her hold. Lan Zhan lets go and Wei Ying dives back in, moving on sense alone until she gets right back where she was before. Lan Zhan gets the hint and she groans and shifts her hands when Wei Ying latches on more strongly and sucks.

Wei Ying’s hands travel and Lan Zhan watches her grope at herself. She pinches and twists at her nipple, fingers failing to get purchase. Lan Zhan would help her but every atom of her being is focused on staying upright under the relentless stream of the water, under force that compels her to drive her hips onto Wei Ying’s tongue. Wei Ying’s other hand is between her own legs, working furiously. Lan Zhan wants to see, wants to watch. She’s already overcome with the access she has now, the way Wei Ying is letting her stare and isn’t shying away. But she can’t see everything. She wants to know if Wei Ying is wet, wet enough for her fingers to slide, or if the water is washing it away, giving her the illusion of glide with too much friction.

Wei Ying whimpers again and that’s it, sparks go off behind Lan Zhan’s eyes and they can’t stay open anymore. The heat rolls through her, an inferno that cannot be put out as she pants and arches and grinds her foot into the cool edge of the tub.

Wei Ying keeps her mouth open and lets Lan Zhan work against it until Lan Zhan takes a staggering step back and barely has time to say, “Lan Zhan, was it --” before it’s Lan Zhan’s turn to drop down to her knees. This isn’t about what Wei Ying can do for her, it’s about what they do to each other. She kisses Wei Ying, chasing her own taste before her own spit and the shower spray wash it away, and she tangles her fingers with Wei Ying’s. Lan Zhan lets Wei Ying set the pace, hands working together. They slide, indistinguishable, between Wei Ying’s thighs until Wei Ying loses the rhythm, fingers jerking off time with her hips. Then Lan Zhan takes over, steady, consistent, dipping further back occasionally to pick up any new slick that’s gathered. It’s significant, Wei Ying’s body working to take it, but can’t compete with the stream overhead. At most, it provides a fleeting pass of smoothness before it’s washed away. Wei Ying pants and shakes and Lan Zhan keeps at her until she leans forward and presses her teeth into Lan Zhan’s shoulder. She screams as she comes, teeth pressing hard into Lan Zhan’s skin to muffle it. Another thing that Lan Zhan takes for herself.

The water is starting to go lukewarm by this point, so Lan Zhan fumbles behind herself to turn it off. She can’t bear to turn away from Wei Ying.

One of them has to get the big fluffy towels and Wei Ying is currently swaying from side to side on her knees, so Lan Zhan musters a heroic effort and pulls back the shower curtain. The bathroom is fully steamed, mirror completely hidden. Even so, there’s a rush of colder air, and Wei Ying makes a noise of protest.

Lan Zhan reaches over, gets the towels, and coaxes Wei Ying up to her feet. Halfway through getting towelled down, she comes back to herself, blinking up at Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan rubs her harder.

Wei Ying bites her lip. “So, I swore I’d never be one of those women who ask this, but,” Lan Zhan braces herself. “Again? Soon? I mean… woah, right? It’s never been like that before. Like, when you…”

This was nothing, Lan Zhan hasn’t even -- Lan Zhan’s heart breaks a little, but that’s not new. It’s been breaking a little every day since she met Wei Ying.

Instead of engaging with the premise, she says instead, “From now on, it will be.”

The smile blooms over Wei Ying’s face. “Yeah,” she says.

***

Lan Zhan is making dough for mantou. It’s a fairly practiced recipe, one that the aunties made she sure knew before she moved out on her own. Because it’s practiced, she doesn’t deviate on it. Some people use a bread hook on a stand mixer, but she prefers to knead by hand. She’s set up her kitchen to make it easier -- she is a builder, after all. Her kitchen table is lowered just enough that it doesn’t hurt her shoulders and she can use all of her leverage when she works the edge of her hand into the dough to knead it. It’s critical she builds up the gluten just enough, and using low gluten flour helps keep it fluffy.

Making dough for mantou doesn’t take long, and it’s meditative. The dough is very soft and it feels nice on her hands.

Lan Zhan hears Wei Ying before she sees her. Wei Ying announces her presence with the scrape of keys in the lock, the clatter of wallet and hat landing in the bowl by the door, the slip of her taking off her shoes. All of the sounds that mean she’s home.

Then she comes into the kitchen. Lan Zhan braces for Wei Ying to stick her cold hands up Lan Zhan’s shirt, especially because she’s defenceless, coated with flour up to her elbows. Her tank top is protected by her yellow apron, but it leaves her arms bare to the effects of baking.

Instead, Wei Ying says, “Oh.”

Lan Zhan looks up from her dough. Wei Ying is looking at the bowl. Her expression is hungry, like she hasn’t eaten all day. Lan Zhan can’t have that.

Wei Ying’s eyes trail up from the bowl, slowly, catching on Lan Zhan’s forearms, her elbows, her delts. They’re tense with effort. Oh, indeed, Lan Zhan thinks. She lets Wei Ying look. She’ll never get tired of Wei Ying watching her. Wei Ying licks her lips.

“Wei Ying?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, and comes over, hips rolling with each step. “Looks good,” she says.

Lan Zhan looks at the dough. It is shaping up nicely. She gives it a couple of extra turns. The knead is basically done, it’s time for shaping and proofing.

Wei Ying hooks her hand under Lan Zhan’s chin and pulls her into a kiss. It doesn’t matter how many times Wei Ying does it, how many times Wei Ying responds to Lan Zhan brushing her fingers along Wei Ying’s waist with a shiver and a lean in, how many times Wei Ying wakes up in the morning and reaches for Lan Zhan first thing -- it’s still a surprise.

Wei Ying wants her.

Lan Zhan adapts quickly, though, twisting and wrapping her arms around Wei Ying, heedless of the flour. Wei Ying makes a noise and Lan Zhan wants to fill her to the brim, give her everything she needs and more. She crowds Wei Ying against the table and it again proves to be the perfect height, easy for Wei Ying to pop herself up on it and wrap her legs around Lan Zhan’s waist.

Lan Zhan is putting her marks all over Wei Ying’s body, reaching with grasping hands, and Wei Ying is pulling her in, demanding more. They kiss for a long time.

“What about the buns?” Wei Ying asks, eventually. Her lips are kiss swollen and biteable.

Lan Zhan thinks about it for a moment. Smooths a smear of flour that’s appeared along the edge of Wei Ying’s dark t-shirt collar. “Are you hungry?” Lan Zhan asks.

Wei Ying is already nodding. “Yes,” she says, and pulls Lan Zhan back in.

The buns are overproofed.