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Nothing But Trouble

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"Lan Zhan," Nie Huaisang says thoughtfully.

"Lan Zhan would never do it." Wei Ying flops over onto his side on Nie Huaisang's bed. "He doesn't lie. He would never lie. He would never do it even for someone he likes, let alone me."

"Yes, yes, we all understand that Lan Zhan is too good, too pure, too above all of our earthly concerns," Nie Huaisang says.

Nie Huaisang doesn't seem to be taking Wei Ying's worries very seriously.

"You say that like you're joking." Wei Ying lets himself flop over again so he's on his stomach, head dangling off the side of the bed. "But it's really true. He'd just tell me to 'tell the truth' and 'don't do dumb things' and 'be a human being.'" He stares at the carpet as all the blood rushes to his head. It feels weird but good. Maybe all the blood flow to his brain will make him smarter and give him better problem-solving skills.

"He probably would say that stuff." Wei Ying feels Nie Huaisang rearranging himself on the bed so he can poke Wei Ying with his foot. "You're going to give yourself a headache. That always happens when you do this."

He's not wrong. Wei Ying sighs heavily and scrambles backwards to flop back against Nie Huaisang's pillows. He nudges against Nie Huaisang's arm until he sighs and lifts it, letting Wei Ying snuggle in against his side. Nie Huaisang always smells good but weird—today it's like lilac and mint. He's been dabbling with essential oils lately, super into it, in that way that makes his brother stare at him and say things like, "Imagine if you focused on school as much as you focus on...this."

"Maybe you could date me," Wei Ying says against his chest.

Nie Huaisang pats his arm. "Oh, friend," he says.

"What?" Wei Ying says, frowning. "I'm a catch."

"You're certainly something," Nie Huaisang says, not meanly. "But there's an absolutely zero percent chance anyone on this earth would believe we were dating."

Wei Ying sighs. "I know." He's right, and Wei Ying does know that. They've been friends for approximately eight million years. They know everything about each other. They'd tried to kiss when they were thirteen, and it had been...weird. They'd tried again when they were eighteen and the complete lack of any chemistry between them made it hilarious more than anything else.

"I'd fake it if I thought it would work," Nie Huaisang says.

Wei Ying nods against his chest, slinging his leg over his thighs. "I know. Fuck, your bed is comfortable."

"It's one of those internet mattresses." Nie Huaisang settles back more fully with a comfortable sigh. "It came all wrapped up in plastic, like, vacuum sealed? I was convinced it would explode when I tried to open it."

"It didn't?" Wei Ying tilts his head to look up at him.

"No, it just unrolled."

"Oh. Well, I like it." There's a brief knock at the door and they both look over as the door opens and Nie Huaisang's brother sticks his head in.

"We're leaving for dinner in fifteen." He stares at them for a moment, then shuts his eyes for longer than a blink. Nie Mingjue often looks like he's getting a headache when he looks at them. There had been about thirty seconds where Nie Mingjue, at least, thought they might be dating. He seems to be more confused that they aren't. "Hey, Wei Ying. Huaisang, you heard me? Fifteen minutes. Be ready."

"Hey," Wei Ying says, struggling to sit up. He likes Nie Huaisang's brother. He's...tall. And built. And a little scary. And it's fascinating to look at him and try to see how he's related to Nie Huaisang, because Nie Huaisang is none of those things.

Nie Mingjue levels him with a look, lifts his chin at him, and walks away. He leaves the door open.

Nie Mingjue had made Nie Huaisang move in with him right after freshman year, after Nie Huaisang had almost been suspended for running an after-hours party (he'd called it a "nightclub") in the disused wing of the huge library on campus. Wei Ying still doesn't fully understand how he'd managed to not get expelled, let alone escaped suspension, but the living arrangement—and the fact that Nie Mingjue is some bigwig political science professor at MIT just across the river—had something to do with it.

Nie Huaisang's brother's place is way nicer than anything on or even anywhere near campus, anyway. He doesn't even make Nie Huaisang pay rent.

Wei Ying flops back down next to Nie Huaisang on the bed. "Do you think your brother would fake-date me?"

Nie Huaisang gives a full-body shudder. "Never speak of that again," he says. "That is—no. No. That is not something we should explore."

Wei Ying sighs. He knows Nie Huaisang is probably right, but he also thinks some low-stakes fake dating would be interesting, in that way where he'd end up completely wrecked but it might be worth it? Like, what would fake make-outs with Nie Mingjue be like? Would the mustache tickle? Wei Ying bets Nie Huiasang's brother could pick him up and press him against the wall, hard, without even breaking a sweat.

"Stop." Nie Huaisang hits him on the shoulder. "Stop doing that. Stop it."

"What? What?" Wei Ying is giggling even as Nie Huaisang switches from smacking him on the shoulder to pushing at him with his feet. "I wasn't doing anything."

"You were." Nie Huaisang isn't actually kicking him, he's just resolutely shoving at him with his feet until Wei Ying tumbles off the edge of his bed with a screech. "You were picturing my brother in...sexy ways. Stop. God. Never again. Never. Again."

He's leaning over the edge of the bed and pointing at Wei Ying. Wei Ying pushes himself to sitting on the floor, breathless and still giggling. "I was. I was doing that. He just looks so strong."

"Get out." Nie Huaisang is up on his knees on the bed. "Get out before I murder you."

"Okay, that seems fair." Wei Ying scoops up his bag and snags his phone from Nie Huaisang's bedside table. "Love you."

"Get out." Nie Huaisang has collapsed back on the bed and is absorbed in his phone, seemingly completely unbothered that several minutes of his brother's fifteen minute warning have already passed. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay, be ready to solve the rest of my problems then, so I don't have to have fake make-outs with your brother." Wei Ying scoots out quickly, just in time to hear the soft thump of the pillow Nie Huaisang has flung at him hit the door.

***

He does have a lot of problems to solve, though, he thinks as he walks home.

But he's good at problem solving. That's why school is easy for him, even though he manages to hand in homework only maybe half the time: because the professors (mostly) like him and he aces every test, but more importantly, he couldn't stop himself from participating in class if his life depended on it. College professors love class participation. It's Wei Ying's favorite part of any syllabus: what percentage of his grade is based on him just being himself.

So his grades are not the problem. He likes learning things and he likes arguing about things and that's college right there in a nutshell. That plus friends, and parties. He feels incredibly smug at having convinced Jiang Cheng to apply to a college in Boston with him. He'd wanted something new, something different, something on the east coast, as far away as possible from his adopted family, who had established themselves on the west coast. But he'd also wanted Jiang Cheng with him, and he'd won that battle easily, wheedling Jiang Cheng into applying early decision and crowing when he'd gotten in.

The early-decision acceptance had helped Wei Ying clinch his argument, hanging off of Jiang Cheng's arm and wheedling him to come with him. "You're going to leave me, alone, in the wilds of New England? Think about the messes you'll have to come haul me out of," he'd said. "You'd have to fly out regularly anyway, to bail me out."

Wei Ying himself had only applied to one college. Application fees were huge and he wasn't going to ask Jiang Cheng's dad for more help than he'd already given him. He'd been completely unconcerned by it until it had come time to check the application portal to find out the decision. His body had decided to release months' worth of anxiety in one thirty-second rush of flop sweat and heart palpitations. The relief when he saw the early-acceptance confirmation had been profound.

Nie Huaisang applying to the same college had been a sure thing. His brother had been ensconced in the city for years now and while Nie Huaisang had shuddered over the idea of applying to MIT, he'd agreed to apply to the same college as Wei Ying easily enough. Even though he'd shaken his head every time it had come up while they were waiting to hear. "I just don't know," he'd say. "I'm probably not going to get in. I'll just languish here, alone, while you all go get educated."

Wei Ying had clasped Nie Huaisang's hands in his own. "That will never happen," he'd promised. "I'll smuggle you with me in my suitcase and steal food from the cafeteria to feed you."

Nie Huaisang had shaken his head again. "I don't eat cafeteria food. You know that."

No, Wei Ying's problem isn't college. His problem is his brother. He just loves Jiang Cheng and wants him to be happy, but Jiang Cheng is a stubborn asshole who absolutely refuses to get out of his own way.

It happens again when he gets back to their shared apartment that night. "Just ask her."

"No." Jiang Cheng refuses to look up from the textbook he is absolutely not reading, shifting away from Wei Ying on the couch.

They'd gotten an off-campus apartment junior year. Wei Ying's school debt was looking to be staggering even without continuing to shell out for dorm housing, and Jiang Cheng had been itching to move off campus anyway. They're both on the lease, but Jiang Cheng had blustered about getting the bigger room and insisting he'd pay more rent that way. Wei Ying allowed it only because his room was, in fact, much nicer, and Wei Ying's bank account was basically full of moths most of the time.

"Come on, just ask her." Wei Ying flops across Jiang Cheng's lap so he'll have no choice but to pay attention to him.

Jiang Cheng glares down at him, then lifts the textbook higher and glares at that, instead. "Don't you have homework to do?"

Wei Ying waves his hand. "I'll do it on the bus tomorrow morning."

"How the fuck have you not flunked out yet?" Jiang Cheng's glare, this time, looks honestly a little jealous.

"My devastating good looks," Wei Ying says reasonably. "And unrelenting charm. Stop trying to distract me. Just ask her."

"No." Jiang Cheng turns a page in his textbook and stares at it blankly. "I don't even like Wen Qing."

Wei Ying dissolves into giggles on his lap.

Jiang Cheng won't even deign to look down at him, but he's blushing, his cheeks very, very red.

"I can't believe you got that sentence out with a straight face." Wei Ying twists around, pushes himself back to sitting, and leans his head against Jiang Cheng's shoulder. "She likes you."

"She does not!" Jiang Cheng shoves Wei Ying's head off of his shoulder, then immediately grasps his arm and drags him close. "Did she tell you that?" he demands.

"She didn't have to." She hadn't, quite, as such, but Wei Ying has it on good authority that Wen Qing is heartily bisexual. The good authority being Wen Qing herself. The last time Jiang Cheng had tried to speak to her, he'd fumbled his words, stared yearningly at her for a truly embarrassing amount of time, then nearly fell over in his attempt to walk away. Wen Qing, looking after him thoughtfully, had murmured, "I can't believe that worked for me." She'd taken a long sip of her coffee. "Being a full-on lesbian would make life so much easier."

Wei Ying was in agreement, but he still wanted her to wreck his brother sexually.

"She thinks you're cute," he continued doggedly. "She wants to—" Wreck you. Sexually. "—get to know you better."

"She did not say that." The color in Jiang Cheng's face blooms an even brighter red and there is a tiny flicker of hope in his eyes before Wei Ying sees him shut it down. "Shut up. Stop talking. Stop talking forever."

"That is clearly never going to happen." Wei Ying has his teeth in this now. Jiang Cheng has had a crush on Wen Qing since the second semester of their freshman year. It's time. It's more than time. It's past time. If Jiang Cheng won't make this happen, Wei Ying will. "Grow a pair. Sack up." What else do straight people say? "I don't know, be a man and do this. Just ask her. What's the worst that can happen?"

Jiang Cheng barks out a laugh and his mouth gets sad. "I get humiliated and die alone and unloved.".

"Whoa." Wei Ying flings himself against Jiang Cheng. "Whoa, whoa. First of all, you will always have me, whether you want it or not."

"I don't," Jiang Cheng says, but his mouth gets a little less sad.

"Second of all," Wei Ying says, then has to pause to think. "Second of all," he says again, firmly. "You have to do this. You've got to. I've decreed it."

"That's rich, coming from you," Jiang Cheng says.

"What?" Wei Ying is offended. He is just trying to help. "What the fuck does that mean?"

"You don't ask anyone out." Jiang Cheng's judgy eyebrow is up. Wei Ying hates Jiang Cheng's judgy eyebrow. "You've never asked anyone out."

"That is patently untrue!"

"Nie Huaisang doesn't count," Jiang Cheng shoots back.

"Joke's on you," Wei Ying retorts. "I've never asked Nie Huaisang out."

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. "Okay, then," he says. "Then solely hitting on lesbians and straight guys so that you'll never have to take a turn-down seriously doesn't count as 'asking someone out.'"

Wei Ying stares at him. Ow. Ow.

Jiang Cheng sighs and shoves at his shoulder. "I'm just saying you're in no position to give advice."

"When has that ever stopped me before?" Wei Ying asks. "But okay, then, listen: a pact."

Jiang Cheng presses the heels of his hands against his eyes, ignoring Wei Ying.

"A pact," Wei Ying says again, insistently. "Listen, listen, I'm telling you, this is it, this is what we're doing." He pokes at Jiang Cheng's shoulder until Jiang Cheng drops his hands with a sigh, still refusing to look at Wei Ying. "Listen." It really is a brilliant idea, and Wei Ying shifts, getting onto his knees on the couch so he can more effectively explain it. "We both do it."

"We both...ask out Wen Qing?" Jiang Cheng says.

"No, no." Wei Ying shakes his head. "We both ask someone out. We both do it. A pact. You ask out Wen Qing and I'll ask out...someone else."

"Uh-uh." Jiang Cheng shakes his head. "No way. That's not fair. That's not even. You'll just ask someone out and get turned down and move on with your life, while I'll humiliate myself in front of Wen Qing and then have to spend time with her forever, because there's no way anyone is cutting her out of our group." He shakes his head. "Not fair."

"I won't!" Wei Ying insists. "I'll ask out someone...high stakes. I'll find someone. I'll...okay, how's this? I swear that I'll ask someone out and keep at it for at least two dates."

"No."

"Three dates."

"Nope."

"Okay, okay, five. That's fair! That's more than fair! One person, five dates." He points at Jiang Cheng. "You have to do it, too. That's how a pact works."

Jiang Cheng stares at him. "Five dates," he says flatly. "Five. And yours can't be Nie Huaisang."

"It won't be Nie Huaisang!" Wei Ying pouts until a glimmer of a smile appears at the corners of Jiang Cheng's mouth. "I don't like him like that. I'm in on this thing, Jiang Cheng. I'm going to really try."

He is not going to really try. He is fairly certain that once Jiang Cheng gets his brains fucked out, he won't be able to count to five, let alone care if Wei Ying is fulfilling his end of the pact. He will find someone, he will ask them out, and they will go out on a date. Wei Ying can kill time having a drink with anyone. This doesn't have to be serious.

"Fine." Jiang Cheng says, finally. "Fine."

Wei Ying's mouth drops open. "Oh my god, I can't believe you caved," he says softly.

Jiang Cheng scowls at him. "Okay, it's off, no pact, fuck you."

He gets up and Wei Ying flings himself at him from the couch, giggling as he hangs off of him. "No, no, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I apologize, I swear," he says, pressing his face against Jiang Cheng's back. "I'm just happy you agreed! We can do this! It will be good for both of us, right?"

Jiang Cheng remains tense and Wei Ying can feel how hard he's scowling. He finally sighs, and turns, slinging Wei Ying off of his back so he lands on the couch momentarily before rolling off onto the floor. "Just don't be a jerk about it," Jiang Cheng says. He's blushing again, a little.

"I would never." Wei Ying says it solemnly and he really doesn't deserve the eye roll Jiang Cheng gives him. "Pact?" he asks.

Jiang Cheng sighs, loudly, then says, "Pact. Fine. Pact." He pokes Wei Ying in the side with his socked foot. "Now stop fucking talking about it. Let's order food."

"Oohh." Wei Ying flails until he can reach his phone on the coffee table. He lies back down on the floor with the phone over his face, scrolling. "Let's get it from that noodle place from last week."

"You're buying," Jiang Cheng says.

"We both know that's not true," Wei Ying responds distractedly.

***

Of course the bigger problem is finding someone who will actually say yes to having from one to possibly five dates with Wei Ying. Yeah, he flirts, sure, but who would want to actually date him?

He'll do it. Like, fine, of course he'll do it, it's worth it to help out Jiang Cheng and also to not see Jiang Cheng making cow-eyes at Wen Qing every time she's around. Jiang Cheng needs a push and if a stupid dare is what it'll take, well, Wei Ying has never backed down from a dare.

But. He's got to find someone who's willing to do this. He doesn't want to actually date someone. For all he gives Jiang Cheng a hard time about it, Wei Ying has never actually, in fact, ever dated anybody. He's kissed people, sure, who hasn't, but he's not...actually...done anything more than that. And he doesn't want to do anything more than that, like, randomly. It's stupid. He doesn't even like the idea of dating. He likes video games, and reading increasingly obscure articles about economic and global inequality, and giving Nie Mingjue a headache.

Fuck. Okay, he has to solve this problem.

He's moping about it after class—he's spent the entirety of his sociology class trying to problem-solve the shit out of this, and all he's gotten out of it is two pages of incomprehensible notes on his laptop screen and no progress.

"Wei Ying."

The deep, somber voice startles him out of his reverie and he lifts his face from where he had been contemplating the desktop from close-up with a start. The room is empty except for him and—of course it's Lan Zhan. Of fucking course it's Lan Zhan.

"Hey." He puts his face back down on the desk. "It's cool, I don't think there's another class in here for like an hour, I can stay like this, no one minds." He flaps one hand at Lan Zhan and thinks, again, of how he should maybe give another shot at having pretend sexual chemistry with Nie Huaisang. It's the only solution he's come up with.

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan says his name again, but differently, and Wei Ying waits a beat to see what he'll say next which is—nothing. How is Wei Ying supposed to know what he means when he just keeps saying his name?

"Yes," he tells the desk. "That's me, Lan Zhan."

There's a long moment of quiet and then the sound of a chair being pulled out. When Wei Ying peeks over, Lan Zhan has settled into the seat beside him. Wei Ying waits for him to say his name. Again.

Instead, Lan Zhan says, "Is anything wrong?"

Which is weird enough that Wei Ying pushes himself upright, then immediately slouches back in his chair, pressing his hands over his eyes. "A lot is wrong, Lan Zhan," he says sadly. "A lot is always wrong. I am a very stupid person and I say a lot of of very stupid things that get me into a lot of—very—stupid situations."

"Ah." When Wei Ying drops his hands, Lan Zhan is studying him. Why is Lan Zhan studying him? Why does Wei Ying suddenly feel like a calculus problem Lan Zhan is trying to solve?

"Yes," Wei Ying says. "Ah is right. I'm a human disaster."

"That is not," Lan Zhan says, "what I have observed."

That's surprising enough that Wei Ying actually sits up straight. "Yes, you fucking have," he says in his most argumentative tone. "Of course you have! I know a human disaster when I see one. I am late to class almost every day and every time I am, you give me that look that clearly says my god, Wei Ying is a human disaster."

Lan Zhan opens his mouth.

Wei Ying holds up his hand. "Do not deny it. Do not deny it. You may not be thinking it in so many words, but trust me, the meaning is there."

Lan Zhan closes his mouth, tilting his head. He doesn't look amused—Wei Ying isn't sure he is capable of looking amused—but there's something about his face that makes Wei Ying feel like he is amused, even though his mouth stays in its stolid, straight line, and his eyes definitely do not sparkle. There is literally no difference between how Lan Zhan is looking at him right now and how he looks when he gives him the human disaster look, but—Wei Ying is pretty sure he's amused.

He gives a big sigh. He supposes that, at least, he's funny. He's got that going for him.

"Perhaps," Lan Zhan says, "I could assist in resolving this particular...disaster."

Wei Ying blinks at him. "Well, A) no, you couldn't, but B) why would you do that?"

Lan Zhan gives a small shrug. When Wei Ying continues to stare at him, Lan Zhan finally says, "I like a challenge."

"You like a challenge." Wei Ying says it flatly. "Well, then, my friend—would we say friend? I would say friend. You might not say friend. Anyway. Friend, do I have a challenge for you."

***

Lan Zhan comes with him to the nice coffee shop on campus. Lan Zhan buys him a coffee. Lan Zhan sits down with him in said coffee shop, in front of everybody to see, and sets his own cup of iced green tea in front of himself neatly.

He's wearing a deep green top, sort of a...tunic, Wei Ying guesses it's called? It kind of laces up the front and It comes down to his thighs and it's got a hood, too, and matched with his dark leggings—it's a good look on him. Wei Ying gets distracted for a moment—he really likes how Lan Zhan dresses. It's like no one else he knows. It's a little off-kilter, and it's always very pretty, and it's probably very expensive. It's one of the first things he'd noticed about Lan Zhan: he's so buttoned-up, personality-wise, so you'd expect him to be the sort of guy who dresses in khakis and button-downs, but instead he's cultivated this sort of avant-garde aesthetic without ever once showing any indication that he's doing it for the attention.

"You didn't need to buy," Wei Ying says again. "I dragged you here because I have a headache that will not quit and I one hundred percent cannot have this conversation while under-caffeinated. This is a caffeine-driven conversation, Lan Zhan—I hope you're ready for that."

Lan Zhan inclines his head minutely and takes a sip of his tea. Wei Ying stares. Somehow he had never pictured Lan Zhan—beautiful, gracious, impeccable Lan Zhan—with a straw in his mouth. Something about the image brings him down to earth a bit; Wei Ying doesn't know why, but taking a sip through a straw seems to be such a normal thing to do that he finds himself spilling his troubles to Lan Zhan.

Of all people. He knows Lan Zhan, and he likes Lan Zhan, but Lan Zhan and he are not, he would say, sympatico. They travel in the same circles, sort of—Lan Zhan's brother is buddies with Nie Huaisang's brother, which results in Wei Ying actually having seen Lan Xichen around more often than Lan Zhan. But Lan Zhan knows, and is friends with, Wen Qing, and he's been at parties with the group, and at brunches, stuff like that. Wei Ying always finds himself somehow looking for Lan Zhan's attention when they're at the same party—he doesn't mean to, but it does keep happening. Only Lan Zhan's attention is usually negative: a pained look here, a concerned glance there, his one-sentence responses to whatever bullshit Wei Ying would be spouting usually some mixture of "shameless" and "please do not do that," even if Wei Ying's plans are usually very good. Rock solid. Not always. But usually.

"So you see," he says, having made a wonky star out of Lan Zhan's straw wrapper as he told his tale. "I made a deal. I can't back out of a deal. Jiang Cheng needs this. Jiang Cheng deserves this. Jiang Cheng absolutely deserves to—"

"Get wrecked, sexually," Lan Zhan says. "So you've explained." Again, his expression doesn't exactly change, but Wei Ying thinks that he looks...pained.

"Yes," Wei Ying says delightedly. "Man, you saying that is even better than you with a straw."

Lan Zhan blinks, and looks down at the straw in his drink curiously. "Pardon?"

"Nothing." Wei Ying waves it off. "But yes, correct, he deserves to get wrecked—sexually—by Wen Qing. Because, Lan Zhan, I cannot take him mooning over her anymore. She's willing, but she feels like he's got to take some initiative to get this going and, ah." Wei Ying sighs and lifts his cup, which is—sadly—empty. He puts it back down. "He's just never going to do that."

"Not without impetus," Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying blinks up at him. "Right," he says. "Right. Hey, you've really been listening. You get it. That's it: he needs impetus."

"And you taking this chance with him," Lan Zhan says, "is said impetus."

"Yes, exactly, you understand it—I'm just here to make things better for Jiang Cheng, and trust me, he needs the help." Wei Ying picks up his coffee cup again—it's still empty, why can't he remember that—and puts it back down. "But I don't want to...I don't know." He blows out his breath on a sigh. "I don't want to really date anyone. It's so stupid, I just need to pretend date someone until Jiang Cheng gets his act together, then go back to my own life." He stares at his empty coffee cup.

"Date me," Lan Zhan says. Then he looks at Wei Ying's empty cup. "Would you like another cup of coffee?"

"Always," Wei Ying says automatically. "But wait, what."

"I'll get you another one." Lan Zhan rises smoothly from the table, reaching for Wei Ying's cup.

"No, wait, hang on." Wei Ying grabs his wrist before he can take the cup and Lan Zhan freezes, staring down at where Wei Ying is hanging on to him. "Fuck, sorry, I'll—" Wei Ying hastily lets go of his wrist. "Sorry, I—what did you mean?"

"I can pretend to date you," Lan Zhan says. "You take it with cream and sugar, correct?"

"I don't—" Wei Ying feels like he has a concussion. "I mean, yes, cream and sugar. Wait, no, I mean you don't need to buy me another..."

Lan Zhan has already left the table, and is walking over to the order counter to get Wei Ying another coffee that he hadn't meant to ask for. He hadn't meant to ask for anything, actually. He was just talking. That's all he did: talk. Lan Zhan definitely didn't know him very well if he didn't know that about him. He should know that about him—they're in class together every week, and Wei Ying talks circles around himself in class. He's seen it in Lan Zhan's eyes, how annoying he finds it when Wei Ying really gets into a topic and gets all worked up about it.

A cup of steaming hot coffee is set down neatly on the table in front of him, where he's been staring blankly for the entire time Lan Zhan has been gone. Wei Ying wrenches his gaze up to Lan Zhan's face as Lan Zhan once again takes his seat across from him. "You didn't need to do that," Wei Ying says frantically. "You didn't have to—coffee wasn't— I can fix things, you don't need to swoop in and—"

"Oh." Lan Zhan's giving him the stern look he sometimes gives Wei Ying in class when Wei Ying swings in only, like, ninety seconds late. Only this time the tips of his ears have gone pink and that somehow changes the whole thing from 'stern' to 'embarrassed.' "I did not intend to...swoop," he says stiffly. "My apologies."

And fuck, that's not what Wei Ying had meant, either.

"No!" he exclaims, way too loud, so that three separate tables and the barista look over at them. "No," he says again, more quietly but still a little too loud. "I didn't mean swoop. Or, like, I didn't mean I didn't want you to swoop, I only meant that you didn't have to swoop, no swooping necessary, fuck, is swoop even a word, it doesn't sound like a word anymore." He takes a breath. "Fuck."

Lan Zhan is just staring at him from across the table.

Wei Ying takes another breath. He tries to make it come from his diaphragm. Maybe he should take up yoga. Maybe he wouldn't run off at the mouth so much if he learned a discipline or something. "What I meant," he says carefully, when it seems like he might once again have control over his whole...situation, "is that I caused this problem and I should probably be the one to get myself out of it."

Lan Zhan's expression doesn't change, but he still does the thing where he blinks and somehow he's radiating a whole different vibe. "Ah," he says, nodding down at the coffee, like he's indicating Wei Ying should take a sip before it gets cold. "But you did get yourself out of it. As it were."

Wei Ying absently picks up the coffee cup and takes a sip as directed. "As it were," he says, making it a question.

"Yes." Lan Zhan is rising, lifting his bag from where he'd hung it neatly on the back of the chair when they'd sat down. "You discussed it with me. You explained your situation, with clarity and care. The solution presented itself. Here." He reaches into his bag, pulling out a small blue notebook—because of course Lan Zhan carries a notebook—with a pen tucked neatly into it. He flips it open, writes something down, then tears out the piece of paper and hands it to Wei Ying.

Wei Ying stares down at the sheet of paper blankly. There, in neat penmanship, is Lan Zhan's phone number, with Lan Zhan's name written just as neatly underneath it.

"Call me," Lan Zhan says, "when you are ready to begin." He puts his bag over his shoulder and starts to turn away, then turns back. "We should probably practice, before we endeavor to do anything in a public place. I do not have a great deal of experience in these matters. But I am a quick learner."

"Right," Wei Ying says faintly. His fingers are already leaving little sweat marks on the piece of paper. "I—okay, I'll...call you." Will he? Are they doing this? By 'call,' does Lan Zhan mean 'text'? Or— Lan Zhan seems like the type of person where 'call' probably definitely does mean 'actually call, on the phone, like we live in the past.' So Wei Ying should probably call him when he's ready to... "Practice," he says, faintly, to himself, because Lan Zhan is already gone. Wei Ying watches as he moves in swift strides past the window of the coffee shop, his long hair caught a little bit in the breeze, the deep green of his tunic glowing richly in the late afternoon sunlight just before he disappears from view.

***

Wei Ying has saved Lan Zhan's number in his phone (as ???Lan Zhan???) and he has, in fact, punched the numbers in, poised to call him, three separate times, but he keeps second guessing himself. Calling someone feels so rude. Who knows if they're busy? Or sleeping? Or watching a really good movie? He looks at the clock—fuck, it's nearly eight, he really should figure out what he's doing for dinner—and back at his phone. Eight o'clock on a Tuesday night feels...safe. Right? Who has, like, plans at eight o'clock on a Tuesday?

"Call him," he says sternly to himself. "Hit the goddamn button. Make the call."

He finally does it, his thumb slipping a little sweatily against his phone as he resolutely punches the button.

"Wei Ying." That's how Lan Zhan answers the phone. Wei Ying has never heard his name said with such gravity before.

"Wow," he says before he can stop himself. "Hello, hi, yeah, it's Wei Ying."

"Ah."

Wow, Lan Zhan really isn't going to help him out here, is he? "Right. Right. Anyway, so! You said to call, so I'm calling. Uh. I guess so we can talk about...parameters?"

"Correct." Lan Zhan pauses for a moment. Wei Ying's mind is a whirring blank space. He hadn't really thought about...parameters. Just that he needed someone to pretend to like him for enough time that Jiang Cheng would have to follow through on his end of the pact. "Shall I start?"

"Please." It's a huge rush of relief. Wei Ying bets Lan Zhan is swell at parameters.

"I do not lie well," Lan Zhan says. "I'm not a tactile person. It would be a red flag if I were to behave in a manner that would be perceived as greatly out of character for me."

Wei Ying opens his mouth.

"That said," Lan Zhan continues smoothly, "I am willing to work with you on a way to contrive a situation in which some behaviors could, in the perception of observers, be attributed to the fact that you and I are—that is, that we are—"

"Together," Wei Ying fills in.

"Yes." Lan Zhan sounds relieved. "And that in being together, that perhaps some..."

Wei Ying says, after a beat, "...feelings?"

"Yes," Lan Zhan says. "That perhaps some feelings and, ah."

The beat is longer here before Wei Ying says, uncertainly, "Desires?"

"Yes," Lan Zhan says. "Correct, that those things may lead to some aberrant behaviors."

It takes Wei Ying a second to untangle that sentence. "You mean that public displays of affection, while not your usual thing, are something you'd be okay with, since it would be a good sign that we are into each other?"

"Yes." There's that sound of relief in Lan Zhan's voice again. "Thus, the practice."

"Right." Wei Ying has been thinking about the practice ever since Lan Zhan first mentioned it. "So you mean we should meet up so we can practice touching each other."

The silence on the other end of the line has a tinge of what might be alarm to it.

"Like holding hands, I mean!" Wei Ying says quickly. "Or like, everyone knows that I like to drape myself all over people, that I'm super handsy even with just friends, like, I don't know, hugs and stuff. Not like touching each other, touching each other, that's not what I meant, it's—"

Lan Zhan clears his throat. "Tomorrow," he says. "Are you available? Your last class ends at three, correct?"

How does Lan Zhan know that? Also, that's Wei Ying's usual afternoon nap time, but he guesses he can put a pin in that if it means getting to the next step in this stupid, stupid plan. "I am."

"Good. Plan to return to my dorm room with me after class. I have a single. We will have privacy."

"Great," Wei Ying manages. It comes out only slightly strangled. "That's good. That's so good. We need privacy for all of the hand-holding. And stuff."

And stuff? Why did he say that? What's and stuff? Oh god, Lan Zhan is going to quit this before it's even begun.

"Good night, Wei Ying." Lan Zhan hangs up.

Wei Ying drops his phone to his lap and presses his hands against his eyes. Great. Great. Cool cool cool.

Practice.

***

"This is a really...clean dorm room." Wei Ying can't stop prowling around, looking at Lan Zhan's stuff. He keeps his hands behind his back so he won't accidently touch anything. "You've got, like, really good light in here." He does—Lan Zhan has curtains (curtains!) that move back and forth a little in the breeze from the cracked-open window. "And furniture, even! Most people move off campus by their senior year but I can see why you stayed."

"Yes." Lan Zhan does have furniture—the singles on campus are small, but he's got his bed tucked neatly into a corner, and has left himself space for what looks like a supremely soft chair, which is a deep jewel blue color. Like, it looks like a perfect place to curl up with a cup of tea and read. It's across from his very neat desk, everything on it (laptop, books, notepad) set at perfect right-angles. It's not littered with post-its and snacks and to-do lists like Wei Ying's. "Are we ready to begin?"

"Yes!" Right, they're here for business. "Okay." He can take charge here. "You sit there," he says, pointing at the soft chair.

Lan Zhan settles himself neatly in the chair. Wei Ying's not sure how it's humanly possible to not tuck your feet up under yourself in a chair like that, but Lan Zhan somehow manages it. He sits the same way he does when he's listening in class: back straight, hands in his lap. His eyes are...extremely focused on Wei Ying. It's a little overwhelming. Wei Ying grabs Lan Zhan's desk chair and swings it around so he can sit in it facing Lan Zhan. "So," Wei Ying says. "Here's what I'm thinking: we have to make this believable. The more believable it is, the better the chances that Jiang Cheng is forced to make his move, and the quicker this is over with—I'm sure you want this wrapped up as soon as possible, right?"

"Mn." Lan Zhan really is so intense, like, all of the time. The sun coming in through the window catches on the blouse Lan Zhan is wearing—it's white and it's got billowy sleeves and looks soft, and it isn't until just now that Wei Ying realizes it's got accent sparkles amidst the white-on-white embroidery that's woven through it, glimmering in the sunlight.

Wei Ying clears his throat. "Okay, so. Believable. I think that means this: we have to spend time together. Like, in public." He starts ticking things off on his fingers. "You have got to get used to me touching you because I'm very—what was the word you used?—tactile. I'm a super tactile person. I know you aren't and that's cool, I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. You're doing me a favor. We can figure this out."

Lan Zhan tilts his head a little. "It is fine," he says. "I just need to...be prepared for what it will be like."

"Right." Wei Ying watches him. "Right, okay, so I'm thinking, hmm." Lan Zhan waits, looking expectant. He has this small tilt to his mouth, the same one he gets in class when he's really concentrating on what the professor is saying. It's really cute. It's—focus up, Wei Ying. "If we were dating," he says, "and I came in here and saw you sitting there looking like that, I'd probably..." He gets up and tries to picture it, to feel it. It's weird, getting into character as...yourself. But okay, if he was dating Lan Zhan and he walked in here and there Lan Zhan was, sitting there so neatly, caught in a beam of sunlight, his hair up neatly in a loose bun, the light blue ribbon around it fluttering a little in the breeze...

Wei Ying settles himself on the broad arm of the chair, leaning in close to Lan Zhan, sliding an arm around his shoulders. Lan Zhan stiffens a bit, and Wei Ying can see a muscle jumping in his jaw—that jawline, you could cut glass with that jawline—and then, minutely, he feels Lan Zhan relax under his arm. It feels like he does it in stages, letting his neck relax first, then his shoulders, and Wei Ying actually sees it when he unclenches his hands with slow deliberation, stretching out his fingers before letting his hands rest loosely on his lap.

"Good," Wei Ying says softly, not wanting to startle Lan Zhan. "That was good, you did it. Does this feel okay? Are you—is it uncomfortable?" Lan Zhan's shoulders are warm, Wei Ying can feel it through his blouse. Wei Ying's face is very close to Lan Zhan's from this angle.

"It's not uncomfortable." Lan Zhan's voice is calm. "What next?"

"Oh." Wei Ying shifts on the arm of the chair, blinking as he tries to think What would Wei Ying do? God, this is weird. "Well, I'd probably—I mean, listen, if we were dating, and I was right here and you were...right there, I don't think I'd be able to stop myself from—" He does it slowly, trying to telegraph it so that Lan Zhan can prepare himself. He presses his lips against Lan Zhan's cheek, high up. Just that, just a kiss, not too much, but he thinks that this is what he would do, if he were allowed: kiss Lan Zhan right where the dappled sunlight is tracing across his skin.

Lan Zhan is quiet next to him, but his hands are still relaxed on his lap, so Wei Ying thinks it's probably okay.

"So, like." Wei Ying has slid a little closer to Lan Zhan, and can smell him, that waft of what Wei Ying is pretty sure is sandalwood lightly coming through. "I think it would be...believable. You said you're not, uh, tactile, but if you don't mind me being...tactile, I think this would work."

"Mn." Lan Zhan makes his small agreeable noise, and Wei Ying can see, again, the muscle jumping just below his jaw. He thinks that he would—that if they were dating, he would—

"Can I," he says. "I think I would, just because I'd want to, and I wouldn't want you to be surprised but." He presses his lips against the spot under Lan Zhan's jaw. He can feel the muscle there jump, and thinks he can feel the beat of Lan Zhan's pulse under the thin skin of his throat. This feels. Intimate. Like. He's kissed a lot of cheeks, and you wouldn't think that just this spot would feel that different but it definitely does. It definitely feels like a lot more and he thinks, suddenly, that it's good that they're practicing, not just for Lan Zhan's sake.

He pushes himself back, flustered, pressing the back of his hands against his flaming cheeks. "Sorry," he says, laughing a little bit. "Sorry, I didn't mean to—whew, that was a lot, maybe a step too far. Was it too awkward, Lan Zhan?"

Lan Zhan's lips look redder than before, like they've been bitten, like he's been kissing. Wei Ying's heart is beating very fast in his chest. This was such a dumb fucking idea.

"It's fine, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says calmly. "I would tell you if I felt uncomfortable. Are you—" He pauses, tilting his head to look up at where Wei Ying is still perched on the arm of the chair, half-balanced against Lan Zhan. "Are you okay with it?"

"Me?" Wei Ying laughs, and it comes out too loud. "I'm—this is nothing, I'm totally fine with it. I did this to myself! I'm always getting myself into these situations. I'm lucky that you're willing to take a bullet here and let me, like, manhandle you for the sake of getting my brother laid."

Lan Zhan's eyes had gone a bit wide at manhandle.

Wei Ying winces. "Sorry. Sorry. I wouldn't—not manhandle, per se, it's just that you—"

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan's head is still tilted back. "If we were dating. What next?"

"Oh." Fuck. Wei Ying's face is, he's pretty sure, going to burst into actual flames any second now. Focus. Focus. "If we were dating," he says, and stops.

Lan Zhan is still looking at him.

Wei Ying blushes harder. The neck kissing was a Step for him and he hadn't actually even meant to do that. He'd just—that damn muscle jumping on Lan Zhan's jaw had been—and the room was so warm—and he'd been trying to get into character as, you know, himself, and—

"I think that if we were..." Wei Ying swallows and thinks, frenziedly, fuck it and lets his brain go fully offline. "If we were dating, I'd probably get tired of balancing here and just."

He swings himself into Lan Zhan's lap. It's an easy move and he lands with a knee planted on either side of Lan Zhan's hips. The chair is wide enough that he fits, but barely. Lan Zhan is...way closer to him this way, which is so obvious, but for all of the laps Wei Ying has draped himself across, this is the first time he's straddled someone and that's...different. Really. Different.

Lan Zhan's hands have somehow ended up on Wei Ying's hips, just loosely hanging on. Wei Ying thinks frantically that he's not sure if anyone has ever touched his hips before. Like this. Because this feels—it's a lot. He's on Lan Zhan's lap and Lan Zhan's hands are on his hips and Lan Zhan's mouth looks kissed, even though they haven't even done that. Yet.

Are they going to...do that? Is that what practice means? Why did Wei Ying never quite let himself realize that's probably exactly what practice means? Why is he like this?

"Is this okay?" he asks. "Am I squishing you?"

Lan Zhan shakes his head minutely.

"Okay." Wei Ying takes a breath. "Okay. What do you think we should do? I mean. What would you do, if we were dating? I know the onus is on me to keep this going, because it's my problem in the first place and you're just helping out, but I figure it's good for you to maybe be the one to take the initiative sometimes, right?" Oh my god, Wei Ying, stop talking. "So." He takes a breath. "What do you think?"

"I think," Lan Zhan says in a thoughtful tone, the same one he uses in class, "that we need to kiss."

Wei Ying laughs but it doesn't come out like a normal laugh. More like a strangled laugh. "No, you're right, that's—yeah." He doesn't move. He's not sure he can move. He feels frozen here, on Lan Zhan's lap.

"From what I've observed on campus," Lan Zhan says, "the act of publicly kissing is expected." He looks up at Wei Ying. "I have never been one for public displays of affection. But I would—I believe in the right circumstances, I would. Participate."

"Participate," Wei Ying echoes. "Right."

"Right." Lan Zhan is looking up at him expectantly. His hands are still resting on Wei Ying's hips. Wei Ying feels like he can feel the heat of them through the denim of his jeans. He probably can't. That's probably just the heat of his own flop-sweat. Lan Zhan is looking up at him. His mouth doesn't have that hard, stern look to it that it usually does. It looks soft, right now. He should—they should— "So, I would probably just..."

Wei Ying leans in and presses his lips against Lan Zhan's. Oh fuck. Oh fuck, his lips are, in fact, soft. He thinks he sort of assumed this would be the type of short, quick smacking kiss that he is so fond of pressing against Jiang Cheng's cheek. Instead, when their lips touch, it's slow, and it's so, so soft. Wei Ying isn't sure if he's breathing.

He pulls back after a handful of moments, his breath coming in an embarrassing sort of gasp. Lan Zhan doesn't laugh, though. He just looks up at him.

"Good?" Wei Ying asks. "Is that what you were thinking?"

Lan Zhan nods. "Let's try it again."

"Oh," Wei Ying says faintly. "Oh, right, okay, 'cause, like, practice makes perfect or something like..."

"Like this," Lan Zhan says. He rests one hand on Wei Ying's head, gently, curving around just behind his ear, and Wei Ying's heart gives this jerk in his chest, just from that. Lan Zhan tilts Wei Ying's head, draws him closer, and the second kiss is ten times better than the first. And the first kiss had been pretty damn good. It's the angle, Wei Ying thinks, frantically. The angle apparently makes a lot of difference. Lan Zhan was right about the angle, he was fully correct, he's so smart, Wei Ying was really lucky to get a guy as smart as Lan Zhan to help him out.

When Lan Zhan pulls back, Wei Ying sways forward, still with his eyes closed, just for a second. He catches himself, pushing back, and—oh, he's got one hand clenched around Lan Zhan's shoulder. He doesn't remember doing that. His other one is resting on the back of the chair but he is definitely for sure hanging onto Lan Zhan with the other one. "So, uh." He blinks down at Lan Zhan. "That's how I would kiss someone, if I were dating them."

"Understood." Lan Zhan keeps looking up at him. "So that is something I should expect."

"Expect?" Wei Ying's mind is a whirling blender. He can't hear anything over the sound of, oh, so many thoughts screaming at him all at once.

"When we are pretending to date," Lan Zhan says.

"Right." Pretending. They are pretending. This is pretending. "Right. Listen, I'm, uh, going to just—" He scrambles out of Lan Zhan's lap, banging his knee against the chair, and ending up half-tumbling down to the floor in his effort to free himself.

"Are you all right?" Lan Zhan is reaching forward, holding out a hand to help him up. Wei Ying reaches for it, and oh, okay, that's yet another in a series of mistakes he's made today, because Lan Zhan's hands are definitely hot, so warm that Wei Ying is pretty sure he was feeling them through his jeans, when Lan Zhan was holding onto his hips and—

"I'm so good," Wei Ying says. "Totally, totally fine." He scrambles back into Lan Zhan's desk chair, sits down there tensely for a moment, then shoots to his feet. "Actually, you know what? I think that's good! I think we both totally get what we're going for here."

Lan Zhan's brow furrows an incremental amount. "Are you sure?" he says, getting up.

Wei Ying is slinging his backpack over his shoulder. "No, totally. If we practice too much, it's going to look rehearsed. We can't have that."

"No," Lan Zhan agrees, looking reluctant. "But how do we—"

"Backstory!" Wei Ying bounces on his toes. "We need a backstory and what I'm going to do is really get to work on that and we can workshop the shit out of it over text later." He hoists his backpack up higher and heads to the door. "That's what I'm going to do, I'm going to text you later, and you're going to be so impressed by my backstory skills. And then tomorrow, we'll just be, you know—"

"Dating." Lan Zhan says it seriously, calmly, standing in front of Wei Ying. His eyes look literally golden in this light and his blouse is still giving off occasional sparkles and his lips look even more kissed that they had before.

"Dating." Wei Ying gives him fingerguns. "You got it. I'm heading out—bye!"

He lets the door slam behind him way too loudly and if he collapses back against it to just sort of pant for a couple of moments afterwards, well, that's nobody's business but his own.

***

"Fingerguns," he says miserably, later, to Nie Huaisang, sitting cross-legged on his bed. "I closed with fingerguns."

"I won't lie to you," Nie Huaisang says solemnly. "That's not great."

"I am extremely aware that it isn't great," Wei Ying says with dignity. "I am deeply aware. Profoundly aware."

"I would hope so." Nie Huaisang shakes his head. "This is maybe why you can't find someone to real-date you, you know?"

Wei Ying is—profoundly—aware of that as well. He does not dignify it with a response.

"So tomorrow," he says instead. "Dating."

"You and Lan Zhan."

Wei Ying shoots him a look but Nie Huaisang has his fully innocent face on. Wei Ying scowls. "Yes," he says impatiently.

"Didn't you say he'd 'never do it'?" Nie Huaisang asks. "Didn't you say he'd tell you to 'tell the truth'?" He makes the quote marks with his fingers, because of course he does.

"Yeah, because that's definitely what he was going to say. You've seen him at parties. You know what he's like. You should hear him in class. He is this upright, by the book sort of dude. He doesn't get into—" Wei Ying waves his hands around. "Shenanigans."

"Shenanigans," Nie Huaisang echoes.

"I said what I said." Lan Zhan doesn't get into shenanigans. He doesn't laugh when everyone else in the class laughs at something, even the professor. He doesn't even smile. He seems to like structure and neatness and studying. Even at parties, half the time Wei Ying finds him cleaning up in the kitchen, washing dishes and glasses, wiping down the counter, staunchly ignoring Wei Ying even when he hops up on the clean counter right afterwards. Wei Ying really doesn't understand why he'd agreed to this. "Stop giving me a hard time," he says now to Nie Huaisang. "I came here for help. Do you want me to go back to thinking about practice-kissing with your brother?"

Nie Huaisang hits him in the face with a pillow.

Wei Ying sags back and leaves the pillow over his face. It's kind of soothing. "Help me workshop this," he says into the softness of it. He blinks when it gets yanked off of his face.

"No one can understand you when you do that," Nie Huaisang says.

Wei Ying rolls onto his stomach. "Help me workshop this," he says again. "So, Lan Zhan and I started dating because of—"

"Hitting it off in class." Nie Huaisang rolls onto his stomach, as well, propping up his chin in his hands. "The best, most believable lies have a bit of truth to them."

"Right. Right. Okay, so we hit it off in class and he became so hopelessly hung up on me that—"

Nie Huaisang makes a small, dubious noise.

"...I became so hung up on him that I pretty much bullied him into going out with me."

"That makes more sense," Nie Huaisang says. "Hey, are you trying to make this into, like, a first-date thing?"

"No," Wei Ying says, sighing. "But it has to be, because that's the deal I made with Jiang Cheng. That we both needed to do something high-stakes." He sighs again. "But all he has to do is just ask Wen Qing, because she actually likes him, and he's loads better than me at all kinds of stuff. His part is easy."

"Right." Nie Huaisang chews on his thumbnail. "Talk to me about the practice-kissing." Nie Huaisang rolls closer. "What was it like? He's so—tall."

"Well, I was on his lap, so that didn't matter so much."

"You were on his lap?" Nie Huaisang smacks at his shoulder. "Hussy."

"No, no, it wasn't like that, it was just—" Warm. It had been so warm and Lan Zhan's hands had been scorching against his hips. "Practice," he finishes, finally. "We were just....making sure we could make it realistic."

"And can you?"

"I think so," Wei Ying says. "That's why we tried it out."

"Well." Nie Huaisang sits back up, pushing his hair out of his face. "I can't wait to see how this plays out."

***

They had decided to give it a shot after class the next day. Jiang Cheng has class just across the hall from them, and it lets out at the same time. This is a completely easy one, almost too easy, and Wei Ying is ready for it. He's pumped. "Are you pumped, Lan Zhan?" he whispers in Lan Zhan's ear, as he sits down next to him in class. He's taken someone else's regular seat, but he doesn't care. He needs to build up to this. He can't spend the full class sitting on the other side of the room.

"Class is beginning," Lan Zhan says, not looking up from where he's typing the date into his Word doc.

The date. He dates his class notes, like a dweeb. Why is that so cute? "The professor isn't even here yet," Wei Ying points out. "I got here real early." It's the truth: he'd rolled in a whole ten minutes early, vibrating at what feels like a very high speed. "Just to be ready."

Lan Zhan takes his hands off the keys and folds them neatly in front of him. "I am prepared," he says. "For what we discussed."

Wei Ying had texted him the backstory plan last night, and the after-class plan, and made sure Lan Zhan remembers what Jiang Cheng looks like. ("Broad shoulders. Long hair. Constantly looks like he just stubbed his toe.")

Lan Zhan had responded, "Noted," after Wei Ying's seven text messages, and then nothing else. Not much of a correspondent.

"Cool." Wei Ying leans forward on his desk, hooking his ankles around the legs of the desk chair. "Cool, cool, cool, we have got this."

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says, in his shut up voice.

Wei Ying glances up. Oh, the professor has arrived.

He gets through the class, barely, paying almost no attention and typing random notes on what the professor is saying that he's pretty sure won't actually make any sense when he looks back at them. By the time it's over he's no longer nervous, he's just ready, he just wants to do this. "I can't handle transitions, Lan Zhan," he bursts out the moment the professor ends class. "Let's just go, okay, let's do it, let's—"

"Yes." Lan Zhan finishes tucking his stuff away in his bag, then stands up and neatly slings the bag over his shoulder.

"Great." Wei Ying bounces up, sweeping his stuff into his backpack. "Let's just—hey, wait up."

Lan Zhan is already heading out the door. Wei Ying scurries after him.

The timing could not be more perfect. Wei Ying catches up with Lan Zhan outside the classroom, his jitters sending him colliding against Lan Zhan. Instead of making a "hmph" noise, or pushing him away, or sidestepping him, Lan Zhan steadies him with one hand against his shoulder. "Oh," Wei Ying says, looking at him. "Oh, hi."

"Hi," Lan Zhan says back. Students are pouring out of the classroom across the way, and Lan Zhan draws him out of the path of the crowd, letting his hand run down Wei Ying's arm until he's looping their fingers together. They're holding hands. Lan Zhan is holding his hand.

Wei Ying is startled, yet again, by how Lan Zhan's hands are so warm and he nearly misses it when Jiang Cheng emerges from his classroom. "Oh, there he is," he hisses. The adrenaline rush hits hard and he pushes up on his toes and he kisses Lan Zhan. He knows—he knows—that this goes beyond the scope of the plan but, whatever, he's committing to the role. He's buzzing with adrenaline; he can't quite feel his hands.

Lan Zhan's lips go soft under his own and his hand lands on Wei Ying's hip for a moment before he pulls away. His cheeks are a little bit red as he murmurs, "Public displays of affection are embarrassing." He doesn't sound mad, though. He's looking at Wei Ying like he's the only person in the world and they're not being buffeted left and right by members of the student body, and—oh. Oh, right, he's acting. They've talked about this. Lan Zhan isn't a PDA sort of guy, and everyone knows that.

He's blushing for real, though, and Wei Ying really appreciates him for doing this. "Sorry," he says, grinning up at him.

Lan Zhan tugs on his hand, saying, "Not here, let's—"

Wei Ying has never heard Lan Zhan cut himself off so abruptly before. He really is a good actor. He's letting himself get into the role. Wei Ying is so lucky Lan Zhan is the one he'd spilled his problems to, because Lan Zhan, it seems, is a problem solver and he's really putting in an effort.

He almost doesn't realize that Lan Zhan has drawn him into a newly empty classroom, and shut the door behind them.

"What?" Wei Ying asks. "Are we—did you—"

"Were we dating," Lan Zhan says, "and you did...that, this is what I would do." He's watching Wei Ying and his eyes are very dark. "I do not enjoy public displays of affection," he says again.

"I know, sorry, I—"

"But I believe that, were we dating, I would merely prefer...privacy. If possible."

"RIght." Wei Ying looks up at him. "Right, that's—that makes sense."

It's quiet in the room for a moment, the muted sounds of the passing period in the hallway making this space feel even more private.

Lan Zhan lets the silence hold for a moment before he says, "We had discussed holding hands," he says carefully. "As an opening salvo. As it were."

Oh. It hits Wei Ying with a jolt and— "Right, right, I'm sorry." He presses his lips together. "I really am sorry, I didn't actually plan it. I—in the moment, it just felt like the thing to do, but you're right, you are so right. I should have discussed it with you. I'm sorry, I really am."

Lan Zhan lets Wei Ying run himself out before he continues. "I believe we are going to have to...improvise, at times, for this to work. I understand that."

"Still." Wei Ying isn't sure, exactly, what compelled him to go up on his toes and kiss Lan Zhan in the middle of the hallway. Mostly that he's an idiot with poor impulse control, probably. "I'm sorry."

Lan Zhan nods, and then, with a glance over Wei Ying's shoulder, moves in swiftly, his hands landing on Wei Ying's hips, tugging him forward and kissing him. It's different from the kisses in his dorm room yesterday. Different from the dumb hallway kiss. It's hotter than those, and the way Lan Zhan is holding onto his hips in a tight grip is somehow kind of making Wei Ying's knees actually go weak. Lan Zhan kisses him hot and sweet and holding him close like Wei Ying might try to get away, and then—

Wei Ying stumbles as Lan Zhan releases him, his knees genuinely almost going out from underneath him. Lan Zhan catches his elbow, steadies him as he rests one hand against his cheek. "Your brother," he says quietly, staring deeply into Wei Ying's eyes, "is watching us from the doorway."

"Oh," Wei Ying says weakly. "Oh, got it. Got it. Good job, you, for clocking that and—"

"Improvising," Lan Zhan says. His hand is still on Wei Ying's cheek. Wei Ying is pretty sure he's the one who's blushing now. His face feels so hot, like he could burn up right here in this classroom.

"Right," he says. "Improvising." He swallows, looking up at Lan Zhan. "Is he still there?"

Lan Zhan glances over Wei Ying's shoulder. "No." He drops his hand from Wei Ying's face, and adjusts his bag on his shoulder. "I believe we have made a strong start to this," he says.

"I agree," Wei Ying's knees still feel weak. Leftover adrenaline. He's going to need a nap after this. Two naps, maybe.

Lan Zhan gives him a short nod, and turns and swiftly exits the classroom.

Wei Ying lets his knees give out, sitting down on a desk and pressing his hands to his face. "Okay," he says to his palms. "Great. Cool. Improvising is...so good."

***

That was their only plan for today. Wei Ying is planning to head back to the apartment, with a mind to absolutely revel in smugly making good on his part of the pact, so he can pressure Jiang Cheng to follow through on asking out Wen Qing. The sooner that happens, the sooner he and Lan Zhan can stop...improvising, and thus life will be better for everyone involved.

Jiang Cheng, however, is waiting for Wei Ying right outside of the classroom building. He grabs him as he emerges and Wei Ying gasps so hard he almost chokes—his body has got to learn how to process adrenaline better than this. "What, what the fuck, let go of me!"

"What was that?" Jiang Cheng sounds outraged, spitting the words out with his hands curled into Wei Ying's hoodie.

"Hey!" Wei Ying slaps at his hands. "Stop, you'll stretch it out, this is new!"

"What was that?" Jiang Cheng ignores him but his hands do ease up, just a little. "What did you do? What is wrong with you?"

"I didn't do anything." Damn. Jiang Cheng is really worked up. Wei Ying's plan is definitely a good one.

"You made out with...with...him." Jiang Cheng shoves him back against the wall and Wei Ying laughs a little bit, clinging to Jiang Cheng's shoulders.

"Only a little," he says. Would you call that making out? He guesses that was, in fact, making out.

"Only a—?" Jiang Cheng cuts himself off and lets go of Wei Ying's hoodie so abruptly that Wei Ying almost falls down.

"Well, yeah." Wei Ying brings his hand up to the back of his head, scrubs at the hair there, almost knocking out the messy bun he'd pulled his long hair into this morning instead of washing it. He ducks his head the tiniest bit. He knows he can't show real shame—never heard of it—but he thinks that if this were real, he might be a little bit shy about talking about it. "It's...new."

Jiang Cheng's mouth is a thin, angry line, but his eyes look confused more than anything else. "How." He glares at Wei Ying. "Why."

"Oh." Wei Ying is ready for this one. "You were an inspiration, actually. You know, our pact?"

Jiang Cheng blanches at the word pact.

"Honestly, I thought it would be a lot harder than this," Wei Ying says. "Or, like, more embarrassing. I was really doing it for you." He's warming to this now. "But then, it just...it was kind of easy, actually. I don't know, Lan Zhan just—he made it easy."

"Lan Zhan." Jiang Cheng blows out an impatient breath. "Of all people."

"I know!" Wei Ying slings his arm over JIang Cheng's shoulders. "Can you believe it? I don't know if it's, like, a thing yet, but we just sort of...hit it off. I guess." He beams at Jiang Cheng. "So now I'm an inspiration to you." He looks at Jiang Cheng expectantly.

Jiang Cheng is really good at rolling his eyes.

"It's your turn, now," Wei Ying says encouragingly.

Jiang Cheng huffs out a breath and crosses his arms over his chest, but he's getting all flushed.

"You know it's your turn." Wei Ying presses a messy kiss to Jiang Cheng's cheek and doesn't let him shake him off of his shoulders when he tries.

"That pact," Jiang Cheng grits out, "was for a date. You've been on a date? With Lan Zhan?"

"Well." Does it count as a date? It probably doesn't count as a date. "I've been to his room."

Jiang Cheng spins around so fast Wei Ying loses his hold on him. "You went to his..the two of you went to his—"

"He has a single," Wei Ying says thoughtfully. "Does that count as a date?"

"Oh my god." Jiang Cheng's cheeks are truly flaming now. Wow, he really doesn't want to ask out Wen Qing. "First of all, never talk to me about hooking up with Lan Zhan ever again. Ever."

"We didn't hook up," Wei Ying protests. He thinks about what Nie Huaisang said, about a little bit of truth making a lie more realistic. "We just wanted to kiss in private. A little bit."

Jiang Cheng makes a sound like a strangled cat. "Second," he grits out. "That does not count as a date. A date is in public. A date is appropriate. A date involves, like, flowers, or a token of appreciation for the other person, like, I don't know, a nice comb or something, not your tongue in their mouth."

"Oh, my tongue wasn't in his mouth," Wei Ying says hastily. "We're not there yet." They didn't practice that. They should...practice that.

"Shut up." Jiang Cheng is pacing now, which means he's thinking, which is good. He's moved into the second stage of working through this. "A date is a date, and that was not a date. It doesn't count."

He doesn't sound victorious or anything, though, which means he knows that this isn't even a minor roadblock for Wei Ying. "That's okay," Wei Ying says soothingly. "It's almost the weekend. Hang on, let me text him."

"Don't," Jiang Cheng says, strangled, but it's too late: Wei Ying is a very swift texter.

Wei Ying: are you busy tomorrow?

???Lan Zhan???: I require more information in order to respond to that.

Wei Ying: That's fair. Would you go out with me tomorrow? On a date? In public? I can bring flowers. And, like, a

"What was it?" he asks Jiang Cheng distractedly. "That you said, about how dates work? Something something a token?"

"A token of appreciation," Jiang Cheng says. "Also I hate you."

???Lan Zhan???: Wei Ying?

Wei Ying: ...sorry, back. A token of appreciation.

???Lan Zhan???: Yes.

"He's in!" Wei Ying crows, clapping Jiang Cheng on the shoulder. "For tomorrow. Okay, now it's your turn." He looks at Jiang Cheng expectantly.

Jiang Cheng stares at him. "I'm not asking someone out over text," he says.

"Not someone," Wei Ying says. "Wen Qing. And why not?"

"It's not appropriate." Jiang Cheng's cheeks are flaming.

"Well." Wei Ying thinks for a second. "You can't call her, because that would be weird. And also maybe don't you think that texting is sort of good, in a way? Like, it will give her a chance to process it."

Jiang Cheng stares at him. "Why does she need to process it? Actually, you know what, never mind, I don't want any more advice from you. Why am I taking advice from you? I'm not doing this."

"Jiang Cheng!" Wei Ying puts on his most hurt, betrayed face. "You have to."

"I do not." Jiang Cheng is turning away resolutely.

"It's not fair otherwise."

Jiang Cheng hesitates.

"And besides," Wei Ying says quickly, "you really do have to. Do it now. Quick like a bandaid. Get it over with and then I will never talk about it again."

"That might almost be worth it," Jiang Cheng mutters.

"Listen, I happen to have it on good authority that she goes to the fancy coffee shop right after her three o'clock class, and if we hurry, we can catch her now."

"No," Jiang Cheng says, but moves forward when Wei Ying catches hold of his arm and propels him along.

"We're doing this," Wei Ying says, resolutely dragging Jiang Cheng across campus.

"You're the worst." Jiang Cheng is hurrying, though, moving as swiftly as Wei Ying is.

"You spelled 'best' wrong," Wei Ying says cheerfully.

***

In the end, it doesn't go...as badly as it could have.

Jiang Cheng has definitely tensed up, to the point of looking nearly like a zombie by the time they get to the coffee shop, but that actually makes him more pliable, since he's not arguing. Outside the door, Wei Ying pauses to straighten Jiang Cheng's collar—he has a really good sense of a style and the wallet to make it happen. He dresses up for class, a little, and the deep purple button down he's wearing works for him, the crisp lines of it setting off his shoulders in the best light. Wei Ying thinks about making him undo an extra button, but he doesn't want to push it too much. "Roll up your sleeves," he orders instead.

Jiang Cheng dutifully does so. He looks a little pasty in the face, but the rolled-up sleeves show off his excellent forearms and between that and how put-together he looks, his button-down tucked neatly into well-fitted black trousers—well, Wei Ying is pretty sure it all comes together.

"Okay," he says. "Just line up the words in your brain and go say them." Wei Ying peers through the window. "She's right there, at the table across the way. You can do this. It's a pact. Go."

Jiang Cheng gulps, and goes.

Wei Ying presses his hands up against the window so he can watch.

He thinks it goes okay, from his vantage point. Jiang Cheng definitely stands over Wen Qing in a realllllly awkward silence for too long ("Say the words," Wei Ying mutters under his breath. "Just say the words."), but when she looks up at him—man, her red lipstick is truly perfection, even from here, Jiang Cheng must be dying—he opens his mouth and says...something.

She keeps looking up at him without blinking. Is not blinking a good thing? Wei Ying thinks it might be a good thing. He knows Wen Qing and he's pretty sure that means she's thinking about something and not dismissing it out of hand. She certainly doesn't seem surprised by the question. If Wei Ying had to define her expression—he peers more closely through the window—he'd say she was...deliberating.

After a handful of moments, she nods, getting up. "Fuck, she's so small, she barely comes up to his shoulder," Wei Ying murmurs to himself.

She says something to Jiang Cheng, then holds out her hand, gesturing for his phone. He gives it to her, his face an absolute picture of disbelief, and she types swiftly for a moment, then hands it back. She studies him for a second, her head tilted back so she can look up at him, then she smiles, just a little, nods, and heads out.

Jiang Cheng blushes so brightly Wei Ying can see it from here. It looks painful.

Wei Ying whips away from the window as Wen Qing comes out the door, hunching his shoulders and looking away down the block, into the middle distance.

"Wei Ying," she says as she brushes by him.

"Ah," he says. "Ha. Fancy meeting you—" She's already gone.

When Jiang Cheng stumbles out a moment later, he's still flushed and he looks wildly bewildered.

"Did it work?" Wei Ying asks intently. "What am I saying, I watched it, it worked, it totally worked. What did you say? What did she say? Tell me everything. I want details. I want so many details."

"I think," Jiang Cheng says, and stops. He's still got his phone clutched in his hand. "I think it. I mean. She."

Wei Ying grins at him. It's all coming together.

Jiang Cheng's phone buzzes in his hand and he startles so much he nearly drops it. Wei Ying crowds in next to him to look down at the screen. It's a text from Wen Qing and Wei Ying gives a yell and smacks Jiang Cheng's shoulder. "Read it, read it, what does it say?"

Jiang Cheng looks down at his phone. "Friday," he says faintly. "It says Friday." He looks up at Wei Ying. "I did it. I asked her out. I said maybe Friday and she said." He looks down at his phone. "She said Friday."

"Oh my god." Wei Ying is the smartest person in the world. "It worked. It's a date. You have a date. With Wen Qing."

"Oh." Jiang Cheng blinks. "Oh god."

Wei Ying smacks him delightedly on the shoulder again and Jiang Cheng's eyes narrow, coming a little bit back into focus. "Stop hitting me."

"I'm sorry!' Wei Ying presses his face against Jiang Cheng's arm. "I'm just happy. You have a date!"

"Right." Jiang Cheng looks at him. "We both have dates."

Wei Ying's stomach gives a weird, lurching swoop. "Oh," he says. "Oh, right, I...almost forgot."

***

Wei Ying is the one who asked Lan Zhan out—in the fake way, and in the real, actual spend-time-with-me-on-Friday way—and that means he's responsible for picking a place to go.

It takes him all night Thursday and most of the morning Friday to figure things out, to the point he ends up doing his political science homework on the bus to campus, his laptop balanced on his knees as he frantically types up his essay.

It also involved several calls to his sister last night. "Jiejie, where do you take someone on a first date?"

There's a moment of silence and Wei Ying can almost see her smile, even over the phone. It makes him cringe—he tries his level best not to lie to his sister, but listen, this is for Jiang Cheng's benefit and Yanli, of all people, would certainly understand that, if she knew the real story. "You have a date, didi? That's nice," is all she says, but the warmth of her voice floods through Wei Ying. "Okay. Let's think. You really like this person?"

"This boy," he helps her out. "And I mean, I don't know, yeah, I guess? Probably? It's just a first date. Ask me after date five." He can't believe he's supposed to get through five whole dates with someone who only tolerates him. He's pretty sure after the fight yesterday, Jiang Cheng is going to hold his feet to the fire with that one.

Another tiny moment of silence. "Date five, huh?" she says. "I guess we have some planning to do, coming up."

"That's not what I—I didn't—" Wei Ying groans. He's such an idiot. Life would be a whole lot better if he could control his mouth. "Anyway. Do you have any ideas? I need help."

"Right," she says thoughtfully. "Okay. Well, first off, does he have any specific food requirements? Allergies, preferences, stuff like that?"

"Uh." Wei Ying hastily flips his computer open, shooting off a quick message to Lan Zhan. hey, do you have any food allergies or stuff?

"Also, you should think about ambiance," Yanli says. "First dates can be a little awkward. Do you want it to be noisy, to fill in the space? Or quiet, for the intimacy?"

Wei Ying's got this one. "Quiet," he says firmly. He'll never be able to hear Lan Zhan's soft voice otherwise.

"Oh," Yanli says, sounding pleased. "Well, that's nice, we can work with that."

"Great," Wei Ying glances down at where a message from Lan Zhan has just popped up. "And he's a vegetarian, I guess," he says. "Huh, I didn't know that."

"It's good to pay attention to these things," Yanli says. "But that's easy. Okay, let's think. Not noodles, those are too messy to eat. Not hot pot, that's too spicy."

"Hey, I like spicy," Wei Ying protests.

"Not on a first date," Yanli says firmly. "You don't want to get all sweaty and it will make the kisses taste funny."

"Oh my god, you're my sister, stop talking about kissing." Wei Ying is going to die.

"Kissing is important, didi," she says, laughing. "It's a good way to find out if you're compatible with someone."

Wei Ying feels his face flush. "Not always," he says. Sometimes they're just for...practice.

"Ah, so world-wise and weary, are we?" she teases. "Trust your older sister, I know what I'm talking about."

"You've been married for eight billion years and are extremely smug about it," he mutters.

"Yes, and how do you think I got this way?" she says firmly. "First kisses are important."

He bites his tongue so he doesn't tell her they've already handily gotten first kisses out of the way.

She talks him through it and they settle on a nice-ish modern place that's in walking distance from campus but not too far of a bus ride from Wei Ying's place. It looks charming and neat from the website photos and it does have both noodles and hot pot ("All of the best places do, jiejie," he points out) but he promises Yanli not to order them.

It's also at the level he can afford, so that's good too.

He texts Lan Zhan a few more times throughout his conversation with Yanli to get more details (she's really smart about planning ahead). Lan Zhan's last class on Fridays ends at 5:30, he finds out, and fuck, who takes a late day seminar class on a Friday?? They arrange to meet on campus and walk over together.

("That way he doesn't have to sit there fidgeting at the table waiting for you to arrive," Yanli says.

"I could be there first," he protests.

"Didi," is all she says in response.)

Which is why Wei Ying is fully ten minutes early, sitting on the broad cement bannister alongside the steps into the building where Lan Zhan's class is.

He'd put on a nice outfit, too, at Yanli's order: black jeans and big stompy boots, and a grey button down that he'd left untucked. He'd washed his hair today, so it's soft and keeps escaping the high bun he'd put in it in little wisps, but it's too late to change it, so wisps it is.

The late afternoon fall sunlight is warm on his face and he actually gives up looking at his phone as he waits, leaning back and resting his hands against the cement behind him, tilting his face up to the sun and trying to breathe. His stomach feels tight. This is so stupid. Dates are so stupid. Why is going out to eat with someone such a fraught thing? He does this all the time with friends. It should be fine. It's not even a real date. He's fine.

He's on the edge of talking himself into a mini panic attack when the door to the building opens and a handful of people spill out. He gives himself a shake and swings around to watch and it's actually a relief to see Lan Zhan. He's behind the rest of the students coming out, but he's so tall, Wei Ying can see him right away.

"Oh good," Wei Ying says, hopping off of the bannister. "You're here!"

"I am." Lan Zhan draws to a stop in front of him.

"You look so nice!" He really does. It's hard to tell if it's a date outfit, because Lan Zhan dresses way, way nicer than anybody else in class all the time. But it's Lan Zhan and Lan Zhan is nothing if not a rule-follower, so Wei Ying bets he went to a little extra effort today on account of their fake-date. He's in loose linen pants, a deep blue color, and a lighter shirt that drapes differently than the pants, but still gives a certain flow to the whole outfit. He's got what looks like a soft sweater draped over one arm, even though it's pretty warm today. And the earrings he has on—small dangly ones, shimmering against his hair—really do bring the whole thing together. Wei Ying is impressed.

"Thank you," Lan Zhan intones. "So do you."

"Oh, this old thing?" Wei Ying says with a grin.

Lan Zhan is still just standing there, looking at him. Wei Ying thinks for a second about what he'd do if this were a real date. Would he kiss him? Should he kiss him? He remembers his conversation with Yanli about first-date kisses and thinks that—if this were a real date—he'd maybe wait. Let the anticipation sit there for a bit.

Instead, he loops his arm through Lan Zhan's and says, "Let's go."

Lan Zhan, to his credit, doesn't startle at the casual touch. The practicing definitely helped, Wei Ying thinks. They're both doing really good at this first date thing. Except. "Oh fuck," Wei Ying says. "I totally forgot to bring you the token."

Lan Zhan glances at him.

"Of my affection." Wei Ying shakes his head. "I'm really bad at remembering things, Lan Zhan. You're going to have to get used to that if you're going to date me." He shoots Lan Zhan a grin. "You still know you have my affection, right?"

"I do." Lan Zhan says it smoothly and if he was anyone else, or if this was a real first date, it would sound cocky. Instead, it just cracks Wei Ying right the fuck up.

They head across campus and man, it really is beautiful at this time of year. "Do you see that tree there?" Wei Ying points, chattering as they go. "It's my favorite tree, my very favorite. The color of the leaves, it just doesn't get better than that. Hang on, look, when you stand under it, it's like stained glass, it's just so beautiful."

He drags Lan Zhan under the tree and they stand there for a second, the deep, crimson red of the leaves—it's another one of his favorite things about this tree, the leaves turn so early and stay that way for a long time into the fall—dappling their skin, as they stand there in the warm shade, the leaves flickering around them in the light breeze.

Lan Zhan is just standing beside him, watching him. Wei Ying's arm is still hooked in his. Wei Ying looks up at him, and gives another grin, shrugging a little. "I don't know, I just like it."

It's a good thing this is a fake date, he thinks. Who cares about his stupid favorite tree?

"I do, too." Lan Zhan's tone is as serious as it is when he says anything else.

"Ah, you're just being nice." Wei Ying tugs him out from under the tree, so they can get on their way again. "But it's a pretty good tree, right?"

"An excellent tree," Lan Zhan says, like he means it.

What a good guy, Wei Ying thinks, to put so much effort into this fake date. Wei Ying really did luck out.

"Oh, it's as cute as it looked online," Wei Ying exclaims when they get to the restaurant. He glances over at Lan Zhan. "I did some research," he says. "Only the best for this very important first date."

Lan Zhan just looks at him.

"Teasing, Lan Zhan." Wei Ying swings the door open and holds it for Lan Zhan. "Just teasing, I promise."

They get a perfect table, set back from the others, plenty of space around them, and Lan Zhan seems actually pretty relaxed as he sits down. Quiet, but relaxed.

"What are you thinking about?" Wei Ying can't help but ask after they've ordered their drinks. Lan Zhan gets tea, and Wei Ying sticks with tea, too.

Lan Zhan lifts his gaze from the menu, shifting it to Wei Ying. There's a moment of silence, and Wei Ying can't help but fill it. "You don't have to answer, it's not, like, a requirement, I'm just curious. You do an awful lot of thinking, it feels like. I don't do very much thinking at all. I just do stuff and say stuff without ever thinking it through. It's a terrible drawback of mine that you should know about. All kinds of stupid things happen because of it."

Lan Zhan waits for him to wind down—which is nice, a lot of the time people just start talking over him when he gets like this—and says, "You."

Wei Ying's mouth drops open and it takes him a second before he laughs. "I bet," he says, leaning one elbow on the table and propping his face on his hand. "Regrets?"

One of Lan Zhan's eyebrows goes up a miniscule amount. "No," he says.

"Well, that's good," Wei Ying says, and waits, but Lan Zhan doesn't follow up. "Hm." Wei Ying studies him and Lan Zhan doesn't look away. He doesn't blush, either, at Wei Ying's long, steady look. Wei Ying wonders if he would have blushed if this were a real first date. "Okay, so, what do we do here? What do first dates look like?"

Lan Zhan is quiet for a moment. "Like this," he says finally. "But often a bit more awkward."

"Oh." Oh. "Have you...been on a lot of first dates?"

"Not a lot, no," Lan Zhan says.

Not a lot. Is that not a lot compared to Wei Ying's none, or not a lot compared to normal people? Wei Ying is relieved when the tea comes. The server gives it to them in a fancy pot that has a pretty nice pour, and Lan Zhan reaches to serve them once the waiter leaves. It's nice having someone else pour tea for you.

"How about I tell you something about myself," Wei Ying suggests, once they've ordered—he really has to come back here for hot pot when it's not a first date. "And then you tell me something, and we go back and forth like that."

"A conversation," Lan Zhan says and the way his mouth looks means that's a joke. He really is so stealth-funny, Wei Ying can't even take it.

"Yeah, like a conversation," Wei Ying says with a grin. "A real conversation. I feel like we can do this. I'm really good at talking."

"I can tell," Lan Zhan says and it's not wry, it isn't, you couldn't call it wry by anyone's standards, not really, but the point comes across nonetheless. Wei Ying can't help but laugh, it bubbles up in him.

"Okay, I go first," he says. "Hmm, what can I tell you? There's too much to choose from—you don't know anything about me."

Lan Zhan does that thing with his face again where his expression doesn't change, not really, but there's some sort of a shift there that means...something. Wei Ying really needs to get to know his expressions better.

"Don't worry," he says, "I won't go on and on. Okay, should it be something wholesome? Or something sexy? It is a first date, after all." He grins widely and waggles his eyebrows across the table at Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan takes a sip of tea, watching him.

"Okay, wholesome: I played the flute for, like, ten years, all throughout my teens, and I'm still pretty good at it." Oh, that was a solid choice: Lan Zhan looks both surprised and a little interested, and how Wei Ying can tell that from the tiny tilt of his lips and the way his eyes get a little bit warmer is a little weird, huh? But it's true.

"Why flute?" Lan Zhan asks. He's so serious. It's so cute. Of course he'd have follow-up questions. He always has follow-up questions in class.

"Right, right, don't say things in front of Lan Zhan unless you're ready to deep discuss it." Luckily, Wei Ying is always ready to deep discuss things. He leans forward, fiddling with his tea cup. "I don't know, my sister was always trying out new things, like, musically. She sang for a little while there, she danced, and she always got, like, super happy when my brother and I did artsy things." He shrugs, and grins. "I think I chose flute because the case was small and easy to bring to school."

Lan Zhan is still just watching him. "And you were good at it."

"I was okay at it." Wei Ying waves it off, laughing. "It was fun, it was something I could pick up and just...do, you know? It made the teachers at school nuts." He takes a sip of tea. "Okay, now you."

Lan Zhan is silent.

"It doesn't have to be sexy like my flute story," Wei Ying says, letting his own eyebrow go up a miniscule amount. "You can stick with wholesome."

Lan Zhan seems to be considering it. He sits very still—not tense, not locked in place, just going fully still, in himself, as he thinks. Wei Ying lets himself study him, as he tucks his own foot up under himself on the seat and fiddles with the wrapped chopsticks on the table.

"I compose music," Lan Zhan says finally.

Wei Ying beams at him. "Lan Zhan!" he says. "That's both wholesome and sexy, did you know that?"

Lan Zhan just looks at him.

"You didn't know that, but it so totally is. What kind of music? I bet it's classical. Do you play? You've got to play something, if you compose, right? What do you play? How didn't I know this? I mean, that's dumb, I don't know anything about you, not really, but still." He'd leaned forward over the table in his interest and he sits back hastily..

Lan Zhan's lips curve into the smallest smile. "I compose in both classical and contemporary styles. I can play the guitar, a little, and the piano, somewhat more."

Guitar, Wei Ying glances down at Lan Zhan's hands, wonders if his fingers are calloused from playing.

"That's really cool, Lan Zhan," he says. It is. "Will you play for me sometime?"

Lan Zhan inclines his head a little. "Mn," he says. "Perhaps on our next date."

Wei Ying stares at him for a handful of seconds then bursts into laughter. God, he likes Lan Zhan. "That's good," he says, through his giggles. "That's good, that's a very good line, I like that a lot."

"You did say five dates," Lan Zhan says, picking up his tea cup and taking a thoughtful sip.

"I did." Wei Ying is delighted. "I did say that, and you pretty much signed a contract, so you're all in, right?"

Lan Zhan looks at him. "Correct."

"You're good," Wei Ying says. "You're so good at this."

"And perhaps," Lan Zhan says, "You will play for me, as well."

Wei Ying's entire face gets hot and he laughs again, letting his leg slide back down and slumping back in his seat, accidentally kicking Lan Zhan under the table. "Oh god," he says. "Maybe? I don't know. You want a grade-school flute recital? Really? You compose. I can play, like, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

Lan Zhan just looks at him across the table, cool and composed and beautiful. How is his hair constantly perfect, even when he wears it down like that? Wei Ying can feel strands of hair falling out of his bun even as he slouches further down in his seat. "I would like to hear you."

Wei Ying shoves himself back to sitting, tries to pat his hair back into place. "Fine," he says, sighing. "Fine. God, is dating supposed to be this embarrassing? Are we doing it right?"

Lan Zhan shrugs one shoulder minutely.

Wei Ying can't help the grin that slides across his face, even though he's still blushing. "Okay, well, you're the expert." He knows he shouldn't ask, he really shouldn't, but. "You said you'd been on first dates before."

Lan Zhan takes a sip of tea before responding. "Yes," he says. "A few."

"A few." Wei Ying taps his finger against his chin, pondering. "Surprising, Lan Zhan. You don't strike me as someone who dabbles in dating."

Lan Zhan's lips move in an approximation of a smile. "I...have dabbled," he says. "A bit."

Wei Ying widens his eyes at Lan Zhan. "Tell me more," he demands.

Lan Zhan just looks at him.

"Just give me some pointers," Wei Ying says. "I haven't even dabbled before!"

Lan Zhan blinks. "You haven't...dabbled."

Wei Ying winces a little, then laughs. "No. No, I really haven't."

Lan Zhan leans in a little. "You've dated, though."

"I...really have not," Wei Ying says. "What, you can't tell because I'm just so good at this?"

"I've seen you," Lan Zhan says. "I've seen you at parties. You are with someone, quite often."

"That's just Nie Huaisang," Wei Ying says dismissively.

"And you and he have not..."

"We most definitely have not," Wei Ying says firmly.

"Oh." Lan Zhan sits back. He's still watching Wei Ying. "And so have you...without dating, have you." He stops, the tips of his ears turning pink. "When we kissed. You've." He stops again.

Wei Ying helps him out. "I've...I mean, yeah, but not seriously. It's just not—I don't know." He laughs, reaching out to tap his fingers against Lan Zhan's hand. "Why do you think I needed you to fake-date me, huh? I don't have any real experience in this." He feels deeply stupid saying it out loud. It's not like he's saving himself or anything. And it's not like he hasn't had opportunities. He just—hasn't.

Lan Zhan is quiet for a moment longer. "I see."

"I know, I know." Wei Ying waves his hands around. "Senior year, blah blah, what have I been doing with my time? Oh, look, the food's here!" A welcome distraction.

They keep up the Q&A after the food gets there, trading stories over their meals. It's easier, while they're eating, not quite as loaded, just a good back and forth, and it stops being a sort of contest after a while, just a...conversation.

Wei Ying pays—he insists, vehemently, even as Lan Zhan draws his lips into a thin, tight line, and argues as much as Wei Ying has ever seen him. "It's our first date," Wei Ying says, greatly resisting doing finger quotes. "I made you do this. You are doing me a favor. I am paying."

Lan Zhan opens his mouth, then shuts it, and turns his eyes away. Dude really doesn't like being treated, Wei Ying guesses. Oh, well. "My sister says it's appropriate, and I am nothing if not appropriate."

Lan Zhan, still not looking at him, makes a small humming noise that positively radiates disagreement, and Wei Ying has to tamp down a grin. God, Lan Zhan is so bitchy. It's so good.

It's darker than Wei Ying had expected it to be when they leave the restaurant. "We were in there for a while," he says, hooking his arm through Lan Zhan's. "Guess it was a pretty good date."

Lan Zhan startles a little, looking down at where their arms are linked, and Wei Ying makes a face and starts to move back. "Sorry, sorry," he says. "That wasn't—I wasn't trying to be, like, funny, ha ha, we're on a date. It's just how I am."

Lan Zhan stops him from pulling back by putting his hand over Wei Ying's just as it's about to slip away from the curve of his elbow. "It's fine," he says.

"Oh." Lan Zhan's hand is startlingly warm. And. Huge. Wei Ying's own hand fully disappears beneath it. "Okay. If you're okay with it."

"I am." Lan Zhan waits until Wei Ying fully slides his arm back through Lan Zhan's, so they're linked again, and they continue on their way.

"Tell me something else about you," Lan Zhan says, as they walk, heading vaguely back towards campus.

"All I've done is bend your ear telling you things about me," Wei Ying says teasingly. It's true, though—he feels like he hasn't stopped talking for hours.

"Tell me something serious," Lan Zhan says then, tilting him a look.

"I told you all kinds of serious things," Wei Ying says, putting on an offended tone. "I told you I'm afraid of dogs. That is deadly serious."

Lan Zhan just looks at him again, as they walk slowly together. It's gotten colder as they'd been inside and Wei Ying wishes he'd put his huge, warm hand over his own again. He shivers a little.

Lan Zhan draws to a stop and turns towards Wei Ying, taking the sweater he's been carrying all night and draping it over Wei Ying's shoulders.

"No, don't, oh my god, Lan Zhan, it's fine, no one is even looking, you don't have to be all...boyfriend." Wei Ying is trying to tug the sweater off, shove it back towards Lan Zhan. He's fine.

"You're cold." Lan Zhan pulls it firmly back around Wei Ying's shoulders. "I am not. I would like you to take this. It is...this is how I am."

He says it like a quote, and Wei Ying hears his own words like an echo. "Okay," he says, finally. The sweater is, in fact, incredibly soft, and it's settled warmly over his shoulders. He tugs it closer, looking up at Lan Zhan. They're on campus now, pulled off to the side of one of the winding paths that lead back towards the dorms. Lan Zhan looks satisfied, and Wei Ying wraps his hands tightly around the sleeves of the sweater. "Okay," he says again. The night is very quiet around them. "I don't really have a family."

It just spills out.

Lan Zhan's expression doesn't change.

"You said to tell you something serious." Wei Ying manages to say it cheerfully. "I guess that's my serious thing, or whatever." He shrugs.

"Jiang Cheng," Lan Zhan says carefully. "Your sister."

"Oh, that's just—it's an easy shorthand, you know?" Wei Ying shrugs. "We grew up together, and I'm not going to get into adopted-brother this and adopted-sister that."

Lan Zhan waits, looking at him.

"I'm the adopted one," Wei Ying clarifies quickly. "My parents died when I was, oh, real young. It's not that sad, don't worry, I was young enough that I only have, like, one memory of them." It flickers into life in his head, his parents laughing over some shared joke as they tucked him into his seat in the back of a car—he thinks—looking down at him and drawing him into the joke until he'd laughed, too. "Their family took me in. Well, their dad did. Their mom just sort of...endured me." He shakes his head. "It's fine. It's not a big thing. It's just—I didn't want you to hear anything and think I was making stuff up. Jiang Cheng is my brother, and Yanli my sister, in every way that counts." He'd grown up with Yanli saying that to him his entire life, drilling it in, like it was the most important lesson to be learned.

Lan Zhan's expression isn't soft, which is the best possible thing, because Wei Ying definitely could not take that. He's just watching Wei Ying. Listening to him.

"Anyway." Wei Ying shrugs, tugging Lan Zhan's ridiculously big sweater around him more closely. "Your turn. Tell me something."

Lan Zhan leans in and kisses him. Kisses him, right there on the path. His hand slides around Wei Ying's side to his back, tugging him closer. Wei Ying makes a startled noise in his throat before he remembers to kiss back. Lan Zhan's mouth is soft, and warm, so warm it suffuses Wei Ying's entire body, sending tingles down his back, his arms, his fingers: he can feel it in his toes. Lan Zhan kisses with his whole entire body—if Wei Ying had let himself think about it, he'd have thought Lan Zhan would be stiff if they kissed like this. Even the practice kissing in Lan Zhan's room the other day, that had been Lan Zhan just sort of letting Wei Ying. And the classroom kiss had been so surprising that Wei Ying hadn't even really had a chance to feel it. This is different. This is...really different.

Wei Ying's knees go a little weak and he's pressed up against Lan Zhan. His mouth is so soft, and Wei Ying opens his own mouth, just a little, just to see, and oh, god, that's...a different world, that's so much better, Lan Zhan's tongue in his mouth, it's overwhelming, he's going to die from it, this is—

"What the fuck." It takes Wei Ying a dizzying moment to recognize Jiang Cheng's voice.

He stumbles back out of the kiss, Lan Zhan releasing him slowly, but not drawing too far away, leaving his hand resting against the small of Wei Ying's back as Wei Ying turns around.

It's Jiang Cheng, all right, and he's with—he's holding hands with—Wen Qing. Wen Qing looks wildly amused, her eyebrows going all the way up as she looks at Wei Ying and Lan Zhan. Jiang Cheng looks...well, he looks outraged, like he's about to start clutching his pearls.

"Hi," Wei Ying offers, then glances over at Lan Zhan. Oh. Right. "We're on a date."

"Yeah, I can see that," Jiang Cheng grits out.

Lan Zhan is standing beside him, looking at Jiang Cheng. "Your brother?" he asks, mildly. His hand is still on Wei Ying's back. He's playing the perfect role as boyfriend.

Oh, right. Wei Ying...he gets it. He gets it now. "Yup," he says cheerfully. "This is Jiang Cheng. Jiang Cheng, this is Lan Zhan. My date. And you know Wen Qing," he says to Lan Zhan.

"And Jiang Cheng is my date," Wen Qing says, amusement flickering in her eyes.

"Look at us." Wei Ying clasps his hands in front of himself. "All on dates."

"Okay, we're going to go now." Wen Qing says it firmly.

Jiang Cheng makes an outraged sound in his throat but immediately follows her when she heads down the path in the direction they had been headed.

Wei Ying turns towards Lan Zhan. "So now you've met Jiang Cheng. You can see how right I was that he needed help."

Lan Zhan pauses, then nods. "I can."

"Well." Wei Ying grins up at him. "Thanks for being cool about it. You know. Kissing me, when you saw him, so he'd believe this was a real date."

Lan Zhan just looks at him.

"Good thing we practiced, huh?" Wei Ying bumps his shoulder against Lan Zhan. "We did good. I bet it looked like the real thing. Come on, it's getting late, we should get you home."

It's so funny: when Wei Ying tucks his arm though Lan Zhan's again and starts tugging him down the path, he hears Lan Zhan make a very quiet sound in his throat that hilariously sounds almost like an echo of the outraged sound Jiang Cheng had made.

***

"We had a minor altercation over if I was going to walk him home or if he was going to walk me to the bus stop," Wei Ying tells Nie Huiasang after class a few days later. Nie Huaisang is in Wei Ying's political science class; Wei Ying cannot fathom why Nie Huaisang signed up for it. The only thing Nie Huiasang ever says by way of explanation is, "My brother." He says it in a greatly pained tone every time.

"Who won?" Nie Huaisang asks with interest. He's using his textbook as a pillow. They're sprawled out under a tree in the middle of campus, the remains of their lunch scattered around them. The sunlight is rich and warm today, one of those suspiciously warm autumn days that belies how cold it gets after dark.

Wei Ying shifts up onto his side, propping his head on his hand so he can see Nie Huaisang better. "He did," he says sadly.

"Well." Nie Huaisang looks thoughtful. "Maybe you can trade off. You still have four dates to go."

"Yeah." Wei Ying sighs a little. "Jiang Cheng is so pissed. After he saw us kissing, he realized he has to go through with it."

"Why is he mad about that? Was it weird with Wen Qing? Did he hate it? Was she mean to him? Was he mean to her? And tell me about the kissing, what the fuck, why didn't you open with that?" Nie Huaisang says it all without taking a breath, but somehow still looking sleepy as he lies there in the sunlight.

"Well, we had to. Lan Zhan saw Jiang Cheng coming and pulled me into this kiss that was, like, Hollywood-level acting. You would have died. He really gave it his all." Wei Ying is still truly impressed by that kiss. He doesn't know that, if the situations were reversed, he would have been able to pull off a kiss like that. He's not smooth like Lan Zhan. He can't stop thinking about it.

"Huh." Nie Huaisang looks, Wei Ying thinks, impressed. "Well, that's good. Jiang Cheng bought it?"

"Sort of. He yelled at me a lot when he got home about 'crass behavior in public' and 'taking advantage,' which sort of makes me think that he doesn't one hundred percent believe it. But listen, he's the one who definitely had hickeys on his neck when he came home."

"Hickeys?" Nie Huaisang's eyes had slid closed, but he opens them again at this.

"Multiple hickeys," Wei Ying confirms. He'd been delighted to see it. He'd known this would be good for Jiang Cheng.

"How did she even reach his neck?" Nie Huaisang says. "She must have climbed him like a tree."

Wei Ying giggles at the image, rolling back over onto his stomach on the grass. "Maybe," he says. "Or maybe she just, like, straddled him." He thinks about how it felt when he'd done that to Lan Zhan, how sort of...wanton it felt, to have his thighs spread over his. "I stole his sweater," he confesses.

"Jiang Cheng's?" Nie Huaisang asks, looking confused.

"Lan Zhan's," Wei Ying clarifies. "He had lent it to me, because it was a little cold, and I forgot to give it back to him." He chews on his lip a little. "I should give it back to him." He hadn't realized he'd still been wearing it until he was halfway home on the bus, fiddling with the cuffs. He doesn't know what it's made of, still, but it's so soft and the warm grey color of it is somehow soothing, and he keeps meaning to bring it with him and hunt down Lan Zhan on campus, but instead it's carefully draped over his desk chair in his room and he's found himself putting it on when he gets home at night. It smells good, too, the same sort of soothing smell of Lan Zhan himself. "I've really got to give it back," he says again quietly.

"Are you going out again?" Nie Huaisang's eyes have closed again, as he settles himself more comfortably in the grass.

"Of course. We have to." Wei Ying sighs. "It's a pact."

"A pact," Nie Huaisang says sleepily.

"Right." Wei Ying props his chin on his hands and thinks about what a person would do on a second date, if they were really dating the person they were...taking on a date. He lets it run around in his head, trying to think it through, while Nie Huaisang naps beside him in the afternoon sun.

***

I still have your sweater, he texts Lan Zhan later that day. He's got it on, again, actually—the apartment had been empty and cold when he'd gotten home and he'd absently shrugged into it when he'd padded into his room.

He waits a few seconds then texts, You could come get it, if you need it? He makes a face after he sends it—it's kind of rude to expect Lan Zhan come get his own sweater that Wei Ying had literally stolen from him. He hastily follows up with I mean, I could also bring it to class but I was thinking that we need to practice some more. He lets the phone drop after that—even he knows that more than three unanswered texts in a row is just sad. He can chill.

He has, actually, been thinking that he needs the practice. That kiss from Lan Zhan had been so good, so easy, and he's nowhere near that level. What if it's him, next time, who spots someone and he needs to prove that he's dating Lan Zhan? It's not just Jiang Cheng that he needs to sell this to—the only person who knows it's fake is Nie Huaisang, because Nie Huaisang is a bro and would never, ever tell anyone. Oh, well, and Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan knows as well. Obviously.

His phone buzzes on his stomach and he snatches it up. Yes, is all Lan Zhan says, which...isn't really the level of detail Wei Ying needs. Yes, he needs the sweater? Yes, he'll come over? Yes, Wei Ying needs the practice?

Wei Ying decides it means Yes, all of the above and texts back, Cool cool. Do you want to come over now? Or, like, whenever? Jiang Cheng has a late class tonight. He does, but hmm, if Lan Zhan says long enough, maybe Jiang Cheng could walk in on them. Or something. Would that count as a second date? That could totally count as a second date.

Yes, Lan Zhan texts back again.

Really. What a wordsmith. Wei Ying grins at the phone and sends him the bus information and his address, adding Call from downstairs, the buzzer is broken.

He sits up. This is great. This is so great. He'll return the sweater, they'll get to practice—it's two birds with one stone. He's got such great planning skills. He looks around his room. It's...a disaster. Lan Zhan's room had been neat and soothing to be in, all meticulous but also sort of soft, mellow colors and muted lighting.

He hops up. He's got at least a half hour before Lan Zhan gets here from campus. He can do this. He's on this.

When his phone buzzes again, he's just finished making the bed for the first time in...a while. He'd saved it for last, knowing it would be easy. The rest of the room is—he glances around—in pretty good order. He'd gotten all of his dirty clothes together from where they'd been scattered around his room and, weirdly, they'd all fit into the hamper in the corner. He's pulled all the bottles, cans, and dishes that he'd left in his room over the past few weeks and dumped them all in the sink in the kitchen. He'd picked up all the random things that somehow ended up on his floor (mail, broken phone chargers, earbuds he can absolutely never find when he actually needs them, where does it all come from?) and either thrown them away or stacked them neatly on his dresser. He'd actually straightened the stuff on his dresser and on his desk, sweeping some things into drawers, sure, but with the stuff that's left, he'd piled up, grinning as he lined up his laptop on his desk at a neat angle, like Lan Zhan had. He looks at it for a moment, then nudges his laptop at an angle—he just can't take it being quite so perfect.

A quick swipe with an old t-shirt had handled the dust issue on the surfaces and he's ready just in time to text back Coming! and dart down the stairs.

"Hi," he says, swinging the door open and grinning at Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan looks...impeccable. The late afternoon sunlight makes his face look golden. He's got his hair up today, in a neat ponytail that leaves his neck exposed in a way that's distracting—Wei Ying has found himself zoning out on it in class on those rare days that Lan Zhan wears his hair up.

"Hello." Lan Zhan doesn't move.

"Oh, right, come on in, I just—" Wei Ying stands back so Lan Zhan can get in, then closes the door, making sure that the lock catches, before turning to dart up the stairs ahead of him. "You made good time! Was the bus okay?"

"Mn." Lan Zhan is following him up the stairs. Wei Ying opens the door to the apartment and ushers him in.

"Grab a pair of slippers, they're right there," he says, pointing at the pile as Lan Zhan slips his shoes off.

Lan Zhan does.

"Don't look around too much." Wei Ying quickly steers him down the hall towards his bedroom. "I only had time to clean up my room, so pretend you don't see the rest of the mess, okay?"

He shuts the door behind him as they get to his room, beaming at Lan Zhan. "Welcome!" he says, spreading his arms.

"Thank you." Lan Zhan looks around for a moment, his eyes flickering over Wei Ying's space, before putting his bag down neatly by the desk. "I like your room," he says then.

Wei Ying's face is warm—he must still be overheated from all the cleaning. "Well, I'm glad," he says. "I like it too. Here, come in, you should sit. Um." He looks around. "The desk chair is kind of wonky, you can sit on the bed, it's okay, don't worry about it."

Lan Zhan hesitates, then sits down neatly on the end of the bed. He's looking up at Wei Ying. He's in Wei Ying's room. Lan Zhan. In Wei Ying's room. This is...weird. It's weird.

Wei Ying flops down on the bed beside him and Lan Zhan's gaze drops down a little as he shifts to turn towards him. Wei Ying glances down and—

"Oh," he says. "Oh, I'm still wearing your sweater." He starts to shrug it off, his face really hot now. Does Lan Zhan think he did it on purpose? Like he was trying to be cute or funny or something? "Sorry, sorry, I—it was cold, when I got home, and it was just right there and I—"

He finally manages to get it off and thrusts it at Lan Zhan hastily, pressing it against his chest in a bundle. "You might need to wash it, sorry, I don't—"

"It's fine," Lan Zhan says. "If you're cold, you should—" He starts to hand it back.

"I'm not cold," Wei Ying says quickly. "I'm good, I'm so good. So hey, okay, listen."

Lan Zhan's face goes all expectant and it's...remarkably cute, the way the shift of his mouth and his eyebrows go into paying attention mode.

"When you kissed me," Wei Ying says, "on our date."

Lan Zhan's eyes immediately shutter. "I apologize if I overstepped."

"What? No. No, that's not it at all, oh my god." Wei Ying waves his hands around. "It was so good. You are so good at it. Like. Really good. And I was thinking that, you know, we practiced before and it was okay, but it was nothing like that. I just want to be prepared for if I need to be the one to...do it. To you." He looks at Lan Zhan. "If I happened to notice first, you know, that someone was watching."

Lan Zhan nods slightly. "I see." He's still got his sweater in his hands. He smooths it out then turns to rest it neatly on the bed behind him. When he turns back towards Wei Ying, he's got a serious expression on his face. "It will be easier to show you if you come a bit closer," he says.

"Right." Wei Ying slides closer on the bed, until he's right up next to Lan Zhan, their knees touching. "Okay."

"Okay," Lan Zhan says, sliding one hand up Wei Ying's neck. It's so warm against his skin that Wei Ying gets shivers down his spine. "Like this." He tilts Wei Ying's head, his thumb pressing in a little against Wei Ying's jaw.

It's possible Wei Ying makes a tiny sound in his throat when Lan Zhan kisses him. It's possible the shivers down his spine run through his entire body. Fuck. Fuck, Lan Zhan is good at this. Wei Ying should have been letting Lan Zhan take the lead this whole time. Lan Zhan has experience. Lan Zhan knows what he's doing. Lan Zhan—

Lan Zhan pulls back from the kiss. "Okay," he says. "Now you."

Wei Ying blinks at him for a moment before he gets it. "Oh," he says. "Oh, right, now...me. Okay. I'm on it." He shifts forward some more—he's so close to Lan Zhan but when he pulls his knee up, it makes the angle better. "Okay, I'm going to—" He puts his hand against Lan Zhan's neck, the same way Lan Zhan had done to him. The skin there is exactly as soft as it looks, and Wei Ying can't help but let his fingers move back a little, push into the hair at the base of Lan Zhan's ponytail. "And then," he says, pressing his thumb against Lan Zhan's jaw, so Lan Zhan's head tilts just so.

Lan Zhan's eyes slide close when he does it, and his mouth opens just a little, so when Wei Ying presses his lips against Lan Zhan's it's gentle, and damp, and open, just a little bit more than the last kiss. Wei Ying concentrates, trying to move his mouth the same way Lan Zhan had, so he can send that rush of heat through Lan Zhan's entire body.

He makes himself pull back. "How was that?"

Lan Zhan blinks his eyes open. "Good," he says. His lips are still damp with kissing. Wei Ying can't stop looking at them.

"What next?" Wei Ying asks, without exactly meaning to, but hey, they're here for a study session. They should build on what they've already learned.

"Well." Lan Zhan appears to be thinking about it. He shifts backwards on the bed, until he's on it more fully, leaning back on his hands. "What we did last time," he says. "In my room. When you—" He stops talking, but makes a small gesture towards Wei Ying, which Wei Ying interprets as straddled me.

"Oh," Wei Ying says. "I can—yeah, sure, like...this?" Why does this feel so much weirder in Wei Ying's own room? In Lan Zhan's room, it felt like acting, maybe, like trying out for a show or something. This feels...it just feels weirder. But Wei Ying can roll with weirder. He pushes himself up and straddles Lan Zhan in one movement.

"Yes," Lan Zhan says, looking up at him from his new vantage point. "Like this."

He puts his hands on Wei Ying's hips and Wei Ying gets that same frisson he'd gotten back in Lan Zhan's room, that hot feeling of being touched somewhere no one usually touches. He has to take a deep breath as he looks down at Lan Zhan before he can say, "Okay. And now?"

"Now," Lan Zhan murmurs, tilting his head up and catching Wei Ying's mouth in a kiss. God. It's always so startling when it happens, like Wei Ying's body doesn't know quite what to do with it, with Lan Zhan's mouth pressed against his own. When Lan Zhan opens his mouth just a little, Wei Ying tilts his head at the same time, and oh, fuck, that makes it...so much more than it was before. It's deeper, and it's more intense—Wei Ying feels like he's sinking into it. He realizes his hands are clenched tightly on Lan Zhan's shoulders and he tries to loosen them, can't, and thinks, fuck it.

It goes on and on, a much longer kiss than they've ever shared before. They keep coming up for air, then going back into it, this long, languid, easy back and forth.

Wei Ying knows about kissing, of course he knows about kissing, he's kissed people before, but not like this. Not like this. This is the sort of making out that he'd never quite understood—how can people kiss so long, doesn't it get boring, just pressing your lips against someone else's?

This isn't boring. This isn't just pressing their lips against each other, this is a trade, a back and forth, the two of them moving together.

He's panting when he finally pulls back, and isn't that embarrassing. He gives a shaky laugh and starts to pull back a little bit more, getting ready to say something funny, when Lan Zhan lays down on his back and tugs Wei Ying down on top of him.

"Oh," Wei Ying says. He's still straddling Lan Zhan, but Lan Zhan has tugged him down against his chest, and it's more intimate than Wei Ying has ever been, with anyone.

Lan Zhan is looking up at him. His eyes are dark, but he seems calm. Very calm. Like, his lips are red with kissing, and damp, but in all other ways, he just looks the same as the everyday, put-together Lan Zhan. Except it's everyday, put-together Lan Zhan lying on Wei Ying's bed, holding Wei Ying against him. "Well," Lan Zhan says, and his voice sounds calm, too, the way it does when he reads out loud in class. "You asked what's next. We've already practiced...what we were just doing." He looks at Wei Ying quietly. "This is what's next."

"Oh, okay, I got it, I think I was just confused but—" Wei Ying is cut off when Lan Zhan flips him over onto his back, as easy as anything. Like it took no effort to do so, no planning, he just—did it, flipped Wei Ying over.

Now Wei Ying is breathless on his back beside Lan Zhan and Lan Zhan is sliding on top of him, oh god, oh god.

"Is this—" Lan Zhan stops, then starts again. "Is this okay?"

"Uh-huh," Wei Ying says, his voice coming out way too high. He clears his throat and tries again. "Totally."

"Because we can stop," Lan Zhan says, starting to draw back. "If that's enough for today.'

"No, wait, come back, it's fine," Wei Ying says. "We said practice. I'm here to practice. I'm all about practicing. We have to get this right. Right?"

"Right." Lan Zhan edges back towards him. He's not on top of him on top of him, he's more like...pushed up on his hip, looking down at Wei Ying. He's got one leg sort of slung over Wei Ying's thighs, the other pressed up against him all down his side, and his hand is—fuck, his hand is resting on Wei Ying's chest, and is so hot Wei Ying can feel it through his shirt. "So I'll start." He continues looking down at Wei Ying for a moment, and the tilt of his mouth has a sort of...considering feel to it. "I think if we were dating," he says, "and you invited me to your room, and we were...doing this, then I'd—" He stops, taking a little breath. Wei Ying has never seen Lan Zhan not finish so many sentences before.

"You'd—" Wei Ying says breathlessly, because his breath is caught in his chest, somewhere underneath Lan Zhan's huge, hot hand, and he thinks he needs to know exactly what Lan Zhan would do, if they were dating. He really needs to know precisely what Lan Zhan would do.

"I'd," Lan Zhan says and he doesn't finish the sentence—again!— instead just lowering his head and kissing Wei Ying. Turns out, kissing while sitting up is one thing. Kissing while lying down is a whole other thing entirely. Lan Zhan is half on top of him and his leg is a heavy weight across his thighs, and Wei Ying's whole entire body wants more.

He tries to focus up, tries to pay attention to what Lan Zhan is doing—this is practice, he's supposed to be learning something—but it's a cacophony in his brain, too many new things happening all at once, pinging through his body like lightning.

"Here," Lan Zhan says then, "like this." Then he shifts forward and oh. Oh, god. His leg slides between Wei Ying's thighs and Wei Ying automatically spreads his legs for him, his body won't let him not do that. Lan Zhan's weight settles against him in this new angle and when he keeps kissing him, it's deeper, and there's more tongue. Wei Ying's socked feet are slipping against the end of the bed as he tangles his legs against Lan Zhan's—he's not sure if he's supposed to be doing that, he's probably not supposed to be doing that, but he can't stop.

Lan Zhan makes soft noises as he kisses him, almost like he's murmuring something at him, but Wei Ying can't hear it over the pounding of the blood in his ears. He's sweating, he's so hot, how had he ever thought the room was cold, how could he have ever needed a sweater, he's steaming.

"And," Lan Zhan says, sounding a little breathless as he raises his head, looking down at Wei Ying. "Maybe..."

Wei Ying knows he should be listening, is desperately trying to pay attention, but Lan Zhan's thigh is snug between his legs, and the room is so hot, and Lan Zhan's hair is messy, oh, there are strands of it everywhere, falling out of his ponytail into his face. Wei Ying realizes with a start that his hands are in Lan Zhan's hair, that his hands have done that, have messed Lan Zhan up, made him undone, and he would probably blush about it if he wasn't already so hot-cheeked. "Maybe," he manages to echo, and he sounds wrecked, embarrassingly so.

"Hm." Lan Zhan lowers his mouth and Wei Ying gets ready for another kiss, he's so fucking ready for another kiss, but Lan Zhan's mouth lands on his jaw, instead, mouths there a little bit, hot and wet and that's such a weird fucking thing to feel so sexy but it does, sending another zing through Wei Ying's body all the way down to his toes.

Lan Zhan moves his mouth down, kissing right under his jaw, the soft part, and then lower, so it's on Wei Ying's neck, a gentle, hot kiss that makes Wei Ying wriggle for a moment until Lan Zhan kisses him there harder, deeper, sucking and, oh, holy fuck. Wei Ying is pinned, under his mouth, as he sucks harder, using a little bit of teeth. Wei Ying is clutching at him, one hand still in his hair, one against his shoulder, and he thinks he's making noise, he thinks he's keening, but can't possibly stop it, not with Lan Zhan's mouth doing that.

Lan Zhan shifts against him again, his thigh moving forward, and Wei Ying can't stop the roll of his hips, even though he's hard, he's known he's been getting hard, but he's all the way there now and he probably shouldn't be getting a boner when they're just practicing but that's the way it is, and now, with that roll of his hips, Lan Zhan knows it, too.

And still Wei Ying can't stop, caught up in the inexorable pull of Lan Zhan's mouth against his neck. His hips roll up again, of their own accord, and he's holding onto Lan Zhan so tight he can't feel his fingers.

When Lan Zhan releases his neck, lifting his head with a truly filthy, wet sound, all of the breath leaves Wei Ying's body in a gasp. His eyes fly open and he immediately pulls his hand out of Lan Zhan's hair and uses the hand on his shoulder to push him away a little.

Lan Zhan sits back immediately, rolling off of Wei Ying and onto his side.

Wei Ying feels cold in every place Lan Zhan is no longer touching him, but at least he can breathe again, even if it's coming in weird, shaky gasps still.

"I apologize," Lan Zhan says quickly. "I didn't mean to overstep."

"No." Wei Ying waves his hands around, then presses them over his hot, hot face. His cheeks are flaming. "No," he says again, laughing a little against his palms. It comes out just a little bit hysterical. "It's good, it's so good that we practiced this, because I have no idea what I'm doing, Lan Zhan, literally not a clue. I'm sure that was obvious."

He peeks at Lan Zhan from between his fingers. Lan Zhan is still looking down at him—he's carefully not touching him, an inch of distance between them. He looks concerned, an actual, real expression, a small wrinkle between his eyebrows, his mouth tugged down a little at the corner.

"Hey," Wei Ying says, belatedly turning over onto his side to face Lan Zhan and drawing his knees up a little in hopes this position makes the fact that he is still stunningly hard a little less obvious. "You look a little wrecked, too." He pushes some of Lan Zhan's hair back behind his ear, trying to fix the mess he'd made. "I'm glad it's not just me. I was thinking that I need to start, like, working out. Get some cardio in. Something, because, fuck, look at me, I still can't catch my breath." He can't—all of his words are coming out breathless, but he's never let that stop him. "But you look all flushed, too. I'm glad. I guess it's good for both of us to work on this stuff, huh?"

"Mn," Lan Zhan says. He doesn't seem to notice or care about his hair falling into his face, doesn't seem to mind that Wei Ying is talking a mile a minute. His mouth gets so red when he's been kissing—Wei Ying can't stop thinking about that. Lan Zhan’s skin is so delicate that his mouth looks bruised now, and Wei Ying has to make an effort not to reach out and run his fingers over it.

He takes a breath and sits up, scooting down to the foot of the bed again. "I think we...did a good job." He's still hard. He's still so fucking hard. He has to get it together. Lan Zhan is going to be so embarrassed if he notices how seriously Wei Ying's body took this whole thing. Wei Ying's body doesn't understand about fake dating. Wei Ying's body really needs to work on that.

"I agree." Lan Zhan shifts, as well, moving to sit next to Wei Ying, still with that careful inch of space between them. "We made some....good progress."

Wei Ying's brain is still spinning and he has to work to think what would Wei Ying do if Wei Ying's whole entire body wasn't confused about the concept of fake dating? He grins—that seems like a strong start—and knocks his shoulder against Lan Zhan's. They don't have to be careful about normal touching, because everything is fine. So totally fine. "I think so, too," he says, trying to sound grave while tilting his head to let Lan Zhan see his eyes are teasing. "A-plus work, Lan Zhan. Gold star."

Lan Zhan isn't laughing, because Lan Zhan literally never laughs. He's got his elbows on his knees, sitting forward, his head tilted to look at Wei Ying. Between the messy hair and the bruised lips and the complete lack of good posture, he's almost unrecognizable while at the same time still...Lan Zhan. Like a photograph that's been double exposed, this wrecked-looking Lan Zhan over Wei Ying's image of the perfect, serene Lan Zhan he knows from every other moment of his life.

Wei Ying doesn't realize he's been staring until Lan Zhan moves, his hand reaching out towards him. "Sorry," Wei Ying says, "I was just zoning out, I—oh."

Lan Zhan's fingers are tilting Wei Ying's head a little, his gaze on Wei Ying's neck. "I hope I didn't hurt you."

"Oh." Wei Ying's hand claps over his neck, right where Lan Zhan's mouth had been, his teeth had been, the spot where he can still feel his pulse pounding. "Oh, you didn't, but—wait, wait."

He pushes himself up—his dick has calmed down a little, but he still tugs his t-shirt down as far as it will go as he hurries to the mirror over his dresser. "Is that—oh my god, Lan Zhan."

He's got a hickey. It's a real hickey, blooming dark on his neck. It's embarrassing and extremely hot and a little bit funny, all at once. His gaze darts up, catching Lan Zhan's in the mirror, where he's still sitting on his bed, his back straight now, looking at Wei Ying. He looks a little uncomfortable as he says, again, "I hope I didn't—"

"You're so smart, Lan Zhan." Wei Ying spins around, leaning back against his dresser and crossing his arms over his chest. "It's so perfect. What a great way to prove to people that we're dating. A hickey." He looks at Lan Zhan, keeping his gaze admiring and trying to ignore the continuing pulse of heat that comes from the spot where Lan Zhan had sucked him with teeth and tongue. Fuck. Fuck. "You've got amazing ideas. You're really good at this. You should start a business. A fake-dating business."

Lan Zhan stares at him, the silence holding for a beat too long, before he puts his hands on his knees and nods, pushing himself to standing. "I'll take that into consideration," he says.

How do more people not know Lan Zhan is funny? Lan Zhan is one hundred percent one of the funniest people Wei Ying knows.

"I have some assignments to complete," Lan Zhan says then.

Wei Ying's eyes flick to the window. Oh, it's gotten dark around them. How long have they been doing this? "Oh, sorry! I was going to order dinner, maybe. Can you stay for dinner? We can—"

Lan Zhan shakes his head, picking up his bag from the floor and slinging it neatly over his shoulder. "Perhaps we can save dinner for our next 'date'." He doesn't make finger-quotes, because he's Lan Zhan and Lan Zhan doesn't need to make finger-quotes, he can make finger-quotes happen with just his tone. "Thank you for inviting me over, Wei Ying. I enjoyed seeing your home."

He says it stiffly, but something about the way his eyes do a quick survey of the room makes Wei Ying feel like he maybe means it. Wei Ying likes seeing the places other people live too. He gets it.

"No problem," he says. "Maybe next time I'll do a real clean-up and you can see more than just my bedroom."

It comes out different than he meant it, it sounds almost dirty, like he'd just invited Lan Zhan over here for some hot and heavy making out, which...is pretty much exactly true, but he hadn't meant it that way, he'd just meant—

"Mn," Lan Zhan says, and heads for the door.

Right. Right. Lan Zhan is too polite to say it, but he's not going to come over here to just hang out with Wei Ying and, like, play video games in the living room. That's not what this is about.

At the door, Lan Zhan takes off the slippers and puts his shoes back on—smooth black ankle boots with a low heel and what does Lan Zhan of all people need a heel for, he's already taller than Wei Ying and Wei Ying is taller than most people he knows. He turns to Wei Ying and says, "Would Saturday work?"

Wei Ying stares blankly for a moment then says, "Right. Right! Yes, for our second date. Yes, sure, perfect. You get through that, only three more to go, and then you're free!"

He thinks he sees a flicker of relief in Lan Zhan's eyes, but, "Saturday, then," is all he says. "I will see you then."

"Also in class tomorrow," Wei Ying says cheerfully.

Lan Zhan pauses, his hand on the doorknob. "Correct," he says. "We have a quiz tomorrow. It would be good to review this evening."

"Wait, we do? Wait—" But Lan Zhan is already out the door, closing it gently behind him, leaving Wei Ying in his foyer trying to dig his phone out of his pocket to see if he can find the email with the syllabus. Fuck. Fuck.

***

When Jiang Cheng gets home, it's pretty late. Wei Ying had, indeed, confirmed that there is a quiz tomorrow and stared at his phone in dismay for a while before ordering food so he could process his feelings about that. He'd eaten, then wandered back into his room, half-heartedly thinking he'd look at his notes and maybe think a few things over, but he'd found Lan Zhan's sweater still lying on his bed.

He'd picked it up, staring down at it for a minute before shrugging it on. His room seemed colder, again, somehow—they really should get the heating looked at—and he'd wrapped it tight around himself, tucking his fingers into the sleeves, before heading to the kitchen for a beer.

Jiang Cheng lets the door shut with a slam and Wei Ying calls out from the kitchen, "Didn't your class get out like two hours ago?"

Jiang Cheng doesn't deign to answer him, just makes an annoyed noise from the foyer. He pads into the kitchen a moment later. He looks—Wei Ying's not sure how he looks. It's not angry and it's not annoyed and it's not tired, it's— "What happened?" Wei Ying asks.

Jiang Cheng slumps down at the kitchen table across from Wei Ying. Wei Ying's been curled up in his chair here, a beer in front of him, taking an occasional sip. He doesn't want to go back to his room yet, and he doesn't feel like video games, and the kitchen feels like the best place to be right now. He doesn't know.

"You're behind," Jiang Cheng says shortly. He looks at Wei Ying's beer, then gets up and gets himself one.

"What?" Wei Ying's head hurts. He really can't process too much more information tonight. "What does that mean?"

"You've only had one date so far, right?" Jiang Cheng twists the bottle cap off and takes a sip of the beer as he lets himself slump down at the table again.

"...yes," Wei Ying says, puzzled, then looks at Jiang Cheng more closely. "Wait, you went out with Wen Qing again tonight?"

Jiang Cheng makes the noise that means yes, idiot. "After class," he says. He sounds distracted. "She—yeah."

That's all he says, taking another sip of beer. Wei Ying looks at him across the table, while he absentmindedly presses his fingers against the place on his neck where Lan Zhan had...where he had... Anyway, he can't stop touching it, he keeps pressing against it, getting that hint of a zing through his body every time he does it.

Jiang Cheng keeps staring vacantly into space, picking at the label on his beer bottle. He's a little bit of a mess—his shirt is untucked, which never happens. It's also buttoned wrong, askew, and Wei Ying looks up at his brother's face. "Did you—" he starts.

"We are not discussing this," Jiang Cheng says firmly, not meeting Wei Ying's gaze.

"Yeah, but, did you—I mean, did you and Wen Qing—"

"Stop." Jiang Cheng points at him with the beer bottle. "We didn't..."

"Oh." Wei Ying doesn't believe him.

The silence holds for a minute before Jiang Cheng says, "Not...exactly."

Wei Ying sits forward, tucking his hands more firmly into the sleeves of Lan Zhan's sweater. "Not exactly? " he says. "What does that mean?"

"It means what it means." Jiang Cheng sits back and finishes his beer with several quick swallows. "Anyway," he says then. "Like I said, you're behind."

"I know." Wei Ying is weirdly annoyed at this line of conversation. He knows how many dates he's been on. He knows how many there are to go. This isn't algebra. He presses his fingers against his neck again.

Jiang Cheng zeros in on the movement. "Is that—" He leans forward, snatches Wei Ying's hand from his neck. "What the fuck. Is that from Lan Zhan?"

Wei Ying nods, trying to pry his hand out of Jiang Cheng's grasp. "Who else. Stop it. Give me my hand back."

Jiang Cheng's still staring at him. "He mauled you." He finally releases Wei Ying's hand and sits back, shaking his head. "So I guess you aren't a date behind."

"No, it wasn't a date," Wei Ying says without thinking. "We were just..."

Jiang Cheng gives him a look.

"It wasn't," Wei Ying protests. "Listen, we have another date on Saturday. Me. And Lan Zhan."

Jiang Cheng looks at him. "Yeah," he says. "Us, too."

"Ah." Wei Ying nods several times. "Good." He fiddles with his own beer, takes another sip. "Listen, if you want out, we can just—"

"No," Jiang Cheng barks out, then, a little quieter. "No. We're— No. We're doing this."

"Right." Right. "We're doing this." He looks at Jiang Cheng. "Another beer?"

"God, yes." Jiang Cheng looks relieved.

Wei Ying gets them more beer.

***

It's Lan Zhan's idea.

Wei Ying is chattering at him before class. He's started getting to class early, the same ten full minutes before it starts that Lan Zhan seems to believe is a requisite. That way he gets to sit next to Lan Zhan, and it's actually sort of nice spending time with him when Lan Zhan isn't doing it out of the goodness of his heart, for a favor. They're just classmates hanging out and talking.

Well, Wei Ying does most of the talking, usually.

He's just babbling about Jiang Cheng. "He came home really late and he was all undone, and Jiang Cheng is serious about his appearance, usually, he's all button up and tucked in, like you." He studies Lan Zhan for a second.

Lan Zhan is wearing a flowy, white sort of poncho-type thing over white jeans. Wei Ying doesn't understand how anyone is brave enough to wear white jeans in the world, he'd spill stuff on them immediately, probably get them stained just by looking at them, but Lan Zhan's are pristine. And snug. He has them tucked into low boots, and those are white too, leather and no heel this time. He's not what you could call buttoned up by any means, but he's together in a way Wei Ying almost never is. Even his earrings go with the outfit, delicate silver hoops that swoop down and flip around, curving back up around the back.

"Okay, not like you, but you know what I mean, he's all precise." He takes a gulp of the coffee he'd picked up on the way over. "But he was unbuttoned and untucked and looked like he's just gotten a concussion but was trying to pretend like he hadn't." That had been it, that vacant, distracted look, so uncommon on Jiang Cheng. "He'd clearly had a good date. Oh, and he made fun of us for being one date behind. He's going out with her again on Saturday so that's going to make him at three, where we'll only be at two when we go out on Saturday."

The class is starting to fill up and Wei Ying looks around, wondering if anyone here thinks he and Lan Zhan are a thing. Maybe. Probably. Wei Ying's always up in Lan Zhan's business now, and he never really used to be. And people could have seen them on campus after that first date. Seen them kissing after that first date. He wonders if Lan Zhan minds. He wonders if Lan Zhan had thought it out, when he'd agreed to this plan, that they'd be in it to trick Jiang Cheng but they'd definitely end up tricking other people in the process.

"We should go together," Lan Zhan says. He's got his laptop open. He's already typed the date at the top of his document.

"What?" Wei Ying had missed something.

"The date," Lan Zhan says. "Their third, our second." He looks at Wei Ying. "It would be an excellent way to show Jiang Cheng that you are adhering to the agreement."

"The pact," Wei Ying corrects automatically. "Wait, you think we should double date with my brother?"

Lan Zhan looks up as the professor walks in and poises his hands over his keyboard. "Yes," he says.

"But—"

Lan Zhan shoots him such a disapproving look that Wei Ying can't help but snap his mouth shut. Lan Zhan really hates side talk in class. He knows that.

But.

Wei Ying squirms his way through class, going through the scenarios in his head and paying even less attention than usual. The professor drops the quiz on them at the end, giving them fifteen minutes to complete it, and even though Wei Ying had again completely forgotten about the quiz by the time he’d arrived in class, he'd done the reading and then been so pissed off by the supercilious attitude of the writer that he'd tracked down three other articles disputing one particular point. He ends up half-assing the multiple choice part, but scrawling five paragraphs in response to the final short answer question, with a neat outline eviscerating the point of the original article.

Lan Zhan is finished before he is, but Lan Zhan is the type to review his answers if he has extra time—which he always does—and by the time Wei Ying is finished with his superlative take-down of the article, the professor dismisses the class, so he's right behind Lan Zhan as they go to drop off their papers with her.

"Listen," Wei Ying says, darting after Lan Zhan as he heads out. "Listen, I've thought about it and you're totally right."

Lan Zhan glances at him as he heads down the corridor at a smooth clip, Wei Ying jogging a little beside him in order to keep up.

"About the double-date," Wei Ying clarifies. "It's good, it's perfect. Jiang Cheng was thrown for such a loop the other night, I'm worried he's going to bail before there's any...follow through." He's not sure what exactly he means by follow through, but he's pretty sure Jiang Cheng doesn't put out on the first date, and probably not the second one either—or the third—and Wei Ying is in this to win this.

For Jiang Cheng.

Lan Zhan nods, making his way down the corridor and pushing open the heavy outer door. He pauses then, holding it open for Wei Ying, waiting for him to go first. Wei Ying darts out, immediately spinning around so he can see Lan Zhan's face. Lan Zhan keeps walking forward, so Wei Ying ends up walking backwards down the broad outer steps that lead to the sidewalk, doing a near-perfect job of keeping his balance. "So we're doing this, right?" He stumbles on the next to last step and Lan Zhan catches his arm, keeping him from toppling over. Lan Zhan's got his hair down today and it falls neatly over his shoulders, the sides tucked back from his face in nearly invisible clips. He's perfect.

"Yes," Lan Zhan says. "I'll make a reservation and send you the details. Seven o'clock is the usual date time, correct?"

"Yes," Wei Ying says. "Yeah, sure, I think that works. Let me text Jiang Cheng. He'll make all sorts of noise about it but he'll definitely give in. I'll let you know if the time won't work, but seven o'clock is definitely Saturday Date Time." He says it so Lan Zhan will hear the capital letters. It's important.

"Noted." Lan Zhan pauses for a moment, his hand still on Wei Ying's arm, even though he's gotten his balance again.

"Okay." Wei Ying looks at him. He's just glowing in the sunlight. Lan Zhan really rocks the all-white look. "Cool. Saturday."

Lan Zhan nods, releases his arm, and says, gravely, "Saturday," before he heads on his way to...wherever perfect, beautiful men who can wear all white and never have a single worry about spilling on it go when they're done with class.

***

Wei Ying wheedles Jiang Cheng into it, because he's the best there is at what he does, and what he does best is convince Jiang Cheng to do all sorts of ill-advised things. "It's a double date! Have you ever been on a double date? I've never been on a double date. It's an experience."

Jiang Cheng doesn't look away from where he's absolutely slaughtering Wei Ying at Counter-Strike, but Wei Ying still feels like he wants to give him a withering look.

"Also," he says, wrinkling his forehead as he tries to control his character on the screen and his brother on the couch at the same time, which is sort of like trying to juggle while you're also cooking dinner, "it'll be easier. Right? You're on your third date with Wen Qing—won't it be good to throw some new things in there? Give you guys more to talk about? Let her get to know you better."

"If you tell Wen Qing anything about me, I will cut your heart out with a rusty spoon," Jiang Cheng says through gritted teeth. His character on the screen pummels Wei Ying's character extremely thoroughly as he says it, lending some veracity to the threat.

Wei Ying tosses his controller down as his character dies on screen and lets his head rest on Jiang Cheng's shoulder. "I'd never tell her anything bad," he promises. "There's nothing bad to tell her. You're the best. She should know you're the best. Does she? She'd better treat you like that."

He tilts his head up to look at Jiang Cheng. Judging by the blush that immediately suffuses his face, Wei Ying thinks that, perhaps, Wen Qing has definitely been treating Jiang Cheng some sort of way. He grins. "Trust me," he says. "It'll be fun. I'll make it fun."

"Please don't." Jiang Cheng looks pained. "Just make it normal."

Wei Ying beams. "I will," he says. "I'll make it so very normal, you won't know what hit you."

Jiang Cheng winces. "Wei Ying," he says.

"Trust me," Wei Ying says cheerfully.

Jiang Cheng groans, but he doesn't say anything else, just picks up the controller, shoves it back in Wei Ying's hands, and starts another game.

Wei Ying grins and settles back, preparing himself to die yet again by his brother's hand.

***

He'd texted Lan Zhan and said, "It's a go!" and attached a sticker with a frog waving a banner that says YAY in big block letters.

Lan Zhan had texted back, "Received."

That's it. Wei Ying had looked at his phone sadly. "He's such a romantic," he'd murmured to himself.

Lan Zhan had sent him the name and address of a restaurant and Wei Ying had meant to look it up, he'd been totally going to look it up, only he'd accidentally stayed up reading until like one in the morning instead, some book that his sociology professor had recommended he read after he had mouthed off in class again and gotten the professor to argue with him about his opinions until class was over and the rest of the students had filed uneasily out while they were still going at it.

So he doesn't remember until like six o'clock on Saturday that he should probably know where they're going and how to get there and stuff like that. He pokes his head into his brother's room, where Jiang Cheng is just out of the shower, standing in front of his open closet door, a towel wrapped around his waist. "Hey, do you know what you're wearing? When are we leaving? Is Wen Qing meeting us there? Did you blow dry your hair?"

Jiang Cheng ignores him. He's definitely blown dry his hair. It's neatly styled and smooth down his back, and even wrapped in a towel, he looks more ready for tonight than Wei Ying does. "What are you wearing? This place is fancy." Jiang Cheng pulls out a shirt, studies it, and puts it back. "Not over the top fancy, but fancy for me." He looks over at Wei Ying, finally. "Fancy for us," he says firmly. "You have to dress up."

"I'm going to dress up," Wei Ying says. "I'd planned on that. I'm sure I have...something." He probably does. He thinks.

"Wen Qing is meeting us there," Jiang Cheng says distractedly. "Get out. I have to get dressed. I need to think."

"Okay." Wei Ying starts for the door. "That's good, she knows Lan Zhan. They can talk about us before we get there." He flashes Jiang Cheng a grin. "Trade stories about what good kissers we are."

Jiang Cheng throws him a startled look. "Go get dressed," he says grimly. "We're getting there early."

***

They do actually manage to get there early, beating Wen Qing but not Lan Zhan. Wei Ying doesn't think it's possible to be earlier than Lan Zhan to anything. He's waiting just inside the restaurant and he looks...sharp. A deep blue button down tucked into trousers that have a crease to them. He's got on the low boots with the heels again, and his legs look a thousand feet long as he stands waiting for them. When they get closer, Wei Ying can see he has studs in his ears this time, diamond ones that Wei Ying has some glimmer of an idea might just be real diamonds.

Wei Ying had managed to pull together an outfit that he thinks looks pretty good for this date. For a Saturday Date Night. It's just dark fitted slacks and a grey sweater, but it comes together pretty well.

"Lan Zhan," he says when he spots him, heading right over.

"Wei Ying." When Wei Ying gets over to him, Lan Zhan takes his hand smoothly. When he looks over at Jiang Cheng, Jiang Cheng has definitely noticed.

He looks pained. "She's going to be here soon—"

"I think she's arrived," Lan Zhan says, nodding at the door.

Jiang Cheng spins around on his heel. Wei Ying sees that Wen Qing is, in fact, coming through the door, and he can't help the low whistle he gives. "You look spectacular," he says when she gets close enough.

"Thank you," she says, then looks over at Lan Zhan, nodding. "Hello."

"It's nice to see you," he says, bowing a little bit.

"You too," she responds distractedly, turning her eyes towards Jiang Cheng. "Jiang Cheng," she says then. She doesn't do anything more than that—she doesn't put her hand in his, or pull him into a kiss, or anything like that, but something about how she looks at him is...smoldering.

Wei Ying blinks. Like, he's known he was right about them, he'd known that, but there is...definite chemistry there.

The double date is...good? He thinks? He thinks maybe the whole double date concept is set up to be slightly awkward, but this seems easy. He's in a good mood and he likes all of these people, so what's to worry about?

Jiang Cheng is a bit stiff, sure, and he seems to not be able to look at Wen Qing head-on—he keeps darting glances over at her from the corner of his eye, but nothing more. From someone who definitely had his shirt untucked by Wen Qing only the other day, he sure looks nervous. That's why Wei Ying had said five dates—he'd done some quick mental math and figured five dates would be what it would take for Jiang Cheng to loosen up enough to believe this was really happening.

"Lan Zhan got me in trouble in class this week," he says cheerfully, because two birds, one stone—if he can annoy both Jiang Cheng and Lan Zhan with it, then he is thriving.

Jiang Cheng barks out a laugh and says, "I seriously doubt that."

Lan Zhan takes another sip of the tea he'd ordered, not even deigning to glance at Wei Ying.

"He did," Wei Ying insists. "He kept distracting me, all throughout class. It was shameless."

Lan Zhan looks at him now, which Wei Ying counts as a win. He's got one eyebrow up, just the slightest bit.

Wei Ying lifts his glass of wine and grins at Lan Zhan over the rim. "Look at him," he says, taking a sip. "He's doing it right now." He takes a sip of wine—it's still so weird to be old enough to actually order wine in a restaurant, like an adult or something. Also, it's so unfair that nice wine tastes so much better than the cheap stuff. He's seen the price of this glass of wine in the menu that's thick enough to be a book and it costs twice as much as he'd ever pay for a whole bottle. Lan Zhan has already established, firmly, that he's paying tonight, since he'd chosen the restaurant. Thank god. "Being too pretty," he clarifies for the group. He shakes his head. "So distracting."

"Please shut up." Jiang Cheng looks pained.

"Never," Wei Ying says with a promise in his voice. "Isn't the whole point of this to get to know each other?"

"No one needs to get to know you," Jiang Cheng says.

"Untrue." Lan Zhan's voice is soft, but his words carry across the table.

"Right." Wei Ying lets his hand slip under the table, squeezing Lan Zhan's thigh, and knowing Jiang Cheng clocks it. "We're brand new at all of this. Lan Zhan knows nothing about me."

Jiang Cheng presses his lips together and casts a pointed look at the spot on Wei Ying's neck that is still mottled and obvious three days after Lan Zhan's mouth had put it there.

"Wen Qing," Wei Ying says quickly, leaning forward over the table. "Tell me something. Do you think Lan Zhan is the prettiest person you've ever seen or what?"

Wen Qing makes eye contact with Lan Zhan across the table and when Wei Ying glances over at him, he's expecting Lan Zhan to be blushing, but instead he just looks sort of...long suffering. The nod Wen Qing gives is a knowing one, and Wei Ying looks back and forth between them, astonished. "Stop that," he demands. "Stop that right away. You two can't be having a silent conversation across the table when you don't even know each other that well. That's entirely unfair."

"We know each other," Wen Qing says. She takes a slow sip of wine and doesn't say anything more.

Wei Ying shoots a look at Lan Zhan, who only nods slightly in agreement.

"Oh my god," Wei Ying says. "You can't just—Jiang Cheng, they can't just do this, right? You have to be on my side about this."

Jiang Cheng isn't paying any attention to this and when Wei Ying looks, he realizes that Wen Qing's other hand is definitely somewhere under the table. He looks at her, and grins, and she gives him a sardonic smile and takes another sip of wine.

He's definitely broken the ice, though. The conversation gets easier after that. He'd known Wen Qing was pre-med but he hadn't known that she'd come to this school to get away from her family. "Other than my brother," she amends. "He's perfect."

Wei Ying has met Wen Ning, and agrees with her. He's a good kid.

She doesn't dwell on it—most of what she says is imparted in short, clipped sentences, her tone very much one of it is what it is. "They are bad people, who do bad things." She raises one finger and the waiter immediately brings her another glass of wine. "Worse, they're all stupid."

"Okay, there has got to be more to the story there," Wei Ying says, leaning forward over the table.

"There is." Wen Qing nods at the waiter when he sets her new wine glass down neatly in front of her. "You can ask your date about it later. Not now. It's deeply boring," she adds as an aside to Jiang Cheng.

Wei Ying shoots a look at Lan Zhan. "You know the story?"

Lan Zhan inclines his head slightly. His lips are a little bit tight and he's looking at Wen Qing. He doesn't look mad, that's not exactly it. It's different than that. "My family," he says carefully, then stops, and raises one finger at the waiter, as well, who swiftly comes over. "May I have a glass of what he's drinking?" he asks, gesturing at Wei Ying's wine. "And another one for him." He looks over at Wen Qing. "Actually, let's just order a bottle."

Wei Ying feels his eyes grow wide and he makes eye contact with Jiang Cheng. He's seen what a bottle of that wine costs. Jiang Cheng makes a be cool face at him, which is honestly hilarious, because no one has ever in their human lifetime been less capable of cool than Jiang Cheng.

Lan Zhan lets the silence sit until the bottle arrives. Wen Qing seems content with it as well, and Wei Ying is too busy having his own silent conversation with Jiang Cheng to feel a particular need to fill the quiet. They wait as the waiter shows Lan Zhan the label, opens the bottle, and pours a small amount into Lan Zhan's glass. He sips it, nods his approval, and the waiter fills his glass. Wei Ying's empty glass is swiftly removed and replaced with a fresh one, which the waiter fills with alacrity. Wen Qing is still drinking hers, her glass half full. Jiang Cheng looks at his glass, still mostly full, like he wishes it were a beer.

"My family," Lan Zhan says again, holding the stem of his glass in his hand, studying the wine in it, "were involved in the discovery of, and response to, certain activities the Wen family had been involved in."

Wen Qing is watching him over the rim of her glass. She doesn't look angry, just curious.

Lan Zhan is silent for a long moment. "It was not handled well. The actions of a portion of one's family do not—and should not—color everyone who happens to bear that name." He's looking at Wen Qing again.

Her look is sharp—Wei Ying has always thought she could slice through you like a knife with just a look—and she inclines her head slightly. "And that," she says smoothly, "is enough of that. It's not my favorite story." This last part she says to Jiang Cheng. He's watching her now, and he doesn't look as tense or nervous anymore. His eyes look soft, like he understands what's going on here.

Wei Ying glances at Lan Zhan and then back at his brother and Wen Qing. Jiang Cheng puts his hand on Wen Qing's and she allows it. It's...sweet. It's what Wei Ying had been hoping for. It's weird.

Lan Zhan lifts his wine glass by the stem and looks at it.

"You don't have to drink," Wei Ying murmurs. He knows Lan Zhan usually doesn't. He's seen him turn down drink after drink at parties.

"I know," Lan Zhan says, and takes a sip. "It's good wine." He looks sad, but only if you look close—the corner of his mouth is tugging down the slightest amount. Wei Ying hasn't seen this look on him before.

"It is good wine." Wei Ying says it firmly, to the table at large. "And look, here's our food. Let's eat. Wen Qing, did I ever tell you about the time that Jiang Cheng ordered extra spicy noodles by accident and didn't know until he was eating them?"

"I will murder you in your sleep," Jiang Cheng grits out at him.

"You can try," Wei Ying shoots back cheerfully. He lets himself slouch against Lan Zhan, bumping his shoulder and looking up at him. Lan Zhan's cheeks are red already, flushed with even just the one sip of wine. "You'd protect me, right, baby?"

Lan Zhan's cheeks get even more red—it's fascinating to watch the rush of color. "Yes," he says. "I would. I will."

Wei Ying grins and reaches up to pat Lan Zhan’s cheek, glancing across the table to see if Jiang Cheng is taken in by his A-plus flirting technique. Jiang Cheng isn't even looking at him—he's topping up Wen Qing's glass from the bottle. The look on his face is—well, Wei Ying will just say that he was totally right about Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing, and if this is the vibe between them on date number three, then they might be engaged by date number four.

***

Turns out Lan Zhan is a complete lightweight when it comes to alcohol. He gets loose and even funnier than usual, unbends so he's actually resting his elbows on the table. Wei Ying snags the glass of wine from him easily when it's nearly done, finishing it before Lan Zhan even notices—he definitely doesn't need more than a glass, as tipsy as he is.

He's not an embarrassing sort of tipsy, just...hyper focused and maybe a little bit maudlin. They wrap things up right after dinner—there's a smoldering heat between Wen Qing and Jiang Cheng across the table that seems like something they're going to need to take care of right away. Lan Zhan is unfocused and slouching—it's good, this time he won't argue when Wei Ying insists on walking him home.

He does pay the check, moving more swiftly than Wei Ying would have thought he was capable of in order to do so. "My treat," he says firmly to the table at large, and the intensity of how he says it quells any arguments that might be made, Jiang Cheng settling back with his hands raised.

They say goodbye just outside the restaurant door. It's gotten chilly again, much colder than when they'd arrived. "It feels like it might snow," Wei Ying says, peering up at the dark sky.

"It's too early for snow," Jiang Cheng says, but there's no heat behind it—he's clearly distracted by Wen Qing. He's gazing down at her like she holds the answers to the universe.

"Thank you for dinner," Wen Qing is looking steadily at Lan Zhan. "I appreciate it."

There isn't any tone to it, but Wei Ying isn't entirely positive they're still talking about dinner.

Lan Zhan gives a short nod and waits until Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing walk away to turn towards Wei Ying. He's gazing at him, his face is still flushed.

"You really don't drink much usually, do you?" Wei Ying says teasingly.

Lan Zhan shakes his head slowly. "I do not." He's still looking at Wei Ying. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry." Wei Ying tucks Lan Zhan's arm through his. "Let's get you home."

"I'll call a car." Lan Zhan fumbles for his phone.

"You don't have to," Wei Ying says, glancing around. "We could walk, or find a bus, or—"

He's too late, Lan Zhan has already done it and is putting his phone away. "Just a few minutes," he says. He's blinking down at Wei Ying and he looks a little sleepy, now, and a lot buzzed, and it's really fucking cute to see Lan Zhan all undone like this.

"Come here," Wei Ying says, reaching for Lan Zhan. His coat is still open—he'd slid on a long, dark coat after dinner, flawless and perfect, swirling around him as he'd settled it into place. Wei Ying starts buttoning it up, tucking Lan Zhan's scarf in place underneath it. "This coat makes you look ridiculously tall, did you know that? I mean, you are ridiculously tall, that's just a point of fact, but this makes you look even taller, and no one needs that. There." He pats Lan Zhan on the chest. "Now you're warm."

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan's just looking at him.

"Lan Zhan," Wei Ying says, echoing his tone. He glances around, tugs Lan Zhan to follow. "There's a wall here, come sit down, the car will be here soon and we can—"

When he turns around, Lan Zhan is right there, so close to him, and then he's kissing Wei Ying, intent and a little messier than usual, softer, and the same flood of warmth that Wei Ying has come to expect suffuses his whole body. Wei Ying allows himself to get lost in the kiss for an endless moment before pushing Lan Zhan back a little bit. "How do you do that," he asks.

Lan Zhan makes a protesting sound in his throat, trying to kiss him again, and Wei Ying laughs, just a little. "Did you forget?" he says gently. "Jiang Cheng already left. You don't have to—"

Lan Zhan blinks at him. He's not listening. He raises his hand to brush Wei Ying's cheek, then clumsily tucks his hair behind his ear, just like a boyfriend would. Wei Ying looks at him, feels Lan Zhan's thumb move to trace along his jawline, then brush over his lips, and—

"Oh, look, the car's here!" Wei Ying grabs Lan Zhan's hand, squeezes it in his own. "Come on, let's go home, okay?"

Lan Zhan lets Wei Ying help him clamber into the backseat of the car. It's not that long of a ride to Lan Zhan's dorm, but it seems longer with Lan Zhan sort of boneless, sitting so close that he's half-leaning on Wei Ying. He's got his hand resting heavy on Wei Ying's thigh and he keeps tilting his face towards Wei Ying's, like he's watching him in the light of the streetlights as they flicker by.

Wei Ying takes a deep breath and fixes Lan Zhan's hair for him, where it's fallen forward into his eyes. Wei Ying has had his own fair share of wine, as well—he's no lightweight when it comes to it, not like his friend here, but the wine had been rich, and good, and it's buzzing in his veins, making him feel like he's really got to sober up and be the responsible one here.

The car pulls up in front of Lan Zhan's dorm and Wei Ying thanks the driver with a grin. He tugs Lan Zhan out of the car and gets him upstairs with not too much of a problem.

Lan Zhan's room is dark and chilly when they get in, and Wei Ying fumbles to get the lamp on the desk turned on. Lan Zhan is just standing beside him, not wavering, but waiting. He blinks sleepily at Wei Ying when he finally gets the light on and Wei Ying can't help but laugh a little, again. "Look at me," he says, as he tugs Lan Zhan's coat and scart off, draping them neatly over the desk chair. "Not only did I get you drunk, I kept you out past your bedtime. What kind of a boyfriend am I, huh?" He shrugs his own coat off and drapes it over Lan Zhan's.

Lan Zhan is still quiet,, and passive, letting Wei Ying help him out of his shoes. Wei Ying slips his own off, so he can help Lan Zhan pad across the room. "Hang on, let me just—" He manages to get the duvet pushed back and he sits Lan Zhan down on the edge of the bed. "You should probably get changed, but I will tell you something: I am not man enough to help you with that." He's not. He's really, really not going to think for even a moment about the idea of helping Lan Zhan out of his shirt, out of his pants, he— "Nope," he says again. "You can change the sheets in the morning. I bet you're the type who has, like, multiple sets of sheets, right?"

Lan Zhan gives him a puzzled look and Wei Ying shrugs. "I only have one set," he says. "I have to wash them and then put them back on if I want to go to sleep that night."

Lan Zhan's eyes get that concerned line in between them and Wei Ying gives in to his impulse and smoothes it out with his thumb. Lan Zhan will never remember. "Okay, stay there, let me just..."

Lan Zhan has a mini-fridge, because of course he does, and inside Wei Ying finds bottled water, as he'd hoped. He grabs one and twists it open as he heads back to Lan Zhan. "Hey, hey, don't get lazy on me," he says, grabbing Lan Zhan from where he'd started to sink sideways against his pillow. He takes a quick gulp out of the bottle before holding it out towards Lan Zhan. "You've got to drink this whole thing."

Lan Zhan gazes at the bottle, then looks up at Wei Ying.

"Okay, wow." Wei Ying pushes the covers a little further away and sits down next to Lan Zhan on the bed. "Here." He puts the bottle in Lan Zhan's hand, makes sure his fingers are wrapped securely around it before letting it go. "Drink."

Lan Zhan does, dutifully. He watches Wei Ying as he does so.

"You're pretty cute when you're like this, did you know?" Wei Ying tells him. "All loose and sleepy."

Lan Zhan's forehead wrinkles again and Wei Ying gives him a smile. "That's a good thing," he says. "Okay, let's get you to sleep."

He nudges at Lan Zhan's shoulder and that's pretty much all it takes for Lan Zhan to lie down with a gentle thump. He's got his head—mostly—on the pillow and he curls his legs up and lets Wei Ying tuck him in. Wei Ying sits down beside him for a moment. He's quieter when he's tipsy this, more so even than usual. His eyes keep falling shut but when Wei Ying says, "Okay, I'm going to head out," his hand curls around his sleeve and tugs at him until he's sitting next to him again.

"I guess you want me to stay for a little bit?" Wei Ying looks at him.

"Yes." It's the first thing Lan Zhan has said in a while, and he says it firmly. Guess Wei Ying is staying, for a little bit.

Lan Zhan's hair is up in a half-ponytail, which looks uncomfortable. When Wei Ying carefully tugs the hair tie out, Lan Zhan allows it. He's still looking at Wei Ying in the dim light of the desk lamp. Wei Ying gives into the impulse to push his fingers into Lan Zhan's hair now that it's down, rubbing his fingers over his scalp where the ponytail had been, the way Wei Ying himself likes it when he's sleepy and drunk.

Lan Zhan makes a soft sound and shifts back a little in his bed. "Were we....convincing?" he asks.

Wei Ying looks down at him puzzedly. "Hm?"

"Your brother," Lan Zhan says. "Did we. Convince him."

"Oh." Wei Ying yawns a little. "You shouldn't worry about that right now."

Lan Zhan gets the line between his eyes again. "We didn't?" he asks. He sounds sad.

"No, no." Wei Ying laughs a little, and settles next to Lan Zhan, resting his elbow on the pillow and letting his socked feet curl up on the bed away from the cold floor. "We did, we totally did. Didn't you see him when I called you 'baby'? He looked like an angry cat."

"Ah." Lan Zhan's eyes slide shut, then open again. "Well. Good."

"I know." Wei Ying watches as he blinks at him sleepily. "You did good. It was great. I never want to go on a double date again."

"Nor do I." Lan Zhan murmurs it against the pillow, but he still sounds profoundly certain, the same way Wei Ying feels.

"Why do people do it?" Wei Ying yawns again, letting his elbow slide down so his head is resting against his arm, there on Lan Zhan's pillow. "You see it all the time in movies. It's supposed to be fun. Instead it's all...weird."

"Weird," Lan Zhan mumbles. He reaches out, fumbling until he finds Wei Ying's sleeve again. He wraps his fingers around it, his eyes blinking open to look at Wei Ying. "So weird."

"So weird." Wei Ying watches as Lan Zhan's eyes slide close, and stay that way. He yawns again. He'll stay until Lan Zhan's breathing evens out, until he's really asleep, and then he'll head out. The buses are running, still—it's not late-late, it's just Lan Zhan-late. He wonders if Jiang Cheng will be there when he gets home, or if he'll still be out with Wen Qing. Wen Qing doesn't seem like an early-to-bed person. He'll still be out, probably. Wei Ying will wait up for him, just to annoy him. He'll like that.

***

There's sunlight streaming in when Wei Ying blinks his eyes open. Did he not close his shades last night? He always closes his shades. What time is it? Did he—

Oh.

Fuck. He's—fuck. He focuses. Lan Zhan is beside him. Asleep.

Lan Zhan is asleep beside him. In the same bed. Lan Zhan's bed. Where they both slept.

Fuck.

Wei Ying pushes himself to sitting, scrubbing his hand through his hair. He fell asleep? He fell asleep. He's—it's got to be, like, dawn out. The sunlight coming in through the window is early morning pale and it's hitting him right in the eye and—

Lan Zhan shifts a little beside him.

Wei Ying freezes, his hand still in his hair, his face turned away. He closes his eyes, like he can hide like this, like if he just doesn't look, then Lan Zhan won't—

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan says it just like that, but it still comes as a question.

"Ha," Wei Ying says. "Ha, guess what? I fell asleep. I guess. I didn't mean to, I was just waiting for you to go to sleep, but then I did, too? I guess. In your bed. With you. As you can see." He's babbling. He knows he is, but he can't seem to stop. He presses his lips together and gives it a shot.

"I see," Lan Zhan says slowly. He pushes himself to sitting, the covers pooling around him. His shirt is rumpled, the collar half turned up, and his hair is messed up from sleeping and—oh right, Wei Ying had rubbed his fingers through it last night. Right.

Please don't remember that," he thinks desperately. Please.

Lan Zhan's looking at him with odd intensity. "I...drank wine last night," he says uncertainly.

"Just a glass," Wei Ying says, "but it hit you pretty hard."

Lan Zhan winces—it's slight, but Wei Ying clocks it. "I have a low tolerance for alcohol." He pauses. "Very low. I...don't remember much about last night. I truly apologize if I embarrassed you in front of your brother."

"You didn't," Wei Ying says. "You really didn't, I promise, neither of them noticed. By the time the bottle was done, they only had eyes for each other."

Lan Zhan winces again and slowly brings his hands up to his face, pressing them over his eyes.

"You were fine," Wei Ying says quickly. "I promise, I swear, you didn't do anything embarrassing! Honestly, that's the good of having me around, I'm embarrassing by nature, I take up all the embarrassing there is, no one's ever going to even look at you if that's what you're worried about."

"Did I—" Lan Zhan hesitates, then straightens his shoulders. "Did I do anything untoward? To you?"

"Untoward." Wei Ying rolls that around in his mouth a little. "That's a good word. No, Lan Zhan, you did nothing untoward. You were perfect. You even kissed me, outside the restaurant, just like a real date would have. Jiang Cheng had already left—possibly to get sexually wrecked by Wen Qing, if the way they were looking at each other is anything to go by—so he missed it, but trust me, it was just perfect."

"Perfect," Lan Zhan repeats dully. Wei Ying bets he has a headache. Wei Ying pushes himself off the bed and goes to snag another bottle of water out of the mini-fridge.

"Here," Wei Ying says, pushing it into Lan Zhan's hands. Lan Zhan takes it, holding it loosely in his lap. "Do you have aspirin? You probably do. I keep meaning to carry some with me, but I obviously keep forgetting, because of who I am as a person."

Lan Zhan just stares at him.

"So, do you? Aspirin? For your head?" Wei Ying is hovering between the bed and the rest of the room, ready to move in any direction to fetch the aspirin.

"My head is fine," Lan Zhan says finally. "And please let me apologize for drinking too much. Even if it was a faux date, it's still not appropriate behavior." He pushes the covers back, frowns down at his trousers, with the crease nowhere near as sharp as it had been.

"I know," Wei Ying says. "I know, outside clothes in bed, it's gross, but I wasn't going to undress you, so it was sort of the only option." He watches as Lan Zhan pushes himself to his feet. "I told you that you could change the sheets today," he says then. "You were okay with it."

"It's fine," Lan Zhan says. "I'm— Thank you. Thank you for making sure I got home, and to bed."

"Not a problem!" Wei Ying makes sure he says it cheerfully. "I didn't mind at all. You'd have done the same for me. Though you probably wouldn't have fallen asleep by accident." He grins at Lan Zhan. "Sorry I'm such a dope. I must have been sleepier than I thought. Or maybe I'm just not used to good wine. The cheap stuff doesn't knock me out like that, I tell you what."

Lan Zhan, even in his last night's crumpled clothes, with his hair made messy by Wei Ying's fingers, still looks more together than Wei Ying ever will. Or maybe not more together, exactly, but better. Even hungover, even at this hour in the morning, even pre-caffeine and post-not-enough-sleep, he looks good.

Wei Ying gives into his impulse without thinking about it and steps forward, leaning to kiss Lan Zhan on the cheek quickly.

"That was for being such a gentleman last night," he says, teasing, because of course Lan Zhan was a gentleman, what else could he possibly be? "I'm sorry I took advantage and slept with you."

Lan Zhan's face goes flamingly red so fast Wei Ying's a little surprised he doesn't pass out from it.

"Slept in your bed with you," Wei Ying clarifies, and laughs, even as he feels a blush rising in his cheeks as well. "Sorry. Okay, I'll get out of your hair." He looks around, grabs his phone off the desk, and slips his feet into his shoes by the door. "Okay. Well. I'm off to find some coffee. You're good, right? You don't need...anything?"

Lan Zhan nods stiffly. He's still got the unopened water bottle clutched in his hand. "I don't need anything," he says. "Thank you again."

"Gosh," Wei Ying says as he opens the door. "I'm telling you, such a gentleman." He gives Lan Zhan another grin over his shoulder and heads out.