Lan Zhan understands the power of a cute fluffy animal. He shares his apartment with two such creatures: Sunny and Thunder, both bunnies. But this new YouTuber artist he clicked on for "a beginner's guide to relaxing cloudscapes in acrylic" is starting their video with a donkey. A donkey in braids. A donkey in braids braying at the top of its lungs.
Lan Zhan lowers the volume just as the YouTuber in question pops into frame, all grins and a matching red hair tie, and Lan Zhan has to hit pause. What is happening? Why is the owner of the prettiest smile he's ever seen also the owner of the most chaotic painting video?
And he's only five seconds in.
Lan Zhan is not feeling relaxed at all. The thumbnail is a lie. The thumbnail is the fluffiest nest of clouds against a baby blue. There's even a bird. Joe the bird, Lan Zhan flashes back to an old Bob Ross tutorial. Why didn't he just search 'Bob Ross' instead? That would have been a guaranteed calm.
Because the YouTube algorithm recommended this video, he reminds himself, and his new year's resolution is to try one new thing per month, to take the occasional risk.
Lan Zhan chances a glance. The pretty painter is still grinning, one hand on the neck of the donkey, apparently fond. Lan Zhan takes a breath in and another one out and clicks play.
"So, I just want to make it clear - you do not need a donkey for this tutorial. In fact, I don't recommend it. They'll steal your apples and your brushes, too. But Little Apple here is in a mood. She hates the rain, like really hates it, so I'm hanging out here in her barn to keep her company. How are we feeling, hmm? That was one whole apple you just inhaled. Feeling any better?"
The donkey brays and shakes her head.
"That's donkey for 'no' in case you were wondering. Moving on... hey!" The YouTuber finally turns the full force of his pretty eyes to the camera. "Wanna draw some clouds with me?"
Lan Zhan scoffs as he hits the space bar again, the sharp clack of it startling in his quiet apartment. Is the guy winking at the whole wide web? In a painting tutorial?
"Ridiculous," he says out loud and wonders for a moment just which one of them he's chiding. His heart's beating so fast and drumming so loud. And for what?
Tea. He needs tea.
The routine of it — boiling water, steeping tea leaves, pouring, and drinking — centers him, helps bring his heart rate back to normal.
Right. So the painting part is next. The painting part can't be that bad. The canvas will take center stage. It will be okay. Lan Zhan presses K to play.
Two minutes later, Lan Zhan is eating his words. His thoughts? He's choking anyway. Because the painter, who introduced himself as The Yiling Laozu, is now swirling freeform curls of white on the canvas with his fingers and saying, "It's okay to get a little dirty."
His smile can't even be termed borderline flirty. It's straddling the line, deliberate.
And is it okay to get a little dirty? Uncle Qiren's stern face flashes through his mind, intoning: cleanliness is next to godliness, not that the Lans are particularly religious. Uncle Qiren just borrows liberally from all the texts that back him up.
"No play, no gain!" The Yiling Laozu is mangling the saying on screen. "Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking. But you know what? On this channel, my dear Cultivators, we try to revel in the fun, not the pain. So, let your wrist wander and go where it wants. We're painting clouds! And what are clouds? Whatever you want! I remember lying in the fields with my a-jie and didi naming the cloud shapes we saw. One time JC - that's my didi, my little bro - was obsessed with cars. Which, let me tell you, is a hundred times better than when he was obsessed with dogs, because no. But literally every other cloud we saw, he'd say that's a four-wheeler! Or, that's a DeLorean! Even when it was obviously, like, a pig."
Lan Zhan watches, fascinated, as the pretty clouds shape themselves up to be… well, pig-like? Then there's a pig pile — kitten-like pigs piled together atop the skyline, snoozing. The Yiling Laozu tints them pink.
Then he's scraping purple into the mix. "Pot belly shadows. Gotta have those. For depth. Otherwise you'll have cardboard pigs — two dimensional. Hey, do you think there are cardboard pigs? I've only ever seen cardboard humans. Oh wait, hold on, that's not true! I've seen a cardboard Groot before! Which ha, if you think about it, it's made of wood too. 'Groot, what are you?' 'Groot.'"
Lan Zhan blinks. Nothing makes sense. How can pig clouds be this pretty? How can The Yiling Laozu just spout off random stories like he's chatting up a friend? How are his fingers moving so fast? How is this half sprawled human filling up the canvas with magical art like it's la-di-da nothing?
"And there, we're done!"
Lan Zhan looks at his blank canvas and pristine brushes, his clear cup of water which announces itself: not coffee! Tomorrow. He can try again tomorrow.
On screen, The Yiling Laozu is trying to coax the donkey out for an outro, but apparently Little Apple is not having it.
"The rain stopped, so she doesn't need her emotional support human anymore." The ridiculous man on screen is pouting. "But hey, thanks for hanging out and painting with me! I hope you had as much fun as I did. See ya!" The video fades on a donkey butt, the donkey tail swishing with sass.
In a daze, Lan Zhan clicks 'like' on the video and after a moment's hesitation, the subscribe button. He's never left a comment before, but oddly, he feels compelled this time.
Thank you for the tutorial. I look forward to trying it. I liked when you said clouds are anything we want them to be. That is reassuring to a beginner like myself.
Lan Zhan thinks about ending his comment there but just then the sky cracked with thunder. So he spares a thought for Little Apple and her emotional support human.
P.S. It is raining where I am. I hope it is sunny where you are.
Lan Zhan wakes to the sun still snug under the blanket of clouds, as per usual. Unlike usual, however, his phone is lit up with a notice from YouTube: The Yiling Laozu replied to your comment.
Thank you, @Sunny and Thunder's Dad! Lil Apple can't speak human so I will thank you on her behalf! It did rain but she's fine. I hope you have fun conjuring up clouds! Make them whatever shapes/colors you want. Clouds are cool that way. Anything works! I'd love to see the end result but only if you wanna share! @ my Twitter if you want, link in my profile. No pressure though. I just love seeing the art you all make. =^.^=
p.s. Will Sunny and Thunder join you in painting? I'd love to see their work too. Kids are awesome!
Lan Zhan doesn't know where to start. A comment back that his rabbits do not have opposable thumbs? Navigating to the profile to check out the Twitter account? Putting down his phone and getting ready for his day like a responsible adult?
Eventually Lan Zhan manages all three, in the reverse order.
The Yiling Laozu's Twitter turns out to be just as chaotic as the man himself. True to his comment, there are many retweets of paintings from his followers, ranging from indecipherable blobs to professional canvases. In between are peppered one liners from The Yiling Laozu himself, such as: Do you ever just think - big sisters are the best?
Lan Zhan wouldn't know. He only has a big brother himself. He likes the tweet anyway.
Just before bed, he replies to the YouTube comment.
Sunny and Thunder would be the most talented rabbits if they could paint. Of course, they are already the best rabbits one can ask for.
Wei Ying rarely loses it over strangers on the internet, but YouTube's Sunny and Thunder's Dad, Twitter's Hanguangjun — both profile pictures are the same pair of black and white bunnies snuggling — is killing him. Killing him with cuteness. Formal cuteness. Who speaks like that? And who speaks so defensively of their rabbits for not being able to paint?
"Oh my god. You are the best rabbit dad one can ask for!"
Not to mention, Hanguangjun liked all of his tweets about his sister and even followed her cooking account. So obviously he's good people.
The next morning, Lan Zhan wakes to another message from The Yiling Laozu.
Is that them in your profile picture? I haven't even met them and I agree! They are the bestest bunnies! Can I draw them???
Something pleased curls up in Lan Zhan's chest. He wastes no time replying in the affirmative: You most certainly may. It would be my honor to have you draw their portraits.
So perhaps Lan Zhan should be a little less surprised that evening when he receives an alert of a new YouTube video from The Yiling Laozu titled "sketching Sunny and Thunder, the bestest bunnies in the world".
"Hi," the video starts off strong, with The Yiling Laozu's face taking up almost the whole frame. Lan Zhan hits pause. He needs... his bunnies. After all, this is about them, their portraits.
Calmly, he lets them out of their hutch and sits, lotus positioned, on the floor next to them in the living room.
For completeness's sake, since Sunny and Thunder have only just tuned in, Lan Zhan rewinds the video to 0:00 and clicks play.
"Hi!" The Yiling Laozu starts again, no less appealing than before. "So, as you may have noticed, this is not my usual painting tutorial. I thought I'd do something different today and show you a little bit of what I also do a lot, which is sketching."
The Yiling Laozu brandishes a pencil like it's a sword and out of thin air like he's a magician. And really, it's just a pencil, Lan Zhan shouldn't be so charmed. He blinks at the screen and pets at Thunder who has jumped into his lap.
"My parents — biological — were, mmh, nomadic?" The Yiling Laozu twirls the pencil and scrunches his nose. "We lived in fifteen different cities before I turned five. My mom would bring her sketchbook with her and draw absolutely everything. Stray cats, garbage collectors, croissants. You name it, she sketched it. I still have a huge stack of her sketchbooks. And, to be honest, I barely remember my parents, what they looked like, but because of these sketchbooks, I feel like I have concrete memories of them anyway. Because my mom's drawings, they're - visceral, like they can crawl out of the paper and shake your hands."
Lan Zhan has to pause. Talk about visceral. The Yiling Laozu appears to be in his bedroom. Now that the camera has panned out a bit more, he can see that this whole time The Yiling Laozu was chatting from his bed.
Thunder stretches up on her legs and twitches her nose. It catches Sunny's attention and soon Lan Zhan has two bunnies curled up on his lap. It's warm and reassuring, enough that he risks pressing play.
"Maybe someday I'll show it to you, but today! Ah, today we're doing something special. I hope you like rabbits because we're sketching two of the best ones today! I have a reference picture here. Shout out to Sunny and Thunder's dad for this gorgeous photo." The video tilts as The Yiling Laozu zooms in on the picture.
Lan Zhan looks down at his lap. Sunny and Thunder appear asleep, but he tells their sleepy heads anyway. "That's you, pretty ones."
"Aren't they pretty?" On screen, The Yiling Laozu is appropriately gushing. "Look at these cute headdresses! Headbands? Anyway, adorable. And they're different but perfectly balanced. Not just in the obvious sense of color. But look at them! Don't they look like they're sharing secrets? The way Sunny's bending one of its ears to listen, the way Thunder's leaning in?"
Lan Zhan couldn't help smiling. Yes, that was his thought too when he snapped that picture. His girls were having a heart to heart. Or possibly playing the shortest game of telephone.
"So, for sketches, I like to start with a 2B pencil, but if you're on the more careful side, choose a lighter one, say, HB so you can work your way up to the right shade."
Lan Zhan watches, transfixed, as on screen the Yiling Laozu quickly sketches the outlines of the bunnies - their tails, the bend of their arms and the arch of their ears, their eyes - large and then lively too. He thinks The Yiling Laozu must have inherited his mother's talents. These bunnies look so real, more so by the minute, like they could just hop off the page, out the screen and directly into Lan Zhan's lap.
"Ta-da! What do you think?"
I want you to meet my bunnies is Lan Zhan's sudden unbidden thought. He shushes it.
Beautiful, he manages to say in his comment.
Lan Zhan wakes to more alerts than he's ever received from YouTube.
Beautiful as in the drawing or the artist? Or both? Is the first, most liked reply to his comment. It's from a user named FanOfFans, who Lan Zhan thinks is perhaps just a fan of gossip.
The rest of the comments are in a similar vein.
Are you single?
Can he draw you like a French girl?
Are you a cute bunny dad tho or a creepy one?
Then a much different sort of reply from LotusSoupForTheSoul: Agreed! My brother is so talented! P.S. Your bunnies are adorable. I like their headbands! Do they make those for cats?
Lan Zhan finds himself replying to her before he can think too hard about his reasons.
Thank you. I will send you the link for the shop where I found them. They do sell longer headbands as well. I hope your cats like them.
Then he finds the link and edits his reply to include it.
Lan Zhan scrolls through ten more comments before he spots a reply from The Yiling Laozu himself: a row of blushy emojis and hearts and about a dozen exclamation points.
If it were anyone else, Lan Zhan would have called them out for the blatant abuse of a grammatical symbol. This is The Yiling Laozu, however, and all Lan Zhan could think about is how pretty a little blush would look upon his face.
He likes the comment and clicks out of the video. He needs to go for a jog. That and he needs to stop thinking about ways to make The Yiling Laozu blush.
"He ignored my reply!"
Wei Ying layers on more golden ochre, reflections of the sunset in the ocean and hmms. His friend Huaisang is a lot of things — art connoisseur, fan collector, fashion police. But what he is, above all, is a meddler who pretends to not know anything. He's quite skilled.
"Do you know what that means?"
"Does it have to mean anything?" Wei Ying loads some ruby red onto his brush and thinks about a heart.
"No's a no, no?"
"Yes, so. There wasn't a no, whatever that means." Huaisang shrugs.
Lan Zhan rewatches his first Yiling Laozu tutorial, the one with Little Apple and the pink pig clouds.
This time he follows along, hitting pause liberally (again). The Yiling Laozu isn't just fast with the words out of his mouth, he's fast with his hands over the canvas and dipping over the palette, masterful swirls mixing just the right shades.
Lan Zhan tries but he's definitely more on the 'indecipherable blobs' end of the spectrum. Still, he soldiers on, comforted that clouds are anything, anything at all. And oh, this blue looks nice with that white and that mauve.
In the end, he doesn't hate the result, so he snaps a picture after cleaning up his workspace and thoroughly scrubbing his hands. He's lucky for the lighting. The sunset through his window hits his canvas golden, flushing it prettier than it really is.
"Should I post it, my girls?"
Predictably, Sunny and Thunder do not answer. Still, Thunder looks at him and blinks. It feels like a yes.
Lan Zhan posts it to his Twitter, which he barely uses except to follow news, work, and family. It's a testament to how long it's been since he's posted anything that he forgets to tag The Yiling Laozu. Lan Zhan deletes his tweet and tries again. This time, he links to the cloudscape tutorial too, to give credit where credit's due.
Immediately he receives a DM from The Yiling Laozu.
nooooooooooooo put it back it's pretty!!! but only if you wanna!
And then more of them.
oh ha you did
twitter edit button when
thank you for linking my video!
you didn't have to
you're so nice! ahhhhhhhhjkkk
Lan Zhan stares at his screen. Is this normal? Does The Yiling Laozu DM everyone who posts paintings for his tutorials like this?
Thank you for complimenting my first effort. It is nowhere close to your beautiful art, but I wanted to show my appreciation for your tutorial. I enjoyed it very much.
Wei Ying stares at his DM and laughs. Wow, he doesn't know if Hanguangjun is eighty years old, but he would not be surprised. So polite. So grammatical. So cute!
first time???? holy crap that's really good!!
they look kinda like your bunnies!
but like if you smoosh them together into one shade
Lan Zhan looks over at his girls. The Yiling Laozu is right. Perhaps he did look in their direction while he was painting.
I may attempt to sketch them next, but I am afraid I won't do them justice. My girls are beautiful.
The response, like all other responses from The Yiling Laozu, comes lightning fast.
so this may be weird i swear i'm not trying to be!!!
i'm actually trying to be the opposite of weird
say i'm 27
would you be older or younger?
or the same! :o
if you're not comfortable answering, u don't have to!
Wei Ying expects a polite refusal or a vague answer. He does not expect:
I turn 30 next month. It will be three years to the day with Sunny and Thunder.
Wei Ying's mouth drops open. Not eighty! And still too cute. Hanguangjun adopted his bunnies on his birthday?
omg so it's their birthdays too kinda?
i'm adopted too so i know it counts
and you seem like the best adoptive dad
someday i wanna adopt too
to keep paying it forward
also kids are cute!
and their arts? they're so creative. like, pink broccoli-shaped fish? why not!!
Lan Zhan closes his eyes. This is an onslaught of information. He too wants to adopt. He too has started looking into the process. He too thinks kids are the best. Mainly because they haven't learned to lie or to discriminate. Except against broccoli (as food) but that's valid.
It is also my dream to adopt, he shares.
Wei Ying is in love with a faceless stranger whose name he doesn't know. Who also doesn't know his name. It's a slight problem.
His chats with Hanguangjun leave him feeling brighter about humanity, which he cannot say for a good chunk of his interactions on the bird app.
"I need a drink," he groans as he lies on the floor of the studio he shares with Huaisang and Wen Ning.
"Or a date," Huaisang says.
"Or both," Wen Ning ventures, kind as always despite his dark prince looks. "We can help you with the first option."
"Or with both," Huaisang mutters under his breath which Wei Ying absolutely pretends not to hear.
He loves his best friends, he does, but perhaps in different ways. Like he loves both his adopted siblings but in dramatically different ways. Would die for both, sure, but he would never make cutesy faces at Jiang Cheng and declare himself only three. That he reserves for his Yanli-jie, the best person in the whole wide world.
And what is Hanguangjun to you? A treacherous part of his mind whispers.
"Or you can make another painting tutorial. Those always make you feel better," sweet angel Wen Ning offers.
Wei Ying sits up. Wen Ning's brilliant.
"That's brilliant!" Huaisang echoes his thought, which is concerning.
Lan Zhan rewatches the new video from The Yiling Laozu for the fifth time. It's just — Little Apple is in it again. The Yiling Laozu painted her and at the end, he winked at the camera and said, "I think she wants some friends. What do you think? Do bunnies and donkeys get along?"
Call him self-centered, but Lan Zhan thinks that question just might be for him. Is The Yiling Laozu flirting with him? Through a public YouTube video? On a channel that has half a million subscribers? Ridiculous.
He watches it again.
Wei Ying tags along with Huaisang only because Wen Ning is unavailable and Huaisang begged.
"Please, Wei-xiong? I really, really want to meet the Lans. Mingjue-ge has been talking about the Twin Jades for so long my curiosity is piqued! Piqued!"
"Peaked? Then it'll get better from here."
Wei Ying has never been good at ignoring babies and Huaisang was being a big baby. "Fine, but you're taking my cleaning shifts at the studio for a week."
Huaisang beams at him, which is neither yes nor no. This might be why Wei Ying secretly prefers Wen Ning.
Still, a part of him is curious. A quiet birthday dinner with a party of five? That's unusual and Wei Ying lives for the unusual.
Lan Zhan cannot help but stare. He was reluctant to leave his apartment, his girls, to have a birthday dinner with not only his brother but also with his brother's associate and sundries. But now…
Why did Lan Zhan never think The Yiling Laozu could live in the same city, run in the same circles?
His reply times and when he posts the videos, a helpful part of his mind provides.
Night owl, another part counters.
He's here, the loudest part says. He's here, he's here, he's here.
Wei Ying feels like he's cheating on his Hanguangjun with the way he can't help but stare at the birthday boy.
The most handsome human being Wei Ying's ever seen. He wants to draw him immediately. With his headband too. The pretty cloud design in the center and the pale blue band wrapped around his forehead and falling around his jet black hair like wisps of clouds.
"This is my brother, Lan Wangji," the other Lan brother introduces them and Wei Ying feels winded from just looking at this magnetic force of a person.
"Hi!" He slides his hand into Lan Wangji's hand and tries not to mess up his own name. "Wei Ying. I'm- you can call me Wei Ying. Thanks for letting me crash your birthday bash! I did bring a gift but it's just... art. I'm an artist. I hope you like it."
"Mn," Lan Zhan debates whether to confess just how much he already loves Wei Ying's art. Wei Ying. There's finally a name. And a hand, cool and pretty and touching his hand. "All arts have their own merits. You may call me Lan Zhan."
"Lan Zhan!" Wei Ying beams up at him, the flirty crescent eye smiles a thousand times more potent in real life. Lan Zhan wants to whisk him away.
Instead, he sits as Nie Mingjue, the man his brother has been gushing about for months, invites them all to sit and enjoy the food. Apparently he knows the chef Mianmian and all her creations are said to be golden.
Lan Zhan takes in the information but really he's just taking in the sight of Wei Ying, how comfortable he is with his friend Nie Huaisang, Nie Mingjue's younger brother.
Nie Huaisang who has just returned Wei Ying's playful push a little harder than warranted, shoving him halfway into Lan Zhan's lap. His "oops!" sounds insincere. Especially given that he's hiding half of his face behind a fan.
Not that Lan Zhan's focus is on Nie Huaisang. He steadies Wei Ying and tries not to let his senses overload with the feel and smell of him so close.
"Sorry, Lan Zhan." Wei Ying tells himself sternly to get off of this beautiful stranger right this instant. At once! But he smells like sweet sandalwood and feels like comfort. With, with how strong he obviously is and the firm- the firm musculature.
Also, are his eyes golden? He's unreal and Wei Ying must draw him. He must, as long as Lan Zhan allows it.
"Can I draw you?"
Lan Zhan blinks down at Wei Ying, who is still in his hold, who has not looked away from his stare this whole time. If Lan Zhan thought Wei Ying was shameless in his flirting on YouTube before, then this is - this is more. More overwhelming, more real, more enticing.
"Wei Ying may."
It's the earnestness with which Lan Zhan says it. Wei Ying has just met him and he's smitten. He can't.
He looks away at last and gets off of Lan Zhan to sit, if not properly, then at least in his own chair. "Ha, but you don't even know if I'm any good."
"Wei Ying is good," Lan Zhan returns easily.
"But you don't know that." Wei Ying doesn't know why he's fighting Lan Zhan on this. It's not that he's insecure about his art. It's his life just like acting is to Jiang Cheng and cooking is to Yanli-jie. Still, art is subjective.
"I do. I'm honored to have The Yiling Laozu draw my portrait."
Wei Ying's mouth drops open.
Lan Zhan tries not to lie in general, and specifically to Wei Ying's face he finds that he cannot. He cannot stay knowing just who Wei Ying is and his dreams and his favorite spicy soups while Wei Ying doesn't know he's —
"I'm Sunny and Thunder's dad. It's a pleasure to meet you, Little Apple's emotional support human."
"The what now?" Nie Mingjue's voice carries across the table.
Wei Ying's not sure if his mouth is going to close anytime soon, but - "You're him! He's you! You do not look like anything I imagined."
Also. Wei Ying doesn't have to emotionally cheat on his Hanguangjun now. Wow, what a night. Maybe Huaisang is also his favorite after all.
Lan Zhan usually finds dinner with strangers anything but pleasant. But he loves Xichen and wants his brother to have a mock-date to ease him into a real date with Nie Mingjue. Lan Zhan just never thought the dinner would bring him Wei Ying, The Yiling Laozu.
The Yiling Laozu who is now in his apartment, lying on his floor, cooing at his rabbits.
"Oh my gosh, you're so soft! I wanna nom you!" Wei Ying turns to look at him. "Is it too soon for a kiss?"
Lan Zhan blushes and pinches his thigh. Of course Wei Ying means Sunny and Thunder. He shakes his head. "Not too soon. You drew their portraits a month ago."
Wei Ying grins, expression so open that Lan Zhan wants to
nom kiss him. "Is that how it works?" Wei Ying winks at him and turns to lower his face down to Sunny's level. "Kissy?" He asks her.
Lan Zhan has never before been jealous of his own rabbits. This is new.
Truth be told, it feels like Wei Ying's birthday. He got to eat a most satisfying dinner and pet the softest bunnies. On top of that, he finally meets Hanguangjun in person and he's just as precious as the Hanguangjun in Wei Ying's DMs.
"Can I pet you when I come back to draw your daddy next time, hmm? What do you say? Do we have a deal?" Wei Ying sticks out his pinky as Thunder sniffs him.
"Mn." Lan Zhan hooks his pinky around Wei Ying's. It's an excuse to touch, he knows, but Lan Zhan cannot help it. Wei Ying is sprawled on his floor baby-talking his babies and Lan Zhan wants him to come back soon. Lan Zhan wants him to stay.
Wei Ying stamps his thumb. "Deal!"
Then Wei Ying says, still holding his pinky, "Thanks Lan Zhan. It's your birthday but somehow I feel like it's mine instead."
Ridiculous. Lan Zhan does not understand how Wei Ying does not see the ways he is making Lan Zhan's birthday the best one he's had so far. He tightens the hook of his little pinky around Wei Ying's and it pulls Wei Ying that much closer.
Wei Ying feels a little breathless this close to Lan Zhan. In person, just as online, Lan Zhan does not say very much. But in person, just as online, everything Lan Zhan says makes Wei Ying like him more.
For instance: "Meeting Wei Ying is the best birthday gift."
Wei Ying gulps. He was left behind all of his life. By his birth parents for the afterlife. By his adoptive parents for the sake of Jiang Cheng's limelight, not that his didi knows about any of this. The point is, Wei Ying has not felt wanted like this in a long time. "You can't just say that and not- and not-"
Wei Ying bursts out laughing. Lan Zhan is precious. But then he stops laughing because Lan Zhan is shifting closer. Wei Ying closes his eyes as Lan Zhan follows up with the hottest kiss of Wei Ying's life. He didn't think his previous kisses were bad before but —
Just how is Lan Zhan making his toes curl on a first kiss? Then again, it's their promise in between them, pinky fingers entwined, and it's Lan Zhan's big hand cupping the back of Wei Ying's head like he wants him to stay.
Wei Ying's lips are as soft as they looked on screen. Lan Zhan verifies it over and over again anyway, sucks on the lush curves of them and licks in between the seams of them.
He's not even a little bit sorry that he's doing this in front of his girls.
Wei Ying snaps out of the kiss still dazed.
"I'm sorry, Wei Ying. It's my bedtime." Lan Zhan clarifies and Wei Ying wants to pinch his cheeks, he's so cute.
"It's," Wei Ying checks his phone, "nine."
"Mn." Lan Zhan looks a little embarrassed and a little sleepy and hundred percent adorable.
"Oh. That- that explains a lot," Wei Ying tries to get his feet un-jellied underneath him, smoothes back his hair as Lan Zhan calmly ushers Thunder and Sunny back into their hutch. "I thought you were in a different timezone, but all this time you were just in a different sleep zone!"
Lan Zhan drives Wei Ying home, a distance so short it feels mocking. All this time it took fifteen minutes from door to door, fifteen minutes to drive to Wei Ying's apartment from his.
Wei Ying squeezes his hand and kisses his cheek. "Sweet dreams, Lan Zhan. Happy birthday." And Lan Zhan thinks perhaps he's been too rash. He should have tried harder to stay up, to keep Wei Ying company.
He settles for a kiss. "Good night, Wei Ying."
Wei Ying doesn't know how he's supposed to sleep after that kiss, with Lan Zhan pressing him up against the door. Why hasn't anyone pressed him up against a door like that before?
He flails about it in text to Wen Ning and Huaisang but in the end it's not enough. He texts his Yanli-jie.
What to do? I think I'm in love.
Angel that she is, his sister calls him immediately. "Ying-ying. Who is it? Is it your Hanguangjun?"
And Wei Ying flails about it in words with her. Words and also noises because… Lan Zhan, his Hanguangjun.
Lan Zhan plays the piece he's been composing, a melody that reminds him of Wei Ying's colors on canvas, his daring and his caring, the way he swept into Lan Zhan's life like a perfect wind.
It's the fifth piece he's played so far, as Wei Ying sits too far away, a large canvas blocking half of his expressive face.
"I don't recognize that piece at all but it's gorgeous. Whose is it, Lan Zhan?"
Yours, Lan Zhan wants to say. It's yours. It's ours.
But Wei Ying is getting up and Wei Ying is reaching out with his paint-smeared hands. "Come see! What do you think?"
Lan Zhan catches his wrist in time — before it touches his (his mother's) guqin — and walks them over to the canvas.
Wei Ying fidgets as he watches Lan Zhan look.
"Ah, sorry. It's not good enough, right? You're too beautiful, Lan Zhan, to put down in paint."
But Lan Zhan turns to look at him, almost angry, and Lan Zhan grabs his wrist again and says, "Come."
And lord have mercy, but Wei Ying is finding even this hot.
"This- this is your bedroom." He cannot help but blurt because the bed — it's a queen size at least. Maybe king? It's huge.
Then Lan Zhan turns him so he's looking at the wall opposite, a wall hosting a mini gallery of his art. There are prints from Wei Ying's society6 store and there is also his birthday gift to Lan Zhan from last week.
"You're my favorite, Wei Ying."
Lan Zhan was going to say you're my favorite artist. But the truth is, Wei Ying is just his favorite. Ever since that day he stumbled upon Wei Ying's YouTube video, Wei Ying has claimed his spot, steadily staked it.
"Lan Zhan! You can't just-! You're my favorite. I like you so much. I want to introduce you to my jiejie and my didi and my grumpy child."
"She's the grumpy one, yes." At Lan Zhan's face, Wei Ying couldn't help but tease. "You know, I also have a sunshine human child I birthed all on my own."
Lan Zhan blinks, and apparently unfazed, asks, "What's their name?"
Wei Ying likes him so much.
"Wen Yuan! A-Yuan! He's an adorable little radish."
Lan Zhan is grateful for the month-long exposure to Wei Ying-speak. Besides the DMs, Lan Zhan has also thoroughly watched and rewatched all of Wei Ying's past YouTube videos. This particular sparkle in his eyes means tease but also adoration. Also —
"Is Wen Yuan related to your friends Wen Ning and Wen Qing?"
Wei Ying's eyes widen with surprise.
"They came in during your ocean waves tutorial number three. You said the Wens are your second found family." Lan Zhan remembers that moment because he remembers the fondness on all three of them, the way Wen Qing may have blocked her face from the camera immediately but wasn't able to block the affection in her voice as she told Wei Ying to come down for dinner before she makes him.
Wei Ying remembers that disaster of a tutorial. It's one of the few ones he had to edit because Wen Qing jie made him go eat dinner in the middle of it. But, it's true. The Wens are family to him as well. They took him in when he was hiding from the world. Wen Ning boosted his spirits with kindness and Wen Qing slathered on tough love. Wei Ying had needed both.
"A-Yuan's their cousin, yeah. Wen nainai is taking care of him now but she's getting up there in age. When I'm financially stable enough, I want to adopt him. Wen Ning would but he's also a baby. And Wen Qing is busy with her fellowship at the hospital. She's going to be a brain surgeon, she's so smart. But it works out cause I want to adopt A-Yuan myself. He's adorable. You'd love him, Lan Zhan."
Wei Ying is starting to distinguish between all the different mns from Lan Zhan. Some are dismissive mns (such as when Wei Ying gushed about his beauty). Some are grateful mns (such as when Wei Ying cooed over Sunny and Thunder). Some, such as this mn, are thoughtful mns, let's talk more mns.
Lan Zhan never thought the week after his honeymoon would be this chaotic. The sky's pouring buckets. Little Apple is inconsolable, even one giant apple down. Lan Zhan sneaks out the watermelon cubes and almost gets his fingers snapped in two.
Little Apple plays favorites. Unfortunately he is not yet hers. That would still be Wei Ying and Sunny and Thunder. His bunnies are granted perch on the donkey's back but Lan Zhan mostly gets Little Apple's head wedged in between himself and Wei Ying. She gets so jealous.
"I'm the husband," he tells her seriously.
In the background, Wei Ying is crouched down to A-Yuan's height, to talk into the camera clutched in A-Yuan's hands. "It's family night and we're all drawing…?"
"Clouds!" A-Yuan loudly announces.
Lan Zhan turns to his men, his newly acquired family. Sure, there are still court formalities to complete, but A-Yuan is their son. A-Yuan will always be their son now. Wei Ying was right. Lan Zhan adores this messy boy with the bright smile who loves the simplest things in life, like matching headbands and family paint nights.
Wei Ying is working on a giant oil painting with all of them, including Yanli's grouchy cat Jin Ling, wearing matching headbands. It was the best wedding picture they took where (almost) everyone was looking at the same camera. Of course, Jiang Cheng is scowling at the paparazzi who had followed them and Uncle Qiren is having a staredown with Nie Mingjue, but that cannot be helped.
Lan Zhan is learning to breathe and let go of little things these days. Wei Ying makes it easier. Wei Ying and A-Yuan both. Wei Ying and A-Yuan who are both gesturing for him to come pick out his canvas for the night.
"Zhan-baba!" A-Yuan calls, "The blue one or the black one? Or pink!"
(Three months ago)
Wei Ying doesn't understand what he's hearing at first. And then the squeals subside a notch and A-Yuan says it clearly again, "yes, Zhan-baba. You may propose to my Xian-baba. I can pet the bunnies anytime I want?"
"Lan Zhan." Wei Ying cannot believe Lan Zhan asked their child for his hand. It's so him, the same well-mannered Hanguangjun he met a year ago. And yet, the same clever Hanguangjun too. "What's this about bunnies?"
"Wei Ying may pet them all he wants too," Lan Zhan says.
And how can Wei Ying turn him down? Especially when Lan Zhan still kisses him like that, like he can't get enough of Wei Ying maybe ever.
"I'll kiss you like this everyday," Lan Zhan promises into his skin later that night, when A-Yuan's well into snoozeland.
(Three years later)
"Lan Zhan," Wei Ying pants as he holds onto the headboard for dear life. "We need to- fuck!"
"Mn." Lan Zhan drives in faster because Wei Ying has a point. They need to head to the airport soon to pick up A-Yuan.
Lan Zhan folds Wei Ying a bit more so he can dip down and kiss him. After all, it's everyday that he had promised. And everyday Lan Zhan counts his blessings.
(Meanwhile, on the airplane)
A-Yuan returns the phone to his new friend Jingyi. "We can visit and pet your bunnies?"
Jingyi nods. "If I can visit and pet your bunnies! And donkey!"
"My aunt Yanli has a cat too."
"Um." Wen Ning looks between the two boys, bewildered. "Jin Ling bites."
"Jin Ling doesn't bite me!" A-Yuan boasts, because it's true. He's pretty sure he's Jin Ling's favorite. "He probably won't bite Jingyi either."
"Um, sure." Wen Ning gives up. He loves his cousin dearly, but this is clearly Wei Ying and Lan Zhan's problem now.