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Happy for Now

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“I’m sorry, but I don’t see a reservation under that name.”

Wei Ying’s starting to panic a little, but she tamps it down into the pit of her belly and plasters a smile on her face. “Can you check under Ying Wei?” she asks, in her best customer service voice. “Sometimes the online forms get confused about that.”

The woman behind the counter taps at her keyboard and scans the monitor, frowning. “I’m sorry,” she says, again, “that’s not working, either. It was definitely with this branch of the hotel?”

“It was,” Wei Ying confirms, nervous sweat prickling at her lower back and between her boobs, the two worst places it’s possible to get the nervous sweats and therefore where she always gets them. “I’m here for the conference.” And if there isn’t a room available for her, this is going to be a staggeringly awful five night event that was already going to be exhausting.

“Hm,” the woman says, clicking a few more things. “Do you have the card you made the reservation with?”

Wei Ying hands it over, willing herself to stay calm. This isn’t a disaster yet, right? There’s just a typo in the system or something. They’ll find her room and get her checked in and she’ll go drop off her bags, spend fifteen minutes stretching out the worst of the travel knots in her back, and figure out the best way to make it to a grocery store. This is fine. It’s fine.

“I can’t find anything in here under this card, either,” the woman behind the counter—Tiffany, according to her nametag—says, frowning in earnest now. She’s looking almost as concerned as Wei Ying feels, which is both worrying and gratifying.

“I have the confirmation email,” Wei Ying offers, and holds out her phone. Tiffany trades it for Wei Ying’s credit card, and the way her face changes isn’t exactly promising.

“Oh,” Tiffany says, after a moment, and a little more tapping at the keyboard. “Hm. I see.” She looks up at Wei Ying, and any hope that Wei Ying was clinging to fades away at the apologetic face she’s making. “I’m afraid,” she says, in a too-gentle voice that does not bode well for Wei Ying’s proximity to a bed in the near future, “it looks like your booking wasn’t made through a legitimate website.”

Wei Ying takes a moment to process that through the anxious screaming in her head. “So I got scammed,” she says, pressing her hands to the counter, trying to make herself as steady as the cool granite. “That’s what you’re saying.”

“You should be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company,” Tiffany says, gently setting Wei Ying’s phone where she’ll be able to reach it as soon as she can manage to move her hand, which is currently attempting to bond with the counter on a molecular level via pressure, like a metamorphic rock. “I can print out some paperwork to help with that.”

“Cool,” Wei Ying says, forcing herself to put away her phone. She takes a deep breath, exhales, and re-centers. Okay. Her booking was fake, and she’s out four hundred dollars, but she should be able to get that back, and she can handle it later. “Like I said,” Wei Ying starts, putting that customer-service smile back on her face, “I’m here for the conference. I know it’s short notice, but given the circumstances, is there any way I can get a room at the con rate?” Sure, the con rate is still pricey (hence Wei Ying’s frantic scouring of multiple third-party booking websites) but she can afford it, probably, assuming she can get her money back from the scam site and gets her meals primarily from the complimentary snack bar at the larger evening events. She can make this work! She just needs a bed.

More tapping, and more of that apologetic expression. “I’m sorry, the conference block is sold out,” Tiffany says, and before Wei Ying can ask she adds, “And it looks like the non-conference rooms are booked out as well. All we have left are penthouse suites.”

Wei Ying resists the urge to put her forehead down on the counter, but just barely. “How much are those?”

Tiffany tells her, and this time Wei Ying does bend over to put her forehead on the counter. Nope. No way. No way. “Are there any other options?” she asks the cool stone. “Do you have, like, a stand-by list?” They have those for airplane flights, right?

“We do not,” says Tiffany, a little less apologetic and a little more worried. That’s fair. Wei Ying is starting to lean into “making a scene” territory, what with the slump over the counter. She doesn’t actually want to make a scene—it won’t help, and it’ll just make Tiffany’s job harder—so she takes a deep breath that utterly fails at being calming and pushes herself back upright.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, aware that her smile is slipping and unable to fix it. “What are my options?”

Tiffany takes a deep breath, her face going politely blank, and Wei Ying steels herself to hear the bad news a face like that inevitably precedes when—

“Wei Ying?”

The voice is deep, resonant, and viscerally familiar. Wei Ying turns toward it as though under a spell and yes!

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying’s smile immediately goes from fake to genuine, the current crisis forgotten. “Hey! I was hoping we’d run into each other!”

Really, they were almost guaranteed to run into each other. The Romance Novelist’s Guild is a large enough organization that non-romance authors are surprised to learn the headcount, but the conference is small enough that the chances of any two attendees meeting are practically one hundred percent. Wei Ying had, admittedly, been hoping to see Lan Zhan in better circumstances than this—like, for example, wearing the stretchy red velvet jumpsuit she has packed in her suitcase for the banquet and/or dance party. Seeing Lan Zhan in person again for the first time in years while still in her travel sweats, smelling like airplane, and trying to avoid being functionally homeless for five nights is not ideal. So goes Wei Ying’s life, alas.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, rolling her matching pearl-white luggage set closer, an ice blue cardigan draped over one arm, her dove gray sleeveless midi dress leaving her toned biceps open to the air and Wei Ying’s (respectful!) gaze. She’s gotten a side-shave, Wei Ying realizes with a horrible gay jolt. The rest of her long hair is braided over her shoulder, hanging to right about nipple level (not that Wei Ying’s thinking about her nipples!), but the other side of her head is shaved down to the skin, and, to add sexy to attractive, she’s apparently had a second lobe piercing and a cartilage piercing put in, silver hoops with blue stones winking in the light. She looks very queer, and Wei Ying would like a moment to process that. “It’s good to see you,” Lan Zhan says, giving one of those patented tiny smiles that transforms her whole face and always makes Wei Ying feel like she’s been hit over the head with a baseball bat. No processing time, then. Cool cool cool cool cool.

“You, too,” Wei Ying says, a little dazed. Tiffany clears her throat politely, breaking the spell, and the reality of the situation slams back into Wei Ying like whoever was wielding the metaphorical baseball bat came back for another swing. “Gimme just a sec,” Wei Ying tells Lan Zhan, who nods with her characteristic infinite patience, and turns back to the counter. “Hit me with the bad news.”

“There’s room in the other branch,” Tiffany says, “and I can even get it to you for the convention rate. It’s about a fifteen minute drive.”

This is, in some ways, good news. It would be great news for a Wei Ying who could afford a rental car, or multiple rideshares in addition to paying more for her hotel room than she’d budgeted. That hypothetical Wei Ying probably wouldn’t have gotten ripped off by a sketchy booking site in the first place, though. The only Wei Ying here is the one who’s going to have to walk if she stays off-site, and a fifteen minute drive means at least half an hour on foot, if not more. “Is there anything closer?” she asks, dangerously close to whining.

“I can call around to some of the nearby hotels,” Tiffany says, making an apologetic face, “but I’m afraid there are several conferences happening this weekend, so you may not be able to find a better rate.”

Wei Ying covers her face with her hands and takes a deep, steadying breath, which she’s doing a lot today. “Okay,” she says, scrubbing her eyes and giving Tiffany another bright, fake smile. “Can we start with whoever’s nearest?”

“Is something wrong?” Lan Zhan asks, wheeling her luggage closer. She sounds so sincere and concerned, the same way she used to ask if Wei Ying had eaten before their creative writing workshops and then hand over a banana when Wei Ying’s answer was inevitably, “No.”

“It’s fine,” Wei Ying says, waving a hand. “I apparently got scammed and my booking wasn’t valid and now the place is full, but we’re figuring it out.” There’s no banana this time, she thinks wistfully.

“You don’t have a room?” Lan Zhan asks, a tiny furrow appearing between her brows. Wei Ying shrugs, and the furrow gets deeper. “You can stay with me,” Lan Zhan says, decisively, and then, to Tiffany, “She can stay with me.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying protests, as Tiffany politely accepts Lan Zhan’s key card and taps at her computer. “You—it’s fine! We were going to find something!”

“Now you don’t have to,” Lan Zhan says.

“But—” Wei Ying doesn’t have another argument, not really. It’s just—this is Lan Zhan. Yes, she’s one of Wei Ying’s best long-distance friends and the only person from her college creative writing courses she’s stayed in touch with, but she’s also a quiet, organized, introverted neat-freak, and Wei Ying is none of those things.

“Thank you,” Lan Zhan says to Tiffany, accepting another key card. She turns to Wei Ying, scans her face, and whatever expression she sees there makes her shoulders curl in slightly. “Would it make you uncomfortable?” she asks, a little hesitant. “To share with me?”

“No,” Wei Ying says, “but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I know conferences are a lot for you even without a roommate.”

Lan Zhan’s shoulders square again, and she gives Wei Ying another tiny, devastating smile. “You won’t make me uncomfortable,” she says, and she seems to be telling the truth, even though Wei Ying doesn’t see how. “I would like to spend time with you, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan continues, too-sincerely. “This will make it easier.”

“Okay,” Wei Ying squeaks, blushing furiously. There’s just something about the way Lan Zhan gives her full, undivided attention that squirms in Wei Ying’s guts and makes her silly and even less focused than normal, which is saying something. “If you’re sure?”

“I’m sure.” Lan Zhan holds out a keycard, her entire being radiating welcome.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, again, accepting the keycard, because apparently Lan Zhan can, in fact, make a banana happen even when there’s no literal banana. “Okay, yeah. Thank you, Lan Zhan.”

“It’s no trouble,” Lan Zhan says, gathering up her rolling luggage. Wei Ying scrambles to follow, grabbing her much more battered, on-sale-at-Ross red plaid suitcase.

“Thank you for your help,” she tells Tiffany as Lan Zhan leads her away toward the elevators. “I appreciate you!”

“Good luck with your credit card,” Tiffany says with a wave. “If you have any trouble let me know!”

“Will do!” Wei Ying waves furiously, turns around just in time to avoid running into a luggage cart, and scrambles to catch up with Lan Zhan. True to form, Lan Zhan is waiting calmly at the elevator bank, the button already lit, her luggage tucked neatly in by her side. She’s so steady and solid, like a rock in a river, allowing the world to flow around her without ever being touched by it. She was like this back in college, too, but she’s settled into it now. The Lan Zhan Wei Ying knew in college held herself apart from other people because she was unsure how to interact with them. This Lan Zhan has none of that nervous energy. She knows herself. Wei Ying wonders if she’ll get to know this new Lan Zhan the way she knew the old one, and then pushes that thought away deliberately.

“Thank you so much,” she says, as they bundle into the elevator with a few other probable conference attendees and a woman escorting a small child who have clearly just come from the hotel pool. “I would have figured something out but it would have involved a lot more money and a lot more walking than I planned; you really saved my a—” Wei Ying glances at the pool kid and yanks the wheel of her language in a different direction “—booty.”

“I’m glad I was able to,” Lan Zhan says, shifting a little closer so the woman and the wet, towel-clad child can exit. She still smells like the sandalwood and jasmine perfume she liked in college, which Wei Ying cannot un-know, and this is going to be a long conference. Five years of living across the country from each other was apparently not enough to dampen the flames of Wei Ying’s enormous crush, which, honestly, she probably could have predicted, considering she texts Lan Zhan every single day and waits with bated breath for her concise and hilarious responses. Well, all right. Shared hotel room. Here they go.

“How long are you staying?” Wei Ying asks, when they exit and take a moment to get their bearings. “I guess I should have asked before I agreed to stay with you, but beggars can’t be choosers! My flight goes out on Monday.”

“Mine as well,” Lan Zhan says. “This way.”

Wei Ying practically sags with relief as she trails her down the hall. “Oh man, great. Fantastic. Like, literally any nights I don’t have to book at the last minute are nights I will cherish, but this is perfect.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, halting outside a door that looks like every other door and getting out her key card. “It worked out well.” She hesitates, glancing between Wei Ying and the door a few times, and scans the card. “I just realized,” she says, pushing the door open, “that the room I requested isn’t ideal.”

“I’m sure it’s going to be great, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, wheeling her suitcase inside. It’s a hotel room, all right, and it smells clean, and it’s technically a mini-suite, with a half-height wall separating a sitting area with a loveseat, coffee table, and dining table for two from the sleeping area.

Which has a bed. Singular.

Okay.

“I don’t mind sharing,” Lan Zhan says, from behind Wei Ying’s shoulder. Wei Ying abandons her suitcase to investigate the sleeping situation, already coming up with a hundred reasons not to inconvenience Lan Zhan by stealing half of her fucking bed, and then gets a better look at it.

It’s huge. Wei Ying has seen a king bed before, and this is bigger than that. Is that a California King? Is that what those huge-ass orgy beds are called? There are parking spaces smaller than this bed. Wei Ying has lived in apartments smaller than this bed.

“You know,” Wei Ying says thoughtfully, “I’ll level with you. I was gonna volunteer to sleep on the couch, or steal some pillows and blankets and sleep in the bathtub, but then I saw this monstrosity. Lan Zhan, look at this fucking bed.”

Lan Zhan rests her hands on the room divider, her face softly amused. “I am looking.”

“We could tend a whole herd of sheep on this bed,” Wei Ying says, warming to her subject. “We could cross the Pacific Ocean and weather any storm on this bed. Fuck, Lan Zhan, I could stage an entire community theatre production of Chicago on this bed.”

“Wei Ying is very talented,” Lan Zhan says. “It would be off-Broadway at the very least.”

“I appreciate your faith in me,” Wei Ying says, walking to the side closest to the window and kicking off her shoes. She flops onto the bedding and turns to look at Lan Zhan, who’s still in the sitting/living area and giving her that amused look. “Come on, I want to run an experiment.” Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow, and Wei Ying pats the open side of the bed and gives her the ol’ pleading emoji face. “I know outside clothes on the bed are gross but humor me.”

Lan Zhan takes off her elegant white leather ankle boots and lies down, her hands resting on her chest and her head tipped toward Wei Ying. Wei Ying starfishes out, demonstratively, and after a moment Lan Zhan gets it and starfishes out on her side. Neither of them is short—Lan Zhan is the kind of tall woman who makes insecure five-foot-eleven men hate their lives, and Wei Ying’s only a few inches shorter—but even with them intentionally taking up as much space as possible their fingers barely brush.

“We’re practically in different time zones, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, pitching her voice like she’s yelling from very far away. “Will you even know I’m here?”

“I will,” Lan Zhan says, “which is why I asked you to stay.” Her eyes are warm and direct, her mouth still curved in that soft smile. Wei Ying forgets that words exist and how she might possibly put them together into a sentence, which—given that she’s a professional author—is really saying something. While she’s still mentally flailing, Lan Zhan stands smoothly and crosses to their abandoned luggage, the broad muscles of her back visible through her dress in a way that makes Wei Ying’s mouth go dry. “I was planning to unpack and then make a grocery run. Does that work for you?”

“Same hat!” Wei Ying says, getting her mouth working again as she scrambles off the bed. “My plan involved a fifteen minute break for stretching, too, but otherwise that sounds perfect.”

“We can incorporate stretching time,” Lan Zhan says magnanimously, opening the closet. “My unpacking process is… elaborate.”

“You? Having a particular method to your unpacking?” Wei Ying frowns theatrically, dragging her suitcase over to the drawer console thing that also contains a mini-fridge and microwave. “Sounds fake. I don’t know if I believe it.”

Lan Zhan shakes her head, hanging a blue dress with casual movements. Wei Ying had been planning on living directly out of her suitcase, but if Lan Zhan’s unpacking then she feels obligated to pretend she’s not a filthy goblin. Pretending isn’t the same as being, so she opens her carry-on and the bottom drawer, intending to dump the contents of the suitcase inside with no organization, and freezes, because she forgot about her sex bag. 

Sex bag is kind of a misnomer—Wei Ying isn’t looking to hook up with anyone at the conference, but calling it a “masturbation bag” sounds bad, so sex bag it is. It contains a dildo, two vibrators, a travel bottle of lube, and a thigh harness she was planning on wrapping around a pillow for some solo stress relief after a long day of workshops and panels. That plan evaporates into the air, Wei Ying’s face going hot at the very idea of asking for that much privacy in a shared room. There is no way she can let Lan Zhan know she rolled into this conference ready to fuck. Thank god the bag she zipped everything into is discreet-ish, though the outline of the dildo remains (as one might expect) unmistakably phallic.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan asks, from much closer than the closet. Wei Ying throws the sex bag into the drawer and then dumps her pants on top of it in a wild panic.

“Yeah?” she says, her voice almost normal. Nailed it.

“Did you have anything you needed to hang?”

Wei Ying hands over the red velvet jumpsuit and a black knit dress, heart pounding in her ears. As soon as Lan Zhan has safely turned away Wei Ying shoves the rest of her clothes in the drawer, making sure the sex bag is as buried as humanly possible. The fact that she packed three times more underwear than she could possibly wear over the course of the conference definitely helps in this quest. Fifteen pairs of underwear is the correct number of pairs to have packed for five nights, right?

“Hey, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks absently as she sets her dressy shoes in the closet, toiletry bag clamped under her arm. “How much underwear do you usually pack when you travel?”

Lan Zhan, who has replaced Wei Ying at the drawers, goes so still Wei Ying wonders if the world stopped buffering for a moment. “Are you conducting a demographic survey?” she asks, voice even.

Wei Ying replays her question and goes redder, hiding her face in her toiletry bag. “Oh my god, sorry, I got up at like four this morning to make my flight, and now I have no fucking filter. No, I was just—Jiang Cheng accuses me of packing undies like I’m planning to piss my pants twice a day and I’m trying to figure out if I’m an outlier.”

Lan Zhan puts a perfectly packed zippered clothing pouch into the drawer with great ceremony, still not looking at Wei Ying. “‘Piss your pants,’” she quotes dispassionately.

“His words,” Wei Ying calls from the bathroom. “Oh, hey, this place actually has a pretty nice bathtub!” She shoves her toiletry bag in the corner of the counter, where it’ll be out of the way, and starts smelling the complimentary lotion. Lavender? Could be worse. “I’m not saying he’s right, and I’m certainly not planning on pissing my pants at all, but I did pack fifteen pairs so he might have a little bit of a point.” Wei Ying’s luck is terrible enough that she’s learned to prioritize strangely when she packs—there was that one time she was stranded at the Chicago O’Hare airport for a week because every single plane she attempted to board had mechanical problems, and while it had been hell on earth, it would have been even worse if she hadn’t had enough underwear with her for an entire baseball team and their replacements.

“I see,” Lan Zhan says, who probably has never been on a delayed flight in her entire life and never had to consider bartering a clean pair of underwear for an uninterrupted hour on the electrical outlet to charge her phone. Wei Ying winces. God, she’s such a disaster. She was trying not to think about her sex bag and Lan Zhan in the same vicinity so she asked about underwear instead? Great fucking job, Wei Ying, A+ work there.

“Sorry,” she says, re-emerging back into the living area, “it was a weird question, you don’t have to—”

“Seven,” Lan Zhan says, cutting off Wei Ying’s rambling apology.

“Eeeeh?” Wei Ying’s brain is foggy from travel and the relief of having a place to stay and the embarrassment of asking questions she shouldn’t have, so she can’t for the life of her figure out what Lan Zhan means.

“I packed seven pairs of underwear,” Lan Zhan says, shutting the drawer into which she may have unpacked her seven pairs of underwear. “I find it prudent to bring spares, though perhaps not to your level.”

“Oh, very few people are on my level, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says breezily, instead of asking if she can see Lan Zhan’s seven pairs of underwear, for science or something. “I’m in a whole different galaxy.”

“Truly a star,” Lan Zhan deadpans. Wei Ying snorts as she’s moving the coffee table out of the way and has to take a second to make sure she doesn’t drop it on her foot. The hotel carpet is… fine. She’s stretched on worse surfaces than this. Wei Ying wishes she had the space in her carryon to somehow fit a yoga mat, but alas. She twists, and her spine cracks like someone shook a maraca. Lan Zhan looks up, startled, possibly trying to locate the stealth percussionist.

“Just me,” Wei Ying says, twisting the other way with another round of crackling, a handful of dry twigs snapped in half. “Ignore it, this is normal.”

Lan Zhan makes a sound that might be dismissal and might be concern, but she continues her unpacking while Wei Ying tries to make her body into a body again and not a disparate conglomeration of stiff meat parts. Tomorrow, when she’s had a chance to settle in and more than six hours of sleep, she’ll get her rubber physio ball out and really go to town on her back and hips, but right now it’s about getting through the rest of the day.

Some ten agonizing minutes later, Wei Ying levers herself off the floor to find the hotel room transformed. Lan Zhan has, while Wei Ying swore at her own ligaments, made the bland space into something actually… homey? There are some art prints on the walls held up with washi tape, a blue floral cloth on the little dining table, and—Wei Ying takes a second to make sure her eyes are working—an honest-to-god tiny kitchen set up on the media console/dresser/fridge cabinet. That’s the only way Wei Ying can describe it.

“Did you seriously roll into this hotel with an electric skillet and a rice cooker in your bag?” she asks, as Lan Zhan applies some of those sticky wall hook things to the side of the console and hangs a tiny utensil set and a dish towel from them.

“I also brought an electric kettle,” Lan Zhan says, like this is a normal thing to do. Wei Ying investigates the tiny kitchen more closely and yep, that’s an electric kettle. There’s also a neatly-organized set of spices in tiny travel bottles, a six-inch chef’s knife in a protective sheath, and a travel-sized cutting board, the whole thing set up on a couple of non-skid placemats.

“Hey, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying asks, leaning on the part of the console that isn’t set up to make tiny meals, “I mean this in the nicest way: What the fuck?”

“Are you ready to get groceries?” Lan Zhan asks instead of answering, and Wei Ying can, in fact, take a hint, so she finds her sneakers and her purse.

They’re in Lan Zhan’s rental car and a few blocks away when Lan Zhan says, “On my first book tour I ate a lot of room service.” This non-sequitur has the flavor of an explanation to it without yet being an actual explanation, so Wei Ying hums an affirmative noise to show she’s listening. “I learned, in that time, that there are few things I dislike more than overpaying for mediocre food.” She makes a turn, handling the car with the kind of smooth confidence Wei Ying sometimes writes into her protagonists, and adds, “I also learned that many American room service menus assume that if you don’t eat meat, you must either want to eat a limp green salad for dinner, or you must be able to easily digest massive amounts of cheese.”

Wei Ying was lucky enough to get the lactose gene, but she winces anyway. “Just what you want when you’re on tour, too. I feel like the thousand PSI of cheese farts must really add to the public speaking experience.”

“It was not ideal,” Lan Zhan says, which for her is practically complaining. “I now have strategies that make touring more pleasant. Cooking for myself is one of them.”

“That’s so smart, jiejie,” Wei Ying says, legitimately impressed. “If by some fucking miracle I go on a book tour I’m totally stealing that idea.” Not that Wei Ying’s ever going to go on a book tour—she’s not like Lan Zhan, who has an actual publisher and a promotional budget for her meticulously researched, primarily wlw historical romances. No, Wei Ying has a line of self-published tropey queer wuxia and xianxia romances under the pen name Wei Wuxian, and then a second, semi-secret line of garbage porn novels under the pen name Mo Xuanyu to hit that lucrative “furtive guilty wank” market. No one’s ever going to put her up on the same level as pen name Lan Wangji, who gets book covers illustrated by a professional. Wei Ying designs her own book covers with a pirated copy of Photoshop and a package of credits to a stock photo website she bought on sale one time. “I was just happy this conference was being held in a hotel that has microwaves in the room and you show up ready to make a five-course meal.”

Lan Zhan narrows her eyes thoughtfully as they wait to make the left turn into the grocery store parking lot. “Usually I stop at three courses, but with slightly more planning I could do five.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying slaps at her arm, gets a handful of all that toned bicep, and tries to ignore how it makes her fingers tingle. “That wasn’t a hint! You don’t need to cook for me.”

“Perhaps not,” Lan Zhan agrees. “But I enjoy a challenge.” She parks the car, getting it perfectly spaced between the white lines on her first try, and unbuckles her seatbelt. Wei Ying, still trying to figure out if she’s the challenge, and if so, how, scrambles to follow.

Lan Zhan shops like a woman with a mission, basket on her arm and a steely glint in her eye. Wei Ying, whose basket contains instant coffee, a half-dozen bananas, five apples, the spiciest cup noodles available, and two boxes of meal replacement bars, watches her in admiration. Lan Zhan grabs a head of garlic. She grabs shallots. She examines the pre-chopped vegetable mixes in the salad section and picks the two she finds the most appealing. There’s a dozen eggs and a block of pre-baked soy-sauce-marinated tofu in her basket by the time they check out, along with the smallest bag of rice the store had to offer and a couple baby-sized bottles of sauces. Clearly she came to win.

“How many eggs do you go through in a day, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks, scanning her significantly more paltry haul through the self-checkout. “Do you drink raw egg smoothies now? Is that how you’re so buff?”

“I do not drink raw egg smoothies,” Lan Zhan replies, deadpan, as she loads her groceries into the paper bag like she’s a professional Tetris player.

“I guess you didn’t bring a tiny blender,” Wei Ying muses, “so it’d be pretty hard to make smoothies. You’re smart, though, so I bet you could find a way.”

“I appreciate your faith in me,” Lan Zhan says wryly. The corner of her mouth quirks up, and fuck, this is so much better than daily texts and being across the country from each other. She’s read Lan Zhan’s finished books and workshopped plots with her and liked every single one of her meticulously planned social media posts in the years since college, but having Lan Zhan here, in the same space? In the flesh? Nothing could compare. They load their groceries and climb back into the same car, and it’s a struggle not to stare at Lan Zhan for the entire ride back to the hotel. Wei Ying’s only going to get five nights like this before they both head off for separate flights again, and she wants to grab whatever she can with tight hands.

“Ms. Wei!” Tiffany calls, as Wei Ying and Lan Zhan cross the air-conditioned, significantly less crowded lobby, paper bags in hand. Wei Ying panics for a moment that she’s about to get busted for eating ramen instead of room service, reminds herself that the hotel has microwaves and fridges in the rooms, therefore encouraging her ramen adventures, and heads for the counter. “I’m glad I caught you before I went off shift,” Tiffany says, at a normal volume. “I had to get permission, but here.” She slides a paper card across the table, some handwriting and a signature visible on the cardstock. “Fifty dollars of hotel credit, to be used at any of our dining options, including room service, as an apology for the trouble.”

“Oh, dang,” Wei Ying says, picking up the voucher, her voice thick. “Thank you so much. You didn’t have to do that, it’s not like it was your fault.”

“It wasn’t yours, either,” Tiffany says. “Remember, if you have any trouble getting your credit card company to reverse the charges, come back and see me tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Wei Ying says again, fervently. “You’re literally the best.” She practically skips back over to patient, reliable, steadfast Lan Zhan and waves the card in front of her nose. “Let me know if you do decide you want to eat massive amounts of room service cheese.” Wei Ying pockets the paper like it’s a high-limit credit card and gives Lan Zhan one and a half finger guns (she’s still holding the grocery bag). “I’m not just a freeloader now, I’m a freeloader with a snack hookup.”

“You’re not a freeloader,” Lan Zhan says, steering them toward the hotel restaurant, where Wei Ying is prevented from immediately responding when Lan Zhan requests tableware and utensils from the hostess.

“I’m kind of a freeloader,” Wei Ying insists, when the hostess leaves to find the requested plates and forks and whatever. “I’m an adorable street urchin. An abandoned kitten that you swept in to rescue.”

“That makes you a family member, not a freeloader,” Lan Zhan says with the kind of stubborn logic Wei Ying once watched her use to shred White Kyle in their creative writing workshop to pieces when he initially refused to admit his main character was a thinly-veiled self-insert after months of him deriding every female protagonist as a Mary Sue.

“That’s not the point, jiejie,” Wei Ying whines, automatically reaching out to take Lan Zhan’s grocery bag so she has both hands free to accept the stack of dinnerware from the hostess. “The point is that I now have more to offer you this week than my sparkling personality! In addition to the warmth and natural radiance of my presence, I’m now bringing—” she pauses to do some mental math on general restaurant prices, and then adds another twenty percent of inflation for room-service gouging “—probably five desserts delivered right to your door.”

“Five?” Lan Zhan presses the button for the elevator with her elbow. She makes it look disgustingly graceful, how dare she.

“Plus or minus one,” Wei Ying replies, sticking her leg in the elevator door to make sure Lan Zhan can get the dishes inside without issue. “I haven’t looked at the menu yet, but I’m fully prepared to laugh and then cry about a fifteen dollar slice of previously frozen cheesecake.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan cocks her head in the way Wei Ying recognizes as meaning she’s mentally cross-referencing things. “Previously frozen cheesecake is usually twelve dollars on the high end.”

“Low end?” Wei Ying punches the number for their floor and then switches which hand is holding which grocery bag. Lan Zhan’s is much heavier than hers, not that she’s complaining.

“Eight,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying hums thoughtfully. “You wanna bet on which price this place has? They have complimentary ice water in one of those fancy jars with the spout in the lobby, so I think twelve.”

“The complimentary ice water only has lemons in it,” Lan Zhan says, holding the elevator door open with her foot this time so Wei Ying can exit. “If there were strawberries it would be twelve dollar cheesecake. Eight dollars.”

“There are hotels that put strawberries in the free water?” Wei Ying digs her key card out of her pocket awkwardly, double-fisting groceries in her other hand, and lets them into the room. “Really? That sounds swanky as hell.”

“The Venn diagram overlap of ‘hotels that put strawberries in the free water’ and ‘hotels that charge ten dollars a night for wifi’ is a circle,” Lan Zhan says in the most longsuffering voice Wei Ying has heard from her since that one time Guy-In-Your-MFA Brian tried to get the group’s feedback on his two hundred thousand word “psychosexual boundary-pushing thriller,” aka, “Brian’s Personal Spank Bank In Word Form.”

“I am much less interested in free strawberry water now,” Wei Ying announces, putting the groceries down. She sets her whole bag against the side of the tiny kitchen media center, because she might not be living out of her suitcase, but she’s definitely living out of this grocery bag. “I don’t get how expensive hotels get away with that shit. Like, the Motel 6 will give me a clean room, a shower, a fridge, a microwave, wifi, and free breakfast for sixty dollars, Lan Zhan! Get on their level, Hilton!”

“You should write a strongly worded letter,” Lan Zhan says, setting her armload of tableware and cutlery next to her tiny kitchen. “Perhaps a petition.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Wei Ying grumbles, kicking off her sneakers and bellyflopping onto the bed. “I’ll do it. What’s another ongoing project to an author with ADHD? I’m surprised I’m not writing a strongly worded letter right now.” Thinking about expensive hotels makes her think about money, which makes her think about trying to get deals on expensive hotels, which reminds her that she’s in Lan Zhan’s hotel room—on Lan Zhan’s bed—because she didn’t have a room, because she got scammed looking for one of the aforementioned deals, and she groans into the pillow. Lan Zhan makes an inquiring noise, and Wei Ying turns her head to the side so she’s not speaking directly into high-thread-count cotton. “I gotta call my credit card company,” she says, heaving a sigh. “Pray for me.”

“You remain in my thoughts.” Lan Zhan drops into an easy squat next to the mini fridge and rustles in her grocery bag. “Will you eat after this?”

“I’ll have a ramen,” Wei Ying says, waving off the question as she digs out her phone and wallet. “Godspeed to me.”

It takes thirty excruciating minutes, five of which are spent in a phone tree and fifteen of which are spent on hold. Wei Ying’s only solace is getting to watch Lan Zhan put her groceries away with surgical precision. Did she measure the inside of the fridge before we left? she wonders over the tinny music in her ear. Wei Ying didn’t see her do it, but the fridge is so perfectly packed now it looks like a commercial for mini-fridges. Lan Zhan clearly knows her shit. By the time Wei Ying gets to speak to an actual person Lan Zhan is cooking something in the electric skillet that smells like garlic and soy sauce. Wei Ying habitually travels just with a carry-on and her laptop bag, because it’s cheaper, but she’s now giving serious thought to the tiny kitchen lifestyle. It’d be worth it to cook her own food, right?

“Thank you so much,” she says to the man (Carlos, she thinks his name was?) on the customer service line, as he confirms the charges have been cancelled. “You’ve been so helpful. No, that was all for today. Okay!” Call complete, Wei Ying punches the buttons on the survey to give Carlos a ten out of ten rating and drops her phone on her chest.

“I am, officially, no longer out four hundred dollars,” she tells the ceiling. “Woo.” She raises one fist for a single pump and lets it flop back to the bed.

“Good,” Lan Zhan says. “Come eat.”

“Did you make my ramen for me, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks suspiciously, levering herself off the bed and padding to the table in her socks. “You didn’t have to.”

“You were busy,” Lan Zhan says, looking down at her own plate, which contains a tofu and vegetable stir-fry over a portion of rice that she definitely cooked in that tiny rice cooker, because Lan Zhan is an overachiever in this and all other things. “It was no trouble.”

“Sure,” Wei Ying says, about to make a joke about how she’s always trouble, and then she sits down at the little dining table, looks at her place setting, and her words fuck off into space, probably. There’s an actual ceramic bowl, covered by an extra plate to keep it warm, and a glass of sparkling water. Wei Ying didn’t buy sparkling water. Is this Lan Zhan’s sparkling water? She lifts the improvised lid off the bowl, as though in a trance, and discovers that Lan Zhan de-cupped her cup noodle into the bowl, like it’s a real meal or something. It is, in fact, something like a real meal now, because there’s some sauteed vegetables arranged artistically on one side of the bowl and the two halves of a fucking real-life soft-boiled egg on the other.

“Uuuuuh,” she says, eloquently.

“Ramen on its own isn’t a balanced meal,” Lan Zhan says to her bowl of stir-fry. She pushes a bottle across the table to Wei Ying, still not looking up, and picks up a set of collapsible travel chopsticks she must have packed, because there’s no way the hotel had them on hand.

“How did you do the egg?” Wei Ying asks on autopilot, picking up the bottle and having another minor meltdown when she finds it’s her favorite brand of chili sauce. “Wait, did you buy this for me?”

“In the electric kettle,” Lan Zhan says. “No talking while eating.” She takes a bite of her stir-fry demonstrably, her ears pink at the top, which makes the cartilage piercing stand out even more. It must be pretty hot work cooking in a hotel room with no real ventilation. Wei Ying’s feeling a little warm herself. Maybe they should look at the thermostat after dinner? Presumably by the time Wei Ying is done eating she’ll also be over the absolute buck-wild surge of emotions she’s having about Lan Zhan cooking for her in a hotel room, that Lan Zhan is letting her stay in, that Lan Zhan is sharing a bed with her in. Wei Ying dumps chili sauce on her bowl and picks up a standard-issue hotel fork, because not even her heart doing crossfit inside her chest is gonna stop her from demolishing these noodles.

“Now, you definitely did not have to doctor this for me,” Wei Ying says, when she’s chasing the last noodle remnant around in the chili-red broth dregs at the bottom of her bowl, “but that was fucking delicious and thank you.” She yawns, jaw cracking from it, and rubs her face. “Woof. How early did you have to get up to get here?”

“My flight left at eight,” Lan Zhan says, gathering their empty dishes. “My normal sleep schedule was uninterrupted.”

“You still on nine to five?”

“Mn.”

“You’re like a fucking grandma, you weirdo,” Wei Ying says, and then yawns again. “Fuck, I think I’m destined for a grandma bedtime, too. I’ll make it until nine if I’m lucky. I’m dead on my feet.”

“You should take the first shower,” Lan Zhan says, striding past Wei Ying into the bathroom with the dishes. “Your hair takes less time to wash.”

Wei Ying runs her hand through the hair in question, wincing when her fingers tangle in the strands. A chin-length choppy bob with an undercut is a low-maintenance hairstyle for sure, but there’s only so much it can do against a day of travel. “Good call,” she says, padding over to the drawers to grab something to wear to bed, whereupon Wei Ying realizes her usual packing tends to be very lacking in one particular department that emphatically didn’t matter when she was going to have her own hotel room and very much matters now. Fuck. Fuck.

“Uh, Lan Zhan?” she says, leaning around the doorway into the bathroom, and then, “Is that sponge rabbit-shaped?

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, as though a hot lesbian with a side-shave washing dishes in a hotel sink with a travel bottle of dish soap and a rabbit-shaped sponge is normal. Well, Wei Ying supposes that since Lan Zhan is the lesbian in question, it’s normal for her. It’s definitely not normal for Wei Ying, and she has to take a moment to recover from this vision that hath been visited upon her. “Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan asks, in a prompting kind of way, making eye contact via the mirror.

“Right!” Wei Ying shakes herself. “Sorry, zoned out again. Uh.” She scrubs her face with her hands, runs them into her hair, and smiles in what she hopes is a winning manner. “So not to get too TMI or anything, but I usually sleep naked—” Lan Zhan’s breath stutters, and the bowl she’s washing must be really slippery or something because she almost drops it. Wei Ying winces and continues, “And because I usually sleep naked, and I thought I was going to have my own room, I might have, uh, neglected to pack pajamas. Or anything to sleep in, really.”

Lan Zhan carefully rinses the bowl, and then her hands, and turns off the sink, every movement precise. “I see,” she says, very levelly. She doesn’t make eye contact with Wei Ying, in the mirror or otherwise, and Wei Ying wishes she were capable of existing in the world without constantly making everything around her worse, or at least more awkward.

“Is it gonna make you uncomfortable if I wear a tank top and undies to bed?” Wei Ying asks, a little wildly. “Or there’s gotta be a Target or something nearby? If you don’t want to drive me I can get a rideshare—”

“It’s fine,” Lan Zhan says, too quickly, and Wei Ying shuts her mouth. Lan Zhan never interrupts. Her face is a blank mask and her ears are red and her shoulders are tight. She looks so awkward, Wei Ying is the worst.

“If you’re sure,” Wei Ying says, trying to sound as sincere as possible. “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine,” Lan Zhan says again. She takes a deep breath, turns around, and meets Wei Ying’s eyes, the line of her mouth strained. “You won’t make me uncomfortable.” Wei Ying gives Lan Zhan a skeptical look and her mouth softens. “It’s fine,” she says, a third time, and she sounds like she really means it.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, leaning against the doorframe, dizzy with relief. “Sorry. I didn’t think—sorry.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, picking up a clean dish and a dishtowel so she can apply the latter to the former, “I’ve seen women’s legs before. I’ve seen your legs before.”

“I mean, yeah,” Wei Ying agrees, because yes, she definitely spent a summer or three in college wearing denim hot pants, “but underwear is different.”

“You once wore a thong jumpsuit over fishnets to queer dance night because, and I quote, ‘My ass looks slappable today, Lan Zhan, and the gays need to know.’”

“It did, and they did!” Wei Ying insists. “I couldn’t be selfish, Lan Zhan!”

“Truly a woman of the people.” Lan Zhan’s ears are still very red, but if she’s making fun of Wei Ying then she’s not actually uncomfortable, which is all Wei Ying wants, really. (That’s a lie. Wei Ying wants a lot more than Lan Zhan not being uncomfortable, but she’s used to squishing those wants down, and she does so now.)

“I’m generous,” Wei Ying says, sauntering back to the dresser and digging out clean underwear and a tank top. “I’m an ass philanthropist, Lan Zhan. You should be thanking me, really.”

Lan Zhan mutters something under her breath that Wei Ying doesn’t quite catch, though maybe there was a “thank you” in there? Wei Ying struts past as Lan Zhan emerges with the dishes and blows her an air kiss, playing it up like the theater kid she’s always been. Lan Zhan shakes her head fondly, and is it really this easy to tease each other again? Wei Ying has settled back into their old dynamic in less than a day, and she tries very hard not to think about how much it’s going to suck to give it up when the conference ends.

The shower is exactly as bracing as Wei Ying wanted after an early morning wakeup time and a four hour flight, and she leaves the bathroom like a clean, fresh-smelling butterfly hatched from the horrible cocoon of airport grossness. Her hair smells nice, her mouth tastes minty, and she’s about to climb into one half of a massive bed and pass out for approximately ten hours, if she’s lucky.

“All yours,” she sing-songs, dirty clothes tucked under one arm, bare legs goosebumpy in the slightly-too-cold hotel air, as is the tradition of every air conditioned space since the invention of the air conditioner. “Good water pressure, and the showerhead was actually tall enough.”

“Showerheads pointed at my collarbones are the second worst part of living in hotels,” Lan Zhan says from the couch where she’s curled up with her e-reader. Her eyes flick over Wei Ying, up and down and back to her face. Wei Ying’s cheeks get hot. Yes, her nipples are hard because of the air conditioning and yes, her underwear says, “this is not a place of honor” on the front. Wei Ying likes novelty underwear! Lan Zhan’s met Wei Ying before. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

“Well, enjoy not doing a weird squat to wash your hair,” Wei Ying says, using humor to paper over her awkwardness as she shoves her dirty clothes into her empty suitcase.

“I will,” Lan Zhan says, picking up her already-prepped pajamas and disappearing into the bathroom. Wei Ying stretches in the suddenly-too-empty space and winces as her back emits a new set of horrible crunching sounds. Airplanes. Fuck ‘em.

Wei Ying locates her phone and laptop and chargers and gets everything she’ll need overnight (aka the aforementioned items and also a glass of water, thank you Lan Zhan for getting a fucking carafe from the restaurant and putting it in the fridge) arranged on her nightstand. The bed, when she climbs in, is amazing. She takes a moment to enjoy the sensation of being horizontal, swishing her legs against the linens with a happy sound in the back of her throat, and then wiggles herself upright. Wei Ying rests her hand on her laptop for a moment, considering. She could probably grab one of her vibes and get off while Lan Zhan’s in the shower. The water’s running, and the fan, so there’s no way she’d hear it. Wei Ying masturbates nightly when left to her own devices as the last thing she does before going to sleep, because there’s nothing like an orgasm to shut off her fucking loud-ass brain. She’d been hoping to continue that tradition while on this trip.

It is probably, Wei Ying decides mournfully, crossing a line to get off in the bed you’re sharing with your best long-distance-friend-slash-secret-crush-since-college, especially if the secret crush isn’t interested in sex things with you. Wei Ying was a single out bisexual all through their shared masters program, though it was a singlehood interspersed with a handful of good makeouts with a variety of genders and a couple mutually enjoyable if awkward hookups. Lan Zhan was there the whole time, also single, also out, definitely a lesbian, and yet absolutely nothing ever happened between them but some generally platonic cuddling and hair braiding. If Lan Zhan was interested, Wei Ying has told herself for years, something would have already happened. Lan Zhan is a great friend and a great person. Wei Ying is just happy to have Lan Zhan in her life, in whatever capacity works for Lan Zhan. She doesn’t have to make it weird. She can sneak a vibrator into the shower with her tomorrow and masturbate then—there’s nothing weird about masturbating in the shower. The shower ends up perfectly clean afterward! It’s practically made for the purpose!

Decision made, Wei Ying opens her laptop and connects to the hotel wifi, which is free for conference attendees. (Small blessings.) She checks her email, farts around on social media for a bit (there are some really excellent cat memes to retweet over on Romance Twitter, and then some jokes about monster dicks to retweet on Porn Book Twitter), and opens Mo Xuanyu’s latest writing project. It’s the fourth book in her ongoing hot alien gangbang series, descriptively named “Hot Alien Gangbang IV: Diplomatic Negotiations.” The heroine, after her abduction in “Hot Alien Gangbang I: Alien Abduction” has worked her way up from being just a sex experiment in “Hot Alien Gangbang II: Sex Experiment” to being the queen of this alien hive in “Hot Alien Gangbang III: Alien Queen” and now, as queen, has taken on the responsibility of her station by engaging in the titular diplomatic negotiations… all via gangbang. Shakespeare it’s not, but it pays the bills, and honestly Wei Ying thinks Shakespeare would probably appreciate all the alien dick jokes she’s making, once Shakespeare stopped freaking out about the concept of aliens and the existence of things like computers.

Wei Ying shakes her head, banishing thoughts about Shakespeare, takes a sip of her water, and re-focuses. Brain empty, words on.

(Wei Ying has tried to explain to other people how she’s able to spit out between a thousand and ten thousand words in a day, depending on her mood and what she’s writing and what else she has to do. She can’t explain it, though, not in a way that makes sense or is replicable for other writers. The best advice she can give is “Don’t care if it’s good,” and “Write whatever the fuck you want to write and fix it later.” Maybe some of it is a hyperfocus ADHD thing? She doesn’t know! She just does it!)

The shower shuts off with an audible clunk, and Wei Ying jolts out of her writing haze and checks her wordcount. Five hundred and twenty-two words tonight? Not bad. She’ll have to revise them later when she’s not exhausted, because even in her brain-foggy state she can see several places where she’s swapped around various little connective words. “Hu Xuan stood, swept back that sparkling iridescent cloak the marked her as was Alien Queen, exposing the eager nude lines of here body, and said, ‘I believe it’s time is begin the negotiations,’” isn’t good grammar, but it’s easily fixable.

A yawn overtakes her, jaw-cracking in its intensity, and Wei Ying makes an involuntary sound of complaint in the middle of it. It’s easily fixable tomorrow. She saves her work, shuts her laptop, and gets everything plugged back in on her nightstand just in time for the bathroom door to open.

“Good shower?” she asks, checking her phone one more time, because her habits are bad, and she should feel bad.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, with a sigh Wei Ying feels in her bones. “I did, indeed, enjoy not having to do a weird squat.”

“That’s gooooooooood—” Wei Ying says, voice wavering wildly in the middle there as she looks up from her phone, because the full vision of Lan Zhan dressed for bed has punched her in the face like a member of the women’s Olympic boxing team. She’s wearing a nightgown, which Wei Ying had somewhat expected, trimmed with blue lace at the neckline while the white body of it falls to just above her knees in a graceful drape, no darts or other fitting. It looks like it would swish nicely, especially if Lan Zhan twirled in it. It looks soft, and elegant, and probably a hundred percent silk.

It’s also basically fucking sheer. Wei Ying can’t tell if she’s hallucinating the outline of Lan Zhan’s areolas and the dark triangle of hair between her legs or if it’s just what she wants to be seeing, but there’s a moment when Lan Zhan pauses to turn off the floor lamp where she’s basically backlit, and Wei Ying definitely sees the whole silhouette of her body, and it’s a good fucking body. Those thighs, though. Wei Ying is looking disrespectfully. Wei Ying is looking with intent.

“Do you want me to wake you at any particular time tomorrow?” Lan Zhan asks, crossing to the remaining pool of golden light left from the bedside lamps. Wei Ying tears her eyes away from Lan Zhan’s amazing fucking tits under that indecent fucking silk nightie and tries to make her mouth do word things again. It’s a real challenge, since Lan Zhan’s hair is in a loose braid for sleep and her side-shave is all flushed from the shower and Wei Ying wants to bite her fucking pierced ear.

“My alarm is set for seven,” she says, like a normal person. “If I sleep through it feel free to poke me.”

“Noted,” Lan Zhan says, pulling back the covers and slipping between the sheets. The bed is so huge Wei Ying barely feels it. It’s like being on the opposite side of a pond from where someone threw in a rock—yes, the ripples reach her, but without any actual power behind them. Lan Zhan lays down, apparently planning on going straight to sleep without reading or looking at her phone or doing any of the bad sleep hygiene things Wei Ying can’t seem to avoid.

“I usually write for a bit when I get into bed,” Wei Ying says, scooching horizontal as well and plugging in her phone. “Is that going to bother you this week? I can just… not do it.”

“It’s fine,” Lan Zhan says. She hits a button on something, and the room fills with a pleasant, ocean-buzz white noise. Lan Zhan picks something else up and dangles it from her first two fingers so Wei Ying can see it’s a sleep mask, one of the molded ones that looks like a tiny weird bra. “As long as you do not hold rehearsals for your off-Broadway production of Chicago on the bed, I can sleep through it.”

“Hmm.” Wei Ying rubs her chin and frowns. “I dunno, jiejie, that’s gonna really heck up my choreography schedule.”

“I have faith you will adapt,” Lan Zhan deadpans, slipping the sleep mask on and leaving it pushed up over her forehead. “Perhaps consider rehearsing during the day instead.”

“Oh my god,” Wei Ying breathes, “you’re a genius!” She mimes taking notes, muttering, “Rehearse… during… the day…” Lan Zhan snorts, barely audible, and Wei Ying just floats on affection and delight and sleeplessness, warm and comfortable in a bed that hadn’t been guaranteed even five hours previously. “Hey, Lan Zhan,” she says, reaching out a hand and wiggling her fingers. Lan Zhan obediently stretches to meet her, their hands clasped in the no-woman's-land in the middle of the huge-ass mattress. “Thanks for letting me stay with you. It’s gonna be really great.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, squeezing Wei Ying’s fingers. “I’m glad. Good night, Wei Ying.”

“Good night, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says. She gives Lan Zhan’s hand a little pat and withdraws back to her side of the bed, clicking off her light. Lan Zhan does the same thing a breath later, leaving them in the dark with the soothing roar of the white noise machine. Wei Ying doesn’t feel like she’s sharing a bed. She feels like she’s on her own private island, warm and comfortable and surrounded by the sound of the ocean.

Huh, she thinks. I figured it’d be more awkward.

It’s the last thing she remembers before she passes out.

Chapter Text

Lan Zhan flings out an arm without quite understanding why, and vibrations buzz up her fingertips from the nightstand. Ah. Her alarm. She pushes up her sleep mask enough to squint at the screen and dismiss the notification, leaving the wash of her white noise machine uninterrupted by buzzing or the slow build of classical music. She’s oddly groggy, her eyes sleep-gummy and her brain not wanting to function quite as easily as normal. It takes her a moment to remember the reason why—she’s in a hotel, and there was a time change, so even though she wasn’t bothered by the departure time for her flight, her body is an hour off from her current location. At least she’s here for a few nights—she’s had book tours where she never got more than one night per city, which left her circadian rhythms as confused and wandering as a sentence desperately in need of a line edit.

The sheets move without Lan Zhan having moved, which—given that Lan Zhan hasn’t shared a bed with anyone for at least eighteen months—is bizarre enough that she pushes her sleep mask the rest of the way up to investigate. Her heart remembers before her head does, a thump-thump in her chest loud enough that she hears it over the white noise, a natural reaction to the proximity she hasn’t felt in years.

Wei Ying.

Lan Zhan hasn’t seen her since moving to the east coast shortly after college, wanting distance from the expectations of her family, of the people who thought they knew her there; wanting distance from herself. Wei Ying stayed behind, which is a ridiculous way to put it. There’s no behind. They weren’t married. They weren’t even dating. They were friends, and friends don’t ask friends to move cross-country just because they don’t want to imagine life without them, which is exactly why Lan Zhan needed to move cross-country without Wei Ying. Lan Zhan had to make herself let go before she couldn’t, anymore. It’s the hardest thing she ever did.

“It’s funny that it’s you, jiejie,” Wei Ying said that last night before Lan Zhan flew out, the two of them huddled together on the hood of Wei Ying’s car to look up at the stars. “Everyone would have guessed I’d be the one to pull this kinda stunt, what with my family history and all.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan said, wondering what would happen if she wrapped her arm around Wei Ying, if she kissed her like she wanted to right then, like she always wanted to. “Everyone expects me to stay. That’s why I’m going.”

“I get it,” Wei Ying said. She elbowed Lan Zhan in the side, turning to look at her as though the darkness didn’t matter. Wei Ying always felt like the only person who ever actually saw Lan Zhan, like the starlight was enough to throw her into vivid color. “I hope you know I’m gonna text you every day,” she said, her voice intense, practically vibrating. “You’re not getting away from me that easily.”

“Good,” Lan Zhan said. “I don’t want to get away from you.” As though that wasn’t exactly what she was doing. As though she wasn’t moving to the opposite coast in what even then she understood was likely a futile effort to get over Wei Ying.

It didn’t work. Lan Zhan knew that as soon as she texted Wei Ying a picture of her unpacked apartment and Wei Ying texted back with effusive praise and emojis and Lan Zhan’s heart flipped over in her chest. She knew it when she bought Wei Ying’s first self-published romance novel two years later and read it in one furious sitting, pulse racing and the apex of her thighs hot and tight with want. She knew it yesterday afternoon, when she saw Wei Ying again in the flesh and her heart wanted to crawl up her throat and fling itself out onto the floor in front of them, bare and bloody and pulsing with honesty. She wanted to hold her, to keep her, to claim her; wanted to kiss her in that hotel lobby in front of god and everyone until Wei Ying forgot Lan Zhan had ever left. Lan Zhan wants all of these things right now, like she always does. She welcomes her feelings like an old friend, lets them curl up in her ribcage with a quiet, comfortable ache. She doesn’t fear her wanting anymore. She knows her wanting. She looks at the source of it, familiar and fond, and lets herself want a little more.

Wei Ying (dear, darling Wei Ying) is curled up on her side, face smushed into the pillow, and her hair flutters with each exhale. There’s one arm on top of the blankets, golden skin and bright tattoos vivid against the white linen, the strap of her tank top down around her shoulder. The hotel blackout curtains are, like most hotel blackout curtains, incapable of staying closed in the middle (Lan Zhan realizes she forgot to pin them shut with the binder clip she packs for just that purpose and makes a note to be sure to do it tonight) so the morning sun cuts across the bed like a laser, reflecting off the white bedding with an eye-searing glow. It’s enough light for Lan Zhan to see by; enough light for her to stay here, quiet in bed, and enjoy this for a little while before she gets up. Lan Zhan has spent many mornings in hotel rooms, and thankfully many more in her own, much-more-comfortable apartment. Most of those mornings—most of the time—Lan Zhan’s alone. She’s used to solitude, to her own company, to the silence of the early dawn with only the birds to greet her when she wakes up. This? This is better.

Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying’s half-covered, sleep-slack face, listens to the gentle rhythm of her breathing, and can’t resist reaching out to trace a finger over the back of Wei Ying’s warm knuckles, just to make sure she’s real. Maybe things can be different after the conference. Wei Ying was happy to see her, wasn’t she? Maybe they can be closer. They will literally be closer—

You get this for four more days, she tells herself sharply, withdrawing her hand and trying to ignore how her skin tingles. Don’t fuck it up.

Lan Zhan makes herself get out of bed, makes herself get ready, and makes herself grab a key card so she can leave. Wei Ying, reliably, sleeps through the entire process, possibly helped along by Lan Zhan leaving the white noise machine on, but mostly just because it’s Wei Ying, and she can sleep through anything, up to and including an entire mariachi band playing outside her dorm window as a prank. Lan Zhan is much quieter than an entire mariachi band, or even a single mariachi band member playing a solo, and she slips out the door without Wei Ying reacting in the slightest.

The hotel gym is nearly empty, with the usual exception of one bodybuilder in the corner making far too much noise with the weight set. Lan Zhan wonders if it’s somehow the same bodybuilder every time, cursed to follow her specifically from hotel gym to hotel gym. She wonders if he’s waiting for her to break the curse. She notes that the scenario has great potential as a contemporary paranormal romance novel plot, and spends the entirety of her run working out the story beats for a book she’ll never write. The possibly cursed bodybuilder leaves the gym around mile four, so when she’s finished with the treadmill Lan Zhan takes a spin on the other equipment, letting the burn in her shoulders settle her body into a new time zone. She could eat now—she’s hungry enough after the workout—but it’ll be better to wait until her usual seven am breakfast time, so she transitions more smoothly into the time change.

(If maybe that’s going to give her the chance to casually make enough breakfast to share with Wei Ying, that’s her business.)

Lan Zhan lets herself back into the hotel room, holding her breath as though the light whirr of the lock undoing itself and the gentle click of the door latch could possibly wake up a Wei Ying unwilling to be awoken. She checks anyway, and Wei Ying is still reliably unconscious, rolled away from the door now in a tight little ball. She’s like a cat, Lan Zhan thinks, all pointy edges and affection.

Several minutes later Lan Zhan remembers it’s generally considered creepy to stand around and watch people sleep, so she forces herself back into her morning routine. The hotel bathroom is overstocked with towels, as is the way of most hotel bathrooms, and she grabs a clean one to use as an impromptu yoga mat. Her overpacking has not yet extended itself to bringing one with her, though she thinks about it longingly. Maybe if she packed fewer clothes and re-wore some of her dresses?

No, Lan Zhan thinks firmly. She prioritizes her own comfort when she travels now, out of hard-earned experience, and she doesn’t like re-wearing clothing. She’d rather stretch on a towel, like she’s doing currently. It’s fine. Downward dog works just as well on a towel as it does a yoga mat, and Lan Zhan presses her shoulders deeper toward the floor, exhaling into the pleasant ache of the position.

By the time Wei Ying’s alarm goes off, Lan Zhan has showered again, changed out of her workout gear, and cracked the first egg into the electric skillet. “I said, certified freak. Seven days a week,” announces Wei Ying’s phone, and Lan Zhan stares at the second egg she’s about to add to the pan and tries not to crush it in her hand. Of course that’s Wei Ying’s alarm. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Hnrrrrng,” Wei Ying says, an uncoordinated fumbling sound barely audible over the white noise machine and Lan Zhan’s suddenly-racing heart. The lyrics cut off just after the first “wet-ass pussy,” because Lan Zhan is in hell, but fortunately before any other repetitions of “wet-ass pussy,” because just because Lan Zhan is in hell doesn’t mean the gods aren’t showing her mercy. She cracks in the second egg, wipes her hands on a paper towel, and walks over to shut off her white noise machine. Wei Ying makes a complaint, not with actual words, and rolls over to push her face into the pillow. Lan Zhan wants to climb in with her, wants to wrap her up tight and press her face into Wei Ying’s hair and breathe in deep.

“Wei Ying,” she says, instead of doing that. “It’s time to get up.”

“Nnnnooooo,” Wei Ying whines, muffled by cotton. “Five more minutes, jiejie.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, resisting the urge to reach across the expanse of the mattress to stroke Wei Ying’s messy hair. “Five minutes.”

Lan Zhan flips the eggs, finishes the rest of the breakfast prep, and boils the kettle. Wei Ying actually shoves herself reluctantly upright after only four minutes, groaning like she’s accomplished something much more impressive than just sitting up. Lan Zhan stifles a smile as she settles at the table with their mugs—some things don’t change.

“I have coffee for you,” she says, turning to face Wei Ying, carefully not mentioning that she also cooked breakfast, and any further words she had dry up in her throat as her ears suddenly throb with heat.

Wei Ying’s tit is out. She must have writhed around too much in her sleep, and her whole tank top is twisted around her torso. Lan Zhan can see the side seam wrapped halfway across her stomach, but she doesn’t really have eyes for the logistical details of why Wei Ying’s tit is out, because it’s definitely out. It’s a nice tit. Of course it’s a nice tit—Lan Zhan would think any tit was nice if it was Wei Ying’s, but still. It’s paler than the skin of her shoulder, her nipple starkly dark and pebbled in the cool hotel air. Lan Zhan could hold the whole thing in the palm of her hand, thinks she might be able to fit most of it into her mouth. Wei Ying barely wore bras in college, and now Lan Zhan can fill in years of fantasizing with vivid detail.

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks, blinking at her in a sleep-fuzzy softness. Her voice is a little bit hoarse, her face a little flushed, and Lan Zhan clenches her cunt hard around nothing because it’s just—she’s so—would she look like this the morning after? If they’d fucked, if Lan Zhan had pressed her into the blankets and licked into her mouth and slid her fingers into the heat between Wei Ying’s legs, is this how it would be when they woke up? Wei Ying pliant and sweet and yawning? “Did you say there was coffee?” Wei Ying asks, having finished her yawn, and Lan Zhan jolts back to reality with the question.

Lan Zhan rips her eyes away from Wei Ying’s perfect fucking tit and focuses on her teacup with searing intensity. “Yes,” she says, her voice very even. “Come on, it’ll get cold.” Should she mention Wei Ying’s perfect fucking tit, and how it’s currently on an extra-curricular adventure? If she doesn’t she’d lay even odds on Wei Ying wandering around with one free-range tit for a good ten minutes, which would be wonderful and also excruciating. “You might want to,” she says, and waves vaguely in the direction of Wei Ying’s chest without clarifying further.

“Mmm?” Wei Ying says, and then she squeaks. “Fuck,” she says, over the sound of shifting fabric, “fuck, sorry. It’s been so long since—” She laughs, awkwardly, moving around the space somewhere behind Lan Zhan, wearing that ridiculous novelty underwear and presumably with both tits covered now, alas. “The inevitable outcome of sleeping in a tank top is waking up with one rogue titty. I’m pretty sure it’s a law of nature.”

Lan Zhan hums agreement, sipping her oolong. Does that mean she’s likely to see Wei Ying’s tit again tomorrow morning? That’s certainly something to look forward to. She should probably feel guiltier about looking forward to it, but Lan Zhan knows the kind of person she is, and she doesn’t see much of a point in lying to herself about it.

Wei Ying staggers around the room, doing perfectly normal morning things like putting on yoga pants and stretching and colliding with the doorframe on her way into the bathroom and swearing loudly about it. Lan Zhan sits at the table and forces herself to be patient instead of demanding Wei Ying sit down this instant and eat the food Lan Zhan cooked for her. That’s definitely too much, too soon, and Lan Zhan promised herself she wouldn’t fuck up this conference. She finds her e-reader and flips to the cover of the contemporary Black-led romance novel she’s currently reading, then arranges her breakfast plate and mug of tea around it so she can take an appealing photo for her social media. The book is fun, well-written, and incisively funny—Lan Zhan wants to make sure the author gets as much attention as possible.

“Is that the new Alexis Williams?” Wei Ying asks, flopping into the other chair like a straight man once told her bisexual women can, in fact, sit normally and she’s now hell-bent on proving him wrong. “How is it? I really liked her last one, but then I went down a rabbit hole of reading only Viking romances and forgot contemporary existed as, like, a genre.

“It’s very good,” Lan Zhan says, setting her phone and e-reader aside. “The comedy is cutting. You’d like it when you can escape the Vikings.”

‘Escaping the Vikings’ could literally be one of the books I read,” Wei Ying says with a laugh, coffee cradled in both hands. “There’s a lot of extremely bad Viking stories out there, Lan Zhan, you would not believe how bad they get.” She doesn’t seem to have noticed the plate in front of her, or the food on the plate. Wei Ying is beautiful and smart and immensely frustrating sometimes.

“I can imagine,” Lan Zhan says dryly, and picks up her toast with fried egg on top to take a bite. Maybe it’ll click for Wei Ying if she sees Lan Zhan eating.

“Probably,” Wei Ying agrees, watching Lan Zhan eat while ignoring her own food. “You’re smart, I bet you can imagine, but it’s like—” she takes another sip of her horrible instant coffee, all full of sugar and powdered milk products and caramel flavor “—it’s not just the bad writing, or the racism, or the bad writing and the racism. There were a couple that were just, like, impressively bad in a way that was somehow worse than the sum of all their bad parts.” She props her chin on her hand, eyes idly on Lan Zhan’s mouth as Lan Zhan takes another bite of her egg toast. “Some were great, though! I found one that was super well-researched, had hot buff lady warriors, and non-white characters since, as we all fucking well know, the Vikings had trade routes running all the way to Constanti-fucking-nople.”

“Mn?” Lan Zhan’s actually intrigued. She doesn’t read a lot of Viking romances, for the aforementioned racism reasons and because they tend to be tragically heterosexual, but she’s interested in anything historical, well-researched, and not entirely lily white.

“Yeah, and it ended in a man-man-lady triple marriage, so, like, good stuff all around.” Wei Ying grins at Lan Zhan, half-smushed because her face is still resting on her hand. “Text you the title?”

“Please,” Lan Zhan says, washing down her egg toast with a sip of her tea. “After breakfast,” she says, pointedly, and Wei Ying gives her a confused blink or two before finally, finally looking down at the fucking table. Her plate is still there, patiently offering up the fried egg on toast, some neat cubes of cantaloupe, and a banana cut into even slices. Her eyes go comically huge and her mouth drops open, her elbow slipping off the edge of the table in her surprise. Fortunately Wei Ying doesn’t clock her chin or spill her coffee, but it’s a near thing.

“What!” Wei Ying asks, though not really in the tones of a question. “What! Jiejie! Lan Zhan!” She looks up, radiating disbelief. “Did you make this?”

Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow. Wei Ying interprets this correctly as, “Do you see anyone else in this hotel room?” and covers her face.

“Did you make this for me?” she asks from behind her fingers, which is possibly an even more ridiculous question than the first one.

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, keeping her face flat. If she acts like this is a perfectly normal thing to do for an unexpected last-minute roommate, then maybe she can get away with it. “Your egg is going to get cold.” She pushes the bottle of chili sauce across the table and eats one of her own cubes of cantaloupe, outwardly placid, inwardly clamoring for Wei Ying to eat, already, take care of yourself, let me take care of you.

“Wow,” Wei Ying says, her voice still weirdly high. “Wow, Lan Zhan, okay. I always knew you were an overachiever, but damn.” She reaches for the chili sauce, revealing a very red face, and manages to get the bottle open before she distracts herself again with, “Wait. Wait, you always do this?” She waves at the table expansively and catches her coffee cup when it wobbles.

“Cook in hotel rooms?” Lan Zhan asks, truly not sure where the confusion is coming from. “Yes, when I travel. I thought I made that clear yesterday.” She takes a sip of her tea, sets down the cup, and adds, “You comment on every picture of my hotel room cooking saying you wish you were there to eat it with me.”

“Well, I mean, I did wish that, so I guess dream come true.” Wei Ying drizzles bright red sauce on her egg, making Lan Zhan’s mouth burn just looking at it, and sets the bottle aside. “All those pictures? On Twitter? That was your cooking?”

Lan Zhan stares at Wei Ying in a bewildered silence and gestures with her fork at Wei Ying’s plate and the fried egg she’s still not fucking eating. Wei Ying covers her face again.

“Jiejie,” she whines, “I’m such a doofus. I always thought that was room service, and I was so jealous of the hotels you were staying at that clearly had fancy-ass menus.”

Lan Zhan hides her smile behind her mug. “The fancy-ass menu is in spite of the hotels.”

“Yeah, well, I know that now,” Wei Ying says, picking up her egg toast (yes) and taking a massive bite (yes) and chewing with an expression of pure happiness (yes!). “Hot damn, Lan Zhan,” she says, when her mouth is mostly empty, “this is the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had.”

Lan Zhan basks. “I’m glad,” she says, watching Wei Ying take another inappropriately large bite. “I find travel cooking satisfying.”

“Satisfying is an understatement,” Wei Ying says, muffled around a mouthful of banana. She washes it down with her horrible coffee and, more clearly, continues, “We didn’t have to leave the room or put on pants or anything! This is the best.” She beams at Lan Zhan all through her next messy bite of egg, swallows, and says, “Look at you, tall and buff and a traveling personal chef! How come no one’s wifed you up yet, jiejie?”

Because Wei Ying hasn’t asked me, Lan Zhan thinks, a quiet emotional panic spiking behind her eyeballs. “I don’t know,” she says aloud. “You’d have to ask them, I suppose.”

“Well, anyone who doesn’t want to marry you is bad, and they should feel bad,” Wei Ying says, stubborn and loyal and completely unaware that she’s shredding Lan Zhan’s heart from the inside. “You’d be the best wife, Lan Zhan!”

Marry me, then, Lan Zhan thinks very clearly. Out loud she says, “Perhaps.”

“The best,” Wei Ying mutters, like she’s personally offended by the existence of people who don’t want to marry Lan Zhan even though she’s one of them. She shoves the rest of her egg toast into her mouth and chews angrily, glaring at the smears of hot sauce remaining on the plate. Lan Zhan doesn’t mind the silence—it gives her a chance to re-settle the churning in her guts, and also to finish eating her own egg toast in a much calmer manner.

“When can we pick up our badges?” Wei Ying asks, getting up to start the kettle again, her hair still pointing in as many directions as a long-exposure photo of someone doing semaphore. She asks this with the confidence of someone who expects Lan Zhan to know the answer, like she assumes Lan Zhan already downloaded the conference schedule and loaded her calendar with every panel and discussion she plans to attend. Since Lan Zhan absolutely did just that, she doesn’t even need to look at anything to know the answer.

“Ten,” she says. “The first event isn’t until two, though.”

“Cool.” Wei Ying makes a thoughtful sound and wanders back over to take Lan Zhan’s empty tea mug. “So there’s like, at least two hours before I even need to be presentable in public. Did you have any touristy things you wanted to do this weekend, since unlike us plebs, you actually have a rental car to go do them in?”

“I did not have plans, exactly,” Lan Zhan says, eating her last few bites of cantaloupe. “I try to find a park or a garden to sit in if the weather’s nice.”

“Mmm, escaping the hell-prison of the hotel, huh?” Wei Ying must stretch, because something in the room makes a sound like dry rice being thrown into an empty wok, and Lan Zhan didn’t bring a wok. “That’s smart. I usually just go find the best piece of landscaping and sit there with my computer until a concerned security guard comes to check on me.”

“Resourceful.” Lan Zhan stacks her cutlery on her plate, eyes Wei Ying’s half-finished fruit, and decides she’s almost certainly going to come back to finish it once she’s done with her kettle business.

“What a nice way to call me a gremlin,” Wei Ying says, from right behind Lan Zhan’s shoulder. Her tattooed arm comes into view, bringing with it Lan Zhan’s mug, steaming with a fresh brewing of her oolong. Lan Zhan stares at the cup as Wei Ying rounds the table to perch in her chair and tries not to read too much into it. Wei Ying seems unconcerned with the possible meaning of brewing tea for Lan Zhan and starts shoveling fruit into her face like she’s afraid someone’s going to take it from her.

“New tattoos?” Lan Zhan asks, distracting herself from the tea with mixed success, and Wei Ying nods, cheeks bulging with banana.

“New books,” Wei Ying says, when she’s no longer in danger of choking, “therefore new tattoos!” She reaches her arm across the table, turning it so Lan Zhan can see the half-sleeve of weird little mementos, each one representing one of Wei Ying’s self-published book releases. They’re all in the same bright, cartoonish style, and Lan Zhan knows they’re all directly pulled from Wei Ying’s work. The sword and peony, from her very first wuxia romance; the sexy alien pinup that Lan Zhan assumes is for one of the Hot Alien Gangbang books that Wei Ying never mentions to her directly; an overstuffed jiaozi that Lan Zhan remembers from the scene in “A Blade Apart” where Han Yin puts down his sword for the first time and does some truly terrible cooking for his common-born lover, Zhao Wu, who’s just happy someone cares about him enough to cook for him. There are two that she hasn’t gotten to look at up-close yet, and she stills Wei Ying’s fidgeting with a hand on her forearm so she can see them properly.

“Is this one from ‘Blossom and Bone’?” she asks, tapping the red chrysanthemum cradled in a skeletal hand. It’s about a woman—Ni Chang—born with the power to raise the dead and reviled by the world for it. She wanders, alone and hated, until one day she hops a wall to escape a mob and finds a beautiful garden tended by a beautiful woman. The woman in the garden—Zhang Luan—has never left it. She’s trapped by a curse, the garden her only solace until Ni Chang falls into her life. It’s sort of a reverse “Beauty and the Beast” style story, only with scorchingly hot lesbian sex scenes, which in Lan Zhan’s opinion would definitely improve almost any piece of media.

“Yep!” Wei Ying says brightly. “I really like what my artist went with. I kinda wish I’d been able to have something like that for the cover, but I couldn’t find the right stock photos.”

“I like the cover you went with,” Lan Zhan says. “It suited the story.” She turns Wei Ying’s arm a little for a better view, and the last tattoo proves to be a dragon, white scales and blue fur and cute little silver antlers. “What’s this one from?” she asks, mostly to see how Wei Ying will try to obfuscate the answer.

“Oh, that’s from one of my Other Books,” Wei Ying says, too breezily. “It’s xianxia, there’s shapeshifting, whatever.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, allowing Wei Ying this half-lie. It’s only polite, since Lan Zhan has her own half-lie that she’s not hiding, but she’s just not really making it public, either. Lan Zhan knows exactly which book this tattoo is from. In fact, she pre-ordered “Double-Penetrated by the Dragon” as soon as it was available, read it twice in a row, and left positive five-star reviews on every website upon which she could do so easily under an alias. She does this for all of Mo Xuanyu’s books, because she knows self-publishing relies on reviews to boost sales, and she wants to support Wei Ying in all things. Lan Zhan uses an alias because she knows Wei Ying is… not embarrassed about her more blatantly pornographic writing, not exactly, but she clearly thinks of it as separate, worse work than what she publishes under Wei Wuxian. When she has a new mainstream book come out she'll text Lan Zhan about it directly, and demand Lan Zhan’s feedback as she reads, as though Lan Zhan hasn’t beta-read the first draft and workshopped plot points and encouraged her at every step of the way. By contrast, Lan Zhan doesn’t think Wei Ying has ever even mentioned the title of one of Mo Xuanyu’s books to her directly. She’s never banned Lan Zhan from reading them, she just clearly doesn’t think Lan Zhan would be interested.

(She’s wrong. Wei Ying’s writing is a delight, even when it involves anatomically improbable insertions into more orifices than Lan Zhan will ever be interested in exploring personally. Lan Zhan wouldn’t read alien gangbang books by anyone else, but she’s ready for Hot Alien Gangbang IV and the further adventures of Alien Queen Hu Xuan.)

“It’s a nice tattoo,” Lan Zhan says. She brushes her thumb over it absently, as though she’ll be able to feel the texture of the scales. Wei Ying shivers, her skin goosebumping under Lan Zhan’s touch, and Lan Zhan realizes abruptly that she’s been pinning Wei Ying’s arm in place for much longer than is probably appropriate. She lets go, raising her gaze, and catches Wei Ying’s eyes. They’re wide and dark, her lower lip drawn between her teeth. She’s looking at Lan Zhan like.. like…

“So did you want to go to a park right now?” Wei Ying blurts, yanking her arm back and scooping up her coffee cup. The moment breaks thoroughly, and Lan Zhan wonders if she imagined the heat in Wei Ying’s gaze. Probably just wishful thinking.

“No,” she says, sipping her oolong. “I was going to do some writing. Possibly get lunch somewhere before the conference starts.”

“One last break before the chaos,” Wei Ying says, nodding like Lan Zhan is imparting amazing wisdom. “Smart. Maybe I’ll tag along for lunch if you’re not already sick of me by then!” Wei Ying laughs, lightly, a self-deprecating sound that goes straight to Lan Zhan’s hindbrain and brings up sense memories of college.

“I will not be sick of you,” Lan Zhan says automatically. That has never been the problem with Wei Ying.

“You say that now,” Wei Ying says, finishing off her second cup of sugary instant coffee, “but seriously, Lan Zhan, I know I’m a lot. If you need me to get out of your hair for an hour so you can have some privacy and quiet, just say the word and I’m gone.”

“I will not want you gone,” Lan Zhan tells her, “but if I find myself in need of privacy, I will let you know.” She says it mostly to get Wei Ying to stop arguing—the idea that she would want less Wei Ying rather than more Wei Ying is absurd. There’s nothing Wei Ying could do that would make Lan Zhan not want to keep her as close as possible.

⋄⋄⋄

Lan Zhan reflects, as she crosses her legs and tries desperately to focus on her laptop, that she may have miscalculated.

“Uuuunf,” Wei Ying says, from the other side of the room divider. She pants twice, “Ah, ah,” incredibly audibly, the kind of breaths that curl humid against skin, and then hisses a low, “Fffffuuuuuuck,” between her teeth.

Lan Zhan is going to die.

“Shoulder, whyyyyy,” Wei Ying whines, which at least isn’t something people normally say during sex, and therefore allows Lan Zhan a moment of respite. The little rhythmic shifting fabric sounds are not helping, and then Wei Ying does another thing that presumably causes the purple rubber ball she pulled out of her clothes drawer to dig into another tight muscle, and she moans the way she might if Lan Zhan’s hand were to squeeze the back of her neck. Lan Zhan’s cunt clenches on reflex. This is bad.

“Okay over there?” she asks, because there are really a lot of sounds happening.

“Fiii—ah-ah-ah—iiine,” Wei Ying whimpers. “Fucking hell, I was overdue for this even before the plane ride, and then I couldn’t move for four hours while I was crammed into a flying metal coffin.” She makes another horribly arousing sex sound and breathes hard for a little while. Lan Zhan tightens her hand on her wireless mouse until it creaks.

“It sounds uncomfortable,” Lan Zhan says, her voice very even, maybe a little bored. Her ears feel like they’re about to burst into flames, and she’s pulsing between her legs in a way a less discerning writer might describe as “turgidly.” Maybe she should have told Wei Ying she needed privacy. Maybe she should have left to go on a fake errand while Wei Ying did this.

“Oh, it sucks,” Wei Ying agrees, hissing between her teeth. “It hurts so fucking good though, I love this shit.” She makes another long, low whimpering sound, and Lan Zhan thinks about pushing Wei Ying’s face into the mattress with one hand and using the thumb of her other to dig in behind her shoulder, where every writer in the world has the exact same muscle knot. She’d hold her there while Wei Ying cried and complained and squirmed away, hold her at Lan Zhan’s mercy until the knot finally submitted, until Wei Ying submitted, and then she’d fuck her until she screamed.

“Do you do this frequently?” she asks. She’s technically been writing, so Wei Ying won’t have a chance to comment on the lack of keyboard noises and ask why Lan Zhan’s sitting in silence listening to Wei Ying’s physical therapy like a huge creep. The only word she’s actually written is “fuck,” and she’s written it (Lan Zhan highlights and does a wordcount) eighty-six times. While she can probably use one or two of those fucks in the actual manuscript, this isn’t exactly a productive wordcount.

“Not frequently enouuuuuuugh,” Wei Ying half-wails, followed by, “Oh my god, ass, I get it, I’m sorry.”

Lan Zhan’s brain helpfully brings up the mental image of Wei Ying in a thong bodysuit over fishnets, her college-era, very slappable ass on display. Lan Zhan wonders what Wei Ying’s ass looks like now. Her novelty underwear were pretty full-coverage, and Lan Zhan really was trying not to look too obviously. Wei Ying’s filled out a bit since college, in the way all bodies do when they’re no longer holding on to the last dregs of adolescence. Lan Zhan’s pretty sure her ass is bigger now, and theoretically even more slappable. Lan Zhan would like to find out. Lan Zhan would like to use her ass as a pillow. She’d like to lay with her cheek on Wei Ying’s low back and settle one hand across the swell of Wei Ying’s ass and relax there, maybe for the rest of her life.

Lan Zhan highlights and deletes the eighty-six fucks and manages to write one real sentence along the lines of “She walked across the room,” before Wei Ying starts making little, “Ah ah ah!” noises again. Lan Zhan accidentally transcribes them onto the page and then backspaces hurriedly. She uncrosses her legs and crosses them the other way, trying not to rock into the pressure or grind against the un-ergonomic hotel desk chair. She’s uncomfortably, embarrassingly turned on, her heartbeat pounding in her clit. Maybe Wei Ying had the right idea when she packed fifteen pairs of underwear for the weekend. Lan Zhan’s seven pairs are starting to look inadequate.

Desperate for anything that might work as a distraction, Lan Zhan opens her usual writing playlist, hoping that gentle instrumental electronica pointed directly at her from her laptop speakers will drown out what’s happening on the other side of the room. This is medium effective—she can’t hear the shifting fabric sounds anymore, or some of the heavy breathing. It’s enough for Lan Zhan to write an actual paragraph, one that probably won’t require deep revising later. She’s starting to feel calmer about the whole situation when Wei Ying says, “Aaaaauuuuugh, oh god, fuck,” with feeling, and Lan Zhan’s arousal slams back into her body like a hardcover special edition dropping onto the floor.

She can’t be here for this. She needs to—bathroom, that’s a place with a door, if she can make it to the bathroom she’ll be safe. Lan Zhan stands to do just that, gets to the room divider without issue, and discovers that Wei Ying has apparently finished rolling out her back. Lan Zhan can deduce this because now Wei Ying is lying on her stomach, one leg out behind her on the carpet, the other bent at the hip with the knee out to the side, where she’s presumably using her physio ball to massage her inner thigh. What this means, in practice, is that Wei Ying is slowly and rhythmically humping the floor, forehead pillowed on her crossed hands, moaning and hissing whenever she hits a particularly tender spot. Lan Zhan’s brain fills with a high, wild buzzing sound, like a swarm of pitch-shifted horny bees has taken up residence in her skull.

“Am I in your way?” Wei Ying asks, rolling her hips in horrible little circles. “Just step on me, it’s fine, I’ll be down here for another twenty minutes so you can just pretend I’m part of the floor if you want.”

The horny bees in Lan Zhan’s brain stopped listening after, “Step on me.” When she finds herself in control of her body again, she’s already in the bathroom, white-knuckling the doorknob so hard she’s surprised she hasn’t ripped it right out of the fitting. Finger-by-finger she drags her hand away, turns on the fan for the sound dampening properties, and runs her wrists under the coldest water the tap has to offer. Her reflection is dark-eyed and pink-eared, breathing harder than usual. Lan Zhan stares herself down, hands slowly going numb, and reminds herself that Wei Ying is her best friend. Her uninterested best friend.

We can get through this, she tells her reflection. We are going to keep it together.

Lan Zhan nods firmly, turns off the water, and proceeds to stay in the bathroom for fifteen more minutes, giving herself an unnecessarily complicated braid and more makeup than she’d usually wear for a conference, because otherwise she’d have to admit she’s in here because she’s hiding. This, she reflects as she shades in her eyebrows, is going to be harder than she’d thought.

⋄⋄⋄

Two hours later, badges in hand (well, purse) and swag bags safely in the hotel room waiting to be sorted into the wheat of useful items (snack bars, branded pens, sample bottles of hand sanitizer) and the chaff of garbage (advertising for local businesses they’ll never have the chance to visit, codes for free book downloads by authors neither of them will ever want to read), Lan Zhan decides that this was a good idea. The park they found is nearly abandoned at midday, has no dogs (important for Wei Ying), and there’s even a duck pond. Lan Zhan watches as the ducks go butt-up and bob in the water hilariously, her laptop open on the picnic table Wei Ying claimed by laying on top of it. Wei Ying is still on top of the picnic table, sitting cross-legged with her own laptop on her legs, hunched over it like a gargoyle. Lan Zhan is pretty sure she knows exactly why Wei Ying moans like a porn performer when she rolls out her shoulders, because Lan Zhan’s back hurts just looking at her.

“What’s the word for like… a demand? But specifically you're demanding it as part of a larger agreement?” Wei Ying glares at a duck as she asks, which seems unfair to the duck. Lan Zhan pauses mid-sentence and considers the question.

“A condition?”

“Yes!” Wei Ying types furiously. “Thank you, jiejie! A condition! My brain wanted to remember every potential word but that one.”

“Glad to help.” Lan Zhan will happily serve as Wei Ying’s personal thesaurus for the rest of time if she gets to have this in exchange—the sound of keyboards and creativity in close proximity, the knowledge that Wei Ying is within touching distance. She’d also happily serve as Wei Ying’s personal posture coach, given the opportunity. Maybe she could convince Wei Ying to sit on her lap, and every time she started to slouch, Lan Zhan would press a hand below Wei Ying’s collarbones and force her back upright. If Wei Ying sat properly for at least ten minutes in a row, Lan Zhan could reward her by kissing the side of her neck. Lan Zhan sees literally no downside to this plan.

“Hey, your mom had an oncology follow-up recently, right?” Wei Ying asks, rattling her boba tea so the tapioca pearls split apart again. Lan Zhan hums affirmatively, and Wei Ying shoves tapioca into her cheek to ask, “How’d it go?”

“Still in remission,” Lan Zhan says, with a relief that’s fresh and sharp even after all these years. “She’s seeing a new physical therapist as well. Between that and the medication changes her energy levels have improved significantly.”

“Oh, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying says, her face lighting up in a soft smile that mirrors the relief in Lan Zhan’s heart. “That’s so great! Wow, that’s like, at least fifteen years in remission, right?”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan didn’t have Wei Ying in her life back when her mother’s thyroid cancer was first detected. She hardly had anyone; her older brother Lan Huan, her uncle Lan Qiren, and technically her father, though he was already distant before Mama got sick. Lan Zhan is grateful in some ways that it happened when she was a teenager, because she was old enough to understand what was happening. The downside of being old enough to understand was being old enough to understand, and therefore old enough to be absolutely terrified that Mama was going to die, that nothing would ever be the same again. Lan Zhan spent that year almost completely non-verbal from the trauma of it, which is possibly also why she spent that year either buried in books or furiously writing her own.

Nothing was ever the same, afterward. Mama survived, but not without chronic fatigue and other side effects she’ll have for the rest of her life. Lan Zhan’s father left somewhere in the middle of Mama’s treatment, uninterested in being a caretaker. Lan Huan parentified himself, trying to step up to replace their father in a way no eighteen-year-old should be asked to do. Lan Zhan, already an introvert, emerged basically unable to speak to strangers, clinging to what remained of her family with a hissing, spitting ferocity. It remains the worst year of Lan Zhan’s life, breaking apart everything she knew about herself at the root. None of them emerged unchanged, and Lan Zhan hated it.

The thing about change, though, is that it’s inevitable. The other thing about change is that it’s not automatically bad. Mama can’t dig flower beds or plant trees like she used to, but she can draw garden plans and order seeds and get annuals in the dirt. Uncle Qiren moved in when his brother moved out, took over responsibility for Mama’s medical appointments, made sure Lan Zhan and Lan Huan got to school on time and had a hot dinner when they got home. He never left, not even after Mama’s treatment finished and she was better able to take care of herself. He stuck around in a way Lan Zhan’s father emphatically didn’t, found them a family therapist and individual therapy and new baking recipes he’d try out for them every weekend. Lan Huan slowly learned to be a teenager again, went on dates, and got into (mild) trouble. Lan Zhan started speaking, made tentative friends in her last few years of high school, and actually showed some of her stories to other people. By the time she found Wei Ying in college she was ready for Wei Ying, and that meant that during the horrible month when they thought Mama’s cancer had come back, Wei Ying was there to distract her with ridiculous plot ideas, make her horrible instant noodles, and hold her when Lan Zhan couldn’t keep it together anymore. Lan Zhan remembers sobbing into Wei Ying’s shoulder until her eyes swelled shut, Wei Ying’s hands in her hair as she whispered comforting nonsense in Lan Zhan’s ear. It was awful and wonderful, having a friend like Wei Ying to lean on. It’s probably when Lan Zhan fell in love with her.

“What does the energy level mean, like, practically?” Wei Ying asks, linking her fingers and stretching her arms above her head, returning Lan Zhan to the present moment with the question. “I’m assuming she’s not out here running marathons.”

“No,” Lan Zhan agrees. “No marathons. She can weed all of her raised beds in one day and still have energy to cook.” Mama texts her pictures of what she’s making, dishes she used to cook for Lan Zhan and Lan Huan when they were little. Lan Zhan misses Mama’s cooking. She visits at Lunar New Year, but she wants more. Soon, she tells herself. Soon she’ll be able to cook for Mama, too. Mama deserves to be taken care of.

“That’s such an improvement!” Wei Ying lays down on the table, letting her head hang upside-down off the edge. Her hair rustles in the breeze, her smudgy eyeliner making her eyes look even bigger and brighter. “How about your uncle? What’s he up to?”

“Uncle Qiren took a single pottery class at the community center and proceeded to order a wheel and a kiln for home.” Lan Zhan gets out her phone and flips through it to the texts from her uncle. Every single one of them for the past three months has been a picture of a hand-thrown piece of pottery of increasing quality, accompanied by a dry description of exactly what it is. She hands it over, the screen displaying “Mug with handle shaped like bamboo; green slip; clear glaze,” and allows Wei Ying to scroll down the thread.

“Oh my god,” Wei Ying says, as she keeps fucking scrolling. “Oh my god, Lan Zhan, he took one class?”

“He said he felt an immediate affinity,” Lan Zhan says, watching the smile spread across Wei Ying’s face. Possibly she’s reached Uncle Qiren’s “cute little mice” phase in his artistic career.

“How many pieces of random pottery has he mailed you?”

“None, yet.” Lan Zhan accepts her phone back from Wei Ying and takes a moment to look fondly at the Chang’e moon rabbit plate with its black and white glaze. “I believe he’s saving them up.” Lan Zhan hadn’t wanted to have to pack extra dishware, but the moment she’s close enough…

“You’re going to be buried in little soap dishes,” Wei Ying says, in tones of commiseration. She sits back up, returns to her boba, and manages to get more tapioca pearls into her mouth than is probably wise.

“My mug collection will never be the same.” Lan Zhan writes another paragraph and flexes her wrists. Wei Ying doesn’t bother asking about Lan Zhan’s father. He died sometime in Lan Zhan’s first year of college, an event that passed mostly unmourned. There are more interesting things to talk about, for example: “How is your family?”

“Mom and Dad are currently in the middle of Fuckall Nowhere, probably licking the occasional rock to see if it’s a bone,” Wei Ying says cheerfully. “Two more months on site and then they’ll be back and the part where I tell people I live in my parents’ basement becomes less of a joke.”

“Where’s the dig this time?” Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze are archeologists, Lan Zhan knows, but Wei Ying tends to be erratic in recounting their adventures unless specifically asked.

“Kazakhstan,” Wei Ying says. “They’re having a great time, other than the wind and the sun and the dirt and the fact that Dad packed his favorite sunscreen but it’s only Mom’s second favorite sunscreen.”

Lan Zhan gasps dramatically. She’s never been good at acting, so mostly she puts one hand to her chest as she inhales. Wei Ying laughs at it, anyway, which was the point.

“Exactly,” Wei Ying says. “You know Mom, she loves having something to make fun of Dad for. I’m pretty sure he packed the wrong sunscreen on purpose and halfway through the dig he’ll pull out a crate of the stuff she likes and then she’ll have to find something else to complain about.” She makes some horrible sounds with her boba tea, squinting at the ducks thoughtfully. “Aunt Ziyuan and Uncle Fengmian are at a wushu tournament in California right now. Aunt Ziyuan might be judging a jiujiebian competition literally as we speak; I can’t remember how the time zones work. Heaven have mercy on those kids.”

“She will be fair in her assessments.” Lan Zhan sips at her oolong, now cooled to a temperature that doesn’t threaten to scald her tongue but still warm enough to protect her against the early spring chill. Perfect.

“Oh, sure,” Wei Ying agrees, “but she’s still absolutely fucking terrifying before you learn that speaking to you like you’re a tiny adult and giving direct, pointed feedback is how she shows affection.” Lan Zhan remembers this experience from the spring break she spent with the Jiangs and Wei Ying while Wei Ying’s parents were on a dig. She spent three days being vaguely intimidated by Yu Ziyuan, and then two days being instructed very thoroughly on eye-gouges and throat-punches by Yu Ziyuan, and then three more days still intimidated by Yu Ziyuan but also liking her quite a bit. Ah, sophomore year.

“What about your cousins?” Lan Zhan knows Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng are not technically related to Wei Ying in any way, but since Wei Ying spent half her childhood in their home when her parents were away on digs, “cousin” is the best word for their relationship.

“Yanli got a new cookbook deal!” Wei Ying says, delighted to have a chance to brag. “And A’Ling started kindergarten this year, which he is very grumpy about. A’Shao keeps asking when she gets to go to kindergarten, too, so Jin Zixuan is trying to find a pre-school she can try out a couple days a week. For now he bought her a little desk and a whiteboard and she goes to ‘school’ in his office, which even I have to admit is fucking adorable.”

That does sound adorable. Lan Zhan only knows Wei Ying’s niblings from pictures, but she can envision A’Shao scribbling with great concentration on whatever “assignments” her father has made for her. “Jiang Cheng?”

“Happy as he ever is,” Wei Ying says. “He’s training a new batch of therapy puppies right now. You want pictures of all this cuteness?”

“Please.” Lan Zhan shuts her laptop and scooches closer as Wei Ying swipes at her phone. The photos are, as promised, incredibly cute. A’Ling in tiny jeans and a yellow shirt with a duck on it, glaring suspiciously at the camera as he shoulders his backpack. A’Shao covered entirely in washable marker and looking immensely proud of herself. A full twenty seconds of Wei Ying swiping through various things Jiang Yanli has cooked. Jiang Cheng with three labrador puppies in his lap, smiling the way he only ever does around dogs. Wei Ying petting a fully-grown golden retriever, looking only a little bit panicked. (“Don’t try me around dog randos,” Wei Ying says, at Lan Zhan’s surprised hum. “It only works with Jiang Cheng’s dogs, because they are all very good boys and girls and never make any sudden moves.”) Wei Changze and Cangse Sanren standing in front of a big dirt pit, holding their hands together to make a heart shape. Lan Zhan drinks in every detail of Wei Ying’s life and tries not to ache too much with how much she’s missed. Soon. Soon she’ll be able to have this in real-time, if she’s lucky. If Wei Ying wants that.

Wei Ying shivers in the middle of detailing A’Shao’s genius three-year-old accomplishments, and Lan Zhan checks the time. They’ve been out here for an hour of ostensible “writing time,” and spent approximately half of that chatting. Lan Zhan feels satisfied with this outcome. “Do you want to get lunch?” she asks, taking off her cardigan and draping it around Wei Ying’s shoulders, since Wei Ying failed to pack her own hoodie even though she always runs cold.

Wei Ying huddles into Lan Zhan’s sweater like a rabbit hunkering into a burrow. “Yeah, food sounds great,” she says. “I could go for pho. How do you feel about pho?”

Lan Zhan tucks the cardigan a little tighter around Wei Ying’s waist. “I like pho,” she says, a little helplessly. It’s not what she wants to say, but it’s close enough.

⋄⋄⋄

The first day of the conference is... fine. First days are always fine, oddly liminal, and even weirder than the concept of a conference in the first place. Half the attendees haven’t arrived, so the classes and panels on offer tend to be the softball options, the ones that aren’t expected to have a huge draw. They also, as previously established, start at two in the afternoon and only run until six, with a break for dinner before the social caucuses. Lan Zhan goes to a presentation about how to differentiate vanity presses from legitimate publishers, most of which she already knows but she wants to see if there are any new, horrible vanity presses she should warn her readership off from. After that she goes to a collaborative workshop where the attendees build an entire book outline from off-the-cuff suggestions, creating a plot that would be a real challenge to make coherent. Wei Ying could probably write the cozy murder mystery starring a retired nun and a pop star with a mysterious past who fall in love in the ruins of an Edwardian mansion during an orchestra rehearsal, but Lan Zhan doesn’t have faith that anyone else could pull it off. The workshop is fun, though, and a welcome reminder not to take the genre too seriously. Lan Zhan can think of a few historical authors who would have benefited from attending.

“That sounds ridiculous,” Wei Ying says, over her bowl of spicy ramen (Wei Ying’s contribution) topped with wilted greens and fried tofu slices (Lan Zhan’s contribution). “I love it. I kinda wish I’d gone to that instead of to the advanced online marketing techniques panel.”

“Not as advanced as you’d hoped?” Lan Zhan asks, her tofu fried rice on a bed of arugula lightly steaming in the air conditioned room.

“It was a joke.” Wei Ying sighs. “Don’t call it advanced if the first thing you start with is a powerpoint slide about hashtags.” Lan Zhan winces. Wei Ying nods and slurps her noodles.

Wei Ying puts on lipstick before they head down for the caucuses. It’s a deep, rich matte red, and looks amazing with her smoky eyeliner and the long dangling red beaded fringe earrings she also decides to wear. Lan Zhan thinks it might be one of those kissproof liquid brands. Lan Zhan wants to test how kissproof it is, possibly up against the wall of the elevator.

“So I’m going to the self-published romances caucus, the fantasy romance caucus, and the writers of color caucus,” Wei Ying says, checking the schedule on her phone. “None of the others sound super interesting, so we can just head back to the room afterwards.”

“You’re not going to the bar?”

Wei Ying shakes her head ruefully. “My body’s still all fucked up in the wrong time zone,” she says, “and I started getting brain-meltingly bad hangovers when I turned twenty-five, like, literally I woke up the day after my twenty-fifth birthday and felt like someone put the inside of my head in a blender and then poured it on a hot sidewalk. I’m almost thirty now, jiejie, I have two glasses of wine and then have to drink half a gallon of water or I wake up with a migraine. No BarCon for me.” She takes a swig from her red ombre water bottle and adds, “Also, it’s cheaper this way.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, trying to agree without having to admit she’s never had to pay a bar tab in her life. The elevator doors ding open, and Wei Ying bounces out into the lobby, having immediately spotted a mutual Twitter follow. Lan Zhan follows more sedately and tries not to stare at the curve of Wei Ying’s hips in her black jersey knit dress, or the way her fringe earrings brush against her neck in patterns Lan Zhan’s hands itch to follow.

Caucuses. She’s going to attend them, and network with people, and see some of her own mutual Twitter follows. She’s going to do at least some of this without Wei Ying present, and will therefore be able to focus like a normal person.

The historical romance writers caucus is diverting enough that Lan Zhan almost doesn’t think about Wei Ying for half an hour, devoted as she is to filling out her bingo card and being subsequently pounced on by every author who needs to fill the “Writes books set in places other than America and Europe” square.

“I think technically I should count,” Maria Gonzalez (author of “Wildfire Roses” according to her con badge) says to Lan Zhan as they check their bingo cards for anything the other person might qualify for, “since some of mine are set in what would later become America, but before the Declaration of Independence.”

“I believe the goal is to remind people that historical romances don’t all involve white people,” Lan Zhan says dryly. “If anyone has a problem with your inclusion on my completely voluntary bingo card for which there is no prize, they can take it up with me.”

“Love that attitude,” Maria says, signing her name to the appropriate square on Lan Zhan’s paper. They trade Twitter follows, as well, and Lan Zhan makes a note in her phone to look up “Wildfire Roses” when she’s at her computer. Truly a successful social interaction all around.

Lan Zhan sits out the next caucus, because she wants to go to the writers of color caucus with Wei Ying, and three networking events in a row is, frankly, two networking events too many. There’s a library room, because of course there’s a library room, so Lan Zhan spends an hour with her e-reader and a glass of water and four other people who just want to sit in silence. It’s wonderfully restorative, and she heads for her last social obligation for the night with the energy to actually see it through.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying calls, waving furiously as soon as Lan Zhan steps through the door, as though Lan Zhan has eyes for anyone else. “How was the historical caucus?” she asks, tucking herself against Lan Zhan’s side, both hands on her elbow, the way she used to in college when she was cold. She forgot her hoodie again. Ridiculous woman.

“Good,” Lan Zhan says, taking off the grey blanket shawl she’s wearing over her calf-length white knit dress. (Only knits for traveling so she never has to iron. It’s something she’s learned the hard way.) “I won bingo,” she says as she drapes the shawl over Wei Ying’s exposed arms, resisting the urge to lean down and bite one of the shoulders her sleeveless dress leaves open to the air.

“What was the prize?” Wei Ying asks, wrapping the shawl around herself until she could be starring in a story about a burrito shapeshifter.

“Pride.”

Wei Ying muffles a snicker behind her hand, because the organizer of the caucus has loudly cleared her throat to signal the official start of the event. This one doesn't have bingo cards, but there are nametags upon which they’re all encouraged to write a couple key descriptive words about the kind of books they write, so people have some basis for conversation. Wei Ying’s read “horny,” “weird,” and “gay AF.” Lan Zhan goes with a slightly more reserved, “historical,” “harem drama,” and “queer.” She almost immediately finds herself chatting with a Black woman whose nametags read “Victorian,” “lesbian,” and “vampire,” and comes away with another new mutual Twitter follow and a longer to-read list.

“Was that Kristine Andrews?” Wei Ying asks, looking over Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “Fuck, I should go say hi to her sometime tonight, I love her vampire books.” Her eyes go from over Lan Zhan’s shoulder to Lan Zhan’s face, where they get hung up for a moment. They’re standing very close in the refreshingly crowded room. If Lan Zhan reached out she could cup her hands under Wei Ying’s elbows and draw her even closer, could slide her hands under the shawl she lent Wei Ying and make sure she’s warm enough. Wei Ying stares at her, inhaling hard, swallows, and then her eyes flick over Lan Zhan’s other shoulder. She blinks and grins, recognition spreading across her face.

“Jasmine!” she cries, lunging past Lan Zhan to enfold a shorter, rounder woman in a tight hug. “Oh, wow, I didn’t know you’d be here!”

“Wuxian! Hey!” Jasmine says, returning Wei Ying’s hug with a laugh. “Of course I’m here, I live in Chicago. I’m not even staying at the hotel since I can just drive home.”

“And sleep in your own bed? The dream.” Wei Ying pulls away from Jasmine and angles her body so Lan Zhan is part of the conversation again. “Jasmine Jones, Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji, Jasmine Jones.”

“We’ve met,” Lan Zhan says fondly, as Jasmine says “A’Zhan!” and sweeps in for a hug. Jasmine is just as nice to hold as ever, all plush, coconut-scented curves. Lan Zhan allows herself an appropriate level of now-platonic lesbian enjoyment before she draws back.

“You look lovely,” she tells Jasmine, because she does; gorgeous brown skin, curly black ringlet curls, and cut-crease eyeliner that could slit a man’s throat perfectly matched to the bright colors of the kente print wrap dress that is barely restraining her boobs. They’re really good boobs. Lan Zhan can admit she misses them a little.

“Flatterer,” Jasmine says, whacking lightly at Lan Zhan’s shoulder with a grin.

“Lying is forbidden,” Lan Zhan says solemnly, and Jasmine laughs brightly, head thrown back. Belatedly, Lan Zhan reads the nametags stuck to Jasmine’s excellent boobs: “Contemporary,” “Black-led,” and “Comedy.” It’s an accurate representation of Jasmine’s work. Lan Zhan pre-orders every release.

“You know each other, then,” Wei Ying says into the gap in conversation, sounding a little lost about the whole situation.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, gently neutral.

“We dated for a while,” Jasmine says cheerfully. “What was it, four months?”

“Five,” Lan Zhan says. In the corner of her eye, Wei Ying’s face goes very still.

“Five,” Jasmine agrees, “and it was lovely, but it didn’t work out.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, looking vaguely mortified now.

“We stayed friends,” Lan Zhan says, wanting to reassure Wei Ying that there’s nothing wrong, that seeing Jasmine isn’t awkward or actively dangerous the way she knows some exes can be. “It wasn’t bad, we just weren’t…”

“Right for each other long-term,” Jasmine finishes smoothly. “Though in the grand tradition of lesbian exes Lan Zhan catsat for me a few times and came over to help me change a lightbulb when I couldn’t reach.”

“It was a very high fixture, and you always made me banana bread as a thank you,” Lan Zhan says, feeling a little desperate now because Wei Ying’s still half-frozen, a strange emotion on her face that Lan Zhan’s never seen there before. “Jasmine moved to Chicago the following year.”

“Not because of A’Zhan,” Jasmine says, maybe because she’s also picking up on Wei Ying’s weird mood. “I just wanted to be closer to family. And then I got married, so it worked out!”

“How is Booker?” Lan Zhan asks.

“At home keeping dinner warm for me and ready to rub my feet once I take off these heels,” Jasmine says, positively glowing with happiness.

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, finally rejoining the conversation, though her smile feels a little forced, “so you found yourself a real Wife Guy, huh?”

“The wifest,” Jasmine confirms. “When I was complaining that desks don’t come with keyboard trays these days he had me pick my favorite desk and then built a custom keyboard tray for it.”

All three of them sigh dreamily, caught up in that vision. Wei Ying recovers first. “You just had a book come out, right? How’d that go?” she asks Jasmine, eyes glinting with interest.

Jasmine preens at the question, then glances around and leans in to half-whisper, “The royalties for ‘Babytrapping the Billionaire' paid my entire mortgage in the first month. On its own.

“Oh my god,” Wei Ying whisper yells. “Holy fuck, Jasmine, that’s so great!” To Lan Zhan she adds, still in a whisper, “Jasmine and I both work in the Self-Published Porn Mines when we’re not writing daytime stories.”

Lan Zhan knows. Lan Zhan pretends like she hasn’t read everything Wei Ying has excavated from the Porn Mines, and squeezes Jasmine’s shoulder. “Congratulations,” she says, not sure why they’re all whispering but going along with it. “That’s very exciting.”

“It is,” Jasmine says, dropping the secrecy act (to Lan Zhan’s relief). “My sales have always been pretty steady but people were just hungry for this one for some reason, which is fabulous, except…” She sighs and rubs her forehead, dark eyes squeezing shut in frustration.

“Except you have to write a sequel now,” Wei Ying says, with slow realization.

“Except I have to write a sequel now,” Jasmine agrees, “and ‘Babytrapping the Billionaire’ was supposed to be a one-off that I wrote just to get the idea out of my head, but I can’t pass up the financial opportunity.” She makes a face, shaking her head in disgust. “Why did people have to be into billionaires? Billionaires suck so much ass!

“My congratudolances on your unprecedented success,” Wei Ying says solemnly.

“Perhaps you could make it a trilogy,” Lan Zhan suggests. “The third one could be titled ‘Beheading the Billionaires.’”

“Oh, yeah,” Wei Ying jumps in, trying not to grin. “Make it kind of a bait-and-switch thing. They think it’s just going to be porn and then bam! Revolution!”

Jasmine stares past both of them and taps a finger on her chin as she considers that. “On the one hand, I’m not sure if straight-up murder is really on brand for my romances,” she says slowly, “but on the other hand, I’d certainly love to eat the rich, and they say you should write what you love.”

“Hell yeah,” Wei Ying says, pumping her fist. “Follow your dreams or whatever.”

“Words to live by,” Jasmine deadpans, and then Wei Ying spots someone else she recognizes and they disperse back into the general surrurus of the caucus. Lan Zhan has several other lovely conversations, both with authors she’s met before and complete strangers. Her to-read list grows at the same rate that her energy for social interactions drains, and by the time the caucus ends she’s reduced to staring straight ahead and occasionally nodding at appropriate nodding intervals.

“Oh, jiejie,” Wei Ying says, herding her back into the elevator and fussing in her general direction, “Look at you! You’re at one percent battery! You should have said something, we could have left early.”

“Wei Ying was having a good time.” Lan Zhan leans against the wall of the elevator and watches the numbers tick up without actually taking in their meaning, so when it stops at their floor she’s vaguely surprised.

“You self-sacrificing dingus,” Wei Ying says gently, steering Lan Zhan down the hall toward their room and through the door. “That doesn’t mean you have to make yourself miserable.”

Lan Zhan frowns, allowing herself to be deposited on the couch. “I wasn’t miserable.” She enjoyed getting to see Wei Ying in her element, lit-up and animated as she talked to other authors. Yes, Lan Zhan’s exhausted now, but that doesn’t mean she was miserable.

“If you say so,” Wei Ying says, taking the gray blanket shawl off and tucking it around Lan Zhan on the couch like an actual blanket. “The good news is that all the other loud people are gone now, and you’re just stuck with one loud person.” She grins at Lan Zhan and winks. “It’s an improvement, right?”

“Mn.” Being alone with Wei Ying is an improvement, but not for the reason Wei Ying thinks.

“Do you want first shower?” Wei Ying calls from the other side of the room divider.

“No,” Lan Zhan says. “I’m going to just…” and she sort of gestures in a way she hopes communicates, “Sit here and stare at the wall until I remember how long-form sentences work.

“Good call,” Wei Ying says, depositing a can of Lan Zhan’s sparkling water on the coffee table in front of her. “Music?”

“Nothing with lyrics,” Lan Zhan says. Wei Ying hums an acknowledgement, and a few fumbling moments later the room fills with lo-fi beats that require no effort from Lan Zhan at all. Wei Ying must have discovered the Bluetooth speaker. Excellent. She hears Wei Ying open the dresser drawer and then spend what seems like a weirdly long amount of time shuffling around in there. Is there the sound of a zipper? Weird.

“Okay, enjoy your sitting! I’m gonna shower now, bye!” Wei Ying says, speedwalking past Lan Zhan and into the bathroom, arms tightly wrapped around a clothing bundle. Lan Zhan blinks as the door swings shut. Was Wei Ying blushing? Maybe tonight’s pair of underwear are exceptionally heinous, and she’s embarrassed to be seen in them. Well, too bad. Lan Zhan’s here, and she’s gonna do some seeing.

Wow, Lan Zhan is very tired. She opens her sparkling water and takes a sip, enjoying the hit of citrus. Her blanket shawl smells a little bit like Wei Ying now, or at least like Wei Ying’s fruity shampoo and conditioner. Lan Zhan inhales subtly, remembers Wei Ying’s in the bathroom with the shower running and therefore cannot see her, and shoves her face into the fabric so she can breathe deep. She’s allowing herself approximately thirty seconds of being weird, and then she’ll go back to treating her last-minute roommate/best friend normally, like a normal person.

The speaker chimes, interrupting the music. It chimes again a few seconds later. This is not restful. Lan Zhan lifts her head out of the scarf as it chimes a third time and realizes it’s Wei Ying’s text notification. This is not ideal for continuing to listen to music, so Lan Zhan sets the shawl aside and pads to the bathroom door, intending to ask Wei Ying for the passcode or possibly hand it to her through a crack, so she can put it on do-not-disturb.

Lan Zhan’s just lifted her hand to knock when a sound emanates from the bathroom that is neither that of the water or the fan. It sounded like it came from Wei Ying. It sounded like the kind of noise she was making this morning when she rolled out her shoulders.

It sounded like a moan.

Without her permission, Lan Zhan’s body steps closer to the door, hovering an ear next to the wood. She shouldn’t be doing this. Even if Wei Ying is moaning, it’s none of Lan Zhan’s business. She tells herself this firmly even while she holds her breath and listens hard. There’s nothing but the shower, water splashing against the tub, and Lan Zhan berates herself for being weird when Wei Ying moans again. It’s muffled but unmistakable, and accompanied by what Lan Zhan can barely pick out as buzzing.

Okay. So. Either Wei Ying is starring in an old-school Herbal Essences commercial and also enjoys showering in the company of a swarm of bees, or Wei Ying is in the shower masturbating with a vibrator. All the blood in Lan Zhan’s body goes hot with this knowledge, and she presses a hand silently against the door for both physical and emotional support. Fuck. Fuck.

Lan Zhan turns around, walks calmly back to the couch, and sits down. She takes a sip of her sparkling water and a deep breath, smoothing her hands over her skirt.

Then she pulls the hem up to her hips in the front, spreads her legs, and shoves her hand into her underwear. She’s wet. She’s been wet since this fucking morning with Wei Ying’s fucking sex-moan-sounding physical therapy, always a low-key level of horny just from being in Wei Ying’s presence, and now the situation is dire. Lan Zhan’s clit is so swollen she can’t even go straight at it like she prefers, and she has to waste valuable time gently teasing through her folds before she can get back to the main event. The first brush is too much—her leg jerks involuntarily, hips flinching away from the touch, so she makes herself go even more slowly, makes her touch even lighter, and carefully strokes herself on either side of the hard nub. She’s on something of a time crunch, here, and she’s already so fucking worked up that once she finds the right pressure she throws herself at it, head tipped back into the couch cushions, rocking her cunt up into her hand as she pants as quietly as possible.

Lan Zhan thinks about it being Wei Ying’s hand between her legs. She thinks about shoving Wei Ying face-down into the bed and straddling the back of one thigh and grinding her slick all over it. She thinks about stripping naked and walking into the bathroom and yanking the vibe out of Wei Ying’s hand before dropping to her knees and burying her face in Wei Ying’s pussy. She thinks about pressing her tongue as deep into Wei Ying as it can get, thinks about making Wei Ying come on her face and then sucking her clit until Wei Ying begs her to stop and then not stopping until Wei Ying comes again. She thinks about Wei Ying sprawled out across the comically huge bed, flushed and panting and sweaty and sticky because Lan Zhan made her that way.

Lan Zhan comes hard, lip caught between her teeth to muffle any sound, hips grinding silently against her fingers as she shudders and clenches. Her mind goes soft and dark, her muscles loose and lax. She plays with her clit a little bit more, cunt spasming with the aftershocks as Lan Zhan draws out her orgasm as long as she can. When it finally tips over into fully done she stills her hand and catches her breath, eyes mostly closed.

That was probably not ideal from a creepiness standpoint, Lan Zhan reflects, but she feels much more capable of sharing a bed with Wei Ying tonight without rolling over and biting one of those cute little tits. Progress.

Lan Zhan wipes her hand off thoroughly with paper towels wetted from the water in the kettle, straightens her clothing, and checks herself in the vanity mirror. She looks a little flushed, maybe, her pupils a little dilated, but probably she’s the only one who can tell. The shower shuts off with a startling clunk. Lan Zhan shakes herself, takes a few more deep breaths, and gathers what she’ll need for her turn in the bathroom.

“All yours,” Wei Ying announces, emerging with a wash of humid air, her hair damp and combed-smooth for all the good it will do her when she’s certainly going to get into bed with it still wet. Her dirty clothes are clamped under one elbow on the side of her body furthest from Lan Zhan, because she absolutely has a vibrator hidden in them. Tonight’s underwear say “abandon all hope ye who enter here,” on the front. Lan Zhan wants to bury her face in her hands, but that would probably lead to questions, and to Lan Zhan having to admit to actively reading Wei Ying’s underwear. Instead she nods, grabs her shower bundle (which does not contain a vibrator), and subtly checks out Wei Ying’s ass as she walks past.

It’s definitely bigger than it was in college. This information is delightful and devastating.

Lan Zhan’s showers efficiently, hair pinned up and hands moving through the routine without needing feedback from her brain. When she’s clean, dry, moisturized, and minty-fresh, she shrugs into her nightgown and regards her reflection. The photos on the website definitely didn’t make it seem like the fabric would be this near-sheer, though the photos on the website were modeled by a pale white woman who presumably had very pale nipples, or possibly had her nipples fully Photoshopped out. Lan Zhan’s nipples are not pale, nor are her areolas. Lan Zhan looks like a soft-core porn pinup in this nightgown, which she honestly doesn’t have a problem with. She’s not above spending some time posing in front of a mirror, or taking thirst trap selfies for her own personal enjoyment. She just wasn’t expecting to wear it in front of Wei Ying. On the other hand, Wei Ying apparently wasn’t expecting to wear pajamas at all on this trip, so Lan Zhan supposes they’re in the same revealing boat.

Wei Ying’s already in bed when Lan Zhan leaves the bathroom, leaning up against the headboard and click-clacking away on her laptop. She glances up at Lan Zhan, gives her a weirdly strained smile, and drops her eyes back to the screen. Wei Ying’s been weird ever since the writers of color caucus, and Lan Zhan rolls it over in her head while she shuts off the lights. Should she bring it up? What even is the “it” she wants to bring up?

“So,” Wei Ying says lightly when Lan Zhan’s under the covers and absently swishing her toes against the smooth sheets, “you and Jasmine, huh?”

Oh. Good. That saves Lan Zhan the trouble of coming up with an opening line. “Yes,” she says, trying to keep an eye on Wei Ying’s face without it being completely obvious that that’s what she’s doing. There’s definitely something there, and even Lan Zhan’s encyclopedic knowledge of Wei Ying’s facial expressions is at a loss for this one. “It was nice to see her,” she says lightly, in case Wei Ying still thinks she made it awkward by introducing Lan Zhan to her ex.

“Oh, sure,” Wei Ying agrees. “Jasmine’s great! We beta each other’s porn books all the time, I love Jasmine, I just…” She writes another sentence and shrugs. “I didn’t know you two knew each other. I had no idea you dated.

Lan Zhan makes a vaguely affirmative sound, mostly to show she’s listening, and tries to figure out how to respond to that. “I don’t often post about my personal life on social media,” she says, which is true. “I prefer to keep that kind of thing private.”

“Totally,” Wei Ying says, with a smile that looks half-sincere, half-mask. “I get it. No reason to make big announcements, right?”

“Right,” Lan Zhan says, honestly not sure what she’s agreeing to. She tips her head toward Wei Ying, looking at her openly now. There has to be something she can say that will make Wei Ying feel better about the whole thing. Lan Zhan wishes this was a scene in one of her books, where she knows everyone’s motivation and can control every side of the conversation. That’s not what this is, though, so she can only fumble through and do her best.

“Wei Ying,” she says, offering a hand across the snowy tundra of the mattress and squeezing Wei Ying’s fingers when she reaches to meet her. “Jasmine and I are still friends. I’m glad I got to see her today, and I’m glad you got to see her, too.” She brushes her thumb over the back of Wei Ying’s knuckles, wanting to lean in and press her lips there. “I’m glad I got to spend time with the two of you together.”

Wei Ying gives her that strange look for another breath and then she sighs, face melting into something soft. “Yeah,” she says, giving Lan Zhan a sweet little smile. “It was nice. Maybe we can all get lunch or something.”

“Whatever you want,” Lan Zhan promises, giving Wei Ying’s hand a little pat and rolling back toward her side of the bed so she doesn’t try to hold on to her all night. Boundaries. Lan Zhan is respecting them. Mostly. “Do you want me to wake you up when I do yoga tomorrow?” she asks. “Or I can wait until after breakfast.”

“Oh, yoga breakfast sounds great,” Wei Ying says. “Better prep my garbage body for a full day in conference center chairs. Maybe I can delay my transformation into a harpy if I stretch enough.”

“I believe in you,” Lan Zhan says solemnly, doing the pre-sleep checklist of eye mask, white noise, lamp off. “Goodnight, Wei Ying.”

“Night night, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says softly. Lan Zhan finds the darkness behind her eyes and settles into the sheets. Across the bed Wei Ying taps at her keyboard, quiet little clicks like an ASMR video, and Lan Zhan lets it lull her into sleep.

Chapter Text

Wei Ying slaps at her phone until Cardi B stops bragging about her wet-ass pussy, but only because it’s too early in the morning for anyone to talk about pussies and the wetness thereof. Or talk. Or be awake in general. Wei Ying wishes she was still asleep. She spends some time giving heavy consideration to rolling over, shoving her head under the pillow, and going for Sleepytime 2: Electric Boogaloo. She’s just about decided to give it a shot when the room suddenly goes quiet in a way that also makes everything louder.

“Good morning,” Lan Zhan says, because Wei Ying’s sharing a room and a bed with Lan Zhan, and she obviously just turned her white noise machine off, like she did yesterday morning, on account of this is Lan Zhan’s hotel room. “There’s coffee.”

“You are a literal superhero angel,” Wei Ying tells her blearily. “Which is an actual novel premise I tried to read last year, but it was way too evangelical and the writing was awful, so I never finished it.”

“Life is too short to read bad writing,” Lan Zhan says, going to do something over by her tiny travel kitchen.

“Unless it’s funny,” Wei Ying argues, scrubbing her eyes.

“Unless it’s funny,” Lan Zhan agrees. She tosses something in a pan, maybe? The room smells fucking amazing, so whatever Lan Zhan’s making for breakfast, it’s going to put Wei Ying’s granola bar plus banana to shame. Now that she’s awake she’s hungry, though, so Wei Ying levers herself upright and stares at Lan Zhan’s muscular back and the way her workout tank and compression leggings just, like… hug the whole situation happening there.

“Do you still lift?” she asks, mouth moving on its own. Wei Ying winces at herself, because wow, could she make it any more obvious that she was staring at Lan Zhan’s ass? “Bro?” she adds, trying to salvage the question by making it into a joke, for all the good that’ll do her.

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says. “Do you still dance?”

“Mostly via dancing games on my Switch, but yeah, I still hit up the studio once a week.” Twice a week, sometimes, when modern gets a little itchy and she feels like scratching some ballet muscles with the short tattooed lesbian instructor who makes them warm up to Amy Winehouse. Wei Ying was never going to get anywhere near professional, but she likes being tricked into exercising by learning a new skill. She also likes being able to cut a rug if the opportunity arises. She contains multitudes. “Too bad you never got into ballet,” she says wistfully. “I bet you’d do great lifts. Do you think you could lift me, jiejije?”

“Yes.”

Wei Ying laughs. “Lan Zhan!” she says between giggles, “You didn’t even turn around to check! I’m a tall lady; I might weigh more than you think!”

“Unlikely,” Lan Zhan says, but she turns around to give Wei Ying a look that starts out assessing her for liftability and then catches somewhere around chest level. Wei Ying looks down automatically—did she get something on her shirt while she was sleeping?—and discovers that one of her tits has again escaped its enclosure to go on walkabout, as though it’s an aquarium otter that hasn’t been provided with enough enrichment activities.

“Fuck,” Wei Ying says, yanking her useless tank top around. “Sorry, Lan Zhan, it appears I am in fact unable to calm my tits.”

“No apologies needed,” Lan Zhan says to the tiny kitchen. “Wei Ying’s tits are independent. It is admirable.” She moves to the table, graceful even while carrying plates around, and adds, “There’s coffee,” even though she already said that and Lan Zhan never repeats herself unless asked. Great, Wei Ying’s making it weird. What else is new?

“Thanks,” Wei Ying says, scrambling out of bed and into her yoga pants. “Be there in a sec.”

Wei Ying walks into the doorframe on her way into the bathroom, again, hitting her hip in precisely the same place she hit it previously, and glares at the door while she pees. Traitor. (Wei Ying hits her hips on door frames and couches and anything stationed at hip height every day, at every opportunity, but that doesn’t mean she’s gonna let this door get away with it.) She looks at her reflection while she washes her hands. It’s her. Wei Ying. Tall, lanky, small-titted, dangerously wide-hipped, hair that does whatever the fuck it wants and woe betide anyone who gets in its way, leftover eyeliner still crusted on her lashline because she can never get it all the way off. She’s fine. Wei Ying has no complaints about her body most of the time (except for all the complaints she has about how it functions). She’s aware that she’s generally considered conventionally attractive. Certainly none of her exes have had anything bad to say, other than some gentle ribbing about her constant mysterious bruises and the truly magnificent bedhead she tends to sport. She likes how she looks. She’s pretty fucking hot, actually.

She’s just apparently not what Lan Zhan likes, in any way, at all. She’s not short and soft and absolutely stacked, with perfect high femme makeup and hair that looks like it’s ready for a magazine photoshoot. Wei Ying is femme only insofar that she wears dresses and leggings because they’re more comfortable than hard pants. She does smoky eyeliner because she never learned how to do cat-eye liner without one side looking like it was applied by a drunk with a sharpie. She’s not Jasmine. She’ll never be able to be Jasmine. Lan Zhan liked Jasmine enough to date her for five months. That’s almost half a year! Wei Ying knew she never stood a chance, but having the bandage ripped off this thoroughly hurts.

Wei Ying takes a deep breath and meets her own reflected eyes. Jasmine is great. Wei Ying likes her a lot. Wei Ying’s not going to stand here and “not like other girls” herself, especially not about a friend, and especially not when she knows from said friend’s Twitter essays that plus-size Black women have to put extra effort into their appearances to receive the same respect as thinner, paler women. Wei Ying isn’t superior to anyone because she’s willing to fall out of bed directly into yesterday’s t-shirt dress and leave the house like that. It’s great that Jasmine and Lan Zhan—two very awesome people that Wei Ying is lucky to have in her life—had a nice time dating each other. It’s totally fine that Wei Ying learned this at random in a conference room caucus, instead of from Lan Zhan, her best friend, who dated someone else for five fucking months and didn’t see fit to tell Wei Ying about it. It’s fine! People don’t tell their best friends about their dating adventures all the time, probably! Everything’s fine and normal here, yep, nothing to see!

The wallowing is not helping. Wei Ying makes a face at her reflection, which actually does lift her spirits a little, and exits in a slightly better mood, right up until she hits her hip on the doorframe for the second time that morning.

“Mother fucking fuckshit,” she grumbles, flipping it the bird as she drops into her chair. “Why does the door hate my ass, Lan Zhan?”

“Jealousy,” Lan Zhan deadpans immediately. She hides a smile behind her cup when Wei Ying laughs, as though she could hide the way her eyes go all soft and curve into gentle crescents. Wei Ying knows all her tells.

(Wei Ying might not have known she was dating; that she had a girlfriend for five months, but she can at least interpret Lan Zhan’s facial expressions. No one can take that away from her.)

Annoyed at her own intrusive thoughts, Wei Ying drags her eyes away from Lan Zhan’s face, because there’s instant caramel latte here somewhere for her. The mug is right in front of her hand, like Lan Zhan knew exactly how Wei Ying was going to sprawl forward on the table. It’s next to a bowl. The bowl is full of tomato egg fried rice. It matches the bowl in front of Lan Zhan, because Lan Zhan cooked for her, again; she made fully fucking homemade tomato egg fried rice in a hotel room and made sure there was enough for Wei Ying, too.

Wei Ying has a small, silent emotional meltdown about this.

(Did she cook for Jasmine? She must have cooked for Jasmine. Wei Ying can’t imagine Lan Zhan as anything but attentive and caring. Did she ever make tomato egg fried rice for Jasmine in the morning, after a date?)

“I can’t believe you made this in a hotel,” Wei Ying says, when she can speak without screaming. “Did you set out to flex on everyone else who ever lived, or did that happen by accident?”

Lan Zhan gives this ridiculous question far more consideration than it deserves, her brow furrowing thoughtfully as she chews. “If we can restrict the definition of ‘everyone else who ever lived’ to ‘the people who standardize room service menus,’ then yes, I did set out to ‘flex’ on them.”

“Mission accomplished.” Wei Ying salutes with her spoon and dives in. She groans with the first bite. There are fucking shallots in this. There’s a fresh vegetable! She’s eating it in a hotel room! “Oh my god, jiejie,” she says, chewing in absolute bliss, “you’re one hundred percent flexing on everyone else who ever lived. You’re the best hotel room cook of all time.”

“A competitive bracket, certainly,” Lan Zhan says, aiming for deadpan and absolutely radiating smug satisfaction.

“Pretty sure it’s a Summer Olympics event,” Wei Ying says, working steadily through her bowl as is her way when provided with food. “Wait, would it be Winter Olympics?”

Lan Zhan sips her tea, eyes distant. “I believe it could work for either, but with different dishes depending on the season.”

“Right,” Wei Ying says. “Also, in the winter you have to cook while standing on a sheet of ice for some reason.”

Lan Zhan frowns. “Is the ice in the hotel room?”

“Yes,” Wei Ying announces, with the confidence of someone making up some absolute fucking bullshit. “And occasionally housekeeping comes by on skates to try and distract you with a vacuum.”

Lan Zhan nods, projecting the same gravity that she uses in her notes when she’s beta-reading one of Wei Ying’s romance novels. “I see.” She pauses, regards her bowl of fried rice, and adds, “I may need more training in order to win gold, then.”

Wei Ying laughs, hand over her mouth to try and spare Lan Zhan the vision of her half-chewed food. “You’re the best,” she says, when her mouth is empty, still grinning. “Is there anything I could come up with that you wouldn’t immediately go along with?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says with zero hesitation. She pauses, cocks her head, and adds, “If it was murder I might have some questions first.”

“That’s fair,” Wei Ying says, trying to keep a straight face. “I’ll try to give you a heads-up prior to the murder, so you have time to prepare.”

“Thank you for your thoughtfulness,” Lan Zhan deadpans, and Wei Ying starts laughing again so hard she has to eat the rest of her breakfast at the hotel desk so she doesn’t end up looking at Lan Zhan and losing it again.

Wei Ying manages to swoop in and grab the dishes before Lan Zhan can get to them, and she cackles smugly to herself in the bathroom as she scrubs them with the little bunny sponge and Lan Zhan’s travel-sized grapefruit scented soap. It’s weirdly satisfying—there’s something almost salacious about washing a bowl in a hotel bathroom sink, the way it’s an infusion of the rooted mundane life into a space that’s usually extremely liminal.

(Did Jasmine ever wash the dishes after Lan Zhan cooked? Did they get to that point in the five months they were dating, or did Lan Zhan insist on treating Jasmine like a guest? Could Wei Ying’s brain maybe stop throwing intrusive thoughts at her every five minutes? Signs point to no.)

Wei Ying’s Jealous Thoughts disappear as she steps back into the “living room” section of the hotel room to be immediately replaced by Wei Ying’s Horny Thoughts, because Lan Zhan has apparently decided to get a jump on their mutual yoga and downward dog seemed like just the place to start, Wei Ying guesses. There is an ass, like, right there, and it’s an ass sculpted by the fucking gods or something, which makes sense on account of how it’s Lan Zhan’s ass and every inch of her is hot lesbian perfection. Wei Ying stares at the legging-clad curve of it and absently tries to figure out if the leggings are that high-quality or if Lan Zhan just straight up isn’t wearing underwear, because she’s giving That Ass a thorough inspection, and she doesn’t see a hint of pantyline. Wei Ying bites her lower lip, hard. It’s that or make a desperate little “Heennnnnnnginnningng” sound, and Wei Ying would prefer to not.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan asks, lifting one leg into the air and peering back at her upside-down. “Did you need to do anything else before we started?”

“Nope!” Wei Ying squeaks, yanking her eyes away from Lan Zhan’s toned, muscular, perfect ass like a stunt double being pulled backwards on a wire rig. “I’m good! Yoga! Let’s!” Thankfully for Wei Ying, this is about as coherent as she usually is in the morning, so Lan Zhan nods at her (upside-down) and—heaven have mercy—walks her hands back to meet her feet, the muscles in her arms and shoulders rippling. Wow. Okay. Lan Zhan is strong and flexible. This is great. Lan Zhan rolls up to standing, each vertebrae stacking on top of the one below it, and Wei Ying almost swallows her tongue. Fuck.

“You may want water,” Lan Zhan says, oblivious to Wei Ying’s inner struggle. “Also, please help me move the table.”

Right. The coffee table. It’s currently shoved to the side, but it’ll definitely get in the way of two tall-ass women about to put their limbs all over the damn place. Wei Ying grabs one end, and Lan Zhan grabs the other and gives Wei Ying just, like, the most spectacular view down the front of her tank top. Lan Zhan’s boobs are just as nice as her ass, all shoved together and sort of up by her very supportive sports bra, and Wei Ying wants to crawl forward over the table and put her face in them.

Wei Ying does not do that, for both creepiness reasons and because they’re currently carrying the table. Dropping a coffee table on both their feet at once would be a real damper on whatever mood she’s trying to set, here, so instead she helps Lan Zhan get it on the other side of the divider and leaned up against the wall. There are towels laid out on the floor for them to stretch on. Wei Ying thinks back to all the hotel carpets she’s laid on in her life and makes the conscious decision not to mention that she’s never thought of putting a towel down before. Lan Zhan can keep thinking of Wei Ying as a sensible functioning adult human for a little while longer.

“How frequently do you do yoga?” Lan Zhan asks, doing some light twists to limber up her spine. Wei Ying follows suit, every bone in her body announcing their presence simultaneously.

“Often enough that I should be able to follow along even if I don’t remember all the pose names,” she says, stretching her arms above her head with a crackle. She hasn’t taken a formal class in a while and wouldn’t be able to differentiate between the different warrior poses if you paid her, but that doesn’t matter when you’re doing yoga with someone.

“Will you need to modify anything?” Wei Ying gives Lan Zhan a raised eyebrow, and she gestures at Wei Ying’s upper back. Wei Ying frowns. Is this about how loud her shoulders are? “The scoliosis?” Lan Zhan clarifies.

“Oh!” Wei Ying laughs. “Oh, no, it’s fine. It’s super mild, doesn’t bother me on the daily or anything. It just means that my muscle groups all want to get unbalanced and then yank everything else out of alignment, because they’re jerks.” It took ten fucking years of asking every doctor Wei Ying saw about her weird back issues to finally get one to send her for a x-ray and an almost immediate diagnosis of mild thoracic scoliosis—fuck you very much the healthcare industry—but all that meant was having a name and a potential solution to the problem. There are specific exercises that she (mostly) does in the name of making the weird pinchy pain in her hip go away and to get her left trapezius to actually do its job instead of offloading all the work onto her neck. The results are mixed, probably because Wei Ying’s dedication is questionable. “If I can’t do something I’ll let you know,” she promises, because Lan Zhan is still frowning.

“All right,” Lan Zhan says, and does something with her phone. The bluetooth speaker comes to life with a yoga playlist that manages not to be too New-Agey, and Wei Ying takes a deep breath, her shoulders already dropping. “We’ll start by warming up our necks,” Lan Zhan says, voice low. Wei Ying drops her ear to one shoulder with a mildly unnerving crunch and exhales.

Yoga with Lan Zhan is simultaneously the most relaxing thing Wei Ying has done in years and the most sexually fraught thing she’s done in years, which is a real accomplishment. They mostly stretch in silence, Lan Zhan occasionally talking through the flow of a movement before they do it, her voice always low and soothing. She corrects Wei Ying’s form a few times, which is just… wow. Wei Ying hadn’t realized she’d been doing a particular lunge wrong until Lan Zhan set careful hands on her hips and pulled her into the correct position. It was maybe a two inch difference, and it unlocked a stretch that went all the way from the inside of her knee into her fucking ribcage. Wei Ying actually whimpered, because she’s a weak and terrible person, and Lan Zhan’s hands were big and warm. Fuck.

Worse than the times when Lan Zhan’s hands are on her (which is also the greatest fucking thing imaginable—Wei Ying has layers) are the times Lan Zhan makes satisfied little sounds. She’ll sigh through an intense stretch, rumble an “Mmm,” deep in her chest when she gets a pose just right, inhale deep and exhale slow with the kind of breath control that makes Wei Ying weak in the knees. (What the fuck, even, breathing does it for her now? Is there a breathing kink? Does Wei Ying have it? Things to google later, maybe.) It is a lot to deal with, and Wei Ying tries very hard to focus on her own breathing and making sure her knee is stacked right on top of her ankle so she doesn’t fuck up her body worse than it usually is.

“Good?” Lan Zhan asks, when they’re both lying flat on their backs breathing gently at the ceiling.

“Good,” Wei Ying confirms. She pulls her feet up and grabs them with her hands, rolling around in happy baby—objectively the best pose and the best name—and sighs as something in her lower back relaxes that she hadn’t even known was tight.

“Good,” Lan Zhan says, satisfied. “Anything still need work?”

Wei Ying flops back out and considers. “The front of my shoulders,” she admits, “but that’s nothing new. No matter how many doorways I stretch in they’re always fucked.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan sits up in one smooth movement, hello, abs! “Sit up,” she orders, and Wei Ying scrambles to sit cross-legged without bothering to wonder why. Lan Zhan knee-walks over to settle behind her, a warm press all against Wei Ying’s back. Cool! This is happening! It’s fine! “Wrap your arms up around my back,” she says in Wei Ying’s ear, looming forward to pass her arms in front of Wei Ying’s shoulders. She’s close enough that her voice rumbles into Wei Ying’s skin. Wei Ying’s nipples definitely get hard, which hopefully she can blame on the air conditioning. “Arms?” Lan Zhan says, in the tone of a reminder.

Wei Ying wraps her arms around Lan Zhan’s back. Fuck.

“Keep your core engaged,” Lan Zhan explains in a low, authoritative voice, wrapping her arms around Wei Ying’s back now, their biceps pressed together but in opposite directions, like the weirdest yin-yang symbol. “I’m going to push my chest against your upper back and put pressure on your arms. Don’t arch.”

“Got it,” Wei Ying says. Her voice is barely strangled, which is pretty impressive seeing as her head has settled right into Lan Zhan’s cleavage. She engages her core, as asked. Lan Zhan hums in approval and does a thing with her arms and pushes her boobs further forward and Wei Ying fully whites out for a second.

“Breathe,” Lan Zhan says into her hair, and Wei Ying sucks in a breath and slams back into her body. Oh. Oh wow. This is a fucking stretch, all right. Wei Ying inhales again, almost dizzy. It feels like all the muscles in the front of her shoulders have been buried under deep dirt, and now Lan Zhan dug them up to lay them out in the sun. Blood flows into places she hadn’t realized had been lacking blood. Can that happen? Can muscles forget to have blood in them?

“Good?” Lan Zhan asks.

“Hnnnng,” Wei Ying says.

“More?” Lan Zhan asks, having correctly interpreted that as an affirmative.

“Mmmmm,” Wei Ying says, and Lan Zhan push/pulls her a little deeper. She makes a truly embarrassing sound, somewhere between a pleased cat and a muffled orgasm. Wei Ying has heard people describe things as “better than sex” previously in her life, and she respects their lived experience but likes sex a lot, so she’s always privately disagreed. This might actually be better than sex. Fuck, this could be sex. It’s probably someone’s kink. It might be Wei Ying’s now, along with “breathing.”

“Haaaaaaaah,” she says on an exhale, blinking up at the curve of Lan Zhan’s jaw. It’s a nice jaw, and Wei Ying’s still firmly cradled against Lan Zhan’s perfect boobs, and maybe they can stay here for the rest of the day? That seems reasonable, right?

“Letting go now,” Lan Zhan warns her, which is the last thing Wei Ying wants. She manages not to whine as Lan Zhan carefully releases the pressure and extricates their arms from each other. Wei Ying sways a little when Lan Zhan kneels down, and a warm, wide hand presses against her back to keep her upright.

“Good?” Lan Zhan asks again, a steady rock for Wei Ying to lean on.

“I think I saw god,” Wei Ying says, dazed. “She told me I haven’t been stretching enough.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, petting her spine a bit. “God is probably right.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to agree with her,” Wei Ying grumbles. She rolls out her shoulders and then circles her arms backwards, elbows-out. They move smoothly, and when she straightens her spine it actually stays straight instead of wanting to hunch forward. “Wow,” she says, awed. “Goddamn, Lan Zhan, that was amazing. I don’t want to say it was better than breakfast, but it’s up there.” She flops over backwards, splaying into Lan Zhan’s lap and peering up at her. Lan Zhan allows this, hand transitioning smoothly from petting Wei Ying’s spine to resting on her shoulder. This is probably too much cuddling, so Wei Ying makes it into a joke, whining, “Jiejie, you stretched my shoulders too good, now I’m all blissed out and too sleepy to do my presentation.”

“Alas,” Lan Zhan deadpans. “I will take responsibility.”

Wei Ying squints at her. “How?”

Lan Zhan considers that, thumb tracing absent little circles into Wei Ying’s bare shoulder. Wei Ying watches her the whole time, watches the journey her face goes on, the pink flush of her ears, the subtle shifts at the corners of her mouth. After an almost comically long pause Lan Zhan nods, more to herself than to Wei Ying. “I,” she says with gravitas, “will make you more coffee.”

Wei Ying melts, smiles helplessly at her best friend, and tries not to fall too much more in love. “Coffee would be great.”

(She fails at the not falling more in love part, but what else is new?)

⋄⋄⋄

“Hi!” Wei Ying says to the packed conference room, practically vibrating with excitement and nerves. “I’m Wei Wuxian, and this is ‘Beyond Tabs and Slots: Queering Your Sex Scenes!’ I’m very flattered by how many of you showed up at eleven in the morning on a Friday to hear me talk about alien dicks! Y’all horny for this one, huh?”

There’s a general rumble of laughter. Wei Ying grins. She loves presenting, and she loves this presentation in particular. She’s run it a few times, enough to be comfortable with it, and also enough to know that there’s a second part of the greeting she needs to do.

“So in case it wasn’t obvious from the description, this is going to be pretty damn explicit. I will be discussing sex and sex acts and various genital configurations between varying numbers and types of people, so if you’re in the wrong panel room, or if that makes you uncomfortable, or you just need to pee, get up and leave at any time. I will not judge you for it, I promise!” She waves at her temple, letting her smile go self-deprecating. “Honestly I’ll probably be so hyped up on presentation adrenaline I won’t even notice you leaving. Go if you want to! Be free!”

Wei Ying pauses, scanning the room. A few people actually do get up and leave, which she was expecting. Sometimes people don’t read the program clearly, and the signage in this particular hotel conference center leaves something to be desired. There were a few folks Wei Ying thinks probably meant to be in the panel next door about crafting the third-act romance novel breakup, and if that’s where they wanted to be, that’s where they should go. Wei Ying will definitely not give them what they were looking for.

“If you’re still here,” Wei Ying says, when the last straggler is out the door, “then you are consenting to listen to me talk about weird sex for approximately an hour, so I don’t want to get my feedback cards back afterward to find a whole-ass essay from a conservative Christian author telling me I’m going to hell for making the clits touch, not that I’m speaking from personal experience.” She winks and leans forward, cupping her hand around her mouth. “We’re gonna talk about tentacles,” she whispers into the microphone. “They’re gonna go in some places. Prepare yourselves.”

That gets another laugh, and Wei Ying straightens up and clicks to the first slide in her presentation, “They’re Lesbians, Harold!” She likes to start with f/f, aka “the forgotten gays,” both for personal feminist reasons and also because it makes certain kinds of authors uncomfortable, and if they’re uncomfortable, they leave before they get to the part of the presentation about sexy cloacas. Her screen has her notes off to the side, and she scans them quickly to refresh her memory.

“Okay!” she says, raising her eyes back to the room. “So first we’re going to be talking about writing sex between people who have the same pronouns, because I swear if I read one more ‘the raven-haired woman’ in prose written from the raven-haired woman’s point of view, I am going to finally get angry enough to turn into Author Hulk, and then I’ll ruin all my clothes and end up running around in a pair of tiny purple shorts.” Wei Ying pauses to let that land, scanning the faces of the audience to make sure they’re still on-board, and almost flings her wireless mouse off the lectern when she sees Lan Zhan among them. Wei Ying’s palms, already sweaty with nerves just from being up on a stage, go slippery with a speed that is both impressive and disgusting.

So.

Lan Zhan’s here.

At Wei Ying’s presentation.

Where she talks about writing explicit weird sex for almost an hour and then takes questions at the end.

About the explicit weird sex.

Cool cool cool cool cool.

Well, there is literally nothing Wei Ying can do about it now, so she drags her eyes away from Lan Zhan (who will hear Wei Ying talk about shark penises in about twenty minutes) and focuses on what she’s here for: talking about shark penises. Eventually. Among other things.

“Right!” she says, to the exit sign in the back, so everyone thinks she’s looking at them, and also so she’s not staring at Lan Zhan. “Let’s get really sexy and talk sentence construction.”

After the f/f section Wei Ying always does the f/m section, helpfully titled “F/M Is Only As Straight As You Make It,” aka “The Fucking Hill Wei Ying Will Die On Goddamnit.” It’s not just that she likes to read and write pegging, it’s that there are whole queer and trans worlds contained in f/m relationships, and Wei Ying would like everyone to fucking remember that t4t relationships exist. 

“Remember, please,” Wei Ying says pointedly, “that if a bisexual cis man and a bisexual cis woman are in a relationship with each other, that relationship is still queer.” She glares a little to make sure it really sinks in and adds, “If I find out any of you leave here and engage in bisexual erasure after I’ve explicitly instructed you in how not to do so, I will hack your computers and change all the hotkeys in your writing programs so every time you ctrl-s it deletes your whole document.” There are a few theatrically horrified gasps, and Wei Ying nods threateningly. “Don’t test me! I have no idea how hacking works but I’m very determined!” She glances over at Lan Zhan, unable to help herself, and finds a softly amused smile that’s so striking Wei Ying almost chokes on her own spit. Okay, nope, no more looking at Lan Zhan! Not if she wants to survive this presentation!

The m/m section after the f/m section is basically just review, which is great for making something stick. Wei Ying shares some excerpts for both from her high-school fanfic and gets the pleasure of being several people’s first introduction to the word “pink-ette,” from back when she was writing Naruto fic and barely knew how words worked.

“I cannot overemphasize how common this was at the time,” she says, over the laughter. “We all thought it was a regular suffix! There were blue-ettes and green-ettes everywhere! But also, that was the least of my writing problems.” She highlights the mangled sentence structure in one particular passage, where Vash the Stampede gives Wolfwood what fifteen-year-old Wei Ying thought would be a sexy blowjob. “Who is even doing what, here?” she asks rhetorically. “All the epithets in the world won’t help convey the action if I don’t make the action clear. I went ahead and revised this scene recently, so see if you can spot the difference.” (The joke here is that “the difference” is so massive that it’s basically a completely different scene. One that’s coherent.)

“So you know how to make it clear where your same-pronouned characters are,” Wei Ying says, once she’s done with the “Theydies and Gentlethems” section, “and you know how to let the reader know who’s doing what. Great. Let’s take it up a notch.” She cracks her knuckles and advances the slideshow to “Let’s You and You and You and You and Him Fight Fuck.

“Group sex!” she says, with relish. “We’re skipping over threesomes and moving directly into group sex in general, because anything applicable to threesomes is applicable to larger groups as well. This is way harder to write, and it’s not just because of the amount of potential boners you gotta deal with.” She shoots fingerguns at an author she recognizes from the self-publishing caucus the night before, who responds with a helpful, “Eeeeeyyyyy!” Ah, weirdo solidarity.

“So here’s my greatest writing tip for you,” Wei Ying starts, getting a little dramatic. “It’s going to help across the board, with any writing you want to do, but especially with writing sex scenes.” She leans forward, as though planning to impart grand knowledge, and inwardly delights when a few people in the audience lean forward, too. “Read other stuff,” Wei Ying announces, as seriously as she can, and laughs when someone in the middle row shoots her a betrayed look. “Yes, I know! Research helps! What a concept! But I regret to inform you that the best way to get better at writing is by doing research and practicing.” She shakes her head and huffs, “The worst, right?”

A woman in the front row nods emphatically. Wei Ying points at her. “You get me.” To the room at large, she says, “Now, I know it can be harder to find books with group sex scenes, since romance does tend to skew to the OTP, so here’s my actual big secret: Sex scenes and fight scenes are basically the same thing, and I’m not saying that in a ‘Tee-hee, sex and violence’ kind of way.” She advances the slide to an excerpt from a popular fantasy novel, where the heroine has to fight multiple opponents. “What I mean is that sex scenes and fight scenes both require the author to keep careful track of the movements and intentions of all the characters, how they interact with the environment around them, and how their differing skills come into play.” Next comes the part where she breaks down the action of the fight scene, followed by an m/m/f/f sex scene she wrote specifically as a presentation example, and the similarities between the two.

“So as you can see, if you can write a fight scene, you can write a sex scene, at least mechanically.” Wei Ying waves expansively. “Both are all about limb placement and remembering who was last touching where and how many legs are currently in play, and probably involve you, the author, writing about experiences you haven’t currently had. That’s where my next piece of advice comes into play: expert feedback.” The next slide is a picture of Nie Huaisang, their face blurred out and “SEXPERT” written in large block letters on top of it. “My secret weapon is a good friend who is very active in the polyamorous and kink communities. If there’s a sex to be had, they’ve probably had it, so if I’m having trouble with a scene, they’re my go-to beta-reader. Now, if you don’t have your own sexpert friend, store-bought is fine.” The next slide is all about best practices when recruiting a sex-scene specific beta-reader, aka How Not To Be Fucking Creepy, and also Compensate People For Their Sexual Labor In A Way That Is Fair. Wei Ying checks the time. Twenty minutes left before where she usually takes questions. Perfect.

“And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” she announces, over the slide titled “CONSENTACLES!” Wei Ying grins and waves both hands at the screen like a model showing off a new toaster. “The weird shit.”

This is Wei Ying’s favorite part of the presentation because she gets to move away from craft and into impact. Craft is important, sure, but a beautifully laid out sentence can and will fall flat if it doesn’t actually engage with the reader’s emotions, and if you’re not engaging with the reader’s emotions, what are you even writing for?

(Also it gives her a chance to ramble about all the freaky bizarre ways sex works in the animal kingdom, which is a subject she finds personally fascinating but for some reason doesn’t make her popular at parties. Biology is neat, okay!)

“It’s not just about the tentacles,” she emphasizes, very carefully not looking at Lan Zhan and in fact trying very hard to forget that Lan Zhan’s in the room, “it’s about how the tentacles make your character feel, and subsequently how that makes your reader feel. Has your character always wanted to get triple-penetrated with tentacle bondage, or is this the first time they’ve ever considered tentacles in a sexy way? Do the tentacles feel familiar or alien? Is your character excited? Nervous? Scared and aroused? The emotional impact of the tentacle sex is what’s going to make your reader either love or hate your book, so you can’t just throw in tentacles and call it a day, any more than you can throw in emotionless ‘Tab A into Slot B’ het sex and expect anyone to care. Your reader wants to pick up what you’re putting down, so you have to put down something worth their while.”

Wei Ying goes through some greatest hits of weird animal sex and how you might incorporate those into alien or shapeshifting characters. (“If you’d like to read more about double-dicked shark men,” she deadpans, “I suggest you go to the Breath of the Wild section of your preferred fanfiction site and search the ‘Sidon’ tag, because that fandom learned one shark fact and went wild.”) She talks about cloacas, and the potential options therein (pun slightly intended). (“Are you writing about a species without gender distinctions? Does everyone have the same equipment? How would your human character react to that? What are their expectations for what sex looks like, and how do your disparate characters negotiate pleasurable sex when they’re coming from wildly different backgrounds?”) She talks about sex that might not even look like sex, and how to make the reader feel involved anyway.

“None of us know what it’s like to have someone enter our minds and then stimulate our dopamine production from the inside,” she says, frowns, and adds, “Actually, if you know what that’s like, call me because I have questions.” Wei Ying blinks at the back wall a couple times, shakes herself, and continues, “But maybe that’s how telepathic sex works in your story. Maybe you have a species for whom reproductive acts and sexual pleasure are separate, where the former is physical and the latter is mental. If you show me how the character reacts to that entirely mental telepathic sex, you can make it sexy without anyone ever so much as touching a butt.” Wei Ying leans forward, hand gripping the edge of the lectern. “You can make the reader believe anything, as long as you believe it.” She clenches her fist, eyes slipping shut in intense concentration. “Follow your weird sex dreams,” she says with feeling. “You’re the only one who can write them.”

Wei Ying opens her eyes, reflexively and unintentionally seeking out Lan Zhan. This proves to be an immediate mistake. Lan Zhan’s watching her with wide eyes, her lips slightly parted, and the exposed curve of her multi-pierced ear is so red Wei Ying can see it even from the stage. She looks startled to have been caught looking, and now Wei Ying can’t look away. Her heart does an uncomfortable thudding thing as her stomach drops into her shoes—this is why she didn’t tell Lan Zhan about her presentation, other than that she had one. She didn’t want to make it weird, and there’s just no fucking way it’s not weird now that Lan Zhan listened to her talk about weird, weird sex for an hour. Fuck. Maybe she shouldn’t have spent so long on the tentacle triple-penetration. Oh no, they’re still staring at each other in silence, this is too much staring, but Wei Ying can’t stop staring, shit shit shit, she can feel her face heating up, come on Wei Ying, stop fucking staring—

Someone sneezes, which breaks the moment, and Wei Ying takes a swig from her water bottle. “Okay!” she says brightly, once again carefully not looking at Lan Zhan. “That was the presentation! We have time for some questions, if anyone found anything unclear?”

A few hands go up, and Wei Ying fields a few questions about historical lube use and is she really sure that that’s how duck sex works. When the time officially runs out she gathers up her laptop, hands shaking lightly with the lingering post-public-speaking buzz, and accepts some compliments from people she will be unable to recognize later on pain of death.

“That was so good,” Jasmine says, appearing at her elbow and helpfully blocking Wei Ying off from the larger milling crowd of authors. “I mean, it’s nothing you and I haven’t talked about before, but seeing you present it is a whole different thing.”

“Thank you!” Wei Ying says, still a little wild and unfocused. “I worked hard on it!”

“And it showed,” comes Lan Zhan’s low voice from her other side, a warm hand landing lightly on her lower back to guide her out of the conference room. Wei Ying melts into it and allows herself to be herded by two people she likes and trusts, because left to her own devices she knows she’ll end up chatting with a dozen people from the audience and fully forget to eat lunch.

“I didn’t know you were gonna come,” she tells Lan Zhan. Her voice comes out whinier than expected, though whiney isn’t even quite the right word. She’s not sure how she sounds. She’s not even sure why she said it.

Lan Zhan frowns. “Did you not want me to?” Her hand drops from Wei Ying’s back, which wasn’t what she wanted to happen. Wei Ying honestly isn’t sure what she wanted to happen.

“No!” Wei Ying says quickly. “Or yes? I don’t—I didn’t mind—it was nice to see you in the audience,” she manages, finally. “I just, uh. I didn’t think it was something you’d be interested in.” I didn’t think you’d want to listen to me babble about porn, she manages to keep inside her head. Out loud, she clears her throat and adds, “It’s a lot more—ah—explicit than anything you normally write.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, staring intently at a potted plant. “It was a good presentation with clearly explained techniques that will be useful regardless.” Her hand flexes at her side, toward Wei Ying and then away. “Wei Ying is a good teacher.”

“The whole section where you’re talking about the emotional impact?” Jasmine says. “So clear. It’s one of those things where I know something’s wrong if I read something that doesn’t do it but I have a hard time explaining.” She laughs suddenly, dark eyes dancing. “Also, pink-ette? Really?”

“It was what I read in other people’s fics!” Wei Ying wails, covering her face. “I was but a child, I didn’t know!”

“I’m kinda impressed?” Jasmine allows. “I mean, I can see the logic.” She straightens her green palm-leaf patterned cardigan until the waistband lays cleanly over her dark-wash jeans, neat and fashionable and so much more put-together than Wei Ying is in her black leggings and red t-shirt dress. There’s a hole in the armpit of the dress that Wei Ying hadn’t noticed when she packed it, just to really drive home Wei Ying’s inadequacy. Jasmine looks good next to Lan Zhan, today in a blue midi dress with white embroidery. They match. They look like a pair. They look like a fashionable lesbian couple who adopted a mangy cat together, which they could have, since they dated for five months.

“Anyway, there’s nothing until one-thirty,” Jasmine says, breaking through Wei Ying’s self-deprecating spiral. “I was gonna go get lunch in the hotel bar. Did you want to come?”

“Oh, yeah!” Wei Ying says, perking back up. “I promised to help you brainstorm your billionaire trilogy. Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan shakes her head regretfully. “I would enjoy it,” she says, “but the reader event is tonight. I need to…”

“Hermit up,” Jasmine says.

“Conserve your battery juice,” Wei Ying says, at the same time.

Lan Zhan’s face does a soft, relieved thing. “Yes,” she says. “Thank you for understanding.”

“Of course,” Wei Ying says, giving her shoulder a squeeze and a little push. “Go stare at a wall in silence for an hour. The conference will be here when you get back.” “I’ll be here when you get back,” she means, and when Lan Zhan gives them both a gentle smile Wei Ying allows herself to pretend, for a minute, that Lan Zhan understood.

⋄⋄⋄

“Okay, so,” Wei Ying says, tortellini shoved inelegantly in her cheek, “do you think they all need to involve babies?”

Jasmine takes the time to chew and swallow the bite of overpriced cheeseburger she has in her mouth before she answers, because she—being someone Lan Zhan once dated—is not a horrible gremlin. “I don’t need them to involve babies,” she says thoughtfully, “but I’m not against them all involving babies. Some people are really into plot moppets.”

“Cool, because I had ‘Babysitting for the Billionaire’ ready to go but I hadn’t come up with anything else for that potential market.” Wei Ying sips her peach iced tea (actually much nicer than she was expecting it to be) and shovels more pasta into her mouth.

“‘Babysitting for the Billionaire’ is good, though,” Jasmine says, perking up. “The kind of people who read billionaire porn books are also the kind of people who get horny for an illicit employee/boss relationship, so I could totally work with that.” She takes another bite, managing to do it without messing up her bright pink lipstick and without destroying the structural integrity of the cheeseburger, two things Wei Ying will never be able to accomplish no matter how hard she tries. Wei Ying didn’t even think it was possible to eat a burger without making a massive mess, but she supposes it makes sense that anyone Lan Zhan dated would have that skill.

“So, you and Lan Zhan, huh?” falls out of her mouth before she can stop it. Fuck.

“Me and Lan Zhan,” Jasmine says agreeably, and then she looks up at whatever Wei Ying’s face is doing. “Ah,” she says after a moment. “I see.”

“Sorry,” Wei Ying says, covering her red cheeks with her hands. “Sorry, I’m being weird about it, I just—”

“I’m going to stop you there, Wuxian,” Jasmine says, holding up a hand in a polite but firm motion. She frowns, half-points a finger at Wei Ying, and asks, “Hey, actually, I never asked: Your badge says Wei Wuxian, but do you want me to use that name this weekend, or do you want to be Mo Xuanyu, or do you want to be your legal name that I promise I know you told me one time but then I forgot because in my head you’re ‘Porn Friend Wuxian’?”

“Wei Ying,” Wei Ying says, once she’s done laughing about “Porn Friend Wuxian.” “You can call me Wei Ying. Jasmine’s your legal name, right?”

“It’s like my parents either wanted me to be an author or a news anchor,” Jasmine says cheerfully. “Anyway, Wei Ying, here’s the thing: I can tell you have a lot of stuff you need to dump out, and that almost all of it is stuff you should probably unpack with a therapist or talk to A’Zhan about directly rather than being weird at me about it just because I dated her.”

Wei Ying deflates, a little stung but yeah, she gets it. “That’s fair,” she says, ready to mush everything back down and then sit on it in what’s totally an emotionally healthy way to handle her feelings.

But,” Jasmine says pointedly, as though Wei Ying hadn’t spoken, “because we are friends, and because I can tell you’re going through it, I’m gonna set a timer for five minutes and let you unload whatever it is you’re feeling and talk you through it, and then when the timer goes off we’re going to go back to having a fun lunch where we brainstorm increasingly ridiculous billionaire books. Deal?”

“Deal,” Wei Ying says, genuinely awed. “Damn, Jasmine, you’re really good at boundaries. Are you secretly an advice columnist?”

“No, but I read a lot of them.” Jasmine flashes her a quick smile, lipstick still perfect even after all that cheeseburger, and does a thing with her phone. “Okay,” she says, “you have five minutes. Hit me with it.”

“Uuuuuuugh,” Wei Ying says, wasting several valuable seconds. “Okay, it’s just Lan Zhan is my best friend, and I thought I was her best friend, but then I found out she dated you for five months and never said anything about it to me? So now I don’t know if we’re not as close as I thought or if she was trying to keep it a secret from me for some reason? And if she was trying to keep it a secret, I don’t know why, because you’re clearly great! If I was dating you I’d be yelling about it to everyone I know and probably some people I didn’t! So why didn’t she tell me?” Wei Ying's voice cracks a little at the end, which is even more embarrassing than the monologue, so she shoves tortellini into her mouth so she can’t keep rambling.

Jasmine politely takes her eyebrows down away from her hairline. “That’s a lot,” she says, “but you didn’t tell me how you’re actually feeling.”

“I don’t know,” Wei Ying grumbles. “Confused and hurt?”

“Hmmm.” Jasmine taps her expertly-painted fingernails on her water glass. “Is that it? Because it seems like you might be jealous.”

Wei Ying stares at nothing as several things slot together inside her head. “Fuck,” she says, with feeling. That’s what that feeling is. Wei Ying writes about feelings for a living and she still needed someone else to point it out to her, because she’s a mess of a person. She’s jealous.

“There it is,” Jasmine says in tones of congratulation. “Next question: Are you jealous of me or are you jealous of A’Zhan?”

“You,” Wei Ying admits after some horrible inner squirming. “Which, like, I’m not trying to take out on you, my weird shit isn’t your fault.” She pauses to consider the question further and adds, “Okay, also a little jealous of Lan Zhan, you’re extremely—” she gestures at Jasmine’s general everything “—but mostly I’m jealous of you, yeah, I guess.” The peach iced tea does not hold answers, but it is refreshing, and Wei Ying presses it against her temple. “Fuck.”

“I see today is a day of revelations for you,” Jasmine says, trying to hide her amusement and failing. Wei Ying doesn’t hold it against her, because this is a pretty funny situation, or it would be if she was reading it in a book instead of living it. “Listen, I can’t help you sort out whatever tangle you’re in, but I’ll say this: I didn’t really tell anyone I was dating A’Zhan either.”

“Why not?” Wei Ying asks, immediately offended on Lan Zhan’s behalf. If Wei Ying was dating Lan Zhan, she’d be screaming it from the rooftops!

“Because we both knew going in that it would be temporary,” Jasmine says easily. “She made it clear she wasn’t looking for anything long-term, and I knew I was going to be moving back to Chicago within the next couple years. Like, yes, we were dating, but honestly it was closer to a friends-with-benefits situation.” She frowns at her half-eaten burger and nibbles a fry. “That’s such a weird term. Being friends comes with benefits already, namely friendship.”

“Yeah, I feel like ‘fuckbuddies’ is actually way clearer,” Wei Ying agrees in the tones of someone who may have spent a night overthinking random romance terminology instead of actually sleeping, not that she’s absolutely done that or anything. Something loosens in her chest, the vinegar-taste of her jealousy slipping away. “I still wish she’d told me,” Wei Ying admits, sitting with the hurt.

“Which is valid, and also a conversation you should be having with her,” Jasmine points out, not unkindly.

“I don’t wanna make it weird!” Wei Ying protests. Jasmine raises one sculpted eyebrow and Wei Ying clarifies, “I don’t want to make it weirder. She’s already letting me stay in her room since mine was a scam. I can’t just dump all my feelings all over her in a space she can’t escape.”

“But you can dump them all over me,” Jasmine says, grinning.

“Hey!” Wei Ying holds up one finger. “You gave me five minutes.” She holds up another finger. “And you can escape, all the way back to your house and your handsome husband and your cute cats.”

“Valid points,” Jasmine concedes. She sips her water. “You should still talk to her, though.”

Wei Ying slumps over her bowl of acceptable-if-less-fancy-than-advertised pasta (not that it matters, since she’s paying for it with hotel credit). “I knoooooooow,” she whines, “but what does that look like? ‘Hey, Lan Zhan, thanks for swooping in and saving me from my own mistakes! I know you’re sharing your literal bed with me and cooking for me in your little travel kitchen, but what if I made things super uncomfortable by bringing up all my emotional shit’? No thanks!”

“Fair.” Jasmine pats Wei Ying on the head like she’s a particularly dramatic cat, which isn’t wrong, really. “You know she’s the only one who can explain why she didn’t tell you though, right?”

“Yes, thank you,” Wei Ying says, sitting up with a scowl. “And I may be choosing to live the rest of my life with the mystery.”

“Definitely a thing you could do,” Jasmine says dryly, taking a bite of burger.

“Thank you for your support,” Wei Ying says, trapped halfway between sarcastic and sincere. She props her chin on her hand and sighs, mind settling enough to remind her of something Jasmine said earlier.

“So Lan Zhan doesn’t date long-term?” Maybe that explains why Lan Zhan didn’t tell her. Maybe it explains a lot of things. Maybe Lan Zhan didn’t want to date Wei Ying because she knew Wei Ying wants to date long-term, like, in general, not that she’s managed it with any of her exes so far.

“Not from what she told me.” Jasmine shrugs. “Not sure why.” She pauses, takes a sip of her water, and makes weirdly intense eye contact as she adds, “I always got the impression she was too hung-up on someone else to date seriously.”

“Huh,” Wei Ying says, blinking at a chandelier across the room. That would make sense. Lan Zhan’s always been so steadfast it’s kinda weird to think of her as someone who dates casually, but if she is carrying a torch then the casual dating would obviously be a reaction to that. “Yeah, maybe,” Wei Ying says, returning to her tortellini, “but I have no idea who it would be.”

“Don’t you,” Jasmine says, not even making it a question, and before Wei Ying can respond the timer goes off on Jasmine’s phone, shattering the moment and Wei Ying’s train of thought.

“Five minutes!” Wei Ying says. “Okay, what about ‘Bewitching the Billionaire’?”

Jasmine looks like she wants to say something and visibly decides not to as she silences the alarm. “It has a ring to it,” she says, tapping her fingernail on her water glass again, “but do you think it’s going to imply a paranormal romance?”

“Good point.” Wei Ying frowns and twirls her fork absently. “‘Beholding the Billionaire’?"

“I’m not sure if I can make an entire book out of the act of looking at a person,” Jasmine says, laughing.

“Well, not with that attitude.” Wei Ying grins. “We can put that one on the maybe pile. Oh! ‘Baptizing the Billionaire’! Get that priest fetish market!”

“Ah, yes, the straightforward leap from babytrapping to baptizing,” Jasmine deadpans. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it.”

“Burglarizing?” Wei Ying now has a page open on her phone full of words that start with B and end in “ing,” and she scans them intently. “Buccaneering? Get that pirate market. Bankrupting? That’s got potential. Backhanding? It’s what they deserve.” Her eyes catch on something, and she inhales sharply. “Oh! ‘Blackmailing the Billionaire’!”

Jasmine’s eyes go wide. “Oh,” she breathes. “Oh, fuck, it’s perfect.”

“‘She was just after his money,’” Wei Ying intones like a movie trailer voiceover, “‘who knew that she’d end up with… his dick.’”

Jasmine cracks up laughing, the sound musical and bright. “I think,” she gasps out, “that you’re supposed to say ‘his heart,’ Wei Ying.”

“Maybe,” Wei Ying giggles, caught up in Jasmine’s energy, “but we both know what kind of book we’re talking about.”

“Okay, okay, okay,” Jasmine says, trying to calm herself down. “I think I have it.” She makes her face very serious, but absolutely gives the game away because she can’t quite make eye contact. “I take it in an m/m direction: ‘Balls-Deep in the Billionaire.’”

It takes them a while before they can eat without risking death by choking, but they get there eventually.

⋄⋄⋄

After dinner (which Lan Zhan cooks for Wei Ying, again, not that Wei Ying is having increasingly wild internal emotional meltdowns about it or anything) comes Wei Ying’s favorite part of Romance Novelist’s Guild conferences: The Step Into Romance reader event.

The concept is straightforward: A free open-house where fans can come meet authors, get books signed, enjoy an adequate hotel snack bar, and possibly win raffle prizes. Authors get to use the time to meet their fans in-person and advertise their work to new potential readers. All the raffle proceeds from this event will be split between a local non-profit promoting literacy in marginalized children and an organization that provides reproductive healthcare in low-income areas. It’s a win-win-win scenario all around.

In practice it’s two hours of chaos in a hotel ballroom. Local authors and those with publisher support have stand-ups and fancy decorations at their tables. Lan Zhan has an actual pile of physical books she’s giving away that were shipped to the hotel beforehand. Jasmine’s husband built her a collapsible travel pyramid bookshelf that has her name engraved on the top so people can see it from across the room. Someone—Wei Ying can’t see who—has a miniature suit of armor on their table. There’s free chocolate and carefully wrapped baked goods, a general aura of excitement, and at least five attendees who have clearly never been to one of these before. Wei Ying can tell from the glazed expressions on their faces and the general confused kind of wandering. She sympathizes—the reader event is a lot.

Wei Ying’s assigned to a cocktail table on the periphery of the chaos, since she didn’t exactly rank one of the eight-person round dining tables in the middle of the room. That’s fine. She’s in her element. She did, in fact, plan for this, so her table’s decorated with a skull-print square scarf doubling as her tablecloth, a handful of somewhat rumpled red faux-flower chrysanthemums, a pile of Chinese hard candies from the H-Mart back home, and two hundred postcards with the cover for “Blossom and Bone” on the front and a QR code for the download on the back. She’s ready.

(She also dropped off a pile of business cards on a couple of the un-monitored advertising tables set back against the walls. Wei Ying might not be officially attending this conference as Mo Xuanyu, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people here who deserve to know about “Double-Penetrated by the Dragon.” It’s free advertising to a bewildered, semi-captive market! She can’t pass that up!)

Countless sales pitches, a diminished pile of postcards, five actual book signings (Wei Ying’s books are available in paperback print-on-demand form, so every time she gets to sign a physical copy it’s like going to Disneyland), and a full glass of water later, Wei Ying gets back from grabbing some of the complimentary soft pretzel nuggets and cheese sauce from the snack buffet to find a familiar face waiting at her table.

“A’Yuan!” she half-yells, plonking her plate down with just enough care not to put it directly on her postcards before she sweeps Wen Yuan into a hug. “Holy crap, I wasn’t expecting to see you here! How’s college? Do I need to report any of your troublemaking exploits to your parents?”

“Hi, Ying-jiejie,” Wen Yuan says, returning Wei Ying’s hug with more strength than one might expect from such a short, sweet-looking girl. “Surprise! I knew you wouldn’t have time to visit otherwise so we took the bus over from campus. You don’t need to tell my parents anything.”

“I notice you didn’t mention whether you’re actually engaging in troublemaking exploits, which I am honor-bound to ask about. Once your babysitter, always your babysitter.” Wei Ying pulls away and gives Wen Yuan a once-over. She’s taller than she was when Wei Ying last saw her, some of her baby fat smoothing out in the transition between being eighteen and twenty. She stands with a little more confidence, lived experience away from home adding a depth to her big, dark eyes that wasn’t there before. “We should take a picture together,” Wei Ying announces, digging for her phone. “I can text it to your parents and prove I’m still behaving in a responsible manner that won’t corrupt your young mind.”

“I think if we get the naked male torso in the background it’ll really help sell the responsibility angle,” Wen Yuan says, nodding at the oversized posterboard book cover on one of the tables behind Wei Ying’s, which features a shirtless cowboy from the chin down and the dick up. “Nothing says responsibility like abs.”

Wei Ying laughs and then (finally, belatedly) notices that there’s another girl hovering behind A’Yuan’s shoulder, narrow-faced and thick-browed and gazing at Wei Ying with awe in her eyes. Wei Ying almost checks behind herself to try and figure out who this girl is actually looking at before she clocks a fucking stack of familiar paperbacks in her arms.

“This is my friend Ouyang Zizhen,” Wen Yuan says, guiding the shorter girl forward, since it’s clear she’s too overcome with emotion to move on her own. “She’s a big fan of your books.”

“Oh my god,” Ouyang Zizhen whispers. She hasn’t blinked since she made eye contact, and Wei Ying’s having a hard time not laughing at her mini-meltdown. (She cried for five minutes after meeting prolific and revolutionary Black romance author Barbara Judkins for the first time, so she gets it.)

“Nice to meet you!” Wei Ying says with a bright smile. “It’s always nice to talk to a fan! How’s college treating you and A’Yuan?”

“Good,” Ouyang Zizhen manages. She finally blinks, takes a deep breath, and slams her stack of books down on the table. “It’s such an honor to meet you Wei Wuxian you’re my favorite writer I couldn’t believe it when A’Yuan told me she was friends with you I’ve read everything you’ve ever written more than once a friend suggested ‘Sword and Peony’ and it was the first time I ever got to read a queer romance where both women looked like me and I’d never read anything with a demisexual protagonist before and it helped me realize I was demisexual and I just wanted to say thank you and do you have any writing advice?” This all comes out in one breath and without any breaks where Wei Ying can mentally insert punctuation. It’s legitimately impressive.

“I have tons of writing advice!” Wei Ying starts with, because Ouyang Zizhen is now visibly holding back tears, and it’s probably a good idea to start out with the more practical question. “It’s all on my blog, and then I do Twitter threads occasionally. Do you follow me on Twitter?” At Ouyang Zizhen’s nod, Wei Ying continues, “I like to try and mentor young Chinese writers as my schedule allows, so email me, and we can chat more, okay?” She hands over a business card and leans in closer. “I write for people like you,” she says, low. “I write for people like you and me who don’t always get to see ourselves the way we are, messy and complicated and weird and queer. We deserve happy endings, too, and I’m so honored to get to be a part of your journey.”

Ouyang Zizhen does burst into tears then, which is fine because Wei Ying’s not exactly dry-eyed. There’s hugging and distribution of tissues (from A’Yuan, because it’s not like Wei Ying would remember to keep those on her person) and Wei Ying sends a quick text before she signs all of Ouyang Zizhen’s books. The three of them are sharing her plate of pretzel nuggets and debating which of Wei Ying’s books would make the best c-drama adaptation (Wei Ying’s pushing for “Blossom and Bone,” but A’Yuan and Ouyang Zizhen are making a strong argument for “Sword and Peony,” which has less necromancy in it so they might have a point) when Wei Ying catches a whiff of sandalwood and jasmine just as A’Yuan’s eyes light up.

“Zhan-jiejie!” she says, launching herself past Wei Ying’s shoulder into Lan Zhan’s hug. “We were gonna come see you next!”

“Wei Ying let me know you were here,” Lan Zhan (Wei Ying’s co-babysitter, back in the day) says, petting A’Yuan’s shoulder-length hair. “I don’t mind stretching my legs for a moment.”

“Oh my god,” Ouyang Zizhen whispers again, her eyes like saucers. “Is this—”

“The incomparable Lan Wangji,” Wei Ying announces with a flourish. “New York Times bestselling author for four separate books, my very best friend, and full of stories about embarrassing things A’Yuan did when she was little.”

“You started babysitting me when I was eleven,” A’Yuan complains, failing to hide a smile. “Everyone’s embarrassing when they’re eleven.”

“Probably not Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says loyally.

“Probably not Lan Zhan,” A’Yuan agrees, pulling away from the hug and turning to guide Ouyang Zizhen closer. “Zhan-jiejie, this is my good friend Ouyang Zizhen.”

“‘The Walled Garden of Her Heart’ made me cry five times!” Ouyang Zizhen half-yells at Lan Zhan, who manages not to look too startled. The enthusiasm is twice as funny to watch from the outside, and Wei Ying grins as she tries to drive her thumbs into her lower back. She wouldn’t want to be responsible for decorating and running one of the big tables, but she has to admit it’d be nice if she had an actual publisher and didn’t have to stand for two fucking hours at these things. It’s like she can feel all the good stretching and yoga work Lan Zhan did with her that morning slowly squeezing out of her spine as the discs compress. Is that how spines work? Wei Ying is pretty sure that’s how spines work.

Wen Yuan and Ouyang Zizhen eventually wander on to the rest of the ballroom. Wei Ying hands out more postcards, smiles at more attendees, and trades candy with some of the other tables for later snacking purposes. She grabs a few copies of postcards with ebook download links on them, as market research, chats with the lady who brought the miniature suit of armor (she lives locally, so it’s not quite as ridiculous as it could be), and knocks back two ibuprofen when there’s half an hour to go. Maybe she should have asked for a tall stool to go with her cocktail table? At least she can start packing up once the raffle is over.

A’Yuan and Ouyang Zizhen stayed for the raffle, which makes Wei Ying glad she didn’t cut and run early, because Ouyang Zizhen wins one of the gift baskets and starts crying again. It’s almost as big as her torso, and Wei Ying spares a moment to worry about them getting it back to campus on the bus before deciding that it’ll definitely be a funny story if it ends in disaster, and isn’t it always worth making choices based on what makes the funniest story?

(Yes, always choosing the funniest story is why Wei Ying has scars on her legs, harbors an eternal hatred of Jello, and once got lost in a department store, but she has the stories! She was the winner in all those situations, thank you!)

There’s a round of goodbye hugs, a little more mild weepiness, and some selfies where they manage to all poke their heads out around the giant gift basket. Wei Ying and Lan Zhan watch Wen Yuan and Ouyang Zizhen head toward the elevators, complimentary tote bags filled to bursting with free books, some of which they probably even want.

“Can you believe our fake daughter’s all grown up and gone to college?” Wei Ying faux-sniffles, wiping at her eyes theatrically to cover that she is actually a little misty-eyed.

“Mn.” Lan Zhan helpfully hands her a tissue and squeezes her shoulder. “It was good to see her. Do you need to pack anything up?”

“Way ahead of you,” Wei Ying says, picking up the four corners of her skull scarf and using it like an old-timey bindle for the remaining postcards and candy. “You?”

“I ran out of books,” Lan Zhan says, like it’s no big deal, and takes Wei Ying’s postcard bindle from her. Wei Ying would complain, but this leaves both her hands free for the thing she wants to use them for, namely shoving her fists into her low back.

“Uuugh,” she groans when they’re back in the room, twisting side to side. Her spine sounds like a handful of spaghetti being broken in half and would probably be just as horrifying to most Italians. “I understand my hubris, body. I won’t do that to you again.”

“Liar,” Lan Zhan says pleasantly.

“I won’t do that to you again today,” Wei Ying says, conceding the point. She hangs in a forward fold and breathes at her knees. “I think I’m gonna go hot tub, actually.” Hot tubs are objectively the best part of staying in a hotel—all the benefit of a big pot in which one can become human soup without any of the downsides of having to handle the maintenance yourself. (Not that Wei Ying’s going to be maintaining a hot tub, but her mom has some loud opinions.) “You wanna come?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, to her complete shock, and Wei Ying stands upright too quickly, ow.

“Really?” she asks. “You sure? We probably won’t be the only ones, and I know the reader event was a lot of People-ing for you.”

“I’m sure,” Lan Zhan says, already pulling a cobalt blue swimsuit out of her drawer. “I’ll change first,” she announces. Before Wei Ying can really react Lan Zhan’s already in the bathroom with the door shut, so question answered, she supposes.

Wei Ying scrambles to change behind the half-height wall and manages to make it happen before Lan Zhan exits the bathroom, without falling over. Nailed it. Her bikini is red leopard print, which sounds sexier in practice than it is in reality: it’s a high-waisted pair of briefs and a full-coverage halter top, because it was the only thing Wei Ying could find the last time she went shopping that would fit her round ass and tiny boobs without making it abundantly obvious that it was not designed for at least one of those measurements. She’s digging in her suitcase for something to throw over it on the walk down to the pool when the bathroom door cracks open.

“You’d think this hotel could have given us bathrobes,” she starts, and then she looks up at Lan Zhan, and all her words fly away into the ether.

Lan Zhan’s swimsuit is.

Tight.

The blue looks great against her skin, and the high neckline falls diagonally out to her armpits in a way that makes her shoulders look even more yoked, and then the nearly 80s-style high-cut leg holes are really doing things for her thighs. The whole thing is fitted and sleek like something you’d see at the Olympics, except for the cleavage keyhole and the way the bust has enough structure to shove Lan Zhan’s boobs right up in it. There’s just… skin. A lot of skin. Wei Ying wants to put her mouth all over it.

“Would you like to borrow a cardigan?” Lan Zhan offers.

“Haaaaaah,” Wei Ying says, eloquently. “What? No, I’ll just—” Wei Ying tears her eyes away from Lan Zhan’s magnificent cleavage window and finds her hoodie. “Done!” she announces, zipping it on. Lan Zhan has on a long cardigan now, which helps Wei Ying in her attempt to not stare at her boobs. It’s also a tragedy. Alas. Wei Ying shoves a keycard in her hoodie pocket and follows Lan Zhan out the door, determined to not make it weird.

There are only two other people in the hot tub when they make it down, which is better than Wei Ying was expecting. Wei Ying recognizes them vaguely, a white woman and a non-binary Latine author Wei Ying has spoken to once in passing. More specifically, they both have harried, exhausted looks that Wei Ying feels deeply in her bones.

“Reader event?” she asks, stripping off her hoodie. She gets two dead-eyed nods in response. “Us too,” she says. “You mind if we all just make a pact to sit here in silent contemplation instead of feeling obligated to make small talk?”

Two more nods, these ones relieved, and Wei Ying sinks into the hot tub with a hiss of pleasure. Oh fuck, yes, this was exactly what she needed. She dunks all the way down until her shoulders are submerged and carefully doesn’t look as Lan Zhan discards her cardigan and steps in with those long, toned legs. Could Lan Zhan crush a watermelon between her thighs? Wei Ying will volunteer to be the melon, if that’s an option.

“Feeling better?” Lan Zhan asks quietly, settling herself on the underwater bench against the wall of the hot tub. Wei Ying forcibly drags her mind away from thoughts of melons and thighs.

“So much,” Wei Ying says, floating over to sit next to her with a polite six inches between them. She tips her head back to rest on the concrete lip and shuts her eyes. “Don’t let me actually fall asleep in here.”

“I will keep watch,” Lan Zhan tells her gently. Wei Ying tries not to feel too many things about being watched over by someone she loves so much and instead lets her mind go quiet. It’s easier when she’s outside, away from devices and distractions. Out here there’s cool night air, the chlorine from the hot tub in her nose, the gentle hum of underwater motors and the occasional sloshing sound when someone else moves. Wei Ying drifts for a while, buoyed up by the hot water. This is fine. This is nice. If she got to spend the rest of her life in this hot tub, six inches away from Lan Zhan? That would be enough. Wei Ying thinks she could be happy like that.

The clanging of the hotel door slamming open brings Wei Ying back to herself. Ah. Here’s the rest of the evening rush. The atmosphere gets livelier as more authors splash in, some of them swimming a few rounds in the pool before they make it over to the hot tub, and Wei Ying finds herself plastered against Lan Zhan’s side in order to make room for everyone.

“Did you want to leave?” she asks in Lan Zhan’s ear, low enough that no one else can hear. “You don’t have to keep socializing.”

“I’m fine,” Lan Zhan says. “You’re still stiff.”

This is true. Wei Ying keeps stretching out her legs and pulling them back in under the water, trying to loosen the parts of her back and hips the hot water alone can’t manage. She’d like at least another ten minutes before they head back, but she also feels a little guilty for monopolizing the tub, especially when Kristine Andrews (writer of multiracial Victorian lesbian vampire romances, not that Wei Ying reads them voraciously or anything) pads over and eyes the crowded tub.

“Room for one more?” she asks, and Wei Ying prepares to climb out. It’s fine, she’ll do a little extra stretching tonight, maybe break out the physio ball—

“Come in,” Lan Zhan says, and she easily scoops Wei Ying onto her lap, opening up space on the bench. It’s great! A very novel solution to the problem! Wei Ying’s just, you know, sitting on Lan Zhan’s fucking lap, her shoulders pressed against the keyhole neckline in Lan Zhan’s swimsuit, wet skin to wet skin. There are thighs under Wei Ying’s ass. Very good thighs. Wei Ying wants to be a watermelon again.

“Thanks!” Kristine says, and carefully sloshes her way to the open seat without stepping on anyone. Wei Ying should try to have a conversation with her. Wei Ying should try to be a competent human being. Wei Ying should get off Lan Zhan’s lap and go up to their hotel room and scream into a pillow until she feels normal again.

“Did you do the reader event?” Lan Zhan asks Kristine, looping one strong arm around Wei Ying’s waist and pinning her gently in place. It’s furiously arousing and also extremely relaxing, and Wei Ying has a vicious inner struggle before the relaxation takes over. She slumps back against Lan Zhan with a sigh, going fully boneless, and tries to pay attention to the conversation instead of the steady pulsing pressure between her legs. Lan Zhan, oblivious to the mental anguish she’s causing, hooks her chin over Wei Ying’s shoulder, presumably to be able to more easily speak to Kristine, and gives her waist another little squeeze.

Fuck,” Wei Ying whispers to herself, nipples pebbling under her swimsuit. This is not the time, horny brain! She can’t think or pay attention or have a conversation, so there’s only one option left that won’t involve anyone asking her questions like, “Hey, are you having a very intense sexual experience right now in this public hot tub caused by your friend’s entirely platonic touches?”

Wei Ying pretends to fall asleep on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. It’s the least disastrous option, socially speaking. This way she doesn’t have to talk. All she has to do is relax and breathe Lan Zhan’s sandalwood-jasmine perfume, enjoy the way it mixes with the salt of her sweat and the chlorine of the hot tub, and try not to explode from pent-up horniness. It’s excruciating at first—Lan Zhan is so close and there’s so much touching and Wei Ying wants—but it smooths out into something smoother and sweeter as she goes on. Wei Ying’s always found Lan Zhan a calming influence and that expectation still lives under her skin. It stretches out against every place they’re touching and soothes Wei Ying into a warm simmer of arousal. She could stay like this for hours, if that’s what Lan Zhan wanted, in a world where this (she) was what Lan Zhan wanted.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says from next to her ear, hand drifting from her waist up to squeeze her shoulder. “We should get out.”

“Mmmph,” Wei Ying says, which she means as an agreement. She’s going lightheaded and actually sleepy, which is officially too much hot tub time. They make their goodbyes as they clamber out, Wei Ying moving with exaggerated care so she doesn’t trip on anyone with her sleepy-drunk limbs. Lan Zhan grabbed pool towels on their way in, because she’s good like that, and bends over to dry off her legs in full view of Wei Ying.

Ass, Wei Ying’s head says helpfully, a towel limp in her useless, useless hands. Water trails down Lan Zhan’s thighs and calves, beading at the hem where her swimsuit meets skin. Wei Ying wants to lick along it and doesn’t care that the chlorine would taste vile. Wei Ying wants to pull the crotch of the swimsuit out of the way and fuck Lan Zhan with her fingers until she comes, and then lick her clean afterward.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan says, jolting her out of the fantasy. “Are you ready?”

Wei Ying’s pussy clenches, hopefully, uselessly. “Yeah,” she says, toweling off haphazardly and tossing her hoodie back on. “I’m good, let’s go.” At least she can explain her flush as being from the hot tub. Small blessings.

The elevator ride is torture. Lan Zhan’s face is pink, sweat shining on her temples, her black braid rumpled. Wei Ying keeps sneaking looks in the mirrored elevator interior, wondering whether that’s what Lan Zhan looks like after sex. She wants to find out for herself, and she’ll never fucking get to, and she has to keep it together.

“I’ll shower first?” she says once they’re through the hotel room door. “I’ll go fast so you have water to wash your hair.” Lan Zhan hums agreeably, so Wei Ying digs in her dresser drawer for her pajama tank top, clean underwear, the little lipstick vibe that’s the only thing she can hide in such a pathetically small bundle of clothing.

“Be done soon!” she chirps as she darts into the bathroom, because she’s a total fucking weirdo, and this is her curse. She strips and starts the water, climbing into the tub before it's fully warmed up, and swears at both herself and the shower about how cold it is. When the water is a comfortable temperature, Wei Ying rinses most of the chlorine off, takes a deep breath, and turns the vibe on. It buzzes against the palm of her hand, the sound mostly lost under the wash of the water, which is the only reason she feels safe using it. Wei Ying keeps it pinned in place with her thumb as she pillows her head on her forearm against the wall of the shower, and with a little adjusting gets her two middle fingers into her pussy, the vibe pressed against her swollen clit. The sensation ricochets all the way up her spine, forcing her to clench on her fingers, and Wei Ying bites her lower lip as she fucks herself.

“Fuck,” she whispers, pushing deeper, hitching her hips against the vibe. “Yeah, like that, fuck me, fuck me.” She bites her forearm to keep herself quiet, imagines a steady weight against her back pinning her to the wall, one strong arm around her waist, someone else’s hand busy between her legs. She imagines a deep voice rumbling against her ribcage, the smell of sandalwood and jasmine and salt. She imagines someone nosing against her ear, imagines lips pressed to the back of her neck.

Come for me,” the imaginary Lan Zhan says, and Wei Ying whimpers against her arm and does, spasming frantically around her fingers where they’re buried as deep inside her as she can get them. Her knees go weak, her legs shaky, and Wei Ying lets herself slowly slip down the wall to sprawl half-kneeling on the shower floor, drawing out the pleasure until her clit goes numb and shocky from the stimulation. She pulls her fingers out, fumbles the vibe off, and pants under the shower spray for a little while.

Then she gets up, takes the quickest shower she can, and dries off. Lan Zhan still needs to shower. Wei Ying’s not going to make her wait any longer than necessary just because Wei Ying can’t keep all her annoying feelings under control.

“All yours!” she announces, vibe washed and dried and safely hidden in the clothes under her elbow. “I rinsed off my swimsuit, too, if you can throw it over the shower curtain when you’re done?”

“Of course,” Lan Zhan says, with one of her very serious nods. She leaves Wei Ying alone in the hotel room with the white noise of the water and all her grasping, clawing wants. Wei Ying tucks the vibe back away and lets her wants circle, lets them gnash their teeth and scream at her.

This is all we get, she reminds herself as she climbs into bed. We’re lucky to get this. Don’t be greedy. Wei Ying means to tell herself more, to soothe her wants away like she’s done so many times before.

Instead of that, she rolls over, inhales a trace of sandalwood and jasmine, and falls asleep before Lan Zhan’s even done with her shower.

Chapter Text

Lan Zhan swims awake against the current of her dreams, and this time when she pushes up her sleep mask she knows what to expect: Wei Ying’s hair splashed across the pillows like calligraphy, the faint scent of her fruity shampoo, and (this morning in particular) the way her breath whistles through her nose when she exhales. The sound is objectively annoying. Lan Zhan loves it. She wonders what it would take to get to wake up to this every morning and sighs. Maudlin before she’s even out of bed. It would be embarrassing, if she still had the ability to be embarrassed by her reactions to Wei Ying.

Still, better to be maudlin while up and accomplishing things.

Lan Zhan gets out of bed.

She hits the gym but doesn’t do her yoga yet, since Wei Ying might want to stretch together again. If she gets breakfast going now she should have a good forty minutes or so to write before Wei Ying wakes up, which will be a boon for her wordcount goals for the day.

It feels like a congee kind of morning, she decides. Lan Zhan’s presenting today and while she’s much more comfortable with public speaking than she was in high school, she still tends to reach for familiar comforts when she has to do it, letting food and soft clothes buoy her up through the stress. She gets the rice going in the travel cooker and digs out one of the bagged stir-fry mixes she has left. Not everything in it is suitable for her intention this morning, so she digs through it and picks out the sliced carrots and snow peas. These she juliennes along with half a remaining shallot and packs it into a water glass with salt, some of her rice wine vinegar, and a few other spices. It won’t be anywhere near as good as what she makes at home, but once it sits for an hour it’s an adequate quick-pickle. She’ll poach an egg in soy sauce for each of them, as well—it’s not salted duck eggs, but together it tastes nostalgic enough that it lets Lan Zhan feel grounded for a little while in the liminal, half-dreaming blankness of a hotel room.

Lan Zhan is… aware that she’s going a little overboard in her hotel room cooking, and she’s also aware that it’s because of Wei Ying. She accepts this like she accepts all her peculiarities when it comes to Wei Ying and simply adjusts the rest of her life around it. The congee will stay warm, and the pickles need time to brine. They can do that while she writes, and Wei Ying will wake up and see what Lan Zhan has made, and maybe she’ll want more from Lan Zhan.

Maybe she’ll want Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan shakes her head. Maudlin, again. She cleans the dishes and settles down on the couch, cross-legged with her computer on her lap. Maudlin or not, she has a book that won’t write itself (the hilarious AI generated attempts that Wei Ying texts her notwithstanding) and yesterday was…

Lan Zhan inhales deeply and rubs the corners of her eyes.

Yesterday was not productive.

Yoga with Wei Ying was an excellent and terrible idea, and when Wei Ying fell backwards into her lap after the shoulder stretch (and that shoulder stretch, the sounds she made, fuck) Lan Zhan wanted nothing more than to keep her there for the rest of the day. She managed to keep that behind her teeth and attend a couple of morning panels that sounded interesting, and then came Wei Ying’s presentation.

Lan Zhan wasn’t lying yesterday when she said it was good and contained information applicable to her own work, even if she’s not planning on ever writing anything that… creative. It was just also incredibly, horribly, inescapably arousing. Lan Zhan sat in an overly air-conditioned hotel conference room, eyes locked on Wei Ying, strangers all around her, and worried that if she moved people would be able to hear how wet she was. It was the most potent possible combination of speaker and subject—Lan Zhan expects she would have been turned on by any presentation Wei Ying could give, simply from the competence kink of seeing Wei Ying in her element. A Wei Ying in her element, when that element was describing weird, kinky, queer sex? Devastating. Lan Zhan skipped lunch afterward not just because of the reader event, but because she couldn’t possibly sit across a table from Wei Ying after watching that presentation, not with the sticky mess between her thighs and her pulse racing in her throat. Lan Zhan fled back up into the hotel room and bent over the couch, knees on the cushions, forehead pillowed on her forearm against the back of it. She came around her own fingers twice like that, bent over like she wanted Wei Ying’s strap. She still wants Wei Ying’s strap. She wants all of Wei Ying, in every way, which might explain why she lost her entire fucking mind in the hot tub.

Lan Zhan hisses a breath between her teeth, heat prickling over her skin at the memory. The hot tub. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Wei Ying’s back hurt. Lan Zhan was frazzled from the reader event, and the hot water sounded soothing. Lan Zhan wanted to spend more time with Wei Ying, especially after missing lunch earlier. It all made logical sense, right up until Lan Zhan came out of the bathroom and saw Wei Ying in her red leopard-print swimsuit like something out of a throwback pinup magazine, all long legs and soft golden skin and tattoos. They were lucky to make it down to the hot tub, frankly, but then they sloshed their way in and settled down a careful distance from each other, and it was easier. It was a quiet kind of companionship, the type where you don’t need to be speaking to feel connected. A simmer, not a boil.

Lan Zhan still can’t fully decide if she was being prurient or not when she pulled Wei Ying into her lap. They were pressed up against each other from shoulders to ankles anyway, and Wei Ying’s back still hurt, and Lan Zhan didn’t want to prevent Kristine from getting in the tub as well. It was a simple, logical solution to the problem, one that will haunt Lan Zhan for the rest of her life.

It felt so right. It was shockingly easy to pull Wei Ying into her arms and keep her there, safe and supported. Lan Zhan hadn’t even had to think about it, hadn’t felt uncomfortable or awkward with her arm around Wei Ying’s waist, her chin tucked over her shoulder. Wei Ying had been tense at first, maybe surprised? But she’d melted into Lan Zhan’s lap like she belonged there, trusted Lan Zhan to keep her safe while she dozed. It was the most blissful ten minutes in Lan Zhan’s recent memory.

Lan Zhan came twice more in the shower that night remembering it.

So. Not a productive day. Lan Zhan has to make up for it now, with wordcount and not becoming a feral sex monster. Feral sex monsters are Wei Ying’s department when she’s writing as Mo Xuanyu. Becoming a feral sex monster seems like it would be vaguely appropriative of her work, so Lan Zhan will resist.

Also, it would be inappropriate, because Wei Ying is her platonic friend who is not interested. Lan Zhan knuckles at her eyes for another breath, shakes herself, and refocuses on her laptop. Book. Writing. Now.

Some seven hundred words later, Lan Zhan gets the eggs poaching just before Wei Ying’s alarm goes off. At this point she’s immune to the horny siren call of WAP, shutting off her white noise machine and getting the kettle going without breaking stride.

“There’s coffee,” she says, in what is already a ritual she’s too comfortable with. “Did you want to join me for yoga again after breakfast?”

“Ask me the yoga question again after the coffee,” Wei Ying slurs through a yawn. Lan Zhan glances over her shoulder, wanting to absorb as much adorable, sleep-rumpled Wei Ying as possible, and isn’t surprised in the least to find one of Wei Ying’s tits out. It’s still arousing, but no longer shocking. “They’re taking turns politely, at least,” she says, and when Wei Ying frowns a question at her, she drops her eyes very deliberately to chest-level.

“Well, frickle-frackle,” Wei Ying says, yanking the tank top around. “I swear I’m not doing this on purpose.”

“I don’t mind,” Lan Zhan says, which is a little bit too honest, fuck. “There’s a reason I don’t sleep in tank tops,” she adds, trying to make her voice rueful. Lan Zhan drags her eyes away from Wei Ying’s aircon-cold nipples under the red jersey fabric of her tank to check the eggs, which jiggle in a way that is not unlike breasts, because even the eggs are mocking her now. “Come on, it’s time to eat.”

“Maybe I just won’t wear a tank top to bed at all,” Wei Ying mutters as she struggles into her yoga pants, giving Lan Zhan a chance to scope last night’s novelty underwear, which have a yelling cat face on the front of the crotch. “Can’t escape a tank top if I’m not wearing one. Checkmate, boobs.”

“A novel solution,” Lan Zhan says evenly, instead of, “Please come to bed naked if that’s what you prefer, and also let me put my mouth all over you.” She uses the time while Wei Ying’s in the bathroom to a) get a fucking hold of herself, and b) get the congee in bowls, topped with her quick pickles and soy-poached eggs. Wei Ying slams into the doorframe again on her way back to the table and drops into her chair with a scowl.

“I feel like I’m living a very specific Sparkler novel,” she complains, hands curling automatically around her congee bowl without looking down at it. “‘Pounded in the Ass by a Hotel Bathroom Doorframe, but Not in a Sexy Way.’”

“I find it hard to believe he hasn’t already written that,” Lan Zhan admits. She takes a bite of her congee, pleased to find it turned out as well as it could have, given the limitations of a hotel room kitchen, and washes it down with a sip of her usual morning oolong. “Eat before it gets cold.”

Wei Ying looks down, blinks a few times, and sighs. “I’m not even surprised anymore,” she says, as Lan Zhan pushes the chili sauce bottle into her waiting hand. “I’m still impressed as fuck, but not surprised.” She pours an unholy amount of spice into her congee and takes a red-tinged bite with every sign of contentment, because she might be a demon. “Oh, hey,” she says between bites, “How’s the move going? That’s coming up soon, right?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, pleased that Wei Ying remembered and cared enough to ask while also trying not to read too much into the question. “The movers are actually loading everything while I’m here, and then it’s a direct flight back on Monday.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, surprised. “So did you already find a place, or are you crashing somewhere for a hot minute?”

“The latter.”

“Cool, cool, a good plan.” Wei Ying drinks a third of her coffee in one go and adds, “My offer to help you look at places still stands, you know. Hit me with those Craigslist links!”

“I will,” Lan Zhan says, emotion surging in her ribcage again that Wei Ying wants to be part of the process. This doesn’t mean what we want it to mean, she reminds her foolish feelings furiously. It is Wei Ying being Wei Ying.

“If you’d already found a place without letting me give my expert opinions about layout and open-concept kitchens I would have been hurt, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying goes on, pouting. “You’re not allowed to keep secrets from me.”

Lan Zhan pauses, her spoon poised over her bowl. That sounded like it was supposed to be a joke, but it came out a little too sharp, a little too earnest. She looks up at Wei Ying, trying to figure out what question to ask, and any words she has die before they make it to her tongue. Wei Ying looks stricken, like she let something devastating slip, but Lan Zhan still can’t figure out what went wrong. Wei Ying’s face does approximately a thousand different things in under five seconds, and she inhales sharply before she blurts, “Why didn’t you tell me when you were dating Jasmine?”

The question lands like a punch, scattering Lan Zhan’s thoughts just as thoroughly. Several things re-contextualize themselves behind Lan Zhan’s eyes, Wei Ying’s behavior at the caucus and afterward arranging itself into a new conclusion. Wei Ying wasn’t worried that Lan Zhan didn’t want to see Jasmine. Wei Ying was hurt that she found out about Jasmine. Everything suddenly makes perfect, searing sense, like one of those magic-eye puzzles coming into view. Wei Ying was hurt. Lan Zhan hurt her, and she hadn’t known.

“I don’t typically talk about my dates,” Lan Zhan says, which is the truth. “I didn’t think you’d want to know.”

“I don’t know why you think I wouldn’t,” Wei Ying says, still visibly trying to figure something out. “I tell you when I date. I tell you everything. Did you think I’d get nosy?” She frowns, shrinking in on herself. “Have I been oversharing for years, and you’ve just been too polite to tell me to shut up about my TMI?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says immediately. Hearing about Wei Ying’s dating life is uniquely excruciating, but that’s Lan Zhan’s problem, and she wants to know everything Wei Ying has to share.

“No, you didn’t think I’d get nosy, or no, I haven’t been oversharing?” Wei Ying asks, radiating suspicious energy.

“No to both,” Lan Zhan clarifies. “I like hearing about you.”

“Then why did you think I wouldn’t be interested in hearing about you?” she asks plaintively.

Lan Zhan pauses, sipping her tea while she tries to put her thoughts together coherently. She’s clearly missed something fairly big about this, and she doesn’t want to make it worse. “I suppose,” she says slowly, “I didn’t want you to get your hopes up.”

Wei Ying scrunches up her face in confusion. She keeps that expression as she lifts her mug and takes a long swig of her coffee, keeps it as she sets the mug back down, and finally asks, “Pardon?” with the same scrunched expression.

“I date casually,” Lan Zhan says. She doesn’t want to be having this conversation. It’s always seemed… gauche to report on her potential sexual activities and partners. “I know that you hope to find something long-term when you date, but that’s not something I seek. I didn’t want to give you the impression that I was aiming for that, or for you to express your condolences when my associations end.”

Wei Ying blinks at her a few times, chews her lower lip, and cocks her head. “So you felt embarrassed to tell me about your booty calls,” she translates. Lan Zhan avoids her eyes, wanting to pull her hair out of its ponytail so she can cover her hot ears with it.

“That is one way to put it,” she says delicately, before shoving another spoonful of congee into her mouth so she doesn’t have to talk.

“That’s totally fair,” Wei Ying says, relaxing a little. “Sorry for prying, you don’t need to tell me about that stuff if it makes you uncomfortable. I just.” She sighs. “Five months, Lan Zhan. That’s not just a hookup! That seems like an important thing that happened with you, and you didn’t tell me!”

Lan Zhan considers it from Wei Ying’s point of view, embarrassment fading and replaced with regret. “I didn’t expect it to last five months,” she says, chasing a bite of egg around in her bowl. “It seemed temporary at the time, and we both knew what we wanted going in, so it never occurred to me to tell anyone.”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying sighs, stirring her bowl listlessly. “That’s what Jasmine said, too.” She shakes her head and plasters on a smile, one that doesn’t come close to her eyes. “Sorry I got weird about it, jiejie. You’re allowed to have your own business.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, reaching across the table to rest her fingers on Wei Ying’s wrist. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” she says sincerely, making direct eye contact. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I didn’t mean to, but I understand why you’re upset and I won’t do it again.”

Wei Ying’s smile falters, but in doing so it turns into something real. “Thanks, Lan Zhan,” she says, pink crawling across her cheeks. “I really—I don’t even know why it was such a big thing, I just—” She huffs, covering her face with her spoon-hand, and tangles their fingers together with the other. “Thanks,” she says again, squeezing.

“You’re welcome,” Lan Zhan says, willing her heart to calm down. She’s missed this so much, the proximity and the casual touches. She hopes desperately that Wei Ying missed it, too, that they’ll be able to have more of it once Lan Zhan’s settled from the move. “Have you had enough coffee to make a decision about yoga this morning?” she asks, allowing herself to give Wei Ying’s hand one more squeeze before detangling their fingers.

“Yes,” Wei Ying says, digging back into her congee. “Which is an answer both to the coffee question and to the idea of yoga.”

Lan Zhan nods. “Would you like me to stretch your shoulders again?” she asks, keeping her voice casual and trying not to give away her very selfish motivation for offering.

“If you don’t stretch my shoulders again I’ll fucking riot,” Wei Ying says with her mouth full.

“Noted.” Lan Zhan sips her tea in satisfaction. It’s going to be a good day.

⋄⋄⋄

Lan Zhan, in the interest of stacking as many uncomfortable things as possible into the same day so as to minimize her total time spent being uncomfortable, has two presentations on the schedule. She briefly considered asking for them to be scheduled on the same day as the reader event, to make the discomfort even more contained, but realized quickly that choice led to disaster. As a best-case scenario it would have led to Lan Zhan ending the day completely non-verbal. In the worst-case scenario, she might have snapped and yelled at yet another entitled white woman loudly speculating on how to pronounce the names of her main characters after half-reading the blurb on the back of the book. This way is better.

Her first engagement is a panel about how to use primary sources to research the history for your historical romances, with a focus on finding resources written by the actual people involved as much as possible. Lan Zhan understands that not everyone can read Mandarin or Cantonese and not every non-fiction book gets translated, but that’s no excuse for only reading accounts from Victorian white men who went to Shanghai one time and named themselves experts. On a less sarcastic note, she also knows that not everyone has a literature degree, or had the chance to learn the basic skill of how to research. If there was one thing her master's program taught her it was how to research, and Lan Zhan is happy to share that knowledge in the interest of both better writing and an egalitarian access to information.

Anxiety prickles over Lan Zhan’s skin as she sets up her laptop and checks her notes, the eyes of the settling-in audience a physical weight. She’s better at public speaking than she was, but that doesn’t mean she likes it. They’ll dim the lights when she actually starts, thankfully, so she’ll be better able to pretend she’s speaking to an empty room. Presenting would be fine if it weren’t for all the people.

A familiar red-and-black shape catches her eye, and Lan Zhan glances up to find Wei Ying claiming a front-row-center spot. She waves when they make eye contact, settling back into the brass and burgundy convention center chair with a bright grin. “You’ve got this!” she mouths, flashing Lan Zhan a double thumbs-up.

Wei Ying doesn’t need this presentation. Wei Ying went through the same literature program Lan Zhan did. Wei Ying knows how to research, she just actively chooses not to bother with historical accuracy in her writing. All of this means that Wei Ying is here for Lan Zhan, to show support and be a familiar face. The crawling sensation on her skin settles and fades with Wei Ying’s steady smile. Lan Zhan takes a deep breath and allows the rest of her roiling nerves to drift away with her exhale.

She’s just going to be talking to Wei Ying, and talking to Wei Ying has always been easy.

“Hello,” she says into the mic as the lights go down. “Welcome to ‘Historical Research for Historical Romance.’ I’m Lan Wangji. Please hold questions until the end of the presentation, as it’s quite thorough, and you may find your answer already contained therein.” Lan Zhan pauses, senses more than sees the nods in agreement, and advances her slide. “We will start where most of my childhood adventures started: The library.”

“You know, jiejie,” Wei Ying says afterward, sidling up to Lan Zhan as she gathers up her laptop, “if you’d been in charge of our actual classes in college, I probably would have paid more attention.”

“If I had been in charge of our classes,” Lan Zhan points out, “it would have involved a temporal paradox of some kind.”

“Don’t think you can use time-travel to get out of accepting my compliment,” Wei Ying says, bumping their shoulders together companionably. “I mean it, you’re a good teacher.”

Lan Zhan ducks her head, tucking Wei Ying’s word into the warm place behind her heart. “I hope that once I’m settled after the move I can do more teaching,” she confesses. The idea has been so precious she hasn’t said it out loud to anyone else, out of a superstition she doesn’t even fully believe in. “I want to do some kind of mentoring, or tutoring for children who need extra assistance.”

“Oh, like I do at the community center?” Wei Ying asks, unintentionally narrowing in on exactly the thing Lan Zhan wants to imitate. At Lan Zhan’s nod, Wei Ying lights up. “Oh, hell yeah! You’d be so great at it! Text me when you’re actually ready to know more, and I’ll blow up your phone with all my tips and tricks.”

“I’d like that,” Lan Zhan says, allowing herself to be steered away from any of the public areas of the conference and back toward their room. It’s lunchtime, and Lan Zhan listens to Wei Ying’s stream-of-consciousness chatter as she makes them salad topped with seasoned chickpeas and the leftover quick pickles from the morning. It’s soothing in the way listening to other people isn’t. Wei Ying doesn’t really demand attention, which is good for Lan Zhan at the moment. Her second panel requires less prep work but more focus, since it’s an actual panel. Lan Zhan and a few other authors and agents will be answering questions about navigating the landscape of traditional publishing. It’s information that Lan Zhan is happy to share, but she knows from experience it’s easy to get drawn into discussion with the other panelists, which she tends to find exhausting.

“Do you need anything before your next panel?” Wei Ying asks, pouring Lan Zhan a glass of sparkling lemon water and setting it on her side of the table. “Hug? Cheerleading? Candy? I still have candy.”

“I’m all right,” Lan Zhan says, setting their salads down. She gets a few bites in, thinking, and adds, “I may appreciate a hug afterward, if the offer remains available.” It’s only a little bit of an obfuscation—she always wants a hug from Wei Ying, but it seems reasonable to ask for one after a stressful panel. Normally, Lan Zhan de-stresses on her own with meditation and quiet. She’d like to try a hug, as an experiment. It might be a shortcut.

“Hugs are always on offer for you, jiejie,” Wei Ying says, grinning with her hand propped on her chin. “Just say the word.”

Lan Zhan nods and tries not to overthink what else she’d like to have on offer from Wei Ying. It’s not the time. It’s never going to be the time, and Lan Zhan needs to remember that.

After lunch Lan Zhan attends a presentation by an entirely BIPOC panel of romance authors who, in a refreshing turn of events, simply get to talk about their writing and how they approach storytelling without being asked a bunch of condescending questions about what it’s like to be BIPOC and writing romance. Lan Zhan adds a few more books to her to-read list and takes a few notes, but mostly she just enjoys hearing passionate people talk about their craft. No one needs to talk to her or ask her questions, which is exactly how she wants to spend the hour prior to her final panel.

The worst thing about panels like this, Lan Zhan decides as she settles in her designated spot, is that since it’s a Q&A, they leave the lights on. There’s no escaping the eyes of the audience, the uncomfortable knowledge that people are watching and listening to her. Lan Zhan went into writing because it’s mostly a solitary endeavor. It’s truly a poetic irony that her career has led to more public speaking than she’d ever expected when she was a teen writing her first stories by hand in spiral-bound notebooks.

A familiar bright grin catches her eye, and Lan Zhan softens immediately. Wei Ying came to this panel, too, crammed in the middle of one of the back rows elbow-to-elbow with Jasmine, who’s also giving Lan Zhan an encouraging smile. Lan Zhan’s shoulders loosen just from the proximity. It’s ridiculous. She’s ridiculous.

She’s so happy Wei Ying’s here.

“Hello, all,” the moderator says, drawing Lan Zhan’s attention back to the here-and-now and the way she’ll be spending the next hour of her life. “Thank you for coming to ‘A Map to Success: Navigating the Publishing World.’” She gives the general spiel that Lan Zhan’s familiar with from previous panels, explaining the structure, the kinds of questions they’ll be answering, and asking the panelists to introduce themselves. There are three agents and three authors, plus the moderator, so if Lan Zhan plays her cards right, she’ll hardly have to actually speak at all.

It goes well enough for the first forty minutes or so. Lan Zhan shares some advice on writing query letters and what to look for in a contract, and the group as a whole gives feedback on a few example synopses and how to punch them up for maximum effect. The last fifteen minutes of the panel stretch out ahead of her like smooth water.

“Well, I don’t know why you’d want to pursue self-publishing anyway,” says Rose Madder, noted white contemporary extremely heterosexual romance author, throwing a rock into the placid waters of Lan Zhan’s mind. “If you self-publish you might as well just admit you don’t have what it takes to be a real author.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes flick to Wei Ying and Jasmine, who are both glaring absolute daggers in Rose’s direction, along with a good third of the audience. The person who asked the question is a younger woman, probably an unpublished aspiring author, and she’s curling in on herself with embarrassment.

“I disagree,” Lan Zhan says, sitting forward and training her gaze on the questioner. “I’ve read many excellent books that were self-published. It’s simply a different way of approaching publishing with different pros and cons. You’re the only one who can make the decision about whether it’s the right path for you.” The woman nods and sits back down, looking less humiliated. Perhaps that will be the end of it, and they can get through the rest of the panel in peace?

“You must be joking,” Rose says directly to Lan Zhan, because she’s chosen violence today. “If self-published authors were so talented they’d have actual book contracts.”

“Self-published books are, on average, no worse than conventionally published books, and often they’re better,” Lan Zhan says flatly, because if someone approaches her with violence she will return violence upon them.

Please,” Rose says, rolling her eyes and reminding Lan Zhan that thus far, she’s spoken more during the panel than anyone else. “I can’t believe you’re wasting your breath defending plotless drivel.”

“I’m speaking from my experiences reading self-published works,” Lan Zhan says, voice dropping multiple degrees with each word. “Are you?”

“I—” Rose splutters, which is enough of an answer for Lan Zhan.

“I didn’t think so,” she says smoothly, hands pressed to her thighs under the table to quell the shaking. She hates confrontation but hates letting people like this go uncorrected more. “Yes, self-publishing lowers the bar to entry, but given that traditional publishing as an industry is overwhelmingly dominated and gatekept by white men, I think that’s a good thing. I myself was rejected by multiple white male editors because they found themselves unable to relate to my queer Chinese lead characters and recieved feedback from others that if I Westernized my stories they’d be easier to market. It was luck that I finally found a publisher who believed in my work the way I did, and personal financial privilege that I could afford the time it took to find that publisher.”

“Yes, well,” Rose says, regrouping, “you still found a publisher, my dear. Those of us with actual contracts shouldn’t be encouraging self-publishing. Self-published authors are directly competing with real authors for sales. They’re basically stealing from us!”

“Self-published authors are in charge of their own marketing,” Lan Zhan says evenly. “If you feel you’ve seen a drop in sales, perhaps you should try putting in half the work they do?”

“That’s not the point!” Rose snaps. “It’s vital that us women stick together and stop letting bad actors taint the market with low-quality works! People already look down on romance as a genre because it’s by women, for women! We can’t just let these people give the impression that everything we write is wish-fulfillment smut.”

“Romance is a genre built on wish fulfillment,” Lan Zhan says, “and while the root of the disrespect it receives does stem from misogyny, that’s not an excuse for reducing it down to the exclusionary description of ‘by women, for women.’ I, for one, think that gay men and non-binary people deserve to read Own Voices romance stories, instead of the frequently fetishized depictions of queer relationships we see by cis woman authors. Do you disagree?”

“Well,” Rose tries, “I—”

Furthermore,” Lan Zhan goes on, carving her words into the surface of a frozen lake, “self-publishing allows marginalized authors a way to get their books directly to the audience they’re writing for. I am a Chinese-American lesbian. Do you know how difficult it is to find books about people like me from traditional romance imprints? If I didn’t read self-published romance I’d never see myself in stories at all.”

“That’s nice,” Rose says in an astoundingly insincere tone, “but you can’t deny that what you call ‘gatekeeping’ in traditional publishing acts as quality control.”

“Does it?” Lan Zhan asks. “I read Kerouac in college.” She lets her tone make her point for her. In the back of the room, Wei Ying lets out a loud, “HAH!” It mixes with the general muttering of other people who had to read Kerouac in college and came to the same conclusions as Lan Zhan.

Rose apparently has either read Kerouac and cannot come up with a rejoinder or hasn’t read Kerouac and doesn’t want to admit it, because she says, “Have you even read the kind of filth they write?” Her pale face goes steadily pink, mouth curled up in distaste. “It’s pornography. It gives all of us a bad name.”

“I’ll thank you not to include me in your biased statements.” Lan Zhan takes a sip of her water, keeping her hands still with an effort, and adds, “If self-published authors are writing pornography, how are they directly competing with you, presumably a non-pornographer?”

The moderator looks like she wants to break in and hasn’t found a good time to do so, and the author at Lan Zhan’s left gives the impression of enjoying the scene, since she keeps making encouraging sounds every time Lan Zhan lands a solid point. One of the agents keeps nodding along with her, too. It’s nice to have backup.

“There are people advertising bestiality at this very conference,” Rose hisses, visibly seething, “and you feel comfortable sitting here and defending the kind of pervert who wrote—” she makes a face and forces out “—‘Double-Penetrated by the Dragon’?!”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, and then, “besides, ‘Double-Penetrated by the Dragon’ is a monsterfucking romance. Calling it bestiality is disingenuous at best.

In the back of the room, Wei Ying goes rigid. Fuck. Fuck. This isn’t how Lan Zhan had intended for Wei Ying to find out she reads her porn books, but Lan Zhan isn’t about to sit here and let her best friend be slandered by a white woman who probably thinks the word “pussy” is too vulgar for print. She’ll focus on destroying Rose first and address the damage with Wei Ying later.

“It involves a woman having sex with an animal,” Rose snaps, flushing even pinker. “How is that not bestiality?”

“Xie Qing is a shapeshifting, entirely sapient dragon capable of taking human form and speaking to the protagonist in a mutually intelligible language,” Lan Zhan says over her thundering heart. “It’s not bestiality if the creature in question is capable of consent, which he clearly is, and you would know that if you’d bothered to read the book you’re insulting.”

“And I suppose you have?” Rose sneers.

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says bluntly. “Twice.” Rose gasps, hand coming up to clutch pearls that don’t exist, and Lan Zhan adds, “It’s a good book.” She’s determinedly not looking at Wei Ying.

“So you think it’s fine that people are promoting this kind of thing?” Rose looks appalled. Lan Zhan doesn’t care. “You want authors to—to lead people astray?”

“I think that monsterfucking is the least of my concerns about fiction and the harm it can cause,” Lan Zhan says. She considers bringing up the queer theory of monsterfucking, but it would go over Rose’s head, alas. Something to tweet about later. “I think that if we’re going to address problematic elements in fiction we should start with works that are causing actual harm.”

“And you don’t think this kind of filth causes harm?” Rose asks, far more outraged than is called for by a book where a woman has a lot of mutual orgasms with a double-dicked dragon.

“You’re published by Avalon, correct?” Lan Zhan asks. Rose nods, clearly too surprised by the conversational turn to obfuscate. “Didn’t Avalon publishing come under fire for releasing a slave/plantation owner romance this year?” Lan Zhan asks pointedly.

“They did!” Jasmine yells from the back row, amid some outraged audience muttering.

“I don’t see how that—” Rose starts, and Lan Zhan was done even pretending to be polite five minutes ago.

“If we’re concerned with books ‘leading people astray,’ perhaps we should talk about a publishing house that finds it appropriate to release blatantly white supremacist stories by white surpremacist authors,” Lan Zhan says icily. “Perhaps we should talk about how Avalon has an almost entirely white lineup of authors, and no queer books in their imprint, and how most of the books have all-white casts, and if you do manage to find a book with a character of color in it, the character is the Black Best Friend or a victim or a racist stereotype. Perhaps we could talk about the actual harm caused by stories in which brown people don’t exist, or are relegated only to roles where they support the white protagonists.” She takes a deep breath, her face impassive, her whole body vibrating with carefully controlled anger. “Perhaps we could talk about how all of those things actually affect real people living in the real world? But no. You want to focus on a book that you’re concerned will ‘lead women astray’ into having sex with a sentient, sapient, shapeshifting and, I cannot emphasize this enough, fictional dragon.” Lan Zhan drags her gaze out to the audience, again carefully not looking at Wei Ying, and asks, “Is anyone here going to leave and attempt to find a dragon to have sex with, based on hearing about this book?”

“I might,” says a man in one of the middle rows, a trans pride patch on his jacket and a cell phone in his hands. It gets a scattering of laughter, and Lan Zhan gives him a solid nod before she turns back to Rose.

“You needn’t worry,” she says. “It appears that only men are being led astray into dragonfucking.”

“I think Lan Wangji has made some excellent points about bias in publishing!” the moderator says loudly, while Rose turns very red indeed. “It’s definitely an ongoing issue that many marginalized creators have faced. Lan Wangji, you mentioned facing rejections from people who don’t understand the culture your work is based on? Are you willing to speak a little more about how you handled those rejections?”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan takes a long swallow of her water, trying very hard to put the adrenaline and fury aside, and leans toward the mic to answer the question.

The rest of the panel passes in a blur, and Lan Zhan leaves the stage directly into the waiting circle of Wei Ying, Jasmine, and (in a bit of a surprise) Kristine Andrews, who all helpfully hustle her out of the room before anyone else can say anything to her at all.

“Thank you,” Kristine says as they move her down the hall with the efficiency of a trained security squad. “You shouldn’t have had to be in that position, but thanks for calling that asshole out.”

“Fuck that lady and her whole lineup of mayonnaise characters,” Jasmine says fervently. “I tried reading them because so many people love them and it was the most boring-ass shit. ‘Traditional publishing acts as quality control!’ The quality of what, motherfucker?! Wonder Bread?!”

“Lan Zhan’s basically the best,” Wei Ying says, steering her out of the conference center and toward the lobby elevators, “and she’s about to go non-verbal, so I’m going to get her into our room and get her a cup of tea, no offense, y’all.”

“None taken,” Kristine says, as she and Jasmine drift away. “See you at the banquet later?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan manages, giving a farewell wave that she thinks looks friendly. When she blinks they’re in the elevator, and then entering their hotel room. Lan Zhan looks at one of the prints on the wall, sweet stylized rabbits lying amongst flowers, and feels a great surge of affection for her past self. It’s good that she decorated the hotel room. She needs the distraction.

“Hey, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, dropping her messenger bag on the floor so she can cup Lan Zhan’s face in both hands. “You’re looking pretty hazy, and your hands are shaking. What do you need?”

Lan Zhan blinks once, twice. Oh, yes, actually, she’s very wound up from the way the panel ended, still full of aborted anger. “Is that hug from earlier still available?”

“Yes,” Wei Ying says, studying Lan Zhan’s face intently, “but I think I can do you one better if you’ll allow outside clothes on the bed. Or if you lay on the ground. Either’s fine.”

“Bed,” Lan Zhan says, and kicks her shoes off. Wei Ying leads her over, keeping a grounding hand on her forearm the whole time. Lan Zhan sprawls face-down sideways across the foot of the bed at Wei Ying’s wordless urging and waits.

“Right, so let me know if this is too much, okay?” Wei Ying says, crawling on top of Lan Zhan carefully. “Or if you can’t breathe or need to move your arms or whatever.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan has no idea what’s happening here, so when Wei Ying lays down fully on top of her, it’s a real surprise. “Oh,” she says, as the warm weight drapes across her body, pinning her into the mattress and holding her there safely.

“Good?” Wei Ying asks, tucking her face into the nape of Lan Zhan’s neck, arms wrapped around her shoulders on the bed for as much contact as possible.

“Good,” Lan Zhan confirms, fucking melting. It’s not even sexual, it’s just nice, like Wei Ying’s a living weighted blanket that smells like fruit shampoo. When Wei Ying breathes Lan Zhan feels it against her back, and it makes it easier to settle her breathing, and from there to calm her heart rate. For a little while there’s just Lan Zhan and Wei Ying and the quiet sound of them together.

Probably five minutes later Lan Zhan’s neck does start to hurt from being turned to the side, and she shifts to try and find a more comfortable position. This, unfortunately, spurs Wei Ying into rolling off her, which was exactly what Lan Zhan didn’t want to happen. She suppresses a shiver in the sudden chill and rolls onto her side, arm tucked under her head as a makeshift pillow.

“Better?” Wei Ying asks, mirroring her arm-pillow position, eyes soft.

“Mn.” It would be even better if they were still cuddling, but Lan Zhan isn’t going to be ungrateful for what Wei Ying had to give. “It was very effective.”

“Huaisang turned me on to it,” Wei Ying says. “One of their partners has ADHD, and one of their other partners has autism, and apparently it works on both. Some kind of hug therapy endorphin thing? Anyway, point is, they laid on me once when I was having a bad brain day, and it was so nice I took an immediate and badly-needed nap.”

Lan Zhan allows herself a single breath to be jealous of Nie Huaisang (something she knows is completely unnecessary, as they and Wei Ying are absolutely not attracted to each other in any way), releases the jealousy as she exhales, and adds yet another note to the “signs of potential autism (no diagnosis)” list she has going in her head at all times. “I do not think I need a nap,” she says, “but I will let you know if that changes.”

“See that you do,” Wei Ying says, intentionally too formal, like a character in a Regency novel. She rubs her nose, frowning like the joke reminded her of something annoying, and clarifies exactly what she found annoying when she adds, “So, not to re-litigate the shitty experience you just had, but fuck that lady.”

“I think I won’t, thank you,” Lan Zhan deadpans. Wei Ying snortlaughs into the duvet cover, and Lan Zhan hides a smile at the sight.

“Okay, definitely don’t fuck her,” Wei Ying agrees, coming back up for air, “but like, holy shit, who does that? Why was she even on that panel?”

“Rose Madder does that, apparently.” Lan Zhan sighs, the adrenaline faded away under Wei Ying’s woman-blanket therapy, leaving her vaguely drifting. “The impression I had of her prior to the panel was that her work was prolific and boring but mostly inoffensive.”

“She was a Nice White Lady, you mean,” Wei Ying says with a massive eyeroll. “And she decided that this was the day to show her whole ass.”

Lan Zhan makes an annoyed noise of agreement. “I should email the convention organizers,” she says with reluctance. Just the idea of putting all of Rose’s micro and macro aggressions down in a list is exhausting.

“Yeah, sure,” Wei Ying agrees softly, reaching over to rest her hand on Lan Zhan’s, “but there’s no rush. Waiting to write it tomorrow when it’s not so raw won’t hurt anything.” Her smile goes sharper. “Also, Rose Madder is already getting shredded on Twitter, and the convention account is getting @ed about it. Jasmine was live-tweeting that whole debacle, and Travis Long? That guy who was willing to fuck the dragon? He got some video of how you absolutely eviscerated her.” She pats Lan Zhan’s hand. “You’re going viral, sweetie. RIP to your mentions.”

Lan Zhan grimaces slightly. Maybe she’ll ask Lan Huan to go through and block anyone not worth interacting with before she goes back on Twitter for any reason.

“Everyone’s on your side,” Wei Ying says dutifully, correctly interpreting the grimace. “Well, there are like five shitty egg avatars who’re trying to troll you, but I’m pretty sure you already have them blocked, and one of them’s trying to sell herbal supplements so I don’t think that counts.” Her thumb brushes back and forth across Lan Zhan’s knuckles almost absently. “If you give me your phone I’ll do some housecleaning for you, too.”

“Thank you,” Lan Zhan says, blown away all over again by Wei Ying’s kindness and care. “You don’t have to.”

“I want to,” Wei Ying says stubbornly. “How else am I supposed to repay you for defending me? My gallant hero.” She grins, lopsided and not-quite right. “So you read my dragonfucking book, huh?”

Ah, so it’s time for this conversation. “Yes,” Lan Zhan says, deciding on blunt honesty as both the best and the worst path forward. “I read all of your books,” she adds, “both the ones you publish as Wei Wuxian and as Mo Xuanyu. I review them as Bichen.”

Wei Ying’s mouth drops open. “You’re Bichen? Holy fuck, Lan Zhan! Like I know we’re not supposed to read the reviews, but Jasmine checks mine and sends me the good ones and Bichen’s are always so good.

“Wei Ying writes good books,” Lan Zhan says stubbornly. “You deserve good reviews.”

Wei Ying makes a flustered sound and turns her head into the blankets to muffle it. “Please, Lan Zhan,” she says, trying for dry and ending up embarrassed, “it’s just the two of us here. You don’t have to pretend like my weird-ass porn has real literary merit.”

Lan Zhan frowns. “It does,” she says, and when Wei Ying makes a sound of clear disagreement Lan Zhan frowns harder. “Wei Ying, look at me.” That comes out as more of an order than she was intending, but Wei Ying obeys, peeking up at Lan Zhan with her face still turned into the bed. “Your stories as Mo Xuanyu are written just as well as your stories as Wei Wuxian. They’re character-driven, playful, and fun to read. They are not a lower quality just because you’re writing them in a genre that’s…”

“Extra horny?” Wei Ying offers, when Lan Zhan is unable to immediately come up with a polite way to say “penetration-forward.”

“Unrepentant about what the reader wants,” Lan Zhan corrects. “I think you would agree with me that representation is important, yes?”

Wei Ying nods with a, “Well, duh,” kind of air.

“It’s important in baser fantasies, too,” Lan Zhan says firmly. “People like us deserve to see ourselves in all kinds of media, not just the respected ones.”

“Dragonfucker rights, huh?” Wei Ying asks, half-smiling.

“And alien gangbang rights,” Lan Zhan says solemnly. Wei Ying snorts, and Lan Zhan reverses their hands, resting hers across the back of Wei Ying’s. “Mo Xuanyu’s books are explicit, yes, but you make it clear that even in dubious situations your protagonists are enjoying themselves, the plots may be sex-focused but they do exist, and the characters grow and develop over the course of the story. They’re good books, Wei Ying.”

“Well, they sell, anyway,” Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan gives her a look, one raised eyebrow at the implied self-deprecation, and Wei Ying sighs. “Okay, fine,” she grumbles, “I write good porn, and I should be proud.”

“I’m glad we’re in agreement,” Lan Zhan says. She lets her eyes drift over Wei Ying’s face, drinking her in all bed-rumpled and flushed. “I’m sorry you found out about my readership this way,” she says softly. “I didn’t intend it to be a secret, but since you never told me about them directly I assumed you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Ah, well,” Wei Ying says, drawing her hand out from under Lan Zhan’s so she can rub the side of her nose, “I mostly just didn’t think you’d be into them? They’re just…” Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow again, and Wei Ying visibly rethinks whatever she was about to say. “They didn’t seem like they’d be in your wheelhouse,” is what she decides on. “You write really intricate plots, and your sex scenes are always so carefully thought out and placed where they make sense for the characters, and, no matter how high quality we agree my porn is, it’s still porn.”

“Am I not allowed to enjoy porn?” Lan Zhan raises both eyebrows this time. It’s a genuine question.

“Oh my god,” Wei Ying wails, hiding her face and rolling over onto her back, “Of course you’re allowed to enjoy porn, I just never thought about you enjoying porn before, and now I’ll never not be able to think of it.”

“You’re welcome,” Lan Zhan says, doing her best to keep porn and Wei Ying separate in her brain, with mixed results. Wei Ying groans in faux-pain, and Lan Zhan takes pity on her. “We have two hours before the banquet,” she says, sitting back up. “Would you like to go on a walk around the grounds before I make dinner, so we’ve actually left the hotel once today?”

“That sounds great,” Wei Ying says, peeking out between her fingers. “You’re so smart, jiejie.”

Lan Zhan hums noncommittally. “Bring your hoodie.”

Wei Ying doesn’t, of course, so she ends up wearing Lan Zhan’s cardigan. Lan Zhan doesn’t mind at all.

⋄⋄⋄

“You know we don’t have to go to the banquet, right?” Wei Ying asks from the bathroom, for the third time since they finished their walk and had an early dinner.

“I know,” Lan Zhan says, also for the third time, brushing out her hair in the full-length mirror next to the closet and then bending over so she can braid it from the nape-up. “I want to go.”

Wei Ying makes a distinctly skeptical noise. “If you think I need the company—” she starts.

“I want to go for my own sake,” Lan Zhan says, cutting her off for both their benefit. “I will inform you if I feel I need to leave early.”

Wei Ying makes another, slightly less skeptical noise. “Fine,” she says. “I just—I know today has already been a lot, and if you wanted to avoid everyone you’d be justified.”

“Consider, instead, that I want to show up looking so good Rose Madder expires on the spot out of jealousy,” Lan Zhan offers, finishing off the braid and standing back upright. When her blood returns to where it’s supposed to be, she winds the braid around itself and pins it into a high bun with a few sparkling silver and blue pins. Perfect.

Wei Ying laughs, the sound echoing off the bathroom tiles. “I forgot how petty you can be,” she says admiringly. “You’re such a bitch, and I say that with only love in my heart.”

“I accept this in the sentiment it is offered,” Lan Zhan deadpans, adjusting the fall of her deep cowl-necked silver-gray dress. Now that her hair is done she can put on the necklace that matches her earrings, a silver almost-choker with long strands of chain that fall into her cleavage, dotted throughout with blue crystals. She managed to find a cartilage piercing that fits with the set as well, chains and crystals dangling from her ears in a way that makes her neck look even longer. Almost done. “May we share the mirror?”

“Come on in,” Wei Ying says, muffled like she doesn’t want to move her mouth too much. “Jusss puttin' on eyeliner.”

Lan Zhan joins her in the bathroom to be met by Wei Ying’s ass, first and foremost. The burgundy stretch velvet jumpsuit is unfortunately touchable, and it hugs the curve of Wei Ying’s ass and hips obscenely as she leans forward over the bathroom counter for better eyeliner visibility in the mirror. The mirror, for its part, reveals that the jumpsuit is cut practically to Wei Ying’s waist in the front, and she’s not wearing a bra underneath it. Given that it’s mostly backless (on account of being a halter top), that lack of bra should really be less surprising than it is. Lan Zhan stares, caught up in the vision, and considers stepping up behind Wei Ying, trapping her against the counter by grinding up against that plush ass, and sliding her hands under the jumpsuit to palm her breasts.

“I can scooch,” Wei Ying says, glancing up at Lan Zhan’s reflection and promptly dropping her eyeliner. “Fuck,” she hisses, scrabbling for it with pink cheeks, “god damnit, I was almost done.”

Pathetically grateful for Wei Ying’s ability to self-distract, Lan Zhan finds her own makeup and completes the day-to-evening transformation with a little bit of silver and blue eyeshadow and a shimmering nude lip. Wei Ying has gone with a smoky eye again and the deep burgundy lipstick she wore to the caucuses. Lan Zhan has not, in the intervening day, developed an immunity to it. She still wants to test its kissproofness via kissing, specifically.

By a miracle, they manage to make it down to the banquet without Lan Zhan actually snapping and attacking Wei Ying’s mouth with her mouth or giving in to the urge to run her hands all over the velvet jumpsuit. (It looks like it would be a pleasant tactile experience even if Wei Ying wasn’t in it.) It’s the last social event of the conference, ostensibly another networking opportunity, but it’s mostly used as an excuse for authors to wear the fancy outfits they never actually wear when they’re writing. There are hors d'oeuvres platters and a cash bar and a dance floor and at least six people at an immediate glance who decided to dress up like the heroines of their books. Lan Zhan counts three Regency-inspired dresses, one hoop skirt, and two ball gowns.

“What if we got formal hanfu?” Wei Ying says, eyeing one of the Regency dresses. “And carried swords? I feel like we should represent Eastern historical romance, don’t you?”

Lan Zhan considers that and likes the idea. She does see one problem, though. “The swords would be difficult to get through airport security.”

“Hm, yeah, good point.” Wei Ying scowls. “Why does reality always have to intrude on my great ideas?”

“Tragic,” Lan Zhan agrees, steering them both toward the buffet tables. She deliberately cooked them a light dinner with the expectation that they’d be snacking on the provided hors d’oeuvres, and she doesn’t want Wei Ying to get distracted with a conversation and miss out.

The banquet fills up around them as they peruse the options and then retreat to a table with their bounty, cocktail dresses side-by-side with historical reproductions and deeply ahistorical but fun ensembles. Lan Zhan recognizes the dragon-fucking man from the panel earlier, who is now wearing the gayest, sluttiest pirate costume she’s ever seen. He catches her looking from across the room and they share a queer nod. Yes, I see you, and you see me, and we are united in this moment, the nod says, and he works his way around someone with a tiered, frilly skirt and heads for their table.

“Hey, Wuxian,” he says with a nod to Wei Ying, because she apparently has spent her time at the conference introducing herself to everyone. To Lan Zhan he sticks out a hand and says, “Travis Long. I just wanted to say thank you for what you did at the panel earlier, and also sorry for blowing up your mentions. I’m sure it’s…” He hisses between his teeth. “A lot.”

Lan Zhan shakes his hand. “I haven’t looked yet,” she says honestly. “Wei Wuxian will curate the replies before I do, but if shitty Twitter replies are the price I have to pay to do the right thing, I’m happy to deal with them.”

“You shouldn’t have to,” he says with the exact same stubborn lilt that Wei Ying would use, “but I’m glad you have a supportive partner. That must help a lot. Have a good rest of your conference!” Travis excuses himself from the table before either Wei Ying or Lan Zhan can respond, and Lan Zhan stares after him with hot ears and the words “supportive partner” ringing in them.

Wei Ying coughs after a long, awkward silence. “Well,” she says, “it’s honestly kind of refreshing to be around people gay enough to mistake us for girlfriends. It’s the opposite of the gal pal problem.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. Wei Ying is not wrong, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

“I’m gonna get a drink,” Wei Ying announces, standing up and still not making eye contact. “Can I bring you something non-boozy?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, managing to make some words happen this time. “If they have a punch or similar?” She thinks she can see something fruity in a big dispenser behind the bar.

“You got it,” Wei Ying says, and weaves away, leaving Lan Zhan alone with a half-full plate and a half-empty heart. Foolish. She’ll have to get used to this again after the move, so she should probably start now.

“Hey, A’Zhan!” Jasmine appears out of the crowd in a flowing red and orange kente-print gown, flowers in her hair and her brown skin glowing in the atmospheric lighting. “Can I sit? Where’s Wei Ying?”

“Getting drinks,” Lan Zhan says, pulling out the chair next to her so Jasmine can settle in it with a swish of her skirts. She nods across the room, where Wei Ying waves furiously at them from the line at the bar. She and Jasmine have an entirely mimed conversation about beverages, which ends with Wei Ying throwing a double thumbs-up. Lan Zhan’s impressed.

“She’s so great,” Jasmine says, pleased with the outcome of her hotel ballroom semaphore. Lan Zhan nods, happy to share this certainty with Jasmine. Wei Ying is great, possibly the best, and everyone should agree about it.

“Your dress is lovely,” Lan Zhan tells Jasmine, admiring the way it hugs her curves and leaves her collarbones and shoulders bare to the air. “Your cleavage is amazing,” she adds, because it really is and she thinks Jasmine should know it.

“Thank you,” Jasmine says, preening. “I finally found a strapless push-up bra that could actually handle the girls so all bets are off. Nothing but titties from here on out.” She gives Lan Zhan a once-over, lingering on the cowl neck. “Your tits look great, too. The necklace is really—” She kisses her fingers and tosses them out into the air.

“That’s the idea,” Lan Zhan says, rolling her shoulders back a little. She glances across the room, eyes always drawn to Wei Ying, who’s reached the front of the bar line and is having a spirited conversation with the bartender.

“Hey, A’Zhan,” Jasmine says, dragging Lan Zhan’s attention back to her. Her eyes flick between Lan Zhan and Wei Ying a couple of times, sharp and knowing. “This isn’t my business, and I really do not have the bandwidth to get deeply involved, so I’m only going to say this once: You need to tell Wei Ying how you feel.”

Lan Zhan’s hand spasms, slamming a smoked salmon crostini onto her plate so hard it shatters. “Pardon?” she says, more as a placeholder than anything else as her mouth goes painfully dry and her fingers go cold.

“You’re obviously head-over-heels for her,” Jasmine says bluntly, settling a hand on Lan Zhan’s forearm to soothe away the impact of her words. “She’s why you don’t want to date anyone else long-term, right? You need to tell her.”

Lan Zhan freezes. Has she been as obvious as all that? Can everyone tell she’s uselessly pining over her best friend? That she’s besotted to the point of obsession? Can Wei Ying tell, if it’s so easily read on Lan Zhan’s face?

“Drinks!” Wei Ying announces, and only the fact that Lan Zhan has her hands pressed flat to the table in shock keeps her from throwing an hors d'oeuvre across the room. “Please be impressed by how gracefully I was able to carry these,” she continues, depositing two glasses of wine on the table and three glasses of what’s presumably the fruit punch concoction. “That time I spent waiting tables in college really paid off.”

“Our hero!” Jasmine says, accepting her drinks with a grin, as though she hadn’t just upended Lan Zhan’s whole world. There’s a glass of punch in front of Lan Zhan, pink and fruity-smelling, and she grabs it with a barely-shaking hand and knocks back half of it in two swallows. It’s enough to end the drought in her mouth, to unstick her tongue from her teeth, but it unfortunately doesn’t do anything about the raging, desperate panic. Fuck.

“That dress is so good!” Wei Ying tells Jasmine enthusiastically. “Your tits! Like, damn, Jasmine!”

“Thank you, I know,” Jasmine says, batting her eyelashes. “That jumpsuit is doing amazing things for your ass, for the record.”

“That’s why I bought it,” Wei Ying says with a grin. “Also it was on sale for twenty dollars, so at that price how could I not buy it?”

Lan Zhan would like it if her friends would stop talking about each other’s asses and tits. She would love it if she were capable of rational thought. She would love it if she weren’t here, but she is here, and her options are limited. She drinks some more of her punch, seeking solace in the fruity, oddly-sharp flavor, and finds nothing but hydration. Wei Ying and Jasmine are now discussing their favorite thrift shops, so Lan Zhan doesn’t have to pay attention. She can just let the conversation wash over her while she tries to breathe through the thumping of her heart and the strange heat in her stomach.

“Oh, no,” Wei Ying says, probably. Her voice seems to be coming from far away, but she hasn’t moved from the table where she’s currently looking at her glass of punch in horror. Lan Zhan frowns, watching intently as Wei Ying takes a careful sip and rolls it around in her mouth. Does she not like the punch? Lan Zhan can go get her something she likes more. “Oh fuck,” Wei Ying says, turning to Lan Zhan with wide eyes. “Hey, Lan Zhan, how much of that did you drink?”

Lan Zhan swallows, takes her empty punch glass away from her mouth, and considers it. “All of it,” she says with great care. Talking is hard. Harder than usual.

“Hell shit damn,” Wei Ying hisses, “Oh, no, Lan Zhan, I am so sorry. I just asked for three glasses of the punch and I just—I just assumed—

“What’s happening here?” Jasmine asks, eyes flicking back and forth between them in growing alarm.

“The punch was boozy,” Wei Ying says, putting her own glass on the opposite side of the table, which is rude of her. Lan Zhan’s still thirsty, and now she can’t reach Wei Ying’s punch. “Fuck, I basically just roofied her. Have you ever seen drunk Lan Zhan before?”

“No,” Jasmine says, looking worried for some reason Lan Zhan can’t understand, and also very rudely moving her punch out of reach.

“Well, hold onto your butt,” Wei Ying says grimly. “If you think she’s stubborn when she’s sober…”

The world goes swimmy, Wei Ying’s face blurring and shimmering into two Wei Yings, and then three, and then four. Everything goes black for a while, which would be worrying if Lan Zhan was around for it. As it is, she shuts her eyes to Wei Ying looking concerned, then she opens them to Wei Ying looking concerned and also holding a glass of water.

“Oh, good,” Wei Ying says, the worry fading a little, but not enough. “Drink this.”

Lan Zhan presses her forefinger to the furrow between Wei Ying’s brows and pets it until it goes away. Wei Ying shouldn’t be worried. It’s the banquet. Wei Ying should be having a good time.

“I am,” Wei Ying says, now fighting a smile. “I’m having a good time, Lan Zhan, but I’ll be having a better time if you drink this water.” She pries Lan Zhan’s hand away from her face and wraps it around the water glass, which means Lan Zhan goes on an internal emotional adventure as she goes from handholding to glass-holding, but if it will make Wei Ying happy…

She drinks the water.

“Okay, yeah,” someone says from Lan Zhan’s other side, who upon investigation turns out to be Jasmine. “I’m starting to see what you mean.”

“Jasmine,” Lan Zhan says, giving her a slow once-over. She looks so nice. Jasmine’s so pretty. Lan Zhan’s glad they dated. “Your boobs are very good tonight.”

“Thank you,” Jasmine says, laughing. “You already told me that, but thank you.”

“They’re very good,” Lan Zhan insists. She turns to look at Wei Ying, gives her a slow once-over, and says, “Your boobs are also very good tonight.”

“Okay!” Wei Ying says, very high-pitched, “Great! Thank you! I think that’s our cue to get you back to the room! Goodnight, Jasmine!” She stands and hauls Lan Zhan upright with a surprising amount of strength, which is very attractive of her. Lan Zhan waves goodbye to a laughing Jasmine as she finds herself walking across the room. The banquet is more crowded now, with more authors in formalwear to weave through, and Wei Ying takes them around a woman in a slim fitting black suit and onto the dance floor. That’s right, there’s dancing at the banquet. Lan Zhan remembers Wei Ying high-kicking in her jumpsuit to demonstrate the range of motion, saying something about cutting a rug. There’s no rug here, but there is music and people moving to it, so Lan Zhan stops dead in her tracks.

“What the—” Wei Ying half-yelps, yanking against Lan Zhan’s halted mass and rebounding back into her arms. Perfect. “What the hell, Lan Zhan?” she asks, pushing back until they can make eye contact.

“Dancing,” Lan Zhan says. It should be obvious, really, but since Wei Ying seems confused Lan Zhan wraps her arms around her waist and sways them both to the beat.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying splutters, flailing her arms without making real contact. “What are you doing?

Dancing,” Lan Zhan says again, cementing one arm around Wei Ying’s waist and grabbing her hand with the other so they’re in something close to a traditional ballroom lead-follow.

“Okay, dancing, sure,” Wei Ying says, at least swaying along with her now instead of fighting it. “Why, though?”

Lan Zhan looks at her, down the couple inches that separates their height and the easily-crossable distance that separates their mouths. Wei Ying is so beautiful, with her dark eyes and her plush mouth and the adorable red that stains her cheeks. “I want to dance with Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says honestly, spreading her hand across Wei Ying’s velvet-clad lower back.

Wei Ying swallows visibly, shivers in spite of the heat of the dance floor, and bites the inside of her cheek. “Okay,” she says quietly, barely audible over the music. “Okay, Lan Zhan. We can dance.”

Lan Zhan makes a pleased sound and uses the hand on Wei Ying’s back to pull her closer, until they’re pressed chest-to-chest. Wei Ying sighs and tucks her face into Lan Zhan’s neck, arm wrapped around her shoulder. “Just for a few songs, okay?” she says, her breath warm on Lan Zhan’s skin. “Then we need to go back to the room.”

Lan Zhan makes a displeased sound. If they go back to the room then Wei Ying will stop being this close, an unpleasant prospect. “I want to dance,” she insists, prepping to keep Wei Ying on the dance floor bodily, should it come to that.

“Hey, come on,” Wei Ying says, patting Lan Zhan’s upper back. “I still have like thirty dollars of my hotel credit left! We’ll go order desserts and put on pajamas and watch a movie. It’ll be like a sleepover! That’s way more fun than dancing, right, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan considers this as Bonnie Tyler laments her current, falling-apart circumstances. She does like the idea of more pajama time with Wei Ying, and desserts seem appealing. “Three songs,” she decides. “Then desserts.”

Wei Ying melts into her with a sigh. “Deal,” she says, and manages to pull them into a twirl.

Three songs pass too quickly. Lan Zhan feels like she blinked and ended up in the elevator, and then blinked again and ended up in the hotel room. She stumbles getting out of her shoes, and Wei Ying catches her and gets her to the couch before she can fall.

“Hey, it’s fine,” she says, pressing Lan Zhan into the cushions securely. “Stay here for a second, okay?” A moment later she’s back, setting a glass of sparkling water on the coffee table and pushing a menu into Lan Zhan’s hands. “Pick what desserts you want,” Wei Ying says, dropping to her knees to get Lan Zhan’s shoes off. “I’ll call in the order, and we’ll get on pajamas while we wait.”

This is an acceptable plan. Lan Zhan nods to show her acceptance, which Wei Ying can’t see, and looks at the menu. It takes her a couple tries to focus on it, and then a couple more tries to remember why something about it is funny.

“Wei Ying.”

“Yeah?” Wei Ying looks up immediately at the urgency in Lan Zhan’s tone, and then at the menu where she’s pointing.

“Eight dollars,” Lan Zhan says smugly. “I win.”

Wei Ying stares at the description for a New York style cheesecake for a long moment and then cracks up, covering her mouth as she giggles. “Oh, jiejie,” she says, eyes dancing, “You’re a menace. Did you want the cheesecake?”

Lan Zhan frowns. Right. Wei Ying gave her the menu for a specific reason, and she got distracted. “No,” she says, examining the menu again. “Lactose,” she adds as an explanation. Wei Ying can get the cheesecake if she wants.

“Right,” Wei Ying says, picking up Lan Zhan’s shoes and toting them over to the entryway. “No cheese farts for Lan Zhan today.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees, and gives the dessert options heavy consideration. She goes with the strawberry rhubarb cobbler and misses hearing what Wei Ying’s decision was, but Wei Ying calls their order down on the phone so there will eventually be dessert.

“Come on, you,” Wei Ying says, suddenly back in front of Lan Zhan and urging her to stand, “Let’s get pajamas on, okay? Sleepover time.”

Lan Zhan hums affirmatively and takes three tries to get her necklace off. Wei Ying rescues her from its entangling chains, carefully unclasping it and laying it out on the coffee table. She takes out Lan Zhan’s earrings, too, and the pins from her bun, uncharacteristically quiet the whole time. “Where’s your nightgown?” she asks, when Lan Zhan’s braid is unspooling around her shoulder and her skin is bare of the weight of silver and gems.

Lan Zhan thinks about that, stands up with an effort, and makes it all the way to the dresser without stumbling. She digs out the silk and holds it up in triumph, hoping Wei Ying’s proud of her.

“Great job,” Wei Ying says, so she is proud of her, how wonderful! “You get changed in the bathroom, okay? I’ll help you with your makeup afterward.”

This seems fair. Lan Zhan makes it into the bathroom without serious incident, though she does whack her hip on the doorframe. She feels like maybe the doorframe moved. Is this the same hotel room? She glares at the wall, which has a print on it that she recognizes as having hung there on their first day, so it is the same hotel room. How strange.

Lan Zhan strips and shimmies into the nightgown, leaving her dress and bra and underwear in a pile on the floor. “Done,” she announces, poking her head out the still-open door and getting an eyeful of Wei Ying’s naked back as she tugs on a tank top. Her lower half is disappointingly clad in a pair of black yoga pants. Alas.

“Coming!” Wei Ying says, picking her way across the room and over Lan Zhan’s discarded clothing. “Sit on the toilet seat, jiejie?”

Lan Zhan does, and continues to sit there, lightly swaying, while Wei Ying gently cleans off her makeup with micellar water and cotton pads, and just as gently takes Lan Zhan’s hair down, brushes it out, and puts it into a braid for sleeping.

“Can you wash your own face?” Wei Ying asks at one point. Lan Zhan just blinks at her. Obviously Lan Zhan can wash her own face; she does it every single day. She just doesn’t want to right now. “Okay,” Wei Ying says with a fond little smile, “we’re gonna cheat today.” She wipes Lan Zhan’s face with a warm washcloth and then pats moisturizer on with careful fingers, petting it into her skin. Lan Zhan hums happily and leans into the touch, nuzzling into Wei Ying’s hands like a happy cat.

“Is that good?” Wei Ying asks, voice warm and affectionate.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, rubbing her cheek into Wei Ying’s palm. “Good.” She blinks her eyes open, peering blurrily up at Wei Ying through her lashes. “Wei Ying is good.”

Wei Ying inhales sharply, her fingers flexing against Lan Zhan’s face. She should keep her hand there. They should always be touching. Lan Zhan gazes up at her, unrepentant in her affection. Wei Ying is so lovely. If Lan Zhan turns her head a little she’ll be able to press a kiss to the inside of her wrist. Lan Zhan wants to do it. She wants her mouth on Wei Ying’s skin. She turns her head slowly, as though everything’s happening through water.

Three sharp knocks break through the moment, and Wei Ying startles backwards. “Desserts!” she says, high-pitched, and when Lan Zhan blinks she’s alone in the bathroom. She can hear a conversation happening outside the door, and when she engages enough to wander back out, Wei Ying has ferried in two covered plates with a grin.

“Desserts!” she says again, in a very different tone of voice. “Did you wanna eat these in bed, for the full sleepover experience?”

Lan Zhan normally doesn’t eat in bed, but she’s very invested in the sleepover experience, so she nods. Getting under the covers seems very complicated, so she climbs on top and leans back against the headboard, watching Wei Ying expectantly for the next step.

“What movie did you wanna watch?” Wei Ying asks, carefully setting both plates in the center of the massive mattress. “I have all the streaming services, thanks to my folks, so take your pick.”

“Whatever Wei Ying wants,” Lan Zhan says. She doesn’t care about the movie, she cares about the sleepover.

“Cool, we’re getting my bi awakening movie, then,” Wei Ying says, climbing onto the bed with her laptop. She does laptop things while Lan Zhan carefully investigates the plates. The cover on the first one reveals some kind of chocolate cake with caramel sauce. Ah, so that’s what Wei Ying ordered. The second lid reveals Lan Zhan’s cobbler, and she lifts the plate to her lap with great care. She’s fairly certain that spilling it all over the bed would ruin the sleepover experience.

“How’s your ten dollar cobbler?” Wei Ying asks, scooching back against the headboard, as her laptop shows a dramatic shot of the desert and some presumably Egyptian ruins.

“Good,” Lan Zhan says, around a mouthful of it. It’s better than eight dollar pre-packaged cheesecake, anyway. She swallows, considering their sleepover experience so far. It’s good, the desserts, the movie, the dim lights. There’s just one problem, and Lan Zhan tries to figure out how to fix it.

“Here,” she says, handing her plate to Wei Ying.

“Jiejie?” Wei Ying asks through a mouthful of cake. Lan Zhan doesn’t respond. Crawling closer on the bed takes all her concentration, as does settling herself along Wei Ying’s side. It’s not perfect, but it’s an acceptable level of closeness that will still allow them to eat their desserts. “Jiejie?” Wei Ying asks again, as Lan Zhan reclaims her plate.

“Shh,” Lan Zhan says sternly, putting her fork hand over Wei Ying’s mouth. “Movie.”

Wei Ying makes a plaintive sound against Lan Zhan’s palm. Lan Zhan gives her an even sterner look, and Wei Ying slumps in defeat. Lan Zhan nods firmly and goes back to her cobbler. After a long pause, Wei Ying goes back to her cake. They’re pressed together hips to ankles, Wei Ying’s warm body up against Lan Zhan’s side. This is better. This is the sleepover experience Lan Zhan wanted.

Lan Zhan’s cobbler is gone. She’s not sure when it happened, but it did, and the plate is down by the foot of the bed, and she’s turned further toward Wei Ying, not quite using her shoulder as a pillow. On the screen there’s a scene happening in some kind of prison? Lan Zhan’s not entirely following the plot, but there’s a pretty woman with curly hair and pale skin and a handsome, scruffy man she thinks the pretty woman is trying to get out of the prison. Lan Zhan watches some things happen vaguely, breathing Wei Ying with each inhale. She missed her. She missed her so much. Lan Zhan doesn’t want to give her up, not again, not ever. Lan Zhan’s tired of having to hold her head up under the weight of her affection, so she squirms more horizontal on the bed.

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks, hands hovering over her shoulders as Lan Zhan wiggles into a more comfortable position. “Uh, you okay down there?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, her head pillowed on Wei Ying’s stomach, arm thrown over her hips, a leg tossed over her calves. “Good.”

Wei Ying inhales and exhales, her breathing shaky where it moves Lan Zhan’s cheek. “Okay,” she says, one hand hesitantly settling on Lan Zhan’s shoulder, the other on her forearm where it’s over Wei Ying’s waist. “As long as you’re good, jiejie.”

Lan Zhan shuts her eyes, just for a moment. “You need to tell Wei Ying how you feel,” Jasmine’s voice rings in her head, from a million years ago and a million miles away. Lan Zhan… can’t, she knows she has a reason why she can’t tell Wei Ying everything, but the reason also seems a million miles away, so maybe Lan Zhan can tell her something?

“I like this,” Lan Zhan says into Wei Ying’s stomach, hand petting over her ribs.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, voice low and wavering. “Good sleepover, huh?”

Lan Zhan nods, turning her face further into the softness of Wei Ying. “I missed you,” she confesses. “I missed you a lot.”

Wei Ying’s hands tighten on her, shoulder and arm. “Yeah,” Wei Ying says quietly, as the one on Lan Zhan’s shoulder drifts up to pet over her hair. “I missed you too, jiejie.”

Maybe they won’t have to miss each other anymore. Maybe things will be better once Lan Zhan’s moved. Maybe they’ll be able to have this every day. Lan Zhan smiles into Wei Ying’s shirt, imagining that, and drops into the welcoming warmth of sleep.

Chapter Text

Wei Ying wakes up, fumbles her alarm off, and wonders for a confused moment why the room doesn’t already smell like breakfast. Where’s Lan Zhan? Is she still working out? Why isn’t she offering Wei Ying coffee as a bribe to get her out of bed? Can Wei Ying find the answer to any of these questions by lying here with her eyes half-shut? She considers that for a moment and reluctantly accepts that no, she probably can’t. She’s gonna have to sit up, ugh.

After working her way mostly upright (victory!) Wei Ying squints around and immediately locates her missing friend (second victory!). She was pretty easy to locate, all told: Lan Zhan is still in bed, sprawled across most of her half of the mattress, limbs every-which-way with one hand encroaching on Wei Ying’s blanket-covered territory. Wei Ying stares at her for a minute, trying to process this. Lan Zhan doesn’t sleep like this, what the fuck—

Right.

Right.

So yesterday happened.

Wei Ying lays back down, because yesterday is going to take time to unpack and she wants to be horizontal for it.

Starting the day with an emotional conversation, wherein Wei Ying for one wild moment thought that Lan Zhan knew she was pining after her and had been hiding all her dating adventures to try and make it easier? Phew. Okay. That’s a talk they had. The fact that Lan Zhan hadn’t, apparently, been aware of Wei Ying’s pining was a relief, and she seems to continue to be unaware of said pining. Wei Ying would certainly like to avoid similarly heartwrenching chats this morning, because no matter how positive the general outcome was, it was a hell of a thing to do. One deeply vulnerable conversation per weekend, thanks!

Of course the universe would never respect Wei Ying’s wishes, which is probably why she found out Lan Zhan reads her porn books via the sexiest fucking takedown Wei Ying hath ever beheld and they had to have another vulnerable conversation about that. Like, Wei Ying will accept the horrible chat they had after the panel (where Lan Zhan said nice things about Wei Ying’s garbage writing and meant it, gross, embarrassing, how dare she) as the price she had to pay to watch Lan Zhan coldly and viciously cut Fucking Rose Madder to precisely sized shreds, like the debate version of a mandolin slicer. It was hot as hell, and not even the humiliation of knowing Lan Zhan read her dragonfucking book (twice!) could prevent Wei Ying’s extremely pants-forward reaction. (The humiliation probably helped. Apparently Wei Ying has a little bit of a thing for that? Who knew! Not the her of two days ago, that’s for sure!)

Wei Ying knows logically that Lan Zhan would have defended any self-published author in the face of Fucking Rose’s bigotry, and it was sheer luck that Fucking Rose picked one of Wei Ying’s books to trash. Wei Ying’s heart doesn’t care about that at all. Wei Ying’s heart wants to roll around on the bed and squeal about Lan Zhan defending her specifically. Wei Ying’s heart wants to see this as evidence of Lan Zhan’s eternal affections. Wei Ying’s heart wants her to leap into Lan Zhan’s arms and trust that she won’t be allowed to fall.

Wei Ying’s heart is fucking delusional.

Right?

Right?

The thing is, the Wei Ying of two days ago definitely thought her heart was delusional. The Wei Ying of this morning is maybe a little less sure of that? Because, well…

Because last night happened, and now Wei Ying isn’t sure of anything anymore.

Wei Ying remembers Drunk Lan Zhan from the occasional times in college someone decided it would be ha-ha-hilarious to ignore Lan Zhan’s request for a non-alcoholic drink and give her something spiked. Drunk College Lan Zhan was a bleary, still-polite terror. Once Wei Ying had to prevent her from liberating someone’s obviously-spoiled urban chickens from their well-appointed coop, “Because they deserve freedom, Wei Ying.” Another time they both ended up climbing a fire escape to trespass on the chemistry lab’s roof and look for shooting stars. (It was overcast. Wei Ying was a little drunk for that one, too.) Drunk College Lan Zhan had a tendency to forget her usual pescatarian preferences and order cheeseburgers or sloppy breakfast fry-ups at all night diners. Drunk College Lan Zhan always woke up the next morning with a wicked hangover and a black hole in her memory, going pink-eared and embarrassed as Wei Ying recounted their adventures, complete with blurry cell phone photos.

Drunk College Lan Zhan never slow-danced with Wei Ying, bodies pressed so close together they could practically share a heartbeat. Drunk College Lan Zhan never turned her face into Wei Ying’s hand like she wanted to stay there, like she wanted Wei Ying to hold her for the rest of the night or the rest of her life. Drunk College Lan Zhan never crawled into Wei Ying’s space to watch a movie, and certainly never fell asleep with her head pillowed on Wei Ying’s stomach, pinning her down with an arm and a leg and the heavy weight of her trust. Wei Ying spent a good thirty minutes of The Mummy staring at Lan Zhan and stroking her hair and trying to figure out what it all meant. Lan Zhan liked cuddling her? Lan Zhan missed her? Lan Zhan fell asleep on her after squirming around so much her nightgown rode up to expose most of one long, muscled leg, giving Wei Ying a horny crisis as she tried to Look Respectfully?

That’s not a “just friends” thing, right?

Right?!

Eventually Wei Ying managed to extricate herself from Lan Zhan’s clinging and get her actually under the covers, which was an adventure. The size of the bed helped—Wei Ying was able to fold back the blankets on Lan Zhan’s side, roll her over until she was mostly on the exposed sheets, maneuver both her legs where they needed to be, and cover her back up. It was a hell of a workout, and Wei Ying was too tired and bewildered and mournful afterward to masturbate in the shower, or even take a shower. She just washed her face, brushed her teeth, and climbed into bed with brief stops to turn on Lan Zhan’s white noise machine, hide Lan Zhan’s phone in a drawer muffled by clothes so the alarm wouldn’t drag her awake at five fucking am, and leave a glass of water and some painkillers on Lan Zhan’s nightstand. The massive fucking bed had never felt more massive, the mattress an impassable chasm between what Wei Ying wanted and what she had.

Incidentally, much like one can cry oneself to sleep, one can yearn oneself to sleep. Wei Ying now knows this from experience and wishes she didn’t. Fuck it. Fuck everything. Fuck this conference, and Wei Ying’s scam room booking, and Lan Zhan’s generosity. Fuck the bar for not labeling the punch, and fuck Wei Ying for not thinking to ask if it was boozy. Most of all, fuck Wei Ying’s fucking feelings, especially the hope that keeps escaping her efforts to root it out like invasive bamboo in a suburban yard. Wei Ying squeezes her eyes shut, digging up all her anger and frustration and disappointment, boiling it together inside her skull like a pesticide, and prepares to dump it all over the hope that’s sprouted over the course of the weekend, fertilized by Lan Zhan’s presence. This is for our own good, she tells herself, hands on the metaphorical handles. We only have one more night, anyway, so we better get used to it.

Lan Zhan shifts in her sleep, murmuring something incomprehensible. Wei Ying glances over automatically to make sure she’s okay and the anger-frustration-pesticide stew in her head dissipates at the first glimpse of Lan Zhan’s sleep-slack face, the tiny furrow between her eyebrows as she dreams about something annoying, apparently. Her hand still rests on the blankets near Wei Ying’s shoulder, fingers half-curled into her palm, and Wei Ying can’t help setting hers on top of it for a few breaths. No matter how much it’ll hurt to give this up, Wei Ying got to have it for this one horrible, perfect weekend. She can’t regret that.

Wei Ying pats Lan Zhan’s hand once and drags herself out of bed. It’s her turn to be the competent breakfast friend, and god dammit, she’s gonna do it right. Is it really cold in this hotel room this morning? Wei Ying glances down to find one rogue titty open to the air and spends an angry moment yanking her tank top back into place. Competent breakfast friends don’t have one titty out, Wei Ying’s pretty sure. They probably also wear pants. So far Wei Ying’s zero for two.

Well, that’s never stopped her before.

“Mmph,” Lan Zhan says a little later, as Wei Ying’s portioning out the noodle stir fry she made with Lan Zhan’s vegetables and her instant noodles. “Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan asks blearily and then makes a deeply pained sound.

“Water and ibuprofen on the nightstand,” Wei Ying tosses over her shoulder, cracking the eggs into the empty skillet. “Tea in a minute. Don’t turn the light on yet, okay?” Wei Ying’s been cooking in the near dark since she got out of bed, because she hadn’t been able to put Lan Zhan’s sleep mask on for her last night. The last thing Lan Zhan’s hangover needs is the bright light of the bedside lamp shining right in her eyes.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, more of a groan than her usual hum of acknowledgement. The white noise cuts out, which allows Wei Ying to hear the slow movements of Lan Zhan sitting up and then the wet noises that happen when a person chugs an entire glass of water in one go. The glass clinks down on the nightstand, and Lan Zhan makes a sound like she’s tasting the inside of her own mouth and doesn’t like what she’s found.

“Oh, yeah,” Wei Ying says, flicking the electric kettle on. “You passed out before you could brush your teeth, sorry.”

Lan Zhan makes a still-pained noise of understanding and slides near-silently out of bed to make her slow way to the bathroom. Wei Ying flips the eggs and turns the floor lamp in the living area on to the lowest dimness setting, then pours Lan Zhan’s tea and her own instant coffee. By the time Lan Zhan emerges, squinting, from the bathroom, their breakfast is done and their drinks are steaming on the table.

“Here,” Wei Ying says, holding out Lan Zhan’s softest, drapiest cardigan. “I have greasy carbs and caffeine, you’ll feel better soon.”

“Thank you,” Lan Zhan says, shrugging on the sweater and thankfully covering up her spectacular, nearly-visible boobs, which makes Wei Ying’s morning slightly less of a challenge. She sits down heavily at the table, hand to her temple, eyes half shut. Her face is creased from the pillow, and Wei Ying definitely didn’t get all the eyeliner off last night, and her hair is much more of a mess than it is when she does her own sleep braid.

God, she’s so fucking beautiful.

“The punch?” she asks, so quiet it’s clear that even her own voice hurts her head.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, matching her volume as she drops into her chair. “I’m so sorry, Lan Zhan, I just asked for the punch and I didn’t check. I thought the bill was expensive, but it’s also a hotel bar, you know?”

Lan Zhan shakes her head, winces, and reaches for her tea. “Not your fault,” she whispers, slurping (slurping!) at the mug when it’s too hot for her to immediately chug. “I thought it tasted strange and finished it anyway.”

“Still,” Wei Ying says, slurping her coffee, since the slurp-gates have already been opened. “I can be sorry that something happened to you without necessarily blaming myself.” This is technically true, although Wei Ying definitely does blame herself.

“Fair,” Lan Zhan acknowledges. She sets her tea down and focuses on her bowl, pained squint softening into a pleased surprise. “You cooked?”

“Yep!” Wei Ying says brightly (and quietly!). “Noodles and veggies and runny fried eggs. It probably has your entire recommended daily sodium intake in one bowl. Trust me, jiejie, you’ll be feeling better in no time.”

“It smells good,” Lan Zhan says with a little smile. She breaks the yolk on her egg and digs in without further conversation, eating with a determined kind of air. Wei Ying dumps chili sauce on her bowl and follows suit—she only got about half a glass of wine in last night, but she wasn’t really focusing on avoiding a hangover for herself, and now she’s a little dehydrated.

“Eat the banana, too,” she says when they’re both about halfway through their breakfast noodles, jerking her chin at the two waiting politely in the middle of the table. “Potassium and whatever.”

“Thank you,” Lan Zhan murmurs. She eats half the banana with a weirdly set jaw, which is when Wei Ying remembers that Lan Zhan doesn’t particularly like bananas. “What...” she starts to ask at a near whisper, takes another swig of tea, and finishes, “What did I do?”

“You still black out?” Wei Ying asks sympathetically around a mouthful of banana. Lan Zhan nods, longsuffering, and Wei Ying swallows and chases it with more coffee. “We kept your mayhem pretty contained this time!” she says cheerfully, refusing to think about Lan Zhan’s head on her stomach and her arm around Wei Ying’s hips. “You told me and Jasmine that our boobs look nice, insisted on dancing for a while before I could get you up to the room, were very smug when you pointed out that the cheesecake here costs eight dollars, ate a cobbler and passed out half an hour into the movie night I promised you.” Wei Ying gives Lan Zhan one finger gun and one half-banana gun. “Didn’t even have to fish you out of a decorative pond because you wanted to pet the carp, pun intended!”

Lan Zhan hums, acknowledging that particular adventure even though she doesn’t remember it. She finishes the rest of her banana, takes a sip of tea (clearly to rinse the taste out of her mouth, she’s not being subtle) and hesitantly asks, “Is that all?”

Wei Ying shoves noodles in her mouth to buy time. Fuck. She really doesn’t want to tell Lan Zhan about the drunk cuddling, but she also doesn’t want to lie about it. It’s fine, right? Lan Zhan was drunk! It’s not like she meant anything by it! It doesn’t have to mean anything!

(Wei Ying desperately wants it to Mean Something and is just as desperately trying not to think about that.)

“You got a little clingy,” she admits, trying to keep it light. Lan Zhan winces, and Wei Ying hurries to clarify, “Not in a bad way! You just wanted to cuddle while we watched the movie, which I guess makes sense because I did promise you a fun sleepover experience.”

“We cuddled,” Lan Zhan says, somewhere between a question and a statement. Wei Ying risks a glance at her face and her eyes catch there, the puzzle of Lan Zhan’s expression demanding her full attention.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, unable to look away. “You sat right next to me when we were eating, and then when you were done you, uh, you scooted down and used me as a pillow.”

“Oh.” It comes out an exhale, barely more than a breath, and Lan Zhan won’t look up from her noodles. Her face is still doing the weird thing, something complicated and sad, but not just sad? Wanting? Wistful? Whatever it is, Wei Ying doesn’t like it.

“It was fine, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying insists, determined to fix this somehow. “It was nice, honestly. You’re a really good cuddler.” She pats her stomach demonstratively. “This bad boy can be a pillow for so many Lan Zhans.”

The corner of Lan Zhan’s mouth ticks up, which Wei Ying counts as a victory. They eat the rest of their noodles in silence and sit there with their morning drinks, sipping companionably. Lan Zhan’s looking less and less peaky all the time, though her face is still doing the sad-wanting-wistful thing that Wei Ying can’t parse.

“Did I say anything?” she asks eventually, eyes still focused on Wei Ying’s empty bowl. “Last night?”

Thump-thump goes Wei Ying’s heart. “Other than handing out boob compliments like candy?” she asks with a grin. She can handle this! She can just move the conversation along!

“Other than that,” Lan Zhan agrees. She finally actually looks at Wei Ying, and oh, her eyes are dark and haunted. “Please,” she adds, barely audible.

There’s a gymnastics tournament happening in Wei Ying’s chest, and they’re not even paying her a rental fee for the use of the space. “Not much,” she says, because it was what, two sentences? That’s barely anything. There’s no reason she should be this torn up about it. “You just told me you liked the cuddling and that…” Wei Ying swallows, heartbeat in her throat. “You missed me.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes squeeze shut, her breath catching like her headache has resurfaced. “When?” she whispers.

“While you were—” and Wei Ying pats her stomach again demonstratively. Lan Zhan forces her eyes back open to follow the movement and exhales like she’s casting poison out of her lungs.

“I see,” she says, and she sounds fucking tragic and Wei Ying doesn’t understand why.

“It was fine,” she says helplessly, wanting to lunge across the table and take Lan Zhan’s hand, but she doesn’t know if that would make it worse or better so she stays where she is. “You didn’t make me uncomfortable or anything.” Precisely the opposite, which is the problem. “I missed you, too,” she says, repeating her words from the night before in the dim, hangover-friendly light of day. “It’s really okay, I swear.”

Lan Zhan nods and finishes her tea, an unfathomable weight still resting on her shoulders. “Thank you,” she says, curled in on herself. “For telling me.” Another breath, another moment of strange silence. “I wish…” she whispers, and then presses her lips together like she hadn’t meant to say it.

“Tell me,” Wei Ying whispers in return, leaning forward across the table, drawn toward Lan Zhan like an asteroid to the gravity well of a planet. She’ll do it, whatever it is, whatever Lan Zhan needs. She’ll move mountains if it means Lan Zhan will stop looking like this.

Lan Zhan glances up, meeting Wei Ying’s eyes again. “I wish,” she says, so quiet Wei Ying has to strain to hear her, “I could remember it.”

The inside of Wei Ying’s head is all white noise and the ringing that comes after an explosion, no thoughts left. She doesn’t know what her face is doing. She doesn’t know where her hands are. Does she still have hands? Unclear. She stares at Lan Zhan’s cracked-open face and she just—she wants—

“I need to shower,” Lan Zhan says, standing abruptly. “Do you want to use the bathroom first?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, voice wavering. “Yeah, probably a good idea.” She rushes into the bathroom on shaky legs and pees, first of all, because it’s morning and she just drank coffee. She washes her hands and splashes water on her face, seeking clarity and finding only cold. Her reflection in the mirror doesn’t help, all wild-eyed and messy-haired. She fucked something up, she’s sure of it, but she still doesn’t know what, and if she doesn’t know what she fucked up she can’t fix it. Wei Ying runs the water as camouflage while she struggles to fit herself back together, to patch up what feels like a gaping hole in her chest, and when she’s as done as she can get she shuts off the sink and dries her hands.

“All yours,” she sing-songs as she exits, grinning like nothing’s wrong at all. “You’ll feel better after you shower,” she promises Lan Zhan, and the words are honest even if the light tone is a lie.

“Thank you,” Lan Zhan says, passing so close to Wei Ying they share warmth for a moment but carefully not touching. It’s maybe three inches between them and it feels like three thousand miles. It feels like the entirety of America separating them into opposite coasts. It feels uncrossable, and the hope in Wei Ying’s chest withers and dies, seedlings in a drought.

The door slips shut with a click that rings like goodbye, and Wei Ying stands in the too-cold hotel room, surrounded by Lan Zhan’s presence, and feels so alone she wants to cry.

⋄⋄⋄

Lan Zhan’s shower is… long. That’s fair. Wei Ying knows the mixed glory/desperation of a hangover shower. It gives her a chance to take all the whatever she’s feeling and cram it all down into a little box like she’s trying to pack five day’s worth of clothes into a carryon suitcase, not that she has experience with that or anything. When Lan Zhan emerges, damp-haired, pink-cheeked, and freshly moisturized, Wei Ying’s rolling out her second shoulder on a physio ball and wishing she had a physio ball that worked on emotions.

“Better?” she asks, breathing hard as she rotates her arm up and down, the figure-eight style ball under her shoulder beating the fuck out of multiple muscle knots as she does.

“Much,” Lan Zhan says. She looks better, from Wei Ying’s vantage point on the floor. She’s in a knee-length blue knit dress and the drapey cardigan, all soft and sweet and extremely cuddle-able.

Down, Wei Ying tells herself firmly. Last night made it weird enough. She wiggles a little side-to-side and hisses as she finds yet more muscle knots. “Shoulders, whyyyy?”

“You sit like a gargoyle,” Lan Zhan says from the hotel desk. “Perhaps that has something to do with it.”

“No,” Wei Ying says, between deep breaths, “don’t think so. Probably it’s a curse.”

“Ah, of course,” Lan Zhan deadpans. “My mistake.”

Wei Ying grins at the ceiling, rolling a little further over the ball so it’s digging into the muscle knots under her shoulder blade in a new horrible explosion of fire. If Lan Zhan’s making jokes, then they’re okay again, right? “As far as hangovers go you picked the right day,” she says conversationally. “Nothing even starts until ten. I’m pretty sure the organizers expect everyone to get blasted at the banquet.”

“‘Blasted at the Banquet’ is a contemporary romance with a meet-ugly at a wedding,” Lan Zhan says, over the unmistakable sound of opening a laptop.

“Checks out,” Wei Ying says, breathing carefully through the fresh misery of a knot she’s named Jimothy. “You writing?”

“Emailing the organizers,” Lan Zhan says. “I may need some help remembering everything Rose Madder said.”

“Yeah, well, she did talk a lot of mad shit,” Wei Ying says, wondering idly if she’s allowed to slap Rose Madder across the face with a glove and challenge her to a duel. Maybe she could do it if the duel’s a dance-off. That seems reasonable. “I can DM Travis on Twitter, too, see if he has videos of the whole thing, he only uploaded like a minute of it.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, distracted, and then, “Oh.

“Hmmmm?” Wei Ying’s rolling out the tight place at the top of her hips, so she can’t get up to go see what caused that oh, but it seemed pleasantly surprised?

“I…” Lan Zhan says, still distracted. She goes quiet, giving off reading-type vibes. “The convention organizers emailed me last night, apparently.”

“Oh?” Wei Ying freezes with the ball just, like, right the fuck on a knot, which she doesn’t even notice. If the fucking organizers chose violence she’s gonna absolutely wreck their entire shop; she doesn’t need a professional organization anyway.

“Rose Madder has been blacklisted from speaking at any future RNG events,” Lan Zhan says, a little stunned. “And banned from attending for two years.”

“Holy shit,” Wei Ying half-yelps, partially from the good news and partially because she sat up too hard and mashed the rubber of the physio ball into her hip joint in a wonderfully excruciating way. “Really?”

“Really,” Lan Zhan says, still sounding dazed. “They wish to apologize to me for the negative experience, so they’ve spoken to the hotel and comped my room.” She pauses, and Wei Ying can just barely see around the divider if she cranes her neck, so she knows Lan Zhan is pausing to stare blankly at the wall. “I’m getting a refund.”

“Holy shit,” Wei Ying says, again. “They—really?”

“Really,” Lan Zhan confirms again. She still looks completely thunderstruck, and Wei Ying abandons the floor (she was basically done with her physical therapy anyway) to limp over to the desk, only hitting her hip on the room divider a little bit. She leans over Lan Zhan’s shoulder to scan the email, confirming with her own eyes that, yes, the organizers have banned Rose Madder from speaking and attending official events, and Lan Zhan is getting her room comped. There’s an actual apology, written in language that makes it clear the organizers are actually sorry.

“Holy shit,” Wei Ying breathes, just as thunderstruck. “Wow, Lan Zhan, this is like the best-case scenario.”

Lan Zhan nods, shoulders lifting and dropping in a deep breath that leaves her free of tension. “Apparently some of the people who posted about it were able to dig up private forum posts where she made it clear that she should never have been allowed to speak in the first place.”

“Sometimes,” Wei Ying says, wonderingly, “the internet is good.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says like sighing. She leans forward, elbows on the desk, and rubs her face in a shocking show of emotion for such a normally stoic woman. “I had prepared myself for a much less pleasant outcome, so this is a welcome surprise."

Wei Ying tears her gaze away from the computer screen (“we take full responsibility” says part of the apology, and she’s amazed) to give Lan Zhan a once-over from a position that isn’t lying on the ground. She looks gorgeous (obviously), pleased, still stunned, and completely emotionally exhausted. There’s a fine tremor in her hands when she takes them away from her face, the anticipated confrontation adrenaline built up with nowhere to go. Wei Ying knows the feeling.

“How are you?” Wei Ying asks, setting a hand on her shoulder and squeezing. “Need anything? More tea? Hug?”

The corners of Lan Zhan’s eyes tighten, and the muscle under Wei Ying’s hand flexes and relaxes almost too quickly to notice. “I’ll make some tea,” she says, politely dislodging Wei Ying’s hand and crossing to the travel kitchen. “I wanted to get some writing in before things start officially today. Coffee for you?”

“Okay,” Wei Ying says to Lan Zhan’s back, stamping down the way her voice wants to waver. “Yeah, sure, I’ll have another cup.” She curls her hand into a fist and tries to pretend it doesn’t feel cold. Whatever Wei Ying fucked up, it clearly didn’t go away with Lan Zhan’s hangover. There’s only one day left. Maybe if she can get through it without making everything fucking worse, she and Lan Zhan will at least leave here still friends. That seems reasonable, right?

Right?

⋄⋄⋄

Wei Ying’s emotional crises aside, there’s still a conference, and honestly? Wei Ying’s grateful for the distraction. She goes to a workshop about blurb-writing, because Kristine Andrews is presenting, and everything else in the ten am timeslot looks boring. It’s engaging enough that she hardly thinks about Lan Zhan even once! Per five minutes! So overall, pretty good!

Her second presentation of the weekend is in the next timeslot, and this one’s easy and fun, which are the two things Wei Ying needs right now. It’s a class on cover design, where Wei Ying hooks her computer up to the display system and Photoshops a truly absurd romance novel cover based on audience suggestions and her array of downloaded stock photos. It’s half about actual graphic design (things like color balancing and the rule of thirds) and half a primer on how to actually use Photoshop and which tools will make your self-published life easier. Mostly it’s just silly.

“Okay,” she says, shifting the background layer around until she likes the framing, “we’ve decided that this novel cover is set in the jungle in front of a waterfall. Great, good vibes, very romantic as long as you don’t think about how many mosquitoes are in the jungle. Next step: Protagonists.” Wei Ying pulls open the specialty stock photo folder she has prepared for just this purpose and grins at the audience as they start giggling. “As you can see I have only the finest of humans available for you to choose from,” she says, waving at the screen and the multitudes of pirates, fairies, knights, samurai, wuxia martial artists, and other truly absurd stock images she has contained therein. “What category do we want our first protagonist to be from?”

The book, when she’s finished, is a time and dimension-hopping romance between a pirate and a robot, the former of which has a pet tiger because someone spotted the tiger stock photo and demanded it be included. Wei Ying’s class collectively titled it “BinARRRRRRy Attraction,” which is one of the worst and best puns she’s ever immortalized in a scripted font with a fake embossed metal effect. It’s a great class, a total success all around, which makes it somehow even worse that Lan Zhan sits in the far back corner chair in silence the whole time and leaves as soon as Wei Ying finishes up. Wei Ying wants to scream. What did she do? How can she make it better if she doesn’t know what she’s done? The only thing that seems clear is that Lan Zhan wants space, so Wei Ying determinedly gives it to her by getting an overpriced sandwich at the coffee stand in the lobby and eating it outside in the most appealing part of the landscaping. Of course, because she’s a needy, clingy weirdo, she of course has to text Lan Zhan about it.

To: Lan Zhan
Wanted some air so I’m outside with my sandwich and a crow that’s giving me REALLY shifty eyes

Wei Ying attaches a picture of the crow in question, which definitely looks like it’s planning on fighting Wei Ying for her sandwich and probably winning.

To: Lan Zhan
If this crow duels me for my sandwich and wins you have to avenge me
I will not be disrespected by a crow

Lan Zhan’s reply is almost immediate, like she had her phone in hand. Wei Ying almost drops her phone in relief and accidentally opens her library app before she manages to navigate back to her texts.

From: Lan Zhan
I will avenge you if need be.

To: Lan Zhan
My hero! ⚔️🐦😍
Seriously this crow has it out for me
I think it’s my new nemesis

From: Lan Zhan
You’re feeding the crow right now, aren’t you?

What! The audacity! The rudeness! How dare Lan Zhan insinuate such a thing! Wei Ying tosses her bread crust and ham scraps closer to the crow and wipes her hands.

To: Lan Zhan
Maybe but I’ll never tell and neither will the crow
See you at closing ceremonies if we don’t end up in the same panel before then!!

From: Lan Zhan
See you then.

“What do you think?” she asks the crow, phone in one hand, sandwich in the other. “Did I ruin everything?”

The crow poops and promptly flies off, which Wei Ying decides not to take as an answer of any kind. Desperate for literally any kind of distraction, she finds a good hurt/comfort fic from her bookmarks and reads it one-handed for the rest of the lunch break between bites of the second half of her sandwich. She’s fine. It’s fine! Nothing to see here!

The rest of the conference happens. Wei Ying’s pretty sure of that, since she has yet to run into anything that convinces her linear time doesn’t actually exist. The issue is that it passes in a blur, and she remembers almost none of it. She has pages of notes on her phone that she has no memory of taking. Apparently she went to a panel on dialogue development? She only knows this because she cross-referenced the notes she took with the convention schedule, and there’s nothing else her notes could have come from in the three pm timeslot.

“I am a hot mess,” she tells her granola bar, both of them hidden behind a large potted ficus (maybe? Wei Ying doesn’t know plants that well) in one of the conference center hallways. “But at least I’m hot, right?”

The granola bar, like the crow, doesn’t give her any kind of helpful answer. Wei Ying eats it in revenge. Take that, granola bar.

“This weekend is the first time we’ve met in person,” someone says from the other side of the ficus, “so I can’t tell if this is normal for you, or if you’re having a weird time.” The speaker reveals herself to be Jasmine, today wearing bright pink slim-fit jeans, a black ruffled blouse, and dangling bright pink earrings.

“Damn, you have style,” Wei Ying says instead of addressing anything Jasmine just said. “Do you even own sweats? Tell me you own sweats.”

“I own sweats,” Jasmine says magnanimously, settling gingerly down on the floor next to Wei Ying. “Usually I wear them with one of Booker’s t-shirts, because he has a thing for it, and said thing works out well for both of us.”

“Truly living the dream,” Wei Ying says around the last of her granola bar. She balls up the wrapper and shoves it in her bag, mind working furiously. “Hey,” she says, before she can overthink it. “Can you set a five-minute timer? I really need to talk something out if that’s cool.”

Jasmine’s eyebrows go up in a clear question, but she dutifully gets out her phone and gets a timer going. “Okay,” she says, turning her full attention on Wei Ying. “Spill.”

Wei Ying inhales deeply. “Well, so after Lan Zhan got drunk last night she wanted to slow dance with me so we did that before I managed to get her up to the room and then when we were there I was getting, like, vibes from her but I don’t know what they mean and also she was blackout drunk so I also don’t know if it’s even fair to think of them as vibes but she really wanted to cuddle and told me she missed me and fell asleep on my stomach but then this morning she’s been super weird and distant and I don’t know what I fucking did but I hate it and I don’t want to leave tomorrow and have it all still be fucked up.” She inhales again, a little lightheaded. “Yeah, so, that’s me.”

Jasmine nods and runs her tongue over her teeth. “Okay,” she says. “That seems like a lot. I have a clarifying question: When, exactly, did Lan Zhan start getting weird and distant?”

That’s a good question, actually. Wei Ying frowns, replaying the morning in excruciating detail. “It was after breakfast,” she says slowly. “Like, right at the end. She was hungover while we ate, which is weird for her, but she wasn’t being weird.”

“So what happened? Something happened, right?”

“She asked what happened,” Wei Ying says, fiddling with the hem of her t-shirt. “So I told her.”

“And then?” Jasmine prompts expectantly. Wei Ying remembers that she used to teach elementary school, has a few seconds of feeling vaguely insulted that Jasmine’s clearly using techniques intended for six-year-olds on a grown-ass adult woman, and then stops being insulted because it’s working.

“She said…” Wei Ying remembers out loud, “that she wished she remembered it.”

“'It' being?” Jasmine asks, like a private investigator on the verge of a big solve.

“The night before,” Wei Ying says. “The cuddling. I—I think.”

“And after she said that she got weird and distant?” Jasmine asks. Wei Ying nods, and Jasmine looks at the ceiling for a few long moments. “Okay,” she says, perfectly-lined eyes trained back on Wei Ying. “So last night y’all got snuggly and close and she said she missed you, and then this morning she said she wished she could remember the snuggling and the whispered confessions of affection—”

“I don’t know if I’d call it that,” Wei Ying tries to protest, and is ignored.

“—and then after she said that she got embarrassed and flustered, and she’s been avoiding you at the same time that you’ve been avoiding her—”

Fuck,” Wei Ying says, that particular realization hitting like a slap across the face.

“—and now you’re pouring your heart out to me instead of actually talking to her about it.” Jasmine flicks Wei Ying’s ear lightly. “How does that help?”

“Well,” Wei Ying says reasonably, “you’re really fucking smart and give good advice.”

“Flatterer,” Jasmine says affectionately. “So what are you going to do?”

Wei Ying groans, covering her face. “Talk to her, I guess,” she whines. “Since there isn’t a better way that can happen with no risk to me and my feeble emotions.”

“I knew you’d get there eventually.” Jasmine pats Wei Ying’s shoulder and then squeezes it. “I’m only saying this once,” she says, so seriously that Wei Ying stops hiding her face to make eye contact. “When you talk to her, tell her how you feel. All of it. If you want her to be honest with you then you have to extend the same courtesy.”

“Do you have any suggestions to make this process less terrifying on every single level?” Wei Ying asks, half-sarcastic and half-genuine.

“Eat chocolate before and afterward,” Jasmine says, as the timer on her phone goes off. “You going to the closing ceremonies?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, levering herself off the floor and then offering a hand to help Jasmine up. “It helps my brain to have a thing that ends the conference and signals it as done, you know?”

“Right? It feels weird to just leave.” Jasmine pulls herself up with Wei Ying’s assistance and then uses the grip on her hand to draw her into a hug. “Hey,” she says quietly into Wei Ying’s ear. “Technically we’re over my time limit, but I just wanna say you can do this. I believe in you.”

“Thanks,” Wei Ying whispers, squeezing her eyes shut against tears.

“And if you fly home tomorrow without actually having this conversation, I will find out about it, and I will find a way to hack your next book manuscript and replace every instance of the word ‘dick’ with ‘throbbing manhood’ and every instance of the word ‘pussy’ with ‘poor little meow meow,’” Jasmine hisses, her arms tightening in a hint of threat. “Don’t disappoint me.”

Wei Ying barks a laugh. “Okay, while I understand the spirit and appreciate the creativity of that threat, all you’ve done is make me want to see what that looks like.”

“Yeah, I realized as I was saying it that I accidentally did the opposite of what I wanted.” Jasmine pats Wei Ying’s back and pulls away far enough to squeeze her shoulders and give her a little shake. “Seriously, though.”

“I know.” Wei Ying manages a smile, chin up. “No revenge, I promise.”

“Atta girl,” Jasmine says, patting Wei Ying’s shoulder. “Now I need to pee before the closing ceremony. You?”

“I have learned to literally never pass on the opportunity to use the bathroom,” Wei Ying says, hooking her arm around Jasmine’s. “Let’s do this.”

The closing ceremony is, as they usually are, a combination of boring, cheesy, and emotional. Wei Ying’s not above admitting she cries a little. She always cries at the closing ceremonies of a con, ever since she was fourteen and went to her first anime convention and left convinced she’d never find a group of nerds who understood her so well. Now she’s almost thirty and still crying, but this time it’s because they do a group affirmation that their stories are worth telling, and that happy endings are worth fighting for. (Also, maybe she’s feeling a lot of stuff about the weekend in general. Whatever! She’s allowed to cry!)

Afterward there’s about half an hour of milling around and hugging various people goodbye, during which she naturally gravitates over to Lan Zhan, who’s doing very little hugging but has offered a few people a firm handshake. They both get one last hug from Jasmine, who murmurs something in Lan Zhan’s ear that makes her jaw go tight and gets a nod. Jasmine gives Wei Ying an extremely pointed look along with her goodbye hug, which, like, Wei Ying knows! She gets it! She’s gonna do the thing!

You know. Later. Maybe while drunk. Maybe right before she sprints out of the hotel room door and hides under a table in the lobby. Point is she’s gonna do it, though.

“Oh my gooood,” she says, flopping face-down onto their shitty little hotel room couch, “that was so much. How do you even survive these, Lan Zhan?”

“Careful planning,” Lan Zhan says, bending over to touch her toes and bending one knee at a time to work out her lower back. “It’s part of why I fly out the day after,” she adds to her knees. “I prefer to have decompression time before dealing with an airport.”

“Smart,” Wei Ying says, heart dropping. She hesitates, running her fingers back and forth along the piping on one of the couch cushions. “Do you want me to go?” she asks. “I can hang by the pool for a while so you can decompress on your own.”

“No,” Lan Zhan almost snaps, straightening up too quickly and wincing. “No,” she says, again, more gently, looking a little surprised by her own reaction. “I can decompress with you here.” She glances at Wei Ying and then away, fingers twitching by her side. “Do you want to do some yoga?” she asks the table. “I didn’t have a chance this morning.”

“That sounds great,” Wei Ying says honestly. Stretching? With Lan Zhan? Fuck yes. “Let me put on the appropriate pants.”

“Of course,” Lan Zhan says, digging for her own workout clothes. “I’ll make dinner afterward.”

“Sounds great,” Wei Ying says again, levering herself off the couch.

Yoga occupies enough of Wei Ying’s thought processes that she can’t overthink herself into a spiral, so maybe all those people who talk about how great it is for mindfulness have a point after all. It’s hard to worry about losing the best person in your life when you’re focused on not losing your damn balance. She stares at the ceiling afterward, holding onto her feet and sighing through happy baby. It’s like physical activity hit a reset button in her brain and she can think again, miraculously without panicking. Everything was going okay up until Lan Zhan’s total blackout, right?

Maybe…

Maybe Wei Ying can fix it.

She noodles on it during dinner, which could be described as simply “a pile.” Lan Zhan clearly used all the remaining non-breakfast items and combined them into an eclectic stir-fry, and it’s still better than any meal Wei Ying’s had in any other hotel. Lan Zhan is really the best, just all around, in every way, even when things are being weird between them, and Wei Ying’s gonna do her fucking best to make it not weird.

“Are you all right?” Lan Zhan asks, midway through her bowl of stir-fry pile. Wei Ying blinks herself back to the present, frowning a question. Lan Zhan clarifies, “You’re quieter than usual.”

“I’m good,” Wei Ying says, playing with her fork. “Just thinking.” She takes a sip of the fizzy citrus water Lan Zhan poured for her (Lan Zhan is the best!) and blurts, “I’ve had a really good time this weekend. Here. With you.” She shoves stir fry into her mouth and chews furiously, trying not to blush. Jasmine said to be honest, so she’s trying.

“I have as well,” Lan Zhan says, her side-shave exposed ear pinking. She takes a careful breath and flicks her eyes up to meet Wei Ying’s, something warm and daring in them. “I haven’t enjoyed a conference like this in a long time,” she says, each word carefully measured. “I’m glad I got to spend it with you.”

“Cool,” Wei Ying squeaks. Oh, she’s definitely blushing now, shit. “That’s cool. I’m glad.” God, she’s just a ridiculous human being. Well, if she’s being ridiculous, she might as well go for broke. Wei Ying takes a deep breath and says, as casually as she can, “Hey, after dinner do you want to have a do-over on last night?”

Lan Zhan goes very still, something wary in the lines of her face. “A do-over?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, bludgeoning her way forward cheerfully, because if she’s gonna crash and burn she’s gonna do it with her whole fucking chest. “Maybe not the slow-dancing, but we can put on pajamas and order the same desserts and eat them in bed and watch The Mummy, and you can actually remember all of it this time.”

Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying like she’s an unusual new species of bird that courts by shaking its ass and screaming. “You would want to do that?” she asks, the words hesitant, steps placed on a crumbling path at the edge of a cliff.

“Of course!” It’s not even a lie. Wei Ying would eat dessert and cuddle with Lan Zhan while they watch movies literally any day, any time. It’d probably be coming on too strong to say that out loud, though, so she goes with, “I meant it when I said it was nice.”

Lan Zhan stares at her for a little longer, wild mental math visibly going on behind her eyeballs. “Okay,” she says finally, that exposed ear even pinker now. “If you’re comfortable with it.”

“So comfortable,” Wei Ying assures her, hoping Lan Zhan can’t hear how hard her heart is pounding. “And if you feel comfortable enough, we can aim for a perfect recreation where you fall asleep on my stomach again.” She pats it, grinning to cover her nervousness. “I meant it when I said this bad boy can be a pillow for so many Lan Zhans.”

Lan Zhan takes a long drink of her sparkling water, throat working. “I will keep that in mind,” she says, setting the water down.

“Just let me know,” Wei Ying insists, and then shoves enough food in her mouth that she can’t talk again.

Things feel a little less awkward after that, maybe? Or if not less awkward at least different awkward. It feels like they both know they’re about to do something ridiculous, but they’re in agreement that they’re going to do said ridiculous thing together. There’s solidarity. Wei Ying washes their dishes after they eat and exits the bathroom to find Lan Zhan lightly frowning at the room service menu.

“You said I ordered the cobbler?” she asks like she’s trying to force herself to remember the night before out of willpower alone.

“Strawberry rhubarb,” Wei Ying confirms. “You picked that after you very carefully pointed out the eight dollar cheesecake, because even drunk you wanted me to know you won the bet.”

Lan Zhan cracks a tiny smile. “That does sound like me,” she allows. “Did you get the chocolate cake?”

“Do you remember now?” Wei Ying asks, genuinely curious. “Is it, like, context-based recollection?”

“I do not remember,” Lan Zhan says with a hint of mourning. “But Wei Ying likes chocolate.”

“That I do,” Wei Ying says, “and I’m morally opposed to spending eight dollars on a single slice of defrosted cheesecake when I can get a whole one from the Trader Joe’s for ten. I’ll have the cake again. Are you calling it down?”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan goes for the hotel phone, and Wei Ying takes the opportunity to change into her “pajamas,” which at this point basically means taking off her bra and t-shirt and putting on the tank top she’s been sleeping in, since she’s already in her yoga pants. She takes out her earrings, too, trying to breathe through the nervous anticipation prickling in her belly as she washes her face. They’re gonna eat dessert on the bed and watch a movie! Totally normal stuff! She’s not freaking out at all!

Wei Ying exits the bathroom directly into Lan Zhan, who’s holding her nightgown and looks startled to have been walked into. “Sorry,” Lan Zhan says immediately. “I was…”

“It’s cool!” Wei Ying says, taking a step away from Lan Zhan and her boobs and their easy proximity to Wei Ying’s body. “I’ll let you—” and she waves at the bathroom as she ducks to the side. Wei Ying wants to flee, but there’s nowhere to flee to, really, so she throws herself on the bed face-down and berates herself thoroughly for just being the absolute worst, come on, girl.

“I may not be able to remember last night,” Lan Zhan’s voice says from the other side of the room divider, she thinks, “but I believe that position will make it difficult to watch a movie.”

“I’m very determined,” Wei Ying says into the sheets. “I could make it work.”

“I believe you,” Lan Zhan says, and the bed dips as she sits on it, probably. It’s honestly a little hard to tell given the size of the thing. Wei Ying rolls around until she can peek out at Lan Zhan through her hair, just to be sure. Yep, Lan Zhan’s perched on the far corner of the bed, elegant legs folded up to the side, face bare of makeup and shiny with moisturizer, the sheer fucking nightie just as sheer as ever, floating over the points of her breasts like the hand of a lover, or something else just as florid and ridiculous. Wei Ying wants to rub her face all over Lan Zhan’s face. She wants to kiss along the lace at her neckline until she can bite her collarbone. She wants to bury her hands into that sleek black hair and feel the warm weight of it.

“How should we proceed?” Lan Zhan asks, absurdly formal for someone whose nipples are practically out there in the open air. “I will be relying on you for guidance during this ‘do-over.’”

Right. The do-over. The do-over for Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan’s do-over. The reason they’re lounging on a bed at seven-thirty in the evening, for a given value of lounging that includes Wei Ying’s panic-sprawl and Lan Zhan’s nervous perching. The thing Wei Ying fucking suggested. That do-over.

“Well,” she says, rallying enough to turn over onto her back, “technically we’ve already skipped a few steps, since last time I took off your makeup and put your face lotion on for you. I think at this point we need the desserts to arrive, and then we can get back on track.”

Someone knocks at the door immediately after this pronouncement, which is the kind of absurd timing Wei Ying always feels guilty for writing into her books. “I’ll get it,” Lan Zhan says, rising smoothly and gliding toward the door. Wei Ying hopes she puts on a cardigan before she opens it, or the poor room service worker is going to have a fucking heart attack. Wei Ying takes the opportunity to get out her laptop and get The Mummy queued back up. Maybe they’ll actually get through the whole thing this time. Maybe she’ll be capable of actually paying attention to the movie this time instead of having her entire being focused on Lan Zhan’s warmth and proximity.

Probably not, but a girl can hope.

“Dessert,” Lan Zhan announces unnecessarily, setting both plates down in the center of the bed and draping her modesty cardigan over the room divider. “What next?”

“We should turn down the lights,” Wei Ying says, trying to sound like that’s a normal thing to do when one is about to watch a movie (which it is, honestly) and not like she’s trying to give the place Romantic Vibes.

Lan Zhan nods and putters around, turning out everything but the two bedside lamps and leaving those on their dimmest setting. She climbs onto the bed carefully and kneels on her side of the absurd mattress, eyes expectant on Wei Ying. “And now?”

“Now we eat dessert and watch The Mummy.” Wei Ying shoves pillows behind her back and gets herself settled in for a totally cool sleepover with her best friend, trying not to let on that her hands are shaking.

Lan Zhan nods like she just figured something out. “Your bisexual awakening movie,” she says, as though quoting from somewhere.

“Are you sure you don’t remember last night?” Wei Ying picks up the plates so Lan Zhan can shift around for actual movie watching without worrying about kicking anything and does her best not to stare too much at the play of white silk over the curves of Lan Zhan’s body.

“I do not, but you post about The Mummy on Twitter an average of once every three months.” Lan Zhan leans back against the headboard on her own mound of pillows, long toned legs stretched out in front of her, and politely accepts a plate.

Wei Ying frowns, leaning forward to start the movie. “That sounds about right,” she allows, “but honestly I would have thought I talked about it more than that.”

“Please do not take my offhand comment as actual statistical analysis,” Lan Zhan deadpans. They unveil their plates at nearly the same time, realize they’re each holding the other person’s dessert, and swap in wordless unison. Lan Zhan takes a tiny bite of her cobbler, makes a pleased sound, and follows it with another, larger bite. Wei Ying sorta hums at her, and Lan Zhan clarifies, “I didn’t know if I would actually like it sober, but it’s fairly good.”

“Oh, good,” Wei Ying says, something unclenching in her at that admission. “I’m glad.” One objectively good thing! That’s definitely a start! She swallows chocolate cake, tasting nothing but ash in her nervousness, and teases, “You know Lan Zhan, if you want to make this a real do-over, you need to sit a lot closer.”

Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying, dramatic music swelling in the background from the laptop speakers. Wei Ying meets her gaze, trying for somewhere between sincere and playful. Like, yes, she absolutely wants to cuddle, but if Lan Zhan doesn’t want to, that’s fine!

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says eventually, barely audible. “All right.” She shimmies closer with cautious movements, as though Wei Ying is an easily-startled cat, and when Wei Ying does not startle and sprint off the bed, she presses their shoulders together, her feet leaning into Wei Ying’s like a stock photo trying to imply two people just fucked without having to come out and say they fucked. “Good?” she asks. Wei Ying can’t actually feel the vibrations of her voice, but she feels like she should be able to feel them and has to bodily suppress a shiver.

“Good,” she confirms. “Great. We’re doing great.” Wei Ying is having the time of her life and is so worked up she might vibrate through spacetime. This idea was genius. She’s her own worst enemy.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says again. She returns her attention to the movie, like a normal person treating this experience normally, instead of like a feral horny gremlin who wants to tackle her best friend mouth-first and smear cake all over the clean white sheets. Wei Ying also returns her attention to the movie and actually tries to watch it.

“If this is a real do-over,” Lan Zhan says, after fifteen minutes of movie that Wei Ying has utterly failed to take in, “I believe you said that there should be more… involved cuddling?”

Wei Ying’s fork scrabbles against her empty plate. “Uh,” she says intelligently. “Yeah. Um. If you want to?”

Lan Zhan nods slowly in Wei Ying’s peripheral vision, turning her spoon over in her hand absently. “If we’re putting in the effort, we should do it right. Do you agree?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, head empty. “Yeah, sure. Come on over.”

Instead of immediately coming on over, Lan Zhan takes both of their plates and scooches the million miles to the edge of the bed so she can walk them to the table. That’s good. That’s smart, yes, cuddling with plates around is a bad idea. Lan Zhan crawls back on the bed, giving Wei Ying a really good look down the front of the nightgown, and Wei Ying yanks her eyes back to the movie and wonders how fucking red her face is.

“How did I—” Lan Zhan asks, looming over Wei Ying in kind of a nervously sexy way, and a much more nervous and less sexy Wei Ying pats her stomach and says, “I’m the pillow!” in a voice at least an octave higher than usual. Lan Zhan gingerly settles herself down, ear to Wei Ying’s stomach, and lies there like a statue. Wow. Wei Ying has the nervous sweats between her boobs and on her lower back and Lan Zhan seems even more nervous, which is actually impressive. Either that or she really hates cuddling, but for someone who hates cuddling she sure voluntarily decided to do some cuddling, so Wei Ying’s sticking with the nervous theory. She fervently hopes that her stomach doesn’t gurgle unpleasantly anytime soon and reaches down to pat Lan Zhan’s tense shoulder.

“Hey,” she says quietly. “It’s okay. It’s only me. You can breathe.”

Lan Zhan does, a stuttering inhale and a smoother exhale, her breath warm through Wei Ying’s shirt. Her shoulder goes a little looser under Wei Ying’s hand, which is good, but she has both arms curled up in front of her like a praying mantis, which is less good.

“You can put your top arm around me if you want,” she offers, because now Lan Zhan is the skittish cat. “It’ll be more comfortable.”

Lan Zhan hesitates but complies, draping her arm over Wei Ying’s hips. Wei Ying pets her shoulder as kind of a congratulations, and something finally clicks for Lan Zhan, because she squirms closer, arm tightening around Wei Ying as leverage, and settles into a position that actually seems comfortable. She sighs, body lax, and brushes her thumb back and forth along the hem of Wei Ying’s tank top.

“It was like this?” she asks, and now Wei Ying can actually feel the rumble of her voice.

“Mmmhmm,” Wei Ying says, daring to stroke the sleek, warm fall of Lan Zhan’s braided hair. “Until you fell asleep, which you are not required to do tonight, but if you do that’s fine.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says thoughtfully. “Thank you for letting me leave my options open.”

“Very bisexual of me, leaving options open,” Wei Ying deadpans. Lan Zhan huffs a near-silent laugh, nuzzling into Wei Ying’s stomach a little bit, the prickly hair of her side-shave shhhfing against her shirt. “Is this good?” Wei Ying asks, her ribcage full of something so tender it hurts to speak through it, like a bruise on her heart. “Good do-over?”

Lan Zhan nods, breath coming slow and even. “Yes,” she says near-silently. “It’s good.”

“Good,” Wei Ying says firmly, fingers trailing over Lan Zhan’s hair. “I’m glad, jiejie.” Lan Zhan’s breath hitches a little bit, and Wei Ying stills her hand. “Jiejie? Everything okay?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, deliberately making herself relax again. She takes a slow breath and says, “You stopped calling me that today.”

Wei Ying frowns. “What, jiejie?”

Lan Zhan nods, cheek grinding gently against Wei Ying’s abs, hand tightening on Wei Ying’s hip. “I was worried I’d done something last night that made you… Made you feel you had to be more distant.”

“Oh, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, feeling her heart breaking, “Lan Zhan, jiejie, no.” She cups the curve of Lan Zhan’s skull, other hand resting on Lan Zhan’s forearm, trying to press her sincerity into Lan Zhan’s skin. God, they’re not even fucking pretending to watch the movie now. “Never,” she says firmly. “Never ever, Lan Zhan, you could never do anything that would make me pull away.”

Lan Zhan’s breath hitches, and she turns her face further into Wei Ying’s stomach, clutching her close. “Okay,” she says after a few long moments spent breathing warm against Wei Ying’s shirt. “Okay.”

Wei Ying can feel the spiritual presence of Jasmine hovering over her shoulder, screaming, “TELL HER HOW YOU FEEL!” She can feel the words pressing up her throat. They should be easy to say! She writes them all the time! She comes up with passionate declarations of love for a fucking living! She should be able to open her mouth and say, “Lan Zhan, I’m in love with you,” without wanting to die. She’s gonna do it. Fuck, she hopes Lan Zhan can’t hear her heartbeat through her stomach. Is that how anatomy works? No, no time for anatomy questions.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, dizzy enough that if she wasn’t already laying down she’d probably fall over. “I want to—” “tell you something,” she tries to say, but it lodges in her throat. Is this what choking feels like? Is there such a thing as a Heimlich but for emotions?

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan asks after a moment, starting to lift her head off Wei Ying’s stomach, which, no, fuck, if she’s going to have this conversation it cannot be face-to-face—

“I want to talk through a plot point with you!” Wei Ying blurts in a panic. “For a book!”

Fuck Wei Ying’s entire life.

“...All right,” Lan Zhan says, clearly a little confused, but she settles back down and lets Wei Ying keep petting her hair. Okay. Okay. This is bad, but it can be salvaged. Probably. Maybe she can sort of hint around the situation and see if Lan Zhan picks up on it? That mostly counts as telling Lan Zhan how she feels.

(Wei Ying is aware that Jasmine would not agree, and chooses to ignore that for the moment.)

“So,” Wei Ying says, scrambling to make up a plot on the fly that hopefully doesn’t give too much away, “my protagonists. Two ladies.” Lan Zhan makes an approving hum. “They’ve known each other for a while, but they’ve had different—quests. In the jianghu. So they don’t see each other very often. But they’re together now. I mean, in the same—” fuck, she can’t say “the same room at the inn,” that’s way too true-to-life, Lan Zhan will figure it out immediately. “—abandoned cottage,” she improvises. “In the mountains. And there’s a terrible storm so they haven’t been able to leave for like a week.”

“Ah,” Lan Zhan says knowingly. “Canadian Shack.”

Exactly,” Wei Ying says, playing with the tail of Lan Zhan’s braid. “So it’s been really nice, you know, they’ve been, like, cooking together and eating together and the cottage only had one bed so obviously they’ve been sharing it.”

“Of course,” Lan Zhan says, amusement curling in her voice like incense smoke. “No abandoned cottage or convenient cave or last room at the inn ever has two beds.”

“It would be narratively unsatisfying if there were two beds, though full disclosure, I do kinda want to write that and see if I could make it work,” Wei Ying says, managing to distract herself slightly from the whole point of this exercise with the brilliant “there were, in fact, two beds,” idea. “Anyway, though. It’s been like, a little domestic vacation from their real lives, but the—the storm that’s kept them trapped here has finally broken, and they both know that on the following day, they’re going to go their separate ways again, because their, uh, quests take them in different directions.” Wei Ying swallows, trying to force her heart out of her throat and back down into her chest where it fucking belongs. The ancient Greeks thought the uterus sometimes wandered the body causing chaos, which is wrong and misogynist, but Wei Ying’s starting to think maybe they were right about the mechanic but wrong about which organ it applied to.

“Where is the conflict?” Lan Zhan asks. “Do they not want to leave?”

“Well,” Wei Ying says, voice wavering, “my viewpoint character for this, um, this confrontation. She’s in love with the other woman. Has been for, ah, a long time.” Oh no, Wei Ying’s starting to tear up, this isn’t subtle. “And while they’ve been stuck in the cottage, she’s realized just how much she misses her friend when they’re separated, and she only has one night left before they split up again, and she—she really wants to tell her, but she doesn’t want to fuck up their relationship, because even though they don’t see each other they write, like, all the time, and her friend has always—always been so supportive and helpful, all her life.” She sucks in air, shaky, and Lan Zhan has to realize something’s going on now, right?

“How does—” Lan Zhan starts, her voice rough, fingers digging into Wei Ying’s hip hard enough to ache a little. “How does her—friend—feel?”

“She doesn’t know,” Wei Ying says, blinking furiously, forcing her tears back by willpower alone. “She—she hopes her friend feels the same, maybe, but she doesn’t know, and they’ve been friends a long time so she thinks—she thinks if her friend was interested it would have already happened.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, absolutely raw, but Wei Ying’s mouth is running now and she can’t stop it, a champagne bottle uncorked and exploding across an unsuspecting table.

“She’s so scared that she’ll fuck it up, but she’s just as scared that if she doesn’t try, she’ll never get another chance, and she doesn’t know what to do, because her friend has always been so steady, has always been there for her, and if she loses that it’ll destroy her, but she—she wants so much, she loves her so much, jiejie—”

Lan Zhan’s mouth lands on hers, cutting off her ramble, and Wei Ying’s words stutter into a shocked gasp. The angle is bad, and Lan Zhan’s clearly barely keeping her balance, shoved up on a knee and one arm and twisted awkwardly. It’s dry and too hard, and Wei Ying’s still almost-crying, a lump of gross teary snot caught in the back of her throat.

It’s easily the best fucking kiss of Wei Ying’s entire life.

Lan Zhan pulls away before Wei Ying can do anything other than tense up in surprise, ears very pink, face cracked open into abject terror. “Wei Ying,” she rasps out, “I—did I—”

Wei Ying grabs her face with both hands. Like hell she’s letting Lan Zhan get away now. “Yes,” she says, trembling through every inch of her body. “Lan Zhan—jiejie—yes.” She swallows, for the dual purpose of centering herself and getting rid of the gross lump in her throat (victory on both counts!) and looks Lan Zhan dead in the eye. “I’m the protagonist,” she says, in case it wasn’t obvious. “It was about me.” Lan Zhan nods, face still cupped in Wei Ying’s palms, the terror in her face fading into something soft and wonderful. Wei Ying takes a deep breath, still panicking, her lips tingling and her pulse racing. “Lan Zhan,” she whispers, letting her thumb brush back and forth over one of those heaven-sculpted cheekbones. “Lan Zhan, I love you.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes flutter shut, a shiver rolling all the way down her spine. “Wei Ying,” she says, shifting around so she’s not about to fall the fuck over, on her knees next to Wei Ying’s hip, one hand on the mattress for balance, the other coming up to cup behind the back of Wei Ying’s neck. She opens her eyes, wet at the corners, and oh, the emotion in them, the heat and affection that Wei Ying realizes she’s seen over the course of the conference but never understood before now. “I love you,” she says, her voice a low, warm rumble. “I have been in love with you. It feels like I have never not loved you.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying—professional romance author—says, all of her words fucking off into the thundering of her heartbeat. “That’s good,” she says, when two of her words have come back, and then she gives up on words entirely and pulls Lan Zhan in to kiss her again. Lan Zhan flows with her easily, tilting her head and fitting them together like she was born to kiss Wei Ying. It’s soft and sweet, Wei Ying’s shaking hands on Lan Zhan’s face, Lan Zhan’s fingers spread warm and wide across the back of Wei Ying’s neck. They separate with a little wet sound and dive back in immediately, sharing breath and heat. Wei Ying’s brain is going a mile a minute. Lan Zhan loves her. Lan Zhan loves her. Lan Zhan loves her. It’s so wonderfully absurd that Wei Ying laughs into the kiss, mouth opening against Lan Zhan’s in a smile. Lan Zhan apparently takes this for an invitation, because she surges in, her hand firm on the back of Wei Ying’s neck and her tongue electric in a way that arcs all the way down her spine. Wei Ying moans, squirms involuntarily, and fumbles her hands off Lan Zhan’s face and onto her hips, tugging in an urgent, silent request. Lan Zhan speaks “horny,” apparently, because she swings one leg over Wei Ying’s and sits right the fuck down on her in a straddle, hell yes.

“Good?” Lan Zhan rumbles against her mouth, fingernails scritching into Wei Ying’s undercut, other hand splayed out on Wei Ying’s ribcage and slipping upward in a very suggestive kind of question.

“If you stop I will literally die,” Wei Ying says, clutching Lan Zhan’s muscular hips for dear life. She’s so warm through the silk, and the silk itself is sleek and expensive, and Wei Ying has developed some kind of silk fetish literally in the last thirty seconds. Thankfully for Wei Ying’s future existence Lan Zhan kisses her again, licking into her mouth like she owns it. She tastes like cobbler, cinnamon and sweetness. Wei Ying cannot stop making sounds, urgent, desperate little things. She feels like she’s about to fly apart into a hundred thousand glittering pieces and only Lan Zhan’s weight is holding her in place.

Then Lan Zhan cups her tit, huge warm hand splaying easily across the whole thing, and Wei Ying jolts so hard she accidentally kicks her laptop halfway across the bed.

“Oh my god,” she wheezes when Lan Zhan pulls back with probably at least two questions about what just happened. “Yes, please, but also my laptop?” Wei Ying’s toes hurt, and she fully does not care, but there’s a very good chance if left as-is she’ll end up kicking her computer entirely off the bed.

Lan Zhan sits up, taking her hands away (tragic) and doing a reach and lean to shut the laptop on Evie reading in ancient Egyptian, cutting her off mid-incantation. Wei Ying offers an apology to both her and Rick O’Connell, promising that she and Lan Zhan will actually watch the whole movie again sometime, and forgets this promise immediately as Lan Zhan thunks the laptop down on the nightstand and puts her mouth on Wei Ying’s neck.

“Haaaaaah,” she says, hands scrabbling from Lan Zhan’s hips up her back to her shoulders and then twining into her hair. Lan Zhan hums open-mouthed and Wei Ying tips her head to give her more access, moaning again when Lan Zhan bites at the juncture where her neck meets her shoulder. Wei Ying’s hot all over, sweat prickling at her temples, a fucking fire in between her legs. She wishes Lan Zhan was between her legs, or at least one of her thighs was, something for Wei Ying to grind against. She clenches her thighs together and squirms, trying for friction urgently as Lan Zhan’s mouth works its hot, wet way up to her earlobe.

“Gorgeous,” Lan Zhan purrs in Wei Ying’s ear, her tits squished all up against Wei Ying’s, so there’s some shared nipple friction even if Wei Ying still can’t get anything going in the clit department. She bites Wei Ying’s earlobe. Wei Ying loses her god damn mind and drags Lan Zhan up at the same time that she shimmies down the bed until Lan Zhan’s sexy silk-covered boobs are finally, finally at face-level. There’s a second there where Wei Ying’s whole horny brain shorts out, sheer silk barely camouflaging the heavy fall of Lan Zhan’s breasts and the dark circles of her nipples, and she just stares in wonder for long enough that it’s probably weird.

Then she comes back to herself and shoves her face in between them.

“Do you have any fucking idea,” she says, muffled, cupping soft flesh in her hands, thumbs seeking out Lan Zhan’s nipples as she nuzzles in there really good, “what you’ve been doing to me this weekend, Lan Zhan? Do you know what you look like in this fucking porn nightie?

Lan Zhan laughs, the vibration of it tingling Wei Ying’s lips. “You didn’t pack pajamas,” she says, holding onto Wei Ying’s hair and happily grinding her tits into Wei Ying’s face and hands.

“I don’t hear you complaining,” Wei Ying says to Lan Zhan’s sternum. She can barely breathe and would happily die in here, smooth silk on her face and Lan Zhan’s jasmine-sandalwood warmth all around her. Hmm. If she died before getting her mouth on Lan Zhan in a real way, that would be a tragedy. Better start knocking things off the bucket list, then. Thus decided, Wei Ying shifts around a little and gets her lips around a nipple. The silk gets in the way, a little bit, until Wei Ying’s tongue comes to join the party and wets everything down. Then it’s just sexy, the sheer fabric practically not even there, just Lan Zhan’s tight hot nipple in her mouth and her hitching breaths shaking through them both.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan rasps, hips rocking against her stomach, damp heat radiating through Wei Ying’s tank top. Wei Ying sucks helpfully, tweaking Lan Zhan’s other nipple between her fingers, and Lan Zhan’s answering shudder makes her lightheaded. Oh, either that or Wei Ying actually does need to breathe. She pulls away with a gasp, eyes the wet transparent mark she’s left, and sets about adding another on the other side for, like, fairness or something. Maybe she can ask Lan Zhan to wear this nightgown in the shower, as a favor to her specifically. She thinks it would go completely see-through. Wei Ying would like to witness that very, very much. She could probably die happy after seeing that.

Lan Zhan’s hand skates between them both and cups Wei Ying’s tit, drawn there as though to magnetic north. Wei Ying whines around Lan Zhan’s nipple and resolves to not die ever, actually, when there are so many places Lan Zhan hasn’t touched her yet. Lan Zhan’s thumb circles the hard nub, now finally tight because someone’s touching it instead of from the hotel room AC, and Wei Ying arches into the touch.

“Fuck,” she says urgently, kneading at Lan Zhan’s breasts because they feel so fucking good she can’t stop herself, “Lan Zhan—jiejie—touch me, please.

“I am touching you,” Lan Zhan says, a little too breathlessly to make it as smug as she was probably going for, but she also obediently sits back down on Wei Ying’s hips and yanks the tank top straps down until Wei Ying’s arms are trapped at her sides (sexy) and her breasts are open to the air (sexier). Lan Zhan rumbles a growl of approval in the back of her throat, grinding against Wei Ying’s pubic bone almost absentmindedly, and tugs both nipples at once. Wei Ying keens, hands scrabbling at Lan Zhan’s thighs, the touch arcing down her body into her cunt so hard she feels herself leak into her underwear. She’s gonna soak right fucking through her yoga pants at this rate.

“Pants,” she says, some vaguely rational part of her brain resurfacing. “Off, pants.” Lan Zhan appears to ignore this request in favor of scooting down Wei Ying’s body to re-enact the opening lyrics from Fuck the Pain Away, mouth sealing around one of Wei Ying’s throbbing nipples and sucking hard. Wei Ying keens again, one hand grabbing Lan Zhan’s braid to keep her in place, the other fumbling at her own waistband. She’s gonna free herself of the tyranny of yoga pants, and she’s gonna do it now.

Lan Zhan, thankfully, is a great multi-tasker, and she brings one hand down to help Wei Ying on this vital mission. Between the two of them they manage to get Wei Ying’s yoga pants down over her ass and then off one leg. Lan Zhan seems to think this is sufficient, because she straddles said leg at the same time that she licks across Wei Ying’s sternum to taste her other nipple. Fair distribution of nipple stimulation for everyone! It’s a platform Wei Ying can get behind, or will be able to get behind once Lan Zhan stops sucking on her titties quite so all-consumingly and she can think coherently again. She is at least with it enough to bend her bare leg at the knee and plant her heel on the mattress in cis-lady-fucking instinct, intending to give Lan Zhan something to grind against through her underwear.

Wei Ying subsequently nearly teleports off the bed when Lan Zhan wiggles a little, yanking her nightgown out of the way, and puts her wet, hot, unmistakably naked pussy on Wei Ying’s thigh.

“You—!” Wei Ying gasps, delighted and embarrassed in equal measure, face hot and body hotter. “You weren’t wearing underwear?

Alas, Lan Zhan cannot answer and suck on Wei Ying’s titty at the same time. She detaches with a pop to say, “I do not wear underwear to bed,” bites the curve of Wei Ying’s breast, and adds, “It’s good for vaginal health to allow airflow overnight.” She says this with a straight face while humping Wei Ying’s leg, so wet the slide is basically frictionless. Wei Ying would almost think her unaffected, but there are a few subtle signs of Lan Zhan’s debauchery: her ears are bright red, her eyes are all pupil, she’s breathing hard, and, oh yeah, she’s smearing her boiling pussy all over Wei Ying’s skin, the movements urgent.

“I can’t believe your pussy was out this whole time,” Wei Ying says, cupping Lan Zhan’s face with one hand (accidentally putting her titty away in the process when the tank top strap has to move to allow this, F in the chat for Lan Zhan’s view) and stroking her thumb over Lan Zhan’s kiss-red lower lip. Her other hand has, apparently, joined Lan Zhan in getting the nightgown out of the way and is now spread possessively across Lan Zhan’s ass. Great choice, other hand. “If I’d known your pussy was out we'd have never made it to the movie, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying tells her breathlessly. “I would have been between your legs eating you out like you were my room service dessert order.”

Lan Zhan shudders, eyes fluttering shut. She lips at Wei Ying’s thumb, bites it, and keeps it trapped between her teeth as her hips work. Is she moving faster? Wei Ying thinks she’s moving faster. “You like that idea?” she asks, petting Lan Zhan’s hip and ass and up to her waist, all of her soft and muscular. “You gonna come thinking about me sucking your clit until I’m completely soaked in you? You want me to smell like you, jiejie?”

Lan Zhan nods, tonguing the pad of Wei Ying’s thumb. Wei Ying can feel the tremble in Lan Zhan’s legs, the tense hitching of her abs. It’s so hot Wei Ying can’t handle it, can’t handle not having something on her aching clit. She pulls her thumb out of Lan Zhan’s mouth and shoves her hand into her soaked underwear, the brush of her fingers so good she moans like she’s the one about to come. Maybe she is! The night has been full of surprises so far. Coming on the least stimulation she’s ever had seems like it might be possible, why not.

“Ah,” Lan Zhan says, pawing at Wei Ying’s tits, her other hand fisted in the sheets, “Wei Ying—” She’s fully panting now, the red on her ears finally down on her cheeks, mouth open to show a pink flash of tongue.

“Do it,” Wei Ying says, grabbing Lan Zhan’s ass for encouragement, fingering her own clit in little circles that have her clenching on nothing. “Come on me, come on, Lan Zhan, do it.”

Lan Zhan nods hazily, fucks Wei Ying’s thigh twice more, and her orgasm hits like a long, slow shiver, heat waves above pavement breaking her into flickering pieces. Wei Ying learns that Lan Zhan comes with her eyes closed and her mouth open, quietly but not silently, her breath hitching on little “Ah-ah-ah!” sounds. She learns Lan Zhan gets wetter when she comes, an extra gush of slick against her thigh making her enjoyment very clear. She learns Lan Zhan comes for a while, grinds herself through it for long enough that it’s honestly impressive. She learns that when Lan Zhan is finally done coming, she slumps forward to press her face into the crook of Wei Ying’s neck and alternates between panting for breath and pressing sloppy kisses to the skin there.

Wei Ying is so happy about everything she’s learned, and she’s also maybe going to pass out if she doesn’t come in the next thirty seconds. She moves her hand faster, really going for it, swollen clit so obvious she barely has to do anything, and she’s just on the edge of coming when Lan Zhan comes fully back online and zeroes in on what’s happening.

“No,” Lan Zhan growls, shoving up on one elbow, and she hooks the crotch of Wei Ying’s underwear to the side with her thumb and slides two fingers into Wei Ying’s desperate, waiting cunt with no resistance. Wei Ying clenches reflexively, which makes Lan Zhan’s big, long fingers feel even bigger.

“Fuck,” she yelps, “Oh, Lan Zhan—ah—ffffuck me.” She thrashes her head on the pillows, hand working frantically. Lan Zhan hums, fucks her once or twice almost thoughtfully, and then crooks her fingers upward right as Wei Ying swipes at her clit one more time, and everything fucking explodes.

Wei Ying comes so hard she hears it in her ears, a high-pitched ringing echoing in between the beats of her heart. Her whole body goes tight, spasming around Lan Zhan’s fingers, and Lan Zhan helpfully fucks her through it until Wei Ying collapses in a sweaty, spent heap. She still has a hand in her underwear. Her fucking pants are still on one leg. What the fuck.

“What the fuck, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says weakly, still trying to catch her breath. “Holy shit.”

Lan Zhan makes a pleased noise, leaving her fingers where they are so Wei Ying can squeeze around them occasionally as the aftershocks hit her. “Intense,” she agrees, settling back down, face pressed to Wei Ying’s neck for more sweet little kisses. Her pussy is still flush to Wei Ying’s thigh, and she’s rocking against it lazily. It’s supremely hot. Wei Ying fingers her clit about it, just a little, enjoying the electric too-muchness of it, right up until Lan Zhan realizes what she’s doing. Wei Ying fucking blinks and Lan Zhan shoulders in between her thighs, bullying Wei Ying’s fingers out of the way with her tongue.

“What the fuck, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying squeaks, slapping her free hand into the mattress in surprise. “You—!”

“Mmm,” Lan Zhan hums against her clit, fingerfucking her with a slow, toe-curling surety. “You can go again.”

“Well, yeah,” Wei Ying agrees, already breathy, face flaming, “but we could at least get naked first.”

“Hmmmm,” Lan Zhan says, sounding skeptical, but she pushes up to her knees and deigns to take her slick fingers out of Wei Ying’s cunt in the process. She proceeds to make direct eye contact and lick them clean, which is. Wow. Wei Ying might die tonight of getting fucked to death. What a way to go. When Lan Zhan decides her fingers are sufficiently tidy she hooks them under the waistband of Wei Ying’s underwear, looks down, obviously reads what the underwear actually says, then looks up at Wei Ying with a slow blink and a raised eyebrow.

“What?” Wei Ying asks, of the underwear she knows damn well say, “Free Magic Carpet Rides! Inquire Inside!” “Do you have any questions that my underwear haven’t already answered for you?”

Lan Zhan shakes her head, pursing her lips to cover a smile. “I love you,” she says, the words landing like taking a pillow to the solar plexus, warm and shocking at the same time. Wei Ying squeaks and covers her face with her hands, absolutely certain she’s blushing as red as her half-on tank top. Lan Zhan takes advantage of her distraction and strips Wei Ying from the waist-down, at which point Wei Ying decides she should probably show some initiative and wiggles out of her shirt, wiping her wet hand on it like the dirtbag she is.

“Now you,” she pouts as cutely as she can, sprawled out naked across the bed and making grabby hands at Lan Zhan’s mostly-sheer-but-not-sheer-enough nightgown. Lan Zhan doesn’t react. Lan Zhan doesn’t even seem to hear her, dark eyes skimming over Wei Ying’s skin, her hands digging into the meat of her thighs as she looks and looks and looks. Wei Ying flushes again, squirming a little under the warm weight of that gaze. It’s not like she’s shy, not really—she sleeps naked, for fuck’s sake, and she’s had partners of a variety of genders—but this is Lan Zhan, and she’s looking at Wei Ying like she wants to eat her and keep her, like Wei Ying is the proverbial cake and Lan Zhan is determined to do the impossible vis-a-vis cake consumption and possession. Also, Lan Zhan’s eyes are definitely lingering between Wei Ying’s legs, like the metaphorical cake-eating is gonna start there. Wei Ying clenches, another slow dribble of wetness working its way out, and Lan Zhan literally licks her fucking lips.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whines, trying to get that attention back on her face instead of her pussy. “Jiejie. A’Zhan.” Lan Zhan finally looks up at that last one, mouth parted and eyes soft. Wei Ying gives her a beseeching look. “Please, jiejie,” she pleads, trying to keep a straight face, “I’ve been thirsting after your titties since we were in college, please show them to me before I crumble into dust and blow away on the wind.”

“Ridiculous,” Lan Zhan says with aching fondness, and she strips out of the nightgown, tossing it over her shoulder with no care at all for where it lands or whether it’ll get all wrinkly. Wei Ying also doesn’t care about whether the nightgown gets wrinkly, because there’s all of Lan Zhan, muscular and naked and…

“Hiiiiiiii,” Wei Ying says, dazed, not sure where to look and trying to look everywhere at once. Shoulders: good. Tits: so good, heavy and hanging in the way where Lan Zhan could probably hold a pencil under one of them. Nipples: yes. Stomach: hello, soft squishy little roll that Wei Ying wants to use as a pillow, and hello also to the abs ready to present themselves as soon as Lan Zhan flexes. Thighs: Wei Ying would like to be crushed between them, preferably with her face buried in Lan Zhan’s neatly-trimmed, soft-looking pubic hair. “You are so ridiculously hot,” she complains, struggling up to sitting so she can get her hands on Lan Zhan’s hips and pet along her curves. “How are you allowed to be so hot, jiejie?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Lan Zhan says, shivering as Wei Ying’s hands continue to explore her skin. (Wei Ying has a vague plan of mapping Lan Zhan’s entire body, and her hands are ready to rumble on that account.) She tips her head back when Wei Ying leans in to kiss her neck, and her voice vibrates against Wei Ying’s lips when she adds, “I still remember the shorts you wore in college.”

“Haunted by my jorts, jiejie?” Wei Ying asks with a grin, mouthing along Lan Zhan’s jugular. “You could have said something then, you know.”

“So could you,” Lan Zhan points out, settling her hands on Wei Ying’s lower back and sliding them down to cup her ass.

Wei Ying squirms back into the touch and says, “Okay, okay, we’re both hot, and we’re both super late to the party. Discussion complete, back to the sex.”

“If you insist,” Lan Zhan says, and then she somehow manages to throw Wei Ying face-down on the bed? Wei Ying’s not even sure how it happened, she’s just suddenly eating sheets while Lan Zhan kisses her way down her spine, sending firefly-sparkles out through every nerve ending. “I love your ass,” she tells Wei Ying’s lower back, cupping a cheek in her hand and kneading it a little. “Did you know it’s gotten bigger since college?”

“The jorts I no longer fit in say yes,” Wei Ying says happily, immensely proud of her ass prosperity. Lan Zhan laughs and kisses the curve of her.

“Gorgeous,” she rumbles, mouthing down Wei Ying’s lower back and onto one cheek. This is when Wei Ying realizes that Lan Zhan is a sexy biter, because she gives Wei Ying’s ass a chomp hard enough to startle, mouths at where she bit, and hauls Wei Ying up onto her knees before Wei Ying’s had a chance to recover from the biting.

“Lan Zhan!” she squeals, half from the bite and half because Lan Zhan’s now grinding against her ass, hands squeezing Wei Ying’s hips like they’re already fucking doggy style. It’s not quite enough contact to do anything directly, but it’s so filthy horny Wei Ying whites out a little about it, pussy empty and clenching in complaint.

“I should have packed my strap,” Lan Zhan says mournfully, keeping one hand on Wei Ying’s hip and running the other up her spine to fist in her hair. “Look at you. You’re gagging for it.”

Wei Ying makes an incoherent noise that does nothing to dispute this statement. “Um,” she says a second later, when her brain kicks in. “I. Uh.”

Lan Zhan makes an interested sound and tugs Wei Ying’s hair a little. “Yes?”

“My drawer,” Wei Ying manages. “The—the bag.” Lan Zhan releases her hair and climbs off the bed. Wei Ying slumps over onto her side and watches through her lashes as Lan Zhan locates her sex bag, opens it, and immediately pulls out the dildo.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, following the dildo with the rabbit-style vibe, and then the thigh harness, and then the lube. “What exactly did you have planned for this weekend?”

“Riding a pillow for solo stress relief,” Wei Ying says defensively, pretending like her face isn’t red hot. “But someone decided to share a room with me instead, so that went out the window.”

“Not literally, I hope,” Lan Zhan deadpans, pulling out the lipstick vibe and turning it over in her hand thoughtfully. “Ah,” she says, “this is the one you were using in the shower.”

“Oh my god.” Wei Ying grabs a pillow and holds it over her face. “Oh my god, you could hear that?”

“I didn’t intend to,” Lan Zhan says, the mattress shifting under her weight. “If it makes you feel any better, I got off to it.”

Wei Ying considers this peace offering. “I don’t know if that makes me feel better,” she says as she emerges from under the pillow, “but it definitely makes me feel hornier, so—”

Lan Zhan cups her behind the neck and kisses her quiet, because Lan Zhan is apparently a horny ambush predator. Wei Ying does not mind being prey, and she allows her mouth to be tongue-fucked until she’s boneless and panting on her back. Lan Zhan pushes up onto an elbow, gives Wei Ying an absolutely devastating hungry look, and holds up the rabbit vibe.

“I’m going to put this in you,” Lan Zhan says with calm certainty, “and I’m going to leave it in you while I ride your mouth until I come. Do you see any problems with this?”

“Frankly, I’m offended it’s not already happening,” Wei Ying says, spreading her legs and rolling out her shoulders.

“Mark your words,” Lan Zhan says evenly, and runs the vibe up the seam of Wei Ying’s pussy. It’s not even on yet, but the anticipation rolls over her skin anyway, the knowledge that she’s going to be full because Lan Zhan decided she should be. Wei Ying whines and cants her hips up, chasing the contact. Lan Zhan is a merciful lesbian goddess and gives it to her immediately, rocking the shaft of the vibe back and forth into her pussy so it gets thoroughly wet before she settles it in place, the external section settled snugly against Wei Ying’s clit. “Good?”

Wei Ying nods, clenching around it and sighing happily.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, kissing the inside of Wei Ying’s thigh. “Good.”

The motors kick in, and Wei Ying nearly sees god.

“Good?” Lan Zhan asks again, barely hiding her amusement at Wei Ying’s sex-wild thrashing.

“Sit on my face before I report you to the sex police,” Wei Ying demands, abs twitching, thighs shaking, shocky too-bright zings of pure pleasure radiating through her body centering in her cunt. The curved head of the vibe is right at her g-spot, the exterior vibe right on her clit, and she needs something to hold her down and keep her in her body or she’s going to teleport to the moon.

“You would never,” Lan Zhan says, which is true, and then she slings a thigh over Wei Ying’s shoulders and drops her pussy on her mouth, which is the best thing that has happened in an evening made up primarily of best things. Wei Ying wraps her arms around Lan Zhan’s thighs and dives the fuck in, tongue and lips and the barest hint of teeth. She loves eating pussy, loves the intimacy and the salty-sour flavor and the feel of slick folds and a hard clit against her tongue. Lan Zhan’s pussy is world-class. Wei Ying might be ruined for any other pussy ever again, which makes her want to cry when she thinks about Lan Zhan flying out to the opposite coast tomorrow, so she yanks her thoughts back to the pussy in front of her and pushes that idea as far away as she can.

“Good girl,” Lan Zhan tells her, grinding against her mouth. “I knew you’d be good at this.” Wei Ying sucks Lan Zhan’s clit, wordlessly asking for more praise, and Lan Zhan shudders beautifully. “Yes,” she says, “Yes, A’Ying, like that.”

Wei Ying makes a broken sound in the back of her throat, thighs clenched tight around the base of the rabbit vibe to hold it in place, hips rocking helplessly as she frantically licks and sucks Lan Zhan’s clit. She has this wild idea of making Lan Zhan come before she does, which is why she’s focusing so much on the pussy-eating, but eating Lan Zhan out is such a turn-on that it’s a losing battle. Her cunt keeps clenching around the vibe, the small amount she can squirm on it meaning she’s fucking herself over and over, and her clit throbs, every part of her winding up tighter and tighter. She whines, clutching at Lan Zhan’s thighs tighter, working over every inch of Lan Zhan’s pussy with her mouth, please, please.

“Ah,” Lan Zhan sighs, her legs shaking on either side of Wei Ying’s face, and she comes almost silently, pussy fluttering against her tongue and dripping a hot pulse of wet all over her chin. Wei Ying moans, muffled, and convulses, her orgasm hitting like a brick wall at speed. It goes on and on, waves of unstoppable, too-much pleasure knocking her fully out of herself and into somewhere sparkling and warm.

“Good girl,” Lan Zhan says from far away, doing something that makes the overstimulation stop. “Ah, sweet girl, you were so good for me.” Wei Ying hums, shifting her jaw around absently to work out the soreness, and tries to remember how having a body works while Lan Zhan curls into her side.

“I think I astral projected,” she mumbles. “I think you made me come so hard we found the secret to astral projection, and it was coming.” Wei Ying holds up one hand for a high-five. “Great job, jiejie.”

Lan Zhan high-fives her, smug amusement in every line of her body where they’re cuddled together. “Wei Ying was also very good,” she says, between kisses to her shoulder and the curve of her breast.

“Hell yeah.” Wei Ying pumps a fist, then lets her arm flop to the mattress. “Good job us.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan bites her bicep. “I had hoped to make use of the rest of your toys,” she says thoughtfully, “but you seem done for the night.”

Wei Ying’s cunt clenches, which is when she discovers the rabbit vibe is still inside her but turned off. It’s not an excited clench, she decides. It’s reflexive more than anything, and tired. “We can table the rest of the contents of my sex bag for tomorrow?” she says, valiantly not thinking about what else tomorrow holds. “If you make me come again tonight I might literally pass out, jiejie, and I haven’t brushed my teeth yet and, no shade intended toward your glorious pussy, I don’t think you coming on my face is the kind of facial that keeps me from getting zits.”

Lan Zhan hides her face in the side of Wei Ying’s titty and laughs silently there for a bit. “Ridiculous,” she says, emerging with bright eyes and a soft smile. She kisses Wei Ying on her sticky lips and whispers, “I love you.”

Wei Ying’s entire body attempts to melt into a puddle. “I love you, too,” she says, chasing Lan Zhan down for more kisses. “Shower?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, and reaches down between them to ease the vibe out of Wei Ying, making her seriously consider whether she can, in fact, go again. A yawn interrupts her mid-consideration, which… Well, it answers the question.

Lan Zhan insists on washing the rabbit vibe, because she’s determined to be the most respectful and courteous sex partner Wei Ying’s ever had, probably, before they trade off using the toilet. (Wei Ying will not be ending this weekend by courting a UTI, no thank you!) They shower together, hair pinned up and beading in the condensation, soapy hands exploring with pleasure but without intent. Afterward they brush their teeth and moisturize in companionable nudity, every casual touch and warm glance a revelation. Wei Ying learns that Lan Zhan’s ass jiggles when she brushes her teeth vigorously, a fact that she hoards in her heart and hunches around like a goblin.

This is all we get, part of her whispers. Now you know what it’s like, and she’s still leaving tomorrow.

If this is all we get, Wei Ying tells herself firmly, brushing out her damp hair while beside her, Lan Zhan re-does her sleep braid, then we’re not gonna waste it worrying about tomorrow. That’s valuable time she could spend staring at Lan Zhan instead. She started this weekend knowing their time together was limited, and she’s ending it with more than she ever thought possible. Lan Zhan loves her! They’re in love! They had mind-blowingly good sex! With each other! That might not change anything else, but it also can’t be taken away, and Wei Ying spreads the memories all over herself like lotion, wanting to rub it permanently into her skin.

Lan Zhan kisses her, mouth and cheek and between her eyebrows. “You’re frowning,” she murmurs, pulling Wei Ying into a shower-warm embrace.

“Thinking,” Wei Ying mutters, not wanting to explain what about. She squeezes Lan Zhan around the waist and sighs. “Let’s go to bed, jiejie.”

Lan Zhan hums softly and walks them out of the bathroom, flipping off the light as they go. They separate to their opposite sides of the bed to climb in, then make eye contact across the empty expanse in the middle. The eye contact hangs for one breath, two, three, the only sound an empty whooshing from Lan Zhan’s white noise machine.

Lan Zhan reaches a beseeching hand across the ridiculous mattress in Wei Ying’s direction, and Wei Ying laughs and turns off her bedside lamp.

“When we first got in here I was like, ‘Ah, this bed is perfectly-sized for sharing,’” she grumbles as she starts flopping her way toward the middle. “What a fool I was.”

“It’s nice that our feet don’t hang off the end,” Lan Zhan offers, clicking off her light and wiggling toward Wei Ying in the ensuing darkness.

“But at what cost?” Wei Ying asks, finding Lan Zhan’s questing hand and using it to haul herself closer. They spend a moment sorting out limbs and end up curled together, all warm naked skin and long limbs tangled. Wei Ying is the happiest little spoon to probably ever exist. How could she not be, with Lan Zhan’s breasts softly squished against her back and her arm around her waist? She sighs, wiggling a little like an excited kitten, and drags Lan Zhan’s hand up to press kisses to her knuckles.

“I love you,” she says to the darkness, a hand squeezing around her heart at getting to say the words.

“I love you, too,” Lan Zhan says, kissing the back of Wei Ying’s neck and nuzzling at her undercut. “Goodnight, Wei Ying.”

“Goodnight, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says.

She falls asleep with tomorrow still held at arm's-length, curled up warm and safe in an embrace she never wants to leave.

That’s a problem for future Wei Ying.

Chapter Text

Lan Zhan wakes up warmer than she has in a while. She fumbles her alarm off (and why is it all the way over there?), blinks once or twice into the early hotel darkness, and slowly registers that the warmth seems to be emanating from a soft, nude body pressed all up against her side. She turns her head to investigate this unexpected development and finds Wei Ying’s head pillowed on the junction of her shoulder, humid breaths brushing over the swell of her breast. The rest of Wei Ying is draped over her like a blanket, an arm around Lan Zhan’s waist and a leg hitched up over her thigh. Her hair is a mess of tangles and her eyelids twitch occasionally, mouth working. She’s probably winning an argument in her dream, Lan Zhan decides, so full of affection it wants to leak out her eyes and ears and nose. She manages to corral it into a kiss pressed to the top of Wei Ying’s head.

So it wasn’t an extremely sexy dream, then.

Excellent.

Yesterday started out bad, then got worse, then got so much better so quickly Lan Zhan still feels dizzy with it. It’s like she was on a roller-coaster, only instead of hitting a screaming drop it just kept going up. Lan Zhan isn’t sure there’s an end to how high it’ll take her. She’s floating, flying, soaring through a sky full of clouds that are made of solid magic instead of just water vapor, the way she’d thought they were when she was a child. Wei Ying loves her. Wei Ying loves her. Lan Zhan writes romances for a living. She makes her living off her imagination, and she’s never imagined anything so wonderful as this.

Wei Ying mumbles something unintelligible and smushes her cheek into Lan Zhan’s shoulder, dragging her out of her head and back into her body. Lan Zhan kisses her hair again, unable to resist. She should probably get out of bed. There are decorations to take down, clothes to fold and re-pack. Lan Zhan should hit the gym, use the physicality of her workout to clear her mind before the inevitable stress of the airport later. She follows a routine for a reason, because it helps her keep hold of her sense of self while tossed around by the vagaries of travel.

Lan Zhan sets her alarm for another hour and pulls Wei Ying closer, nose buried in her strawberry-scented hair. There are things more important than routines, and savoring her first morning with Wei Ying as her girlfriend is absolutely at the top of that list. She doesn’t go back to sleep, exactly, but she allows her mind to drift from thought to thought like a leaf on a gentle current. Waking up with a hangover; the wonder of Wei Ying cooking for her; the excruciatingly awkward conversation about the previous night; Lan Zhan looks at it all now with a distant fondness. She’d been so afraid of having given it all away, afraid that she’d pushed too far, taken too much. The lack of Wei Ying’s teasing ‘jiejie’ had hung between them, a hole in a grassy field ready to break her ankle if she stepped wrong. Wei Ying’s too-careful touches, her absence from Lan Zhan’s side, from their room during lunch. It was miserable. Lan Zhan was sure she’d ruined it, that she’d never regain her easy friendship with Wei Ying, that all her hopes for closeness after this weekend had been destroyed in a drunken escapade she didn’t even remember. Jasmine pulled her into a hug after the closing ceremony and whispered yet another directive for Lan Zhan to tell Wei Ying how she felt, but what good could that possibly do when half a confession had led to this lonely, awkward alienation?

But then dinner, and Wei Ying’s offer of a do-over. But then pajamas, and desserts, and completely ignoring The Mummy. But then her head on Wei Ying’s soft stomach, and Wei Ying’s hand in her hair. But then Wei Ying’s beautiful, heartfelt, truly ridiculous confession (workshopping a book plot? Lan Zhan cannot believe her), and the kiss, and everything that came after. Lan Zhan squeezes her bare thighs together, reveling in the memories and the pulsing heat under her ribcage and between her legs. It’s a banked-coals feeling, something promising a future burn but currently happy to simply hover in anticipation.

She really sleeps too late, Lan Zhan thinks hypocritically of someone who’s been consistently getting up around seven. Still, though. If Wei Ying woke up at five they could already be having morning sex. Morning sex is a very good reason to wake up early, in Lan Zhan’s opinion. She spends a hazy, horny moment calculating how many rounds they could go if Wei Ying woke up at five—with checkout at eleven, and assuming two hours to eat, get dressed, and pack… That’s a lot of sex. Lan Zhan will bring this to Wei Ying’s attention as a possible motivating factor for an earlier wakeup time when it’s not five-twenty in the morning.

Wei Ying mumbles something and squirms around. Lan Zhan wonders for a moment if she’s waking up, if they’re going to have that early morning sex after all, but Wei Ying flops over onto her other side, shoulder tucked into Lan Zhan’s armpit, head lolling awkwardly across one bicep, and remains steadfastly asleep. Lan Zhan observes this whole process with the sincere, near-deadly affection that comes with watching a particularly adorable kitten curl up on one’s lap, and rolls over to make Wei Ying the little spoon again. Her windblown cloud thoughts wander from the past to the future, to mornings in her new apartment (the apartment is sort of a vague blur, because she doesn’t know what it’ll look like yet) with Wei Ying in her arms. She thinks about making Wei Ying breakfast in a real kitchen, thinks about freshly made waffles or jian bing eaten on a balcony or on Wei Ying’s patio next to Cangse Sanren’s overgrown flowerbeds. She thinks about kneeling in the backyard, their hands in Mama’s vegetable garden as they plant or weed, and then drinking iced tea on the porch in grass-stained clothes afterward. She thinks about talking through book plots with Wei Ying while in the same room, Wei Ying’s head in her lap as she gestures wildly at the ceiling. She thinks about kissing her everywhere, in front of everyone: a press of lips against her temple at the grocery store, a kiss on her cheek at dinner with Mama and Lan Huan and Lan Qiren, a deep kiss full on the lips on a sunset evening at the waterfront.

Lan Zhan is aware, logically, that she and Wei Ying are not going to be able to spend every second of every day together from this morning forward—it’s impractical. They’re on different flights, and Lan Zhan needs to get settled and start looking for apartments, and Wei Ying has a whole life that Lan Zhan’s not about to ask her to give up. The lovesick part of her brain doesn’t see any of that as an issue, and fully intends to stay big-spooned around Wei Ying for the rest of eternity. Lan Zhan kisses the back of Wei Ying’s neck and decides not to bother arguing with the lovesick part of her brain yet. She has this quiet morning all to herself. She’s allowed to bask.

Some forty-five minutes later, Lan Zhan’s bladder precludes more basking. She dismisses the additional alarm before it has a chance to go off and carefully extricates herself from the bed and Wei Ying’s determined limbs. She uses the bathroom in the dark, muscle memory from this and many other hotels with similar layouts allowing her to move through the space easily as she washes her hands and brushes her teeth. Lan Zhan pauses before she climbs back into bed. Wei Ying said they should table it for the morning, and it’s the morning. She may have been joking, and if so, Lan Zhan will respect it, but there’s no harm in being prepared, is there?

Wei Ying’s sex bag is right where Lan Zhan put it last night; in her clothing drawer, no longer hidden under a pair of leggings and some seven pairs of novelty underwear. Lan Zhan retrieves it, sets it on her nightstand for (hopefully) later, and slips back under the covers. Wei Ying makes a displeased sound at the first touch of her AC-chilled skin, but wastes no time practically crawling on top of her in spite of it. She ends up with her head pillowed on one of Lan Zhan’s breasts. This, Lan Zhan thinks, is the ideal place for Wei Ying to be, and she scritches gently at her undercut between slow, soothing sweeps of her hand up and down Wei Ying’s spine.

Some indistinct amount of time later, Wei Ying squirms in the greying light coming around the curtains and hums something into Lan Zhan’s skin. Lan Zhan scritches at her undercut a little more insistently, enjoying the prickly texture against her fingers. Wei Ying hums in clear approval of this development and nuzzles into the curve of Lan Zhan’s breast, her hand coming up to settle possessively over the other one.

Then she inhales sharply, and her whole body twitches once. Wei Ying lifts her head and blinks blearily at Lan Zhan, sleepy face screwed up in suspicion, and then reality clearly sinks in as the squinty scowl melts away into a glowing, rumpled smile.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying breathes, voice rough. She swallows and takes in the rest of their entanglement, one eyebrow climbing her face. “Was I using your titty as a pillow?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, happily combing out Wei Ying’s messy hair with her fingers.

“Cool,” Wei Ying says, letting her eyes drift shut like a cat being petted. “Love that for me.” She rubs her cheek against the swell of Lan Zhan’s breast and gives it a kiss. “Love your boobs, jiejie,” she says, kissing her lazy way over to the other one. “Getting to lay my head to rest atop your titty is truly living the dream.”

“I am glad to fulfill it,” Lan Zhan says honestly, and she tugs at Wei Ying’s hair until she crawls a little further up and they can kiss. Wei Ying’s mouth is a little clumsy and sleep-sour, gunk still crusted in the corners of her eyes. One half of her hair is sticking almost straight up in a frankly impressive level of bedhead. Lan Zhan loves every part of it, the mess making everything real. She kisses Wei Ying’s mouth open, hand cupped around the back of her neck, and teases her with slow, deep sweeps of tongue while using her other hand on Wei Ying’s ass to guide her into straddling Lan Zhan’s thigh. Wei Ying rocks into it a couple of times, damp but not wet yet, and drags her mouth away from Lan Zhan’s with real effort.

“Yeah?” she asks, cupping one of Lan Zhan’s tits in her hand. Lan Zhan nods and pushes her thigh up a little more insistently. “Yeah,” Wei Ying says, shivering at the extra pressure against her pussy, “Yeah, okay, just—gimme a sec.” She clambers out of bed with limbs that barely work and staggers her way to the bathroom, running into both the room divider and the door frame as she goes. Lan Zhan wonders if it’s reasonable to try and outfit her new apartment (once she has one) with those corner protectors for babies that have just started walking. Is there a way to do it that will look nice? Are upholstered door frames a thing? If she’s going to have Wei Ying sleeping over five nights a week (minimum) she feels like she should make sure the environment is safe and comfortable.

Lan Zhan amuses herself by unpacking the contents of Wei Ying’s sex bag and lining them up neatly on the nightstand. She follows that up with turning off her white noise machine and hooking her phone up to her travel bluetooth speaker, scrolling through her playlists until she finds the one she plays when she’s working on sex scenes. It’s both horny and neutral enough not to be a distraction, and the bass throbs through the room pleasantly as Wei Ying emerges from the bathroom looking a little damp around the edges and significantly more awake.

“Jiejie,” she drawls, leaning around the end of the room divider languidly in a very appealing display of dimly-lit nudity, and then she blinks at the precisely-arranged sex toys. “Jiejie,” she repeats, half-laughing, “you don’t waste any time, do you?”

“No,” Lan Zhan agrees, turning on the bedside lamp to the lowest setting and giving them both a moment for their eyes to adjust. “We’ve wasted enough time.”

“Truer fucking words,” Wei Ying says emphatically, and she climbs back onto the bed and into Lan Zhan’s waiting embrace with no further hesitation. When they kiss this time Wei Ying’s mouth tastes minty, the strange cold sensation a direct counterpoint to the heat of her tongue. Lan Zhan hums happily into the kiss and palms Wei Ying’s ass until she’s straddling her thigh again. Wei Ying’s pubic hair is a gentle kind of scratchy, clearly trimmed within the previous week because the ends haven't gone soft yet. Lan Zhan likes the reality of it the same way she likes Wei Ying with sleep gunk in her eyes. Her fantasies never had this much detail.

“I feel like I’m learning all kinds of things about you this weekend, jiejie,” Wei Ying says between teasing nips along Lan Zhan’s jaw. “I didn’t know you were such an ass gal.”

“I’m Wei Ying’s ass gal,” Lan Zhan says. There’s no point trying to claim otherwise, when she’s still groping said ass with both hands and very much enjoying it, but it’s not completely accurate. “I like tits, as well,” she adds, “and legs. Hands. That fat roll women tend to get right at the bottom of their stomach. Stomachs in general.” She caresses each body part as she lists them, letting her hands drift over Wei Ying’s body to map her in the daylight. Wei Ying shivers and arches into it, blood-warm and so pliant in Lan Zhan’s grasp.

“The sexy pudge,” Wei Ying agrees, working a hand between them to palm the roll in question at the base of Lan Zhan’s belly. “I’m glad we’re in agreement on this, Lan Zhan, the sexy pudge is exquisite. Next time—” her voice cracks a little, so Lan Zhan hands her a glass of water from the bedside table. Wei Ying sips a little sheepishly and continues, “Next time I get to fall asleep on your stomach, okay?”

“Of course,” Lan Zhan says, stroking up and down Wei Ying’s back from her shoulders to her ass. “Any time you want.”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, a little wistfully. “Any time.” She bites Lan Zhan’s earlobe, and then the tip of her ear, careful to avoid the cartilage piercing, and then rubs her face on Lan Zhan’s side-shave. “I about spontaneously exploded out of sheer gay when I saw you in the lobby, Lan Zhan,” she tells her, both hands on Lan Zhan’s breasts and her lips still brushing her scalp. “You never send me pictures of yourself, how was I supposed to know you got a hot lesbian side-shave?”

“I’ll send you more pictures,” Lan Zhan promises. “I’ll send you pictures every day.” Wei Ying’s current side-shave related activities have brought her tits closer to Lan Zhan’s face, so it’s very easy to tug Wei Ying a little higher and get her mouth on one.

“I’ll hold you to that,” Wei Ying says unsteadily, her hands curling into Lan Zhan’s braid. “Daily pictures. And sexts. We’re gonna sext, like, all the time.

Lan Zhan hums her agreement, tugging on Wei Ying’s other nipple and getting a very sexy moan in response. She’s not sure they’ll have time for sexting when they’re busy having actual sex, but if Wei Ying wants sexts, Lan Zhan will provide. Right now, for example, she’s providing a lot of nipple stimulation, alternating between teasing with her tongue and occasionally allowing a little threat of teeth. Wei Ying shivers every time the teeth come into play, so Lan Zhan gives in to a long-held desire and bites as much of Wei Ying’s breast as she can get into her mouth, which is most of it. Excellent.

“So much biting!” Wei Ying complains, clearly delighted. “I didn’t know you were a biter, either, jiejie!”

“Sometimes kissing seems insufficient,” Lan Zhan admits, allowing Wei Ying to shift and present her other breast for their mutual enjoyment. Lan Zhan licks that one, too, palming the spit-slick weight of the first breast so it doesn’t feel abandoned. Wei Ying rolls her hips against nothing, a complaining sound not quite making it out of her throat. That’s fair—keeping her torso far enough up the bed so Lan Zhan can get her mouth on her tits means Wei Ying can’t keep grinding against her thigh. Lan Zhan wants Wei Ying to have everything she wants, so she slides her non-titty-fondling hand from Wei Ying’s ass around the front of her hip and between her legs. Wei Ying moans, arching her back to grind into Lan Zhan’s fingers and subsequently making the boob view situation even better. She’s slick, hot, so soft and plush. Lan Zhan strokes through her folds, exploring like she hadn’t had a chance to last night.

“Wet,” she comments, finding Wei Ying’s clit and circling it lightly. There’s liquid oozing between her fingers already, and Lan Zhan’s hardly been at it for more than ten seconds.

“Whose fault is that?” Wei Ying demands hotly, trying to shove herself backward and scowling when Lan Zhan moves with her to keep the pressure consistent. “Besides,” she says, trying the same thing and scowling even harder when it gets her nowhere, “You have no room to—ah—talk after you came on my face so hard last night I almost fucking drowned.

“Not a complaint,” Lan Zhan says, and she throws Wei Ying over onto her back and crawls between her legs while she’s still flailing in surprise. She takes a knee to the shoulder and hardly notices as she navigates limbs and tangled sheets, because Wei Ying’s wet pussy is right there, and Lan Zhan barely got a taste of it last night. She leans in and gives a long, slow lick from the bottom of the slit all the way up to Wei Ying’s clit, savoring the musky, salty-bitter tang, and savoring Wei Ying’s startled squeak just as much. “Wet,” she says again, looking up the line of Wei Ying’s body to meet her gaze. Lan Zhan holds the eye contact for a long, hot moment, and licks her chops very deliberately.

“Fuck,” Wei Ying says, getting her legs back under control (that is, hooking them over Lan Zhan’s shoulders) and rolling her pussy up to present it for Lan Zhan’s mouth. “Okay, god, you could have just asked, you barbarian.”

“You liked it,” Lan Zhan says, taking a moment to adjust her position and get her arms under her shoulders, elbows-out, so she can cup the crease of Wei Ying’s ass in her hands and use her thumbs to spread out the flushed-dark folds of her labia. She just looks at it for a minute. Objectively, Lan Zhan thinks all genitals look fairly ridiculous. Subjectively, Wei Ying has a beautiful pussy, because it’s Wei Ying’s, and Lan Zhan’s about to put her mouth all over it.

Lan Zhan dives in with relish, and she eats Wei Ying out for a long, long time. There’s so much to learn, so many parts of Wei Ying to tease and taste. Lan Zhan traces up and down every inch of Wei Ying’s cunt, licking around and between the folds, sucking gently at the engorged lips of her labia, making an absolute fucking mess of them both and reveling in the experience as Wei Ying squirms and swears above her. Wei Ying gets hotter and plumper under her mouth, all her blood rushing to meet the sweep of Lan Zhan’s tongue, and when she finally works her attention up to Wei Ying’s clit she gets a long, violent shudder and two hands scrambling into her braided hair.

“Haaaaaah,” Wei Ying says, arching up into Lan Zhan’s mouth, accidentally yanking when her hands spasm. “Fucking hell, Lan Zhan, your mouth, you’re indecent—oh, oh aaah.” Apparently sucking on Wei Ying’s clit makes her go incoherent. How good to know! Lan Zhan does it again, and then keeps doing it while Wei Ying whines, then tenses up, hands tight in Lan Zhan’s hair. “Lan Zhan,” she gasps, high-pitched and shaking, “Lan Zhan, I’m—I’m gonna—”

Lan Zhan hums her approval and rolls her tongue in a circle around Wei Ying’s clit, not letting up on the suction for a second. Wei Ying takes another shaky breath and holds it, her body a bow string held taut. Then: release, the fired arrow, Wei Ying moaning Lan Zhan’s name like a prayer while she comes apart. It’s long and loud, the culmination of years of pressure, her thighs squeezing tight around Lan Zhan’s head and trapping her close. Lan Zhan keeps tonguing her until Wei Ying goes limp and has to drag her away by the hair.

“Too much,” she pants, kicking back the sheets to expose her sweaty skin to the air. “It gets hurty and not in a good way.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan hums in apology, kissing the inside of Wei Ying’s sticky thigh. She thinks that could maybe be something they could explore together later, but she’s also personally experienced the difference between good overstimulation and bad overstimulation and she’s not going to start off their sexual relationship by arguing with her girlfriend about which is which. “How long do you need before the next one?” she asks, kissing the other thigh for good measure.

“You’re a monster,” Wei Ying says without managing to make it seem like a complaint, chest still heaving. She dislodges her legs from around Lan Zhan’s shoulders with what seems like real effort, limbs trembling with the aftereffects of her orgasm. “Completely insatiable. I came so hard I can’t feel my feet, and you want to know when I can go again?”

“You did say we could use the rest of your sex toys this morning,” Lan Zhan points out, kissing over the crests of Wei Ying’s hip bones and what Wei Ying termed her “sexy pudge,” which Lan Zhan now appreciates both for its attractiveness and the cuteness of that particular name. She crawls up her body and out of the remaining rumpled sheets as she does, kissing Wei Ying’s bellybutton and ribcage and sternum on a path up to her mouth.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, such a good memory, so industrious,” Wei Ying murmurs into the kiss, detangling her hands from Lan Zhan’s braid and clutching at her shoulders. She sweeps her tongue into Lan Zhan’s mouth deeply, which is nice of her because Lan Zhan can feel the strain from the oral all the way down into her throat and now she doesn’t have to work as hard. Wei Ying pets down Lan Zhan’s back to her ass, which she squeezes appreciatively, and then up her sides to cup her tits and play with her nipples. “God, these are so good,” she says, rolling the dark brown buds between her fingertips. “Hey, jiejie, can you hand me the lipstick vibe?”

Lan Zhan pushes up to hands and knees, doing a long reach to the nightstand and getting her ass groped again for the trouble. She shoots Wei Ying a Look. Wei Ying grins up at her, unrepentant.

“If you don’t want me to grope your ass, stop having such a great ass,” she says in a reasonable tone of voice.

“By that logic, I should always be groping your ass,” Lan Zhan points out, setting the vibrator in Wei Ying’s expectant hand.

“And if you did, I wouldn't complain about it,” Wei Ying points out. “Okay, stay right there, maybe kneel up a little?”

Lan Zhan does as asked, ending up straddling Wei Ying just above her hips, knees wide and propped up on her hands. Wei Ying hums approval and trails her hand down from Lan Zhan’s tit to her cunt, carding through her pubic hair appreciatively.

“I like that you don’t shave,” she says, sliding her hand into the dripping heat at Lan Zhan’s center and smearing it around. “Like, everyone make your own choices, I’m never gonna complain about seeing a pussy, but I like some hair, you know?”

“Mmmm,” Lan Zhan hums in agreement, mouth falling open on a sharp inhale as Wei Ying teases at her entrance and then up to her clit. “I like that you don’t shave your legs,” she manages, running a hand behind her up one stubbly thigh before it has to be returned to the bed for balance.

“Oh, saying I don’t makes it seem like an actual political decision,” Wei Ying says, grinning sheepishly. “It’s more accurate to say that I just forget to do it. How many?” Lan Zhan doesn’t know what she means, distracted as she is by the slow circle of Wei Ying’s wet touch. Thankfully, Wei Ying seems to understand this, and clarifies, “Fingers. To fuck you with.”

Ah. A good question. “Two,” Lan Zhan says, rolling her hips into Wei Ying’s hand. “Possibly to be revised as we go.”

“It’s really hot when you’re formal,” Wei Ying tells Lan Zhan earnestly as she gently eases two fingers into the tight clutch of her cunt. “We’re gonna have phone sex and I’m gonna make you read me academic articles while I get off to your formal voice.”

Lan Zhan would happily read academic articles to Wei Ying while fucking her senseless, so she’s not sure why they’d need to have phone sex for it. Much like with the sexting, though, if Wei Ying wants phone sex, Lan Zhan will provide. She promptly forgets this entire train of thought when Wei Ying flicks on the vibe and presses it to her clit, crooking the two fingers inside her at the same time. Lan Zhan’s entire brain goes white-hot and staticky, pussy clenching, and she drops her head and groans in the back of her throat.

“Fuck,” Wei Ying says, her avid gaze hot on Lan Zhan’s skin like sunlight, “oh, this is so fucking hot, I couldn’t really see you last night when you rode my face, and it was tragic, jiejie.” Lan Zhan shivers and inhales sharply as Wei Ying strokes in and out, slow to start but speeding up as she finds the right angle. There’s nothing quite like a vibrator to bring her to the brink nigh-immediately, and all the banked arousal Lan Zhan set aside for later while she was eating Wei Ying out comes roaring back to demanding life. There’s an inferno in her belly, tension creeping down her abs and up her thighs, sweat prickling on her spine.

“More,” she manages between gasps, voice so guttural she barely recognizes it.

“Fingers or vibe?” Wei Ying asks, sounding almost as wrecked.

“Fingers,” Lan Zhan pants, tearing her eyes open so she can look down at her girlfriend. Wei Ying’s wild-eyed and red-faced, teeth digging into her lower lip in a little white flash against her bruised mouth. “Fuck me,” Lan Zhan demands, automatically hitching back to meet Wei Ying’s thrusts with obscene wet noises. “I want you to fuck me, A’Ying.”

Wei Ying makes a wild noise, half-feral, and she works a third finger into Lan Zhan as urgently as though she’s the one on the brink of coming. “You are so—” she hisses, pumping her fingers fast and hard, as deep into Lan Zhan as she can get, “How are you even allowed, fuck, you feel good, you are dripping down my wrist, I hope you’re proud of yourself—” The vibe, slightly forgotten about in the rush to get more fingers involved, comes back with a vengeance, rolling around Lan Zhan’s swollen clit in circles that shoot to her core.

“Aah,” Lan Zhan says urgently, “aaaah,” and she clenches and she comes. It’s like a landslide, rocketing through her for a shockingly long time and leaving her shaken and battered in its wake. When she comes back to herself she’s collapsed down on her elbows, forehead tucked safely into the crook of Wei Ying’s neck. Wei Ying’s fingers are still inside her, giving her something comforting to clench around as she shivers through the lingering giddy joy of an orgasm so good it’s left her lightheaded. The vibrator is… somewhere. Lan Zhan will need to track it down, because she has plans for it, but right now Wei Ying’s stroking her back soothingly, and that’s much more important.

“Was that good?” Wei Ying asks, pressing soft kisses to Lan Zhan’s hair and the tip of her ear. “It sounded good. It felt good.” She twists her fingers a little, teasing sweetly, and Lan Zhan sighs and clenches on her again.

“Mmmm,” she says, carefully falling to the side so Wei Ying has plenty of time to get her hand out of the way. “It was good.” She bites Wei Ying’s collarbone and kisses her shoulder. “Love you.”

Wei Ying’s breath hitches once, barely. “Love you, too,” she says, kissing the top of Lan Zhan’s head, and then her forehead when Lan Zhan tips her face up, and then the tip of her nose, and then her mouth. “Tissues?” she asks, and Lan Zhan flops an arm around behind her until she finds the box on the nightstand and hands it over. When Wei Ying’s hand is sufficiently clean they go back to trading slow, lazy kisses, tangled together skin-to-skin and both of them practically glowing with endorphins.

“That was nice,” Wei Ying says into Lan Zhan’s neck, one arm curled around her shoulders, the other slowly petting her thigh. “This is like… the perfect afterglow.”

Lan Zhan hums her agreement, both hands full of Wei Ying, shifting her legs absently so Wei Ying’s leg stubble prickles against her skin. Lan Zhan could stay here forever. She could live in this precise moment for the rest of her life, in this acceptable hotel in a boring part of Chicago, naked with Wei Ying in her arms.

Except.

Lan Zhan rolls them over, hands on either side of Wei Ying’s head, and looms there. “We’re not done,” she says, voice a dangerous rumble. Wei Ying’s eyes go wide, mouth a surprised O that slowly transforms into a grin.

“Is that so?” she asks, licking her lips and tipping her head back to show off the line of her neck. “What could we possibly have left?”

“I seem to recall you had certain plans for your free time,” Lan Zhan says, sitting down on Wei Ying’s hips and pinning her there. “Plans that you were unable to carry out.” She reaches across to the nightstand (and almost needs to stop pinning Wei Ying down to do it, this bed is ridiculous) to retrieve the dildo and the leg harness. “I feel like we should rectify that.”

Wei Ying’s eyes bounce back and forth between Lan Zhan’s face and the dildo very quickly, like a ping-pong ball in a narrow hallway. “Okay,” she breathes, her apparently ever-present sex blush going darker, squeezing her thighs together and squirming a little under Lan Zhan’s pin. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

“I thought so,” Lan Zhan says. Unfortunately she can’t keep Wei Ying pinned and put the thigh harness on, so she rises up to her knees and hands them both over. “Put them on me,” she orders, and watches with simmering enjoyment as Wei Ying sets to it with shaky hands. The dildo’s nice, one of the dual-density ones that’s supposed to feel closer to an actual dick. Lan Zhan wouldn’t know (she had a thing with a trans woman for a bit but she’d had bottom surgery previously, not that Lan Zhan would have minded either way) but she does like the way dual-density dildos feel, so she approves of Wei Ying’s choice in general. She wonders how many other sex toys Wei Ying owns. Anyone who takes two vibrators and a dildo with them as a travel minimum probably has an extensive collection. Lan Zhan looks forward to getting to see and use them all on Wei Ying specifically.

“This position seems not ideal,” Wei Ying comments as she checks the fit of the velcro straps around Lan Zhan’s thigh, hands lingering on her skin. “I don’t doubt your skills, jiejie, but…” She gestures at the dildo, now proudly and ridiculously jutting out of the middle of Lan Zhan’s quad, then gestures at her own crotch, which is literally on the other side of Lan Zhan’s body and facing the other direction. Lan Zhan doesn’t dignify this with a verbal response. Instead she rolls off Wei Ying smoothly, landing in a spread-legged kneel, grabs the lube off the nightstand, and slicks up the silicone with slow movements and steady eye contact. Wei Ying bites her lower lip again, sliding her legs together tight, eyes on the dildo as though drawn with magnets.

“Come here,” Lan Zhan orders, wiping the extra lube off her hand with a few more tissues. Wei Ying inhales sharply at the tone and struggles to all fours, crawling closer. “Up,” Lan Zhan says in the same businesslike tone, using both hands on Wei Ying hips to drag her into position, straddling Lan Zhan’s thigh with the slick tip of the dildo just brushing the entrance to her cunt. The lipstick vibe has rolled into Lan Zhan’s knee, which was very polite of it, and she makes a mental note of its location while she coaxes Wei Ying into slowly and deliberately rubbing herself on the head of the silicone cock. It’s a horrible tease, a barely-there bit of friction. Wei Ying braces her hands on Lan Zhan’s shoulders to try to get enough leverage for more and fails to escape Lan Zhan’s grip on her hips.

“Lan Zhan!” she complains, breath catching when the dildo slips against her clit on one pass, “You said we were rectifying things! I don’t feel rectified!”

“Mn?” Lan Zhan asks, risking pinching one of Wei Ying’s nipples and getting a shuddering moan out of it. “Is this not what you had intended when you packed these?”

Noooooo,” Wei Ying half-wails as Lan Zhan tugs her nipple experimentally. “Please, jiejie.”

Lan Zhan leans in to kiss her, nipping her lower lip and smearing her mouth along Wei Ying’s jaw. “Is this better than what you intended?” she asks, toying with Wei Ying’s other nipple, the grip on Wei Ying’s hip bruisingly strong to keep her in place one-handed.

“Yes!” Wei Ying gasps immediately, “So much better, Lan Zhan, jiejie, A’Zhan, but please.

Lan Zhan bites Wei Ying’s neck just below the ear, gentling the touch of her hands even as her teeth dig in. “Show me, then,” she growls over Wei Ying’s keening. “Show me what you wanted.”

“Yes,” Wei Ying says, squirming and caught in Lan Zhan’s hold. “Oh god, okay, fuck.” She drops a hand from Lan Zhan’s shoulders in between her legs to position the dildo where it needs to be and lowers her hips, shuddering when the head pops in. Once the position is right she wastes no time in sitting down until her hips are flush with Lan Zhan’s thigh, the heat of her cunt apparent even through the fabric of the harness. “Ah,” she sighs, rolling her pelvis in a slow circle. “Fuck, you feel so good in me, Lan Zhan.”

“This is your dildo,” Lan Zhan can’t help but point out, one hand petting Wei Ying’s low back, the other dispatched to retrieve the lipstick vibe. She still preens a little bit, though.

“The weapon belongs to the wielder,” Wei Ying says, rising up maybe an inch and then fucking herself back down with a full-body shudder. “I can’t get this angle on my own, this is all you and you feel good.” She does it again, barely riding Lan Zhan’s thigh, keeping the toy deep inside her as she pants.

“Is this what you do when you’re alone?” Lan Zhan asks conversationally, feeling around for the vibe with one hand and kissing along Wei Ying’s collarbones as a distraction.

“Maybe.” Wei Ying rolls her hips on the next stroke, arms around Lan Zhan’s shoulders and her abs tense. “Why? Do you have constructive criticism? Beta feedback?”

“I just think,” Lan Zhan says, palming the vibe and kissing back up Wei Ying’s neck to her ear, “that you complained a lot about not getting to fuck yourself, and you’re barely fucking yourself.” She squeezes Wei Ying’s hip, feeling the muscles flex under the skin.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have worn me out, jiejie,” Wei Ying complains breathily, but she also goes harder, riding the dildo like she means it. Her air keeps catching in the back of her throat in little “Ah!” sounds, her hands clenching and releasing on Lan Zhan’s shoulder and the side of her neck. “Is this what you expected?” she manages to ask, bouncing on Lan Zhan’s thigh hard enough to make her cute little tits jiggle. “Are you pleased with my revisions, Lan Zhan?”

“Very,” Lan Zhan rumbles in her ear. She clicks on the vibe and presses it to Wei Ying’s clit in one smooth movement. Wei Ying fucking wails, practically choking on the sound, her whole body convulsing as she drops her forehead to Lan Zhan’s shoulder.

“Oh,” she says, guttural, “Oh, fuck, fuck, Lan Zhan, haaaaah.” Her movements stutter and then speed up, rocking the mattress underneath them. She’s so wet Lan Zhan can feel it on her thigh through the harness, her skin damp with sweat and her face flushed red all the way down to her collarbones. “Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says again, clutching desperately at her shoulders with trembling fingers, “Lan Zhan, ah, I’m—I’m—” She cuts off into a long, low whimper, shaking and tense head to toe.

Lan Zhan takes the vibe away. Wei Ying bounces on the silicone cock twice, face hidden in Lan Zhan’s neck, and then realizes what’s happened. “Jiejie!” she crows, flinging her head up to give Lan Zhan the most offended look in possibly the whole universe. “Lan Zhan! Why?!”

“You were about to come,” Lan Zhan says unrepentantly.

Wei Ying gapes at her for a moment, absolutely speechless. “Yeah!” she splutters when her brain comes back online. “I felt like that was the point!”

Lan Zhan hums noncommittally, brushing the vibe around and near Wei Ying’s clit but never quite touching it. “You’ll get to come,” she says soothingly, kissing the corners of Wei Ying’s mouth and her blood-hot cheeks, “when I decide you do.”

Wei Ying whimpers, obviously clenching on the dildo, fingernails digging into Lan Zhan’s back. “Fuck,” she says, riding the toy again, eyes squeezing shut and her mouth half open. “Okay, okay, you win, that’s really hot, oh god.” The latter is because Lan Zhan has pressed the vibrator back to Wei Ying’s clit, inspiring a fresh wave of wild, desperate shuddering and an immediate increase in the pace of Wei Ying’s dick-riding. “Oh, please,” she begs, “please, Lan Zhan, please.

Lan Zhan is merciless and unmoved by Wei Ying’s pleading. (Outwardly unmoved. She can feel herself dripping down her thighs, a steady thrum of arousal that has her heatbeat pounding in her clit, but Wei Ying doesn’t need to know that.) She brings her to the brink twice more, leaving an increasingly frustrated Wei Ying to squirm and swear and flail uselessly at her shoulders with weak, shaking hands.

“I need it,” she babbles, still riding the dildo with trembling determination. “Please, jiejie, A’Zhan, you have to, I can’t keep going if you don’t do it, please please please.” Her face is red and sweaty, baby hairs sticking to her temples, eyes dark and dazed.

“Shh,” Lan Zhan soothes, kissing Wei Ying’s eyebrows and petting her flank. “You’re doing so well, A’Ying, sweetheart.” Wei Ying almost sobs, mouthing at Lan Zhan’s shoulder urgently.

Please,” she says again, voice cracking. She’s broken-open, desperate, putty in Lan Zhan’s hands. Lan Zhan clenches on nothing, heat crackling through her abdomen and in her nipples.

“You’ve been good,” Lan Zhan says, “so good, sweetheart.” She presses the vibe back against Wei Ying’s clit and holds it there, no more teasing. Wei Ying bounces literally one more time and shatters.

“Oh,” she moans, the sounds forced out of her, “Oh, oh god, fuck, oh oh.” Her voice splits down the middle like wood hit with an axe, body thrashing. She has her mouth pressed to Lan Zhan’s shoulder, her breath coming in these shuddering near-sobs that rattle Lan Zhan’s hand on her back. Hot tears track down her face to spatter Lan Zhan’s skin, which is briefly worrisome before she gasps, “Thank you, oh, thank you jiejie.”

“Good girl,” Lan Zhan whispers, kissing the top of Wei Ying’s head. “So beautiful for me, Wei Ying.”

“Aaaaaaah,” Wei Ying whimpers, flopping entirely into Lan Zhan’s arms and going limp. She shivers intermittently, still practically impaled on the dildo, and whimpers lightly as Lan Zhan very carefully lifts her off and lays her down on the bed. Wei Ying whines wordlessly, pawing uselessly at Lan Zhan’s side while she gets the harness off, then hums in satisfaction when Lan Zhan gathers her into her embrace, face mushed into Lan Zhan’s breasts. Lan Zhan hopes she can breathe, but she figures Wei Ying will let her know if she’s having trouble. Probably.

“Crying when you get topped by a hot lesbian is such a stereotype,” Wei Ying mumbles into Lan Zhan’s cleavage. “Can’t believe you made me a stereotype, Lan Zhan.”

“Some stereotypes are based in truth,” Lan Zhan says, combing her fingers through Wei Ying’s sweaty hair. “It was good?” She may have gone harder than she meant to, caught up in the moment and the wonderful responsiveness of Wei Ying’s body.

“So good. Gonna feel it tomorrow.” Wei Ying kisses Lan Zhan’s sternum and pats her hip with a shaky hand. “Something to remember you by.”

Lan Zhan is very smug about that and tries not to let it show. She should have bitten some bruises into Wei Ying’s neck, just to really drive the message home, but that’s the kind of thing you ask about first. Next time.

“How the fuck did you know I’d be into that?” Wei Ying asks a few sleepy breaths later, absently groping Lan Zhan’s ass.

Ah. This is easy. “You write orgasm delay and denial into all of your books.”

Wei Ying snorts, pulling her face away long enough to squint up at Lan Zhan. “I also write a lot of gangbangs,” she says dryly, words still a little slurred, “and I truly cannot think of much I would find less sexy in real life than getting fucked by a bunch of random dudes.”

“It was a calculated risk,” Lan Zhan allows, “but. Wei Ying.” She kisses her forehead. “You write it into all of your books.”

Wei Ying grumbles and puts her face back in between Lan Zhan’s boobs. “Stop perceiving me and hand me the rabbit,” she mumbles. Lan Zhan takes a moment to parse what she means by rabbit then does an increasingly-familiar long reach behind her to the nightstand, coming back with the last sex toy standing. “Thanks,” Wei Ying says, distracted, and she fiddles with it until it buzzes to life. Lan Zhan doesn’t actually know what she’s planning until she tries (and fails) to lift Lan Zhan’s knee up for pussy access, and then Lan Zhan lifts her leg herself and hisses as Wei Ying eases the vibe into her soaked cunt.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, working it in until the ears of the vibe hit Lan Zhan’s clit, sounding extremely satisfied. “Yeah, like that.” She wraps her mouth around one of Lan Zhan’s nipples and sucks, fucking her with the vibe, the both of them on their sides curled around each other. Lan Zhan moans and clenches, lower hand clutching Wei Ying’s hair, the other roaming as much of her body as she can. Wei Ying hums in apparent bliss, flicking her tongue across Lan Zhan’s nipple, and rocks the vibe steadily.

It doesn’t take long for Lan Zhan to tense up and come under the combined stimulation of a vibe rattling against her g-spot and her clit and Wei Ying’s mouth on her tits, and she groans through it, shivering and tightening her cunt on the shaft of the vibe in wild, sharp spasms. Finally she goes limp and trembling, clumsy hand still petting Wei Ying’s shoulder as she eases the vibe out and tosses it aside. They squirm closer, legs tangled, breath mingling, and no one speaks for a little while.

Then Wei Ying’s phone starts playing WAP, breaking the comfortable silence in the most hilariously on-the-nose way possible, and Wei Ying cackles as she rolls over to turn off the alarm. “Oh my god,” she says, swimming back across the massive bed and into Lan Zhan’s waiting arms, “holy fuck, Lan Zhan, I can’t believe we did that much fucking before seven in the morning!”

“There are benefits to waking up early,” Lan Zhan says, smug. She wants to kiss every inch of Wei Ying’s sleepy, fucked-out face, so she does, because she can.

“Maybe,” Wei Ying says, allowing her face to be kissed. She kisses back, catching Lan Zhan’s mouth and distracting them both for a moment. “I don’t wanna get up,” she complains, rolling over onto her back and towing Lan Zhan along like a large human blanket. “Hey, Lan Zhan, what if we abandon our normal lives and live in this hotel room forever and fuck all the time?” Wei Ying tucks her face into Lan Zhan’s shoulder and sighs with a confusing level of wistfulness. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“You raise some excellent points,” Lan Zhan says, kissing the top of Wei Ying’s head. “Unfortunately, we both have flights to catch.”

Wei Ying sighs hugely again, her breath a little shaky at the end. “Yeah,” she says sadly. “I guess we do.”

The mood in the room has gone strange and melancholy, like the chill of the air conditioning has pulled the warmth out of the air in more ways than one. Lan Zhan’s not sure what happened, but there are few things that eating can possibly make worse, so she nuzzles at Wei Ying’s cheek until she tips her head up and allows herself to be kissed. “Come on, my love,” she murmurs. “I’ll make breakfast.”

Wei Ying smiles, and if it doesn’t quite reach her eyes, it’s close enough that Lan Zhan doesn’t think she should point it out. “Okay,” she says. “Breakfast sounds good, jiejie.”

They trade off using the bathroom again (Lan Zhan has to make a judicious application of a warm washcloth to various sticky parts of her body) and then get dressed at the same time, no more awkward rushing or hiding. Lan Zhan gets to watch as Wei Ying wiggles into a pair of underwear printed with Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya (ridiculous woman) and then into her black yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt printed with sleepy illustrated cats. She gathers up the pile of used sex toys to wash, tries to slip past Lan Zhan to the bathroom, and Lan Zhan stops her with a hand on her waist and a soft kiss. It unspools before her, a future full of sleepy morning kisses, of she and Wei Ying navigating shared spaces with an easy physicality, and Lan Zhan pulls away with some reluctance.

“I love you,” she murmurs, letting her lips drift across Wei Ying’s cheek. Wei Ying turns into it and kisses her again, needy and wanting.

“Love you, too,” she says, still with that melancholy, and gently extricates herself to disappear into the bathroom. Lan Zhan heats the skillet and butters the last slices of bread as she tries to figure out what’s going on. Maybe Wei Ying is just tired? They fly out today, and it’s been an eventful conference in more ways than one. Sleeping in hotels always makes Lan Zhan a little irritable by the end of the stay no matter how well she sticks to her routine and how good her sleep hygiene is. It’s also inescapable that they’re going to spend most of the next few days apart—Lan Zhan has things to arrange, and Wei Ying has her own life to get back to. It’s been a luxury having Wei Ying all to herself for the last five nights. Lan Zhan isn’t particularly looking forward to giving that up even temporarily. It would make sense that Wei Ying feels the same way.

Lan Zhan has fried eggs with toast and sliced apples waiting on the table by the time Wei Ying emerges from the bathroom, two steaming mugs ready to go. Wei Ying drops into her chair and, seemingly against her will, grins at her plate.

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” she says, enthusiastically crunching into her egg toast, “I’ve gotten spoiled having you cook for me every day. I’m gonna miss your breakfasts.”

“I’ll cook for you at home, too,” Lan Zhan says, warmed through to her bones at the idea of getting able to do it, at being allowed to take care of Wei Ying in the way that lights her up inside. “Your place or mine. Whenever you want.”

This seems, somehow, to have been the wrong thing to say, because Wei Ying’s face crumples for the barest instant before she plasters a smile on again. “Yeah,” she says, some distant yearning echoing behind the words. “Whenever I want.”

Lan Zhan frowns, a slice of apple halfway to her mouth. Is that not what Wei Ying wants? Is Lan Zhan moving too quickly? She’s aware that she very much wants to stereotypically U-Haul them as soon as her flight touches down, but she thought she was keeping that urge locked away.

“Anyway,” Wei Ying says brightly, “when’s your flight? I know checkout’s at eleven, but are you gonna have to go find a park or a mall to kill time in for like four hours?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says after she’s done eating her slice of apple, because she has less tolerance for speaking with her mouth full than Wei Ying does. “My flight leaves at one-thirty. I should be able to return my rental car and go straight to the airport.”

Wei Ying’s eyes light up over the top of her coffee mug. “My flight leaves around then!” she says. “We can be airport buddies! Way better than hanging out in a terminal alone.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees, smiling fondly. “Airport buddies.”

“You won’t get rid of me until boarding starts,” Wei Ying promises. She keeps speaking with this odd gravity, like everything she says might be the last chance she has to say it. Lan Zhan still can’t figure out what’s going on, but Wei Ying’s eating with every sign of enjoyment, so she pushes the question aside for later.

They finish their breakfast, plates empty but for crumbs and the greasy streaks of melted butter, and have a silent argument over who gets the last apple slice, where they keep pushing it to the other person’s side of the table. Lan Zhan wins, which means Wei Ying eats the apple and rolls her eyes the whole time. The mood is light, like Lan Zhan’s heart, and when she finishes her cup of tea she reaches for Wei Ying’s cup and asks, “Would you like more coffee?”

Wei Ying bursts into tears, which is definitely not the reaction Lan Zhan was expecting, and she half-drops her empty cup. “Wei Ying?” she asks urgently, lunging around the table to cradle her face, thumbing the tears away with panicked fingers. “Wei Ying, what’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry,” Wei Ying sobs, clutching at Lan Zhan’s blue sweater dress. “I’m sorry, I was trying to keep it together, I’m sorry.” She sniffles miserably, shoulders hitching. “I’m just gonna miss you so much, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan opens her mouth to respond, feeling rather like she’s tried to take the final step on a staircase and found the ground six inches further down than she’d expected, but Wei Ying keeps talking.

“I know you said you were gonna send me pictures every day and I know we already text and people make long-distance relationships work all the time, but they suck, and I don’t wanna leave, I don’t want you to leave me and for there to be a time difference we have to figure out whenever we want to talk on the phone.” She sucks in a huge breath, the air catching in her throat like a hangnail across fabric. “I want this,” Wei Ying continues, voice breaking. “I want this all the time.”

“Wei Ying—” Lan Zhan tries, still reeling.

“And I don’t have the money to fly to the east coast all the time, jiejie,” Wei Ying continues, hot tears tracking down her already wet face. “I don’t have the money to move to the east coast, you know the only reason I can be a full-time writer is because I rent from my parents, but I can’t ask you to fly out to visit me all the time! I know you hate flying! I can’t be that selfish!”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, louder this time.

“So we’re gonna see each other maybe four times a year if we’re lucky, or I can get a credit card with airline miles and stalk the discount sites and it just—I love you and this has been the best weekend of my life and as soon as we leave it’s over and I hate it.” Wei Ying gasps for air, her shoulders shaking with half-suppressed sobs. “I don’t want you to go,” she whines plaintively, the words crawling out of a bloody, vulnerable part of her. Lan Zhan feels horrible for her, wants to erase the misery apparent in every way she’s holding her body.

Lan Zhan is also very confused.

“Wei Ying,” she says, knowing she sounds bewildered and unable to keep it out of her voice. “Wei Ying, I’m moving back.

Wei Ying blinks at her twice, sniffles, swallows, and asks, “What?”

“I’m flying home,” Lan Zhan says. “Lan Huan is picking me up from the airport and taking me to Mama’s house. I’m staying with her while I apartment hunt.”

Wei Ying stares at her, shuddering through one last sob, her wet eyes wide and bewildered. She blinks twice more, opens her mouth, shuts it again, and finally says, “What?

“I’m moving back to Portland,” Lan Zhan says helplessly, unable to figure out why this seems to be so confusing. “I told…”

The inside of Lan Zhan’s head proceeds to play her a barrage of images, like a detective on a police procedural as everything finally comes together to reveal how to solve a case. Dozens of texts about her move flash behind her eyes, texts she sent to Lan Huan and Mama and Uncle Qiren, texts settling the logistics and laying out the plan, texts with links to moving companies and flight numbers. Dozens of other texts about it to Wei Ying, about her excitement and trepidation; responses from Wei Ying cheering her on, telling her she could do it, that her new apartment would look fabulous.

Realization hits her like a bucket of ice water to the face. Lan Zhan’s legs go limp, and she sits heavily down on the hotel carpet, hands landing on Wei Ying’s knees. “Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks, obviously alarmed, grabbing her fingers and squeezing.

“I never told you,” Lan Zhan breathes, staring at the cats on Wei Ying’s t-shirt without seeing them. She looks up into Wei Ying’s red-eyed, tear-streaked face, stricken by her omission. “Wei Ying,” she says, clutching her hands like a lifeline. “I’m moving home. That’s where I’m moving. I thought you knew.”

Wei Ying makes a wild, high-pitched sound like an offended cat. “No!” she says. “No, I did not! I would have fucking—I’d have planned a party or something, Lan Zhan! I knew you were moving but I didn’t know where! I thought it was like—across the city!”

In retrospect Wei Ying had seemed weirdly unenthusiastic about the idea of Lan Zhan moving back, which at the time Lan Zhan dismissed as Wei Ying either trying to keep it cool or as more evidence that Wei Ying wasn’t, you know, desperately in love and pining during their absence. Now it makes perfect, ridiculous sense.

“I am so sorry,” Lan Zhan says, squeezing Wei Ying’s hands. “I texted so much with everyone else to arrange things that I thought I had told you. You offered to look at apartments with me.”

“I meant like, Craigslist links!” Wei Ying says, a smile tugging at the edges of her mouth. “I was gonna do comparative reviews of how many outlets I could count in the listing photos and compare it against how many appliances you own! I didn’t know you meant in person.

“I did,” Lan Zhan says. “I do. I have to settle in tonight, but I want to see you tomorrow. I want to see you the day after. I want to see you all the time, Wei Ying, in my new apartment and in yours and everywhere else.”

Wei Ying laughs wetly and dislodges one of her hands from Lan Zhan’s to find a napkin and wipe her face. “Oh my god,” she says, “fuckin’ hell, Lan Zhan. You’re moving back?”

Lan Zhan nods frantically. “Today,” she says just in case it was still unclear. “My things have already been sent ahead.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, more quietly, something delicate unfurling on her face like the petals of a flower. “You’re moving back.” She lifts a hand to cup Lan Zhan’s cheek, thumb brushing under the corner of her eye. “I don’t have to give you up?” Her voice is low and trembling, dew in a spiderweb catching the morning light.

“You don’t,” Lan Zhan says, pressing her hand over Wei Ying’s on her cheek. “Not today. Not ever, Wei Ying.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says again. She swallows, blinking hard, and in the next breath Lan Zhan’s flat on her back with her arms full of Wei Ying. “Oh my god,” Wei Ying half-laughs into Lan Zhan’s neck, “I can’t believe you forgot to tell me.”

“I really thought I had,” Lan Zhan says honestly, taking a moment to be glad they missed the coffee table when Wei Ying tackled her. She squeezes Wei Ying until she squeaks, kissing the side of her face in apology for both the squeezing and the omission.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, pushing up onto her elbows so she can beam down at Lan Zhan from six inches away. “Okay, so, you’re moving back.”

Lan Zhan nods, petting Wei Ying’s spine.

“And you need tonight to like… collapse.”

Lan Zhan nods again. She would very much like to spend the night with Wei Ying again, but she can recognize that she’s going to get to see her family in person for the first time in months and after that she’ll be dead to the world for approximately ten hours.

“So then,” Wei Ying says, running her fingers over the piercings in Lan Zhan’s ear, “does that mean you want to get dinner with me tomorrow night and come back to my place after? And possibly never leave? And be my girlfriend?”

Lan Zhan lunges up and kisses her. “Yes,” she says. “To all of it. Especially the girlfriends part.”

Wei Ying’s smile outshines the sun. “Good,” she says, and they kiss until their bruised mouths are too sore for more kissing, and then kiss a little more after that. It’s like the eating pineapple of kissing, Lan Zhan reflects as she lips at Wei Ying’s jaw as gently as she can. Whenever she eats pineapple she eats it until her mouth is raw, and then eats at least another four pieces. She’s not sure if she’s the pineapple in this instance or if Wei Ying is. Maybe they’re both the pineapple.

“Uuugh,” Wei Ying complains, rolling off Lan Zhan to sprawl at her side. “We really do have to pack, don’t we?” She fumbles around until she finds Lan Zhan’s hand and interlaces their fingers.

“We do,” Lan Zhan says with a sigh. She doesn’t want to. She wants to keep holding Wei Ying’s hand on this shitty hotel carpet, but alas, the world doesn’t work that way. “If we miss our flights it will make going out for dinner tomorrow a larger challenge,” she offers as a consolation.

“Point,” Wei Ying concedes. “Also I was looking forward to getting one of those cheese plates on the way back.”

Lan Zhan frowns and pushes up onto one elbow. “Wei Ying,” she asks slowly, “are you on the one-thirty non-stop Alaska flight from Chicago to Portland?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, throwing her free hand in the air. “Reserved exit row, baby!” She catches sight of Lan Zhan’s face and freezes. “Lan Zhan,” she asks with an air of slow realization, “what flight are you on?”

Lan Zhan says nothing, only inclines her head, and Wei Ying’s face lights up. “Oh my god,” she says, shoving upright, “No fucking way! Show me your flight confirmation.” There’s some mutual scrambling for phones and they re-convene on the rumpled bed, shoulders pressed together and both of them scrolling through their emails. “I can’t believe this,” Wei Ying says, leaning over to read Lan Zhan’s phone. “How the fuck are we sitting next to each other?”

“We have long legs. It makes sense that we would both try to book the exit row,” Lan Zhan says, unable to stop smiling.

“This is ridiculous,” Wei Ying insists, grinning wildly. “God damn, Lan Zhan, if I wrote this into a story people would yell at me on Twitter for how unrealistic it is.” She kisses her, winces at the pressure, then kisses her again regardless. “I’m so fucking glad my room booking was a scam,” Wei Ying says, wrapping herself around Lan Zhan and leaning her head on her shoulder. “Also that Jasmine talked some sense into me.”

“Did she talk to you, too?” Were they that obvious? Lan Zhan thinks back over the last five days and comes to the conclusion that yes, they were definitely that obvious.

“Oh, yeah,” Wei Ying admits. “She helped me figure out my own feelings and then did some light threatening to get me to tell you. Total MVP, not gonna lie.”

“Ah.” Lan Zhan smiles into Wei Ying’s hair, stroking up and down her arm. “She may have said something similar to me.”

They sit with that for a moment. “We should bake her a cake,” Wei Ying says. “Send her a card. Make her a bridesmaid at our wedding.”

“She’d have to officiate,” Lan Zhan says immediately, because Jasmine is friends with both of them and can’t be both their bridesmaid. Officiating is the only way to make it fair, obviously.

In the next second they both tense up, turn toward each other for awkward eye contact, and hastily turn away to stare at opposite walls. Talking about weddings on the literal second day of dating is probably a lesbian U-Hauling record, Lan Zhan thinks. There’s probably a leaderboard somewhere, and now she and Wei Ying are at the top.

“Um,” Wei Ying squeaks. “Well. That’s a conversation we can, ah, have later. If it. Comes up.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, ears hot. “Not a decision for today.”

“Right,” Wei Ying says. She goes quiet for a second and adds, “So like… we can talk about it next week.”

Lan Zhan snorts. “Next week sounds good,” she says fondly, patting Wei Ying on the ass before she climbs off the bed. “We need to pack.” There are dishes to wash and art to pull off the walls and a hefty tip to leave for housekeeping. She and Wei Ying can make jokes about their hypothetical future wedding while they get ready for their flight.

“Right,” Wei Ying says distantly, doing something on her phone. “I just have to thank Jasmine for our lives and the four orgasms I’ve had in the last twelve hours, in those exact words.”

“Fair,” Lan Zhan says, carrying their breakfast dishes into the bathroom. “Say thank you from me, as well.”

“You got it,” Wei Ying says, texting intently.

Lan Zhan has her traveling down to an artform, and packing is part of that. She knows how to move into a space, to spend her time there alone, and then to leave it without a trace of her presence. She knows the solitary road, the melancholy and the loneliness of leaving. Packing with Wei Ying throws her entire routine off its tracks, and it’s hard to imagine anything better. She folds up a cardigan while Wei Ying shoves socks into her suitcase, puts her hand on Wei Ying’s lower back as she shifts past her to reach a drawer. There’s a destination at the end of today, and it’s a destination with Wei Ying in it, and more nights together, and more breakfasts. When the space is clear and their bags are packed, Lan Zhan looks at the empty, neutral hotel room with a deep fondness.

“It’s been pretty good, right?” Wei Ying says, hooking her chin over Lan Zhan’s shoulders, arms wrapping around her waist.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. “Five stars.”

“You’re a dork,” Wei Ying tells her fondly, kissing under Lan Zhan’s ear. “I’m gonna use the bathroom and then we can skedaddle?”

Lan Zhan hums her agreement and gives the room a final walkthrough while Wei Ying disappears into the bathroom. Finding nothing (as expected. Lan Zhan is good at packing) she checks her phone to find several new texts.

From: Jasmine 🌺💗
Hey A’Zhan
Hear you figured some shit out 🙌👍🎉🎉😘
Congrats on your happy ever after!

Lan Zhan smiles down at the screen, so full of tender affection she thinks she might float away.

To: Jasmine 🌺💗
Thank you for your help and support.
I do not believe we could have done it without you.
💙

“Always pee before you leave,” Wei Ying says, thumping her hip on the bathroom door frame one last time as she emerges. “Pack undies like you’re gonna piss your pants twice a day and always use the bathroom when you have a chance, those are my top two travel tips.”

“Sage advice,” Lan Zhan says solemnly, opening the door to the hallway. “Shall we?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, eyes bright. “Let’s go home, jiejie.” She grabs her suitcase, wheeling it out to the hall with a spring in her step. Lan Zhan slips her phone back into her purse and follows her out. Only time will tell if this is happy ever after, but as Lan Zhan catches up with Wei Ying, aka one of her favorite authors, aka her best friend, aka her girlfriend, aka the love of her life…

Well.

She can definitely say that they’re happy for now.