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Child's Play

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Lan Zhan wastes approximately 17 minutes having a glaring contest with the innocent pink butterfly sitting on the ground. It stares back at him, very patient as it watches the internal struggle happening inside Lan Zhan's mind.

In hesitant steps, he stands and goes towards it. Lan Zhan picks it up with both hands, feeling mocked beyond measure by the thing's stitched on smile. It is not a very well done toy. The wings are all different lengths and not in a cute, quirky way. One of the eyes is droopy, the other is judgemental. Or maybe that is Lan Zhan projecting.

His brain tries to tell him this is a bad idea. The one thing he does not want is to be mistaken for a creep.

But he knows this toy, it is one of the boy's favorite. He could certainly hold onto the butterfly until next saturday, when the little boy with his father come back to the park to play like they do every weekend...

Oh no, he tightens his hold on the stained beyond salvation little thing. He already sounds like a creep.

But it's not his fault, really. It's impossible to not take notice of the two when they come around. He has been visiting this park almost every weekend since three years ago and two months prior was the first time something managed to stray his attention from the book he usually brings and break the routine he made for himself.

He had arrived at three in the afternoon like usual and gotten to the bench farther from the bustle of the crowd like usual. The birds were chirping and the breeze was cool. Nothing out of the ordinary.

It happened in one moment:

He gets up to throw away his coffee cup when he feels a weight barrage into his legs, a loud cry of 'Baba!' ringing out. Blinking, he looks down to find a child in little blue overalls and a yellow shirt clinging to his gray slacks.

He stares at the kid. The kid stares at him.

Lan Zhan tilts his head. The kid's lower lip starts to wobble.

He barely has the time to think 'uh-oh' before the kid bursts out crying.

Lan Zhan feels all the blood drain from his face. Although he very much likes them, he was never good with kids, his serious expression always too intimidating for the tiny humans. He kneels down, raising his arms uselessly to try and comfort the boy.

Should he pick him up? Look for the parents? Call the police??

"Calm down." He states awkwardly.

That only makes the kid cry louder. Lan Zhan feels sweat beads on his nape.

"A-yuan!" Someone shouts.

A man comes running in their direction, frantic. He drops to his knees and cradles the boy into his arms, pulling him close. His voice sounds stern, but the hands rubbing the kid's back betray his concern.

"Don't do that again! Do you want to give your baba a heart attack? Never let go of my hand!"

The man continues to fuss over his son while Lan Zhan tries to figure out the best way to get the hell out of there without attracting attention. He is glad to see the family reunited, but he really does not want to be involved any longer. Especially being the reason the kid started crying in the first place. He'd rather avoid an angry parent scowling at him this fine Saturday.

The second he makes a move for it, however, the man raises his head and lock eyes with him.

Lan Zhan's heart stutters.

The man is certainly quite a figure, hair in disarray and shirt stained with snot and milk, colorful bag hanging off his shoulder. There is no effort put in his appearance whatsoever, and yet. And yet.

"Ah, A-yuan, look, you scared this poor mister!"

The son looks up from where he buried his face in the father's neck. His eyes are glassy and his cheeks are red, but he's looking at Lan Zhan with curiosity.

"I'm sorry!" The father laughs, "He thinks every man with long hair is his dad from a distance!"

"Hm." Lan Zhan replies, not trusting his mouth to form words that make sense.

"A-yuan, apologize and then we can go play."

"Sorry…" A-yuan says quietly.

"And you won't run from me while I'm buying things again, right?"

"I won't." A-yuan sniffles.

"Aw, stop crying, c'mon." The man bounces him, pressing lips on his hair with immense love, "I'll also make sure to hold your hand properly, okay? Baba also apologizes. Stop crying, you're so much cuter when you smile!"

With a mischievous look, the man tickles under A-yuan's chin, making the boy breathe out a toothy laugh. Dazed by the man's beauty as he is, Lan Zhan can't stop quirking a lip as well at the cute sight.

"Look, here," He continues, scooping from a white cup and bringing it close to the child's face, "I bought you yogurt! Look at the train, A-yuan! Choo-choo!"

A-yuan pouts, kicking his feet in his father's hold.

"That's not a train, that's a spoon!" He says, but still opens his mouth to be fed the yogurt anyway. The man dramatically facepalms.

"You're right! You're so smart, my radish. You're much smarter than this old baba of yours."

"Baba is not old." the boy says with certainty, "He is silly. I draw train for baba so you can learn!"

With that, A-yuan wiggles out of his father's arms, tears forgotten where they're dripping down his cheeks. This time, he takes great care to hold his baba's hand, and the grip is firm.

The man turns to him again.

"Sorry for the commotion!"

"It is fine." Lan Zhan finally finds his voice from where it hid inside his struggling lungs. He opens his mouth to say farewell and finally leave, "I apologize. Kids often find me intimidating."

What. Why did he say that? Why would he want to prolong this conversation and with the most embarrassing topic too? His ears heat up.

The man smiles, teasing, and Lan Zhan has no idea if he will survive this encounter.

"I guess that's the downside of having such a pretty face." He winks. "See you around!"

With that, they leave, A-yuan turning to look at him every few seconds. Lan Zhan falls back on the bench he was in with much less grace than he allows himself daily.

He can still see them from where he sits, setting up a wide tablecloth and spreading toys. A-yuan draws a bunch of colorful squares and circles in the vaguest structure of a train, if a train had a tail and wings. The father nods very seriously to what the toddler is saying.

They stayed for another hour before leaving. Lan Zhan hadn't been able to focus on a single line of his book. He had a weird feeling in his chest, the feeling of finding something precious.

After that day, he knew he was doomed.

Every Saturday has become Lan Zhan's torture and stress-relief. The little family seems to have decided Lan Zhan's quiet spot away from the main fountain is the best one and they always set up their little play space and get right to it.

The boy is loud. Which is not what Lan Zhan is used to, but it's not bad either. There is something he always liked about children; when they laugh, they laugh with their whole bodies, as if just their smile is too little to contain such strong happiness. Unfortunately, in a similar fashion, when they cry it's as if their entire world has collapsed, even if their whole grievance can be summed up to a scraped knee.

And the father... Well, he is gorgeous. Lan Zhan's ears flush just from thinking about him. He has a boyish sort of beauty and a perpetual smile on his eyes that does things to Lan Zhan's heart. If he had to put an image on the dictionary definition of the word 'handsome', it'd be that man's picture when he's mid-laugh, trying to steal the sun's spotlight.

... Alright, so he might be paying more attention than warranted. Again, not his fault. How could someone be that close to a fire and not notice the burn?

And that's how he knows the toy he's currently holding is a most important participant in the boy's playtime. Even that first day, after A-yuan had thoroughly explained the mechanics of trains to his father, he started playing some kind of pretend game with the butterfly and did not let go of it for one second.

So of course it is only righteous of Lan Zhan to deliver the toy back. Why, he is only doing his duty as a good person. And if doing this will allow him to have another stolen glance at that man's brightness, well, that is a coincidence no one can blame him for.

-:-

It's once again Saturday. Lan Zhan breathes in deeply, gathering courage particles from the air and then stifling a cough from the flower pollen.

If that's not a sign to stop this madness right now and keep his distance, he doesn't know what is. He has no business interfering in this family's time together, he has no right to insert himself in their routine, he is a random outsider and that's how he should stay forever...

… He thinks as his feet automatically lead him to the duo.

Well, okay then.

He stands there awkwardly, holding the toy as if it's a flower bouquet. A-yuan and his dad are taking out wrapped sandwiches from a basquet, looking like the perfect picture of Lan Zhan's dreams.

Should he? The man did say 'see you around' but did he actually mean it? Or was he just being polite? Did he mean to actually see Lan Zhan around or was that a courteous way of saying 'get lost'?

Oh no. Maybe there's still time to tuck his tail between his legs and run away. Yes, that's what he will do.

The father looks up and their eyes meet.

Lan Zhan takes a step forward instead.

"Oh!" His beautiful gray eyes focus on Lan Zhan, shining with recognition. That's already a better sign than he could ask for. "It's you, hello!"

"Good afternoon." Lan Zhan replies, feeling the collar of his white shirt too tight, "My name is Lan Zhan."

"I'm Wei Yuan." A-yuan perks up from his father's lap.

"And I'm Wei Ying.” Wei Ying raises an eyebrow with a playful smile. Lan Zhan has to exert all his self-control to not utter the man's name an embarrassing amount of times, just so he can learn how it feels on his lips. “To what do we owe this visit, mister intimidating?"

"You forgot this the other day." He says, pushing forward the butterfly.

A-yuan lights up like a christmas tree.

"Pinkie!"

The boy crashes on Lan Zhan's hand, hugging the toy so tight the stuffing bulges the seams. For a second it looks like the butterfly will pass away from all the attention. Lan Zhan can relate.

In any case, seeing A-yuan's sweet relieved smile makes this day a win for Lan Zhan.

"Oh good!" Wei Ying says, also seeming relieved, "Thank you so much. He's been inconsolable since last Saturday."

"No need for thanks. I'm glad to bring… Pinkie to his owner."

Wei Ying laughs, "Ugly little thing, ain't it? A-yuan found it in a thrift store a couple of months ago and it was love at first sight."

Lan Zhan presses his lips closed firmly so he won't end up saying something stupid, like "mood."

"A-yuan, what do we say?"

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" The boy cries, not letting go of the butterfly.

"It's no inconvenience." Lan Zhan says. His palms feel sweaty. He's done what he came here for. There's no reason to linger any longer. His chest is heavy at that realization.

"If you'll excuse me…" He moves to turn away, but finds himself unable when there's a tug on his pants.

Lan Zhan looks down. A-yuan is holding onto his leg with determination.

"We have lots good food... And lots space..." He says, making puppy eyes at Lan Zhan, as if the adult had any means to resist in the first place. And then he delivers the final blow: "Gege, will you stay with us?"

"A-yuan." Wei Ying says, pulling his son close, "I'm sure Lan Zhan has his own things to do."

A-yuan makes the saddest pout at that and Lan Zhan is sitting before he even realizes.

"I do not mind. Staying." He clarifies, hoping Wei Ying won't think him annoying for intruding on their afternoon.

He doesn't say anything to Lan Zhan, but he does throws his arms up and then brings them down to tickle A-yuan. The boy jumps in surprise and starts laughing.

"Really now?" Wei Ying exclaims, smiling as A-yuan shrieks, "You little menace, using that trick to guilt people. I'm onto you mister, I'm the one who taught you that!"

"Baba!" The boy screams around his laughter, disentangling from Wei Ying's twitchy fingers and hiding behind Lan Zhan, who appropriately raises his arm to 'protect' him from the monster that is tickles.

A-yuan completely disappears behind Lan Zhan's broad back. Without much knowledge of what to do, he looks at Wei Ying.

Wei Ying winks at him. Lan Zhan dumbly lets his arm fall down again.

It's the opportunity Wei Ying needs to dive forward and pull A-yuan by the waist, pulling his shirt and blowing a raspberry on his son's belly. A-yuan shrieks again.

"Gege! H-Help!"

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan tries to sound stern, but he wages he sounds much more like a lovestruck fool.

"Alright, alright." Wei Ying relents, settling A-yuan on his lap. "Lan Zhan can take A-yuan's side. Don't blame me when these cute eyes convince you to commit a crime or something."

Lan Zhan resists telling him Wei Ying's eyes have pretty much the same effect. They are father and son, after all.

The boy's laughter dies down into pants and Lan Zhan finds an opportunity to ask,

"How old are you, A-yuan?"

"I'm like this." He shows him four fingers.

"Four." Lan Zhan nods.

"Four! I'll be five!"

"When?"

A-yuan thinks and then shrugs, "Some day."

Huh. Lan Zhan can't really argue with that.

"January, baby. You'll be five in January." Wei Ying says, combing his son's hair away from his forehead. It's a gesture full of tenderness and Lan Zhan feels a lump on his throat. The soft gentle love in Wei Ying's eyes… It's a very good look on him.

This is ridiculous. They have exchanged less than a hundred words and Lan Zhan is already wrapped around his finger.

"January!" A-yuan says, "And then I'll have a party! I'll invite the butterfly, the bunny, the kitty, the crow…"

"The crow?" Lan Zhan is curious. That's not the most usual animal for a child to like.

"Yeah! Baba has crows on his chest!"

Lan Zhan looks up to Wei Ying, to check if this is something that's supposed to makes sense or if it's just typical four year old logic. Wei Ying laughs.

"Just some tattoos I have."

Lan Zhan's mouth dries up. Oh god, of course he has tattoos.

And now Lan Zhan will have to spend the entire rest of their acquaintance trying not to think of Wei Ying's naked chest. And the tattoos that exist there. This is fine.

"When I'm old, I get tattoo like Baba. But only when I'm this tall." A-yuan says very seriously, raising his hand to as high as he can.

Lan Zhan swallows his thirst and asks, "What tattoos will you get?"

A-yuan launches into a speech on all the tattoos he wants which turns into a speech about why his butterfly doesn't grow hair, somehow. All the while Wei Ying is opening the almost forgotten sandwiches and stopping A-yuan so he can have a bite. Lan Zhan listens to it and feels his chest so full of something he can't explain.

They eat and play and Lan Zhan is thoroughly charmed by both the boy and the father. He knew he was doomed, but not that it was this much.

It's around five in the afternoon when Wei Ying starts packing. Of course, this perfect moment in time couldn't last forever. A-yuan seems equally saddened that their day at the park is ending, but he is too tired to complain, leaning his head on his father's shoulders and blinking slowly. Lan Zhan helps Wei Ying with the trash and A-yuan's toys.

"Thanks for everything today." Wei Ying says after they're done, a backpack swinging from one shoulder and a child snoozing on the other.

Lan Zhan tries to find something else to say, something that is not as final. Something that will allow him to be part of this for just a second longer, but he stops himself.

Stupid. Lan Zhan needs to be rational about this. He is intruding on this family's leisure time. Not only that, but his heart holds ulterior motivations for doing so. How shameless. What would his uncle say if he saw him like this? Probably cite 8 different rules from the Lan Family Guidelines and order him to stay far away from temptations like Wei Ying.

What he's doing is absolutely despicable. He will stop.

"Can I get your number?" Wei Ying asks.

"Yes." Lan Zhan promptly hands him his phone.

His mind screams at him. He ignores it. After all, how can he resist? From the second he saw him, Wei Ying was the sun, pulling Lan Zhan into his orbit without even noticing.

"Just, you know." Wei Ying continues, tapping the screen, "A-yuan likes you. And once he likes someone, he won't let go for anything. Some people get annoyed by it. Tell me if we're too much"

"No," Lan Zhan frowns, disliking that line of thinking, "that is an important trait to cultivate. A-yuan will grow into a kind person."

Wei Ying looks up at him, surprised. Then he proceeds to devastate Lan Zhan's brain capabilities by smiling his most beautiful smile yet. It's soft and gentle and it's Lan Zhan's.

"Not so intimidating now." Wei Ying teases, raising an eyebrow, "The pretty face is still there, though."

Lan Zhan sucks in a breath. He hopes his ears are not blushing.

"Bye-bye, Lan Zhan." Wei Ying waves and then walks off.

Lan Zhan stands there, in the middle of the park as the sun starts setting. It's a long time coming before he feels in control of his functions. Then he goes home and tries not give in to the urge of shoving his face in the pillow.

The words 'pretty face' keep visiting his dreams the entire week.

-:-

From then on, Lan Zhan has a new routine.

His Saturdays are now filled with laughter and tickle fights and sticky fingers that wrap around his hand and pull him into what is practically a new world.

At first, Lan Zhan continued to do what he always did before the duo came into his life. He'd sit down in his bench with his long-turned-into-an-excuse book and pretend he wasn't anxiously waiting to see them again. However, his restraint was in vain for the second A-yuan noticed him, he'd run in his direction and insist until Lan Zhan joined the family.

To be fair, Lan Zhan is not and does not want to be in the business of denying A-yuan anything. He just hopes it's not so obvious.

After more weeks of being dragged into the play time, Lan Zhan decided there is nothing wrong in approaching first and he won't be turned down if he simply joins Wei Ying and A-yuan where they meet.

"I brought a gift." He says, handing the wrapped package to A-yuan and sitting down in his typical spot (how wonderful it is, to have a spot reserved for him).

A-yuan hugs him and exclaims his thanks before tearing into the paper.

"Ai, Lan Zhan!" Wei Ying scolds, "Every time we see you, you buy another trinket for him! He'll become spoiled, you know?"

The admonishment makes Lan Zhan almost smile.

Initially, he wasn't sure if he could really bring A-yuan so many gifts. He didn't want to interfere with the way Wei Ying raises the boy.

By now, however, he has realized that Wei Ying's words are always teasing and that he won't mind if Lan Zhan “spoils” A-yuan a little. Lan Zhan is of the impression that once he even saw Wei Ying's eyes softening at the sight. He won't place bets on it but it did encourage him to keep going.

So he buys A-yuan books and dolls and lego sets and he relishes in the delighted expressions he makes.

"So be it." Lan Zhan says.

"Humph! You're not the one who has to help him put away all these things at home, you know?"

'I gladly would, if you let me' he thinks and holds his tongue tight.

"This one is special." He says instead.

A-yuan finally takes the toy from the package. It's a butterfly exactly like Pinkie, only this one is green. Lan Zhan found out the butterfly was part of an old collection of toys for toddlers, released years ago.

He couldn't find any of the others, but the green one was waiting specially for him in an ebay listing and he bought it the moment he saw it. It was a bit pricey, but just picturing A-yuan's happy face gave him the strength for the impulse buy.

And what a happy face it is. To say the child has stars in his eyes is not an exaggeration.

"Baba! Baba, look!" He climbs his father's lap and shoves the butterfly in his face, "It's Pinkie's friend!"

"I see, I see!" Wei Ying says amazed, "This friend of Pinkie's takes regular baths at least."

"Thank you, Gege!"

"You're welcome." Lan Zhan says, "What will you name it?"

A-yuan hums, looking so hard at the butterfly his eyes almost go cross.

"I'm going to call it… Greenie!"

Wei Ying hides his chuckles behind a hand while A-yuan takes Pinkie and Greenie and immediately starts to play.

"Thanks, Lan Zhan." He says, "You didn't have to."

Lan Zhan shakes his head, "I want to."

Wei Ying takes out a package of extra spicy potato chips from his bag and starts digging in, after having Lan Zhan decline his offer of some. They're enveloped in a comfortable silence, broken only by A-yuan's pretend mumbles.

"I like you." A-yuan says, moving Pinkie up and down.

"I like you too." He says again, this time moving Greenie.

He touches the mouths of the two butterflies together and makes a loud smack sound.

Lan Zhan has to looks away. It's too cute.

"Who even taught you this?" Wei Ying sighs, pinching A-yuan's cheeks, "It certainly wasn't me."

This is his chance, Lan Zhan realizes with a start, to find out the one thing that is gnawing at his insides, the one thing that might make his soul soar or plummet it to the ground. He discretely wipes the sweat from his palms and steels himself.

“Can he be copying what he sees at home?” Lan Zhan tries, hoping for an answer he probably won’t get. But it seems life loves surprising him, because Wei Ying says:

“That's impossible.” His voice is nonchalant as he tucks a lock of A-yuan’s hair behind his ear, “It's just me and this little cloud here.”

Lan Zhan has never in all of his life pumped his fist in victory and he is not about to start now. The urge is very much there, though.

“I'm adopted.” A-yuan looks up from his toys. Lan Zhan blinks at the realization that A-yuan was listening the entire time. “It means I wait for dads or moms or both to come pick me up and Baba picked me up, so I'm adopted. Just like Baba was too!”

A-yuan says it all with a smile on his face and then goes back to playing. It occurs to Lan Zhan that he may not see his upbringing as anything out of the ordinary.

“That is very honorable.” He says and means it.

“It's nothing.” Wei Ying shrugs, “The moment I saw A-yuan, I just knew I had to bring this sweet dumpling home.”

“It is amazing to give someone a family.” Lan Zhan affirms again.

Wei Ying smiles at him, first a little shy, but then in true Wei Ying fashion his expression soon turns mischievous. He bumps Lan Zhan’s knee with his own, winking, "Lan Zhan, you flatter me like that with this serious tone, are you trying to make my heart skip a beat?"

Lan Zhan figures, if he can take back at least half of the stolen beats Wei Ying pulled from him, that would be well within his rights.

“I was being honest.” He replies, ears a little warm.

Wei Ying laughs, taking a swig from his water bottle. In an attempt to avoid staring at Wei Ying’s throat as it moves, he looks at A-yuan.

A-yuan is looking back at him.

He looks at Lan Zhan very intently, with a seriousness that does not befit a four year old. Lan Zhan is pinned down by the gaze, heavily scrutinized and he internally gulps. Is… Is there a stain on his shirt? His palms start to sweat again.

A-yuan looks a second more and then declares very loudly:

“I want Gege to be my second dad."

Wei Ying spits the water on Lan Zhan’s face.

“Ah-” He coughs, trying to take in lungfuls of air and failing, “Lan Zha- I’m so s-sorry!”

Lan Zhan does not even move to wipe it off, so shocked he is. He just sits there, feeling the mixture of water and spit drip down his cheeks.

Wei Ying seems to find his bearings faster and is quick to take some napkins and dab at Lan Zhan’s jaw. That makes his soul leave his body even more.

“A-yuan!” Wei Ying exclaims, “You can’t say something like that!”

"But it's the truth." A-yuan pouts, "Gege is pretty and good! He found Pinkie when he was lost! And he makes Baba happy!"

Will Lan Zhan's soul ever be able to return? With every word leaving A-yuan's mouth, he feels like the only thing left in his shell of a body is his racing heart. What a picture his blushing ears must be painting.

Wei Ying ruffles A-yuan's hair, his own face red and flustered.

"What should I do with you, little menace… Look, Lan Zhan can't even move from the shock!"

"Gege, was A-yuan mean?" A-yuan asks, concerned.

"No, I--" He clears his throat, trying his best to act as if his stomach is not doing somersaults, "A-yuan did nothing wrong. I was only… surprised."

"Yeah, no kidding!" Wei Ying says, giving him more napkins, "Who wouldn't be? I definitely was too, spitting all over you. Here, use this. I'm really sorry."

Lan Zhan finishes cleaning his face and tries to wipe his shirt to the best of his abilities. "It is fine." He mutters, "I am glad A-yuan enjoys my company."

Wei Ying continues to stare at him and then he flicks his nose in what seems to be an embarrassed tick, "Ugh Lan Zhan, be a little pissed off or something! A-yuan is right, you are really good."

It takes everything in his being not to ask if he is right in that Lan Zhan makes Wei Ying happy as well. But he does not have the courage to ask and he fears he won't survive the answer anyway, be it positive or negative.

"And pretty." A-yuan offers, giggling once he realizes all is well.

Wei Ying scoops an arm around A-yuan's belly and pulls him to his mouth, blowing a raspberry there.

"And pretty! There, it is said! Aren't Pinkie and Greenie lonely without you playing with them? Or do you want to give us another heart attack?"

"Another! Another!" A-yuan laughs from where he's hanging sideways.

"Oh, what am I going to do with you?" Wei Ying says in mock exasperation as A-yuan only laughs harder.

Lan Zhan finally feels himself relax, but he tucks away A-yuan's precious words to smile over later, when he is alone and missing the other two dearly. He will allow admitting only deep in his solitude that he wouldn't mind what A-yuan said becoming the truth, not at all.

-:-

The next Saturday, A-yuan is a little more restless than usual. Lan Zhan is patiently listening to the accounts of A-yuan's week on the preschool while Wei Ying leans on his hand and unsuccessfully tries not to nod off.

Lan Zhan has no reason to complain, but he does notice that some weekends A-yuan is more fussy, is a little more unreasonable in that innocent way children are. Some weekends Wei Ying looks more tired than normal, dark bags dragging his eyes.

He does his best to help Wei Ying out in those days, having A-yuan pay more attention to him while Wei Ying gets to rest.

The boy is in the middle of a riveting story about his best friend named A-zhen eating toilet paper in secret (clean ones, Lan Zhan has been able to grasp with relief) when he suddenly stops and gasps. He turns to his baba and shakes his arm.

"Baba! Baba, listen!"

"Yeah, what's up?" Wei Ying says, muffling a yawn.

"Can Gege come to sleepover today?"

Before Lan Zhan can even feel the rush of happiness that takes him every time A-yuan includes him in another family bonding moment, Wei Ying shakes his head.

"He can't."

"Why?" A-yuan replies, indignant, "It's not work or school night."

"A-yuan, Lan Zhan must also have his own home to go back to."

Awkwardly, Lan Zhan looks down at his hands. Even when he lived with uncle and brother, one would not call their home life lively or loving. The way they were raised was rigid, stern, sterile. He loves his uncle and understands the struggles he went through after his mother's death, but to show that affection was not encouraged in any way. Not to mention, Lan Zhan was naturally an introverted boy from the beginning, which only contributed to the house's silence.

It was not the happiest or healthiest way to bring up a child and he would not impart such lifestyle on his own kid, but he was never angry to be raised like this. His uncle did his best.

However, now he knows what a warm family looks and feels like. With the possibility of spending the night with these two people that are surely making an indent in his heart, how can his empty apartment so reminiscent of his lonely childhood compare?

No matter. It’s not his right to ask for more.

"One night?" A-yuan asks, shaking Wei Ying's arm, "Pretty pretty please? I need to show Gege my room."

"The answer is no."

A-yuan's lower lip wobbles and he lets out a high-pitched sound before the tearworks start. Lan Zhan can't stand the sight of those tiny eyebrows scrunched up in sadness.

"I'd love to." He tells Wei Ying with no hesitance than inwardly curses. It seems like since meeting Wei Ying, he has gotten in the habit of betraying his brain’s often well-placed decisions.

Wei Ying shakes his head at him, exasperated, "Lan Zhan, you can't give him everything he asks for just because he starts crying."

"I know." Lan Zhan answers, burying the nervousness for what he'll say next, "I wish to have dinner with you regardless."

Wei Ying's eyes widen, a small intake of breath making him stop. Lan Zhan tries not to avert his gaze, maintaining their eye contact despite all the bones in his body telling him to close off.

After a couple of seconds, Wei Ying glances at A-yuan, who stopped crying with suspicious ease to pay attention to their conversation. When he notices his father looking, he quickly buries his face in his arms and makes sniffing sounds.

"Alright." Wei Ying sighs and then smiles. "I can't deny the two of you anything, huh."

Lan Zhan allows the happiness to bloom on his chest as A-yuan cheers and hugs his dad, filling his cheeks with kisses and 'thank you's. He wants Wei Ying to want this as much as him, but he doesn't dare hope. It's important he keeps in the forefront of his mind that Wei Ying only tolerates him due to A-yuan's attachment. It's disrespectful to Wei Ying to attempt to find any deeper meaning in their interactions.

Does Lan Zhan wish they existed, though.

They start packing up their things. A-yuan keeps chanting 'sleepover, sleepover, sleepy ippy over' under his breath while gathering his toys. Wei Ying chuckles at his enthusiasm.

"Do you mind if we walk back? Or did you bring your car?"

"I do not mind." Lan Zhan answers. He did bring his car but he has no problem leaving it here until later. This is an opportunity he won't miss.

"Ok, great! We live close by so we usually come on foot.”

They leave the park together, Lan Zhan offering to carry one of Wei Ying's bags. A-yuan insists on holding both their hands, in between them. When he says up, the two adults pull and he jumps high, before giggling and asking again. Their eyes meet above the happy child and Wei Ying grins. Lan Zhan looks down before letting out his own secretive smile.

Finally they arrive in Wei Ying's apartment. He stops to take everything in while the other two remove their shoes.

It's… very different from what Lan Zhan is used to.

'Dirty' is not the correct word to describe it, though it's certainly the one his uncle would use. Rather, it's quite cluttered. Toys, books, DVDs, papers and colored pencils, scrunchies and other items are spread out throughout the room. The kitchen and the living room are joint, only an archway separating them, the furniture is in mismatched styles, as if they were bought in different points in time. The fridge is full of magnets, sticking A-yuan's artworks and other notes to the cold surface.

Perhaps cluttered is not the word either. Chaotic fits much better, but it doesn’t look bad. It looks lived in. Like the personality of its residents started to rub off the walls. He didn't think he would ever be able to find an environment like this cozy and inviting, so different from the quiet muted peace of his home, but the fact that it’s plainly Wei Ying's seems to be enough to make him relax.

"Okay, A-yuan." Wei Ying says, taking him out of his trance, "You can show Lan Zhan your room. I'm gonna make dinner."

"I will help." Lan Zhan offers.

"You're our guest, Lan Zhan! Plus, it's your first time here, if A-yuan can't show you his room he's going to go off the walls."

A-yuan doesn't wait for any more approval and pulls him by the hand right away.

He takes Lan Zhan through the living room, pointing out his favorite things and what he and his dad like to do together. After that, he pulls him to the corridor and points out the doors.

“This is the bathroom.” A-yuan pats his chest proudly, “I know how to wipe without help!”

Lan Zhan nods, “Very good.”

“This is Baba’s room.” He lightly pushes a door open. Wei Ying’s room is just as chaotic as everything else in the house and Lan Zhan has no idea why he finds that utterly endearing.

“Baba loves red.” A-yuan begins listing, pausing to stare at Lan Zhan very seriously. He brings a hand close to his face, index finger pointing up and acts as if he’s giving Lan Zhan a lecture, “Red and black are his favorite colors. He really likes sweets. And dark chocolate.”

Lan Zhan is amused. He leans down in a mock pretense of telling A-yuan a secret, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

A-yuan giggles, covering his mouth as if they could be heard from the kitchen. Then he stops and gasps suddenly.

“Gege, do you like dogs?”

Lan Zhan nods again, figuring dogs must be A-yuan's favorite pets, “I like them fine.”

“You can’t! You can’t like them!”

“Why not?” He asks. A-yuan motions for him to lean down even more.

“Because Baba is scared of dogs.” He whispers, “Gege, you can’t like them!”

If things continue like this, Lan Zhan will soon be thoroughly consumed by the fondness he feels for this boy. A-yuan keeps his big eyes on Lan Zhan, almost as if wanting to make sure the adult understands the importance of his father’s fear of dogs. The love and concern he has for Wei Ying is palpable. Lan Zhan smiles.

“To be honest, I prefer rabbits.”

A-yuan claps in glee, “Me too. Bunnies are small and cute, like me!”

“Correct.” Lan Zhan can’t control the smile on his face. A-yuan is small and cute, so much so he feels the cavities drilling through his teeth.

A-yuan seems pleased with the conversation and moves on to show Lan Zhan his room. They continue like that, playing and talking, before Lan Zhan suggests they go back to the living room. He does not want to leave Wei Ying abandoned in the kitchen, so A-yuan picks up a book for Lan Zhan to read to him.

He sits down near the couch with A-yuan on his lap and starts reading a book with two bunnies in the front (Lan Zhan could cry, were he more inclined to emotional outbursts. A-yuan is so cute). Some time later, he realizes he can’t hear any of the typical kitchen sounds anymore, so he looks up to the archway.

Wei Ying is leaning with his shoulder on the wall, a dishrag perched on his forearm. He’s smiling at the two of them, eyes so full of tenderness Lan Zhan can feel it in his tongue as he breathes.

He looks so lovely, fringe gently brushing against his cheeks, just begging to be swept away by Lan Zhan’s fingers. Lan Zhan wishes he could stand up, walk towards him, put a hand on his waist, tilt his chin back and check if that expression tastes as sweet as it looks.

His body is almost, almost acting without permission when Wei Ying’s smile widens and he turns back to the kitchen, calling the two of them for dinner and inadvertently stopping what could have been a disaster.

Lan Zhan takes a moment to get his breathing back under control.

They sit at the table, Wei Ying places a plate alarmingly red in front of him. Both Wei Ying and A-yuan are eating normally, even humming in pleasure of the food, so with just the smallest reluctance, Lan Zhan picks the soaked vegetables with his chopsticks and puts it in his mouth.

It’s not bad, he’s about to think, when the first wave of heat hits him and begins climbing up his throat, setting on his nostrils. It’s so intense his jaw throbs painfully. Only due to his years of practiced self-repression he manages to gulp down the fire and calmly reach for the cup of water.

“So, what do you think?” Wei Ying asks happily, “It’s good, right? I put in a lot of work today since it’s your first time eating my food. It’s not for everyone, but I thought for sure you’d like it Lan Zhan!”

“It’s…” Lan Zhan says (or at least he thinks he does, what, with his mouth unfeeling as it currently is), “Spicy.” He finishes lamely.

“Baba loves spicy food. He loves it!” A-yuan perks up from where he’s sitting, a little bit of sauce staining the corner of his mouth.

“Do not speak with your mouth full.” Lan Zhan states, cleaning the sauce with a napkin.

A-yuan nods and quiets down.

Wei Ying slams his hands on the table. He’s staring at them with wide eyes. He points at A-yuan and then at Lan Zhan, shocked. Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow.

“Ah?!” He exclaims, “Ah?! What is this? This betrayal I’m seeing in front of me? A-yuan, how come you listen to Lan Zhan and not me?!”

A-yuan, making matters worse, unhurriedly finishes chewing before he replies, “Because Baba also speaks with his mouth full.”

Wei Ying looks incredulous. Lan Zhan and A-yuan both shake their heads at him with disapproval. A-yuan even clicks his tongue.

“I can’t believe this. Stabbed in the back by my own child. This is what I get after years of struggle.” Wei Ying dramatically covers his face, “They do say all sons turn ungrateful, but I never expected it from my own kin.”

“Ai, Baba is being a drama queen again.”

Lan Zhan can’t help it, he laughs. They’re both so ridiculous. Lan Zhan loves them so much.

Wei Ying immediately whips his head at him at the sound, blinking in fascination before he laughs along as well. Lan Zhan tries to go back to eating normally, but it’s no use as the corners of his mouth keep trying to lift up. Well, it’s not like happiness is unwelcome here. If there is any place in this earth where 'excess of happiness' will be celebrated instead of regulated, it will be in this little apartment, with Wei Ying and A-yuan smiling at him.

It’s around 9PM when A-yuan starts to nod off while sitting, all the excitement of the day catching up to him. Wei Ying picks him up and they both tuck him in bed together, walking out of the bedroom with carefully light steps.

Wei Ying closes the door and then looks at him with a mischievous smile.

“Baby is asleep. Now the grown-ups can have fun.” He winks.

His traitorous ears blush at the implications and all the images his brain decides to conjure. He readily throws those away. Wei Ying is only teasing, like always.

“I usually sleep around this time as well.”

“What!” Wei Ying says, “That’s so early. Well, although I say it’s time for us to have fun, unfortunately Dad-grown-ups have to clean the house, so.”

“I will help.” Lan Zhan offers again, this time accepted.

They move to the living room, where there’s a bunch of A-yuan’s toys misplaced by the floor. At some point, he decided to introduce Lan Zhan to all his stuffed animals, their names and their stories. And even some non-animals too, Lan Zhan grimaces, as he picks up ‘Mr. Liver’ (Wei Ying had laughed delighted at Lan Zhan's deadpan, saying he bought that toy more for the reaction of other adults than A-yuan’s.)

He finishes putting all the toys on top of the couch and looks at Wei Ying. His v-neck shirt is a little loose and when he leans forward, there’s a peek of black ink showing in his neck.

Lan Zhan feels his mouth dry up at the sight, mesmerized by the small tease of Wei Ying’s tattoos. If the collar of the shirt dipped lower, would he be able to see more? Is it big enough to spread down Wei Ying’s pecs? Lan Zhan's eyes mindlessly sweep up the neck, the jawline, the lips until they inevitably meet Wei Ying’s.

“Do you like tattoos, Lan Zhan?”

Oh god, Lan Zhan almost sways where he stands, mortified. Oh god, please do not let Wei Ying have noticed how his mouth salivated over the visible stretch of skin, everything but that. Lan Zhan snaps his head away, knowing a blush is spreading down his nape. With some difficulty, he nods.

“Really? That’s awesome. With how prim and proper you look, no one would’ve guessed you have a wild streak, hm?” Wei Ying smiles, depositing his own pile of toys by his side.

“I have considered getting one when I was younger.”

“Oh, what did you want to get? I can hook you up with the tattoo artist that did mine, he’s an old highschool friend.”

“A gentian.” Lan Zhan replies softly, “For my mother.”

Wei Ying’s smile becomes tender, some sort of understanding in his eyes. “That’s sweet, Lan Zhan.”

He flusters, hoping for this conversation to be over as he’s not prepared quite yet for the emotional rollercoaster that would be telling Wei Ying about his mother. And, thankfully, Wei Ying graces him with another question, though Lan Zhan soon realizes that question brings an emotional rollercoaster of a whole different kind:

“Would you like to see?” Wei Ying leans forward, already pulling on the hem of his shirt.

Lan Zhan gulps. He would like to see Wei Ying’s tattoos. He would like that very much. That is precisely the problem. He should deny the request and find an excuse to go home now that A-yuan is asleep, but because his brain has been mal-functioning ever since that fateful saturday a little boy got lost and mistook him for his dad, his head makes the motions of a nod instead. Fantastic.

Wei Ying smiles even more, pulling the shirt off in one fell swoop. Lan Zhan tries not to think about the fact that Wei Ying is stripping in front of him. He tries to banish the thought. He tries.

Wei Ying leans his head sideways, putting the tattoo in full view. The art is beautiful. Two crows mid-flight, in a realistic style, their wings dissolving into pearls of smoke. Its size is around a hand and a half, spreading the right side of his chest and up the hollow of his throat. Lan Zhan notices he also has a lotus flower tattooed in his bicep.

Wei Ying’s skin is tanned and smooth and the tattoo gives him an air of wicked that has Lan Zhan salivating all over again.

“This part here hurt the most.” Wei Ying says, his voice alluringly low, pointing to the beak of the crow on his neck, “The skin there is very sensitive.”

How sensitive? Lan Zhan wants to test that with his mouth.

He steps closer to Wei Ying, eyeing the curve of his shoulder, the line of his pulse, the collarbones he was fantasizing about just a minute earlier.

He raises his hand and presses his fingers in the skin, so warm to the touch it’s scalding. Tracing around the drawing with slow movements, eyes appraising the way the lines dip around his thumb delicately.

Wei Ying’s throat swallows, bobbing his finger along, up and down, immensely increasing how appetizing the sight in front of him is. Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying, wondering when did they get so close but not caring enough to step away. Wei Ying is staring back, eyes hooded and intense. He licks his lips and Lan Zhan watches the movement with blood rushing in his veins.

His hand slides to fully cup his neck. Wei Ying tilts his jaw upwards, bared and inviting.

Lan Zhan leans in.

A loud guitar ringtone echoes in the living room. Both of them startle, jumping back from each other immediately.

“A-ah.” Wei Ying says, “It’s my phone, just a second.”

He puts the shirt back on, hurrying to pick his phone up from the kitchen table. Lan Zhan stands there, heart racing, almost panting from the simple action of touching Wei Ying’s skin.

Lan Zhan gathers his things and his wits and waits for Wei Ying to come see him off by the doorway. They say their good nights and Lan Zhan leaves, part of him wishing to take on the ‘sleep’ half of the ‘sleepover’, the other trying to smother that part as much as possible.

He walks back to his car still waiting near the park and drives home with white noise ringing in his ears.

-:-

One night, there is a call.

Lan Zhan is getting ready to go to bed at ten as he does every day, just fresh from the shower. It's a quiet thursday and he's sleepy and when he's about to lay down, there is a call.

He looks at the phone ID, tempted to just ignore it, but then he sees it's Wei Ying. Despite exchanging phone numbers as far back as months ago, they had an unspoken agreement to simply meet in the usual spot at the park and so far this agreement hasn’t been broken by either parts. So it is weird for Wei Ying to be calling him, even if it also makes him so very glad. He picks up.

"Hello?"

His greeting is met with silence. Then shuffling and a sniffle. Lan Zhan's stomach drops to the floor.

"Wei Ying?"

"Lan Zhan."

His voice sounds wet and miserable and Lan Zhan leans forward immediately, all fogginess from sleep forgotten.

"What's wrong?"

"It's… ah." His breath hitches, "A-yuan is in the hospital."

Not even ten minutes later, Lan Zhan is leaving his house. The entire ride to the hospital he mulls over what could have happened and how serious it could be. Wei Ying didn’t offer any more information than that, simply asking if Lan Zhan could come see them.

He enters the resting wing by the side of the emergency room, where they monitor patients. At first, he doesn’t find Wei Ying, purely because he is used to Wei Ying being the brightest thing anywhere, warm and beckoning like a fire after a cold day. So Lan Zhan’s eyes pass over the hunched figure in a chair easily before doing a double-take.

Wei Ying has his face in his hands and is folded over his legs. Everything about him is muted. As Lan Zhan steps closer, he can see A-yuan sleeping in the bed, an IV drop stuck to his arm.

“Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan says, placing a hand on Wei Ying’s back.

The other gives no indication of having heard him, only continues to hide in his arms. Lan Zhan pulls another chair from the corner of the room and sits by his side.

They stay in silence for what feels like hours before Wei Ying finally begins to unfurl. Lan Zhan takes the chance to pull him closer, a comforting line against his side.

“What happened?” He asks gently.

“I-I got a call from the preschool asking to pick him up because he had a fever.” Wei Ying says, quietly, “They don’t let sick kids stay there. When we got home, I just put him in bed. It wasn't even a high fever, so I thought--” He heaves a shuddering sigh, one that shakes his entire form, “Then I got my tablet and started working in the living room.”

His voice hitches and Lan Zhan continues to rub what he hopes are soothing circles in his back.

“He- I saw him come into the room all shaky.” He whispers, “And he said ‘Baba, I’m not feeling good’. And then he just. Just fell on the floor and started convulsing.”

That word seems to take all the resistance left of Wei Ying and he puts his face back in his hands, sob hitching his frame.

“I should have brought him in when the fever started. I should have watched him more closely!” He cries, and Lan Zhan feels every devastating stab of guilt piercing his heart in the way he tries to cower smaller and smaller, “I’m such a terrible dad, I have no idea what I’m doing! I’m gonna fuck this up! Aunt Yu was right, I’m not cut for this, I’m just terrible, shit! Fuck!”

Lan Zhan waits for the biggest brunt of the curses to be let out, each one getting quieter until all is left is Wei Ying’s trembling breath. He presses even more firmly to the other, wrapping an arm around his waist.

“You’re not.” He says. Wei Ying snorts sarcastically but Lan Zhan won’t let him fall into that fallacy, especially not after seeing the living proof against it all these months. He separates only so he can place his hands on Wei Ying’s cheeks and move him to face Lan Zhan. “Wei Ying, you are not.”

He spares a second to form his words, certain of what he needs to say.

“You couldn’t have known. You will not be able to protect him from everything.” Wei Ying closes his eyes, quite obviously not believing him. Lan Zhan brushes his thumb on a stray tear, gently, “He came to you for help, didn’t he?”

Wei Ying nods, tentative.

“Wei Ying, he came to you. He trusts you. He knows now, and he will know forever that you’ll be there for him. That is what matters the most. For giving him this much, you are the best father I’ve seen.”

The expression on his face breaks into a grimace, ugly and raw and Wei Ying lets himself fall forward, burying into Lan Zhan’s chest. His hands are gripping the back of Lan Zhan’s shirt firmly, as if he holds any lighter, Lan Zhan will stand up and walk away. For his part, he simply continues the soothing motions between Wei Ying’s shoulder blades.

After many minutes, Wei Ying finally manages to disentangle from the crook of Lan Zhan’s neck. Though he would have no problem keeping Wei Ying hidden there forever, he’s relieved to see the other a little less like he’s an inch from falling apart. He chances a glance at A-yuan, laying so small and quiet in the hospital bed.

“Before he came to live with me, he was so frail.” He mutters, leaning on Lan Zhan’s shoulder, “Seriously, he looked like the wind could pick him up and take him flying. I didn’t even sleep the first night, thinking he was gonna stop breathing out of nowhere or something.”

“He is healthy now.” Lan Zhan says, pressing his lips on Wei Ying’s temple. You made sure of that, is implied.

“Yeah.” Wei Ying sighs. “Yeah, he is.” He looks up at Lan Zhan, appearance a lot better than when he arrived, and tries a smile. “Sorry I called you like that. It must have scared you, huh?”

“There is no reason to apologize.”

Wei Ying lets out a weak chuckle, “Okay, I won’t. It’s silly, but…” He trails off, the hand that was resting in Lan Zhan’s arm from before sliding down until he can grip Lan Zhan’s hand. “All I could think was that I needed you here with me.”

“I’m here, Wei Ying.” He says, squeezing tighter. I’m here, and I’ll stay for as long as you’ll have me, he tries to convey with his eyes.

“I know. Thanks, Lan Zhan.”

They look at A-yuan again. He sleeps peacefully.

“What did the doctor say?”

“They’re doing some blood tests to find out the cause of the fever.” Wei Ying relaxes onto the chair, “Right now, all we can do is wait.”

So they wait. Hospital accommodations are almost never comfortable and Lan Zhan thinks there’s a weird irony about that. Wei Ying was waiting for much longer than him, eyebags proeminent on his usually so youthful face. Lan Zhan takes it upon himself to go to the building’s cafeteria and get him a hot chocolate.

When he comes back, Wei Ying is bowing to an older woman in a white coat.

“Thank you! I’ll make sure he takes them! Thanks!”

The sudden enthusiasm is definitely a whiplash. Lan Zhan looks at him curiously.

“Lan Zhan!” He waves, taking the chocolate Lan Zhan offers him, “That was the doctor. Well, I guess that’s obvious, huh? Turns out A-yuan has an infection on his tonsils! All he needs is to take the prescription antibiotics and everything will be fine.”

Lan Zhan nods, relieved, “And the convulsion?”

“Ah! Uh…” Wei Ying flusters, his cheeks becoming red as he runs his fingers through his ponytail with embarrassment, “Um, turns out he had a febrile seizure. The doctor said those are fairly common in young children. He’ll grow out of those.” He gives Lan Zhan a shy smile, “Sorry, I ended up crying on you and it’s not even serious.”

“Don’t apologize.” Lan Zhan smiles, “I’m glad.”

It looks like Wei Ying is about to say something else, but in that moment they’re interrupted by a small groan from the bed. In an instant, Wei Ying is settling by A-yuan’s side, taking his hand.

“Baba?” A-yuan whispers.

“Hey there, Lotus.” Wei Ying says, leaning to brush A-yuan’s hair from his face, “How are you feeling?”

“Sleepy.” He yawns.

“Don’t go back to sleep, okay? The doctor said we could leave when you woke up. Then we can go home and you can sleep in your bed.”

A-yuan makes another tired moan and looks around with blinking eyes until they fall on Lan Zhan, standing a little farther from the bed. He squints and then says:

“A-die?”

Silence. Lan Zhan is too busy trying to hold his heart tight so as to not jump too fast, so as to not leave his throat like it’s threatening to do in response. Wei Ying looks at him with wide eyes then looks back at A-yuan. It feels like all the tension in the room is hanging by a thread over the heads.

“A-yuan,” Wei Ying clears his throat and leans in, putting his hand on A-yuan’s cheek and looking at him with apprehension, “That’s Lan Zhan, see? The Gege that visits us.”

“Yeah.” A-yuan answers quietly, “But he takes care of me and eats dinner with us and he’s here while I’m sick. I really think he should be my second dad, Baba.”

“A-yuan.” Wei Ying says again, taking a deep breath in, “My A-yuan, my lotus, why do you want another dad so much?” Lan Zhan can see the way he looks down, how his shoulders hunch up with insecurity and for once he wishes he wasn’t here, wishes he could give them privacy, “Is it… Is it because I’m not being a very good baba?”

A-yuan blinks. Then he puts his own tiny hands on Wei Ying’s cheeks.

“Baba,” He says slowly, not once faltering in his gaze, “Why are you so silly?”

“Eh?”

“Baba, why are you so silly?” A-yuan repeats, whining, “Baba is the best in the world! There isn’t anyone better than Baba, so of course Baba needs to have the best husband!”

Lan Zhan puffs out a small laugh. It takes Wei Ying ten seconds to process what was said before he throws himself at his son, loudly kissing the plump cheeks.

“A-yuan! If Baba is the best then A-yuan is the best son! A-yuan is the best kid!” He cries, kissing everywhere in A-yuan’s face between words. The child pats his father’s back and sighs, as if this is very bothersome in his four year old shoulders, “A-yuan is the cutest, cute and tiny and small, I love him so much! I love A-yuan!”

Lan Zhan steps closer. He doesn’t comment on how wet Wei Ying’s voice has gotten, or how his back shakes slightly; he won’t deny being on the verge of tearing up as well. He chooses to pet A-yuan’s hair instead.

“I’m very glad to see you well, A-yuan.” He says tenderly.

“Thank you.” He replies politely, “Baba deserves the best husband, right?”

Lan Zhan looks at where Wei Ying is unsubtly pretending to not look at him and smiles. He remembers the day he first met him, how Wei Ying was the sun and he was helplessly caught by his gravity. Even then, when his infatuation was new and immature, even then he knew.

“Hm, I think he does.” He says with certainty. Whether this husband is Lan Zhan or not doesn’t matter. Wei Ying deserves everything.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying exclaims, hiding his red face behind his arms, “When did you learn to be smooth?!”

A-yuan giggles and Lan Zhan doesn’t try to stifle his amusement.

From that day onwards, A-yuan starts to call Lan Zhan ‘A-die’ and no one ever bothers correcting him.

-:-

Days slowly become weeks and then months and Lan Zhan’s love grows more than he ever thought possible. Every time he thinks ‘this is it, this is the expanse of my feelings’, a single smile is enough to force the laws of physics to bend and twist, until the content becomes bigger than its container. Lan Zhan’s love surpasses the entirety of himself and it’s still not enough.

It would be easier to tolerate, surely, if his and Wei Ying’s relationship had not gradually shifted as well. But ever since that day in the hospital, something changed between them and Lan Zhan noticed.

There’s a quieter, softer sort of intimacy in the space between them. Casual touches that linger a second too long, leaning on each other’s side as if that’s where they’re meant to be, standing closer than strictly needed. All of it exchanged without mention, easily and effortless, in a way that leaves Lan Zhan breathless.

“Lan Zhan, can you check this out for me?” Wei Ying calls from the other side of the aisle, holding two products from the shelf. Lan Zhan approaches him, making sure to keep the cart with A-yuan in the corner of his eye.

He stands behind Wei Ying and leans over his shoulder to see what caught the man’s attention.

“Should I get this one? This one is more expensive but has more spice.” Wei Ying asks, glancing at him thoughtfully.

His fringe tickles Lan Zhan’s cheek, which almosts makes him forget what was asked. Wei Ying’s back is warm where it’s nearly touching his chest.

“The expensive one is larger.” He answers, pointing to the milliliters shown in the glass jar.

“Ah, my Lan Zhan, you’re so smart.” Wei Ying says, smiling at Lan Zhan, “I didn’t even notice. We’re getting this one then.”

Lan Zhan steps back with a swift nod, before the words ‘my Lan Zhan’ encourage him to do something stupid, like pull Wei Ying against him and kiss behind his ear. The simple domesticity of shopping together for dinner at Wei Ying’s apartment never fails to scramble Lan Zhan’s self-control, no matter how many times they do it.

It fools him; it’s so easy to forget the boundaries they have yet to and might never cross. It fools him into thinking he can overstep, can have more than this.

“A-die!” A-yuan calls, beckoning Lan Zhan with grabby motions. He picks up the child and settles him on his hip. “I wanna help.”

Wei Ying waves them off to the cleaning products aisle, still in deep thought over the different spice condiments in front of him. Lan Zhan mentally prepares to another Scoville-scale surpassing meal.

As soon as they’re out of sight from his father, A-yuan begins tapping Lan Zhan’s chest intently, “A-yuan has something to say.” He whispers.

“What is it?” Lan Zhan asks, combing the hairs away from A-yuan’s cheeks. Wei Ying tries to tame the fine hairs behind colorful clips and pins, but they always manage to come undone anyway. It’s so incredibly adorable to Lan Zhan, these little things that A-yuan and Wei Ying share in common, even if they’re not blood-related.

“A-yuan will go to A-zhen’s house to sleepover Friday.”

“I hope you have fun.” Lan Zhan says, “Don’t forget to be polite and help A-zhen with cleaning the toys.”

“I know, A-die.” A-yuan pouts, pulling his sleeve with frustration, “I go to A-zhen all the time. I go and Baba stays home alone.”

Lan Zhan stares, puzzled, at the expectant expression in the child’s face before it finally clicks and his heart starts to race. Still, he prompts, “Yes?”

“Can A-die come stay with Baba?”

So this is what it is, Lan Zhan thinks as his ears warm up.

If they thought allowing the child to call Lan Zhan ‘A-die’ would be enough to satisfy A-yuan’s parental demands, they were incredibly wrong. In fact, from then on A-yuan became even more insistent on his case of having a second father, something neither Lan Zhan or Wei Ying knew how to deal with.

“I do not think that’s a good idea.” Lan Zhan says. The two adults have yet to meet without their tiny chaperone along.

Lan Zhan wants it. He wants it so much, he has an abyss of longing inside him expanding ever wider as he waits for the moment to create a bridge to the other side.

But the fear of falling into this longing without end stops him from taking that step. Wei Ying jokes and flirts and never once gets mad at A-yuan’s insinuations, that much is true, however Lan Zhan knows that is just the way Wei Ying is. He’s amused by things like this, he sees in this situation a joke and he’s probably expecting Lan Zhan to laugh along, unaware of just how fast falling he is.

He’s too afraid to risk it all, too afraid to listen to the traitorous voice whispering he already has all of it in the palm of his hand, he just needs to close his fist.

“Why not?” A-yuan asks, interrupting Lan Zhan’s impromptu pity party, “A-yuan will have fun! Wants Baba to have fun too. You two can do date when I’m gone.”

Lan Zhan sincerely wonders where A-yuan learns about these things, “A-yuan, how do you know about that?”

“A-zhen told me.” He says, smiling triumphantly, “He says adults need to have date before they kiss and get married.”

“A-zhen is very smart.” He replies with difficulty.

“Calling you my A-die makes A-yuan really happy.” A-yuan says, “Since meeting A-die, Baba has been really happy too. Does A-die not want Baba to be really happy forever?”

Before Lan Zhan can manage to formulate a response to that, a loud voice calls them from around the aisle.

“Found you!” They both turn to look at Wei Ying, waving as he approaches, “What took you two so long? Wait, you didn’t get the detergent yet? What were you doing?”

Lan Zhan feels faint thinking of A-yuan telling his father his opinion on the two of them going on dates and kissing and whatnot, but A-yuan does none of that. He tells Wei Ying he distracted Lan Zhan with a story and apologizes with his big puppy eyes.

The amount of sneakiness A-yuan possesses never fails to worry and impress Lan Zhan. Are all cute kids secretly criminal masterminds?

“Well, let’s finish together then,” Wei Ying smiles, patting his son’s head. He takes Lan Zhan’s wrist and pulls them towards the cart. When Wei Ying turns his back on them, A-yuan looks at him and covers his giggles with a hand, as if they’ve done what they were not supposed to.

Lan Zhan huffs and pats his head.

Groceries finished, they go home and have dinner together. Wei Ying tells him about his week and A-yuan joins in to explain his latest preschool project; painting a picture of a subject they like. Lately A-yuan has been in a space phase, so he spends a long time showing Lan Zhan the solar system in his new book. Then he pretends to be an astronaut, climbing the bookcase to the top and giving Lan Zhan a heart attack, while Wei Ying laughs and claims perching dangerously from high furniture encourages his sense of adventure.

Through it all, A-yuan’s suggestion at the supermarket continues to hammer as background noise in Lan Zhan’s chest, a constant reminder of its possibility. His heart is unrelenting in telling him that he is basically already part of the family even if he tries to wave such preposterous notions away.

Half past nine, A-yuan becomes sleepy and the adults tuck him in bed like they do every time Lan Zhan comes to “sleepover”. And just like every time he comes to “sleepover”, he does not actually sleep, but gathers his stuff and is led by Wei Ying to the door.

“Good night, Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying says, leaning on the doorway.

The light from the kitchen bathes his dark hair in a soft glow and the shirt he changed into when they first arrived is loose on his shoulders. Seeing him like this is enough to set Lan Zhan’s heart off again, as if it’s ready to run a marathon. A-yuan’s question echoes in his ears, if he does not want Wei Ying to be really happy forever.

Would he? Would Wei Ying be made really happy if he could call Lan Zhan something else too? A word that starts with H and ends with Lan Zhan having to regulate his breathing? Could it really be that easy?

“Wei Ying.” he calls, before he can chicken out. Once you say this, there’s no turning back, his brain screams. So be it, his heart argues back.

“Yeah?”

“Next Friday,” Lan Zhan says, “may I come have dinner with you?”

Wei Ying hums and thinks for a second, then says, “Actually, next Friday A-yuan will be going to a sleepover at a friend.”

Lan Zhan breathes in deeply.

“I am aware.”

Wei Ying blinks.

“Oh.”

The embarrassment climbs up his throat, threatening to choke him and stop any more ridiculous words to leave his mouth, stop him from ruining this more than he already did. He’s about to force out a ‘nevermind’ when Wei Ying answers:

“Yes. Yeah, we can have dinner next Friday.”

“Alright,” Lan Zhan says.

“Okay.”

“I’ll see you then.”

“Yup.”

Lan Zhan turns and rushes to his home and does not shove his face into the pillow, thank you very much. He prefers to think he has more composure than that. He does, however, shove his face into his hands, unaware that in the place he just left, another man does the exact same thing.

Living normally through his week until Friday arrives is one of the most agonizing tests of patience Lan Zhan has ever had to go through. Now that the lid is open, images and daydreams of this date, of Wei Ying, assail him at every second, what he will do, what he will say, if it was too intimate of him to suggest they have a date in his house, if it wasn’t rude to presume Wei Ying would cook for them like he usually does. If this will end with Wei Ying in his arms or with a door shut in his face.

Wei Ying understood that Lan Zhan meant it as a date, correct? That small ‘Oh’, faint and with a hint of wonder Lan Zhan wishes not have imagined, he can allow himself to hope, right?

By the time Friday arrives, he is a ball of carefully masked nerves. He dresses in his best slacks and shirt and cardigan, dabbing a little cologne on his neck and wrists. Maybe he is taking it up a notch, but Lan Zhan figures there’s no shame in being a little desperate, as long as no one else knows it.

Standing in front of Wei Ying’s door, he wonders if it’s too late to back out. He could do it. He could text Wei Ying and tell him something came up at work and he won’t be able to make it, how sad, how tragic, let’s not speak of this incident ever again.

Yes, that’s the best course of action, he thinks as he turns around.

Wei Ying opens his door.

“Lan Zhan!”

Ah.

Wei Ying is there, beautiful and grinning, more well-dressed than at any other point of their acquaintance, his gray eyes sparkling with joy and he never really stood a chance to resist, did he?

“Lan Zhan, I wasn’t sure when you were coming, haha! Come in, come in.”

Lan Zhan swallows down his anxiety and presents Wei Ying with the bottle of Emperor’s Smile and the dark chocolate he brought. The other’s eyes dance with mirth.

“Lan Zhan, thank you! How did you know these chocolates are my favorite?”

The corner of Lan Zhan’s mouth twitches up, inevitably, a ‘secret’ confession in the hallway of that very house playing in his mind.

“Lucky guess.”

They sit together at the table, Lan Zhan’s reluctance slowly changing into ease. He has sat on this table so many times now, he knows this house and he knows this amazing man in front of him. Even if nothing comes out of tonight, he will still be happy to have shared this moment with the man he fell for.

By now, after so many dinners in this place, he has build up enough of a spice tolerance to Wei Ying’s dishes, to the point where his throat doesn’t even complain in agony. Instead, the stir-fried vegetables soaked in chilli and other spices leave him warm and loose, limbs relaxing on the seat.

Wei Ying smiles at him from around his fork. He has yellow fairy lights hanging around the kitchen in an imitation of candlelight and they make his eyes twinkle charmingly, almost as if they could put Lan Zhan under a spell.

That can be the only explanation for how boldly he puts his feet next to Wei Ying’s ankle, brushing lightly upwards.

The second he does it, he freezes. Is this too far? He risks a glance at the other man, who did not seem to even notice anything unusual.

Huh. He should be glad his possibly adolescent move was mercifully ignored, but he can't help the small twinge of disappointment.

Stupid, he calls himself, and goes back to eating his food.

It takes no more than ten seconds for Wei Ying's knee to slide between his.

He chokes on his bite and looks up only to see Wei Ying calmly drinking his water.

“Wei Ying.” He says, embarrassed and elated, not even sure of what he means to say. He doesn’t know if he wants Wei Ying to stop so he can keep his calm or if he wants Wei Ying to thoroughly dismantle said calm completely.

Wei Ying puts his elbow on the table and leans on his hand, tilting his neck in a tantalizing way, “Hm? What is it, Lan Zhan? Something not to your taste?”

This is flirting. They are flirting.

Lan Zhan takes in a deep breath and locks his gaze on Wei Ying, intense and without falter.

“Everything at the table looks delicious.” He says, low and thick.

He takes very important notice of the way Wei Ying’s throat bobs up and down and the blush that climbs up his cheeks. Lan Zhan's lips quirk with amusement almost as reflex. Wei Ying huffs and throws a napkin in his direction.

“Lan Zhan, you won this time around. When did you learn to be smooth?”

“I’ve had a bad influence lately.” He says.

“Ah!” Wei Ying nods dramatically, “I see, I see! Of course you couldn’t be talking about me, I am a responsible adult after all.”

Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow. Very deliberately, he goes back to eating.

“Hey!” Wei Ying pouts, tapping their knees playfully, “I have a son, you know?”

That is true.”

They continue their silly banter over the table and the languid, shy but sure brushes of their legs under it, knees pressed closely together shooting sparks up Lan Zhan’s spine. His heart is so full it could burst.

When the food is finished, Wei Ying waves him towards the couch, while he puts the dishes in the sink. Lan Zhan almost refuses, not wanting Wei Ying to do all the work of cleaning up, but Wei Ying only motions to join him in the couch instead, popping the Emperor’s Smile bottle open and serving a generous glass.

They sit side by side, Wei Ying tilted towards him, propping his arm on the back of the couch. It’s a stance open and attractive and Lan Zhan’s hand clench where they’re fisted on his thighs.

“Lan Zhan…” Wei Ying whines, “Are you really going to let me enjoy this good wine all by myself?”

“You know I don’t drink.” He says.

“Yeah, but not why.” Wei Ying sips, eyes not leaving him for one second. His legs are spread open and his finger brush the texture of the couch and Lan Zhan feels like he might have a fever.

“My alcohol tolerance is not very high.”

“But you can get drunk if you want to.” Wei Ying shrugs, “I don’t mind. I’ll even take care of you.” He winks, teasing.

Lan Zhan shakes his head, “I wish to remember this night with you.”

As soon as the words leave his mouth, Lan Zhan realizes just how flirtatious they are. Much more so than how they sounded in his head, and although he wouldn’t have said them out loud if he had realized in time, he won’t take it back, for it is the truth.

He expects Wei Ying to laugh awkwardly and maybe tease with something shameless, but instead he asks, a little breathless, a little faint:

“Are you expecting something special to happen tonight?”

Lan Zhan inhales. He takes in the way Wei Ying is blushing, is staring at him with hooded eyes and how the question did not sound reprimanding. How it sounded like an invitation.

“If Wei Ying also wishes it to.” He says, definitive.

Wei Ying puts his wine glass in the table and in the momentum of it, leans in Lan Zhan’s direction, getting closer and closer, almost in a crawl and Lan Zhan’s mouth is dry and his head unhelpfully provides that he’d love to sate his thirst with Wei Ying instead.

“Lan Zhan, don’t say things I’ll misunderstand.” He says when they’re almost face to face.

“There is no misunderstanding.”

In one smooth move, Wei Ying throws one of his legs around his, settling on his lap and arching so their chests are touching. It’s teasing as everything Wei Ying does, tempting yet bold in its decisiveness.

Immediately, Lan Zhan’s hands come up to rest around his waist, rubbing feeble, tiny circles there. Not taking the opportunity to pull Wei Ying even closer when it is presented so deliciously to him feels like a crime.

“Shall I give you a reason to remember tonight, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying says, lips brushing his jaw.

“Please.” Lan Zhan answers, closing his eyes.

He feels more than sees Wei Ying’s shiver and then their lips are crashing, hot and messy.

Wei Ying’s mouth is heavenly as it gasps into his, pressing and insistent and unrelenting in its pursue of his lips. The slide of their tongues is scorching and makes Lan Zhan’s mind hazy with want. Wei Ying’s hands are cradling the back of his head, tugging his hair so he can pull Lan Zhan backwards, can sink into him with teeth and sweetened moans.

His hands slide under Wei Ying’s shirt, feeling the bumps of his spine with wandering fingers and then splaying in the warm skin between the shoulder blades, pulling him so there's not an inch of space separating them.

“Lan Zhan…” Wei Ying moans, having enough mercy on his mouth to descend on his jawline, his neck, grinding his hips down.

It’s thoroughly disarming, to finally have Wei Ying after months of burying his desire deep inside and hoping it won’t show through the cracks, but also so perfect. As if this is how it was always meant to end, with Wei Ying in his lap, pliant and demanding as Lan Zhan loves him with all his being. He loves Wei Ying, so much.

Lan Zhan stares at the ceiling, head tilted under Wei Ying’s explorations. He can’t let this go any further without telling Wei Ying his feelings. He can’t let Wei Ying believe this is casual, that this will not change Lan Zhan forever, ruin him for anything else that doesn’t involve Wei Ying in his life.

As amazing as it is to have Wei Ying’s mouth finding paths in his skin, he pushes the other off slowly by the shoulders.

Wei Ying blinks at him, confused and panting.

“Lan Zhan?”

“Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan says, meeting Wei Ying’s eyes firmly, “There’s something you need to know.”

“What, can’t it wait?” He whines.

Lan Zhan smiles, tucking a lock of Wei Ying’s hair behind his ear.

“I’m in love with you.”

Wei Ying freezes.

“I’ve been in love with you.” He huffs a soft laugh. What an understatement, “I’ve been wanting to sleep by your side and be the first person you see in the mornings. Be there for you when you need me and when you don’t. Kiss you good morning and goodbye and kiss you without needing any reason at all. All of these, I’ve wanted for too long now and I’ve never wanted anything more.”

Wei Ying gapes, his mouth opening and closing like a fish. Tears well up in his eyes and Lan Zhan’s breath catches in his lungs. He holds Wei Ying’s cheeks and brushes his thumb on the bridge of his nose.

“I love you. I want to be with you. If I’ve misunderstood, I apologize.”

“No!” Wei Ying screams, seemingly falling out of his trance. He leans forward to plant kisses on Lan Zhan’s face, all over his cheeks, his mouth, his chin, “Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, you’re so good, how could I not fall for you the second I saw you?!”

The way his heart has beaten in Wei Ying’s company all these months feels insignificant in comparison to the way it beats now.

He thought it impossible for Wei Ying to be able to make him happier, and yet here he is, achieving the impossible with just his words.

Lan Zhan smiles, hugging the man on top of him properly but then Wei Ying’s smile dims and his expression becomes serious. He grabs Lan Zhan’s face and looks at him intensely.

“Lan Zhan, I want all of that too. So much. I love you so much.” He takes in a deep breath, “But you need to be sure. This isn’t something you can decide on a whim, okay? You-- You’ll really become A-yuan’s second dad, no jokes. That’s full-time, you know? You need to be absolutely certain. Once I tell A-yuan, it’s definitive. He won’t be able to take it if you try it out and then realize this isn’t what you want. And…” Wei Ying bites his lips, looking down in a rare display of vulnerability, “I won’t be able to take it either.”

Lan Zhan could almost laugh if Wei Ying was not looking so uncharacteristically insecure. He’s pretty sure he had a trial-period longer than any other dad in existence.

A loud guitar ringtone interrupts them and Wei Ying groans into his shoulder. He takes a glance at the phone’s screen and then frowns.

“It’s A-zhen’s mom.” He says apologetically and then picks up the call.

Lan Zhan watches him have a half conversation and takes that time to cool off some of the heat still simmering inside his skin. Apparently, A-zhen’s mother had some family complications with a relative and she wouldn’t be able to look over A-yuan during the night.

“I’ll go with you.” Lan Zhan says when Wei Ying tells him he’ll pick A-yuan up, already putting on his coat.

The car ride has an unnamed tension hanging over their heads. Lan Zhan wants to address the worries Wei Ying expressed over his confession already, but not while they have to pick up A-yuan and can’t count on not being interrupted again.

When the door opens and a sleepy A-yuan sees both Wei Ying and Lan Zhan there, he makes the biggest gasp and covers his mouth with tiny hands, eyes impossibly wide and filling with happiness.

The entire way home he spends humming a song and when they open the door to Wei Ying’s apartment, he plasters himself on Lan Zhan’s leg, tugging his pants and looking up with an immeasurable amount of hope.

“If you had date, does it mean A-die will stay with us now?”

“A-yuan…” Wei Ying whispers.

Lan Zhan looks from Wei Ying’s shifting eyes to A-yuan’s chubby hands fisted on his thigh.

Well. Considering who really made all of this possible, it seems only fair he’ll be the first to know.

Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying again, an unstated promise and kneels in front of A-yuan.

“Yes.” He says, watching his eyes become even bigger, “Your a-die will stay with you from now on.”

Lan Zhan smiles and A-yuan cheers loudly, smile wide and toothy.

Right now, in the dimly-lit corridor of Wei Ying’s apartment, finally having made his love clear and open, he feels the same as when he first met A-yuan, this simple and endearing boy who accidentally stumbled into Lan Zhan’s heart without meaning to. He feels the same as when he saw the father of the lost boy, rumpled with his hair in disarray, yet the brightest person in the entire park.

He feels exactly the same: like he found something precious. And he will make sure to never let go of it.

A-yuan turns around to shake Wei Ying’s leg, “Baba! Baba, I’m gonna have two dads!” He screams, showing two fingers.

Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan again and kneels as well, softly kissing the crown of A-yuan’s head. “Yes, you are. You’ll be the coolest kid in school, I bet.”

Lan Zhan huffs and pulls Wei Ying closer by the waist, kissing his lips in a tender, chaste peck. A-yuan starts giggling, covering his mouth with his hands while his cheeks turn pink.

“What?” Wei Ying laughs, “What is it, Radish?”

“Date and kiss, now what’s missing is getting married!”

Wei Ying gapes and then hides his reddening face in his hands, “Oh my god, child.”

“A-yuan is correct.” Lan Zhan says simply.

“Lan Zhan! You can’t just say that, please think of my heart! You need to warn me first!”

“Hm. I promise to do so when I propose.”

“Lan Zhan!!”

-:-

The door closes neatly behind him and the shopping bags crinkle as Lan Zhan shakes the chill of the wind from his clothes. A-yuan’s 6th birthday party is tomorrow and they ran out of sugar to finish the snacks preparation. Nothing a quick run to the supermarket wouldn’t solve, and Lan Zhan made sure to come back fast so he could continue to help.

He heaves out a sigh and makes for the kitchen, only to freeze at the door.

He left for ten minutes. Fifteen at most. He could swear that when he left most of the flour was still inside its package instead of plastered all around the room’s walls. It looks like a fight between the bag of chocolate sprinkles and the chantilly can took place and is that… Is that cake dough stuck on the microwave door?

In the center of all this madness stands Wei Ying, kneading and rolling a laughing A-yuan on top of the island counter. Both of them are covered in flour.

“Ai, I need to knead this mantou, this mantou is still too soft!” Wei Ying sings playfully, his hands on A-yuan’s squishy tummy. A-yuan laughs and then calls out ‘Again! Again!’

It’s clear they’re not getting anything accomplished whatsoever. Lan Zhan is so happy, it’s unbelievable.

The two menaces stop when they see him watching from the doorway, both freezing with equally guilty looks. Lan Zhan fights the smile threatening to rise on his face.

“A-ah, Lan Zhan. I swear we were going to continue making the food in a second.” Wei Ying glances briefly around them, as if looking too obviously will make the mess more evident, “And, um, we were going to clean too, of course, haha.”

Lan Zhan walks towards him, serious and stern. A-yuan and Wei Ying continue to look with wide eyes, visibly holding their breath. Lan Zhan stops at the side of the counter and…

Pokes A-yuan’s tummy.

“Wei Ying, the mantou seems good to eat.”

Wei Ying blinks and then smiles mischievously, “Oh really? Then I’ll just have a big bite!” He takes A-yuan’s squirming hand and pretends to chomp on the chubby arm.

A-yuan shrieks and then laughs, kicking his feet against the assault of tickling. Wei Ying takes the chance to blow a raspberry in a-yuan’s neck. And Lan Zhan places a hand on Wei Ying’s waist, engagement ring glinting under the light.