Really, Lan Zhan should have known, much earlier in the day, that the evening would be a disaster.
It had started when Mianmian had dropped a “🍣?” in the group chat earlier that afternoon, after their midday classes, to which Wei Ying had responded “😛” and the chopsticks emoji, Wen Qing had answered “👍”, and Lan Zhan had not replied at all, because he never consented to a group chat in the first place. Wei Ying had messaged him separately three times to make sure that he was coming.
This is how Lan Zhan finds himself in a burnt-orange booth in Wei Ying’s favorite sushi restaurant, seated across from Mianmian — just the two of them, at the moment. The faux-leather splits open in a wide seam down the middle of the seat, foam stuffing poking out of the upholstery. Well-loved, as Wei Ying would say. Condensation beads on Lan Zhan’s glass of water as he tap, tap, taps his fingers against it, waiting for Wei Ying to return.
Lan Zhan doesn’t like many people and is indifferent to far more, but he does like Mianmian. Mostly due to a specific instance from the previous year, in one of their ethics classes. One of the professors had torn into Wei Ying during lecture, an undeserved dressing-down of his precocious (and unerringly brilliant) input to class discussion. Professors were often threatened by Wei Ying, by his intellect, his unflinching and earnest attempts to engage with class materials from all possible angles, which usually involved taking an opposite stance from the perspective being provided. To put it more simply, Wei Ying was smarter than most of his teachers, and wasn’t exactly shy about hiding it, even if he did so in a way that was totally free of contempt or ego. Lan Zhan, too, had first mistaken this incessant class participation for arrogance, but it had taken him a very short span of time to realize that Wei Ying’s investment was simple, curious passion — a surprisingly erudite proclivity for engaging with dense subject matter, masked behind bright, dancing smiles and quick words.
At this particular scolding, Wei Ying had sat quietly at his desk, his face smooth and empty, and taken the criticism without blinking. With sort of a grim, well-practiced resignation, like this was far from the first time he’d been berated for such a thing. Lan Zhan had never known Wei Ying to meet authority with silence rather than a spirited debate or a flurry of shameless backtalk, so the sight had been unsettling. Painful to witness.
Mianmian, flushed in the face, had stood up from her seat and thrown back an itemized list of the professor’s faults, beginning with his classist biases and concluding with his punitive disdain toward any form of academia that wasn’t purely traditional. Then she’d stormed out and dropped the class.
So yes, Lan Zhan likes Mianmian.
Even so, it’s been quite some time since Wei Ying and Wen Qing vanished to the bathrooms, leaving just him and Mianmian in silence at the table over the half-eaten remnants of their sushi rolls and edamame. Wei Ying had been a little flushed with liquor earlier, his words sort of soupy as he’d listed into Lan Zhan’s side. He’d also started hiccuping, which Lan Zhan finds is usually the telltale sign he’s partaken too much.
It’s very possible Wei Ying had gotten sick, and that’s what is holding the two of them up. It wouldn’t be the first time Wei Ying has thrown up from overindulging in alcohol, and the thought of it propels Lan Zhan out of the booth with a polite word to Mianmian. He heads toward the restroom.
He’s mostly expecting to find Wei Ying kneeling over a toilet, so his steps pause just outside the bathroom when he hears, suddenly, the ringing echo of Wei Ying’s voice. He still sounds a little drunk, but certainly not sick.
“ — here goes.” A deep breath. “Okay. God. I like you so much. Like, I think about you all the time, even when we’re not together.”
Lan Zhan’s heart sinks like a heavy stone through water, settling somewhere at the bottom of his chest.
“I know I flirt around a lot, with a lot of people,” Wei Ying continues. “But it doesn’t — it never meant anything, not really, until I met you.”
“Promising start,” Wen Qing’s voice says — wry, maybe a little sarcastic.
When Lan Zhan was six years old, his older brother had tried to teach him how to ride a bike without training wheels, and on his first try, he’d gone sprawling to the hot asphalt, a gritty sting of his palms and the wind knocked out of his lungs. He feels that now — like he’s been tumbled by something external and his breath is gone.
Lan Zhan shouldn’t be listening to this. To Wei Ying...confess feelings for someone else. But the suddenness of the hit-pavement feeling is immobilizing; his feet remain rooted to the spot.
“Ugh,” Wei Ying groans out, a rippling echo along the bathroom walls. It sounds like his face is muffled into his hands. “This is so stupid. I sound so stupid. I’m giving up.”
Wen Qing sighs deeply, a martyred note to it. “You should keep going. I mean, you already have me pinned here against my will, right? It’s kind of like watching a train crash in slow motion. Like, I don’t want to look at it, but I also can’t look away. So keep going.”
“Wen Qing,” Wei Ying moans. “You’re so mean to me. I’m trying to confess my deepest feelings here.”
Lan Zhan’s heart clenches painfully, like a closed fist around a blade. He had never...it’s not like he had ever thought Wei Ying liked him that way. Lan Zhan had never imagined that Wei Ying would or could, so it shouldn’t hurt as acutely as it does to hear him say these things to another person. But it does hurt. Down to the marrow, a bodily ache.
He hears Wei Ying take a steadying breath before he begins again. “I know I’m probably the last person you would want saying this to you, because I’m — I know I’ve annoyed you from the very beginning. I think I annoy most people, but I think I might annoy you...the least?”
Wen Qing’s answering sigh is now distinctly pained. “You’re making a mess of this.”
In the midst of his nausea and general despair, Lan Zhan experiences a flare of indignation that Wen Qing could be so dismissive, so cavalier toward Wei Ying’s confession, when he is clearly agonizing over articulating it.
“I know, I know,” Wei Ying says miserably, “I’m a living dumpster fire, and I should have stopped myself before the third shot of sake, but here we are, so by God, I’m sticking it out.”
He hiccups, a wet, hitched sound, then swears.
“Wei Ying,” Wen Qing says, her voice soft. It sounds like she might say something kind, or encouraging. There’s the sound of fabric brushing together, like she’s settled a placating hand on Wei Ying’s shoulder.
In that same gentle tone of voice, she says, “This is really, really sad of you.”
“Shut up, I know.” A heightened rustle and a grunt, maybe Wei Ying smacking Wen Qing’s hand away. “I just don’t know...what to do with feelings like this. It’s all I can think about, all the time, which also makes me horny all the time, but horny in a sad, existential way.” His pause is philosophical. “Like I’m horny in my heart.”
“Is this part of the confession?”
“Aiyooo, Wen Qing. I’m trying.”
“So try! Stop deflecting and say it directly, Wei Ying.”
“Fine, fine.” Another hush of cloth resituating itself, then Wei Ying clears his throat. Lan Zhan still feels tight and achy all over, a sour taste coating the roof of his mouth. He shouldn’t be here for this, he should leave —
“I would like to do all the things with you,” Wei Ying continues to Wen Qing, oddly formal. “I think about going down on you like, all the time.”
Lan Zhan inhales through his nose, too sharply, too loud. Heat itches in his cheeks, to hear Wei Ying speak in such a way.
“Ugh,” Wen Qing snaps back, and there’s another sound; a thud against the wall, like she’s recoiled into it. Or it’s possible she had thumped Wei Ying. “Information I absolutely do not need, thank you very little.”
Even if Wei Ying’s advances aren’t...welcome, Lan Zhan finds that Wen Qing’s near-callous apathy is offensive to him on a deeply personal level. He has nothing against Wen Qing, of course — he likes her almost as much as he does Mianmian, or at the very least has a healthy, near-fearful respect for her. The point is that if Wei Ying ever said to him, by even the barest fraction, what he has so far to Wen Qing, Lan Zhan would immediately draft a text to Lan Huan to inform him of the details of his standing will.
“Wen Qing,” Wei Ying says in this hitched little voice — muffled again. “I don’t know what to do about this. Can’t you just kill me and put me out of my misery instead?”
“Wei Ying.” Wen Qing has slipped into her medically trained tones, directive and almost stern. “I think you’ve had a little too much. Alright? Why don’t you run this by me when you’re not about to fall over? Besides, we’ve kept Lan Zhan and Mianmian waiting for us all this time.”
Lan Zhan startles at the sound of his name, jarred out of his stupor, and he slips away before he can be discovered. He walks back to the table, unseeing, and Mianmian frowns at his approach, maybe due to whatever expression he’s wearing, and she opens her mouth as if to ask a question.
Without another word to her, Lan Zhan settles his and Wei Ying’s bill and leaves the restaurant.
In the hours directly after, Wei Ying tries to call him three times, and messages him on WeChat several more. The texts start with, hey where did you go?? followed by is everything ok??? then derail into lan zhan!!!!!! answer !!!!
It’s really not fair to Wei Ying to leave his messages and calls ignored, Lan Zhan knows this rationally, and it’s not at all what Wei Ying deserves for having done nothing wrong, but he just. Needs some space to disentangle, needs to shut all of his nerves off into numbness. Try as he might, he can’t unhear what was said to Wen Qing — the desperate, yearning ache of it. He now knows what Wei Ying sounds like when he’s in love, and he wishes he did not. It wasn’t meant for him to know, anyway.
He turns off his phone, slips into bed, and drops off into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, when his phone blinks back to life, he has six messages waiting from Wei Ying, five from last night and one from this morning:
are you mad at me?
i’m sorry if i did something
can you please let me know you’re ok?
*worried about you
i’ll leave you alone, i’m sorry
Lan Zhan tries to breathe around the sudden, sharp ache in his chest, a slow-expanding oil spill.
After a few moments of deliberation, he types back:
I am okay. No need to worry. Was tired so headed out early. Not mad at you.
He hits send. Then he lies back, his head propped against his headboard, and tracks the inching progress of the morning sun. Rose warming to gold, tracing new paths in the geography of the ceiling plaster.
A year and a half ago, Lan Zhan had met Wei Ying in a study group for one of their shared courses. He had, at once, decided in little to no uncertain terms that he was the most insufferable person he’d ever had the misfortune to meet.
It had taken three more days of this strange boy earnestly insinuating himself into his space — with absolutely no reason or explanation that Lan Zhan could see — for Lan Zhan to realize, begrudgingly, that Wei Ying was infuriatingly charming, well on the way to endearing, and also possibly the most beautiful person on earth.
It had taken until the end of the week for Lan Zhan to realize his fixated, obsessive dislike was actually a raging crush, the likes of which he had never experienced.
With motives that Lan Zhan had not understood even a little, Wei Ying was also intent on spending time with him, despite Lan Zhan’s stiff attitude, his awkward, terse attempts at conversation. Wei Ying’s attention, which often teased but had never once felt like mockery, made the whole situation much, much worse.
Lan Zhan was used to being alone, alienated from others, and that state of existence had long been comfortable, almost safe. Wei Ying had been the first person who made him feel a desire to be understood by another person. The first who had ever made that seem possible.
Over the course of only a few months, as he and Wei Ying started to spend time together outside of strictly school environments, his older brother had picked up on this development over their weekly family dinners. Lan Zhan knew he had because anytime he haltingly mentioned Wei Ying, Lan Huan’s eyes curved into a small, knowing smile, and each time, he had asked, in a kindly neutral tone of voice, “And how is Wei Ying this week?”
It was humiliating. It was absolutely debasing. And intoxicating, and riveting, and completely and utterly consuming.
A crush would be one matter. A crush could be easily dealt with, dismissed out of hand as frivolous and temporary, an errant flux of hormones.
But one day, not far from the beginning, Wei Ying had shown up to their music theory class with two cups of tea, the thin white strings fluttering with the speed of his arrival, and when Lan Zhan had looked up at him from his notes with open confusion, Wei Ying had said, with a hoodie string caught in his mouth, “Hot jasmine tea, no sugar, right? I saw you make it that way in the break room last week, and I know how early you get up, so I thought that maybe —” and Lan Zhan had fallen in love with him on the spot, and not in any way that could be done away with, but in one that made Lan Zhan realize there would just be this person, for the rest of his life, and no one else.
Lan Zhan does not avoid Wei Ying for the next two weeks, because that would be a childish and emotionally inept way of handling this situation. But he does pull back, lapsing more and more into silence, answering Wei Ying’s texts shortly but not curtly. He is actually, in truth, busy; final exams and recitals for the semester are looming on the horizon, so he clings to his studies and his cello practice as an excuse when Wei Ying demands, with increasing fervor, why he’s being ignored.
And then one day, after about a week, Wei Ying stops, drops off on his messages to one or two a day, just to check in. It hurts, but the space is something that Lan Zhan appreciates, that he needs, even though he misses Wei Ying with a dizzying force.
Lan Zhan needs Wei Ying in his life, in whatever capacity that he’s allowed to have him, so he will come to accept Wei Ying’s relationship with Wen Qing. In time. He just needs some time. Then he can act smoothed-over and unaffected, and everything will return to normal. Well, not normal, but. Acceptable.
Lan Huan stops asking about Wei Ying over dinner as well, and a faint worry-line starts to notch between his eyebrows during the duration of their (mostly silent) meals, but he knows better than to ask, and Lan Zhan doesn’t mention him.
On a Tuesday night, at 8:30, Lan Zhan begins his regular nightly rituals. He changes into sleep-clothes, a loose-fitting T-shirt and worn sweatpants. Fills the rabbits’ food bowl with hard, green pellets, tops off their bottle, gives each one a slow stroke on their soft heads. Puts water on for the kettle. Rain taps insistently on the windows, punctuated by the occasional flicker of lightning or shudder of thunder.
Lan Zhan’s apartment is nice, for his lifestyle. Quiet. Clean, bordering on austere. Minimal, one sofa and a small, organized bookshelf, a modestly sized kitchen. A music stand in the corner of the living room, neatly stacked sheet music, his cello packed up against the wall. Large ceiling-to-floor windows, dark wood flooring, white marble counters flecked with gray. Wei Ying had first come over nearly a year and a half ago, taken one look at the backsplash, and blurted out, “Are you rich or something?” before he’d spent the next ten minutes apologizing for being rude, interspersed with, “I mean, in my defense, look at this place.”
Usually, Wei Ying is over at least a few times a week. By contrast, Lan Zhan hasn’t once visited the cramped, ground-floor apartment that Wei Ying shares with his adopted brother Jiang Cheng. Wei Ying hasn’t offered, and Lan Zhan hasn’t pried. He hasn’t received any impression that Wei Ying is embarrassed of his living situation; more a tacit assumption on Wei Ying’s part that Lan Zhan would rather be in his own space, and an honoring of that preference. (Which, granted, Lan Zhan does like his own space. But he would go anywhere Wei Ying wanted him to.) Regardless, Wei Ying does not ask him over, and Lan Zhan is too polite to solicit an invitation, so they spend their shared time at Lan Zhan’s place.
It’s been so noiseless here without him these past few weeks, just the occasional shuffling of rabbit paws on straw and the high whistle of a kettle coming to boil.
Lan Zhan used to revel in stillness, in the peace of aloneness, in the order of his solitary rituals. Lofted high above the aggravating humdrum of city life, his apartment a secluded recess. Recently, without Wei Ying, he’s come to resent it, all of it.
His phone buzzes in the pocket of his sweatpants — first once, then twice, five times. Lan Zhan frowns and fishes it out, blinking down at the screen.
what are you doing
what if i was knifed in the subway and i needed you
Are you hurt??
no im fine
Lan Zhan’s thumb rubs over his screen, the blinking cursor of a blank text bubble staring back at him.
Green pops on his screen again, a new burst of text.
think im gonna leave
Lan Zhan hits the call button and raises the phone to his cheek, the ring-tone jangling in his ear.
Wei Ying picks up right away. “Wow! I can’t believe that worked.”
“Where are you going?” Lan Zhan demands. “You’ve been drinking.”
“Where do you think I’m going?” A prolonged pause. “...actually, uhh, hang on.” There’s a crackling sound, a snatch of conversation with an unfamiliar voice in the background that Lan Zhan can’t decipher. Then Wei Ying’s voice is in his ear again. “Okay, I asked the driver where I’m going. He said your address, so I must’ve given it to him already. Haha!”
Lan Zhan sighs, clenches his eyes shut, pinches the bridge of his nose.
He always wants to see Wei Ying. Lately moreso than ever, wilting in the absence of him like a plant stripped from photosynthesis. But he’s still unequipped for a conversation with him, especially with alcohol involved. Wei Ying will demand to know why he has been so distant, as he has the full right to, and then Lan Zhan will have to provide an explanation. He will either have to lie (bad) or tell the truth (worse).
“Unless you don’t want me to,” Wei Ying says, so soft, almost sleepy. A muffled sound patches over the receiver. Lan Zhan imagines Wei Ying shifting his cheek against the car window, and feels a helpless pang of...something.
“I’ll turn around if you don’t want me there, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying continues. Muzzy, his words liquor-tangled. “Tell me now. Please. I just — I really wanted — I don’t want to be alone right now.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, quietly. It feels like it’s been so long since he’s said the name out loud, those syllables that he hoards selfishly like something precious. “I will be here.”
Not long after they hang up, Wei Ying’s loud bangs on the door startle the rabbits. Lan Zhan crosses to let him in, and Wei Ying, who had been leaning forward against the door, sways forward with the motion, almost crashing into Lan Zhan’s chest.
“Oh,” Wei Ying huffs out, and blinks up at him. “Hi.”
“Hello,” Lan Zhan says, and looks at him, just for the immediate comfort of looking, the relief of it. It’s been almost three weeks since he’s seen Wei Ying — since that night at the restaurant. Lan Zhan has spent most of his recent time holed up in his apartment, studying and practicing, and given he and Wei Ying have no shared classes this semester*, they haven’t seen each other on campus.
Wei Ying is as beautiful as ever, lilting in his doorway, but he seems tired. Sickle-shaped hollows under his eyes, his usual sunlit smile dimmed into something crepuscular. The rain must be coming down quite heavily outside the building, because there’s water dripping off the ends of Wei Ying’s dark hair, his favorite hoodie and his black jeans soaked.
“Is it okay that I’m here?” Wei Ying asks, blinking at him through wet lashes. His shoulders are hunched, as uncomfortable with the wet as a drenched cat. “I know it’s late for you, and I don’t want to — hic — impose.”
Lan Zhan’s palms itch. He wants to touch. Instead, he steps aside and offers, “Come in,” and Wei Ying brushes past him with a shuddering exhale, then bends over to unlace his high-tops.
“Oh, my favorite bunnies!” he says once his shoes are off, already sounding brighter than a moment ago as he beelines for the rabbit pen. “Lan Zhan, have you named these cuties yet? It’s disrespectful to them to keep them nameless, you know. Think what their mother would say!”
“I have not,” Lan Zhan replies, closing the door and latching it. “Wei Ying said he wanted to give them names.”
“I did say that, didn’t I? Hmm.” Wei Ying bunches up his hoodie sleeves to open the cage, to reach in and pet the rabbits’ heads, so, so gently — so at odds with his usual scrambling, near-aggressive vigor — and Lan Zhan’s heart does that strange twist again, a twang where there should be stillness.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, softening his voice so that his tone can’t be construed as judgmental. “Why are you drinking on a Tuesday?”
“Oh,” Wei Ying says, and shuts the rabbit pen. “Ah, mmm, stress, probably.” He grapples for the hem of his drenched hoodie and pulls upward, peeling off the outer layer and leaving a bleach-stained T-shirt underneath. Lan Zhan looks away, the golden strip of skin on Wei Ying’s bare waist searing itself into his brain.
“Final exams?” he asks, still looking away, sidelong toward the dark window.
“I’m not worried about finals,” Wei Ying says, oddly deliberate. An answer without answering — Wei Ying excels at that.
“Then,” Lan Zhan says.
Silence between them, rain slashing sideways on the large windows.
“Here, why don’t you sit,” Wei Ying says, and hiccups again. “You can even sleep if you want, I don’t care, I just — wanted to see you.”
Lan Zhan...very carefully does not feel any particular way about that. He picks up the emotion by the scruff and places it neatly in a locked hutch somewhere in the back of his mind.
“How are you?” Lan Zhan asks instead, and moves to sit on the couch. The living room is somewhat dim, illuminated only by the single light in the kitchen, and Wei Ying moves toward him in the blue half-dark, the city lights a constellation behind him.
“Uh,” Wei Ying says, “I mean. Fine! I guess. Like, physically, I’m intact. Look, I — can I just say something really quickly, and then you can kick me out? I just feel like I really should say it before I chicken out or before I — get too sober, or I forget the script.”
Lan Zhan inhales, silent but quick. The dreaded conversation. His pulse starts to hammer even as he murmurs, “I would never kick you out.”
Wei Ying chews at the pad of his thumb and doesn’t answer that. Once again, Lan Zhan is struck by how tired he seems, ragged at the edges, still slightly aflush with liquor.
Wei Ying takes a deep breath, and then starts to pace.
“I know you — you don’t want me in your life anymore and that’s okay, that’s really fine and I totally understand, like, I get it, all I do is annoy you. I just wanted to say that I’m…” Wei Ying steels himself with a quick breath, then plants his feet and looks Lan Zhan in the eye. “I’m really, really sorry for whatever I did.”
Lan Zhan stares back at him, stricken speechless.
“Wei Ying,” he says. He doesn’t even know where to begin refuting that, every wrong word of it.
“And I think I know why you’re upset with me.” Wei Ying starts up again with wearing a hole into the floor, his black socks a blur against Lan Zhan’s white shag rug. “So I just wanted to get it all out in the open to apologize.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan tries again. He’s still steadfastly stuck to the first point — all of Wei Ying’s misjudged assumptions, so far from the truth.
“It’s just that — I like you,” Wei Ying says. Still not looking at Lan Zhan. “Like, I like you a lot.”
An unconscious echo of overheard words, stolen, not intended for him. Lan Zhan swallows, tries to ignore the stinging sensation in his chest.
“You don’t have to say this to me,” he says quietly. “Wei Ying, I am not upset with you. I never was.”
Wei Ying stumbles as he continues to pace, a little trip over his feet that reminds Lan Zhan that, despite his coherence, Wei Ying is still considerably intoxicated.
“Like, I think about you so much,” Wei Ying says, delivered to the rug as though Lan Zhan hadn’t spoken. “You really are the complete best.”
Is Wei Ying telling Lan Zhan what he thinks he wants to hear? To...keep his friendship? Abruptly, Lan Zhan feels awful to the point of nausea. For making Wei Ying feel this way, for making him feel as if he has to —
At once, he understands.
“Oh,” Lan Zhan says, his voice blank. He stares at Wei Ying, who has paused in his steps to look back at him with a grim twist to his mouth. Bracing for something. “You are hurt.”
Wei Ying’s texting cadence suddenly makes sense; his stumbled, apologetic words in his open doorway.
Wei Ying blinks twice back at him, then scrapes up sort of a humorless little laugh and says, “Well, I mean, yeah, but — Lan Zhan, it’s not your fault. Like, I don’t blame you at all. That’s not what I’m trying to say here —”
“It is,” Lan Zhan interrupts him, firm. “My fault. I made you feel as if my friendship to you was conditional. I am...so sorry, Wei Ying.”
“Friendship,” Wei Ying echoes, sounding oddly hollowed-out. His shoulders are a downward slump, his black shag of hair starting to curl from the damp. “Yeah, that’s. Okay.”
He rakes his fingers through his hair and tips his chin back into his hands. The column of his throat is so long, a distinct architecture. The ache in Lan Zhan’s chest spreads, a dull throb.
“Fuck, I’m too drunk for this,” Wei Ying mumbles, his face eclipsed from view. “This is so...stupid. What am I doing here.”
“I want you here,” Lan Zhan says, gently. “Sit, Wei Ying.” He clears off the afghan blanket draped over the cushion to offer Wei Ying a spot beside him.
Wei Ying hiccups a small sigh then stumbles over to him, sinks into the stiff cushion and pulls the fluffy blanket around himself so that he’s swaddled within it.
“I’m sorry,” Wei Ying says. In profile, his eyes closed, his lashes dark crescents that glance off his cheeks.
“It is I who should apologize,” Lan Zhan responds. How can he explain his strange behavior these past few weeks, without giving everything of himself away? His throat works around the words, but Wei Ying beats him to it.
“I tried to say it already.” Wei Ying looks down at his lap, chin to chest, the blanket nested around all of his limbs. “So I get points for trying, or whatever. I think you’re just trying to be nice, because you’re Lan Zhan, but you — you know what I’m trying to tell you, right?”
He turns to look at Lan Zhan with wide, wet eyes, something naked and pleading rent open in his expression. “Please tell me you understand, because it’s — I have a really hard time saying it.”
Lan Zhan understands. Wei Ying needs him in his life, but doesn’t know how to ask him for it. It was Lan Zhan’s mistake for ever making him believe that he wouldn’t be. Seeing Wei Ying hurt, knowing he’d caused it, is a physical knot of tension in his chest, something that pinches to breathe around.
“I do,” he says, as gently as he possibly can, and Wei Ying gives this...strange, defeated little nod, closing his eyes again and tucking his chin to his chest.
“Yeah. Okay. Cool. Thought so.” He exhales shakily, a wet sound. “God, wow, this sucks.”
Lan Zhan can’t shake the oddness of imbalance, some seesaw sensation that they’re having two entirely separate conversations. He feels as though he’s the drunk one.
“I thought the alcohol would make it easier, but I kind of just want to…” Wei Ying squeezes his eyes shut, his bottom lip wobbling. Lan Zhan wants to hug him, blanket and all, so tightly. He has no idea what is going on. It’s rare that he finds himself so unmoored in a situation, but things always seem to get tangled into infinite and confusing gnarls, where Wei Ying is concerned.
“Is it because I’m not...cute?” Wei Ying asks then, in a small voice. He hiccups again. “God, that sounded so pathetic. I just mean — I know I’m not really, aha, your type —”
Blankly, Lan Zhan stares at him, for a moment unable to compute such an absurd statement. He hadn’t had a type before Wei Ying. Wei Ying had invented his type, and then checked every single box of it.
“Wei Ying is very cute,” he insists. Is that what Wei Ying needs to hear from him? Of course it’s true — Wei Ying embodies every possible, conceivable term of physical attractiveness — but he’s still not sure what exactly is happening. Is Wei Ying’s opinion of himself really so low that he thinks Lan Zhan’s loyalty could be lost over his physical appearance?
Wei Ying gives a sort of wet, humorless laugh, and then rubs a knuckle over one eye. “Uh. Thanks.”
An awkward beat falls between them, stilted and off-center. Lan Zhan has no earthly clue what to say. He isn’t used to uncomfortable silences between them; clearly, Wei Ying isn’t either.
“I fucked everything up, didn’t I,” Wei Ying mutters, a flat affect, and unearths his hands from the blanket to press the heels of his palms into his eyes. “Fuck. I knew I would.”
“You didn’t,” Lan Zhan says firmly. “I want you here, Wei Ying. I want you in my life, always. I will be a part of yours for as long as you will let me.”
Wei Ying peeks out at Lan Zhan from behind his hands — almost untrusting, the dawn of something warily hopeful. “Really?”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, with a resolute nod. “I’m sorry for ever making you think differently.”
“Lan Zhan, stop apologizing, please. I’m the one who — ”
“No apologies from either of us,” Lan Zhan suggests, and Wei Ying gives a thin, tentative laugh and says, “Yeah, okay,” which Lan Zhan counts, with a private burst of warmth, as a win.
The hush of the rain again, then a muted crackle of thunder.
“I know I might make this even weirder,” Wei Ying says in a muted voice, “given what I just told you, but I’m drunk enough to ask, so can I just — can I borrow your shoulder?”
Lan Zhan breathes — keeps that unruly emotion from earlier firmly penned. He lowers his shoulder wordlessly so that Wei Ying can crowd closer into him, so warm and still a little rain-soaked.
Wei Ying nestles his cheek against the bridge of Lan Zhan’s shoulder, which Lan Zhan angles even further down to make a better pillow.
“God, I missed you,” Wei Ying murmurs, almost lost under the rain.
“I missed you,” Lan Zhan echoes quietly. He means it more than Wei Ying could know. Wei Ying’s hair is so soft against the bare skin of Lan Zhan’s neck, still rain-damp as Lan Zhan begins to card the strands through his fingers.
“I thought things would be weird, once you knew,” Wei Ying continues, muffled into Lan Zhan’s shirt. His voice drops into a mumble, splintered around a yawn. “But I should’ve known you’d be too good and noble and stuff for that. Mmph.”
Lan Zhan frowns into the darkness, and asks, just as softly, “Knew what?” but Wei Ying is already asleep.
Lan Zhan sits there for a long time with the solid warmth of Wei Ying against him, the rhythmic patter of rainfall meeting glass. He would stay here all night, either awake or asleep, but reminds himself of Wei Ying’s relationship with Wen Qing, what’s appropriate for friendship and what isn’t.
Very gently, so slowly, Lan Zhan scoops Wei Ying’s head off his shoulder so that for just a moment, Wei Ying’s face is cradled in his hands, then he replaces his shoulder with one of the couch pillows. For a selfish moment, he strokes a hand through Wei Ying’s curling hair, unable to stop himself from touching him like this, after their time apart. Wei Ying always looks so sweet, but especially in sleep, his cheeks puffed out a little as he breathes open-mouthed, the long sweep of his lashes.
Lan Zhan wraps him up tight in a blanket, and goes to bed alone.
He wakes to the smell of grease smoke.
Lan Zhan blinks, rolls over, checks his phone — 5:01. Why is there grease smoke? Pale shafts of dawn sun trickle through his curtains, alighting the far corners of his bedroom. He notices two things out of the ordinary:
First, his bedroom door is open. There hasn’t been a single night when he has not slept with it closed.
Second, a pair of his drawers is cracked ajar. They had definitely been shut when he’d gone to sleep.
The grease smoke is perhaps the most significant anomaly here, so he rolls to his feet and pads to the kitchen to investigate.
He discovers Wei Ying standing in his kitchen, somehow awake before Lan Zhan (which Lan Zhan usually has found means that he simply didn’t sleep), and he’s in the process of methodically destroying something in a pan. It could be a science experiment — Lan Zhan wouldn’t put it past Wei Ying, even this early — but more likely, it’s a breakfast attempt.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying greets him, in his usual chipper inflection, but there’s a slight strain to it, like a verbal tick. “You’re awake!”
Wei Ying is wearing a pair of Lan Zhan’s gray sweatpants, too big on him, slung low on his hips, the drawstring knotted tight to keep them from slipping, as well as one of Lan Zhan’s sleep-shirts, now rumpled with wrinkles and loose on Wei Ying’s collarbones. Lan Zhan feels a few of his synapses short-circuit, and he just sort of...stands there, cemented to his kitchen floor. Hovering there, dumbstruck by the scene before him. He belatedly registers the distinct smell of something burning.
“Good morning,” Wei Ying says, with an edge of nervousness that’s overbright, then adds, “I burned a hole in your pan, I’ll pay for it,” then, more quickly, “I’mreallysorry that I showed up last night and acted like a wasted idiot then crashed on your couch — haha, typical Wei Ying, right?”
Lan Zhan blinks, still only half-awake, as he tries to figure out which one of those points to address first.
“Good morning,” he says, eventually, then crosses the room to examine the destroyed pan in the sink. “How did you do this.”
“With great skill,” Wei Ying says, absently, then launches back into, “Okay, so everything I said last night, you can just — we can just forget that, right? Strike it from the record and move on? Please tell me I didn’t — please tell me I didn’t totally fuck this up.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t look at Wei Ying’s face; he fixes his eyes instead on the slip of skin poking out from the vee of his shirt, the indent of a collarbone. “Of course not, Wei Ying. Rest assured. Nothing has changed between us.”
Wei Ying visibly relaxes, then scratches a hand awkwardly through his rumpled hair. “Good! Okay. I mean, thanks! Oh, hey, sorry I borrowed your clothes; it’s just that mine were still wet from the rain and I didn’t think you would mind.”
“I don’t,” Lan Zhan tries to assure him, but Wei Ying barrels right over him, his gaze fastened to the pan.
“It was, uh, stupid of me to show up and try to tell you all that drunk. I mean, I was pretty sure you didn’t reciprocate anyway —”
“— but it was dumb to come here, I thought maybe — the alcohol would make me braver, but it just made me stupid, and I realized afterward I shouldn’t have said anything at all, but it doesn’t even matter, okay, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying is very much not looking at him, fixated on impaling with a spatula whatever black mess he’s cooking on the stovetop. “It really doesn’t have to even be a thing. We can go on as normal. I really don’t expect anything of you.”
Lan Zhan blinks. “Wei Ying.” He blinks again, for good measure. “What are you talking about.”
Wei Ying makes a frustrated sound in the back of his throat, and drops the spatula on the marble counter. Then he rotates toward Lan Zhan, clasps his hands together, and pulls in a deep breath. “I just — okay, I noticed you’ve been pulling away from me these last few weeks, like you stopped responding to my messages every day like you used to, and at first I thought it was just a personal thing that wasn’t any of my business, but then I realized by the way you were acting that you must know how I felt, and were trying to find a nice way to let me down or you felt weird or uncomfortable about it, and I never wanted to make you feel that way, believe me, Lan Zhan, and — I know I’m super obvious about it but was doing my best to let it not ruin our friendship, so when you started pulling away, I was like, oh, shit, he knows already — so might as well get it out in the open then, rather than have all this weird tension go unspoken, right? Might as well just rip the bandage off completely, if the friendship was already weird by me not saying anything about my feelings, so I had a drink last night to calm me down so I could tell you, but then I got too nervous and drank too much, and then I came over and made a mess, and look, now I destroyed your pan, which was probably your favorite pan —”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan finally interrupts, with faint alarm. Wei Ying is slowly working himself into a low-grade hysteria the more he’s allowed to talk, and it’s taken the entire freefall of Wei Ying’s rambling for Lan Zhan to catch up. He’s still too confused to fully track on the conversation, but the general direction of it is dizzying, and there’s a tight, fluttering feeling beating fiercely under his ribs that’s undefined. It feels light and airborne, like hope.
Wei Ying takes two huge, fast breaths, then squeezes his eyes shut, like he’s waiting for a blow.
Lan Zhan reaches out one hand toward him to touch him — his face, shoulder, arm? — before he drops it again.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says. It feels like his throat is closing. “I like you. I have always liked you. From the very first week.”
Wei Ying’s eyes fly open, as does his mouth; he gawks at Lan Zhan. “You...wait, what?”
“Very much,” Lan Zhan says, helplessly. “I like you very much. But, you...at Nara, in the bathroom, with Wen Qing — I, I didn’t mean to overhear, I just came to check if you were alright —”
Wei Ying’s astonishment doesn’t totally fade, but a baffled frown tugs his eyebrows together. “Wen Qing and Nara?”
“You…you told her that you….”
Wei Ying’s eyes widen further, shocked realization breaking over his face, and his lips round out in a small o. He brings both hands to his mouth. “Oh. Oh, shit. You really...oh my God.”
“I did not intend to eavesdrop,” Lan Zhan says quickly. Shame prickles at him — what must Wei Ying think? “I was only —”
“No, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying breathes, then gives a wild, helpless little laugh and claps a hand to his forehead. “I’m so stupid. Oh, no; oh, Lan Zhan, I’m so sorry you were subjected to that, oh my God.”
Lan Zhan is very lost. Still. Sort of weakly, he says, “What?”
Wei Ying suddenly moves very quickly, in animated bursts, like he’s going to wriggle right out of his skin. “Here, look, look.” Because nothing is making sense, Wei Ying pulls out his phone and unlocks it. His thumb swipes through his screens before he sticks it in Lan Zhan’s face; it’s his phone notes app.
Lan Zhan’s eyes cross a little as he tries to read the shaking screen, which is shattered into spiderwebbed cracks, before he’s able to parse out the words:
I like you so much. I think about you all the time, even when we’re not together.
I know I flirt with a lot of people, but it never really meant anything until you —
Wei Ying scrolls with one pointer finger through the length of the note to the bottom, to a checklist that says:
Things I like about Lan Zhan — possibly mention during?
- His soft lips
- How he looks when he sleeps, like when he passes out at 9 when we’re watching kdramas on the couch
- His sandalwood deodorant (might be too weird)
- His guqin and cello playing + his classical music taste
- His eyes + how he looks at me
- He has bunnies
- CUTE ear blush
- So cute in general 😭😭
- His good morning texts
- His organized poetry collection
- The fact that he’s stacked and I want to jump him (maybe too much? revisit)
- His cooking even with no spice
It takes Lan Zhan a lightheaded moment to realize he isn’t breathing anymore. He blinks uncomprehendingly at Wei Ying’s destroyed phone screen, trying to piece it together, but his brain hasn’t really moved anywhere past Lan Zhan, I like you so much, so he’s struggling with cognitive abilities more than he usually would.
“See?” Wei Ying says. The hand gripped around his phone is still trembling. “Wen Qing was on me to say something to you because she was tired of hearing me moon over you all the time, but my feelings were a mess and I’m bad at words when it comes to this, my brain just totally fries out, so I drafted something and just — rehearsed it to her, although it was so awful that I’m mortified you had to hear it.”
“Oh,” says Lan Zhan. It’s hardly even a sound as much as it is a punch of air leaving his mouth. “So, last night, when you…you meant that...”
“Yes!” Wei Ying doesn’t shout, but it’s a near thing, and he quickly grabs both of Lan Zhan’s hands in his. “Yes, Lan Zhan, oh my God, you noodle, what did you think I meant?!”
Oh, Lan Zhan thinks, somewhat dazed.
Wei Ying likes him. Wei Ying likes him a lot.
“Also, wait — okay, while we’re dramatically clearing things up, Wen Qing is gay,” Wei Ying tells him, with a short, incredulous laugh. “I mean, she’s dating Mianmian! That whole thing was pretty much a double-date!”
“Oh,” Lan Zhan says again. And blinks at Wei Ying. Who he loves so much, and who is standing in his kitchen, still sleep-tousled and morning-soft, wearing his clothes, burning his food into a black crisp directly behind them.
“You’re so cute that I want to die,” Wei Ying informs him, very seriously, and plants his hands on either of Lan Zhan’s cheeks so they’re slightly squished. “I want to do the idiot sandwich thing to your face right now, but I think it would be too mean even as a joke, because you’re too sweet.”
Lan Zhan leans his cheek into one of Wei Ying’s hands, which causes Wei Ying’s eyes to widen and darken at the same time, his mouth slightly parted.
“Lan Zhan, you.” Wei Ying blinks up at him, partially doubtful and partially awed. He wets his lips, a dart of pink tongue. “You really do like me?”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, with all the earnest sincerity he can muster. “So, so much. For so long.”
Wei Ying ducks his head to hide his expression, a thump of his forehead against Lan Zhan’s chest. Then he drifts forward into Lan Zhan’s space to step his socked feet on top of Lan Zhan’s so that their height difference is leveled. A little hesitantly, his arms raise to hook around the back of Lan Zhan’s neck, almost as if they’re slow-dancing.
“Is this — okay,” Wei Ying says, his voice thready, shallow. Very close, a warm brush of mint-fresh breath. “I mean, I don’t want to —”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan manages, and doesn’t trust himself to say more than single words. “Very. Yes. Okay.”
Wei Ying’s eyes flicker over his, his gaze so uncharacteristically serious — sort of wide, his cheeks patched with lotus-pink. This close, Lan Zhan can feel Wei Ying’s fast heartbeat against the contact-points of their chests. So, so warm, a heat-lantern between them.
Wei Ying licks his lips again then hoods his eyes. His gaze drops to Lan Zhan’s mouth.
“You are...so overwhelming up close,” Wei Ying murmurs, and Lan Zhan watches the shape of the syllables forming on his lips, disappearing. “You’re really too much.”
It’s sort of a funny statement coming from Wei Ying, considering Lan Zhan feels as close as he ever has to passing out.
“Ah,” Wei Ying says, quiet. He sounds breathless. “Lan Zhan, can you feel that I’m shaking?” He holds up one hand in demonstration. It trembles in Lan Zhan’s view. “And look at you! You won’t even blush!”
Lan Zhan takes the outstretched hand, a thumb to Wei Ying’s palm, and says, softly, “Feel,” and brings it to his chest, laying it flat. His heartbeat is so quick it skims, a stone that won’t stop skipping across a pond surface.
“Oh,” Wei Ying says, halfway to a whisper.
“Mn,” Lan Zhan says.
Wei Ying is staring at him, half-lidded and so close, and then he leans in. A jolt of adrenaline rocks through Lan Zhan, a near-heart attack — this is happening —
— and Wei Ying…misses, his lips catching instead on the dip of Lan Zhan’s philtrum. Just that touch alone is enough to make Lan Zhan's nerves congeal into magma, but Wei Ying pulls back at once with a shocked expression, half-sheepish and half-disbelieving. Slowly, his shoulders start to shake, and then he’s laughing helplessly, thunking his forehead into Lan Zhan’s chest again while he covers his face with his hands.
“I’m so sorry,” he says, muffled, all but cackling. “Your face, ahahaha —”
Lan Zhan presses his lips together to fight against the smile threatening to form, his arms around Wei Ying’s shoulders to hold him close while he convulses with laughter. His ears are so warm.
When Wei Ying pulls back to look at him, tears of mirth have collected on his lower lids, which he swipes away with one knuckle.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Wei Ying says, hitched on a laugh again. Dimples notched in his cheeks, his eyes crinkled and half-moons. “It’s just — ahaha, I’ve thought about doing that for so long and — of course I botched it.”
Lan Zhan feels the smile fade from his mouth, though the warmth of it still aches in his cheeks.
He says, more intently, “Wei Ying,” and Wei Ying looks up at him, kind of absently, and says, “Hmm?” and Lan Zhan kisses him.
This one is right.
Wei Ying’s lips are warm, a little dry and chapped against his, and after a breath-held moment, he parts them, opening to Lan Zhan with a tentative brush of his tongue. So light, almost shy, but heat cracks down Lan Zhan’s spine, lightning to an oak.
Lan Zhan’s arms twine around Wei Ying’s middle, the distinct lines of his ribs pressing against his forearms, warm through the thin fabric of his borrowed shirt. The kiss is harder now, deeper, his teeth around Wei Ying’s soft bottom lip. Wei Ying makes a soft, delighted sound against his mouth, and he tastes a little like Lan Zhan’s toothpaste, he smells like Lan Zhan’s laundry soap and also something distinctly Wei Ying, like black tea and boy and the familiar traces of his shampoo. And a little bit like grease-smoke, but that’s okay, Lan Zhan thinks.
Finally, they break apart, breathing the warmth of each other’s air and staring, flushed and wild-eyed. Wei Ying’s mouth is so, so pink; almost swollen, the heart shape of his cupid’s bow more plush than usual. He had done that, Lan Zhan thinks, a little faintly.
“Oh, we’re good at that,” Wei Ying says, then he grins, sparking and mischievous. He leans into Lan Zhan’s space, speaking so close that each word brushes against Lan Zhan’s mouth. “What do you say to wasting our morning, gege?”
At this, Lan Zhan really has no choice but to lift Wei Ying by the backs of his thighs, and Wei Ying gives a startled whoop of laughter and loops his legs around Lan Zhan’s waist. He’s still laughing, pressing a kiss behind Lan Zhan’s ear as Lan Zhan carries him back to his room — to a proper bed, this time.
(They burn a hole in another pan.)