Three weeks after the kindergarten class’ trip to the animal farm, Jin Ling decides he simply must spend the weekend at his Uncle Wei Ying’s house. Which is fine, it’s great, it’s— actually, it’s a lot more than that. It makes Wei Ying so happy he could cry. He’ll take validation in any form it comes in, especially from his precious nephew (who really is too much like his father and his Uncle Jiang Cheng for his own good and therefore spends more time frowning around Wei Ying and calling him embarrassing than anything else).
So, yeah, he’s pretty happy about spending a weekend with his nephew—except for the fact that this is the first weekend that his and Lan Zhan’s schedules have matched up since they met, and Wei Ying was rather hoping they could spend some time together. Maybe he could even take the chance to properly ask the other man out. Face-to-face, like a real gentleman.
But, again, he’s not going to pass up on an opportunity to spend some quality time with his usually prickly nephew.
Jiang Yanli drops Jin Ling off at Wei Ying’s apartment early on Saturday morning, along with a large bag full of essentials. They chat for a while in the kitchen over mugs of coffee while Jin Ling re-familiarises himself with the layout of Wei Ying’s home, rushing back and forth from the living room to the kitchen in all his overexcited five-year-old glory. Jiang Yanli shakes her head fondly when he crashes into the wall, lands in a heap on the floor, then immediately jumps back up to his feet and continues running like nothing had happened.
“He hasn’t even had any sugar today,” she sighs, then levels a stern look at Wei Ying. “And I expect things to remain that way. No candy this time, okay? We don’t want a repeat of what happened last time.”
Last time refers to four months ago when Wei Ying had been on babysitting duty while Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan had attended a family dinner out at the Jin family mansion. Even Jiang Cheng had been invited—perks of not being Jiang Yanli’s estranged adopted brother—which had left Wei Ying to complete the task of looking after Jin Ling until his mother picked him up in the morning. Wei Ying didn’t mind, anyway; he and Jin Ling would no doubt have more fun than everyone else at that boring dinner party. In the end, they might’ve had a little too much fun, a fact that was proven by the lack of sleep both uncle and nephew got that night. Poor Yanli had been forced to deal with a very irritable Jin Ling the next morning, and had messaged Wei Ying hours later to sternly tell him that her son was to never again have candy at Wei Ying’s apartment.
“Everything will be fine,” Wei Ying says. “Only healthy snacks are on the table today, I promise.”
His sister gives him a particular look that he knows to mean, I’m not sure you’re telling the entire truth but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt just this once. Contrary to that last part, she gives him this look quite often.
“So what do you have planned for the day?” she asks then, taking another sip of her coffee.
“I was thinking of taking him to the farm. The one from the excursion last month, you remember?”
Jiang Yanli chuckles softly and nods. “Oh, yes. I definitely remember. A-Ling wouldn’t stop talking about it when he arrived home.”
It’s always nice knowing that the kids in Wei Ying’s kindergarten class enjoy their time under his care, but it’s especially rewarding to know that his nephew likes spending time in the class. Wei Ying can’t help but preen a little at his sister’s words. He turns towards the kitchen doorway as Jin Ling races past, calling out, “What do you say, A-Ling? You wanna visit the farm again?”
The sound of footsteps halts. A moment later, Jin Ling’s face peeks around the doorway. “The farm? Are we gonna see the chicks again? The bunnies? The cows?”
“Yep! Yes to all of those things,” Wei Ying says. “Are you excited?”
He receives an enthusiastic nod in answer. Jin Ling enters the kitchen and slowly walks towards the dining table, then asks, “Are we gonna see the Animal Man again?”
“The Animal Man?” Jiang Yanli asks, raising a brow at Wei Ying over her mug of tea.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying clarifies, suddenly feeling a little warmer in the face.
“Ah.” She smiles over at him conspiratorially. “Lan Zhan. You’re finally meeting him again, then?”
“Yeah. We’ve been, uh, texting a lot. I think it’s about time we took the next step, you know?”
“That’s good! I’m happy for you, A-Ying.”
Wei Ying has to bite back a giddy grin of his own. It’s certainly been a while since he’s felt as strongly about anyone as he does about Lan Zhan. It makes him almost unbearably excited, but it also makes him a whole lot more nervous, too.
“Ah, don’t be too happy for me just yet,” he says, shaking his head. “He might not even want anything more.”
“I highly doubt that, from what you told me before about your last visit. Lan Zhan didn't refuse you when you proposed to swap numbers, so isn't that promising?”
“Well, I suppose so.”
“Then it seems like he certainly does want more. Everything will be alright. I promise.”
Wei Ying sighs. “I hope so.”
His sister reaches out and pats at his arm in support, smiling. As she draws her hand back to her side, she catches sight of the watch on her wrist and gasps.
“Goodness, look at the time! I’ll have to get going.” She ignores Wei Ying’s whine of protest as she stands from the table and calls out, “A-Ling, come give me a kiss!”
Jin Ling comes charging into the kitchen a moment later with what looks to be a bruise already forming on his forehead. He stops just past the doorway, staring up at his mother with wide eyes. “Are you leaving, mama?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, baby,” Jiang Yanli says, reaching out to pinch his cheek. ”But you’re going to have fun with your Uncle Wei Ying, aren’t you?”
Jin Ling immediately brightens. “Yes! We’re going to the farm! We’ll see all the animals again!”
“Make sure to pose for lots of photos! I want to see your adventures, okay?”
Yanli drops a kiss onto his forehead and releases him. Immediately, he runs off into the living room again. There’s a dull thud as soon as he turns the corner, but he doesn’t cry out, so Yanli simply sighs and shakes her head fondly.
“He isn’t going to pose for photos, is he?” Wei Ying asks.
“I highly doubt it. Good luck with that.”
He huffs a laugh before walking Jiang Yanli to the door, planting a kiss on her cheek once she’s slipped on her shoes and coat. She departs with one last goodbye to Jin Ling, who has chosen to glue himself to Wei Ying’s right leg. Once the door to Wei Ying’s apartment has closed behind her, he glances down at his nephew to see him already staring expectantly back up at him.
Wei Ying reaches down to ruffle his hair with a fond laugh. “Yeah, kiddo. Bathroom first, though. It’s a long journey, remember?”
Jin Ling frowns but obediently runs off into the apartment in the direction of the bathroom. Wei Ying watches him go before pulling his phone out of his pocket, smiling down at the notification at the top of his screen.
lan zhan ❤️
Good morning. I’m excited to see you again today
God, Wei Ying is screwed. All Lan Zhan has to do in order to turn him into a flustered mess is say less than ten words. He doesn’t know how he’ll survive an entire day with him—or more, for that matter.
morning!! can’t wait to see you either 🥺
also I am SO sorry that this is a little last minute but uhhh do u mind if I bring my nephew along?
lan zhan ❤️
Of course that’s fine. I look forward to seeing both of you.
great!!! we’ll see you in a little over an hour 🥰
Jin Ling comes bounding back into the living room at that moment, hands wet where he hasn’t managed to dry them properly on the towel hanging in Wei Ying’s bathroom. He goes directly for his shoes, slipping them on before staring up at Wei Ying silently.
“Need me to tie your laces?”
His nephew nods, sticking his left foot up into the air for emphasis. Wei Ying crouches down and makes quick work of tying the laces, making sure they’re tight enough that they won’t lose any shoes throughout the day. It’s happened many times before, and Wei Ying would quite like to never repeat the stress that comes with it. Not today, anyway.
He helps Jin Ling into his coat and zips it up. The travel bag with all of Jin Ling’s things inside is still by the door where Jiang Yanli had left it earlier upon her arrival, but Wei Ying has been prepared for their little trip since before Jin Ling was dropped off at his apartment, so he forgoes picking the bag up under the knowledge that there’s already a similar one in the back of his car. Instead, he gathers his keys and wallet, stuffs them into the pockets of his own coat, and pulls on his shoes.
As they leave his apartment, Wei Ying feels a short vibration from his inner pocket. He finishes locking the door and, still holding Jin Ling’s hand in his own left one, swaps his keys for his phone. There’s one last message from Lan Zhan lit up on the screen; a simple blue love heart, followed by a thumbs-up emoji. Wei Ying grins, puts his phone back into his pocket, and says, “Are you ready to go see the Animal Man?”
Jin Ling cheers. “Yes! Let’s go!”
And their journey begins.
The hour that they’re on the road is spent, unsurprisingly, singing. It’s a little more bearable when it’s only one child instead of twenty belting out their rendition of Old McDonald Had A Farm, though it still leaves Wei Ying with the mild beginnings of a headache and a whole lot of regrets. He makes a mental note to leave the radio on his favourite station on the way home, rather than turn it off completely to cater to his nephew’s unreasonable need to sing about farm animals as loudly as possible. At least Wei Ying doesn’t have to hear about the mechanics of a bus, this time.
By the time they pull into the car park of the animal farm, Jin Ling has exhausted himself just enough that he only screams twice in excitement. Wei Ying parks the car a small distance away from the farm’s entrance, then spends the better part of ten minutes wrestling with the buckle on Jin Ling’s car seat. With his nephew finally free and a bag hooked over his arm containing their water bottles, snacks, and spare clothes—just in case, because it’s been raining for the past two days and he doesn’t want Jin Ling sitting in a pile of mud on the way home—they make their way over to the entrance together.
Lan Zhan is waiting for them at the side of the entrance, tall and beautiful and pristine in clothes that look like they’ve come directly from a fashion show. Lan Zhan looks like he’s come directly from a fashion show. Wei Ying thinks it’s frankly quite unfair that Lan Zhan looks so good, both in his normal clothes and in the farm’s uniform.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan greets, a hint of a smile on his lips. “It’s good to see you again.”
Wei Ying grins and tugs Jin Ling to stand beside him. The boy takes one look up at Lan Zhan and immediately averts his gaze to the ground, shuffling shyly. “Hey, Lan Zhan. You remember my extremely adorable nephew, Jin Ling?”
Nodding, Lan Zhan crouches down so that he’s only slightly above eye-level with Jin Ling, then sticks his hand out. Jin Ling hesitates before shaking Lan Zhan’s hand slowly. The sight brings an uncontrollable smile to Wei Ying’s face.
“It’s good to see you again too, Jin Ling,” Lan Zhan says. “Do you remember me?”
Jin Ling nods, then quietly mutters, “The Animal Man. You let us hold the chicks.”
Lan Zhan smiles—it's only a small thing, but it still kind of takes Wei Ying's breath away. “That’s right,” he says, apparently not deeming it necessary to correct Jin Ling on his name.
He stands, and then Wei Ying and Jin Ling are being guided through the entrance to the farm. They skip the short queue, this time forgoing pig-stamps on hands and folded maps. Wei Ying shoots Lan Zhan an accusatory look, as if to ask, Shouldn’t we be paying like everyone else?
Lan Zhan simply shrugs and says, “You’re with me. Nobody will mind.”
You’re with me echoes in Wei Ying’s head as Lan Zhan begins leading them to their first destination. He feels himself blushing a little. At his side, Jin Ling gazes up at him questioningly.
“We’re special guests, so we get in for free,” he explains to his nephew. Jin Ling’s eyes go wide.
“So, we’re like VIPs?” he asks. Wei Ying chuckles and swings their arms together once, twice, and yet another time for good measure.
“Yes. Exactly,” he says.
Jin Ling’s face is full of wonder and excitement as they continue weaving along the path, dodging other people and occasionally catching glimpses of animals. Lan Zhan, though, seems to be on a mission; he doesn’t stop for the goats, nor for the sheep, nor even for the donkey who gives Wei Ying the stink-eye as they pass by. He leads them, instead, to the very end of the path where there’s a wide metal gate blocking their way. On the front of the gate is a sign reading, STAFF ONLY. PLEASE KEEP OUT..
“Wow. We really are VIP’s, huh?” Wei Ying says as the three of them come to a stop in front of the gate. Lan Zhan nods back at him, reaching into his pocket to retrieve a key. He slides it into the lock on the gate and pushes it open with a creak.
“Watch your step as you walk through,” he tells them. “The ground is uneven and a little slippery.”
The three of them carefully step through the gate, which Lan Zhan then closes and locks behind them. Jin Ling only almost slips once, but Wei Ying has gotten skilled at preventing falls since his nephew was born. He manages to stabilise them before both of them can land in the mud.
Lan Zhan leads them along an invisible trail for a while longer, and as they walk further and further away from the rest of the farm, Wei Ying grows more and more confused.
“Are you really sure we should be out here?” he asks, glancing around at the empty field stretching in all directions. Behind them, the buildings that make up the rest of the farm have shrunk to the size of his fingernail.
“Don’t worry, I asked for permission to do this a long time ago.”
Wei Ying is a little taken aback at that. How long has Lan Zhan been planning this? Has he been itching to see Wei Ying again too? He can’t help but smile at the thought, momentarily forgetting the topic at hand.
“When are we going to see the animals?” Jin Ling whispers from beside him. He startles and focuses back in on the present situation, giving his nephew a reassuring smile.
“Soon, buddy. Lan Zhan is just showing us something cool first.”
Jin Ling ponders over his words for a moment before seemingly approving. “Lan Zhan is cool.”
“Yeah, he is,” Wei Ying agrees, grinning.
Lan Zhan suddenly stops in his tracks, turning to face them. Wei Ying had been so preoccupied with talking to Jin Ling that he hadn’t realised they’d reached the end of their walk, and when he glances at the spot Lan Zhan has led them to, he’s startled. They’re still standing in the middle of an empty field, but now there’s a large tractor directly ahead of them.
“Woah!” Jin Ling exclaims, eyes bright. “Uncle, look! It’s a tractor!”
Wei Ying laughs at his nephew’s reaction, though he’s still confused. He shoots Lan Zhan a searching look.
“I thought the two of you might enjoy a small ride in the tractor,” he explains. The tips of his ears turn red, as if he’s now… embarrassed? “Though, if you’d prefer not to, we can just eat lunch here before heading back.”
Wei Ying gapes at him. “No, no that’s— you can drive a tractor?”
In that moment, a number of thoughts swarm his mind, but at the forefront of them all is the knowledge that Lan Zhan can apparently just… do this. But of course Lan Zhan can drive a tractor, he realises. He works on a farm. Driving a tractor was probably one of the first things he learned here.
Still, why do I find his ability to drive a tractor so attractive? Wei Ying thinks. Most people might feel this way when they find out their date can drive a motorcycle, but a tractor? What’s wrong with me?
Completely unaware of his inner torment, Lan Zhan swings open the passenger door and holds out a hand to Wei Ying. “Are you comfortable with having A-Ling sit on your lap for the ride, or would you prefer if I drive you one at a time?”
“Uh,” Wei Ying responds eloquently.
Jin Ling taps at his arm and whispers, loud enough for probably the entire farm to hear, “Let’s ride the tractor together, Uncle. We can sing again on the ride!”
Well, he can’t exactly subject Lan Zhan to that alone, can he?
“Alright, we’ll ride together,” he says. Jin Ling cheers. “But you have to promise to sit still and not cause trouble, okay?”
“Okay,” Jin Ling says, nodding excitedly. “I’ll be good.”
“And you have to promise to let me take a photo of us to send to your mama,” he adds. Jin Ling goes quiet at that, but after a few moments of weighing up the pros and cons, he nods.
“Okay. One photo?”
Wei Ying raises a brow. “For now.”
Jin Ling pouts but doesn’t argue, instead holding his arms up obediently to be picked up. Lan Zhan waves the arm he has stretched towards Wei Ying, so he hands his bag off to him before picking his nephew up. He only struggles a little—really, the kid is five years old now and weighs a ton. He’s pretty sure he’s seen his sister pick Jin Ling up like it’s nothing. It only makes him feel the tiniest bit ashamed.
Lan Zhan continues to hold the passenger door open for him, and with his nephew tucked securely against his chest, Wei Ying clambers aboard. When he’s settled in the seat, Lan Zhan slides his bag into the space beside his feet and carefully closes the door. As he makes his way around to the driver’s side, Wei Ying loops the seatbelt around himself and Jin Ling so that they’re both as secure as possible, then takes his phone out of his pocket to snap a quick selfie of the two of them. Jin Ling is frowning into the camera, but at least he lets the photo happen. It’s a good start.
A moment later, Lan Zhan has already made his way up into the driver’s seat and turned the ignition. The tractor’s engine roars to life. It’s louder than Wei Ying had imagined it would be, and the entire vehicle shakes even while stationary. Jin Ling seems startled at first, clutching onto Wei Ying’s shirt tightly, but it doesn’t take long for him to relax.
“Ready?” Lan Zhan shouts over the noise of the engine. Wei Ying nods. He only has a fraction of a second to worry about what will become of Lan Zhan’s pristine clothes on this journey before the tractor finally begins moving.
Wei Ying can’t say he’s been a passenger in many tractors throughout his life, but he can tell that Lan Zhan must do this often. He finds himself watching him as he drives, and every action seems like second nature to him. He remembers one of their conversations through the phone, in which he’d asked Lan Zhan how long he’s been working on the farm.
“Pretty much my whole life,” Lan Zhan had answered. “It was once owned by my grandfather, before it was passed down to my father. It’s been in the family for generations, and every Lan knows how to farm.”
Wei Ying had been astonished that the farm was actually owned by Lan Zhan’s family, but he supposes it makes a lot of sense now. After all, no regular employee could possibly break as many rules as Lan Zhan has today and still get away with it.
He finds himself thinking about a young Lan Zhan learning all the things he knows today: how to drive a tractor, how to care for baby animals, and how to educate children on how to handle the animals, too. He thinks of how passionate Lan Zhan must be about all this, how much he must love each and every animal on this farm, and how much he must look forward to every new day. It’s the same way Wei Ying feels about his job as a kindergarten teacher. He smiles at the thought.
They continue driving along parallel tracks in the empty field; Jin Ling has, fortunately, decided not to sing on the journey. He’s probably too distracted, or maybe he knows it won’t be worth the hoarse voice later with the noise of the engine to compete with now. A sea of green and beige surrounds them in all directions, and the steady motion of the tractor even mimics a boat rocking at sea. What was at first bumpy and uncomfortable quickly becomes soothing, and Wei Ying finds himself almost drifting off until Jin Ling smacks his arm.
“Look, there’s a horse over there,” his nephew shouts up at him, and when Wei Ying looks out of the side window, he sees that there is, in fact, a horse in the distance.
“That’s cool,” he says. “Do you like horses?”
Jin Ling shrugs. “They’re very big. A little scary. I prefer ducks.”
“Ah, that’s understandable,” Wei Ying says. He hears soft laughter from beside him, and he glances over to see Lan Zhan smiling.
Speaking of duck, he thinks, feeling his stomach rumble.
“You said something about eating lunch,” he says. Lan Zhan nods.
“Ah, yes. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve put together a small lunch for us.” Lan Zhan pauses for a moment, gnawing at his lip in a way he must think isn’t as noticeable as it is. “Of course, if there’s anything you don’t like, or if you’d prefer to eat at the café—”
“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, stopping his sudden bout of rambling in its tracks. “You don’t need to worry so much. Thank you for being so thoughtful, it’s really sweet. We appreciate the effort you’ve gone to.”
“So… you’re happy to eat the lunch I’ve prepared?”
“Of course,” he says, smiling. “Nothing would make me happier right now.”
Except maybe one of us asking the other out on a proper date, Wei Ying thinks. But that can come later, I suppose.
They sit in silence for the rest of the journey, but it’s comfortable—pleasant, even. Wei Ying thinks he could get used to this (minus the numb ass, probably).
Ten minutes later, Lan Zhan parks the tractor behind what looks like just a regular round bale of hay. Upon closer inspection, however, Wei Ying can see that there’s a small wooden basket and a folded blanket on the ground beside it. He bites back a giddy smile as Lan Zhan cuts off the engine.
“What on earth were you going to do if I’d said no to the tractor ride?” he can’t help but ask. Lan Zhan clears his throat and averts his gaze.
“I was kind of counting on you not saying no,” he says.
Wei Ying snorts. “Well, then it’s lucky I agreed. This looks very nice, Lan Zhan. Thank you.”
“I figured I’d do something special,” Lan Zhan says.
Wei Ying tilts his head in bemusement. Special, he thinks, suddenly feeling fond. As if this man has to try to impress me. As if he isn’t already the cutest, kindest, hottest person I’ve ever met without even trying to be.
“You really didn’t need to,” he says, smiling softly. “But thank you.”
Lan Zhan shakes his head. “I want you to want to come back.”
Once he says those words, he slams his mouth shut and lowers his head, as if he hadn’t quite meant to let them slip. Silence befalls them. Not even Jin Ling makes a peep from his spot on Wei Ying’s lap. The smile on Wei Ying’s face fades.
“Of course I’d want to come back, regardless of what happened today,” he says. “Did you think otherwise? How?”
Lan Zhan shifts in his seat, keeping his gaze locked steadily on his hands as he fumbles with the key to the tractor. It clinks against the single keyring attached to it—the only sound for what seems like miles around. After a few minutes of this, Wei Ying reaches out with the hand not supporting Jin Ling to cover Lan Zhan’s shaking fingers.
“I just figured,” Lan Zhan says, sounding nervous, “that after the second visit, you’d realise there isn’t much more to see.”
From only these words, Wei Ying can tell that Lan Zhan is talking about more than the farm. He scoffs, then shakes his head. Lan Zhan glances over at him, startled.
“Lan Zhan, in case you hadn’t already realised, I’m extremely interested in… the farm,” he says. He winces at that last part, but soldiers on. “There’s a lot I’d still like to see. Do you understand?”
He gives Lan Zhan’s hand a gentle squeeze. Lan Zhan stares at him for a few long moments, eyes wide, before he slowly nods.
“I understand,” he says. “I’m glad, Wei Ying.”
Apparently sensing that the tense moment is over, Jin Ling tugs on Wei Ying’s shirt and whines, “Uncle, I’m hungry.”
Wei Ying laughs, and even Lan Zhan smiles a little. “Alright, we’ll eat now,” he says, giving Lan Zhan’s hand one last squeeze before letting go.
By the time he’s unclasped his seatbelt and opened the passenger door, Lan Zhan has already miraculously exited the tractor and jogged his way around to the passenger side. He holds out his arms to take Jin Ling, and Wei Ying gratefully passes him over before climbing out of the tractor himself. With Jin Ling still in his arms, Lan Zhan leads Wei Ying over to the spot he’s prepared. Wei Ying is startled at how easily Lan Zhan carries Jin Ling, but he supposes he must be used to lugging around heavy farm equipment. The thought makes him shiver a little, but he quickly focuses on other things. Like, for example, the look of wonder on his nephew’s face as he’s carried by the Animal Man himself. He has to suppress a laugh at the sight.
Oh, Jin Ling, he thinks, you don’t know how lucky you are.
With Lan Zhan’s hands preoccupied, Wei Ying decides to make himself useful by unfolding the blanket for the three of them to sit on. Lan Zhan nods gratefully, then sets Jin Ling down onto the blanket once it’s ready. Wei Ying sits beside his nephew as Lan Zhan brings the basket closer and begins laying out the food he’s prepared.
Though the basket had seemed small at first, there’s a surprising amount of food stacked up within it. Wei Ying marvels at it all, trying not to think about how long it must have taken Lan Zhan to prepare everything when there was still the tiny possibility that Wei Ying would say no to having lunch with him. He can’t bear to think about how this could have all gone to waste.
“My brother helped me a little with the food,” Lan Zhan says, handing chopsticks to Wei Ying and a spoon to Jin Ling. “I wasn’t sure what you’d like, so I asked for his advice. He can get a little too excited about these things.”
Wei Ying snorts. “You certainly made a lot. I’m sorry in advance for not being able to eat as much as I want to, but I’m excited to try everything.”
“Don’t force yourself,” Lan Zhan says, smiling.
He hands over a plastic plate, then they both begin grabbing pieces of food to try. Wei Ying makes sure that Jin Ling is happy with his selection before trying anything for himself, but as soon as he places the first piece of chicken into his mouth, he almost groans in delight.
“Lan Zhan, this is amazing,” he says. “If you weren’t already a farmer, I’d think you were a chef.”
Lan Zhan glances away, embarrassed. “Thank you, Wei Ying. But my brother is the chef, not me.”
“A sous-chef, then.”
This time, Lan Zhan laughs. “Perhaps.”
They eat in comfortable silence for a while, until Jin Ling finally finishes eating and decides that he’d like to play a game of twenty questions with Lan Zhan. Except, because he’s only five years old, and five-year-olds tend to not be very good at such games, his questions end up mainly revolving around Lan Zhan’s feelings about the different animals at the farm.
“What about the sheep?” Jin Ling asks.
“I like those too,” Lan Zhan says, in all his endlessly-patient glory. “They’re not as soft as they look, though.”
Jin Ling wrinkles his nose. “Oh. Okay. What about the lambs?”
“Those are just baby sheep,” Wei Ying says, to which he receives a glare from his nephew.
“Alright, good point,” Wei Ying says.
“I like lambs, too. They’re very cute,” Lan Zhan provides.
Jin Ling nods in satisfaction. “Lambs are my favourite.”
“I thought the chicks were your favourite,” Wei Ying says.
“They are. I have lots of favourites,” Jin Ling says, as if Wei Ying is ridiculous for thinking otherwise.
“It’s good to have lots of favourites,” Lan Zhan says. “I have many, too. I like rabbits the most, though.”
Jin Ling bounces up and down and shrieks, “Oh, oh! Bunnies are my favourite too! Can we go see them?”
Lan Zhan nods and begins clearing away the containers of food, but Wei Ying grabs onto Jin Ling’s shirt before he can run off anywhere.
“Not so fast,” he says, squinting at him. “One more photo for your mama, first.”
Jin Ling groans very dramatically, but the promise of finally seeing the farm animals is as good an incentive as any, so he once again sits still for long enough that Wei Ying is able to snap a photo of his frowning face.
“I can take one of the two of you, if you’d like,” Lan Zhan offers, pausing in his effort to clear everything away. Wei Ying smiles.
“Okay, sure. Oh, but then you have to be in a selfie with the two of us, okay?”
Lan Zhan raises a brow. “Your sister would like that?”
“It isn’t for my sister,” Wei Ying says, grinning. “That one’s just for me.”
Lan Zhan coughs into his elbow to hide the redness in his face and takes the phone from Wei Ying’s outstretched hand. Wei Ying pulls Jin Ling in close and tells him to look into the camera, before Lan Zhan takes three shots in rapid succession.
“Sorry,” he says. “A-Ling was blinking a lot, is all.”
Wei Ying snorts and takes the phone back, flicking through the photos. Sure enough, Jin Ling has his eyes squeezed shut in two of them, but the third is good enough. It’s extremely cute, actually. He knows for a fact that Yanli will love it.
“Okay, you get in now,” he says to Lan Zhan, tugging on his hand until he’s kneeling down beside him on the blanket again. He pulls Jin Ling into his lap and angles the camera so that they’re all in the shot, then says, “Say cheese!”
“Cheese,” Lan Zhan says.
“Bees,” Jin Ling says.
Wei Ying takes the shot. The moment it’s over, Jin Ling is scrambling out of his lap. He begins to hop on one foot, chanting, “Rabbits, sheep, lambs, chicks! Rabbits, sheep, lambs, chicks!”
As Lan Zhan packs everything else away, Wei Ying stares down at the photo they’d taken together. By some miracle, Jin Ling isn’t frowning. In fact, Wei Ying thinks he can see the hint of a smile on his lips. Meanwhile, his own lips are stretched into a cheesy grin. Lan Zhan stares straight-faced into the camera, though there’s warmth in his golden eyes that's palpable even through the screen.
It’s perfect. He immediately sets the photo as his new wallpaper.
Four hours later, Wei Ying and Lan Zhan sit side-by-side on a bench facing the farm’s play park as Jin Ling causes mayhem on the climbing frame. Wei Ying is pretty sure he hears his nephew arguing with one of the other children, but he figures it’s okay to let him have his fun at this age. He won’t be able to confront others in such a way once he’s older—it’s good to let him get it out of his system now.
They’ve spent the afternoon traversing the rest of the farm just like all the other patrons; they took great joy in feeding the goats and pigs, and Lan Zhan even managed to sneak Jin Ling through yet another door labelled STAFF ONLY to pet at one of the calves. (Okay, so maybe Wei Ying and Jin Ling continued to receive special treatment. It’s fine as long as nobody knows, right?)
Now, Wei Ying keeps a close eye on Jin Ling as he nurses a to-go cup of coffee he'd bought from the café. Beside him, Lan Zhan’s own cup is full of green tea (and a surprisingly large amount of sugar, but that’s neither here nor there). They both sit in silence, grateful for the moment of peace after a day of being tugged around the farm by a five-year-old. However, to say that Wei Ying is completely at-ease would be a lie; he’d still very much like to ask Lan Zhan out properly, and he’s sort of been looking for the right moment since they first arrived at the farm.
As he tries to think of a suitable way to begin that particular conversation, Lan Zhan shifts on the bench so that he’s facing him. Miraculously, he breaks the silence before Wei Ying gets the chance to.
“Wei Ying, I am glad that I have had the chance to spend some time with you today,” he says. His attention is so hyper-focused on Wei Ying that he starts to feel unbearably warm. Still, he smiles and nods.
“Me too, Lan Zhan. Ah, but I hope you didn’t mind Jin Ling being here too much. I know he can be a bit of a handful sometimes.”
Lan Zhan puffs a quiet laugh and shakes his head. “Not at all. Your nephew is, as you put it, extremely adorable.”
Wei Ying snickers. They fall quiet for a moment, each basking in the sounds of birds chirping and children laughing. A few metres away, Jin Ling tumbles down the slide for the third time in a row, falling on his ass at the bottom. He’s breathless with joy as he immediately jumps to his feet to rush up to the top of the climbing frame all over again.
“I would like to date you, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan suddenly says. Then, as an afterthought, he adds, “If that is okay with you, of course.”
Wei Ying feels his jaw drop. He slowly swivels his head to lock eyes with the man beside him, who now stares resolutely at a tree just over Wei Ying’s shoulder.
“Sorry if that was too forward of me,” Lan Zhan says, visibly wincing. “It seems that I cannot control myself around you.”
Wei Ying can’t hold back the pathetic whine that escapes his throat. He quickly concludes that those words are going to be haunting him for at least a week after this.
“Lan Zhan! You really mean it?”
Lan Zhan nods. “Of course.”
“Ugh, I can’t believe you ruined my plans to confess first,” Wei Ying groans, slumping down in his seat.
He sighs, then shoots Lan Zhan a soft smile. “You’re so silly. Of course I want to date you, too. I’ve kind of been wanting it since the day we first met.”
“Oh,” Lan Zhan says breathlessly. “Well, I’m glad. Me too.”
He sports a smile of his own, then. The two remain there for a while, staring at each other while a warm, mushy feeling takes root in Wei Ying’s chest. Oh, this is so much better than he could have ever hoped for. This entire day has been perfect, he thinks. There’s just one more thing that he thinks would be the cherry on top.
He sits up straight on the bench, reaching out to brush his thumb over Lan Zhan’s wrist. For a moment, Lan Zhan becomes tense at the feeling. However, he relaxes just seconds later, turning his hand over to slide their palms against each other.
Wei Ying has a moment of doubt and panic—am I rushing into this?—before he decides to just go for it. He leans in, gradually getting closer and closer as he tilts his head—
Something heavy and very much alive crashes into his legs, and he flinches backwards with a quiet, “Oof.”
Jin Ling, apparently having grown tired of squaring up to other children and choosing the most unsafe methods to ride the slide, now stares up at him. He’s very clearly trying his best to stifle a yawn.
Wei Ying sighs and uses his free hand to card his fingers through Jin Ling’s hair. “Are you tired, buddy?”
Jin Ling nods.
“Wanna go home and take a bath?”
“No bath,” Jin Ling says.
“Oh, I think yes bath,” Wei Ying says, eyeing the suspicious green stains on Jin Ling’s shins.
“Baths are good,” Lan Zhan agrees.
Like a switch has been flipped, Jin Ling nods. “Home and bath.”
Wei Ying stands, giving Lan Zhan an apologetic look that he hopes conveys everything he wishes to say without little ears listening in. Lan Zhan only shakes his head and smiles at him.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” he offers. And, well—who is Wei Ying to say no to a little more time together?
Before they can go anywhere, Jin Ling taps at Lan Zhan’s knee and asks in a very small voice, “Can you carry me again?”
“Ah, Jin Ling, I don’t think—”
“It’s fine,” Lan Zhan tells him, giving him a reassuring nod. “I don’t mind.”
To Jin Ling, he simply bends down and holds his arms out as if to give him a hug. Jin Ling launches himself into Lan Zhan’s chest, wrapping his arms tightly around his neck as he’s lifted from the ground.
“Are you sure?” Wei Ying mouths. He’d hate to inconvenience Lan Zhan at this point, but Lan Zhan only smiles and begins leading him back to the farm’s entrance.
Afternoon has long begin to transform into evening, and they pass fewer people as they make their way through the exit gate and back into the car park. Wei Ying locates his car, then gently takes hold of Lan Zhan’s arm to guide him towards it. As if it really takes no effort at all, Lan Zhan shifts all of Jin Ling’s weight to one arm so that he can loop his other fully through Wei Ying’s. For the rest of the walk, Wei Ying is trying very hard not to melt into the ground at their feet.
By the time they reach the car, Jin Ling is fast asleep against Lan Zhan’s chest. Lan Zhan stubbornly refuses to hand Jin Ling over to Wei Ying, telling him that he doesn’t wish to wake the child, so Wei Ying simply opens the back door and watches as Lan Zhan bends to gently deposit Jin Ling into the car. It takes a surprisingly short time for Lan Zhan to figure out the straps on Jin Ling’s car seat—it had taken Wei Ying hours of failed attempts to master that contraption. When he’s finished, he leans back and brushes Jin Ling’s hair out of his face gently so as not to wake him. The sight makes Wei Ying’s chest clench almost painfully. He’s forced to glance down at the floor to hide the fond look on his face when Lan Zhan steps back, closing the door as quietly as possible.
“Thanks for your help, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Zhan shakes his head and gives Wei Ying’s arm a squeeze. “No need for thanks.”
They stand quietly for a moment more, as the air grows colder around them and the sun begins descending in the sky. Wei Ying thinks back to what he’d been about to do on the bench before they’d been interrupted, and he can’t help but realise that this is the perfect opportunity to pick up where he’d left off.
But would it be too forward? Should I just wait until we’ve had our first real date?
In the end, he decides to throw caution to the wind. He leans up to press a chaste kiss against Lan Zhan’s cheek, pulling back before he can do anything wild like kiss him for real. It’s quicker than Wei Ying would have liked it to be, but it still conjures up a look of astonishment on Lan Zhan’s face that makes Wei Ying bite back a wide, giddy smile.
Lan Zhan opens his mouth as if to say something, then evidently fails to think of a single word to say. This, too, leaves Wei Ying feeling quite pleased with himself.
“Thank you so much for today, Lan Zhan,” he says.
Lan Zhan nods, apparently still struck dumb by the kiss.
“I’ll text you,” Wei Ying adds—a promise he most certainly can and will keep. “Maybe we can arrange something with just the two of us next time.”
Lan Zhan finally blinks out of his daze and nods. “Mn. I’ll look forward to it.”
With one last smile, Wei Ying climbs into the driver’s seat and starts the engine. He rolls the window down to say one last goodbye to Lan Zhan, only for Lan Zhan to lean through the window and plant another kiss directly on his lips.
Though Wei Ying is startled at first, it doesn’t take long for him to melt into it. Lan Zhan lingers for a few more seconds, before pulling back and stepping away from the car.
“I’ll see you again soon, Wei Ying,” he says.
Wei Ying nods, pleasantly surprised at how quickly the tables have turned. “Yeah. See you soon, Lan Zhan.”
He has to force himself to drive away, but he’s content knowing that Lan Zhan wants to see him again—wants to date him, even. And as he drives away, Lan Zhan remains in the same spot, waving until they can see each other no longer.
Wei Ying thinks that this could be the beginning of something great. Something vibrant and delightful. It’s like watching a flower bud, knowing that what comes next is something undeniably precious. Oh, he can’t wait to see those flowers bloom.