There was a lull after their make-up was done and before wardrobe got to them, when Wei Ying was left alone with Nie Huaisang in front of the mirrors, both of them twisting lazily in their swivel chairs. Wei Ying was wearing a black silk dress robe and she had curlers in her hair. Huaisang’s robe was pale green and she was using a paper fan to cool herself, eyes cast downward while her mascara dried.
Wei Ying darted one more look around to check there were no staff nearby, and said, “Hey. You know when your bodyguard puts you to bed at night?”
Huaisang opened her eyes, then closed them again. A slow blink, her brow furrowing. She got a few dots of mascara beneath her left eyebrow, although Wei Ying chose not to tell her. The crew were used to Huaisang needing touch-ups.
“When they what?” Huaisang said.
“Like, when they take you up to bed and make sure you’ve set all your alarms and tuck you in or whatever.”
Huaisang’s mascara dots thickened, because she was leaning back in her chair and gazing wide-eyed up at the ceiling. She drew in a deep breath, a give me strength kind of breath. Wei Ying faltered.
“Your guy doesn’t do that for you?”
Huaisang resumed waving the fan. “No, Wei Ying. I don’t get tucked in every night by my bodyguard.”
“I didn’t say every night,” Wei Ying said, bristling. Huaisang made a disbelieving face and Wei Ying waved a hand at her, long pink nails glittering under the vanity lights. “Aiya, don’t even worry about it. You should be studying the lyrics anyway.”
Huaisang always forgot the lyrics whenever they were shooting a music video. Wei Ying didn’t know how she did it - it only took one read-through in the studio for Wei Ying to commit any track to heart. They were both soloists at the moment, but this was their third collaboration; their company liked putting Nie Huaisang and Wei Ying together. Netizens liked it too, said they had a playful spark, like watching two kittens gambol through a meadow.
“No, I already memorized this one,” Huaisang said. “It’s only got like four lines anyway. I’ve got it. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it.”
They had recorded their separate parts of this latest song on different days - actually in different cities, Huaisang at the usual studio in Beijing and Wei Ying in a makeshift booth at a producer’s house while she was in Changsha filming a variety show. Still, Wei Ying knew for a fact that Huaisang had more than four lines. She would have to scan Huaisang’s half one more time before they started filming, so she could prompt her as needed. Maybe she would slip her the wrong line and let her make a fool of herself and get chewed out by their director.
Wei Ying knew she didn’t have it in her to do that, but it was soothing to think about, and some of her malevolent fantasizing must have showed up on her face because Huaisang paused with her fan against her chin and said, pouting, “Are you mad at me?”
Wei Ying sighed. “No, silly.”
“I didn’t mean to make fun of you. I know you and Lan Zhan are… close.” Huaisang’s painted pink mouth quirked in its corner, like she was tamping down on a smirk. Wei Ying bristled again; she’d heard this line before, mostly from skeevy industry men who wanted to get Wei Ying alone and were pissed off because Lan Zhan wouldn’t let them.
“We work together!” Wei Ying said, exasperated. “She’s with me all day and it’s her job to keep me safe, that’s literally what a bodyguard does. How can she know I’m safe if she just abandons me in the evening and doesn’t make sure I’m in bed?”
“Sure,” Huaisang said, fluttering her fan again and batting her eyes over its top. “Why not? It’s just good sense.”
“It does make sense,” Wei Ying said, adjusting her robe. “And sometimes I just get exhausted and I can’t be bothered to take my make-up off or get changed so it makes sense for Lan Zhan to help me with that too. I’m not going to call in some poor assistant at midnight when Lan Zhan’s already right there.”
“She… changes you? Like she undresses you?”
Wei Ying shrugged. “So what? People undress us all the time.”
Huaisang let out a delighted whoop. “For shows, Wei Ying! Or when we’re filming! And they’re normally random staffers who work in wardrobe! How often is Lan Zhan taking all your clothes off?”
Wei Ying’s whole chest flushed hot at the words, at the dumb lie, all your clothes, which was not even what she’d said! “I don’t need this,” Wei Ying snapped, loud enough that Huaisang scrambled backward, out of range. “I’m not here for you to judge me.”
“No judgement!” Huaisang said. “Hey, come on, laoshi. I’m just kidding around.”
She only called Wei Ying laoshi when she was particularly frightened, and Wei Ying had to admit that it was a good way of calming them both down. Huaisang needed to remember her place. Wei Ying was the old hand, here, she was the one with the platinum debut album and the Golden Disc Award under her belt. Huaisang was lucky for every opportunity to work with her.
Besides, people did undress Wei Ying all the time. She was too busy for modesty! She was always having to change in the corners of crowded rooms or having her wardrobe adjusted literally in the middle of a photoshoot. Sometimes when Lan Zhan came to wake her up there were only a few minutes before they needed to head down to the car and Wei Ying wasn’t going to waste time sending Lan Zhan out of the room, especially since she was often so groggy and grumpy that she couldn’t decide what to wear and needed Lan Zhan to pick out her outfit, normally something soft and comfortable in the pale colours Lan Zhan liked. There was nothing weird about that. It was just Lan Zhan being helpful, Lan Zhan doing her job. It was the same as when she couldn’t decide what to eat late at night and she let Lan Zhan order instead, Lan Zhan flicking through the room service menu and picking up the hotel phone and banishing Wei Ying into the shower so she’d be clean and fresh when their dinner arrived.
“But it’s not like I’m harassing her,” Wei Ying said.
Huaisang had gone back to reading gossip about herself on her phone, and when Wei Ying spoke she jumped. “Huh?”
“I mean, she’s my employee. You don’t think it’s unethical, right? That I make her do this stuff for me?”
Make her was the wrong choice of words - let her would be more fitting, but Huaisang was already giving her that shit-eating little smile and Wei Ying didn’t want to offer up any more fuel by correcting herself.
“What?” she demanded. “Why are you smiling?”
“I don’t know. I guess I never thought of Lan Zhan as your ‘employee’. It’s a funny word. Does she call you boss? Laoban?”
“Of course not! Lan Zhan calls me… she calls me normal things.”
Wei Ying laughed, a short surprised hah.
“So she just calls you Wei Ying?”
“Yeah. She does. Mostly.”
Huaisang was leaning in again; reluctantly, Wei Ying leaned in too, so their heads were close together and she could speak more quietly.
“Well… sometimes she uses… a pet name. But I’ve heard your da-ge call you pet names too! He’s always like, Sang-er get off your fucking phone!” She made her voice growly in an uncanny imitation of Nie Mingjue, so pitch perfect that Huaisang actually looked a little alarmed and dropped her phone into the clutch bag at her feet. Once she’d shaken out of it and recovered the phone, she considered Wei Ying’s argument.
“He is my actual brother though. And my manager, not my bodyguard. But if Lan Zhan just calls you A-Ying or something I guess that’s normal enough, right?”
“Right,” Wei Ying agreed, although Lan Zhan didn’t actually call her A-Ying very often. Maybe never. She always used Wei Ying’s full name in public, and most of the time in private too, except for every so often when she wanted to distract Wei Ying or bring her down from a tantrum and then she said something like okay, princess. Calm yourself. Or sometimes during those late night hotel dinners when Wei Ying was sleepy and a little nauseous and couldn’t be bothered with her meal and Lan Zhan would feed her, spoonfuls of stew held up to her lips as Lan Zhan murmured, “Open up, princess,” and Wei Ying would narrow her eyes and frown but diligently open her mouth every time, bite by bite until the bowl was clean.
“It’s just A-Ying, then?” Huaisang said.
“Yes!” Wei Ying snapped, and then someone came in to take the curlers out of Wei Ying’s hair and fix Huaisang’s mascara stains, and it was time for wardrobe. The shoot this afternoon was relatively easy, no dancing and no special effects, just Huaisang and Wei Ying on a leather couch in an ornately decorated warehouse singing at each other and the camera. Wei Ying was in a pink taffeta gown and combat boots, gold bracelets jangling on her wrists.
Lots of people were milling about and Wei Ying wasn’t sure at first where Lan Zhan was. It put her on edge, not because she felt unsafe, Lan Zhan would always make sure she was safe, but because Lan Zhan’s name was in her mouth and her head and she always felt more settled when she could look over and find Lan Zhan looking back. She got told off a few times by their director for looking in the wrong direction, for shifting about too much, and then Lan Zhan appeared, right next to the camera Wei Ying was meant to be singing at. Hands folded behind her back, face composed, eyes fixed on Wei Ying. Wei Ying let out a little breath and Lan Zhan nodded at her and melted back into the crowd to do her job.
After that Wei Ying caught sight of her in flashes now and then, usually standing off to one side with one hand tucked behind her back, keeping an eye on things. She was wearing one of her more boring outfits, dark t-shirt and black jeans with a black baseball cap pulled over her cropped hair. When Wei Ying had public events Lan Zhan dressed a little flashier, a white button down and narrow slacks and sometimes a suit jacket too, and dark sunglasses to counteract the camera flashes around them. Wei Ying loved the white dress shirts most of all and was always trying to steal them from Lan Zhan’s laundry pile. She liked herself best with an unbuttoned shirt draped over her shoulders after Lan Zhan had already been wearing it for a day and the cotton was slightly rumpled, with the soft smell of Lan Zhan’s body heat and a non-descript aftershave when Wei Ying turned her nose into the collar, idly watching herself in the mirror while she did her evening skincare. Once or twice she’d fallen asleep still wearing one, curled up in the middle of an anonymous hotel bed, and when Lan Zhan stripped her out of them the next morning for the next day’s outfit, they were creased and ruined.
At video shoots like this, it was always reassuring to know that Lan Zhan was watching. Her presence gave Wei Ying the confidence to say when she was uncomfortable or thirsty without fearing anyone would snap at her; it meant she could focus on what she was good at without feeling self-conscious or nervous. Most of the time. Today, Wei Ying couldn’t stop playing the conversation with Huaisang back in her head, Huaisang’s knowing expression floating in her mind’s eye. If she tried very hard she could force herself not to think about it, but that just meant her mind skipped on, unstoppable, to thinking about what had happened last night.
Whatever. Wei Ying was a professional - she could keep the head stuff in her head and not let it spill into the work, and Lan Zhan wasn’t acting any different from normal, so why should Wei Ying? She made it to the end of the day like that, performing a delightful version of herself, until finally their director seemed satisfied and announced that they were done.
The wardrobe team said that Wei Ying could keep the pink dress and she couldn’t be bothered to change anyway, but she went with Huaisang to get the pins removed from their hair and rings unhooked from their ears, a haphazard pile of gold and silver and crystal building between them as they were divested of their ornaments.
“I’m starving,” Huaisang admitted. “You want to get some dinner with my crew?”
“I think I have a flight tonight,” Wei Ying said. She put a hand over her mouth to cover her yawn. “I’ll check with Lan Zhan, she knows my schedule better than me.”
“Hmmmmmmm,” Huaisang said. “Don’t you have an assistant for stuff like that?”
“Well, yeah,” Wei Ying said, hunting through a rack of dresses for her fur coat. “Wen Qing manages most of it, but she sends most of the scheduling stuff to Lan Zhan too. She said it’s more efficient that way.” Her coat was nowhere to be found and she gave up the search, turning just in time to catch Huaisang giving her another delighted, scandalised look.
“What?” Wei Ying demanded, hands on her hips. “Lan Zhan’s not allowed to know my schedule, now? It’s basically her schedule, too!”
“No, no, no,” Huaisang said, hurrying over with her hands held up, although she didn’t attempt to touch Wei Ying. “Laoshi, please, I have to know, what were you going to ask me this morning? Did something weird happen? Did something weirder than all of the unbelievably weird shit you’ve already told me happen? Please! Since Wen Chao got put on house arrest there’s been no good industry gossip, this humble one begs you!”
Wei Ying checked her phone; there was a new message from Lan Zhan. Car is waiting. She bit her lip. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“That came out wrong,” Huaisang said quickly. “I’m asking as a friend! Because maybe you need help! You know you can tell me anything, laoshi. Wasn’t it you who said we have to trust each other?”
Wei Ying had known she would regret that particular heart-to-heart in the corner of an afterparty last summer. Huaisang was always finding new ways to use Wei Ying’s pep talks against her.
“I guess,” she mumbled.
Huaisang nodded encouragingly. “You said it was after Lan Zhan… tucked you in?”
“Well, yeah.” Wei Ying crossed her arms. She liked to be tucked in at night - not too tightly, just enough that the blanket felt like a solid weight over her. Lan Zhan was well practiced by now, she knew how to get the balance right, and last night-- last night---
“She kissed me.”
Huaisang stared at her. Her fan fell weakly to her side.
“Not on the mouth!” Wei Ying exclaimed. “Just on my forehead! Just a peck.” She tapped her temple, the spot where Lan Zhan had made contact. “I’m pretty sure she thought I was asleep.”
Actually, Wei Ying knew that Lan Zhan had definitely thought she was asleep, because before kissing her Lan Zhan had leaned over her and said softly, “Wei Ying?”
Wei Ying had been too droopy to reply, tired out after a long day of dance practice, and her answer didn’t seem to matter either way. Her eyes were closed and she was already drifting off, and all she felt was Lan Zhan putting one hand on the bedspread and then the soft brush of Lan Zhan’s mouth on her forehead, kissing her goodnight.
“Laoshi,” Huaisang breathed. “This is the best gossip I have ever known--”
Wei Ying scowled, grumpier than ever now, defensive. She shouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. “Forget about it. It didn’t mean anything. Lan Zhan’s just an affectionate person.”
“She categorically is not. I’ve never even seen her smile.”
“That doesn’t mean anything! People are always going on about how Lan Zhan doesn’t smile as if it’s a big issue. She’s a bodyguard, looking intimidating is part of the job description.”
And anyway, Lan Zhan did smile, sometimes. Wei Ying had seen it for herself in pictures of Lan Zhan as a kid, and once on a flight when they were sharing headphones to watch Legend of a Rabbit, and also last night after kissing Wei Ying. Wei Ying had squinted her eyes very slightly open to watch Lan Zhan pick up her phone and plug it in for her and set her alarm clock for the morning and the whole time Lan Zhan had this secretive little crook in her mouth that Wei Ying couldn’t interpret as anything other than a smile.
Huaisang’s phone started to ring and she glanced down at it and made an eep face, declining the call. “To be honest I think this is some kind of workplace sexual harassment,” she mused, tapping her fan against her mouth, “but you’re kind of both the perpetrators, and both the victims. So that either makes it not fucked up at all or like, the most possible fucked up, I’d have to check with da-ge to be sure, but I’m not - oh, hey, Lan Zhan!”
Wei Ying spun around, to where Lan Zhan was standing in the dressing room doorway with Wei Ying’s fur in her hands. She nodded at Huaisang without saying anything and held up the coat. Wei Ying slipped into it, lovely silk lining against her bare arms, the briefest touch of Lan Zhan’s hands against her shoulders as she settled Wei Ying into it.
“Five a.m. flight tomorrow,” Lan Zhan said. “You need to rest.”
“Yeah,” Wei Ying agreed. She cast a defiant glance at Huaisang. “Thank you, Lan Zhan, that’s very helpful. Oh!” She tilted her head back hopefully. “Can we get boba on the way back to the hotel?”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan said. “As long as you wait in the car.”
“Safe flight, laoshi,” Huaisang said. “Call me if you need… anything.”
“I will,” Wei Ying promised, and waited for Lan Zhan to glance the other way before she pressed her finger to her lips and then drew it in a dash across her throat. Huaisang looked briefly troubled and Wei Ying smiled sweetly. Lan Zhan put her hand on the small of Wei Ying’s back; it was time to go.
She had to say a formal goodbye to the director and film one last soundbite for the behind the scenes video but Lan Zhan stayed close the whole time, hovering behind her, staring down anyone who took too long to wrap up the conversation. Wei Ying waited until they were out of Huaisang’s line of sight to lean into Lan Zhan a little bit, coming just shy of resting her head on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. When everything was done Lan Zhan led her down to the car and opened the back door for her, before climbing into the passenger seat beside the driver. There, Wei Ying thought. We do have boundaries. Everything felt very normal.
Wei Ying leaned forward to wrap her hands around Lan Zhan’s headrest and chattered all the long drive back to their hotel. Lan Zhan didn’t really answer any of her questions about the shoot (Did we look good? Mn. Did she like the set? Mn. Did she see Nie Huaisang fall off the back of the couch? Mn, with a distinct hint of satisfaction this time.) but she did request a stop outside a boba place and got out herself to pick it up, coming back with an extra large milk tea for Wei Ying and a paper cup of black coffee which their driver gratefully accepted. Just a plastic bottle of water for herself, although she deigned to taste a sip of Wei Ying’s when Wei Ying waved the straw in her face.
Wei Ying was happy to note not one instance of mutual harassment the whole way home. When they got to the hotel there was a crowd of fans who had found out where Wei Ying was staying, and a line of hotel staff doing their best to hold everyone back. Lan Zhan wrapped her arm tight around Wei Ying’s shoulders and herded her through the screaming throng of people, manhandling her into the building while Wei Ying grinned at her fans and called Love you! Love you! and clutched her boba tightly so as not to drop it on Lan Zhan’s feet.
The lobby was just as busy with people wanting to pull Wei Ying aside, the hotel manager and a few loitering press guys and bloggers, but Lan Zhan swatted each of them away and led Wei Ying to the elevator, standing menacingly in front of her to keep anyone from following them in, until finally the doors slid shut and they were alone.
Lan Zhan hit the button for the eleventh floor, where Wei Ying’s suite was. Lan Zhan’s room was down on the eighth. Wei Ying bit her lip again and tried to catch Lan Zhan’s eye but Lan Zhan was distracted, checking her phone, probably reading a confirmation from Wen Qing about the flight tomorrow morning. Wei Ying coughed lightly and Lan Zhan’s head jerked up, startling Wei Ying so that she had to fumble for what she wanted to say.
“I, uh - you should - you don’t need to come all the way up with me, Lan Zhan! I can take care of myself, I’ll go straight to bed, and you should - you should have a night off! You can go out if you want! Go meet somebody in the bar!”
Lan Zhan looked suspicious. Wei Ying knew she was acting strange, her voice gone high and sweat breaking out on her brow, but she persevered anyway. “Go on, Lan Zhan! I’m fine! I’m sure I won’t get lost on the way to my room, hahaha.”
Lan Zhan seemed unconvinced, but after a moment she nodded. “I’ll have them send your meal to your room.”
The elevator dinged for Wei Ying’s floor, and Wei Ying said, “Sure, thank you!” and hurried out before Lan Zhan could make her promise to send a photo of her empty plate.
Wei Ying went to her suite feeling pretty pleased with herself for this show of independence. The triumphant mood lasted until she got to the door and realized she didn’t know the entry code. She stood hesitating in the hallway until her phone buzzed with a message from Lan Zhan that just read 9230. Wei Ying punched the code in and tried not to think about Huaisang’s bug-eyed stare.
She kicked off her boots and sat on the end of her bed in her pink gown to finish her drink. No more messages from Lan Zhan - see! They could spend time apart! - but there was one from Jiang Yanli, a picture of her tiny baby, a keychain with Wei Ying’s face on it clutched in his pudgy fist.
Wei Ying called her immediately and managed to keep her on the phone until someone came to the door with Wei Ying’s dinner. “Ugh,” she said into the phone, “Lan Zhan ordered me mapo tofu again.”
“Oh, is Lan Zhan there with you? Tell her to bring you back to visit soon.”
“Lan Zhan’s not in charge of that,” Wei Ying said, dousing her plate in chilli oil.
“I’m sure she could sort something out if you asked her to,” Yanli said confidently. “Lan Zhan always comes through for you, and it’s been so long since I saw you, meimei.”
“Don’t make me feel sad,” Wei Ying pleaded. “Tell me more about A-Ling throwing up on his ba’s new suit.”
Yanli stayed on the phone all through dinner but soon after that she had to go back to her own busy life. She dropped another heavy hint about Wei Ying visiting before they hung up, and it left Wei Ying feeling guilty and a little homesick. Maybe she should say something about it to Lan Zhan. But there were a lot of new projects coming up and most of the time Wei Ying didn’t mind so much, living like she did, so far from her family and her old friends. It helped a lot to have Lan Zhan around. They had been working together for years, and Lan Zhan had been there for every up and down of Wei Ying’s career. Wei Ying had been there for Lan Zhan too, when she needed it, spending every night on the phone with her when Lan Zhan’s uncle got sick and she had to fly home for a week, or the time that Lan Zhan needed a date to her brother’s wedding last year and Wei Ying had basically invited herself. Jiang Cheng had told her that she was the rudest and most demanding person in the world, but Lan Zhan seemed relieved at the offer. She even allowed Wei Ying to coordinate their outfits, Lan Zhan in a navy blue tux and Wei Ying in a satin jumpsuit, long hair trailing down her back, giggling while they danced to an 80s love song with Lan Zhan’s hand on the small of her back and Wei Ying’s on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. Wei Ying loved to drink but that night she’d been especially tipsy, no need to worry about a hangover the next day, and she’d felt hot all over and swoony in Lan Zhan’s arms, Lan Zhan’s face turned down to her, the same unrelenting focus as ever and this time only a bare inch away.
It was fully dark now, and Wei Ying looked out over the glittering skyline and tried to remember what city she was in. She ended up catching her reflection instead, barefoot in her evening dress like a runaway pageant queen. She made a dumb face at herself, tongue out and eyes crossed, and then sighed. She already knew what she was going to do.
She took the stairs three flights down - she ran into some tourists on the ninth floor and had to pose for a selfie, throwing her fingers up in a cheerful peace sign. By the time she reached the eighth floor she was practically running, counting down the room numbers until she found the one she was looking for.
Lan Zhan opened the door in her workout gear, a tight shirt and grey sweatpants, and the fingerless black gloves she wore when she was lifting weights. She did not seem particularly surprised to see Wei Ying. Very slightly out of breath. Her hair damp with sweat, sticking up at the front like she’d just run her hand through it.
“Hey, princess,” she said.
It took Wei Ying’s mouth a second to catch up with her brain. “Oh, sorry! I can come back later, I didn’t mean to interrupt you!”
Lan Zhan gestured Wei Ying inside. “Have you eaten?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Wei Ying said, glancing around, not sure why she felt so on edge. Lan Zhan’s room was much smaller than her own, with Lan Zhan’s lifting gear in one corner and a king size bed taking up the rest of the space, freshly made, sheets the same crisp white as Wei Ying’s but somehow infinitely more inviting. Wei Ying perched on the mattress, crossed her legs, and said, “Can I have a drink?”
Lan Zhan went to the mini bar and pulled out a tiny bottle of vodka, handing it to Wei Ying without comment. Wei Ying knocked half of it back in one go, relishing the burn in her throat, while Lan Zhan leant against the wall and took off her gloves, tossing them onto the desk. Wei Ying screwed the lid back on the bottle and then unscrewed it again, twisting the plastic in her hands. Without looking up, she said, “Do you think our relationship is, like. Normal?”
“Yeah,” Wei Ying said. “Like, Huaisang seems to think that we’re. Weird. The way we touch and stuff. And how you put me to bed and help me get dressed and tonight I was thinking about, like. That time after Weibo Night when that guy tried to grab me and hit you instead.”
“Was just doing my job,” Lan Zhan said.
Wei Ying nodded. “I know but like, after that…”
They’d gone back to the hotel together, and Wei Ying had insisted on tending the bruise on Lan Zhan’s cheekbone herself. There was a small cut by Lan Zhan’s eye where his stupid watch had caught her, and Wei Ying straddled Lan Zhan’s lap and fussed over it with iodine and a tiny bandaid, and at the same time she set up the footage of Lan Zhan taking the guy out with a swift right hook on her phone, playing on a loop. The clip was already going viral after a fan had posted it online, and Wei Ying watched the comments roll in praising and thirsting over Lan Zhan and felt a strange mix of pleased and possessive. “See how good everyone thinks you are?” Wei Ying said cheerily, trying to justify the footage to herself, and Lan Zhan, who did not need justification, looked up at her and said nothing.
After much coaxing Lan Zhan had taken one painkiller and it basically knocked her out, so Wei Ying had to put her into bed, a weird role reversal, and then she was about to go back to her own room but Lan Zhan grabbed her, big sleepy hand wrapping tight around Wei Ying’s wrist and pulling her back to the bed. Lan Zhan muzzily rearranged them until she was spooning Wei Ying, one hand on Wei Ying’s stomach and the other snaking around her neck to rest at her throat, Lan Zhan’s hips tucked up against Wei Ying’s ass as she murmured at her to keep still. Wei Ying was planning to wait until Lan Zhan fell fully asleep and loosened her grip but she fell asleep herself before that happened, whole head gone fuzzy, weird twisting in her gut, restless dreams in Lan Zhan’s arms all night long. She woke up so wet she had to sneak out to the shower and jerk off under the spray with her eyes tightly shut, one hand on her throat and the other working frantically at her clit, biting her lip to keep quiet even though she knew she was alone, as if making a noise would mean admitting what was happening.
Lan Zhan was watching her now, carefully. Wei Ying took another nervous gulp of vodka.
“I’m not trying to say we need to change things! I just wanted to check with you that it feels normal. And that you’re happy working for me, and stuff. That you don’t feel, uh, harassed. And if you want a raise or anything, I’ll give you one. Or like, do you want a new car, Lan Zhan? Or an assistant? Anything you want, just name it and it’s yours.”
“I want you to get some sleep,” Lan Zhan said.
“I don’t feel tired yet. I think - ah, Lan Zhan, okay, okay!”
Lan Zhan had Wei Ying by the back of the neck, hand wrapped just under Wei Ying’s hairline and her thumb brushing the lobe of Wei Ying’s right ear. “Up,” she said, and Wei Ying stood. She let Lan Zhan march her all the way to the elevator and bundle her inside, punching the number eleven for the second time that evening. Once the doors closed Wei Ying made to wriggle out of Lan Zhan’s grip, but Lan Zhan wouldn’t let her, her fingers like a locked ring of pressure at the top of Wei Ying’s spine.
Outside Wei Ying’s door she pouted and said, “Are you angry now?” in a pathetic little voice, hoping to manipulate some kind words out of Lan Zhan, but Lan Zhan only said, “No,” and unlocked it, shooing her inside.
Once the door had clicked shut behind them Lan Zhan finally let go of her, like only now was she sure Wei Ying wasn’t going to make a break for it. Where did she think Wei Ying wanted to run off to? The only place she could think of was back down to Lan Zhan’s room. She made a show of rubbing at her neck and sat on the arm of the couch while Lan Zhan pulled a clean t-shirt out of her suitcase.
“Lan Zhan,” she said. She brushed her finger against her nose, a nervous tic her bosses had been trying to train out of her since she was a trainee. “You’re sure you’re happy? With me? This is where you want to be?”
Lan Zhan straightened to look at Wei Ying. Held her gaze even when Wei Ying willed her to look away. “Yes,” she said.
“Oh.” Wei Ying’s room felt warmer than before, and the pink dress was suddenly constrictive, so much unnecessary fabric, swallowing her up. She stood and unhooked the shoulders, and then turned around and presented her back to Lan Zhan. “Can you unzip me, then?”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan said. Her hands touched Wei Ying’s back, warm against Wei Ying’s bare skin, goosebumps rippling underneath.
“You’d better close your eyes though,” Wei Ying said belatedly, “because I don’t have a bra on.”
Lan Zhan said, “Mn,” again and pulled the zipper all the way down, and then held the edges of the dress open so that Wei Ying could step out of it. Now she was just in her underwear and socks. The t-shirt Lan Zhan had picked out was lying on the back of the couch, a soft white crewneck that Wei Ying suspected might have actually belonged to Lan Zhan, a long time ago. She took one step toward it and paused. She turned around.
Lan Zhan’s eyes were still closed, and she had the dress folded over her arm. Wei Ying took it back and tossed it onto the floor - Lan Zhan’s expression flickered at the sound of the dress crumpling on the carpet, but her eyes stayed closed. Hands at her sides now. Wei Ying almost wanted to push her, just to see if she stumbled back and opened her eyes or simply absorbed it and stayed where she was.
“Nie Huaisang asked if it feels like I’m your boss,” Wei Ying said. “Lan Zhan. Is that how you think of me?”
Lan Zhan said, “No.”
Wei Ying reached out and put her hand on Lan Zhan’s arm, the bare golden skin where her sleeve ended and her bicep swelled out. She felt so solid. Sometimes Wei Ying’s whole life felt like something transient, temporary, all of the glamour and decadence like something from a dream that could be whisked away as quickly as it had arrived. Lan Zhan was the only firm true thing, the only real source of permanence. Her eyelids twitched again when Wei Ying touched her but they still didn't open.
“How do you see me then, Lan Zhan?”
Like a warning, Lan Zhan murmured, “Princess…”
Wei Ying put her other hand on Lan Zhan’s right bicep and ran her palms up Lan Zhan’s arms until she could twine her wrists around Lan Zhan’s neck. They were so close now that she could hear Lan Zhan’s steady breathing. The vodka was racing through her and it was intoxicating to have Lan Zhan in front of her like this, eyes closed, patient, but dangerous too, like something lying in wait.
“Did you notice that you only call me that when we’re alone?” Wei Ying asked. Her voice came out like a whisper. “I never thought about it before, but it’s like you don’t want anyone else to know. Like it’s our secret. Isn’t it, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Zhan said nothing, and she was silent for so long that Wei Ying started to second guess herself. She had pushed too far; she was being rude. She unclasped her hands and started to move away when Lan Zhan grabbed her wrists and opened her eyes. Wei Ying watched, breathless, as Lan Zhan’s gaze tracked all the way down her body and then back up to her face.
“If there is something you want,” Lan Zhan said, “you should ask for it.”
Wei Ying felt caught like a fly in a web. She wished she could cover her face with her hands, but Lan Zhan was holding them too tightly to get away. “I want,” she said. “I don’t know. I want… I want…”
But there was no clear way to say it, so instead Wei Ying surged up against Lan Zhan and brought their mouths together in a plaintive kiss.
She was so nervous and shocked at her own daring that it took her a second to realize that Lan Zhan was kissing her back. She caught Wei Ying’s soft mouth with her own and released Wei Ying’s wrists so she could wrap her arms around Wei Ying’s bare waist, pulling her closer, coaxing Wei Ying’s mouth open with her tongue and humming when Wei Ying started to melt against her, slumping her whole body into Lan Zhan’s and allowing herself to be caught up in Lan Zhan’s arms, one of Lan Zhan’s big hands sweeping up her back to tangle in her hair. Lan Zhan’s tongue lapped against her own and Wei Ying moaned without meaning to, the noise falling from her mouth before she could stop it. She put her hand on Lan Zhan’s cheek, and they both opened their eyes at the same time.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whispered. She sounded wrecked already, wrung out and desperate, mostly naked and caught in Lan Zhan’s arms, and she kissed the bow of Lan Zhan’s mouth and said it again, “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan,” until finally Lan Zhan picked her up, ignoring Wei Ying’s indignant squeak, and carried her over to the couch. Wei Ying wrapped her legs around Lan Zhan’s hips and squeezed tight as if she might fall, even though Lan Zhan had never dropped her before now. Then Lan Zhan was sitting down and Wei Ying was straddling her lap, not a particularly new position for them, and they were kissing again, which they had never done, not ever.
Wei Ying felt dizzy with it, drunk, and she wanted to get her hands all over Lan Zhan, impatient with Lan Zhan’s clothes. Lan Zhan’s hands were roaming up and down Wei Ying’s waist, thumbs digging into the soft skin of her belly, and she didn’t seem in a hurry to undress herself. “Not fair,” Wei Ying murmured, and scrabbled at the hem of Lan Zhan’s shirt until finally Lan Zhan raised her hands, indulgent, and allowed Wei Ying to peel it off of her.
She got Lan Zhan’s sports bra off too and then she was staring at everything she hadn’t allowed herself to look too hard at before. Lan Zhan’s deep collarbones and her fine toned shoulders and her tits, small and pointed with dark peaked nipples that Wei Ying immediately had to touch, softer than they looked in her hands. She thought maybe Lan Zhan would stop her but when she chanced a look up Lan Zhan was only watching her. She raised an eyebrow and Wei Ying could feel the dare implicit there. What now, princess?
Wei Ying ducked down and pressed her open mouth against Lan Zhan’s right breast, darting her tongue out against Lan Zhan’s nipple. She tasted faintly salty, like sweat and the end of a long day, and Lan Zhan’s hand came up to cup the back of Wei Ying’s head, spurring her on. Wei Ying lathed her tongue over the nipple again and sucked at it, first softly and then harder when Lan Zhan made a good, encouraging noise and arched up into Wei Ying’s mouth.
“Yeah?” she said against Lan Zhan’s skin. “That’s good?”
“You know it is,” Lan Zhan said.
She was toying with the waistband of Wei Ying’s underwear, two fingers dipping under the elastic, and Wei Ying jerked her hips forward restlessly and said, “Um, not really.” Then she wished she hadn’t, screwing her eyes shut and burying her face in Lan Zhan’s chest, spit-wet skin against her cheek, until Lan Zhan pulled her back by the hair, looking intently into her face.
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing,” Wei Ying said, and tried to lean into Lan Zhan’s mouth again, but Lan Zhan held her back. Waiting. A spring of pain in Wei Ying’s scalp where Lan Zhan was making a ponytail with her fist. “Ugh! I’ve just never done this before. With anyone. Ever.”
She gave a crooked smile as Lan Zhan’s eyes widened, hoping Lan Zhan wouldn’t be too turned off by how inexperienced she was, and then cried out “Mmf!” when Lan Zhan pulled her into another kiss, this one even deeper and headier than the last. She could feel Lan Zhan’s teeth now, Lan Zhan’s canines sinking into her lower lip, and Lan Zhan’s blunt nails raking down her back and further still, snaking beneath her underwear and groping at her ass, Lan Zhan’s fingertips edging in closer to where Wei Ying was hot and wet and wanting. Wei Ying realized for the first time how spread open she was, in this position, her knees on either side of Lan Zhan’s hips. Her clit was throbbing and Lan Zhan was so, so close to touching it, but right now she seemed content to tease at the edges of Wei Ying’s pussy, tongue swiping lazily over Wei Ying’s swollen lower lip while Wei Ying pawed clumsily at her tits, already overwhelmed.
“Please,” she said, when Lan Zhan released her mouth, “please, Lan Zhan, I wanna make you feel good, how can I, will you tell me what you want--”
“Want you on your knees,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Ying made a helpless little noise and slid down easy as breathing, depositing herself at Lan Zhan’s feet. That was the easy part. Once she was down there, kneeling between Lan Zhan’s spread legs, she put her hands shakily on Lan Zhan’s thighs and said, “Um, and now?”
Lan Zhan’s mouth curled in one corner. She lifted her hips, rolled down her sweatpants, a dark tangle around her ankles.
And that was Lan Zhan’s cunt, right in front of her, fine black hair that gave way to dark folds of skin and she was wet, Wei Ying could see her glistening, she could smell her, the heavy musky scent that seemed new and familiar all at once. Lan Zhan leaned back and put her hand back in Wei Ying’s hair, guiding her closer and tilting her hips up against Wei Ying’s mouth. At first Wei Ying didn’t quite know what to do, but Lan Zhan didn’t seem to mind. She let Wei Ying explore, first with experimental little licks and then deeper, long swipes of her tongue, chasing the taste of Lan Zhan. She found Lan Zhan’s clit and mouthed at it eagerly, burrowing in closer when Lan Zhan made a cut-off uhn sound and fisted her hand even tighter in Wei Ying’s hair. Wei Ying was losing control, she felt like she was making out with Lan Zhan’s cunt, and she knew she wasn’t displaying any particular finesse but Lan Zhan was panting above her, thrusting up into her kisses.
“Doing so well,” she said. Wei Ying hummed happily. She still couldn’t quite believe that Lan Zhan was letting her do this. “So good for me. My Wei Ying.”
“Wanna make you come,” Wei Ying mumbled, helpless and blushing at how it sounded, the words vibrating against Lan Zhan’s cunt. “Lan Zhan, please--” and Lan Zhan took her jaw in hand to keep her still and started to fuck her mouth, canting her hips so hard that Wei Ying would have fallen back if Lan Zhan wasn’t holding her close. She put all her energy into keeping her tongue out flat and ready and forgot everything else, forgot how to speak and how to move, how to do her best, how to do anything at all except take it.
It was so much easier than Wei Ying had expected. Wei Ying’s old excuse whenever she talked about her love life was to say that it was too much effort. I work hard enough as it is, she always said, I don’t have the energy for a relationship. She hadn’t realized that she was already in one.
She had trained for years to look convincingly sexy in a music video, to craft her voice and expressions to have the maximum seductive appeal, and she had thought that actually having sex would be a natural extension of that training, like picking up a dance routine, some secret formula that you had to study hard to be good at - but on her knees with her mouth on Lan Zhan, Wei Ying wasn’t studying anything. This didn’t feel like practice. It didn’t feel like something she needed to work on; it felt like everything she was doing was already enough. She had always been enough for Lan Zhan.
When Lan Zhan came she tipped her head back on the couch, face turned up to the ceiling and a throaty exhale, pulsing against Wei Ying’s mouth. She let go of Wei Ying’s hair and even though she had been pulling it too hard Wei Ying felt tragic at the loss, limp on the floor and unsure what to do with herself, until Lan Zhan hauled Wei Ying back up onto her lap and kissed her again, greedy and demanding like she’d not yet had her fill. Wei Ying was straddling her leg, soaked underwear dragging up and down the length of Lan Zhan’s muscled thigh, hot and damp now with slick.
“You’re so wet,” Lan Zhan said. “Just from having your mouth fucked.”
Wei Ying made a distressed noise and buried her face in the crook of Lan Zhan’s neck, grinding her pussy helplessly against Lan Zhan’s thigh. She was embarrassed by her own desperation, scooting back and forth like she was riding a pillow, whimpering like a needy pet while Lan Zhan played with her tits, pinching one nipple and then twisting it meanly and saying, “Didn’t know my princess would give it up so sweetly,” and at that Wei Ying went stuttering over the edge, shaking her head in denial even as she came in a shivery rush all over Lan Zhan’s lap.
“Good girl,” Lan Zhan said. “Come on.”
Wei Ying was too hazy to move but she let Lan Zhan lay her out on the couch with her head cushioned against the arm. She let Lan Zhan peel off her underwear, so wet they stuck to her skin and twisted around her ankles, and then she let Lan Zhan pull her legs open wide, one foot on the floor and the other thrown over the back of the couch while Lan Zhan took her in: her heaving chest and her pretty flushed face and her pussy all sensitive and swollen, her whole body laid out for Lan Zhan like a banquet. She looked deeply satisfied with what she saw. She stroked two fingers in a lazy swipe up the length of Wei Ying’s pussy, circling her clit with practiced ease and making Wei Ying shudder and protest.
“Too much, it’s too much, Lan Zhan, you have to give a virgin a break!”
“Not a virgin anymore,” Lan Zhan said, and before Wei Ying could stop her she was tucking her face between Wei Ying’s legs and tonguing at her clit. Wei Ying whined pitifully and bit her own hand, trying desperately to tamp the noises down, but she was fighting a losing battle. Lan Zhan drew sounds out of her that she had never made before, dizzy yelps and these slutty, whispery moans and Lan Zhan’s own name, over and over, tumbling out of her mouth like water over a precipice.
She was incoherent by the time Lan Zhan’s thick index finger pressed inside her. Wei Ying was so tight she could only take about an inch of it but Lan Zhan kept working at her, tongue flexing against her clit with so much more precision than Wei Ying had managed, not needing to pause for breath, wave after wave of pressure reverberating up through Wei Ying’s body and that blunt fingertip wearing down her resistance. Wei Ying wanted to get fucked, she realized. She wanted Lan Zhan to fuck her. She wanted Lan Zhan to force her open and claim her pussy for herself, she wanted Lan Zhan to wreck her, she would let Lan Zhan do anything to her, absolutely anything. She came for the second time begging for Lan Zhan to never ever stop, and then regretted it when Lan Zhan didn’t, that mean finger fucking steadily inside, opening her up for a second, Lan Zhan’s mouth against Wei Ying’s thigh as she told her, steady and sure, that Lan Zhan was going to fuck her, probably tonight, was going to carry her downstairs and spread her out on Lan Zhan’s bed and use her dick -- Lan Zhan had a dick -- to keep her full until it was time to catch their flight. Then she put her mouth on Wei Ying’s clit again, and the tiny part of Wei Ying’s brain that could still think rationally suspected that her lips were curved and that Lan Zhan was smiling again, just like Wei Ying had told Huaisang she did, while Wei Ying howled and arched up like she’d been hit.
But even Lan Zhan had to stop eventually, if only to catch her breath. She panted against Wei Ying’s navel, her head resting on Wei Ying’s stomach with one hand possessive on her hip. Wei Ying reached down to touch at her hair still damp with sweat. The tip of Lan Zhan’s ear was flushed pink and Wei Ying petted at it, fascinated at the warmth of her skin. When she could speak again, she said, “Lan Zhan.”
Lan Zhan shifted enough to look up at her.
“I was awake when you kissed me yesterday.”
Lan Zhan’s mouth parted. Her lips were still wet with Wei Ying.
“Sorry I didn’t say anything,” Wei Ying went on. “But - you’ve never done that before. I think that’s why I - why it changed.”
Lan Zhan looked sheepish. “I have,” she said. “Done that before.”
“You’ve kissed me goodnight? When you thought I was asleep?” Wei Ying pushed up on her elbows and Lan Zhan straightened with her, pulling Wei Ying’s legs across her lap.
“How many times!”
Lan Zhan tilted her head like she was calculating. “Nine or ten. That I can recall.”
“That you can recall! Lan Zhan! How long have you been in love with me?”
Lan Zhan was watching her through hooded eyes, not cautious anymore, not concerned. “A while.”
Wei Ying laughed, happy and blissed out. She had been singing love songs since she was a teenager and she’d almost given up believing that there was anything real behind it, anything more than a catchy hook to drape a chorus around. And now - Wei Ying knew already that she was never going to get over this feeling. “Me too, I think,” she said, and Lan Zhan nodded at her, that old easy condescension, I got that, princess. “Ah, Lan Zhan - do you think you should quit?”
Lan Zhan took Wei Ying’s chin in her fingers, turning her face up to her. “Is that what you want?”
“No. I don’t know. I want you to stay, but you don’t have to work for me anymore, unless you want to. As long as you don’t leave. Do you promise?”
“And do you promise to fuck me tomorrow when we get to Shanghai?”
“Promised to fuck you tonight,” Lan Zhan pointed out.
“Ah, but - Lan Zhan, I’m so - I’m all - you were the one who said I need to rest, please, have mercy on your A-Ying!”
Lan Zhan considered and then said, “I will fuck you to sleep.”
“Oh,” Wei Ying said, dimpling at her. “Okay. You’re the boss.”