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Many Happy Returns

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Dee is usually pretty irritated when Vesca turns up on his doorstep, all long legs and hair gel and afterthought hygiene. "One would never guess you studied medicine, Mr University Student," he sniffs in that imperious way he has. "Well, come in quickly before someone sees you. I don't want people thinking I house vagrants." Today is no exception as far as the irritation goes, but the command lacks its usual sting - probably because he's still holding a wet paintbrush when he comes to the door.

His hair's pulled back from his face in a meticulous knot held together with four chopsticks and an unlucky paintbrush. Vesca supposes that's all right. Dee's got a lot of hair. Still makes him look kind of ridiculous, though, and a bit girly - well, girlier. The makeup sort of takes care of that already.

"Well?" Dee prompts, gesturing more forcefully with the paint brush in his hand. He tilts his head, almost but not quite exasperated. "Vesca, obviously you aren't busy today, but some of us have things to be getting on with."

Vesca frowns as he allows himself to be drawn inside, more hastily than he might have moved, himself. "I thought you said you'd finished all your papers?" He raises an eyebrow as Dee fills his ancient kettle and sets it on the stove. "That was your excuse for not coming out drinking with us last week, remember?" Dee throws him a look more poisonous than the sea snake that appeared in his fish tank over Christmas, and moistens the paintbrush at the sink, squeezing the tip gently. The black ink looks strange over his pale skin.

"I am not working on assignments," he says quietly. Vesca is instantly on edge. Dee's voice is rarely quiet like that - well, it's always pretty demure, unless the guy is yelling at him - but it's rare for the Asian man to sound uncertain, wavering. "I am writing to my... family."

"You make it sound like a major chore, Dee," Vesca says, trying for levity. "Are they that bad?"

Dee smiles at him blankly. It would be horrifying, had Vesca not already seen it too many times for comfort. "My father's ideals are quite different to my own. Not bad, just..." A sigh. "Different." He pours the heated water into a tiny, delicate tea pot, and carries it carefully to the low table beside the couch. "Can I persuade you to--"

"No." Vesca answers automatically. He hates sugar in his tea. One day Dee'll get that. Probably around the same time he starts to understand Dee a little bit. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Dee hesitates. Vesca plunges on in without any further testing of the water. "Because I'll listen if you do. Might not have anything useful to say, but you know, they say it helps."

"Who says?" Dee smiles that blank smile again and reclines as much as he is able in the armchair. Hovering his cup indecisively beside his lips, breath barely shifting the steam, he looks suddenly delicate, and Vesca's not at all sure he wants to hear it any more, but that's what he gets for doing a cannonball instead of a safe, respectable slide-in entry from the very edge of Lake Dee. He never could do things by halves. "I..."

Vesca leans forward to snag his own tea, and sits back with trepidation and the misplaced comfort-scent of cinnamon.

"They are only cards," Dee admits suddenly, softly. "For the New Year. My father does not like me to write, often. He is concerned that I will, ah, affect my... younger brother." He takes a tentative sip from the rim of his tea cup, and jumps when Vesca slams his own back down on the table. Violet eyes focus on the blond man, half concerned and half off-with-the-fairies. "Is something the matter?"

Vesca knows his glare is probably hard and unforgiving, and he hopes Dee realises the anger isn't aimed at him. "I don't know how you can just say that so calmly. He's your brother as much as your father's son, right?" He sits back again, without his tea, and ignores the part of his mind that's asking, slightly bewildered, Dee has a brother?

Dee lets out a slight chuckle, at that, which Vesca feels is totally misplaced. "More than you realise," he agrees with some amusement and the reappearance of that oddly distant smile. "But he is also my father, and I must respect his wishes."

"That whole filial piety thing, yeah?" Vesca grunts as he snags his tea again, and drains it in one gulp, to Dee's wrinkled nose. "No offence, Dee, but that kinda sucks." He bites his tongue - Dee's gonna get huffy - and bobs forward again like some kind of retarded chicken to view the neat characters that line the back of the cards Dee had been writing. "They look nice, though," he says before the balloon of Dee's indignation swells fully, and the Chinese man deflates suddenly with a raised eyebrow. "What do they say?"

Purple irises join the eyebrows momentarily in their soaring, though this is an action made fonder by the advent of the tiny smirk on Dee's lips. Vesca nearly grins. "I suppose I should not expect you to be at all knowledgeable," he says, and gestures to the first card, decorated with winter flowers. "A formal greeting for my father. The red envelope is for Xiao Di."

"Dee what now?" Vesca asks blankly. Dee very nearly winces at the butchered pronunciation, and hastens to correct it.

"Xiao Di, Vesca," he says, really exasperated this time. "It means 'younger brother'. You are terribly ignorant. Do you know any Chinese at all?"

Vesca gives him what he hopes is a look. "Knee how," he says, and Dee shakes his head stiffly. Vesca interrupts before he can be the recipient of another lecture. "And at least I'm not still being ordered around by my parents in college."

He regrets it almost immediately, of course, as Dee's face falls back into that mask of apathy. "It is not that simple," he laments, and Vesca makes a rude sound in response.

"Pretty much everything is simple if you look at it right, Dee," he explains. "Look, you write the kid a card, and tell him happy new year from me, too, and, uh..." He rifles briefly through his pockets, pulled out a five dollar bill. "Put that in your red envelope, 'kay?"

He watches Dee's expression change, and at the soft brush of his skin as he accepts Vesca's small offering, he realises he has to get out of there before he does something stupid.

"I've gotta get going, Dee," he manages. "I'll see you around, yeah? Kongy fat choy, I guess."

Dee does not rise, as he usually does, to usher Vesca from his apartment. He is already writing, filling in the bottom line of the new card with the crosses and circles that mark hugs and kisses.

He's not there when Dee runs out of space for the markers, or when the Chinese man thrusts the card suddenly away, so that the ink will not run with tears.

But he's there when Dee gets a letter back.