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Every First

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Lan Zhan was a simple man with a simple routine: wake up early, take a shower, drink a warm cup of tea and go to work not even a second too late.

At the fresh age of twenty-five, Lan Zhan has already accomplished way more than what his family - the prestigious Lans - would have wanted from him. Gusu Yunshen Design had a grand history behind it, starting from a simple building with only one floor by none other than his great, great, great grandmother Lan Yi, and with time and perseverance, it morphed into the gigantic company it was today.

Famous, prestigious, sought after… and Lan Zhan was the Vice President of his family’s greatest pride.

Of course, all that success meant the spotlight as well, and he was not very fond of finding himself on the front pages of different magazines. Things like ‘The Second Most-Sought after bachelor…..’ - first being his big brother, up until he settled down with a… Lan Zhan knew better than to comment on that - didn’t interest him in the slightest. He would rather - if it was inevitable - be featured in ‘magazines’ that write about the company’s achievements, or the trends they’re working hard to set.

“There’s no harm done, A-Zhan!” his brother would tell him. “Other people might appreciate only our exterior, but as long as we stay in the clear, that doesn’t do us any damage at all.”

Lan Zhan knew the logic behind it, but that definitely did not mean he could cope with it forever. He was not built for flashlights. He loved his quiet. His perfect resting time would be with a book in his hands and rain pouring down outside.

Anyway, another thing that Lan Zhan didn’t take any interest in, unlike his peers, was the desire to goof around, especially during his high school and college years. So he gladly missed out on all the parties and the idiotic fights and found absolute comfort in his books. Now that he thought about it, Lan Wangji had missed his prom night, too, and yes, it was because he couldn't bring himself to invite someone, nor accept their requests.

Suffice it to say, despite his fair looks, good mannerisms and the high intellect he possessed, Lan Zhan had taken no interest in anyone thus far, and he was more than content with how things are.

Too bad that his family did not share his sentiment.

Lan Zhan resisted the undeniable urge to groan — the Lans did not groan, for they were strong enough to bear anything thrown at them — at the pile of job applications on his desk. Today, he was to go through the very last candidates applying for the job of his personal assistant. Lan Zhan has been doing this for the past few weeks and… Jiang Cheng, his new brother-in-law never misses an opportunity to reprimand him for his indecisiveness.

Just as he was about to unfold the documents plastered over his desk, the door to his office opens and inside enter none other than his big brother and his husband. Lan Zhan knew that his brother did not require it out of him, but he still stood up, even if it was for a simple curt nod thrown at them.

His brother was wearing a gray suit today, with a baby blue shirt underneath. His hair was braided in his usual style — Jiang Cheng liked to call it ‘the dead mother in Anime hairstyle,’ much to their uncle’s irritation.

Jiang Cheng, on the other hand, was wearing a black suit and a very dark purple shirt with a black tie around his neck, tied so tightly that Lan Zhan felt like he was the one choking. His brother-in-law always liked to keep his hair in a bun, even at his own wedding. Well, it did suit him, Lan Zhan guessed.

“What brings you two here so early?” Lan Zhan asked, sitting on his chair again. His brother came to sit on the chair opposite him, while Jiang Cheng made himself comfortable on the wide couch at Lan Zhan’s right.

“I thought I’d come and see the progress you’ve made with the applicants,” Lan Huan said. “Are they no good? Isn't A-Cheng narrowing the list down enough for you?”

Lan Zhan shook his head. “He is but… I do not know. I have yet to go through the last ones, but so far…” he stopped himself before blurting out anything that might be wrong.

Nonetheless, he was immediately interrupted by a not-so-quiet snort coming from Jiang Cheng.

“If you Lans didn’t have such high standards for everything, maybe you wouldn’t be in this kind of situation. And don’t look at me like that,” he added after Lan Zhan threw him a cold look. “You know I’m right. I narrow that huge list of applicants down to a minimum for you, but you go out of your way and dismiss them all."

He got up from the couch and came over to Lan Zhan’s desk to take a look at the applications. He raised a sharp eyebrow as his eyes fell on one of them in particular. “This one doesn’t seem too bad,” he commented. “Su She? That’s an ugly name.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Lan Zhan graced him with a reply, despite it all. “What is important are his qualifications and he has more than half of the previous candidates combined."

"And why is that?"

Lan Zhan stared blankly, his gaze turning sharper with every chuckle his brother-in-law teased him with. As if he would answer that.

Jiang Cheng did not need a reply out of him, though, if what he said next was any indication of that.

"Why do you blame those poor people that they can't help but fall for you, Second Master Lan?"

"A-Cheng," his brother chimed in. "We really can't help it."

Jiang Cheng snorted again. “As I said. You Lans really do have high standards.”

Before Lan Zhan could say anything, his brother was the one to break the mood with a humorous short laugh. “You’re absolutely right. We do have high standards indeed. Hence why we’re married.”

“Huh! And that has nothing to do with the fact that you were totally smitten?” Jiang Cheng stared at him from the corner of his eyes.

Were they seriously going to flirt right in front of Lan Zhan like… all the times they’ve done before this one? Again?

“I’m not gonna deny that, A-Cheng. But this is exactly what A-Zhan must feel too.” Lan Zhan frowned, not understanding how he could possibly be included in their flirting. “If he doesn’t get to choose a good candidate for the job--”

Jiang Cheng was married to a Lan but he still kept his Jiang name, hence why he was totally able to groan and interrupt his brother’s teasings in the process.

“He’s looking for a personal assistant, not for a life-long partner.” What he said made total sense to Lan Zhan, though he would never say it out loud.

“He should be looking for the latter too, to be honest, or else I will see him grow old and never get laid.”

“Brother, please!” Lan Zhan exclaimed quietly, as he felt waves of embarrassment sending chills all over his body. “This is neither the time nor the place.”

Lan Huan only gave him an innocent smile while Jiang Cheng was rubbing at the bridge of his nose. Lan Zhan suddenly had the ridiculous desire to hide under the table and wishing silently that the two would just go away.

“A-Zhan, I’m afraid you can’t hide this time.” The fact that his brother could read him better than he read his own books was truly scary in a lot of ways.

“You…” Lan Zhan hesitated. “You two are not here to help me with the applicants, are you not?”

His brother shook his head and Jiang Cheng heaved out a sigh.

“Your big brother has set up a date for you.”

Lan Zhan blinked at his brother-in-law, unsure if he heard it correctly. “A what?” he couldn't help but ask.

Lan Huan chuckled. “It’s the truth,” he said. “Ready or not, Fragrance Palace has a reservation with yours and your date’s name on it.”

“Fragrance Palace?” Lan Zhan threw a look at Jiang Cheng. “Did you get your sister involved in this too?”

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes and gave him a shrug. “Don’t get over yourself. A-Jie and her peacock fiance don’t care for shit like this, but A-Huan here insisted so I sent them a message.”

“Why the need to surprise me?”

“Well, obviously because you would not have agreed otherwise, A-Zhan.” Lan Huan rose from the chair, walking to the door. “Good thing I told you a day before, right?” He turns to look at Lan Zhan's look of shock before smiling innocently. “Be there at 2 PM sharp!”

“But I don’t lea—”

“At 2 PM sharp, A-Zhan.” His brother did not even let him finish before opening the door to his office and seeing himself out.

Jiang Cheng clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Give me some of these. I’ll look them over for you.”

Lan Zhan heaved out a quiet sigh and nods. He was left rubbing softly on his left temple as Jiang Cheng grabbed almost half of the documents, heading out.

Not only was he forced on a date with God knows who, but he would also need to leave work earlier than needed. Outrageous! This was just plain out ridiculous in more ways than one.

Lan Zhan only prayed he could survive tomorrow.


“Are you seriously going after him tomorrow?” Jiang Cheng asked his husband as they walked side by side to his office. “He will definitely notice you.”

“So what if he does?” Lan Huan asked back, opening the door for him. Jiang Cheng, true to his words, did take half the documents on Lan Zhan’s desk and would be taking a look at them to see which one would suit Lan Zhan best as an assistant.

“It is not like A-Zhan will ever hold it against me. After you,” he gestured with a hand for Jiang Cheng to step inside first since it was his office after all.

“I feel like you’re holding his affection for granted,” Jiang Cheng said as he plopped in his fancy rolling chair. “Everybody has a limit.”

Lan Huan helped himself to a glass of water before turning to stare at his husband. Filling a glass of wine for him, he walked over to the desk and sat on a chair across from him, sliding the alcoholic beverage to Jiang Cheng’s side. Deciding to ignore his last statement, he asked: “Are you going to go through this all day?”

Jiang Cheng shook his head. Without lifting them up, he read through the first applications. Some of them had very detailed CVs attached to the forms and some were just some random details thrown in. He threw them in the trash just for good measure.

“Not good?” Lan Huan asked.

“Not too much detail,” Jiang Cheng responded, his free hand reaching for his drink. “I don’t think Lan Zhan would appreciate it. Besides, even these that I’m not throwing away aren’t that much bett— Huh!”

“What?” Lan Huan asked, a bit concerned. “Is something wrong?”

“Yes. I mean, no. Nothing is wrong. It’s just… this person…”

"Who?" He found himself curious. Jiang Cheng rarely - if ever - would get as shocked as this time. Lan Huan rose from his seat and walked over to him to peak down behind his shoulder.

"Wei Ying." Lan Huan recited the name out-loud. "You know him, A-Cheng?"

His husband seemed like he had not found his voice yet. He managed a weak nod but did not avert his gaze from the picture attached to the application he was holding in his hands.

"Who is he? If you do not mind me asking?" He tried carefully. Jiang Cheng seemed pretty agitated for some reason Lan Huan had yet to know.

Jiang Cheng swallowed. "I knew him in High School."

Lan Huan raised a fine eyebrow at that. "He is rich?"

Jiang Cheng shook his head. "He had a special scholarship. He…" he chuckled faintly. "To think that he really did it."

Lan Huan found it difficult to cope with all the information Jiang Cheng was - if he were to be honest - spouting.

"I'll recommend him," he finally told Lan Huan.

"Do you have a debt to pay to the guy?"

Jiang Cheng chuckled again, this time more noticeable. "God, no. Wei Ying doesn't even know I work here." He waved him off with a hand. "Plus, he would never want to get in through a recommendation. The reason why I said I'll recommend him is simple; he is talented."

"Talented, huh?" Lan Huan bent down to take a better look;

Name: Wei Ying.

Age: 25.

Birthplace: Yiling.

Graduated from: Yiling Uni Design.

Yiling Uni Design was not at all that impressive but it didn't necessarily mean that those who graduate from there were incompetent by any means.

"Hmm, I do not think A-Zhan will be happy to see someone from YUD, but this guy might actually deserve a chance. He looks charming," Lan Huan confirmed. Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes.

"Why are you never jealous?" Lan Huan pouted, moving to sit on his chair again.

"Do you not find me charming as well, husband?" Jiang Cheng, for some reason, decided to humor him on his rarely-shown antics.

"Oh no," he said, managing to give Jiang Cheng a reason to raise a brow. "I find you—"

…"You find me… what?"

"...Exciting… among other things," he finished.

Jiang Cheng downed his drink completely. "I can't believe you actually made me sit through that."

"I did not lie."

"Whatever!"

Jiang Cheng took the moment of silence that befell them in order to add Wei Ying's number in his contacts list. He would be giving him a call later, most likely.

"Let's go out for lunch," Lan Huan proposed, much to Jiang Cheng's fear. Well… maybe Wei Ying would have to wait till tomorrow, or maybe even the day after, depending on what state does Lan Zhan leave his brother after his date is over.

"I'm going to order something spicy for us both, then," Jiang Cheng said, smirking at him all high and mighty. He dared him to oppose him, but Lan Huan remained silent, features as blank as his little brother's.

"Let's go." He tucked his phone in the front pocket of his pants as he rose.

Walking out on tow with his husband, Jiang Cheng couldn't help but inquire for the last time: "You know, I really think it's not a good idea for you to spy on your brother."

Lan Huan chuckled. "Are you worried for me, A-Cheng? Do not be," he said, noticing Jiang Cheng's irritated expression. They passed by a few co-workers that stopped their work to greet them, while they returned their greetings with a silent nod only.

"Besides," Lan Huan added as he sat in the passenger's seat of Jiang Cheng's black Ferrari. "I'm not going on my own. Gratefully, A-Yao has agreed to accompany me."

Jiang Cheng didn't even bother to respond to that as he did fast work of fitting the key to the ignition and gripping the steering wheel tighter than he might've usually liked it.

"Poor soul," he mumbled and drove off. Lan Huan laughed at his words, much to Jiang Cheng's chagrin.


On the day of the date, Lan Zhan was up at 6 AM sharp. First, he took a shower way longer than usual. His body was not even that unclean, to begin with, but out of nowhere, he picked up a sudden interest in the beautiful silver tiles of his bathroom.

It did not take a genius to understand that Lan Zhan stubbornly was making himself busy with nothing. He really had a bad feeling about today.

Stepping out of the shower, he made quick work of wiping his body dry before walking over to the huge mirror containing his personal hygienic belongings. He proceeded to wash his teeth with his electric brush and used gel to slick his shoulder-length hair back. He did not have the luxury of not going prepared on a date after all, even though the said date had yet to happen in seven hours' time.

He'd chosen to wear a white shirt today and combine it with a light-gray colored suit and a silver watch around his left wrist. He was adamant about what color his shoes should be, but after giving it some thought, he chose his white non-pointed ones.

At seven-thirty, he's already inside his car, his work-case resting in his passenger seat, and while he was getting his breakfast and morning tea ready at his usual café on his way to work, he realized that he has forgotten to wear a tie.

Leaving his car in the parking lot, Lan Zhan closed his eyes, heaved out a quiet sigh, grabbed his case and headed out with a determination to slip through today as much grace as he could muster.

The look his co-workers gave him upon grabbing sight of him made Lan Zhan want to shrink down to the size of a microbe. Especially when the women immediately stopped their chit-chats to ogle over him. Noticing their gaping gazes, Lan Zhan cleared his throat and said a simple "Get back to work," to them before locking himself inside his office.

He heaved a sigh again and walked over to his desk with steps much slower than usual. He unwrapped his food box, which surprisingly was still warm and stuffed the food into his mouth. It tasted as delicious as always but Lan Zhan had a souring taste on his tongue today.

If only there was a miracle happening today to him. Some tooth fairy forwarding the time to tomorrow… literally anything but him going on that blind date that his brother had set up for him.

He heard nothing of his brother nor his husband for the whole day. By the time the clock reached 1 PM, Lan Zhan knew that it’s his cue to leave as he was to see his date in one hour.

He drove off to Fragrance Palace. It was not that far, and the traffic — much to his quiet chagrin — was almost nonexistent, so he’s inside the restaurant at 2 AM sharp.

He saw his brother first from the corner of his right eye and fought down the urge to turn back and leave in embarrassment. He’s not alone today, Lan Zhan figured, as a smiling Jin Yao winked at him knowingly. Both he and his brother had chosen to wear gray suits today, Jin Yao accompanying it with a pale yellow shirt while his brother with a stark white one. Lan Zhan ignored them as a woman came up to him and bowed in greeting.

“Master Lan, your table is this way.” She gestured him forward and Lan Zhan nodded his head, letting the woman, whom he guessed to be the hostess, lead him to his table where a woman had already made herself comfortable and was sipping… alcohol.

He sighed inwardly. Just why did he agree to this? But then again, Lan Zhan wasn’t one to judge a book by its cover.

“Miss,” he began tentatively, bringing the woman’s attention to him. The woman greeted him way more joyous than he would've liked it, but he accepted it nonetheless, nodding his head again and moving to sit across from her on the rectangle-shaped table.

Silence befell them for a few seconds, but to Lan Zhan, it felt like an eternity. The woman was by no means ugly. Her hair was waist-long. She was a natural brunette no matter the crimson strands of her curls.

"So… how are you?" Lan Zhan was aware of the awkward question, but the woman didn't seem to notice it.

"Good," she answered and smiled widely. "How about you?"

"I'm good too. Working here and there."

The woman stared at him, her previous wide smile locked on her face. Lan Zhan prevented himself from glancing toward his brother's direction and expecting certain doom.

"What is your job?" He asked for a lack of better words. He's never been a good speaker, to begin with.

"Hmm," she hummed and put her elbows on the table. "Let me say it this way. I am so busy but I don't work."

Lan Zhan swallowed. "You don't work… but you're busy?"

"Yes," she nodded her head and smiled again much to Lan Zhan's inner irritation.

"I do not understand," he said, his tone cold. The woman, however, continued to talk as if ignoring him.

"Well, it's not like I'm praising myself or anything, but I take care of my appearance a lot."

Appearance,  from what Lan Zhan could see, was her long curls and a face not even a millimeter free of make-up. Her eye-liner made her eyes look like those of a cat's, and her blindingly pink lips were so glossy that they were easily reflecting the lights of the chandelier above their heads. All in all, there was nothing natural about this woman, not even her voice.

"I also got a lot of followers on Weibo, so my fans need their updates, you know what I mean. I always post my pics and selfies from parties, or fashion shows or… private invitations."

"About today…" he started, fear welling up in his chest.

"Ah, no, no. Don't worry." She reassured. "A-Huan told me not to post anything."

A-Huan? If Jiang Cheng heard this woman call his husband A-Huan, he would probably cut her tongue off.

"Honestly, this is considered a busy workday in my book," she finished.

Lan Zhan snorted mentally. He doubted she would ever pick up a book to read in the first place.

Now that he thought about it… "I think your face seems familiar to me."

"Oh?"

"Yes. Some pictures from the magazines in our company… of you and your boyfriend." Well, ex-boyfriend now. Lucky guy!

"Yeah, these days relationships don't go that well."

Definitely a lucky guy, that ex of hers.

" — and let's just say I kissed the wrong frogs." She laughed at her own joke. Lan Zhan glanced briefly at his watch and released a long and quiet sigh. Not even ten minutes had passed.

"And I think that right now we're in the right way."

Lan Zhan crooked up a brow at that. "Like what?"

"At the end," she started. "You and I hardly like people."

Lan Zhan found himself agreeing. Yes, he barely liked people, especially the person in front of him. Maybe he truly had the patience of steel after all.

"And we have quite the status to uphold. When I think about it, we make quite the power couple ."

" Power couple ?" Lan Zhan repeated, furrowing his eyebrows together in question.

"A power couple."

"I do understand English," Lan Zhan said.  "I just… I just do not understand what kind of power you are referring to?"

"The power of Lan Zhan and Ling Jiao." She gestured with her hands widely as if to show him something.

"..." Lan Zhan realized he hadn't even known her name.

"Couple of the year, our parties, luxury life, magazines," she rambled on and Lan Zhan's patience was starting to run away from him. " — it will be a long relationship," she dragged the word 'long'. "There will be camera flashes from every corner and I'm already getting so excited—"

"Miss," Lan Zhan coughed a bit loud. Normally, she should've understood the message he was so desperately wanting to convey… "I… I really don't know how and where to start but life for me is not like this. I do not care about things like social media, or appearances, or parties. I came here in the hope of finding something real."

The woman hummed as if she understood what he had just finished telling her. "I really understand you, but we're going to be a real couple anyway."

"Wait… wait a minute." Not even the Express train would move this fast. "What was your name again?"

"Ling Jiao," she said. "But you can call me JiJi. Come on. Call me JiJi. JiJi."

"Look, Miss Jiao," Lan Zhan deliberately chose to ignore her suggestion. "I am not someone who judges people based on their appearance or based on anything for that matter, but nevertheless, there is nothing of you that does not show to me what kind of a relationship you are able to offer me."

She was smiling at him, maybe not even listening to him at all. "From one side, it shows that you have high standards." And to think that just yesterday, Jiang Cheng had told him the same thing.

Nonetheless, she nodded her head at him, like a child happy to have been offered a piece of candy.

"And this place," Lan Zhan looked briefly around, still refusing to meet eyes with his big brother. "You were the one to choose it?" At her confirmation, he continued, "You chose it knowing that it bears my design, right?"

"Absolutely," she admitted excitedly. "I immediately searched about it on Baidu."

Maybe Lan Zhan should search on Baidu as to what were the reasons that his brother decided to set him up on a date with this woman in the first place.

"For today's occasion, right?"

"Yes."

"I could tell," he remarked, his voice uncharacteristically dripping with sarcasm. "And now you've come here offering me a relationship as if you were to offer me a job."

Her smile fell off her face and Lan Zhan was cheering up inside on his victory. "So, excuse me, but I have to be stupid to get fooled by this."

It was unbecoming of him. A person this ruthless could not be him. Lan Zhan steeled his nerves as he finally looked at the direction of his brother and his friend. They were looking at them— him, rather— and his brother did not bother to hide the look of shock on his visage. Good.

"I—" Miss Jiao began. "I am talking about a real relationship, too." She had a pout on her face, a pout that if it hadn't been concealed by the heavy make-up, could've looked cute.

Maybe Lan Zhan went too far… He should do what a gentleman would in his place and apologize, and he would if it wasn't for what she said next.

She giggled and brightened up way too quickly for Lan Zhan's comfort. "Now that I think about it, we just had our first fight. Can you believe it?"

Lan Zhan raised up an eyebrow instinctively. Wh… just in what kind of mess did he throw himself into?

"It's like we started a real relationship already."

Lan Zhan took in a deep breath and held it, counting from one to ten and reverse. Patience. Patience. Patie— 

"Can we go to another place?"

"You have to be kidding," he thought.

"No, really!" At her immediate response, Lan Zhan was taken aback. He had actually said that aloud? No wonder, he must have started losing his senses by now.

"I usually bring a lot of clothes with me. I can go quickly and have a change of clothes in my car and then we can leave. How about it?"

Yes, Lan Zhan thought for real this time. He desperately wanted to leave and never set foot in this place again.

There was someone approaching their table, from what Lan Zhan could pick up. And he wasn't wrong. The waiter came forward, stopping by Lan Zhan's right side.

"Welcome," he said, a voice so melodious that it was enough to take him out of his misery. "Were you able to look at the menu? Can I take your order?"

Miss Jiao was giggling again, returning the greetings and opening her own menu to look at. Lan Zhan, on the other hand, gazed pointedly at the guy.

Dark hair tied loosely in a high ponytail that didn't reach the nape of his neck. Wild strands in front, with an equally wild Ahoge sticking up like an antennae.

His eyes had a color that Lan Zhan couldn't quite pinpoint. They were not blue, neither were they gray, but they reminded him of the midnight sky, of those rare nights when the moon was full and shone brightly.

Moving his gaze down, Lan Zhan took in his broad shoulders that more or less resembled his, too. The collar of his shirt was unbuttoned, thus, Lan Zhan was able to make out the man's collarbone. Removing his gaze from there, his eyes fell on the simple card, in which a name was written. The name that was going to save his life today.

Wei Ying.

Lan Zhan swallowed, heaving a sigh. Thickening his face with unnoticeable layers, he stood up and grabbed the guy’s wrist, startling both him and himself.

With his eyes down, as Lan Zhan couldn't look him in the eye while he was doing such a shameless act, he spoke: “Wei Ying, I did not know you were working today.” To say that this Wei Ying was left shocked would be the understatement of the century.

“I hope you understand,” he continued. “It is just a meal.”

“Wha-” the waiter started, most likely having finished processing what was happening. “I don’t underst-”

“What is going on?” came the natural question from Miss Jiao. Lan Zhan truly dug himself deep this time.

“I am sorry,” he said. He was looking at her as he said it, but truth be told, he was more apologetic to the guy whose wrist he was holding tightly.

“I did not know I was going to meet my boyfriend here.”

“Yours what?” Both of them acquired at the same time, but Lan Zhan ignored the question and without losing a second he started darting toward the exit, almost dragging Wei Ying with him.

Wei Ying, naturally, protested and tried to free his right wrist from Lan Zhan’s grip, throwing swear words and insults in his ears. There were looks that followed them, some even had their phones taken out.

Such shame he was about to bring to his family. He could already imagine the tabloids: Second Master Lan dragging a man out of one of the most prestigious restaurants in the city.

But he did his best not to think about it now. Once outside, Lan Zhan let go of his wrist and turned to really look at the man he’d just finished dragging out.

His eyes were wide and his breathing was fast, probably from all the shouting he’d just finished spouting. “What the fuck?”

Lan Zhan winced at the undeniable cold tone he was met with. He understood - of course, he did - but he also had his reasons.

“I told you I am sorry.”

“You said that to me?” he asked with a snort.

“Yes,” Lan Zhan answered shortly. He has never been one to twist things. It was unnecessary. “I— the girl— I needed to rid myself of her.”

“What?” he asked, rather loudly. “So you used a complete stranger to do it? Are you fucking kidding me?” He ran a hand through his — even wilder — locks and glared storms at Lan Zhan’s direction. “Is it not unfortunate for-”

“Zhanzhan,” he was interrupted when the girl in question walked out. She was barely adjusting her short, tight dress and walking kinda slow-kinda fast, since her high heels were undoubtedly making it difficult for her, and to top it all off, Lan Zhan was just called the ugliest nickname one could think of.

“Does she really deserve this? It’s not like she forced you here or anyth- mmph!”

Lan Zhan had always read about kisses in books. He’d read about how the boy bends his head down to reach the girl’s pink and plump lips. His hands would most likely travel down her back or to her neck for support. Instead, he held firmly on the guy’s neck, locking him in place as Lan Zhan connected their lips together.

He did not need to bend his head down either, since the waiter was almost as tall as he was, probably an inch shorter, but that amount was insignificant.

Lan Zhan realized how he made the mistake of not closing his eyes, for when he saw how Wei Ying’s eyes continued to widen with each passing second, it actually dawned on him what he was doing. He’s… he’s...

At one point, Wei Ying closed his eyes shut and started to struggle, but Lan Zhan held down the punch that threatened to connect with his cheek.

Wei Ying, much to Lan Zhan’s surprise, was slowly giving in, returning the kiss. Miss Jiao must’ve left before, because when Lan Zhan reopened his eyes again — he hadn’t even realized that he’d closed them — she was nowhere in sight. Suddenly, he was pushed away.

The waiter panted, shielding his lips with the palm of his right hand as he released shuddering breaths out.

Lan Zhan was in no better state himself. He was ashamed of what he just did. It was one thing to spend his first kiss with a complete stranger, it was completely different when he forced said stranger into the kiss. He looked down, balling his hands into tight fists. Lan Zhan didn’t even see the motion of something moving when his eyes saw nothing but stars as a strong fist found its way right on his left cheek.

He didn't know how to read the expression the waiter had on his face. Frustration? Anger? Or both? Lan Zhan had never been a good reader when it came to other people, anyhow.

He walked back to his car and entered inside. Glancing at the mirror, he saw the red mark that was sure to turn into a bruise by tomorrow. His perfectly slicked-back hair now looked wilder too, though not the waiter's level of wild. A few strands had fallen on the left side of his forehead, reaching all the way down to his left cheekbone.

He couldn't help but turn his gaze to the waiter again and see that he was looking at him, too. A soft summer breeze flew in the air as Lan Zhan decided to avert his gaze for the umpteenth time and drive off.

On the road, he grabbed the steering wheel furiously, gritting his teeth. The waiter's expression still lingered in his mind, and Lan Zhan ordered himself not to think at all. Either that or he'd have to smack himself the same way that waiter did it, because, honestly, just who did he think he was? How could he have taken advantage of a total stranger in that manner? It hurt him in some sense, thinking about it. It hurt him to know that there will be no way he could ever clean his image.

At home, at his very much cozy penthouse apartment, the undeniable hiss he let out when he put an ice pack on his cheek was a reminder of his mistake. Lan Zhan sighed as he sat on the sofa. It was a misfortune that a swollen cheek would be his only prize to pay.

Chapter Text


Wei Ying woke up ten minutes before his alarm went off and he contemplated on whether he should just take a short nap again or not for the next five minutes.

He did none. Lying still on his back, he groaned when said alarm started ringing in his ears, rushing to turn it off or else risk A-Yuan waking up.

Speaking of which, he would need to send A-Yuan over to his uncle tomorrow, but for today, daycare would suffice.

The weather was still chilly in the early hours of the morning, so Wei Ying thought of the possibilities of him getting the flu from sleeping half-naked. His gray pajama pants reached down at his heels, despite him being tall. That’s what would happen when one didn’t do his own shopping most of the time.

Wei Ying yawned as he strayed under the warm shower, sleep still not leaving him. It was evident that with a small child — even if said child was as pure as A-Yuan — Wei Ying had it a bit rough, so he better hurry or risk being late for work. When he himself was a kid, he used to take long showers, or rather, his mother would play with him and the little yellow ducklings, so of course they took long. As of today, however, it took him fifteen minutes max and he's out, washing his teeth in front of the mirror.

Drying himself off with the towels, he headed for his tiny closet and chose a sleeveless gray T-shirt to wear. The ripped black jeans and the red-and-black plaid shirt he put on make it seem like he was someone going to some rich kids’ University. But whoever thought like that would be wrong, obviously. He was going to his work as a dishwasher to some rich man’s restaurant. Plus, he was a graduate...

Wei Ying could only hope that it won’t be long before he started working on what he graduated.

When he was ready to leave, he knew that it's too early to wake A-Yuan up for daycare right now, but it was either that, or he left him in the care of his parents, and fairly, Wei Ying didn't want to be a burden to them in any way.

When he opened the door to A-Yuan’s room, however, he stopped in his tracks, seeing how his mother was cuddling a soundly-sleeping child. She was quick to notice him, motioning with her head for him to wait outside. Wei Ying nodded and closed the wooden door, preparing the keys of his motorbike. Just don’t ask him how he got to have one is his possession.

His mother opened the door, hugging herself in her night robe and walked over to him, rubbing him on the arm.

“Don’t wake him up, son,” she whispered, careful as to not wake the others up.

“But I have to send him—”

“I’ll have your father accompany me for a morning walk and together we will send A-Yuan at daycare, then,” she interrupted. “How does it sound?”

“Are you sure you can?” Wei Ying teased, knowing fully well it would get a rise out of the woman.

“Silly child.” She pinched him in his upper arm. “What do you take me for? Huh? I’m just as strong as those heroines in the movies you like to watch so much.”

Wei Ying chuckled and leaned to give her a peck on the cheek. “I have no doubts about that. Thank you, a-Niang.”

“Go, go.” She rushed him out. “You’ll be late.”

When Wei Ying was about to mount on his motorbike, his mother called to him again. “Why are you riding that thing? Take the bus.”

“I promise I’ll be careful.”

“And I was born yesterday.”

Wei Ying chuckled once more before putting one of the helmets on. Sitting down, he switched the ignition on and clutched the brakes. The motorbike made the familiar ‘brrr’ noise and Wei Ying rode off, passing through the neighborhoods, and later on the buildings as well, in a blur.

When he neared the restaurant he worked at, Fragrance Palace, was when Wei Ying got reminded that he’d sent his resume to another company, applying as a personal assistant of the Vice President. Even though Wei Ying did graduate from a Designing college, who was to say that Yiling Uni Design would be enough to earn him such a prestigious job. Would his creativity and talent for drawing get him through this?

The answer was obvious, and it was a big, fat ‘NO’.

Wei Ying shook his head mentally and focused on the road ahead. Once inside the parking lot of the restaurant, Wei Ying pulled his bike aside, so to make way for the cars of bosses and customers alike.

Inside the dress-room, Wei Ying went straight to his locker and pulled out his uniform—which consisted of a plain white T-shirt and a yellow apron with a peony flower patched at his chest—something to show he worked at Jin family's business. Though, too bad he couldn’t put that in his resume.

As he’s changing his pants, however, it's when he started to panic. “Oh, no.” Wei Ying touched his pockets. “Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck. FUCK.” Wei Ying gritted his teeth and slammed his locker shut, resisting the urge to pull at his hair at his idiocy.

His phone.

He’d either forgotten his phone at home, or it fell somewhere on the street, which meant that he had no way of answering potential calls from that Gusu company he had applied to. Still, though, Wei Ying hoped it’s not the latter of the two options.

He cursed his way to the kitchen. He cursed at his stupidity and all the package that came with it. When Wei Ying shoved himself inside, only the head chef was there, ready to cheerfully greet him, or he would have done so if not for the grim expression on Wei Ying’s face.

“Wei Ying,” he said, concerned. “Is something wrong, son?”

Wei Ying sighed, not wanting to worry others or in this case the chef, with his own misfortune. “Ugh… it’s not much, chef. I’ve forgotten my phone at home,” he finished sheepishly, rubbing at his neck.

“Oh, you can take mine if you need it,” he offered.

“No, no. I don’t need it to make calls,” Wei Ying declined the generous offer of the older man. “I, ugh… I need to buy some groceries on my way home. You know, for A-Yuan.”

“Oh? How’s that young man faring? Good, I hope.”

Wei Ying chuckled awkwardly. “Yeah, he’s fine. He’ll be happy when I tell him you’ve called him a young man today. He likes to think of himself as a big boy.”

The chef tilted his head back with laughter. and Wei Ying stepped closer to the table where the freshly-made cookies lay. He grabbed one to taste, glad that the chef didn’t scold him for once, and moaned in pleasure. Nobody made cookies like the chef did, not even his mother, though he better fling himself in the Yangzi River than admit that to anybody.

“How old is that kid by the way?”

Wei Ying looked up at the sudden question. He was aware of how he never really spoke about his family to anyone.

“Four and a half,” he said , his mouth half-full. Swallowing down the cookie, Wei Ying walked over to the sink and washed his hands.

“Why did you ask?”

“Oh, I was just curious.” The chef waved him off. “Ah, it seems that Xue Yang has arrived, too.”

Wei Ying sighed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. Come Xue Yang and the chef blurted it out on how he’d forgotten his phone, Xue Yang would tease him to no end about it. He could already hear the “Old man, Ying!” lame jokes he would most likely throw in his direction.

Anyhow, as the chef walked out, Wei Ying rummaged in his apron’s pocket and was happy to at least be able to find his hair tie so he could pull his shoulder-length hair up. A few unruly strands still fell on his face, however. Wei Ying blew them off, his frustration piling up inside of him. Today had not started good.

It’s the first thing he got asked about the moment Xue Yang and Mo Xuanyu walked in, already all dressed up.

“You look like you’re at a funeral,” Xue Yang commented as he offered his hand for a fist-bump.

“Xue Yang, don’t say that.” Mo Xuanyu, ever the cute little man, scolded.

“But he does, though,” the rascal reasoned. “Look at him. It’s either his crops are dying or he’s forgotten something important at home .”

Wei Ying threw a dirty glare toward him, wishing for the Earth to open and swallow this bastard whole.

“No, Wei Ying. The Earth won’t open and swallow me whole just because you’re glaring at me,” he said smugly. “Now, tell me.” He closed in on him, way too close for comfort. “What did you forget?”

“Shut up,” Wei Ying scowled. “It's just my phone.”

Just as he had expected, Xue Yang threw his head back in laughter. Even Mo Xuanyu was trying hard to hold back. What was so funny about the fact that he’d forgotten his phone at home? Sure, he did forget it a few times before, and sure, his memory had never been that great, to begin with, but it wasn't a matter where others should laugh about. Especially when they didn't know Wei Ying’s struggle.

“Old man, Ying,” Xue Yang cat-called in between waves of laughter. “How did you even graduate, huh? How long did it take you?”

“Xue Yang, please,” Mo Xuanyu pleaded, though he was definitely amused. “You know that if you tease Wei-gege too much, the chef won’t give us anything to eat.”

“Listen to him,” Wei Ying nodded his head toward Mo Xuanyu. “You know that between the three of us, the chef likes me better.”

Xue Yang snorted. “I wonder why that is, to be honest. He’s got no taste.”

“Please,” Wei Ying mocked, his hands resting on his hips. “He’s got plenty of taste because, one: I’m super handsome, and two: he’s the best chef in the world.”

Xue Yang smirked but didn’t deny what Wei Ying said. Pulling out his phone, the words he sputtered next had the same mocking tone as Wei Ying’s. “So you would not mind if a certain Aunt Cangse Sanren was to find out that her son thinks someone else is a better cook?”

“That’s a bit extreme. We still want him in one piece, right?”

“Speak for yourself. Why would I care about this self-proclaimed, second-coming of Pan An?” Xue Yang shrugged at Mo Xuanyu but didn’t break eye contact with Wei Ying. “How’s the weather up there, oh dear Pan An?”

Wei Ying snickered. Trust Xue Yang to be able to lift up his mood in no time as if it was his fault that they decided to hate themselves for one night. What a waste of a good VPN that night resulted.

Before he had any chance to answer, the head chef entered the kitchen again, holding up 2 plates with pancakes, one of which belonged to Wei Ying only. Wei Ying smirked, throwing a suggestive look toward his friends as if to say 'See! I told you he likes me better.'

“Ah, the pancakes are ready,” the chef said gleefully, shoving one plate on Wei Ying’s waiting hands and the other on Mo Xuanyu. “Eat your fill.”

“Old man,” Xue Yang pouted. “Why did you not bring us some pizza today?”

“Eh, you rascal. What pizza at this time of day? Eat this up or you won’t eat anything.”

Xue Yang scoffed. “I wish I was working in a bar instead. I do look like the bartender type, don’t I?”

Wei Ying made a motion like he was checking his friend up and down. Sharing a side-look with Mo Xuanyu, they both seemed to silently come to the same conclusion.

“Wow, Xue-Xiong, you’re right,” Mo Xuanyu said. “You do look like one.”

“Right?” Wei Ying agreed. “You look like someone who’d take the cock out of a cocktail.”

Mo Xuanyu, the poor soul, choked on air.

Wei Ying snickered and made his way to the table, dragging Xue Yang by his apron. Mo Xuanyu was also following along, face flushed, and seemingly looking a bit distressed all of a sudden, like he’d just remembered something… Wei Ying recalled the same look he had in his own face just this morning upon learning that he’d forgotten his phone.

“Is something wrong, Xuanyu?” Wei Ying couldn't help his curiosity as he helped himself to a mouthful.

“It’s nothing, Wei-Xiong,” Mo Xuanyu assured, attempting a smile. “It’s just that… my half-brother is visiting today.”

Wei Ying raised an eyebrow. Everyone here knew who Mo Xuanyu was. An illegitimate son of the Jin family’s Patriarch and that was something that Mo Xuanyu wasn’t exactly proud of, especially since he had no way of earning his father’s respect… not in the same amount of his other three siblings at least. And the fact that Mo Xuanyu swung that way sure didn’t make matters better. His father was… a handful when it came to that particular topic… that was the simplest way to put it.

“-and I hope I don’t mess up,” Mo Xuanyu was saying, even though Wei Ying had already lost himself in his own thoughts. At least, Xue Yang appeared to be listening to him.

“Ah, don’t worry, A-Yu,” Wei Ying winked at him. “We’re here to help you if the worst comes to pass. Right, Xue Yang?”

Xue Yang looked at him in irritation but nodded his head, nonetheless. “Sure, sure. Everything for our dear A-Yu.” He reached to ruffle Mo Xuanyu’s hair with a clean hand, only for the guy to squeak and move away.

“Aiyah, where are you going, A-Yu?” Wei Ying chuckled.

“You guys are so mean.”

They laugh-out-loud for a short minute before Xue Yang helped himself to a glass of water so he could stop the choking reflex that threatened to overwhelm him.

“If Zixun-gongzi finds you three slacking off like this in the first hours of the morning, I’m afraid that not even I will be able to help you.” The chef shook his head. “Just hurry up and eat.”

“But chef,” Xue Yang called. “What’s the worst that fatty can do, huh? Call in those robbers to snatch our empty wallets?”

Wei Ying was about to laugh again, before what Xue Yang said actually registered in his ears. “Robbers?” He frowned. “What are you talking about?”

Xue Yang shot him an ugly look. “Do you ever turn on that lame TV of yours? It’s literally been all over the news for the past week.”

Wei Ying stopped himself and bit back whatever he was about to say, because, in truth, he didn't watch much TV, to begin with. Only if there’s a good movie.

“Well, yeah, okay, I admit,” Wei Ying rambled. “But tell me more about them. They sound interesting.”

“The news doesn’t say much, since nobody knows for sure how they look like,” Xue Yang began. “They’ve started in small department stores.”

Wei Ying scoffed. “Why did I even ask? Of course, it would be like that. Let me guess: they go in, show a gun or a knife to the poor guys working there and threaten them for the money, right?”

“Yes and no,” Xue Yang said. “You see, they break in department stores, that’s true. But they don’t show any gun or knife. They show their dogs’ teeth.”

Wei Ying’s eyes went wide at that piece of information. Given his Cynophobia, it took only the mention of dogs for him to look like a child who’s lost his parents in a supermarket, much less to actually see one or… God forbid, being chased by one.

“Don’t worry, though,” Xue Yang said, after taking notice of Wei Ying’s inner panic. “As I said, the robbers seem to appear at nighttime only, and in small stores. We will be fine.”

Wei Ying swallowed but didn’t say anything. They ate in silence for a while before their co-workers entered in the kitchen. At the sight of Jin Zixun, Wei Ying smartly picked up his finished plate and went to the sink to wash it. Not like he wouldn’t know what to say to him if he were to pick a fight, but with Xue Yang’s tale in his mind, his tongue was tied.

If only he had his phone to distract himself in his free time.

The customers came and went for most of the day. The reservations were being prepared by the hosts, and the waiters were doing a good job at serving them. Even Mo Xuanyu, despite what he said this morning, was doing his best and serving without accidents so far. Well, if one had an insatiable, insufferable boss like Jin Zixun, accidents were a given.

It’s not until the afternoon that things went from bad to worse for Wei Ying in a split second, and it all started with Mo Xuanyu’s clumsiness. Having taken more orders than he could manage, he didn’t notice that he had one more pair of stairs to pass as he was climbing down. Even Wei Ying heard his scream from where he was in the kitchen, washing dirty dishes.

Rushing out to help the poor guy who was having problems standing on his feet, Wei Ying noticed Jin Zixun plastering a beastly snarl on his ugly face.

“—and find someone who is going to take your place now," he was saying. Mo Xuanyu, for his part, looked pretty helpless as he was clutching his ankle. Xue Yang was down beside him, glaring daggers in Jin Zixun's direction, though the latter remained oblivious.

"I will be the replacement." Even Wei Ying was shocked at the words he blurted out.

"Huh? You?" Jin Zixun threw him a dirty look. "Do you know how to write down orders, dishes boy?"

For Mo Xuanyu's sake, Wei Ying swallowed his retort down. He would know how to put this good-for-nothing, more-fat-than-brains boss of theirs in his place before he could even blink, but drastic times called for drastic measures.

Wei Ying straightened his posture and smiles. "Of course I know, Jin-gongzi. Trust me with this. I will not let you down."

Jin Zixun scoffed, but agreed to it nonetheless, since there weren’t many options he could choose from in the first place. “Fine, then. Someone prepare a badge for him.”

Having said his orders, Jin Zixun climbed the stairs again. Xue Yang helped Mo Xuanyu up, as the chef was quick to bring him a piece of ice for his ankle.

Wei Ying heard Mo Xuanyu hissing all the way to the kitchen with every step that he made. He wanted to go with them and help him in some way, but frankly, there was nothing he could do help more. Hence why he decided to wait for one of the hostesses instead.

As it appeared, the badge that Jin-gongzi had in mind was actually just a normal card with his name in big, bold letters and a yellow peony flower design in the bottom-right corner of said card.

“Good luck,” the hostess said with a sweet voice. “You’ll need it with table 9.”

“Thanks for your concern, darling.” He winked, tightening the tie that was keeping his hair up.

The hostess giggled behind her hand, but Wei Ying didn’t pay her much mind after that. Climbing up the stairs, Wei Ying stepped into a new world… okay, maybe he was exaggerating it a bit, but the order of things in Fragrance Palace and its gorgeousness was nothing like the chaos that went down where Wei Ying worked.

He leaned on the front bar, silently observing their guests. A table not far from him was occupied by two men, one of which looked familiar for some reason. One of the waitresses came up to him, looking as though her legs were giving out.

Ignoring that, Wei Ying tried to start a conversation with her. Well, mostly he wanted to know who that person was. “Say, who is that man over there? Does he not seem familiar to you?”

“Of course he is,” the waitress was quick to answer as if having waited long for a chance at gossip. “His name is Meng Yao, but he goes by the name of Jin Guangyao, Jin Yao short!”

Wei Ying frowned. He kept wondering as to what kind of a difficult system he was going through right now when it finally clicked. The man was a Jin, or rather one of the many sons of Jin Guangshan, the big boss of all the Jin Restaurants in all of China.

“Oh, I see,” Wei Ying nodded his head, glancing at them from the corner of his eyes. “What of his companion?”

“One of his close friends,” she said, and started talking more of him, too, but Wei Ying couldn't be bothered with them anymore. He shifted his gaze behind him, to the so-feared table 9. A man and a woman were chatting with each other, appearing to be on a date, even though the woman was hardly giving off that appearance.

Wei Ying grimaced, already feeling bad for the poor man. The woman’s words were loud, so Wei Ying was able to hear bits of what she was saying even from where he was standing.

“—But you can call me Jiji,” she was saying, and Wei Ying snickered. Did she just ask to get called a 'penis'? He put his hand over his mouth in order to muffle his laugh.

A few more things were said between the pair before the guy leaned on the table, his expression so cold that it sends chills down Wei Ying’s spine.

“So, excuse me, but I have to be stupid to get fooled by this.”

He had a point, Wei Ying concluded. That woman was a piece of work. What had possessed this man to go on a date with her in the first place? Maybe Baidu-ing it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Well… if he had his phone with him, of course.

“Some girls are really lucky, aren’t they?” Upon hearing the waitress’ question, Wei Ying turned toward her, completely having forgotten about her presence, to begin with.

He nodded in agreement. Wei Ying was a man himself, but even he could appreciate beauty when he saw it. And the guy had plenty of that at his disposal. He radiated rich, (a future sugar daddy, he would bet). He radiated composure, rules and most importantly, his ‘I would rather be in hell than here right now’ aura could be detected from an airplane.

“I wish I could help the poor man,” the waitress looked at him with a pitiful look in her eyes, blowing a few bangs off her eyes in a heavy sigh. “But that table seems cursed right now, don’t you think so, uhm, Wei Ying.”

Now that his name was brought up, Wei Ying was reminded that he had not bothered to check the girl’s card at all. Turning his gaze toward her yet again, she’s giving him the puppy look — if only she knew how much Wei Ying was scared of them — as if begging him to take care of those two.

Wei Ying could’ve refused of course, but it wasn’t of his essence to refuse such a look thrown at him, despite its intentions.

“Watch and learn how a pro does it,” he stated as if he’d served in this job for years and wasn’t doing it for the very first time today.

He made his way toward the infamous table, and put a smile on his face, looking as welcoming as possible. Contrary to popular belief, even the air seemed chillier as he nears the pair with each passing step, not just the mood.

He stopped by the man’s right side. “Welcome,” he began, voice colored with a soft melody. “Were you able to look at the menu? Can I take your order?”

Noticing the man’s features upon a closer look, Wei Ying was fully aware of the pointy look he was faced with in return. Well… the urge to squirm away from said look… Truth be told, being faced with such a heated golden gaze upon oneself would leave anyone with a wish to flee on sight if they valued their own life.

As it was, Wei Ying did value his own life, obviously, but he valued his salary just as much.

The man was beautiful, Wei Ying could admit that even out-loud if he was asked. Maybe he was the most beautiful man he’d ever seen in the whole twenty-five years of his life. And it wasn't like the woman sitting across from him was ugly by any means, but there was absolutely nothing of her that would compliment this man in any aspect.

Slicked back shoulder-length hair, nice and defined jaw, piercing golden eyes, and a silver-colored suit, plus a shiny watch around his wrist; this man was the full package any girl would wish for.

Wei Ying hissed involuntarily as the man stood up abruptly and held his wrist in his hand. He was sure he wasn’t taking the right amount of oxygen in his lungs for he could barely understand what he was saying. Something along the lines of “I didn’t know you were working today.” probably… but Wei Ying worked here every day except for the weekends.

“I hope you understand,” he was saying, staring pointedly at the floor. “It is just a meal."

“Wha-” Wei Ying tried, instinctively. “I don’t underst—”

“What is going on?” the woman asked, but Wei Ying didn’t pay her much mind. His gaze flickered somewhere between his wrist, the man’s face and occasionally to the table at the very end, where the son of Jin Guangshan and his companion were seated, staring at them with unmistakable interest.

“I’m sorry,” the man said, and Wei Ying sighed in relief as if it were he the one who was on the receiving end of the said apology. Coming to his senses, Wei Ying lost them again as soon as the man said his next words.

“I did not know I would meet my boyfriend here.”

“Yours what?”

But forget about answering his question. Instead, Wei Ying was dragged out by the wrist, as the man’s hold was so fucking strong, almost hurting even.

“Hey, what the hell? Let me go! We don’t have that kind of service here.” Wei Ying yelled in his ears during their way out, but it was to no good.

Once outside, and when Wei Ying’s wrist was finally released, naturally the very first sentence that left his mouth was a demanding, “What the fuck?”

The man winced, swallowing audibly. “I told you I am sorry.”

Really? Wei Ying wanted to say. For someone who was sorry, he sure forgot to look at him while apologizing. He snorted. “You said that to me?”

“Yes,” the man answered quickly. “I— the girl— I needed to rid myself of her.”

Well, Wei Ying would lie if he said he didn’t know where this man was coming from. But still…

“What? So you used a complete stranger to do it? Are you fucking kidding me?” He ran a hand through his wild locks, glaring at the man. His heart was racing wildly with a rush of adrenaline he’d never felt before. “Is it not unfortunate for—”

“Zhanzhan!”

Wei Ying closed his eyes and breathed slowly, in and out, in and out. No. Definitely not unfortunate, but that didn’t mean he had to get dragged into other people’s business either.

“Does she really deserve this?” he asked as an afterthought. “It’s not like she forced you here or anyth-mmph!”

Wei Ying froze at the sudden pressure he felt on his lips. His eyes widened and the two men stared at each other. If looks could kill, Wei Ying was going to make sure this man's corpse would rot in the depths of hell.

To say that Wei Ying was struggling would be the understatement of the century. He tried to get free from the man’s grasp, but his hand is hard-set on his neck, literally imprisoning him in place. His wrist got caught before Wei Ying blindly tried to punch him so he could make him pay for what he was doing to him.

He couldn’t even breathe, for God’s sake.

Suddenly, a thought rushed to Wei Ying's mind. Maybe the best way to get rid of him was not to struggle against him, but to make him believe that he was enjoying it. Maybe the man would get disgusted if Wei Ying indicated that he was actually giving in.

So he did just that.

Trying his best to relax and respond, Wei Ying opened his mouth and let the man’s tongue in. The sensation was weird; it definitely made him want to flinch away in that instant, but Wei Ying knew that he couldn't get away from his grasp. So he responded even further, tilting his head to allow him better access. The thing was… no matter how much he tried to fool him, he couldn't bring himself to actually moan for this guy. The thought alone was enough to make his knees tremble, and he was already trembling enough as it is.

When Wei Ying finally gained the strength needed to push him away, both of them were panting. Wei Ying’s vision was a bit blurry, and instinctively he raised the back of his palm to shield his lips with. He would never admit it, but he might have been a bit intimidated by this man in these moments. There was a strange feeling in his body, his heartbeat was loud enough to deafen his ears, and his stomach had a mix of butterflies and knives stabbing at it, rushing to get out.

Wei Ying had no idea what course of action he should take, and if he were to know the consequences that would come after it, he would’ve never done it… maybe.

When he saw the man looking down, it was when his blood starts to boil. Wei Ying didn’t know what to expect. An apology? Maybe not. Another kiss (too bad it wasn’t raining)? Hell no. The man leaving without saying anything at all? That would be the most frustrating thing. No. Wei Ying wanted to see a reaction out of him, too.

He swung his fist right into his left cheek. Come on, Wei Ying screamed internally. Show me something! Fight me back! Do something.

As they locked their eyes again, Wei Ying was even more frustrated now than he was before. He felt bad for what he did, and he knew damn well that he shouldn’t because it was well-deserved. But he still felt bad and he hated himself for it.

The man looked resigned; he wasn’t holding his starting-to-swell cheek yet, neither did he look angry for having received a punch. Heck, had he ever received a punch before? Honestly, Wei Ying doubted it.

As he’s walking away, Wei Ying couldn't take his eyes off his retreating back. Even when he’s already inside his car, or when a sudden wind blew in front of his face, or when their eyes found each other again before the man drove off… Wei Ying wasn’t able to look away from him, following the trail his car left behind.

How dared he? How dared he? That kiss… that kiss was… was…

Wei Ying ordered himself not to burst into tears, not to run after that ridiculously expensive car and kick it to oblivion. He knew that the only thing he'd accomplish with that was hurt himself, but at that very moment, he wasn't even thinking as a proper adult should.

That kiss…

Wei Ying was bitter when he stormed into the kitchen, hence the mood chilled enough to make it seem like snow had fallen in summer. And to make it worse, Wei Ying's blood was boiling the same way hot springs' water would.

Goddammit.

His colleagues showered him with looks of concern, nobody brave enough to dare and ask him for details. As if Wei Ying would tell anybody that he'd just been kissed by a complete stranger. A man, no less.

The worst thing for Wei Ying was the fact that the feeling of that man's lips on his own was still there, like a mark that didn't have any intention of fading.

With what seemed like a permanent scowl on his face, he stormed out of the kitchen the same way he'd walked in, heading toward the bathroom instead. He needed that scent off him immediately.

Please.

Wei Ying didn't even know his name.

The water running down the sink reminded Wei Ying to wash his face. His hands were shaking as he wet them, and begrudgingly rubbed his face hard enough to hurt.

His scent was still there.

Wei Ying rubbed his lips harder in annoyance.

He still felt his lips, his tongue, his teeth. He still felt his palm at the back of his neck as he locked Wei Ying in place.

Wei Ying closed his eyes briefly, and regretted it immediately, for the only thing he could see were two golden orbs, looking at him as if they were about to undress him. With a loud gasp, Wei Ying opened his eyes. He was going to get sick at this rate, and all of it is because of a goddamn kiss.

(Would he even be able to kiss someone else after this?)

The shivers that go through his spine made it impossible for Wei Ying not to use the sink for support. He reminded himself to breathe after a few seconds had passed. It was not the end of the world — for sure, he must be overreacting. There were more important things to worry about, like his son, his parents, his friends, and his potential new job. A stranger’s kiss should not make such a strong impact on him.

It definitely shouldn’t.

With a few more deep breaths, Wei Ying felt a bit steadier enough for him to continue on with his day.

He dried his face off and heaved a sigh. If he did his best at ignoring the feeling of that man’s lips, his sandalwood scent, and his beautiful eyes… maybe it’d go away. Maybe everything would turn out for the better.

If not for Wei Ying’s quick reflexes, he would’ve crashed in the huge figure of his damned boss, and that was definitely not on his to-do list.

“To what do I owe your umm, beautiful face, Zixun-gongzi?”

Jin Zixun scowled, his nostrils flaring as if he were some ugly bull. “Do you know what you just did?”

Wei Ying raised his eyebrows. He had a fair understanding of what he was talking about but beat him if he wasn't going to play the fool. “I washed my face,” Wei Ying smiled innocently. “I really did not do anything else.”

As his right fist rubbed against his uniform, Wei Ying flinches inwardly. His knuckles are already hurting, huh?

“Oh, yes. You’re so nice. Breaking a few plates here and there. Coming to your friends’ aid whenever they need it—”

Was he bitter because he’d helped Mo Xuanyu? He couldn’t help but think Jin Zixun looked like he wanted to choke Wei Ying right then and there.

“—and the cherry on top just had to be you kissing a customer.”

Wei Ying gritted his teeth. “I didn’t kiss anyone,” he bit out. The audacity.

“Do you think I have the word ‘Stupid’ written all over my face?” Jin Zixun walked closer toward him, glaring him down… well,  trying to, since — thank the heavens — Wei Ying was taller than him by some good inches. Hence why it took only a narrow of his eyes to make Jin Zixun stop in his tracks.

No, Wei Ying wanted to answer. I do not think you have the word ‘Stupid’ written on your face. I know you’re stupid and have this job only because you’re a Jin.

Instead, Wei Ying relaxed his expression as much as the situation allowed him to. “I did not kiss anyone,” he repeated. “I punched someone, though. He should be glad he got away with just my fist, to be honest. Kissing someone without their consent is considered harassment after all. Am I wrong?”

Before he had any chance of responding, Wei Ying pushed forward. “Are you not being unjust toward me, Zixun-gongzi? Do you think I went out of my way to kiss someone? A man, no less?”

“I do not care.”

Of course, he wouldn’t. Wei Ying resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

“It’s scandalous. Everybody saw that exchange. Not to mention that the customer was in the middle of a date.”

Wei Ying snorted. Yeah, a date he was desperate to get rid of.

“Do you even know who that customer is?”

At that, Wei Wuxian looked up. “Tell me.”

“And what would you do if I told you?”

“Tell me who he is.”

“You know what? It’s over. Get out of here.”

Wei Ying stilled, a frown finding itself on his face. His voice was low when he spoke his next words. “What do you mean ‘Get out’?”

“It means that I will pay you now, and you can piss off. I do not want to see you here again.”

“You’re firing me?” Wei Ying said, incredulously.

“Like hell I am. You’ve brought nothing but trouble ever since you started working here. Get out.”

Wei Ying clenched his fists, and with a speed that could rival even the fastest animal, he tugged his apron off his body, slamming it right across Jin Zixun’s face.

“Well, thanks for nothing,” he fumed, the insult that was to come next carefully bitten down on the inside of his cheek. Regretfully, he still needed the money.

On his way to the dressing room, he changed quickly and took whatever belonged to him that he must’ve left in his drawer beforehand. He stopped by the kitchen, contemplating at first to say his goodbyes — only to the chef and the guys — and Wei Ying rode off as soon as possible. He knew that if he stayed longer, looking at Mo Xuanyu’s crying face, he would get emotional, too. And he definitely couldn't afford to feel sad right now.

It’s as he was riding on his motorbike, vehicles, and buildings flashing by in a blur, that it dawned on him how bad this day had started for him, and all it took was forgetting his phone at home… and receiving a kiss.

He stopped by a park, sitting on the nearest bench that was shielded with the tree crowns and spent some time there, under their shadow. He thought of his departure from Fragrance Palace. How Mo Xuanyu, with an injured leg, stood up and limped toward him, giving him a hug that Wei Ying obviously returned.

Regretfully, Wei Ying had to resort to telling Mo Xuanyu a few lame jokes in order to stop him from crying. Needless to say, today marked the first time Mo Xuanyu didn’t pout at being called a twink.

With his hands in his jeans’ pockets, as he’s looking up at the colorful sky, at the dancing white clouds and the protective green leaves of the tree he’s decided to protect his eyes under, he started humming a song his mother used to sing whenever she was doing the laundry when Wei Ying was little.

He’s not spared from strangers’ glances but he paid no mind to them. He continued on like this, even as his stomach was adamant on making funny, embarrassing noises, nothing mattered.

Nothing but the fact that he was jobless.

Nothing but the fact that A-Yuan didn’t deserve a father like him.

He never thought of himself as someone to escape from his responsibilities, but here he was now, wasting time like some homeless beggar, sitting on a bench and humming a song. What maniac!

It had started to darken when he stood up, and his back and butt were completely sore from not changing his position for hours. Even so, Wei Ying tries to ignore it.

He tied his hair up in a man bun before putting his helmet on and rode on his bike again. If he didn’t know any better, it would almost feel like his motorbike was some sort of lifelong companion right now.

During his way home, he stopped by a department store. He knew they had sales till tomorrow, so Wei Ying better be taking advantage of it, now that his financial situation had gone to shit.

It’s not like he would buy a lot of things. Some food for A-Yuan, and a few spices for him and his parents—thank God, they could handle the same spice level he can as well.

Walking over to the cashier, however, that’s another story. Wei Ying shivered at the thought of his former boss not having sent his pay in his bank account yet. Thankfully, though, everything went well—what a contrast to his day. The woman working there was as sweet as ever, plastering a perfect attitude toward customers as she thanked him for shopping there and told him to visit them again. Wei Ying also had a smile on his face and assured her that he would consider it.

(Well, if that wasn’t the emptiest promise he’s ever made, then Wei Ying didn’t know what is.)

Holding the grocery bag in his hand, Wei Ying walked out toward the place he’d parked his motorbike. He’s walking away peacefully, the path lit with the lights from the store when he stopped, feeling the unmistakable fear that would always cause shudders all over his body.

He remained still for a few seconds, trying his best to peek behind his shoulder without being noticed. He could only make out two people, walking his way, and whispering among each other. They looked ordinary, not suspicious at all… if it wasn’t for the fact that their huge leashed dogs seemed to sense how Wei Ying was literally seconds away from pissing himself.

Suddenly, he remembered Xue Yang’s words about the robbers in the news that he had yet to watch. Wei Ying started walking, fast, but as steady as he could. The department store he walked out from was by no means a small one but what if… what if they’d want his money instead? No, Wei Ying definitely couldn't afford to give them his money. He’d rather have their dogs skin him alive.

He quickened his pace with every step he made, his heart beating fast. He needed to get away from here. He needed to get to his bike. But just where the hell did he leave that goddamn bike of his?

He felt as if those goddamn dogs were breathing down his neck when he saw him. A man checking his watch was looking at the opposite direction from Wei Ying.

He would definitely allow this man to give him whatever punishment he saw fit. He would beg for forgiveness if needed be. But right now, right at this very moment as a shaken, but (he hoped) strong hand gripped on the man’s arm, Wei Ying convinced himself that desperate times called for extremely desperate measures.

And it was that very reason why he called out to him so dramatically.

“Oh, my dear. I’m sorry I’m late. Were you waiting for me?”

He had his second kiss today. Wei Ying clung to this man for dear life, for his knees were definitely betraying him as he felt the pair passing by. Strong arms encircled around his waist and he had never been more thankful in his entire life.

Shameless, yes. Totally incorrigible, yes. But thankful. Very thankful.

Wei Ying couldn’t bring himself to break the kiss until he's completely sure that he was safe. But even then, Wei Ying stopped breathing, and a thousand knives seemed to pierce right through his body.

He…

He knew this.

He knew this scent.

He knew these lips.

.

.

.

Oh… oh… oh, no. Oh, God. Please… please don’t.

His mind was screaming. When they finally parted from each other, Wei Ying knew what he has done even before he steeled himself to look at the man holding him so close.

Both of them were looking at each other in recognition. The man’s unblinking golden orbs stared at him, and Wei Ying, for the life of him, couldn’t know what was going to happen next.

He wanted to say something, anything to make it up to him somehow. I’m sorry; Please punch me, too, so we can be even; Crush me with your arms while you’re at it because I sure do wish for the Earth to open up and swallow me whole as if I never existed in the first place.

But he didn’t say anything. He was completely blank at those moments. Wei Ying couldn’t believe his luck could be this bad.

.

.

.

He had just finished stealing a kiss from the man who stole his on this very day.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng had long since finished taking a shower after a tiring day at work. He went to lunch with his husband, and then returned back to his office to get Wei Ying’s resume, but trying to contact him had been to no avail for Wei Ying wasn’t picking any of his calls.

And Jiang Cheng had tried so many times to reach him by now that he was so close to throw his phone at the wall from irritation.

It became worse when A-Huan came home, spirit all-down, looking as if he had just gone bankrupt, and Jiang Cheng (as per usual) had to act like the mature one in the relationship and ask him what was wrong. As soon as Lan Huan finished his tale, however, Jiang Cheng was left with the question as to why did he love this idiot man. What was it that possessed him?

Now, they were lying on their large bed, in their bathrobes for it was expected that Lan Huan would need a bath after all that he had witnessed.

“Come again?”

Jiang Cheng sighed for the uncountable amount of time this evening. With every single detail that Lan Huan finished telling him, he grew even more irritated—if that was possible. He remembers being disgusted at one point, even.

“Why am I not surprised that Meng Yao stabbed you behind your back like this?” he asked as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “How did you not have any amount of mercy for your little brother? Is he even okay?”

Lan Huan laughed sheepishly as he turned over to Jiang Cheng’s side of the bed, sliding a hand around his husband’s waist. “A-Yao warned me that she was a piece. I just didn’t know what kind of ‘piece’ he was referring to.”

Jiang Cheng didn’t make any effort to hide the scowl on his face. “One day your blind trust is going to-”

“Hush now, A-Cheng,” Lan Huan interrupted. “Don’t be so negative.” He leaned in for a kiss on the lips, but with a tilt of his head, Jiang Cheng denied him that kind of access, resulting in his husband kissing his chin instead.

“Don’t pout,” Jiang Cheng said, brows twitching. “So, Lan Zhan wasted his first kiss, you were saying?”

Lan Huan hid his face in Jiang Cheng’s slightly-naked chest and chuckled. “Yes, he did. His boldness really shocked me.”

Jiang Cheng snorted. “He must’ve been pretty desperate if he was resorting to such means. Kissing a man, no less.”

Lan Huan raised his head again. “Is that bad? Kissing a man, I mean?”

Jiang Cheng felt his brow twitching again. “Are you not a man, too?”

“You were disgusted once.”

“That was years ago. I had my own problems to deal with. You know how my mother is.” He checked his phone. Still nothing from Wei Ying. “It’s not easy with a woman like her.”

“But she likes me.”

“You’re my husband,” he retorted. “And a Lan. She has no choice but to like you.”

Lan Huan chuckled, a pretty soft sound if Jiang Cheng was being honest with himself (only).

“You keep checking your phone. Are you expecting a call?”

He nodded his head. “Remember the guy I talked to you about?”

“The one from Yiling Uni?”

“Yeah. I took his number from the document and tried to reach him but he is not responding,” he clicked his tongue. “I thought he might call me back.”

“You can call him tomorrow. It is late.”

“It’s not even 10 PM yet. He’s always been a late sleeper.”

“People change, A-Cheng. You did.”

“Oh, shut up,” Jiang Cheng tried to push him away meekly. “Did you call Lan Zhan? Or did you chicken out?”

“Yeah.”

“To which one did you agree?”

“The latter.”

He shook his head. “ Wo de tian!

“I’ll meet him tomorrow when I send Wangji to him. The vet called me when I was on my way here saying that Wangji was good to leave.”

“Oh,” Jiang Cheng said, stifling a yawn. “Well, good. Wangji will make sure to brighten Lan Zhan’s mood a bit.” Even as he said it, he cringed at how idiotic it sounded. “Then again, what would I know?”

“You are right, you are right,” his husband humored him. “You may not know A-Zhan as well as I do, but he will indeed be happy to have his dog with him again. You know how much trouble he was in for bringing it in his apartment.”

Jiang Cheng nodded. It made sense.

“Let us sleep,” Lan Huan suggested. “I doubt your friend will call you back tonight. You can try to reach him again tomorrow.”

Jiang Cheng sighed through his nose. It was not as if he wasn’t right. It just… it kind of hurt his pride to have to agree with his husband literally all the time.

“I guess,” he gave in, setting his phone on vibrate before putting it above his drawer, next to the turned-off lamp. Letting his husband face his back, he felt his hand slide up to his chest, under the bathrobe. He was about to snap but bit his retort down instead. He could humor his husband all he wanted. Jiang Cheng knew he’ll get tired of it eventually.

About twenty minutes passed — at least, that’s what Jiang Cheng thought — and sleep had already taken away Lan Huan. He, on the other hand, had his eyes open as if it was broad daylight.

He couldn't even close his eyes, much less sleep. His thoughts went over to Wei Ying, albeit unwillingly. When they were classmates, Wei Ying would spend more time on the rooftop rather than in the classroom. And yet, with each exam they had, he would pass it with flying colors… way less colorful than Jiang Cheng’s grades, that’s for sure.

It was always a mystery to Jiang Cheng how the teachers did not seem to mind him either. In fact, many of them were delighted by him. Jiang Cheng himself liked his company and would slack off sometimes with him, too. He was that influential.

It’s as his mind was going through a brainstorm of memories, that he heard his phone vibrating, the screen lighting up. Removing A-Huan’s hand, Jiang Cheng sat on the bed, hoping to see a familiar name.

He was not disappointed.

He rose from the bed and walked to their living room in order to not get disturbed (or disturb his husband) and swiped right at his screen, accepting the call.

Hello!

Jiang Cheng sucked in a breath upon hearing Wei Ying’s voice. It was not the same cheerful voice as from when they were young; it was way manlier now, but it’s unmistakably his.

Jiang Cheng found himself at a loss for words, too scared to speak. What could he possibly say?

Hello!

Jiang Cheng resisted the urge to end the call.

He cleared his throat. "Hello… Wei… Ying?"

A long second passed between them when Wei Ying answered, "Who is— who's this?"

Jiang Cheng didn't have it in his heart to blame him for being cautious. It was a delight, in fact.

"Y-Your job application at Gusu!" What Jiang Cheng hated the most, was his stupid stuttering. It was not like him to stutter. He has always been straight forward, no matter what kind of situation he was faced with.

Something shifted on the other end of the call, and Jiang Cheng painted an unnecessary image in his head, of Wei Ying trying to sit on his bed.

"Yeah. Yes, I've applied to Gusu Yunshen."

Before Jiang Cheng had a chance to respond, Wei Ying blabbered on.

"Oh, God. I'm so sorry. You called me so many times but I've forgotten my phone and-"

He groaned. "A-Ying!"

That stopped them both. Jiang Cheng's eyes widened at the sudden slip that came through his lips. Covering his mouth with his free hand, he heard what was an unmistakable shiver coming from Wei Ying.

"There aren't many people who call me that."

He knew.

"In fact, I haven't been called that since High School."

Wei Ying chuckled.

"Such a small world. You were right, though, my memory needs work. Damn, I'm sad I didn't recognize your voice. Maybe it wasn't angry enough in the beginning," he snickered.

Jiang Cheng snorted. It was like all those years they've passed separated had been nothing but a few hours. The familiarity of the two filled him with an indescribable presence inside his stomach. He didn't wish to dwell on it any deeper.

"I'm not surprised."

"Cut me some slack, Jiang Cheng. I've had a rough day, today. There will be goosebumps all over my body if I even think about it."

"Too much information," Jiang Cheng said. "But anyway, don't change the subject. About Gusu… you've applied there, right?"

"Yeah, I have. How did you know, by the way?"

"I work there, too."

"You do? Well, if that's unexpected. Why, though?"

Jiang Cheng sighed. "Let's meet on Monday."

Wei Ying hummed. "Yes, sure. I'd like to catch up with an old buddy."

"Idiot," Jiang Cheng scoffed. "It's not to catch up, but for work."

"What do you mean? Jiang Cheng you couldn't mean lending me this job like this, right? I mean there must be many qualified people who have sent-"

He rolled his eyes as Wei Ying goes on and on about how it's not righteous if he gets the job without even an interview at first. The audacity he has to doubt him.

"Shut up. Nobody is saying that you'll get the job on a silver platter. It's not me the one who will hire you, but my brother-in-law."

"Well, okay, that's a relief act—Wait, you're married?!"

Wei Ying laughed. "Wow, you really settled down before I did? Now I really want to know who's the lady that has you wrapped around her pinky?"

"Oh, please," Jiang Cheng said with an incredulous tone. The words 'I am the one who has him wrapped around my pinky went unsaid. Let it be a surprise.

"Where do you want to meet? "

"How about Fragrance Palace?" he said. "I'll treat you to lunch-"

"No!"

Jiang Cheng almost jolted from the sofa at Wei Ying's powerful burst. He frowned. "Ok…ay. Why, though?"

He heard Wei Ying swallowing on the other end and Jiang Cheng's frown deepened. Wei Ying sounded angry enough to reach through the screen and punch Jiang Cheng for even suggesting such a place. Weird.

"Pick another place," Wei Ying said.

"Okay," Jiang Cheng didn't push the matter. Not through the phone, at least. "I'll send you the address. They have spicy food."

"Nice. I haven't had much flavor in my mouth lately. Why would I refuse a meal from an old friend?"

"What are you?" Jiang Cheng scoffed. "A sugar baby?"

"Are you my sugar daddy?"

"I swear to God."

"I'm joking, I'm joking." Wei Ying laughed loud enough that Jiang Cheng had to move his phone away from his ear.

"I'll keep in touch. Goodnight."

"Goodnight. Goodnight."


As soon as the phone call ended, Wei Ying went back to his room and sat on his bed, careful not to wake A-Yuan up, who was fast asleep beside him. He smiled fondly at the child as he recalled the adventures he had during the day.

He yawned and stretched his body, before lying down, hugging his son closer to him. Sleep wasn’t coming for him today, and in all honesty, Wei Ying wasn’t welcoming it either.

Involuntarily, he remembered the moment when he and the golden-eyed man parted lips for the second time today, how Wei Ying’s eyes had widened upon realizing whom he had just kissed, how he had wished he would be crushed by the man’s arms around his waist...

But nothing of the sort had happened.

~*~*~

Wei Ying opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn't find his voice no matter what, so he closed his mouth again. He averted his gaze to the side, cursing inwardly as he felt the golden gaze following the motion without fail.

His brows were starting to sweat as Wei Ying thought about what would be best to say in this situation. Thankfully, he didn’t have to do anything for the man holding him so close was the first one to pull back to reality.

He released him slowly, eyes still on Wei Ying. He bent down and took the grocery bag with his hand — Wei Ying didn't even remember the moment he dropped it — holding it out for Wei Ying to take back.

“Were they chasing you?” He asked the moment Wei Ying took the grocery bag from him.

“Huh?”

“Were they chasing you? Do you know them?”

What could he possibly say? That he, stupidly, thought they could be potential robbers and not just your casual pair going on their way with their dogs. No, he couldn't possibly say such blasphemy.

“I don’t… no. I don’t think so.”

Wei Ying looked at him, not knowing what to expect. At some point, he started breathing again or else he’d faint.

"Why are you panicking?" the man inquired.

Wei Ying threw a half-glare toward him. Really? Why was he panicking? Oh, could it be that he just kissed him despite having acted all high and mighty with him in the afternoon?

"Your hands are sweating," he added.

"Dogs," Wei Ying said shortly, fidgeting awkwardly with the long sleeves of his plaid shirt which were tied around his stomach. It's not as if he was lying.

He wondered what would come next. Trying his luck, he asked, "So, do you have a strong hook?"

A frown was his only response.

"Your fists," Wei Ying clarifies, trying to seem as if he wasn't fazed at all. "Will they hurt?"

The man furrowed his brows even further. Wei Ying found out in the weirdest way that this look strangely suited him.

"You mean… you think I will hit you?"

"You won't?" Wei Ying raised an eyebrow, tilting his head to the left. He didn't know for how long he could pull off this act of bravery, but let him be shameless one more time in his life; he thought with an amused glee in his eyes. Strangely, he didn't feel scared; not after having felt his strong arms around him. He didn't forget how thankful he felt in those moments.

The man heaved an exasperated sigh. "You-" he began but stopped. "I will not… hit you."

Wei Ying's amused gaze changes into a more serious look as he stared back at him, searching for a possible lie. He was either skilled at hiding his intentions, or he genuinely meant it, for Wei Ying was not able to find anything remotely suspicious...

Well, what a way to make Wei Ying feel guilty about it all.

"But I did hit you, didn't I?" Wei Ying reasoned, though why was he doing it, he didn't really know. It wasn't like he wanted to get punched in the face, but when push came to shove, Wei Ying could only guess that he was feeling offended on the man's behalf, and that was hilarious in its own right.

"Mn," he said, holding out his own grocery bag for Wei Ying to see. "I run out of ice packs."

Wei Ying chuckled, but quickly covered his mouth. "See what I'm talking about? Your cheek doesn't look pretty."

"Mn," the man responded.

Wei Ying nodded and cleared his throat. "Well, I'm going this way. Better to never meet than meet as we did, don't you-"

Wei Ying paused, bringing up his free hand to massage his temple. It's when he felt a hand encircling around him again that he knew he must've staggered in his feet. It dawned on him then that he hadn't eaten anything since morning, and the Chef's pancakes had, naturally, worn out by now.

"Are you alright?" came the question filled with undeniable worry.

Wei Ying smiled as he tried to straighten himself up. "Of course. I haven't eaten anything since morning, but all is fine."

He frowned and grasped Wei Ying's wrist. Memories of the same gesture from this afternoon came to his mind and Wei Ying focused his gaze at the man briefly.

"Let us go," he said, walking across the street toward a small food stall thrown there as if for convenience .

Wei Ying followed after him without protest this time. He cringed at the thought of someone treating him to food (why did he even tell him he didn't eat anything?) as if he was a little child being offered a candy. Maybe they could split the pay? Wei Ying still felt guilty about everything, after all. He wasn't ignoring the fact that the reason the man had bought those ice packs was because of his fists.

Or maybe Wei Ying was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The man guided them to a table close to the stall. Wei Ying could even smell the spicy flavor the woman was cooking her rice and potatoes in.

While Wei Ying sat down, the man walked over to the cook and salutes. He was really polite, Wei Ying observed in awe, putting his right elbow on the table and resting his cheek in his palm.

"Give us three portions, please," he told her and Wei Ying looked down, his face heating up. He shook his head mentally. Maybe he was buying one more for a girlfriend he had back home… but he'd been on a blind date just today, right? Well, maybe he had a child? Maybe he was a single father like Wei Ying and was in search of said child's mother figure.

He was quick to snap out of his thoughts when the man showed a plate of two pieces of twisted potatoes on sticks in front of him. Wei Ying regarded the man, who was now seated on the chair across from him and had only one potato stick on his plate.

Wei Ying was inside of a whirlwind of its own as he realized that the mysterious person whom the man had asked the third portion for had been him all along.

“You don’t have to go for the extreme,” he said, chewing on the first potato stick. He made a displeased face immediately after the first bite.

“What the fu-” he stopped from swearing in front of the old lady. “This is so bland.”

“How do you like it?” asked the golden-eyed man.

“Spicy,” Wei Ying responded way quicker than he had intended. “I mean… really spicy.”

He nodded his head and stood up from his chair. After talking to the old lady, he came back to the table, holding a bowl of what looked like steaming blood, but no. It was only congee, Wei Ying observed. Very… spicy congee from the look of it… just how he liked it.

“Will you be able to-”

“Of course,” Wei Ying interrupted. “I love spice, and rice goes with everything, anyway.”

He was aware of the man’s eyes following his every step, as he dipped the potato stick in the bowl, rolling it as much as the pot’s surface allowed him to.

The next bite he took attacks his tongue as if it were some battlefield, but Wei Ying conquered it like a general. He cracked a smile before adding, “Oh, finally. This is so good. Do you want to try it? Here, let me.”

Wei Ying reached over to his side of the table and poured some of the congee on the man’s plate, careful not to let it drip.

“Trust me,” Wei Ying said, sitting back on his chair.

He stopped briefly, glancing at the man who was eating his now-spicy potato stick. His expression remained the same as before, as poised as ever, and if Wei Ying hadn’t witnessed Mo Xuanyu suffer some of the Chef’s awful dishes before, Wei Ying could’ve been fooled.

The jaw.

This man was absolutely dying, and yet he refused to say something. Wei Ying let it be, eating his food instead and tearing his eyes away. He had really been mistaken about this man. Maybe he expected him to get up and smash his head into the bowl out of anger, or something. But the man only ate his food in dead silence.

The least Wei Ying could do after this is to finish fast, at the very least. The more he thought of how much of a dick he was being, the more he would beat himself over it. It was not like he was going to pay for this meal. Wei Ying doubted he would let him even if he insisted otherwise.

They finished their plates in more or less the same time around. Just as expected, he walked over to the stall again and found the time to pay the woman, since she was busy serving to a little kid and his mother. The kid was crying at the mother, saying that he missed his dad and wanted to see him now.

Wei Ying frowned, suddenly picturing a crying A-Yuan weeping on his mother’s shoulder and refusing to go to sleep because he was late, and the worst thing was that, without his phone, they would not be able to reach him anyhow. Wei Ying couldn't help but wonder that maybe his parents had already called at his former job, and gotten the latest update on his job status. He couldn't help but wince at the hurt (disappointed) faces of his parents.

It was with these thoughts in mind that he followed after the man, not knowing where he was leading him to at all.

He stopped, turning to look at him. “Where is your house?”

Wei Ying resisted the urge to laugh, so he smirked instead. “Do you not think you’re asking the wrong questions, sir?”

He was ignored. The nerve this man had. “Are you going to take the bus? Is it not too late now?”

Oh! “No, I’ve parked my bike there.” He jerked his head toward its direction. The bike was exactly where he'd left it, locked in place around a pillar in the department store’s parking lot.

“So you need not worry. Thank you, but you don’t need to worry about things like this, sir.”

Calling him ‘sir’ felt weird. The man couldn't possibly be older than he was, and even he were to be, Wei Ying would not give him more than a few months.

“Are you… feeling alright?” Ah, really? How could this man behave like this with a complete stranger? A stranger who punched him in the face and stole a kiss from him, no less? Wei Ying was seconds away from getting crept out at how nice this man actually was.

“Ah,” he laughed sheepishly. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m all good, because… you treated me.”

“Nothing,” he murmured.

“Hmm? What was that?”

“Nothing,” he said, firmer this time. “It was nothing.”

Of course, it would be nothing, Wei Ying thought. His pride might have been swept under the rug but to this man, it was nothing. He sighed mentally.

“Well, good. If you excuse—”

“A-Dieeee!”

Wei Ying looked behind his shoulder and his eyes widened. A-Yuan was being held by a very angry looking Wen Qing as the kid wept and called him again, extending his little arms toward him.

His eyebrows furrowed together at the sight. An inexplicable pain registered in his chest as he walked over to the pair, ignoring Wen Qing’s scolding voice.

“Where the hell were you?” she was asking. “Do you know how worried sick everyone was. Not even A-Ning can calm this kid. I swear to God, Wei Ying, you—”

Wei Ying ignored everything else she told him, focusing on the only thing he cared about right now. His son. As he rocked gently on A-Yuan’s back, he did his best to reassure him that they were finally together. That a loss of a job wouldn’t change him. He shall try his best again. A-Yuan would never cry because of him again.

“A-Yuan,” he began softly. “A-Yuan, A-Die is here. I’m here, A-Yuan. Do not cry, hmm! Do not cry.”

Wei Ying tickled his chin with his thumb, and what resulted was a sound in between a sob and a laugh. “A-Die is late. He is very sorry,” he pouted childishly, rocking their foreheads together. “Will A-Yuan forgive A-Die?”

“A-Die is late,” A-Yuan returned the pout, looking as cute as ever. “Why is A-Die late? A-Yuan was sad.”

Something broke in Wei Ying’s heart, even as he tried not to dwell on it too much. “A-Die will not make A-Yuan sad again. Pinky promise.”

He held out his pinky finger and winked at his son. Smiling, A-Yuan held his own, but before they had the chance to entangle their fingers, A-Yuan’s eyes found the man Wei Ying had spent his time with.

“Oh!” A-Yuan pointed at him. “Is A-Die late because of that big man?”

“A-Yuan don’t point.” He put his son’s hand down. “He helped A-Die, okay. What will you say to him since he helped me?”

Thank you,” he murmured, voice so low that even Wei Ying had trouble hearing it.

“He didn’t hear you, A-Yuan.”

Wei Ying caught Wen Qing rolling her eyes at him. He would have laughed if not for the company they had.

“Thank you, umm” A-Yuan shifted his gaze behind Wei Ying’s shoulder. "A-Die, what’s his name?”

Oh… right…

Wei Ying turned his head, an expectant look in his eyes. He raised an eyebrow when the man continued on with his silence. It was not like Wei Ying could tell Wen Qing and A-Yuan that he’d been treated to free food by someone whom he didn’t even know their name yet.

So, he waited.

“Lan Zh-Huan.”

“Lan… Huan?” Wei Ying repeated. He could finally put a name to the man who kissed him. Somehow, he felt strange over it. Completely strange.

“Say thank you to Huan-gege, A-Yuan.”

“Thank you, Huan-gege,” A-Yuan complied, waving his hand in goodbye, not at all seeming angry at him anymore.

Wei Ying hummed. “Mm, thank you for your care, Huan-gege.”

Lan Huan gasped, averting his golden gaze down. “No need.”

Just like that, he walked over to his car. Wei Ying laughed under his breath, eyes following after him yet again. As the car drove past them, he was finally brought back to reality when Wen Qing lost no second to pinch him in the arm. With a yelp, he focused on her.

“What is it?”

“Shut up. That’s for worrying us.”

“Ouch!” Wei Ying said. “Can you take the motorbike. A-Yuan and I will walk together home, right A-Yuan. Do you want to walk with A-Die?”

“Yes, I wanna.”

Wen Qing crossed her arms to her chest and snorted. “Of course I will. Did you think I will leave you to ride that thing with a child?”

Wei Ying rummaged in his pants’ pocket, picking out the keys and throwing them at Wen Qing. “Oh, and take this bag from me, while you’re at it.”

With a shake of her head, she walked past them, miraculously doing as she’s told. As she started the motorbike, Wei Ying stopped himself from whistling jokingly. No, he didn't want to die yet. He was still young.

“A-Yuan, are you cold? Do you want A-Die’s shirt?”

The child shook his head. “A-Yuan is warm. I wore my favorite shirt today.”

‘Favorite shirt’ being a white shirt with red sleeves and the word ‘LONG’ painted right in the middle of his chest (also in red).

“Oh, is this the shirt uncle A-Ning bought for you?”

He nodded. “I want everyone to see me.”

Wei Ying laughed and gave his son a peck on his chubby cheek, before walking home together, Wei Ying trying his best to tell his son (friendly) jokes to make him laugh. It was going to be hard for Wei Ying to explain to him the reason why he would be seeing his father staying in the house the following Monday. It was going to be even harder for him to ask for help from his parents when he would undoubtedly run out of money one day. But for now, let them laugh.

~*~*~

As Wei Ying tucked his son to sleep, he couldn't help but chuckle lightly. Today had worn him out to the point that he couldn't even bring himself to go through all the events even in his thoughts. He talked to his parents upon coming home, explaining what went down — but obviously leaving the little detail that a man had kissed him, out — and promised to do the best of his capabilities not to be a burden to them for a long time.

But thanks to his old friend, not all things were lost. He rolled on his back, facing the ceiling. He would meet with Jiang Cheng on Monday and catch up with him, maybe even pay a visit to Gusu while he's at it. It would be his new workplace after all. Because he shall get that job even if it’s the last thing he did.

He was determined to close his eyes and let sleep claim him but the only image he could paint is one of two golden eyes gazing at him… gazing!

“Lan Huan!”

The easy way how his name rolled in Wei Ying’s tongue was almost disturbing, because Wei Ying shouldn’t feel like he should’ve stopped him from leaving, or God forbid, have him give them a drive home. They were nothing and that would never change.

Wei Ying closed his eyes again, ordering his brain to draw a blank. Come Monday, he shall get his dream job, shall buy A-Yuan many things, shall treat his parents to whatever their hearts desire and… he shall forget about today just like Lan Huan will undoubtedly do the same.

Monday shall be a new beginning.

Chapter Text

Lan Zhan knew he was not perfect by any means. No; people around him had praised his intelligence like they were praising some treasure found in the depths of the ocean. And yet, if those people were to hear the lie he told the waiter tonight, not only would they shake their heads in pity, they would take their words back.

What an idiot he was.

Lan Zhan lay in his bed, facing the ceiling, supporting his head on his palm as he brought his other hand close to his lips and traced along their surface, the kiss still lingering there.

The kiss…

It was almost comical how he had not kissed anyone for twenty-five years, and yet his lips met someone else's two times in one day.

Lan Zhan had no idea what to make of Wei Ying. He had punched him at first (granted, his cheek wasn't hurting that much anymore), only for him to do almost the same thing to Lan Zhan a few hours later. He couldn't detect any traces of fear from the waiter… It couldn't be revenge either. That was what he had thought as he was buying food for the two of them.

And then he saw it.

Wei Ying had a family. He had a cute, little child who seemingly was the main focus of his attention and a beautiful wife.

(He was beautiful, too)

He shivered involuntarily, ordering himself to bury his last thought deep in the back of his mind.

In any case, when he was asked for his name, expectant gazes thrown in his direction, Lan Zhan had frozen.

And he had lied.

I will never see him again, was how Lan Zhan convinced himself he had not done such an atrocious thing. He knew the waiter's real name, after all. It was not fair to him.

But, he would never see him again, most likely. The waiter's words: better to never meet again then meet how we did; rang in his mind once more. Truthfully, Lan Zhan agreed. If he had been in his position, being kissed by a complete stranger in broad daylight, he would… he would…

If it had been anyone but Wei Ying doing the same thing to him, he would probably file a lawsuit and let the court handle it. Lan Zhan closed his eyes and heaved a long and heavy sigh, an image of dark hair and eyes colored just like the midnight sky conjured itself in front of his closed eyelids.

Anyone but Wei Ying.

He let out a bemused snort. Somehow, for better or for worse, he had his brother to thank for today's events.

Speaking of which, he had yet to talk to — or rather, ask for a thorough explanation from — his brother. It was not like he was mad; it did not even cross his mind to be mad at him, but that did not mean Lan Zhan would not ask him about the reasons he decided that Miss Jiao would be a good match for him.

That would never make sense to him, Lan Zhan was afraid.

Thank you for your care, Huan-gege.

Lan Zhan groaned — the ‘Lans do not groan’ rule be damned. He could not stop his mind from imagining hearing his true name from Wei Ying’s lips. What would he call him if they were familiar with each other? Zhan-ge? Lan-gege?

Thank you for your care, Lan er-gege!

He bit the inside of his cheek and turned to his right side, facing the windows. How could he think things like this for a married man? A man with a family, no less. He shuddered. This wouldn’t do. He wanted to think of something else, or better yet, think nothing at all and sleep already.

But closing his eyes did not do the trick this time. His mind wandered everywhere and nowhere at all. From his injured dog to the documents sitting on his desk, to the lips of—

He wanted to scream.

No, how did thinking about his lips count as his mind wandering nowhere at all? It was wrong. Yet it felt right.

But it was wrong.

It did not make sense for Lan Zhan to lose precious sleep over a stranger. Anyone with a brain would think the same; not like Lan Zhan would ask them, anyhow.

He sighed through his nose, gold eyes still closed. A stranger, that's what Wei Ying was.

A stranger whom Lan Zhan had kissed.

A stranger Lan Zhan would never see again (unfortunately).

A stranger.


When Lan Huan asked Jiang Cheng to let him drive, the latter didn’t exactly know the reason behind it was because he wanted Jiang Cheng to hold Wangji in his lap during the drive to Lan Zhan’s apartment.

The previously-injured white-furred Samoyed was a funny one and despite Jiang Cheng's (permanent) scowl on his face, it seemed to be comfortable.

Soft little thing.

It probably sensed just how much Jiang Cheng liked its company. Ever since Princess, Jasmine and Little Love weren’t with him anymore, Jiang Cheng had never thought of replacing them. But that changed once Wangji laid eyes on him for the very first time.

Jiang Cheng remembered how it had jumped off his owner’s lap and run over to him, tail wagging left and right happily and his tongue out expectantly.

Jiang Cheng’s expression had softened then apparently, at least that was a piece of information Lan Huan told him later that same night.

“Wangji is always happy with you,” Lan Huan said, seemingly stating the obvious.

“Hmm? Yeah, I can see it.”

They stopped by the traffic lights and Wangji shifts. Jiang Cheng halted his caressing for a short second then, concerned for the animal’s old injuries.

“Not even with Lan Zhan does it behave so—”

Lan Huan cut himself off, as the traffic lights turned green.

“Maybe it knows that I did care for three dogs before I met him,” Jiang Cheng replied with a smirk. “And I’m more expressive than your little brother, according to you at least.”

His husband chuckled lightly. “There is a reason why only I can read the slight changes in my brother’s face, A-Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng supposed that was the case, not that he would dwell on the matter any longer. Now that he thought of it, he’d never asked his husband if he would want to have a pet in their house.

“Say, A-Huan—”

“Hmm?”

“Would you… would you want to have a pet?”

“Oh? But I do have one,” he said, a sly smirk finding its way on his full lips. “You.”

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes in a ‘Can you fucking not?’ manner.

“It’s my fault that I actually try to start a civil conversation with you.”

“Why would you even ask me? You know that I am okay with anything you want.”

Ugh, Jiang Cheng truly hated how good with words his husband was. He threw a weak glare at his annoying know-it-all face.

“Come now, A-Cheng. Wangji will be sad if you keep sulking,” he commented with laughter in his voice.

“Wangji is fine,” Jiang Cheng retorted. “And it will be even better after it sees his owner. We’re here anyway.”

They step out of the car, Jiang Cheng being extra careful with Wangji in his arms and the two of them head to the building.

Thankfully, the elevator to Lan Zhan’s 13th-floor penthouse apartment is free to use so they would not need to wait. They enter inside the elevator and Jiang Cheng has a chance to look at himself in the mirrors surrounding the walls of the elevator. He’d always thought that these new elevators looked a bit creepy, to be honest.

In any case, both he and A-Huan took a casual approach to their clothes today. Lan Huan had chosen to wear white shorts that reached to his knees, combined with a light blue shirt (according to Jiang Cheng, Lan Huan did not have other colors in his closet) and sunglasses. His long hair was tied in a messy bun and Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but wonder why he never cut his hair as normal people do. Then again, it wasn’t as if Jiang Cheng was complaining… Well, maybe he was complaining when Lan Huan’s long strands would brush over his bare stomach and tickle him. That was peak annoyance.

As for him, Jiang Cheng was wearing a pair of black jeans and a pink shirt. Normally, he would never allow himself to be seen wearing pink if he could help it, but he would rather get rid of all his shirts than see himself turn down a gift from his sister. And since he would never turn his sister’s gift down, that meant that he was obligated to wear it every once in a while. Like today, for example.

The familiar ting of the elevator sounded, indicating that Lan Huan had already told his brother of their visit. The elevator doors opened and the two of them stepped out, greeted by the second Lan brother.

To say that Wangji was glad to see the expressionless face of his owner would be an understatement on Jiang Cheng’s part. If not for his locking grip, Jiang Cheng didn’t doubt the fluffy animal would jump out of his arms and go straight to Lan Zhan.

“A-Zhan, thank you for receiving us.”

Only when the two of them sat down, did Jiang Cheng finally let Wangji out of his arms, settling it on the sofa, right beside him. Looking at the dog now and then at the file Lan Huan was holding, Jiang Cheng felt as if he was forgetting something, and that something was undeniably important. He just couldn’t put a finger to it no matter how hard he tried.

Lan Zhan nodded his head to his brother slowly, causing Jiang Cheng to stare at his face— cheek, to be exact — and a look of sympathy filled him immediately. If he had enough energy, Jiang Cheng would be glaring at his husband… for his husband’s brother, no less.

“Thank you for bringing Wangji here,” Lan Zhan said. “What did the doctor say?”

“Oh,” Lan Huan laughed awkwardly. “Oh, nothing important. Its leg needs rest, but not too much or else it’ll risk numbness.”

Lan Zhan nodded and set two cups of hot tea on the table.

“A-Zhan, I think I owe you an explanation for what happened the other day. I-”

“Brother,” Lan Zhan interrupted. “If you had visited me yesterday, I would probably want a thorough explanation from you, you are right. But as you can see, I have more pressing matters right now.”

“Well,” he broke into a sweat. “If you insist.”

Jiang Cheng’s eyes scanned the living room and they quickly fell on the chair at Jiang Cheng’s right. An open file stood there, the only file in the whole room.

“Uncle called me this morning,” Lan Zhan continued. “He said he will visit the company tomorrow. I will give him a ride.”

“So you’ve been keeping yourself busy, I see,” Jiang Cheng said, sipping on his cup. “Who is the lucky person?”

Lan Zhan reached for the file from his own sitting place and tossed it (albeit carefully) to Jiang Cheng.

He felt his eyebrows twitch. It was that guy named Su She. Well, Jiang Cheng couldn’t blame him, per se, but that didn’t mean he was going to let Wei Ying down, especially after telling him that he had a chance.

“His qualifications are the best. I am sure Uncle will approve, too.”

“Indeed,” Lan Huan nodded.

It was the truth, sadly. It would be a shame not to choose him, albeit Jiang Cheng didn’t have the slightest idea of how his attitude would be. Then again, his own attitude wasn’t the best out of the bunch, so what could he possibly accuse this stranger of doing.

“How about you?” Lan Zhan inquired. “Did someone catch your eye?”

He nodded. “It did, but when compared to this, my pick graduated on Yiling Uni for starters.”

Lan Zhan narrowed his eyes as if to say ‘Are you serious?’ but Jiang Cheng held his ground. “Then again, he was also my classmate in High School and is most likely than not even better than me at what he does, but why would you trust my word, anyway.”

His brother-in-law sighed. “Do they know?”

“Yes, they do. Why?”

“Tell them to come by tomorrow for a test. If they do well, the job is theirs.”

“What? What about Su She here?”

“If I do not like the work of the person you chose, I will call them back.”

Jiang Cheng smirked. When one’s a boss, they have an open path.

“Well, here’s the file —”

“I do not need it. I will see their work with my own eyes starting tomorrow.”

“What? He will start working tomorrow? He isn’t expecting that.”

Lan Zhan made a shrugging motion. “It cannot be helped. Uncle has to be convinced, and I have to be convinced, too.”

“Ah, A-Cheng. You can always message him the newest details,” Lan Huan smiled. “Plus, A-Zhan will be late because he will drive with Uncle. You can prepare him well in the meantime.”

Jiang Cheng sighed loudly. “That’s fine by me. I know I won’t lose face, anyhow.”

Lan Huan chuckled. “That’s the spirit. Ah, A-Zhan, did you eat yet? There is no need for you to prepare something for us. We already ate.”

“Mn,” was all Lan Zhan said. Lan Huan fidgeted in his seat and cleared his throat. Trust second master Lan to make his brother feel discomfort. Jiang Cheng guessed that his bad date had been really bad, after all. This was a mild punishment.

“In any case,” Jiang Cheng said, gesturing to his husband to get up. “We won’t be taking much of your time. I have a call to pick up with A-Jie and her fiance anyway so… I will also call him and tell him the details.”

“You can stay,” Lan Zhan said, but he was getting up, too.

“Thank you, little brother, but we have busy lives, too.”

The words ‘we can’t overstay our welcome,’ linger in the air, Jiang Cheng and Lan Zhan were possibly the only ones who would be able to hear them.

“See you tomorrow, brother,” Lan Zhan nodded. “Jiang Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng returned the nod and made to leave but his eyes sought Wangji again. The beautiful creature wagged his tail upon noticing Jiang Cheng’s stare.

“Take care of it,” he told his brother-in-law, though he was still feeling like he was forgetting something.

“I am its owner,” Lan Zhan stated as a matter-of-factly. “Of course I will.”

And with that the elevator’s doors close, leaving only him and Lan Huan in a silence that lasted about five seconds before the latter exhaled loudly.

Jiang Cheng’s features twitched. “Seriously?”

Lan Huan was clutching at his heart dramatically. “You do not know the struggle, A-Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. He was about to say something in retort about the ‘struggles’ when he showed Wei Ying’s file in front of his face.

“Here you go. A-Zhan did not need it.”

Jiang Cheng took it wordlessly.

“I wonder why was that? I know he didn’t look at all amused but this kind of blind surprise would be bad for the heart,” he gives him a smug side glance. “Especially after the blind date.

Lan Huan pouted shamelessly. “Must you remind me?”

He shrugged. “Since Lan Zhan was merciful enough, then I guess I shall not.”

The elevator doors opened and the pair walked over to their car. Even this time it was Lan Huan the one who sat on the driver’s seat while Jiang Cheng kept himself busy with Wei Ying’s file.

But why was he so certain that he was forgetting something?


Come Monday morning, Jiang Cheng woke up early. Just as expected, he had facetimed his sister and her fiance after arriving at home. Apparently, Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan had a surprise for all of them. Most importantly, they had decided on their wedding date.

And Jiang Cheng took all of this information in over a facetime call.

Later, after he and Lan Huan had lunch, Jiang Cheng messaged Wei Ying. Surprisingly, Wei Ying was calm through it all; through the fact that he would be the equivalent employee of someone who is on probation.

His stay in Gusu Yunshen was questionable, to put it lightly, especially if Wei Ying gets on Lan Zhan’s nerves. And Jiang Cheng had no doubts that Wei Ying would. He’s that type of person through and through.

After he took a shower and dressed up in a suit, Jiang Cheng drove off, heading for the address Wei Ying had sent him the other day. It would most likely be a touching moment between the two when they meet again, but Jiang Cheng had never been good at those. He didn’t doubt for a second that he would probably push Wei Ying away if he so tries to hug him.

The thought alone sent shivers through his body. He drove almost at the outskirts of Suzhou— Wei Ying would need to take the bus regularly at this rate.

Wei Ying had been generous enough to send him a picture of his house, a two-floored, rose-gold colored one with a garden kept neatly. It was undoubtedly the work of Wei Ying’s mother. Jiang Cheng could bet freely that Wei Ying would not be the type to take care of things like gardens.

The idea of hitting the siren went through his mind once before remembering that he couldn’t possibly disturb their neighbors, as well as Wei Ying’s parents. So, Jiang Cheng settled for a call instead.

However, Wei Ying didn’t answer him, opening the door and walking out, very much not in a suit.

Jiang Cheng stared at him, his mouth hanging open long enough that he almost forgot he had to open the door for Wei Ying to enter inside.

Wei Ying sat on the passenger’s seat and chuckled. He was looking sideways at Jiang Cheng, the smile on his face slowly growing into a smirk and then giving way to a grin.

“We see each other again after so many years and you can’t even greet me properly?” he clicked his tongue. “Shame on you, Jiang Cheng.”

That did it. “Shu—” Jiang Cheng began but stopped himself. It wouldn’t be proper etiquette if the very first word Jiang Cheng uttered to his old friend after not seeing him for such a long time to be for the said friend to shut up now, would it?

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever,” he shrugged it off. “You have not had breakfast yet, right? I made a reservation.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying raised a fine, dark brow. “I feel honored, Jiang Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng gripped tighter on the steering wheel. Keep the proper etiquette. Keep the proper etiquette, Jiang Cheng. Wei Ying was obviously joking…

He said nothing and settled for driving away instead. The restaurant he had in mind was pretty close to the company, so technically, it would be quite the road.

Jiang Cheng hoped they would pass it without any unfortunate accidents.

“Your messages yesterday surprised me,” Wei Ying said after a few minutes had passed. “Just what kind of boss is my new boss, huh? Mind telling me.”

Jiang Cheng smirked. “The kind that you’ll have a nice time with, I bet.”

If Jiang Cheng was expecting a sigh in relief, he was mistaken. Looking briefly at Wei Ying, Jiang Cheng noticed the other man was frowning, before it quickly turned into a sulk.

“And what is that supposed to mean exactly? Don’t you dare tell me he is boring, Jiang Cheng.”

“Take a guess.”

“No way,” Wei Ying rested his head by the window. “I hate the silent types. I won't be able to survive there.”

“Are you really in a position to choose? If you have a better job in mind, humor me, so this trip doesn’t turn into a disaster.

He scoffed and averted his gaze. “Hey now, you know me. I’m only joking.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No? Why do you ask?”

Jiang Cheng shrugged and parked his car. “Let’s get out. We have some free time to catch up.”

Wei Ying undid the security belt, laughing. “Wow, Jiang Cheng, you’ve really changed.”

The two walked inside the restaurant, close enough that their shoulders were almost touching. Wei Ying was wearing a pair of dark grey jeans today combined with a blazer jacket colored a lighter shade of grey and a rose gold shirt underneath it. To say that Jiang Cheng is so close to feeling weirded out by the sight of Wei Ying looking so… neat and elegant would be one of the biggest understatements.

It’s almost as if he won a dishonorable mention at ‘Top 10 Donghua betrayals.’

“Your hair,” Jiang Cheng started first thing after sitting at their table. “You still keep it as you used to in high school?”

“Oh, yeah.” Wei Ying blows a few strands away from his face. “I feel like this particular length frames my face best, don’t you think so too?”

Jiang Cheng almost sulked. “But couldn’t you… this messy bun of yours…”

Wei Ying giggled. “You’re one to talk. You’re wearing braids.”

Jiang Cheng was about to retort when they were interrupted by the waitress.

Ordering the spiciest food there was, Jiang Cheng almost reminisced the past, back in high school when Wei Ying used to torment their friends — because thank God Jiang Cheng could handle spice, too.

“Life has treated you well, I see,” Wei Ying started, putting an elbow up on his side of the table and leaned his cheek on his palm.

Jiang Cheng smirked at the familiarity. “Same to you. Look at you, looking so neat. I could’ve sworn you would show up wearing nothing but trousers and hoodies.”

Wei Ying snickered, winking at the waitress after she set their food down. She blushed and giggled, walking away.

“Jokes on you, Jiang Cheng. I had a friend lend me one of his jackets for this occasion. It’s a size smaller than how I would like it, though. I guess now I know where my salary is going first thing.”

Jiang Cheng snorted. “It’s not like you would have somewhere else to spend it on, do you?” He asked, drinking a spoonful of his soup.

Big mistake from his part.

“I have a son.”

Jiang Cheng choked.

Wei Ying looked down, smiling wearily. Jiang Cheng’s eyes caught his hands — fingers to be exact — and saw just how… bare they were.

“I’m a single father,” Wei Ying said, looking up again. “But enough about me. What about you? Did you want to catch up? So tell me, who’s the lucky lady? Are you a father yet?”

Jiang Cheng smirked, snatching his chance. “My husband and I have yet to talk about being dads.”

Wei Ying nodded and Jiang Cheng waited. He knew what kind of reaction his friend would have once the information settled in.

True to his thoughts, Wei Ying blinked for several seconds, mouth opening and closing like a broken record.

“Your husband, you said? You?”

Jiang Cheng raised an eyebrow. “I will assume that your surprise is for a good cause.”

Wei Ying raised his hands in front of him as if to protect himself from blows that would come (not yet at least) and laughed. “Of course, Jiang Cheng. I just never noticed you were gay, that’s all.”

You never notice anything, Jiang Cheng thought. Then again, it wasn’t as if Jiang Cheng had been very active on that aspect of his life back when he was in high school, or even in college, for that matter.

“How did Madam Yu react when she found out?” Wei Ying asked, furrowing his brows. “I hope she didn’t disown you or anything.”

“Tch,” Jiang Cheng glared at him. “Of course not.”

Wei Ying nodded and continued to eat from his ridiculously-red plate. Even though Jiang Cheng wasn’t bad with spice himself, he was nowhere near as good at it like Wei Ying was.

“So,” he began after some time had passed. “Correct me if I’m wrong but that must mean that your husband is someone of influence, right?”

“Yeah,” Jiang Cheng answered shortly. “Your future boss’s big brother.”

“You’re kidding? Wow, small world. By the way, uhm,” he scratched his cheek. “What was my boss’s name again?”

Jiang Cheng felt all of his facial features twitch. The urge to stop himself from facepalming, or better yet, straight up slapping the idiot sitting across from him was strong, too strong to ignore.

“His name is Lan Zhan. You better remember it, you idiot.”

He didn’t know what he would expect from his old friend after telling him this information, but it certainly was not a frown and a glance to the side.

“Say, Jiang Cheng,” he spoke extremely slow. “Your husband’s last name is Lan, too, right?” he nodded to himself. “What is his name?”

It was Jiang Cheng’s turn to match his frown. The first thing he wanted to tell him was to ask him why did he want to know. Then, he thought better of it. If Wei Ying hadn’t bothered to remember the name of the man who would be his potential future boss, then why would he remember his husband’s.

It’s with that logic that he told him. “His name is Lan Huan.”

Wei Ying gasped, light grey eyes widening. Jiang Cheng couldn’t possibly mistake the fact how his face turned paler and paler with each passing second until he resembled the white of the napkins on their table.

“Well,” Jiang Cheng faked a cough. “Our time is up. Time for you to meet your new boss.”

Wei Ying nodded and rose from his chair, falling soon by Jiang Cheng’s side. As Jiang Cheng finished the payment with the help of his WeChat wallet, he threw a glance in Wei Ying’s direction. He stood slightly taller than him, but with how he was looking down and shoulders hung low as well, one would think Wei Ying was trying to make himself as small as he could.

And all because he heard his husband’s name.

Just… why?

**

This was bad, was what Wei Ying chanted in his mind constantly through the ride to the infamous company.

Jiang Cheng was married to another man, and that man’s name was Lan Huan.

Wei Ying had kissed Jiang Cheng’s husband… 

He shook his head mentally and flinched upon feeling Jiang Cheng’s unmistakable stare at him. It didn’t make any sense. Wei Ying was sure that man had been on a blind date that day. Why would he go on a blind date if he was already married? Was he being disloyal toward his friend? (he didn’t seem the type) If so, could Wei Ying keep quiet?

He wanted to scream. How come he got caught in the middle again? His luck couldn’t be this bad, could it?

He rubbed at his right temple and winced. It felt as if his temple had a heart of its own with the way it was pulsing through his skull.

He groaned when the Gusu Yunshen building came into view. It felt like Wei Ying would soon be walking to his doom, but he, for all the jokes he would throw around, actually needed this job, and was thankful that Jiang Cheng had helped him out.

Goddammit, of all the people he had to kiss, why did it have to be Jiang Cheng’s husband.

“Hurry and come out,” came Jiang Cheng’s inpatient order. He really had changed if he could last a whole drive spent wordless. Then again, Wei Ying would’ve not lasted long either had the situation been different.

The building looked to be quite large. It had many floors from what Wei Ying could detect, and it seemed like all those floors would fall on top of his head when he least expected it.

“— so Lan Zhan has not arrived yet.” Jiang Cheng seemed to be saying.

Lan Zhan, as Wei Ying learned this morning, was his boss’ name, and, according to him, he was a silent, boring guy. On any other occasion that would’ve opposed absolutely no problem for him. Wei Ying could get around any princess-like types of people. But his job in this company was not yet secured, so he had to be careful, vigilant.

This Lan Zhan guy was also Jiang Cheng’s brother-in-law and by default, the brother of the man Wei Ying had kissed (and been kissed from).

This could not end well.

They stopped by the elevator doors and wait for it to come down. People walk past them, some greeting Jiang Cheng as they go when the familiar sound of the elevator indicates that it’s ready for the two of them to use it.

They entered inside and Wei Ying found himself marveled at how large the place was. It could fit ten or more people in with no difficulty.

“On which floor we’re heading to?” Wei Ying asked, looking around.

“The 33rd,” replied Jiang Cheng, pushing the buttons.

The doors started to close when the two heard it.

“Ah, hold the doors.”

It was a split of a second, the speed with which Wei Ying reached in front and stopped the doors from closing. As he did that, a hand touched the back of his reaching hand, holding the elevator door in place together.

The doors slid open and Wei Ying came face-to-face with two men. One of them was tall, certainly in his late 50s or even older, yet his features were graceful, eyes sharp and beard well-kept. The other, however, seemed to slowly-but-surely become the bane of his existence.

Wei Ying stared and golden eyes stared back at him in undeniable recognition. Wei Ying wasn’t even surprised at this point. If he hadn’t just met (again) Jiang Cheng’s husband like this, he would’ve been amused at this crossroads-type of encounter.

However, it was Jiang Cheng the one who had the last laugh, apparently.

“Oh, Uncle Lan,” he said, bowing his head. Straightening his posture he nodded at his spouse— “Lan Zhan.”

Did he hear right? Did Jiang Cheng just call him Lan Zhan? His boss’ name, Lan Zhan? Wei Ying’s eyes widened in understanding and he smirked.

Lan Zhan couldn’t hold Wei Ying’s gaze any longer and looked down, his hand still holding Wei Ying’s at the door. That act didn’t do much good to Wei Ying’s growing ego as his smirk grew even larger and it felt as if the only people present were the two of them.

So he was his new boss, huh? Wei Ying would’ve probably been suspicious had he seen such a scenario on TV, probably brushing it off as some drama or candid camera. This was just too good to be true, too hilarious in its own right.

“Nice to meet you, second master Lan.”

If not for the company they had, Wei Ying would’ve laughed at the cute way Lan Zhan’s ears flushed at his greeting. As such, he stepped aside, making way for the two Lans to enter inside. He bowed at the older man, too, his sharp gaze following his movements skeptically.

As the elevator started going up, Jiang Cheng elbowed him softly. “What’s with the familiarity?”

Wei Ying chuckled and made a face. “Should I not be familiar with my new boss, Jiang Cheng?” he turned to look at the person in question and bowed his head slightly. “I hope you take good care of this assistant of yours,” he finished with an innocent smile that wasn’t fooling anyone.

Oh, Wei Ying didn’t know how long his stay in this company would be, but he wouldn’t call this experience boring at all.

Lan Zhan stared at him, accepting whatever invisible challenge unsaid between them.

The doors opened.

Chapter Text

The first thing Wei Ying did after he settled down in his office was, as expected of an assistant, meeting the staff. After Jiang Cheng had so gracefully told him during their breakfast his new boss wasn’t a people’s person per se, and Wei Ying himself could grasp that much as well, he decided to get Jiang Cheng’s help in that regard.

Wei Ying clenched his jaw as he scribbled on his notebook the planner for Lan Zhan’s week. The man was a workaholic, that much Wei Ying could easily detect from the air around them itself.

After the four of them came out of the elevator, the temperature in the hall seemed to chill considerably. The Lans made sure to make their presence known. Lan Zhan uttered a simple “Follow me,” but still gestured with his head for Wei Ying to follow after him. and Wei Ying, despite being unamused that he had to be told and shown what to do, followed after him wordlessly.

They passed by Lan Zhan’s office; Wei Ying could see past the windows and glance past them as his boss’s Uncle sat on the chair while still waiting for his nephew. Wei Ying and Lan Zhan, however, walked a few more steps and entered the room attached beside Lan Zhan’s office.

The room that was going to be Wei Ying’s new working space.

Lan Zhan cleared his throat, his gaze pointing downwards stubbornly. “Did Jiang Cheng say anything about this job to you?”

Wei Ying hummed. “He mentioned something briefly. I hope I can adjust soon.”

His boss nodded and settled for breathing soundly instead of doing anything else. Wei Ying raised an eyebrow. He might have found this extremely funny and would gladly mess with him a bit, but he decided against it. It was the right choice.

“I will not let you down, boss.”

The man in question gasped faintly, eyes widening a tad and slowly turning to look at Wei Ying. His mouth opened as if to say something, but then it closed soon after.

“I expect you to prepare my planner for this week. If it is too hard for you to set up my schedule you can come to my office later and we will discuss it.”

Wei Ying looked at the computer and the colorful post-it notes on his desk and board respectively and said, “You don’t have to worry. I am sure I can arrange it in no time.

“Well, in any case, I am in my office. Do not let anything disturb me until my uncle leaves,” Lan Zhan said, heading for the door.”

“Of course, sir,” Wei Ying replied. It seemed to him as if Lan Zhan tensed at being addressed as ‘Sir,’ but then again, Wei Ying never really knew how to address him properly. He could give himself about a week until he would let his tongue completely loose in this place.

But for now, Wei Ying was writing in his notebook what Lan Zhan would be doing this week while also maintaining a conversation with the two people who had approached him.

“We work for finances,” they’d said as they brought Wei Ying a cup of coffee he had very much not asked for. The problem with those two wasn’t that they talked Wei Ying’s ears off while he was working, the problem was that they knew nothing more than gossip for people Wei Ying had no idea who they were.

“You guys,” Wei Ying scratched his neck with the front of his pen. “I’m really glad you took the initiative and visited this new, poor co-worker, and I’d really love to indulge you even more but if my scary boss comes here and sees me slacking off I’ll go down in history as the personal assistant who got fired after not even a full day of work.”

The pair gasped in fake shock, looking at each other with wide eyes before standing up and bowing.

“Ah, excuse us, brother Wei,” the woman said.

The man accompanying her bowed as well. “Yeah, excuse us, brother Wei. It’s so easy to lose track of time when talking to you.”

Wei Ying almost rolled his eyes. How could it count as ‘talking to you’ when Wei Ying hadn’t even been talking to them in the first place?

Nevertheless, he placed a smile that did not reach his eyes on his face and nodded. “You’re excused.”

Now, if only they could take the hint and get out, that would be great.

They were still smiling like idiots and Wei Ying thought he might actually need to get up from his comfortable chair and show them where the door was but, their smile soon fell and they turned to leave. Thank God for having mercy on his poor soul.

He turned to his work once again, scribbling and typing the schedules.

According to what he had found from the notes, this week (and month) was extremely busy, and Wei Ying didn’t need anyone to voice it out loud for him to know that it was this very same busy schedule what had pushed the second master Lan to seek a personal assistant.

He felt somewhat bad in that regard. To be so young and so busy must be taking a toll on anyone.

With that feeling in mind, he got up and headed over to Lan Zhan’s office, already knowing his boss was not busy anymore since his Uncle had long since left.

He knocked on the door and waited for the calm “You can come in,” sentence to open the door and enter.

His eyes twitched and he brought up a hand to shield his face briefly since the sun rays hit him head-on. The room was ridiculously bright.

“Can I sit?” Wei Ying asked, not really waiting for permission to do so. Hence why he was already half-sat on the chair when his boss hummed in approval.

Wei Ying groaned under his breath. For the very first time in his life, he wished he’d been smaller or whatever, anything so that he could’ve used his boss as a perfect shield from this ridiculous light.

As it was, Wei Ying was very much not short and his boss had no way of shielding him at this rate.

Nevertheless, Wei Ying looked down at the notebook and started talking like he wasn’t having the biggest discomfort in his life right now.

“I came here to tell you that your schedule is all set,” he began, waiting for Lan Zhan’s response.

He imagined Lan Zhan raising his eyebrows at this. It was pretty quick after all. Wei Ying had a thing for punctuality and efficiency. When asked for something, he would see it till the end. And that end wouldn’t be too far.

He still couldn’t look toward his boss, though, so whatever he could think was happening was nothing less of pure imagination from his part.

“You have quite the busy schedule, I’m afraid,” Wei Ying added, still squirming away from the sunlight.

Lan Zhan seemingly caught the hint that Wei Ying was uncomfortable because after he nodded, he rose from his chair and walked toward the windows, drawing the curtains closed.

Wei Ying smiled in amusement but said nothing. Instead, after Lan Zhan sat back down, Wei Ying continued to show him the planner he had prepared.

Lan Zhan would either nod wordlessly or utter a simple “Mn,” to tell Wei Ying he was listening. On the other hand, Wei Ying thought many times of interrupting himself just so he could ask his boss why his eyes never seemed to leave his face, but as much as Wei Ying could admit he knew how to read expressions well, his boss had as much expression as a drawing board.

“It seemed like Jiang Cheng was right,” Lan Zhan nodded his head. “You are pretty efficient.”

“Uh… huh? What?”

The praise came out of nowhere so it was no wonder that Wei Ying’s brain still wasn’t able to compute it properly.

He laughed awkwardly. “Don’t— Don’t say things like this without any warning, Second Master Lan.”

The addressed man, however, frowned slightly. “It is the truth. You helped me.”

Wei Ying took in a deep breath. “That’s what a personal assistant is for, right? Oh, which also reminds me about this part—”

He wanted to ask him about the meeting with the foreign businessmen he would have when a sudden chime of his phone distracted him.

“Excuse me,” he said and clicked on the notification which redirected him to his mail and what he saw had his eyes almost bulging out of their sockets. A large sum of money which almost equaled triple of his previous salary had been transferred in his - pitiful - account.

“Do not fret,” came Lan Zhan’s words that brought Wei Ying out of his stupor. “I transferred half of your salary now… to help you with the… expenses you will need.”

“Half of my salary?” Wei Ying asked, dumbfounded. “This amount is only half of my salary? You’re kidding.”

“Is it not enough?”

“Not enough?” Wei Ying repeated, almost breaking into laughter. “It’s too much, and it’s only half. Wow.”

“Oh,” was all his boss said. Wei Ying smiled ear to ear. With this amount of money he would need not worry about trip expenses, nor would he need to ask Wen Ning for more of his jackets and suits that were a size smaller. He shall buy his own. Oh, he could buy A-Yuan something too while he’s at it. Toys and clothes, and something for his parents, too.

Wei Ying almost stood up from his seat and hugged his boss. He was happy enough, so much so that he would gladly forget about the teasing he had planned for him upon setting foot in this company. Not like he’d had enough time to fool around anyway.

“Than—”

He was in the middle of voicing his thanks when the door to Lan Zhan’s office opened and Jiang Cheng entered inside.

“Ah, I figured I’d find you here,” he said to Wei Ying. “Are you busy?”

Wei Ying turned toward him. “Not right now. Why are you asking?”

“Let’s go get lunch.”

“Huh?” Wei Ying grinned and made a standing motion when the idea struck him. “Would you like to join us, Second Master Lan?”

“I do not think—”

Jiang Cheng leaned against the door. “Why not, Lan Zhan? A-Huan is coming too.”

Upon hearing that name again, Wei Ying couldn’t help but chuckle under his breath. He cleared his throat and straightened his posture, nodding toward his boss.

Lan Zhan sighed and reached for his jacket. They were about to exit the office when Jiang Cheng spoke up again.

“Oh yeah, jiejie and her fiance will join us, too.”

“Yanli-Jie will be there?” Wei Ying beamed. “Can’t wait to see how beautiful she’s become,” he said while laughing. Turning to his boss, he added. “She was my only means of salvation from Jiang Cheng’s mother when we were in high school. Back then we were close.” He didn't know why he had the need to explain things to him, but somehow Wei Ying felt better if Lan Zhan knew more about him.

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes. “Well, she’s a grown woman now. And don’t forget her fiance is accompanying her today.”

“So?” Wei Ying shrugged. “I bet she chose a nice man for herself. Then again everyone is better than that peacock.” As he said it, Wei Ying felt chills run down his spine.

“Who is the peacock you are referring to, Mr. Wei?” a new voice said. Wei Ying looked toward the new voice’s direction and did a double-take. Long hair, grey suit, and brown eyes, non-matched beauty… it didn’t take a genius for Wei Ying to know this man was Lan Zhan’s brother and by default Jiang Cheng’s husband.

He was also the president of Gusu Yunshen.

Wei Ying bowed his head in greeting. The man walking toward them had a warm aura, but a cautious smile adorned his features — or rather, a smile one should be cautious from.

“A-Jie’s fiance,” Jiang Cheng said.

Wei Ying blinked. “I wasn’t saying anything bad, Jiang Cheng. As you said, I’m sure Yanli-Jie has grown into a beautiful and smart woman to know better.”

“But isn’t Lady Jiang’s fiance—” Lan Zhan began, only for him to be interrupted when Jiang Cheng snickered toward Wei Ying’s direction.

As the four of them entered inside of the elevator it finally clicked. “No way,” Wei Ying said incredulously. “She is really engaged to Jin Zixuan? How can this be?”

“It couldn’t be helped," Jiang Cheng shrugged nonchalantly. "The idiot came one night and serenaded to her.”

“He can be romantic?”

“It was my parents’ room actually.”

If he’d been eating or drinking something Wei Ying was sure he’d choke at the sight. Instead, he threw his head back and burst out laughing. One Jin Zixuan looking all awkward and scared shitless after facing a sleepy Madam Yu filled his thoughts and he needed to hold onto someone for support.

It just so happened that someone was his boss. His laughter died in his throat when Wei Ying felt the tense muscles of his shoulder, strong like his own, or maybe even more, under his fingers.

With only a chuckle and no other words uttered, Wei Ying retracted his hand back. His boss didn’t seem to mind, though—the physical contact. Or maybe he didn’t mind Wei Ying touching him, but he was sure that was only his childish wishful thinking.

Out in the parking lot, Wei Ying stopped, finally remembering that he didn't, in fact, have a means of transportation, and he didn't even know where they would be eating their lunch in the first place.

Just as he was about to ask, however, Jiang Cheng spoke again, as if hearing his thoughts. "You two can come with us."

Wei Ying sighed in relief and cast an expectant glance toward the younger Lan sibling who slowly turned his head to meet his gaze. Wei Ying furrowed his brows after Lan Zhan soon looked away again. This man was really unreadable.

Then again, his older brother didn’t seem to be having the same problem.

“It is settled then,” he said with a smile. “A-Cheng, can you do the honor and drive us?”

“Tch,” Jiang Cheng scoffed and went for the driver’s seat. “Am I not the only one who actually knows where we’re heading to?”

The man chuckled and — to Wei Ying’s inner shock — went straight for the passenger’s seat. He didn’t know what he expected out of this ride. It made sense for two married people to be sitting close to each other, but that automatically meant that Wei Ying and Lan Zhan would be sitting close to each other too. Very close.

Speaking of which, it should’ve been Wei Ying the one who opened the door for his boss to sit, not the other way around.

Lan Zhan cleared his throat, effectively bringing Wei Ying to the present. “After you,” he said, gesturing with a hand for him to take the backseat.

Despite feeling weird things fluttering in his stomach, Wei Ying smirked coyly. “Thank you for your generosity, Second Master Lan.”

For once, he was glad to be met with silence, but never had he thought the whole ride would be silent as well. Not if he could help it.

It didn’t come off as a surprise that the only one who would engage in a conversation with him would be his friend either. Needless to say, when Wei Ying told him about his visitors today, Jiang Cheng had thrown him an amused glare. He didn’t look behind as he cast it, but Wei Ying saw it through the mirror, of course.

Lan Huan chuckled. It seemed as if chuckling was the thing he was best at. Then again, Jiang Cheng was the best at rolling eyes and facepalming so these two, Wei Ying thought, were truly a match made in heaven.

“Are you implying our employees are slacking off, Mr. Wei? Perhaps we need a thorough clean up after all,” he finished, resting his temple on the back of his fingers.

“Ah, of course not, sir. It would be rude of me to judge and measure someone’s skill based on how much they talk. If it went like this, then many would think of me as an idiot, too.” After hearing Jiang Cheng’s not-so-quiet snort, Wei Ying added. “Not like my dear friend here doesn’t think so in the first place.”

“But you are not.” Suddenly, it was Lan Zhan himself the one to interlude.

Wei Ying turned toward him with big, grey eyes that seemed to widen even further as the ride went on.

His boss was looking at the opposite direction, preferring to gaze at the city view instead.

“What?” Wei Ying leaned closer until their shoulders were almost touching. “You really think so? Care to elaborate more as to why you think like that?”

Lan Zhan sucked in a breath but didn’t say more.

“Ah, Mr. Wei. If my brother says so then you really must be. A hidden gem if you will.”

“You flatter me.”

“Don’t flatter his ego.”

Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng said at the same time, making Lan Huan laugh.

“See? I find him pretty humble, A-Cheng. Now I’m really glad A-Zhan went for your pick instead of the one he was firstly thinking of.”

“Brother, that is—”

“What?” Wei Ying stared at the three of them. Lan Huan, realizing what he just said, turned his head at them, looking as apologetic as he could muster. Jiang Cheng for his part seemed like he was cursing under his breath if the tight grip he had on the wheel was telling Wei Ying anything. As for Lan Zhan… he balled his hands into fists, his knuckles turning almost white.

“Oh, so you knew beforehand?” Wei Ying turned his attention toward the golden-eyed man. He hoped his tone wasn’t coming off as being disappointed, because… he wasn’t feeling disappointed with this new discovery per se. Despite the fact that he might have sabotaged someone else’s opportunity, Wei Ying knew that he deserved his job just as much as the next person.

If anything, Wei Ying was more disappointed at the fact that it had been only him the one to be surprised by their encounter this morning.

“I did not,” Lan Zhan answered after a few seconds had passed.

Wei Ying didn’t bother to hide his surprise as he raised both of his eyebrows in question. “For real? How come, though? Were you not the one in need of an assistant?”

This time, Lan Zhan finally met his eyes. He spoke, voice sincere and dripping with clarity. “I trusted Jiang Cheng’s judgment.”

Wei Ying felt his lips curving upwards as a smile adorned his face. “Ah, hearing such big praise is really doing bad things to my poor heart,” he said with a weak, playful voice. “I feel like I am going to win the Employee of the Year price this year for sure.”

“Oh, shut your mouth and get out. A-Jie and brother Zixuan are already waiting.”

“No, you shut up and stop ruining my moment of glory, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Ying retorted as he effectively got out of the car, this time opening the door on his own.

“And stop glaring at me. I know now that you love me.”

“I’d love to get rid of you, that’s for sure.”

“But you were the one to invite me to lunch in the first place,” Wei Ying pointed out.

Jiang Cheng glared, an action that only intensified further when Wei Ying mouthed ‘Busted.’ at him.

They walked in and the host immediately bowed in greeting, walking in front of them to their reserved table which was already occupied.

Upon seeing him, Yanli-Jie lit up, rising from her chair and hurrying toward him. She didn’t seem to care that she passed her brother to fling herself in Wei Ying’s embrace.

“A-Ying,” she called. “Oh dear, you’ve grown so much. I would need to stay on my toes just to hug you if I wasn’t wearing heels.”

Wei Ying laughed as he returned the embrace. "I've missed you, Yanli-Jie."

"You've missed me or my cooking?" she asked after Wei Ying released her and all four of them sat down at their rectangle-shaped table. Wei Ying had to sit at one head of the table and Jiang Yanli sat at his right while Lan Zhan, surprising even him, chose to sit at his left, far from his brother since Jiang Cheng got to sit across from Jin Zixuan.

Wei Ying nodded his head to Jin Zixuan in acknowledgment as he made himself comfortable and without losing much time turned his attention toward the woman again.

He pouted. "Yanli-Jie, can't I miss both you and your amazing cooking? I haven't had a taste of it for years."

Jiang Yanli reached over and held his hand with hers. "We lost contact after you and A-Cheng graduated. You don't have the idea how happy I was when A-Cheng told me you were going to start working with Second Master Lan here." She gave his hand a squeeze that filled Wei Ying's heart with warmth. "You made me proud."

Wei Ying spluttered. "Yan-Yanli-Jie."

The food was served soon after that. Wei Ying held his head down. If he'd thought to tease the new couple (or just the groom) he was having his doubts after hearing Jiang Yanli's words. Somehow Wei Ying felt like he needed to behave well, although he doubted Jiang Yanli would reprimand him in any way even if he didn’t. She had always found him endearing. Even when Wei Ying would send Jin Zixuan in the nurse's office and Jiang Yanli — back then, their senior — would console him instead of scolding him for hurting her soon-to-be fated person.

Maybe if he could take it all back now… Wei Ying made a face as he took a bite. He didn't think he would ever regret having shown Jin Zixuan the place where he belonged. As he observed them closer now, he could tell that his actions had borne healthy fruits.

Jin Zixuan was smitten, and honestly, who wouldn't be when Yanli-Jie was so loving.

"—as of the new fashion line." Lan Huan's voice sounded across the table, bringing Wei Ying's attention back to them. The eldest Lan brother was talking to Jin Zixuan, while the latter kept nodding and occasionally turning his head and smile at Jiang Yanli.

"What fashion line?" His curiosity got the best of him as he couldn't help but ask. He looked at Jiang Yanli as well. "Yanli-Jie, don't tell me? You own a fashion house?"

She winked at him and beamed. "And many boutiques. I would love it if you shopped at some. I'll give you a discount if you do."

Wei Ying laughed. "Oh my God, Yanli-Jie. Second Master Lan sent half of my salary in my account today. You'll see me around soon. Maybe even today."

"Ah, congratulation A-Ying."

Wei Ying plowed his left elbow up on the table and rested his cheek against his palm. "But I still can't believe you're a designer now. I can't imagine how Madam Yu must've felt." Then, he thought better of it. "Then again, she always had the softest spot for you back then. I doubt something has changed now."

"You know Mother," Jiang Cheng began. "As long as it's nothing involving the idols she'll give the green light when it concerns A-Jie."

"Aiyah?" Wei Ying complained. "But what is wrong with idols? I bet Yanli-Jie could pull that off too. Right, Yanli-Jie?"

It was Jiang Cheng who nodded in agreement. "Absolutely. I don't doubt that people would spend all their nights listening to her songs."

"Right!" Wei Ying engaged him. "And when they see her looking all young and beautiful like she does… the gossips."

"It would break records and she'd be a hot topic on Weibo in no time."

"Are these things as easy as you two make them be?" Asked Jin Zixuan, who was unmistakably feeling on edge. Wei Ying knew that look and it seemed like Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli knew it too.

He was jealous.

"Well, darling. I will be the one to sing. Plus, I could take advantage of the Jiang name, too."

"Indeed A-Jie," Lan Huan joined. "We Lans will be behind you, too. You'll become the singer of our big family."

"Mn, I am sure many guys would like to see you on stage."

Wei Ying bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from bursting into laughter right then and there and looked sideways at Lan Zhan who had just finished dropping the heaviest bomb on top of Jin Zixuan's head. He met his gaze with a passive one but Wei Ying could clearly see the gleam in his beautiful golden eyes.

Both Wei Ying and Jin Zixuan's shoulders were shaking, albeit their reasons were total opposites. Wei Ying could barely keep his laughter in, meanwhile, Jin Zixuan was seeing red, either from hatred or shyness.

Jiang Cheng cleared his throat and addressed his brother-in-law. "You're right, to be honest. After all, A-Jie is already famous."

"By God, I'm already imagining her hordes of fans, and concerts, and tours. To be able to see the beautiful Jiang Yanli will be like seeing heaven itself. Will she even be able to come home at her family then?"

Jiang Yanli wiped her mouth with her napkin and winked at Wei Ying sneakily.

"When A-Jie becomes an idol her songs and clips will be on TV, her posters on the walls and people will share things about her all over social media."

Wei Ying gave Jiang Cheng a serious nod. The way how they had agreed to this struck him gold. As Jin Zixuan loosened his tie and started drinking his glass of water, Wei Ying said, "I think she should forget about getting married until she is at least forty, too."

Jin Zixuan choked. Okay, maybe Wei Ying had gone a bit overboard with this last sentence, but Jin Zixuan's reaction was too funny to pass up. Jiang Yanli busied herself with patting her fiance on his back to help him get his breathing in check again.

The peacock glared at all of them as he joined. Looking at Jiang Yanli, he said in one breath. "What is next? Guys undressing and throwing their jackets at you? A few fake news about Yanli dating fellow famous idols? Then you will deny and try to evade the question.

I will get mad most likely since I'm a jumpy person. And then you'll get tired of my temper tantrums and say that you want me to stop."

Jiang Yanli furrowed her brows and opened her mouth, only for her to close it again. Turning her full attention to her soon-to-be husband, she stuttered a simple: "I— I will?"

Jin Zixuan seemed to be fuming.

Wei Ying drank from his own glass of water and swayed it softly in her direction. "In any case, Yanli-Jie, if you guys are in bad terms you will leave it."

The silence that befell them was broken by Jiang Cheng as he asked, "You mean Jin Zixua—OH FUCK, MY KNEE!"

That really was the last straw being pulled on this fine afternoon. Wei Ying's cheeks began to hurt from laughing too hard for comfort and even Jiang Yanli let out a few fits of soft laughter.

After having heard what Jin Zixuan undoubtedly believed to be a blasphemy coming out of Jiang Cheng’s mouth he had reached under the table and deliver a hard kick to Jiang Cheng’s poor knees.

Lan Huan was the first to recover as he adjusted his tie. “I assume Mr. Wei here was talking about A-Jie’s imaginary music career, is that correct?”

“But of course, sir. I thought I was obvious. Was I not obvious, Lan Zh—”

Wei Ying gasped, light grey eyes widening. “Were you smiling just now, Second Master Lan?”

Caught red-handed, Lan Zhan looked down, then at his brother for help, but his brother was too far from him to help.

Feigning ignorance, Wei Ying spoke again. “You know, my mother says that you can know one’s true soul two times. First being when they’re sleeping,” he smiled at him, now that he had his full attention. “And the second time is when they smile,” he finished, leaning his cheek on the palm of his right hand. Then, as an afterthought, he added, “You looked pretty.”

Even after he said it — which he wouldn't deny it anyhow — Wei Ying thought that maybe he shouldn't have. Maybe he had gone too far with his flattery and teasing.

But then…

"So do you."

He had smiled because of him.