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Dark Nights

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During breakfast Lan Yuan was used to silence. His father was a calm and stern man, who rarely spoke, unless he had something meaningful to say.

So when he sighed deeply Lan Yuan raised an eyebrow at him.

“Is something wrong, Father?” he asked.

Lan Zhan shook his head, but his expression belied his true feelings. “Brother has fallen ill,” he admitted after a moment.

Lan Yuan lowered his spoon and chewed his bottom lip.
“Is… it bad?” he asked.

“Ah, no. It is not, but he needs to attend a conference at Lanling University in the next week for a few days, and with his health being as it is, he asked me to go in his place,” Lan Zhan explained.

Lan Yuan picked up his spoon again, glad to hear that his uncle would be okay. He took a bite of his oatmeal and paused again.
“But you are worried, despite that?” he asked after swallowing.

Lan Zhan nodded.
“On one hand, I don’t like leaving my students to others, but on the other hand I would feel safer knowing that somebody would stay with you,” he said.

Lan Yuan opened his mouth to protest.

“I know you are very much capable of looking after yourself, but please allow me to appease my worries,” Lan Zhan said with a mild smile.

Lan Yuan knew better than to argue with his father about that and smiled back at him.
“Very well,” he said and finished his breakfast.

 

Lan Yuan wondered what his father would come up with in the end. After all, he wasn’t one who gave empty promises or made statements for no reason.
Certainly he would ask somebody to stay with him in his absence.

Granduncle Qiren? No, he would fill in for Uncle Huan. So maybe… maybe… Lan Yuan had to admit that there weren’t many people whom his father trusted enough to let them stay with him.

It wasn’t until a few days until Lan Zhan’s departure that Lan Yuan realized that there was somebody whom his father trusted enough to let them stay with him.

 

Wei Ying.

“Do you think he would be willing to do that?” Lan Yuan wondered when his father told him about his suggestion.

A-Yuan, Wei Ying would lay down his life for you if I asked him to, Lan Zhan thought with a bitter smile.
“I am certain he will,” he said instead. “I only worry that he will need to find a way to stay with Mo Xuanyu as well,” he added when Lan Yuan didn’t seem fully convinced.

“They could both stay here, could they not?” Lan Yuan murmured.

Lan Zhan hummed.

“I thought so too,” he said and placed a hand on Lan Yuan’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” he said and went to his class.

 

Today they would spend time together again, and even if Lan Yuan still felt a bit shy around Wei Ying, and a bit nervous around Mo Xuanyu he had to admit that he liked them.

There was a familiar ease to them both, that he enjoyed. Laughter and smiles came easily for both of them.
Sometimes it almost seemed too easy.

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan started after Mo Xuanyu had rushed off with Lan Yuan to show him something.

Wei Ying swept back his long hair and smiled, “Yes?” he said and crossed his legs at the knee.

“I will be absent for three days, starting the day after tomorrow,” Lan Zhan announced. Wei Ying noticed how he seemed to sit a bit straighter, a bit tenser now.

“And?”

“And… I was hoping you could look after A-Yuan in the time that I am away,” Lan Zhan said, bowing his head as he spoke, “I realize that he is a reasonable and independent child, but I am certain you understand that I’d feel safer if he wasn’t alone on his own,” he added when Wei Ying remained silent.

When the other still didn’t speak he raised his head and readied himself to withdraw his question, but he saw something other than refusal in Wei Ying’s eyes.

It was loss and hope.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan asked softly and reached out to take his hand, when Wei Ying suddenly recovered.

“Ah… ahaha… I’d love to,” he said and gave Lan Zhan one of his blinding smiles. “If I were you I’d worry that this one could steal your precious son from you,” he teased and pretended to grab and steal A-Yuan from Lan Zhan.

The teacher didn’t bat an eyelash at the threat.

“He is yours too,” he said.

Wei Ying looked pained at that. “Aiyah… Lan-Er-Gege, you really know how to take a man’s speech away,” he chided and averted his eyes.
“But… what should I do about this child of mine?” he asked then and nodded in Mo Xuanyu’s general direction.

“Bring along. Both of you stay at my apartment with A-Yuan,” Lan Zhan said without hesitating even a second.

Wei Ying opened his mouth to protest but nothing came out.

“Ah… ahaha… you… really know how to take a man’s speech away,” he noted dryly and ran a hand through his hair, sweeping it over one shoulder.

Pretty Wei-Ge

Lan Zhan tried very hard not to notice how the little motion exposed some of Wei Ying’s nape.
“So… A-Yu and I stay at your place, with A-Yuan?” he said, just to be sure, “For three days?”

Lan Zhan nodded.
“Go with A-Yuan after school,” he said, “bring yours and Mo Xuanyu’s belongings,” he added and took a breath between sentences to calm his heart. “I will put on freshly washed bedding, so you may sleep in my room. The bed in the guest room will be ready for Mo Xuanyu.”

 

It sounded so simple.

It was so simple.

On the day of Lan Zhan’s departure he accompanied Lan Yuan to the academy and then left. When classes were over Lan Yuan came to Mo Xuanyu’s classroom and waited with him for Wei Ying to arrive.

The man indeed arrived soon enough, carrying one bag on his back and another over his shoulder. He set down both and put his hands on his hips.

“There are my good children!” he said proudly and ruffled both their heads. While Mo Xuanyu leaned into the gesture with a delighted cheer, Lan Yuan felt a bit embarrassed and squirmed away after a few moments.
“What’s that, hm?” Wei Ying wondered and instead of ruffling Lan Yuan’s hair pinched his cheek.

Lan Yuan felt heat rise in his face.

“I am not a child anymore...” he pointed out tensely.

Wei Ying smiled. “If I can call this one my child, then I can call you my baby,” he said and gestured to Mo Xuanyu, who had already leaned down to pick up one of the bags.

“A-Yuan, pick up this other bag please?” A-Yu said and adjusted the straps of the backpack over his shoulders.

Lan Yuan wanted to argue but held himself back.
“Why don’t you carry them?” he asked Wei Ying instead, but A-Yu nudged him with his elbow.

“It hurts Wei-Ge,” he whispered in A-Yuan’s ear and gave him a look that implored him not to ask any more.

Lan Yuan silently picked up the bag.

Lan Yuan led the way back to his and his father’s apartment, with Mo Xuanyu’s voice seemingly surrounding him.

He was used to silence when walking home with his father, listening to the city as it passed by them. To have near constant chattering in his ear was strange, but he didn’t hate it.

“We will have lots of fun, A-Yuan!” Mo Xuanyu assured and held onto Lan Yuan’s arm, “Wei-Ge will play for us if we ask nicely, I saw that he took his Dizi along,” he added and shook Lan Yuan as he walked.

“Stop tugging on me like that, please! I will loose my balance and fall, Xuanyu,” Lan Yuan protested.

“A-Yuaaaaan… you should call me A-Yu! I like when Wei-Ge calls me A-Yu, I like when A-Yuan calls me A-Yu!” Mo Xuanyu whined immediately.

This wasn’t the first time they had this conversation but it somehow always ended up the same way.

Lan Yuan conceded to Mo Xuanyu’s pleading, but ended up calling him Xuanyu again soon after.

Somehow he just couldn’t feel entirely comfortable calling him in such an intimate manner.

 

Wei Ying reached out to pat Mo Xuanyu’s shoulder.
“Give him time, A-Yu. He didn’t have me, telling him about his Gege day-in-day-out like you did,” he reminded.

Lan Yuan glanced back at Wei Ying.
“You talked about me?” he asked.

Wei Ying didn’t answer and only gave him a sad smile.

They didn’t have time to dwell on that though as they soon arrived at Lan Zhan and Lan Yuan’s home.

“Please excuse the clutter,” Lan Yuan said as he bade Wei Ying and Mo Xuanyu inside.

Wei Ying shook his head.
“What clutter?” he asked as she took off his shoes and threw a glance into the room.

Lan Yuan pointed to a few scattered papers on the coffee table.

“Father must have forgotten to put them away before he left with me,” he said and then admitted, “I must have distracted him...”

Wei Ying gave Lan Yuan the most befuddled look he could muster without contorting his face into a complete grimace.

“You have never been to A-Yu’s and my little apartment,” he said and pointed to the so called ‘clutter’, “but I can tell you the clutter in our home will feel insulted if you compare it to this.”

Lan Yuan made a complicated face and thought it was smarter not to say anything.

 

And thus their days together began.

 

While he may have felt uncertain at first, Lan Yuan couldn’t resist the easy comfort that came with the two in his home.
It was a different kind of comfort from the one he was used to, but it felt good too.

Wei Ying did indeed play his Dizi for him and A-Yu. He played the same melody as the one A-Yu had played when they first spent time together.
The melody that A-Yu had said was Wei-Ge’s favorite song.

Somehow, Lan Yuan could have sworn he remembered the song. Maybe he was just getting used to it, but his mind conjured the sounds of a Guqin accompanying the flute.

 

Wei Ying made dinner in the evening, and it was a… an interesting experience. A-Yu stayed in the kitchen with him and kept him from putting too much spice into the food. Lan Yuan had to wonder where the hell they even had spices in this kitchen, since his father never cooked spicy food.

The food actually turned out surprisingly good, considering it was decently spicy.

A-Yu told him about the first time Wei-Ge had cooked for him, and how it had made him cry.

Lan Yuan couldn’t say he didn’t believe it. Wei Ying was the kind of person who had no sense for that kinda thing as it seemed.

“I grew up eating spicy food, so I guess I’m just used to it,” the man had said with a sheepish grin, but Lan Yuan knew people who ate spicy food regularly, and even they had limits.
He merely nodded though and took another bite of his meal.

He had to admit that it wasn’t even that jarring to taste so much spice.

It almost… made him melancholic for some reason.

At first he had thought the burn in his eyes was from the spiciness, but the tight feeling in his chest was different.
It was sorrow.

He didn’t say anything though and simply enjoyed the food.

 

Afterwards Wei Ying offered to stay up for a while and just talk, but Lan Yuan was too accustomed to his father’s routine to deviate from it.

Wei Ying only gave a soft smile that made Lan Yuan’s chest feel tight and wished him a good night and sweet dreams.

Why did that make Lan Yuan feel so… much? Why did he want to run back and throw himself into Wei Ying’s arms?
Why did he feel like he was happy and sad at the same time?

Did he really not remember anything from the time before being adopted?

Or did he maybe feel more than he remembered…?

In any case, Lan Yuan kept himself from running back and hugging Wei Ying, instead going to his room and laying down to sleep.
He fell asleep easily and with a deep feeling of absolute safety in his heart.

 

Nothing in the world could have prepared him for what happened on that night in the early hours of morning.

 

Wei Ying had gone to bed at 1 am and even though he’d never admit it out loud, he was soothed by the sandalwood scent that lingered in Lan Zhan’s bedroom.

He felt safe and comforted by the scent, like the man himself to whom this scent belonged was there to keep watch over him.
Slowly but surely he drifted off into sleep.

A velvety darkness curled around his body like wisps of smoke. But they weren’t threatening or dangerous. They caressed his body and licked at his scars.

It was almost pleasant, if not for the feeling of vulnerability and helplessness that he felt. He was alone in the darkness.

Somewhere he heard a child cry.

His heart stopped and he sat up, groping around in the dark, batting at the tendrils of smoke that now seemed to cling to him, to curl around him, to pull him back, hold him down… no… no… no…!

The child’s cries turned into screams and there was nothing Wei Ying could do.

 

Lan Yuan was woken by screams.

“A-YUAN!” Wei-Ge screamed, “A-YUAAAAN…!!” Lan Yuan heard the man’s voice break even two rooms away.

He jumped out of his bed and ran over to his father’s bedroom where he knew Wei-Ge was sleeping.
The door was open already and A-Yu sat on the mattress, trying to shake Wei-Ge awake.

“Please… A-Yuan…!” Wei-Ge whimpered as he writhed helplessly, caught in his nightmare.

Lan Yuan didn’t think much about what he was doing and climbed into bed with Wei-Ge, laying down in his arms and calling his name.
“I am here, Wei-Gege. I am okay, I am right here,” he repeated again and again until the man holding him had calmed down.

 

Wei Ying wasn’t sure if he was still asleep or not, but he couldn’t care about that right now. All he knew was that his child was in his arms, and he needed to hold on or else he’ll loose him again.

“A-Yuan, don’t go where I can’t see you,” he whispered. “Oh, A-Yuan… I’m so sorry…”

“Why are you apologizing, Wei-Gege?” Lan Yuan whispered back, hiding his face in the crook of Wei Ying’s neck.
He was so painfully close to crying, but he wanted to be strong.

Instead of an answer he felt Wei Ying’s lips pressing a kiss to his forehead.

Beloved A-Yuan

He cried.

He had never felt so fiercely loved before.

Of course he knew his father loved him, but there was a polite, reserved distance between them. It was pleasant and familiar and he couldn’t imagine it any other way… but as he was held so close to Wei-Gege’s trembling body, he couldn’t understand the feelings that rushed through him.

“A-Yuan,” Wei-Gege whispered.

“Yes?” he whispered back.

“Will you forgive me?”

 

A-Yuan didn’t know what he should forgive, why Wei-Gege felt so guilty, why he hurt so much, but if he could make him hurt a little less by forgiving him, he would gladly do it.

“Of course,” he said and breathed Wei-Gege’s scent.

He stopped crying at last.

 

In the end the three of them had slept together in Lan Zhan’s bed.

That sentence alone felt like it should be wrong on multiple levels, but somehow none of them questioned it in the morning, when A-Yuan’s and A-Yu’s alarms went off.
Wei-Ge raised an eyebrow.

“Doesn’t Lan-Er-Gege rise at five?” he asked. A-Yuan nodded. “He does, but he says I need the extra sleep because I’m still growing, so he lets me sleep an hour longer,” he explained.
He didn’t mention that Wei-Ge looked like he desperately needed another hour or two, or five to sleep.

Wei-Ge seemed to notice his thoughts anyways, “I’ll nap after I take you two to the academy,” he said.

“Actually,” A-Yu suddenly spoke up. “Couldn’t A-Yuan and I go together?”

Wei-Ge blinked.

A-Yuan added, “Right, that way you can go right back to sleep!” before Wei-Ge could try to argue. “I’m very much able to get to the academy on my own.”

“Of course you are, A-Yuan, but...” Wei-Ge started only to be interrupted by A-Yu.

“And I will be fine with him!”

 

The two pushed Wei-Ge back to bed and told him to get some proper rest until they go back.
A-Yuan made them breakfast and they ate together in comfortable silence.

Getting to the academy was a tiny bit harder than they had anticipated, but who could have predicted that A-Yu would get anxious once they were out the door?
Well, maybe they should have predicted that, but A-Yuan managed to calm him down.

After all Wei-Ge was an adult who was very much capable of looking after himself. He had been fine all the times that A-Yu had gone to the academy before, he would be okay this time as well.

A-Yuan wasn’t as convinced as he maybe should be when he said this, but something told him that it was true nonetheless.
He had blind faith in Wei-Ge’s ability to keep himself alive and well.

If you had asked him the day before, he probably wouldn’t have been so sure, but after sleeping in his arms, he felt absolutely certain.

 

When they arrived at the academy A-Yuan accompanied A-Yu to his classroom and spoke to the teacher, making sure the man would be considerate towards A-Yu, insisting that it was what Teacher Zhan would do as well.

A-Yu didn’t say anything in that moment, but he felt tears welling in his eyes.

When A-Yuan was confident that the teacher had understood he turned to leave.

“A-Yuan!” A-Yu then called out. A-Yuan turned back.

“I love you!”

 

A-Yuan held back a burst of laughter and nodded.
“Me too, A-Yu!”

Chapter Text

Lan Yuan didn’t even notice it at first, but when he saw a bunny drawn on his lunchbox he finally realized it.

Wei Ying liked to stick little drawings on things! There was a drawing of himself holding a pot with the words ‘Be sure to eat while I’m at work! <3’ written next to it, another drawing of a bunny, eating a carrot on the basket that holds the rabbits’ food, there was even a drawing of what Lan Yuan guessed was a young version of himself sitting in the bathtub stuck to the mirror in the bathroom!


Wei-Ge's Drawings

Lan Yuan wasn’t sure how to feel about this. On one hand he felt that it brought a touch of life and cheer into his father’s clean and tidy home, but then he thought… what would father think about it?

With a heavy heart he thought he would likely have to take the little drawings down before father came back.

He would keep them though, he told himself.

He would find a little folder to put them in.

 

It was okay for now though, he thought and ate his lunch. His eyes kept going back to that bunny Wei Ying had drawn for him.

It was holding a little heart in it’s paws.

If he was only a bit younger, Lan Yuan thought, he would have been ridiculously happy to receive a little drawing like that.
But now, at 16 years, he felt a bit too old for these drawings.

But then… he had missed out on 13 years of parental care from Wei Ying, hadn’t he?

Maybe it was okay to indulge himself in childish joys for a while?

 

As he was lost in his thoughts somebody plopped his butt down in the chair next to him and dropped their lunchbox on the table.

“Hello!” Lan Jingyi greeted.

Lan Yuan thought his heart had stopped for a moment.

“You startled me,” he accused and shifted a bit to make room for his friend.

“Hehe, sorry about that! What were you looking at that you didn’t notice me coming?” Lan Jingyi wondered and peered over Lan Yuan’s lunch.

Lan Yuan felt heat rush to his cheeks and he quickly covered up the drawing Wei Ying had given him, but it was too late. Lan Jingyi had seen it already.

He burst out laughing.
“Oh my god, who drew that? That is so adorable, what the hell?!” he sputtered and gasped.

Lan Yuan elbowed him in the ribs to make him stop.

“Stop laughing! It’s… that… my…” he stammered and wrecked his head trying to say the right thing, because what or who exactly was Wei Ying to him…?

Lan Jingyi raised an eyebrow.

“Your who?”

“My… friend,” Lan Yuan said lamely. That was not what he wanted to say, but then… what else could he say?

Lan Jingyi gave him a flat look.

“It’s a bit… confusing,” Lan Yuan admitted and stopped hiding the drawing, instead mapping the contours with his fingertips. “He used to be my parent… but then something happened, and well...”

“And instead you were adopted by Teacher Zhan, right?” Lan Jingyi completed the sentence.

Lan Yuan nodded.

“Not confusing at all,” Lan Jingyi decided. “You found your parent again, and your parent wants you to be happy, isn’t that all?” he suggested.

Lan Yuan stared.

 

It was that easy, wasn’t it?

That day, when A-Yu and him went back home, Lan Yuan was still thinking about that.

“Does he always do that?” he asked.

A-Yu blinked, then grinned and nodded.
“He started when he first went to work, because he worried that I’d get anxious,” he said and pulled out his phone to show A-Yuan all the drawings Wei-Ge had made for him so far.
He had taken photos of every one, because he wanted to remember.

A-Yuan smiled. That was so sweet.

Of course he understood that it wasn’t quite so sweet if you looked beneath the surface of cute drawings and bouncy hearts thrown on the little notes that reminded A-Yu to eat his lunch. He couldn’t even imagine what these drawings meant to A-Yu, considering his condition.

“Do… you know Lan Jingyi? He’s in the same class as you, I believe,” A-Yuan started suddenly.

A-Yu blinked.
“I… yes. I think so,” he said and nodded. He did remember a loud but earnest boy, but being shy and withdrawn, he never approached anyone.

A-Yuan nodded.
“He’s my friend. I’ll introduce you,” he decided and smiled.
Maybe A-Yu would be less anxious and lonely if he had a friend in class? Someone to look to when nobody else was there?

A-Yuan remembered well how much it had helped him to be in the class that his father taught when he first stared learning at Lan An Music Academy.
He had been a shy and withdrawn child for the most part, taking many cues from his father, who was a quiet and reserved person as well.

Sitting in a classroom that was filled with excited kids was a bit nerve wrecking at first, but when he looked at his father, who stood calmly at the front he felt safer.

 

Maybe it would be like that for A-Yu too?

 

When A-Yu and A-Yuan got home Wei-Ge was already there, making dinner.

A-Yu immediately rushed over to peer into the pot.

“Wei-Ge… how much chili did you add?”

“Only a pinch,” Wei-Ge assured, but judging from the color of that sauce… A-Yu wasn’t too sure about that.

“How many pinches?” he asked.

Wei-Ge laughed and pinched A-Yu’s cheek.

 

Judging from the taste of the meal it was more than just one pinch.

A-Yuan still enjoyed the meal for the most part. Eating plain bread and drinking sips of milk between bites helped a bit.

“How was your day?” Wei-Ge asked halfway through the meal. He looked at A-Yu, then A-Yuan, clearly addressing them both.

A-Yu spoke up immediately, “Good. The teacher is nice to me, thanks to A-Yuan!”

A-Yuan blushed and averted his eyes.
“You said the same thing yesterday...” he pointed out.

A-Yu put his arm around A-Yuan’s shoulders and pulled him close, “But it’s true today and yesterday!” he insisted.

He looked at A-Yuan and hoped that he understood how much that little thing meant to him.
Wei-Ge saw that look and smiled, reaching over to stroke A-Yuan’s head.

“A-Yuan, you should be proud of yourself,” he said. “You did something that meant the world to A-Yu.”
A-Yu nodded and kissed A-Yuan’s cheek before letting him go and resuming his meal. A-Yuan was left pouting at that display of affection, because he still didn’t know how to deal with it, even if he didn’t hate it… and maybe secretly liked it.

Wei-Ge saw him pout.
“You really are your father’s child, A-Yuan,” he teased with a grin.

 

A-Yuan thought he was talking about his shyness towards affection… but that night, when he found himself offering to sleep by Wei-Ge’s side, to hopefully prevent another nightmare, he realized that maybe Wei-Ge was talking about something else.

When he slept in Wei-Ge’s arms that night, he dreamed of a young man, whose leg he was clinging to. He dreamed of a swishing coat that partially covered him up from sight.

He dreamed that he got lost somehow and that he was left alone in a world of legs that brushed past him, bumped into him and even kicked him sometimes. But then there was one pair of legs that stopped in front of him. Light gray trousers that he could hold onto with his dirty little hands, but nobody scolded him.

He dreamed of warmth, of closeness and safety; of arms that held him, hands that stroked him and lips that kissed him.
He thought the young man had to be his father… but something wasn’t right.

His father liked to wear light and soft colors, unlike this man. He was a solid wall of darkness, with a veil of black hair, a long black coat.
But he was warm. He was burning up with the most delicious warmth that A-Yuan wanted to melt into.

Suddenly that warmth was gone though, and A-Yuan was left alone.

That is when those same light gray trousers came into his line of sight again, and this time he recognized the hands that held him.

That was how father had found him.

 

When his alarm woke him that morning he smiled because Wei-Ge was still asleep, having slept through the alarm.
He was dead to the world and in a way that made A-Yuan very happy.

A-Yu poked his head into the room to see if everything was okay and smiled when he saw Wei-Ge sleeping peacefully.

The two didn’t want to wake him up, and so they had their breakfast together, just like the day before.

A-Yu was cuddling with Teacher Zhan’s bunnies, while A-Yuan refilled their food. The drawing that Wei-Ge had put on the container was still there and A-Yuan really didn’t want to take it off, even though his father would arrive this evening.

“A-Yuan,” A-Yu said and put the bunny back into the cage. “We should make a note for Wei-Ge, when he wakes up!”

It was a stroke of genius.

Both sat down and argued for a moment who should be the one drawing and who should be writing, but in the end A-Yu did the drawing and A-Yuan did the writing, even though his hand was inexplicably shaking from excitement.

 

He introduced A-Yu to Lan Jingyi, who was subsequently dubbed A-Yi.

“It’s fun that way! We have A-Yuan, A-Yi and A-Yu,” A-Yu said, pointing to himself with a wide grin.

From then on, having a friend in the same class as himself meant that A-Yu now had somebody to look to when he felt nervous.
And somebody who would remind him not to fumble with his stuff, to please sit properly, don’t shift around so much and please just sit properly during class.

It was fun.

 

Wei-Ge came to fetch A-Yuan and A-Yu that day, and unceremoniously decided that he was going to adopt A-Yi too.

A-Yi protested, of course.

 

In the end A-Yi stayed with his family, and Wei-Ge only got to take his two children home, but that was fine.
A-Yi was invited to accompany them on their after-school dates – A-Yuan wasn’t sure if that was the right way to put it – and have fun with A-Yu and A-Yuan.

Wei-Ge put his arms around both boys’ shoulders and spoke to them both as they walked home.

“We will make a nice dinner for Lan-Er-Gege, so he’ll be able to relax when he gets back,” he said and squeezed their shoulders.
“When we get back you two set down your bags and come to the grocery store with me,” he added.

Neither one of them argued when Wei-Ge made them carry everything, himself only toting a bag of loquats.

In the end they had bought everything they needed to make a proper meal to feed the four of them.

It all worked out surprisingly well, and Wei-Ge didn’t touch a single flake of chili.
He stood with the cookbook – which he had borrowed from Lan Zhan’s bookshelf – and directed the children to do as he told them, while they kept him far away from the spices.

And thus, lo and behold, a beautiful meal was ready to be served!

Only one thing was missing.

And that was Lan Zhan himself.

 

Apparently he had gotten stuck in traffic. Wei Ying wasn’t worried. He’d simply feed the children and usher them to bed, not wanting their routine to be messed up, even though it was Friday and they could sleep in tomorrow.
He knew Lan Zhan would chide him if he let them stay up longer just to greet him.

Lan Zhan was that kind of person.

Neither of the two complained, and a small part of Wei Ying regretted that he wouldn’t get to see A-Yuan whine and argue at least a little.
That child really was too perfect.

A-Yu was no surprise, really. No matter how many times Wei-Ge had assured him that Lan-Er-Gege was a good man who would never so much as dream of hurting him, A-Yu remained slightly anxious around him.

As Wei-Ge tucked him in, he held onto his sleeve for a bit longer than usual.
“Don’t be afraid, A-Yu. I’m here, aren’t I?” he assured. “When did I let you get hurt, hm?”
“Never,” A-Yu muttered.
Wei-Ge smiled.
“See? Nothing to be afraid of,” he said and pressed a kiss to A-Yu’s forehead.

“Wei-Ge…?” A-Yu called after him as he was about to leave.
“Yes?”

“What about you?”

“What about me? I’ll sleep when Lan-Er-Gege gets back.”

 

Next was A-Yuan, who had gone to bed on his own, ever the independent and disciplined child. Wei Ying really just wanted to check on him and tease him a little, because that child needed to relax while he was around.

“All comfy?” Wei Ying asked and smiled when the teen nodded to him.
He sat on the edge of his bed and ran his fingers through A-Yuan’s hair.
“Did you enjoy these days?”
A-Yuan leaned into the touch and nodded.

He wouldn’t admit it, but he was glad not to have been alone. He knew he was old enough to spend time alone, he didn’t need father to be around at all times, but there just was something about a lively home that made his heart feel lighter.
To know that there was somebody sleeping just beyond the wall, somebody for whom he could call if he ever needed it.

Wei Ying knew it even if A-Yuan didn’t say a single word.
He leaned down and pressed a kiss to his forehead just as he had with A-Yu.
“Good night, A-Yuan,” he whispered and rose.

A-Yuan smiled into the pillow and whispered under his breath, “Good night, Wei-Gege,” hoping the elder wouldn’t actually hear it.

But he did.

 

He couldn’t keep the smile off his lips, knowing that his child remembered him.

The toddler clinging to his black-clad legs without a hint of fear, calling him “Wei-Gege!” so sweetly had always chased the demons from his heart.
Holding him in his arms had taken some of the pain away, even as his sore bones ached from the weight of the child.

 

Wei Ying sat on the couch and reached into the breast pocket on his jacket, pulling out the drawing A-Yu and A-Yuan had made for him.


A-Yu and A-Yuan's Drawing

When he had woken that morning, realizing that the children had left already and not woken him up, he first felt anxious and almost betrayed, but then he found a covered bowl and a little note next to it on the table.

Sometimes he found it hard to believe just how much he loved the two of them, and looking at the drawing again at this moment reminded him of that feeling.

 

In another life, he sometimes told himself, he had to be their mother. There was no way he could feel so much for them, without sharing some kind of blood bond with them.

But then… hadn’t he gone through a world of pain before meeting A-Yuan? Didn’t it count as a birth of sorts?

He laughed at himself and his ridiculous thoughts.

Good thing he was a man.

Imagine if he was a woman, goodness the world would be in ruins today!

 

Time went by and he almost dozed off when there was another text from Lan Zhan.
He was almost there, it said.

Wei Ying looked at the time and groaned softly. The poor man would be asleep for about five hours by now!
Surely he wouldn’t want to deal with the bedding at this late hour anymore…

Wei Ying got up and went to the bedroom and started stripping the bed when he realized that he didn’t even know where Lan Zhan kept the spare bedsheets.
He wanted to laugh at himself, but he just sat on the bed and wondered what the hell he should do now.

Text Lan Zhan? But no, the man was only minutes away from home, so there was no point, right?

He sat unmoving until he heard the door being unlocked, and somebody shuffling inside.

Lan Zhan was back.
He was very tired, but he would check on everything before going to bed, just to be sure everything was alright, just to soothe his nerves and let him sleep peacefully.

He had expected Wei Ying to still be up to greet him, but apparently that was not the case? Maybe he was just tired after entertaining Lan Yuan and Mo Xuanyu.
It was okay, he told himself.

He made his way to the bedroom, wanting to undress and change into something more comfortable when he found Wei Ying.

 

He sat on the mattress with a stripped pillow in his hands when Lan Zhan entered the bedroom.

Immediately the other male jumped up and set down the pillow, “Ah, Lan-Er-Gege,” he said and smiled, “I was going to strip the bed and put on new sheets for you, but then I realized that I forgot to ask A-Yuan where you keep the spare sheets and… I didn’t want to go looking through your stuff to find them,” he explained quickly.

Lan Zhan nodded.
“No need,” he assured and picked up the pillow Wei Ying had been holding before to put the case back on.

Wei Ying frowned, “No way, I can’t let you sleep on that,” he argued but Lan Zhan gave him a look.

“Did you do something awful to the sheets?” he asked.

“Of course not,” Wei Ying replied immediately.

Lan Zhan smiled faintly. “So I can sleep on it,” he said.

Wei Ying gaped at him for a moment.

“W-well… fine, then,” he muttered. “I’ll go then,” he added and turned towards the door, when Lan Zhan’s smile faltered, and he instead raised an eyebrow.

“Go where?”

“To the guest room,” Wei Ying answered as if it was obvious, “to sleep with A-Yu.”

Lan Zhan’s frown deepened. A more expressive person might have thrown a tantrum, but Lan Zhan merely watched Wei Ying as he walked towards the door.

“No… you… Mo Xuanyu is-” Wei Ying interrupted him, “You should call him A-Yu too,” he pointed out.

Lan Zhan exhaled slowly.
“A-Yu is sleeping already.”

“I will be careful not to wake him,” Wei Ying assured.

“Just sleep here,” Lan Zhan offered and gestured the bed.

It was clearly wide enough for them both, but that was not the point.
Now it was Wei Ying’s turn to frown, though he wasn’t so much annoyed or frustrated as he was… afraid?

“Just for tonight,” Lan Zhan assured and gave a tiny smile.

Wei Ying averted his eyes.

 

Somehow he didn’t have it in him to argue tonight. Maybe Lan Zhan was right, and sleeping together on that bed was a better idea than cramming into the narrow space next to A-Yu…

But even then, Wei Ying felt a kind of apprehension about that.

He tried to ignore it.
He was in the bathroom while Lan Zhan was changing into his night clothes, brushing his teeth. Once he was done he rolled up his sleeves and washed his face.

Over the rush of the water he didn’t hear the door opening, so when he straightened his back again and saw Lan Zhan standing behind him in the doorway, he almost screamed.

Lan Zhan raised his hands, wanting to soothe him.

Wei Ying put on a smile and waved his hands in front of himself. “No, no… It’s okay. I just didn’t hear you approaching… it’s fine...” he said quickly and dropped his hands the moment he noticed how Lan Zhan’s eyes went to his arms.

He had seen.

“Wei Ying...” he muttered and reached out to grasp his wrist, when Wei Ying pulled away.

“Those scars…?” Lan Zhan whispered.

“Surgery,” Wei Ying replied hastily. “R-remember how I was… comatose… for 3 months?” he continued.
Lan Zhan nodded. Of course he remembered.

“Surgeries happened.”

“Wei Ying… those were not just surgical scars.”

He reached out again, catching Wei Ying’s wrist this time and pulling his arm towards himself, exposing a labyrinth of scars on his skin.
The further up Wei Ying’s sleeve slid, the more scars were exposed. Lan Zhan’s hand on Wei Ying’s wrist shook.

“What, are you going to tear off my clothes?” Wei Ying asked, even though he looked at his arm as though he’s rather cut it off, than be held by Lan Zhan for another second.

Lan Zhan released him instantly, but Wei Ying pushed onwards. “Force on my knees and pull my hair, or maybe hold me down by the neck as you mount me?” he suggested, grinning lewdly. “It’s fine if it’s you, Lan-Er-Gege~”

Lan Zhan watched as Wei Ying leaned his back against the wall and opened his arms as though he wanted to invite Lan Zhan to do as he suggested.
But no matter what he was saying, his eyes told a different story.

He watched Lan Zhan as though he wanted to kill him.

“Wei Ying,” he whispered and took a step forward, bringing his hands up slowly, even though he had no idea what to do.
“I mean no harm to you, Wei Ying,” he assured.

Wei Ying let out a gasp of laughter. “Of course you don’t...” he sobbed. “Lan-Er-Gege would never…” His voice broke, and he brought his hands up to his hair, tugging on the strands as he tried so hard to contain whatever he was feeling.

Lan Zhan surged forward and grabbed Wei Ying’s wrists to prevent him from hurting himself, but the look of utter horror that he got in return almost broke his heart, and he let him go.


Lan Zhan holding Wei Ying

Wei Ying was trembling and sobbing, slowly dissolving into panicked gasps.

He groaned and tried to curl into himself, hyperventilating as the world narrowed to a shallow pond in which he was drowning, held down by fear.

Lan Zhan pulled him into his arms and held him close, running his hands down Wei Ying’s back.
“Breathe, slowly,” he instructed. “Focus, Wei Ying! Focus on your breathing. In and out, slowly,” he continued, waiting for the shallow gasps at his shoulder to turn into deeper sighs.

Wei Ying gradually found his way back to reality, breathing in Lan Zhan’s oh so familiar scent. It was one thing to smell it on the sheets and in the rooms for the past nights, but to smell it on the man’s skin directly… did something else.

“I’m sorry...” he whispered, “I’m sorry, Lan Zhan...”

“No need,” Lan Zhan whispered back. He kept holding onto Wei Ying, even as the other had calmed down.

Wei Ying worried that Lan Zhan would be uncomfortable, but those warm hands on his back just… calmed him so much.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan breathed and slowly brought one of his hands from Wei Ying’s back to his knees to gather him in his arms and pick him up.
Wei Ying squirmed for a moment, but seeing as Lan Zhan held him safely, he simply didn’t have the strength to struggle.

He allowed Lan Zhan to bring him back to the bedroom and set him down on the mattress, before sitting on the edge next to him.

Wei Ying smiled weakly.

“You really are A-Yuan’s father,” he whispered and wiped a stray tear from his eye.

Lan Zhan looked at him.

“Are you going to stay until I fall asleep?” Wei Ying wondered.

Lan Zhan nodded. He was going to stay even after Wei Ying had fallen asleep.

Wei Ying chuckled joylessly, “Truly A-Yuan’s father...” he said and closed his eyes.

 

Just beyond the door A-Yuan muffled his sobs.

He had woken with a start when he realized that he had forgotten to take off the little drawings Wei-Ge had left all over the apartment, when he’d heard the voices coming from the bathroom.

In a panic he had hidden himself behind the kitchen door, listening with his breath held.

When he saw his father carrying Wei-Gege back to the bedroom he found himself crying with no way to console himself.

The sight of Wei-Gege’s limp body, his hair loose and tangled as it flowed over his father’s arm, the way Wei-Gege’s face was hidden against his father’s chest… the image pulled back memories that made him want to scream.

 

So when the bedroom door was closed he crept closer, wanting to hear Wei-Gege joke around again, wanting him to talk nonsense or even just… say anything.

 

Truly A-Yuan’s father, he heard him say and at this point he couldn’t muffle the sob that broke from his throat.

 

The door was opened and his father looked at him with concern written all over his face.

A-Yuan slumped into his arms.
“Don’t take them down, father… don’t take them away, please!” he whimpered.

Lan Zhan brought the teen over to the bed where he sat him down next to Wei Ying.

“Don’t take down what?” he asked.

“The… drawings,” A-Yuan answered tearfully. “I… had forgotten so much, and I never want to forget again!” he said and hid his face in his hands.

Wei Ying pushed himself up to sit behind A-Yuan and pull him into his arms.
“You were only three, A-Yuan. You would have forgotten either way,” he assured.

Lan Zhan wasn’t sure what his son was talking about, but Wei Ying seemed to understand.

“I… it’s just little drawings I made,” Wei Ying said when he noticed the confused expression on Lan Zhan’s face.

“This perfect child of yours apologized for the clutter when A-Yu and I first arrived, and I couldn’t just sit by and let this child remain ignorant. I had to teach him what ‘clutter’ really meant,” he explained further.

“I won’t take them down,” Lan Zhan promised immediately.

Wei Ying kissed away the tears from A-Yuan’s cheeks and rocked him back and forth.
“Be good and go to sleep, hm? We are all tired, and we will still have breakfast together, right?” he said, and smiled when Lan Zhan nodded.

Who would he be to send the love he had lost all those years ago from his side now? Lan Zhan was many things, impulsive, stubborn, a hopeless romantic, but he wasn’t stupid. He would let him stay until the end of time if he wished to stay that long.

And he hoped he would.