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There is a beautiful stranger at his sister’s wedding.

Wei Ying had spent the majority of the ceremony with his attention solely on his sister, aglow under the candlelight and draped in beautiful red layers embroidered in silk and jewels. He’d deny it until he was dead but he spent the majority of the ceremony weeping into his hands; but so had Jiang Cheng, so he didn’t feel that bad about it. Jin Zixuan had always been a peacock but Wei Ying didn’t think he noticed the man once, not when his sister smiled with radiance like an angel, tears at the corners of her eyes like she was so happy she could burst with it.

He was distracted through the ceremony and that is the only way he could have ever missed him. But as the pulse of the celebrations slowed like the gentle push and pull of a ocean tide and the anticipation simmered into a quiet awe at the lavish decoration of the banquet, delicate chandeliers that sparkled like real diamonds and flowers threaded throughout the hall in explosions of soft, loving colors—Wei Ying finally finds that moment to take a chance to catch his breath, tilting his head back and drinking it all in, a warmth in his heart fit to burst. He feels like he might cry again but knows this time Jiang Cheng would never let it down, let alone Wen Qing, and a shiver rolls down his spine at just the thought.

There was no reason he should have turned, but he does, a magnetic pull. Just a slight tilt of his head, the softest tug of something foreign and gentle in his chest, and Wei Ying thinks it feels a little like fate as he turns his head and catches a steady gaze across the stretch of the room, head spinning like he’s drunk but he hasn’t had so much as a sip in days—

Wei Ying sees him through the flowers and silk and his heart whispers, oh. There you are.

It is there in one moment and then gone in the next, just a fleeting hint of recognition, relief that spreads through his chest with intensity that makes his knees wobble. There is a beautiful man at his sister’s wedding and he is looking at Wei Ying as if he has been struck speechless and something about the curve of that man’s bowed lips, the molten gold of his eyes, the way his throat bobs and his jaw slackens—it feels like coming home.

He is beautiful—and Wei Ying must be going fucking insane, because he has definitely never met this guy in his entire life but he is suddenly ready to take a running leap and knows, inherently, that the man would catch him. Maybe they’re pumping some kind of aphrodisiac into the room through the air conditioning, just enough to get the party started.

Wei Ying catches his brother’s jacket at the elbow. “Hey, who’s that?”

Jiang Cheng turns, squints into the crowd at where he nodded. He shrugs. “I don’t know, probably with the peacock. Looks like that kind of crowd anyway.”

He does, admittedly. The peacock tends to run with a richer crowd, the trust fund kids and Ivy League knockouts. The beautiful man doesn’t look stuck up, really, but he does look like his suit is tailor made, a silvery white material like clouds over the horizon. Wei Ying wants to run his hands over the man’s chest, knows he will feel muscle.

Jiang Cheng seems to read his mind and lets out a disgusted sound, pushing him away. “Go be horny somewhere else, this is A-Jie’s wedding,” he admonishes but it doesn’t have the bite like he means it. He’s already got a wine glass in his hand, teeters on the line between delightfully tipsy and the exact amount of drunk necessary for a beloved sister’s wedding to a man who wears Gucci shoes.

Wei Ying can’t help but to smirk but his eyes still dance toward the man’s direction, where his attention now seems to have been coveted by a smiling man that looks like he could be the man’s twin. His suit is made of that similar nice material, white dusted with light blue instead of gray—the sky of a storm, and the sky once the clouds have cleared. The two would look the same but for the suits and their hairstyles, the beautiful man wearing his hair to his shoulders and swept back while the other has it cut shorter, just a hint of a fringe on his face.

He tries to keep his eyes on the man but he loses him for a bit as the festivities kick up. A-Jie still smiles like she can’t believe it and Jin Zixuan, for all his peacocking, looks just as speechless, arm wrapped around Jiang Yanli’s waist like she may drift away if he lets go. It’s sweet in its own right but Wei Ying takes his time in reminding Jin Zixuan of all of the things he’s willing to go to jail for if he dares break A-Jie’s heart. It’s a bit late for a shovel talk, probably, but it does nothing to damper the spirit of the wedding, Jin Zixuan even getting choked up with all of the wrong emotions at the part of his speech where Wei Ying threatens to pull his guts out and feed them to sinister ferrets if he makes his sister cry ever again.

It has all gone so smoothly. The band plays and A-Jie bounces around to host with her new husband glued to her side and Jiang Cheng has already cried two times more than Wei Ying has. His adoptive parents are getting along better than they have in years and the guests are getting drunker and Wei Ying finally finds both the time and the sanity to start knocking back drinks like an absolute monster. Something bittersweet settles in his stomach like a reminder that he no longer has to be so overprotective, that his and Jiang Cheng’s watch is over now that A-Jie’s heart is in good (enough) hands. Wei Ying tastes it on the back of his throat as he watches them dance, A-Jie laughing as her new husband twirls her again and again, and he tries not to feel like he’s been replaced.

He’s standing at the family table, eyes on the dance floor as the song fades into a tune calm and lovely, so he does not see him crossing the room to him, does not feel the eyes on him until a low, calm voice asks, “May I have this dance?”

Wei Ying turns and there he is, white-gray suit like splashes of watercolor and eyes like sunshine. He holds one hand toward Wei Ying, fingers relaxed, no pressure in the gesture as if he readily expects a no and has already accepted as much. His other hand is tucked behind his back as though he is about to bow, as if Wei Ying is someone who deserves such a benediction.

The man’s face is rather stoic, carefully so, but Wei Ying can read the hope in the lines around his eyes, the endearing awe in the softness of his mouth. Wei Ying has waited a few seconds too long to answer and the man’s eyes shutter so subtly, resigned acceptance.

Wei Ying feels as though he has been hypnotized. He sways forward, another step to close the fragile gap between him and this man, and he whispers, “Have we met?”

The man hears him somehow, despite the calming pulse of the music and the heartbeat in Wei Ying’s ears that he is sure the room can hear like thunder. An emotion like surprise flickers in the man’s eyes before it is gone, the corner of his mouth twitching into the softest smile. It lights up his face, makes Wei Ying’s breath catch in his chest.

“No,” the man whispers, hand still held toward him with forgiving patience. “We have not.”

Wei Ying almost feels disappointed, knows that it’s absolutely crazy. The brief disappointment washes away almost as fast as it arrived, like the ebb and flow of a tide. Before the man can pull away, before Wei Ying can think of what he’s doing, he reaches out and puts his hand in the one held out only for him.

Touching this man is like a static charge, like standing in the rain during the lightning storm. The world lights up like sparks, starting from the tips of his fingers all the way to his toes, to the crown of his head. The man has calluses on his fingers, rough against Wei Ying’s, and he feels a shiver roll up his spine imagining what they will feel like on the rest of his body, venturing down his chest and running through his hair.

He blinks through it, breathing out in surprise. The man stares at him like he has only ever lived in the dark and now he has seen the sun, and he will stare at it until he’s long gone blind.

Wei Ying’s throat is dry but he cannot shake the feeling that there is more, familiarity and nostalgia burning in his veins as he stares at this man so full of elegance and class. He feels as though he has followed him to the ends of the earth, as if he has stood against armies and spanned the length of death and destiny to find himself at his side. It’s crazy and he knows it, is sure it must be a symptom of the alcohol and the joyous occasion, but he feels as if he has known this man his whole life. He feels as if every errant gaze around a new room has been looking for him, as if every new place has been a new opportunity. The man’s hand is warm and his gaze is molten and Wei Ying just met him and after years of wandering he thinks he has just found something incredibly precious.

The man brushes the softest thumb against Wei Ying’s knuckles, leaving fire in its wake. It shocks him enough to remember where they are, the people and the noises and how the song is nearly halfway through and they have simply been staring at each other for the long stretch of a minute. He glances to the side to see if anyone has noticed and sees the man’s brother watching them with amusement in his eyes, hand pressed over his mouth to hide a laugh.

Wei Ying skitters back into his bones, shakes the dust off of his heart. This man is new and enchanting and if he is not careful, Wei Ying will be his before the end of the first song they’ve forgotten to dance to.

The man does not seem to care if there is an audience. His eyes dance in the candlelight as he asks, voice low and careful as if he means every word he’s ever said, “What is your name?”

He can only answer with the truth. “Wei Ying.”

The man’s lips tilt up as if it is the answer to a long-awaited question. He inclines his head, another bow like Wei Ying is not a false god, and tells him, “Lan Zhan.”

It is an answer. It is a promise. Wei Ying lets out the breath he has not noticed he is holding and thinks, yes. It is you. I have found you.

It does not make sense and it does not matter. He feels the grin creeping onto his face like relief he has to hide but he knows the man—Lan Zhan—sees it on his face. Wei Ying works the smile into something teasing like he is not about to swoon like a maiden, inclining his head toward the dance floor. “Don’t get me wrong, but weren’t we supposed to be dancing, Lan Zhan?”

The man’s hand trembles, just slightly, when Wei Ying says his name, but none of his shows on that face, one that Wei Ying thinks others might call cold but he sees every jump of emotion like he has been born to read it. Lan Zhan wastes no time in leading him toward the dancers with a sweeping grace, Wei Ying following close behind with a big smile on his face that he can tell is a little silly but he feels no need to tamper it down. He sees his brother at the edges of the crowd, eyebrows nearly touching his hairline; he sees A-Jie and Jin Zixuan spot them from the other side of the floor, watching them as if they had been subtly sneaking peeks since the first words, but he can’t meet their eyes before their heads are close together, laughing smiles and words meant only for each other. Wei Ying thinks he sees the man’s brother shoot Lan Zhan a thumbs up but by the time he looks again, the other man isn’t even looking at them.

Wei Ying expects there will be an awkward moment where they don’t know where to put their hands but it never happens—Lan Zhan pulls him into his arms with practiced ease, as if they have done it hundreds and thousands of times already. Lan Zhan’s hands settle on the middle of his back, one softly against his waist. Wei Ying wraps his arms around his neck, pulls them closer until their chests touch and sends a blinding grin up at the man when his eyes widen.

“So, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying drawls his name on a lazy tongue, warming his chest. Lan Zhan’s eyes don’t leave his, guiding them in a soft sway around the other dancers with capability that makes Wei Ying a little weak at the knees. He presses a little closer, can’t help but to tease that careful face and eager eyes. “How long have you been watching me across the room, huh? My guess is a while, if it’s taken until now for you to get the courage to ask me to dance. Don’t worry, I don’t mind. I’ve been watching you, too.”

Lan Zhan does not blush, necessarily. Wei Ying wouldn’t notice if his arms weren’t around his neck but the man’s ears were flushed a gentle pink, endearing and adorable. Wei Ying practically hit his knees to pray thanks to whatever gods might’ve made this meeting happen; he’s never felt such a lightness in his chest, such an interest, a devastation and a reward all in a man who is too beautiful for poetry to put into motion.

Wei Ying presses his fingertips to the nape of Lan Zhan’s neck and watches the man’s throat work. It’s hypnotizing.

The song shifts, stays soft and slow. Wei Ying can feel eyes on his back and he’s fairly sure it crackles with his adoptive mother’s electric energy but he can’t notice it when a gorgeous man is staring at him like he is the most treasured thing in the universe, when he just met this man but he is fairly sure he has known him since the beginning of time.

Lan Zhan’s hands tighten just slightly, holding him tighter. Wei Ying takes it as permission to press his fingers up into this man’s hair, never once looking away from his eyes.

“You must be here for the groom,” Wei Ying says, voice choked. “I’d remember someone like you in my sister’s life.”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan murmurs. It’s a little breathless. “The Jin and Lan families have old ties.”

Wei Ying traces a hand from Lan Zhan’s hair down to his chest. He was right—the suit is soft, and his chest is hard with lines of muscle. He can feel this man’s heartbeat and it is hammering against the ribs Wei Ying touches beneath his fingertips. Lan Zhan’s hand tightens again on his waist and Wei Ying wonders what bruises of this man’s fingers might look like on the skin there, feels like he might combust on the spot.

It is too much and not enough all at once.

“You never answered my question,” Wei Ying pointed out with a cheeky grin he knew could be charming. “How long have you been watching me, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan’s ears flushed red but the man dismissed the question with a breathy, “Shameless.”

Wei Ying throws his head back and laughs. He can hear it echo through the crystal chandeliers, bouncing to the heavens and back down into the soft melody of this music and this lovely moment where Wei Ying wonders, suddenly, if he is falling in love.

He opens his eyes to Lan Zhan watching him, transfixed, a tiny smile on his lips. Wei Ying wants to make him smile every single day, every hour, every minute. He wants to wake up to molten gold and reverent touches, wants to know what Lan Zhan looks like in the heat of passion and what his laugh sounds like. He wants to know if his apartment is neat or organized chaos, what he does for a living, what he does for fun.

He wants another dance. Another, another, another.

But the song is ending. He hears the final trills of peaceful notes dissolve into something more modern and upbeat, a song with more energy. Their slow dance is over and Wei Ying feels the disappointment sour in his stomach because it wasn’t nearly enough time. He is not ready to let go of Lan Zhan, to move away from him as if they have never held each other close.

He waits for Lan Zhan to let go, but the next song starts and he does not. They continue to sway peacefully, out of rhythm, and Lan Zhan doesn’t so much as blink or seem to notice that they stand out. Wei Ying gapes at him in astonishment, can’t help but to feel that disappointment blooming into something bigger, something real, something like—

“I feel no need to stop,” Lan Zhan tells him without prompting, reading the unasked question. Wei Ying is fairly certain that if this man weren’t holding him so tight, this response would have knocked him right off his feet.

He is breathless, charmed. He is not ready to let go and neither is Lan Zhan. It is too good to be true.

Lan Zhan pulls him closer, so close his lips almost press against Wei Ying’s face. He can feel the man’s soft breaths, almost feels the words on his lips better than he hears them: “Let’s stay like this. Wei Ying.”

He says his name like…

It is difficult to render Wei Ying speechless, but in that moment he would have forgot his name if he hasn’t just heard it spoken with such care on Lan Zhan’s lips. Lan Zhan has only said it once but he can hear it echoing in his heart, hears it in a thousand emotions and through a thousand lifetimes. So many people have said his name but none of them have said it like this, like he is special. Like he is singular.

And because it feels so raw and honest, because it feels something like falling and Wei Ying is not used to being caught, he whispers, “Be careful.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes meet his. The hand on his back traces up and down his spine and Wei Ying trembles with it.

Lan Zhan ducks his head close enough for their noses to touch. Fingers play the knobs of Wei Ying’s spine like an instrument and his heart is beating in his throat and this should be illegal, it should not be possible to have another human being look at him like he is everything they could have ever asked for, wants to caution Lan Zhan about the sadness in his bones and how he says all of the wrong thing, wants to warn him before anyone gets hurt to walk away now—

“I will not,” he replies, primly. Simply. Like it’s that easy.

Wei Ying gapes up at him. And then he roars with laughter.

Hopeless. He is hopeless against this man.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying laughs like daylight, hangs from the man’s shoulders because if he does not hang on then he will collapse, holds on because if he falls Lan Zhan might catch him. He hides his face against Lan Zhan’s shoulder and laughs incredulously, freely.

Like it’s that easy. Like it can be, if he wants. And he wants.

He peeks over Lan Zhan’s shoulder and sees familiar faces watching them. Jiang Cheng stares, jaw dropped. A-Jie fans herself with her hand like she does during romantic scenes in movies and Jin Zixuan is laughing but looks just as stunned, pleasantly surprised. Lan Zhan’s brother is openly laughing now but the bright smile on his face reads with happiness, pride. He leans over and says something to Jin Zixuan that makes the two laugh harder.

Lan Zhan holds him and they dance. The world falls away in pieces, music drifting away and observing gazes withering into nothingness. Wei Ying takes a moment to breathe and feel nothing but Lan Zhan’s body against his and the bursts of something new and wonderful in his chest.

He wants to be this man’s present and his future. He—irrationally, but with his whole stuttering heart—wants to be his past, too.

He knows the calluses on his hands and the strength in his arms and knows how to read his eyes. He wonders if he already was, if they fought monsters like in bedtime stories and if they had a happy ending. He thinks they did, feels it in the warmth blossoming in his chest like a promise.

Wei Ying has never been in love before but he thinks this might be how it starts. The promise of a dance, two hammering hearts, shy smiles. Red and gold and eternity at their fingertips.

Wei Ying wants it all. It is too soon to say it so he puts it into his smile when he tilts his head up, meets golden eyes that have been watching him with devotion reserved for those more than strangers. He hopes a hint of his intent can be read in the lines around his eyes. Hopes that Lan Zhan will feel the soft curl of his fingers and the tilt of his lips and will know what he is asking.

And Lan Zhan smiles back like sunshine and spring winds and the notes of a song Wei Ying swears he knows like his own heartbeat, a song he has never heard but he knows every dip and rise of its melody. He hopes he can dance to it one day in Lan Zhan’s arms.

He looks up at Lan Zhan and his smile whispers, there you are.

And Lan Zhan whispers back, I am here.