Actions

Work Header

The Simplest Way Forward

Chapter Text

Wei Ying wakes up with a throbbing headache, a dry mouth, a sneaker wedged uncomfortably against his back on the couch, and a small child staring at him.

That last one makes him jerk upright—his head hates it—and he grabs his head with both hands because it feels like it might fall off or split in half. “What the fuck,” says Wei Ying. “Shit. I mean—Don’t repeat that. Sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. Who are you?”

“Yuan,” says the kid, and he sticks his thumb in his mouth. He’s staring at Wei Ying with giant eyes and a pretty dubious expression.

“A-Yuan,” Wei Ying repeats back to him. He’s maybe three, maybe four, clearly Chinese but he pronounces his name like an American, and he clearly understands English. What the hell is a toddler—is three a toddler?—doing in Wei Ying’s apartment?

Yuan keeps staring at him. He’s just standing there in baby jeans and a baby hoodie and little baby sneakers, staring at Wei Ying like he thinks Wei Ying knows what’s going on.

“Where’s your…” Wei Ying can’t fucking remember what happened last night. “Dad? Mom? Uncle?”

Yuan shrugs again.

Did someone bring a baby to a rager and forget to bring him home again? Wei Ying definitely feels like he’d remember that. He doesn’t know why this kid isn’t crying, he doesn’t know who this kid belongs to, and it all feels very, very ominous.

Wei Ying staggers to his feet and scoops Yuan up in his arms, which Yuan doesn’t object to. “You must belong to someone,” says Wei Ying. “I’m Wei Ying. You don’t know where your mom is?”

Yuan shakes his head.

Wei Ying’s apartment is a fucking disaster, there’s stuff all over the floor: take-out containers, and clothes, and sneakers. The party wasn’t here, he remembers eventually. He was out drinking with friends, all the musicians, after the first big concert in the fall semester, and then he came home, and—and—

There’s a little Sponge Bob SquarePants knapsack by the door, with little legs and arms hanging off the bottom and sides. “Is that yours?” Wei Ying asks.

Yuan nods.

It turns out it’s really hard to hold a kid on your hip with one hand and lean down to pick up his bag without losing your balance, especially if you’re hung over as fuck, but Wei Ying manages. Barely. There’s a note safety-pinned to the front of the bag.

Hey cuz, what’s up! I stopped by last night but idk if you’ll remember. You said you were cool with keeping Yuan for a couple of days for me, I just gotta do some stuff. You’re the best! - MXY

“What the fuck,” says Wei Ying.

“What the fuck,” echoes Yuan, in his serious little voice.

“No, no, no, don’t say that,” Wei Ying says quickly. “You’re—You belong to my cousin? Is Mo Xuanyu your dad?”

Yuan shakes his head.

“Who’s your dad?” Wei Ying asks. He’s starting to worry. He definitely doesn’t remember Mo Xuanyu stopping by last night. He absolutely doesn’t remember agreeing to watch a baby for a couple of days. He has classes. He has rehearsals. What do babies eat? Do they need… medicine, or something?

“Dunno,” says Yuan, and sticks his thumb back in his mouth.

“You should be way more freaked out by this,” Wei Ying tells him. “You should be screaming and kicking and crying.”

Yuan looks at him with his giant brown eyes like he’s sizing Wei Ying up and is still pretty dubious about the whole thing.

“I… I don’t know what to do,” says Wei Ying. “You don’t have a phone on you, do you? Or a phone number?” Yuan just keeps staring, like maybe that’s the dumbest thing he’s ever heard. “No. You’re a baby. You don’t have a phone. Uh, how old are you? Three? This many?” Wei Ying holds up three fingers.

Yuan holds up four little fingers.

“Okay. Okay, well, that’s good. Hey, I’m gonna put you down and find my phone and see if I can track down Xuanyu and you—you—Hey, do you like Cheerios?”

Yuan nods.

Okay. Wei Ying can do this. He kicks all the notebooks and sheet music off a chair and puts the kid in it, finds a clean bowl—okay, he finds a bowl—and dumps some cereal in it, and then digs through last night’s skinny jeans and jacket until he finds his phone. The battery is almost dead.

He scrolls through his phone until he finds the last known phone number he has for his cousin. When he left to study music in the US everyone told him it would be fine, if he got stuck he could always call Xuanyu and get some help. He never did, because he never had to; the School of Music has good resources and his English has been good enough, and all he remembers about this distant cousin is that he’s a flake.

Now he wishes he’d kept better tabs on him.

There’s no answer when he calls. He sends a couple of texts—What the fuck????—in English and in Chinese, and then turns back to the very real problem sitting at his fold-out table in his little dorm apartment.

“Uh,” says Wei Ying. “So do you, like… go to school?”

Yuan shakes his head.

“Got any friends?” Wei Ying asks. “Or any idea where your mom and dad are? If Xuanyu’s not your dad, I mean—”

Yuan holds both hands up. Wei Ying blinks at him. Yuan sticks out his lower lip.

“Oh,” says Wei Ying. “You want me to pick you up? That’s… okay. Sure. I can do that.” He picks up the kid again and settles him on his hip. His head is still throbbing. “What the fuck. I guess you’re gonna stay with me for a day or two,” he says. “Is that cool?”

“What the fuck,” repeats Yuan again. He puts his arms around Wei Ying’s neck and his head on Wei Ying’s shoulder.

“What the fuck is right,” Wei Ying says.

Wei Ying figures he can just skip class and rehearsal for one day—it’s not like he has anywhere to ditch the kid. He puts Yuan down in front of his laptop with some kind of cartoon on YouTube.

His first call should probably be to the cops, but he can’t imagine doing that to a nice kid like Yuan, who seems perfectly content with YouTube and Cheerios. So he calls his sister instead. She’s a couple of months away from having her own kid, so she probably has some idea of what to do with one. She’s in Chicago with her stupid husband or else he’d just hand the kid off to her, honestly.

“Hey, sis,” he says, “funny story!”

His sister doesn’t think it’s that funny. “Oh my god,” she says. “And now he’s in your tiny little apartment? That poor baby!”

“Hey,” says Wei Ying. “My apartment is okay. It’s not the palace you live in now—”

“A-Ying, stop,” she says. “What are you going to do with a baby?”

Wei Ying looks at Yuan, who seems basically fine. “I don’t know,” he says. “Wait a couple of days and then kick Xuanyu’s ass when he comes back? I can miss a couple of days of class.”

“You really think he’s coming back?” Yanli says.

“Whoa,” says Wei Ying. “What the fuck, yes! Who just… dumps a baby?”

“If I were one week less pregnant, I’d fly out there,” says Yanli. “What do you know about taking care of a baby?”

“I have one now and you don’t, yet,” says Wei Ying reasonably. “So more than you do.”

“Buy him some toys,” Yanli orders. “And don’t just give him spicy take-out. He’s a baby. And take him outside—he can’t just sit in your drab little dorm. I’m going to call mom.”

“Wait, why,” Wei Ying says, dropping immediately into a whine. He can’t help it. He’s been too far away to be the cause of every single problem in the Jiang family for a couple of years, and it feels great. He doesn’t especially want a blistering phone call about everything he’s done wrong.

“Because if anyone knows where Xuanyu is, or whose baby that is, it’s mom,” says Yanli. “She knows every out-of-wedlock pregnancy and family member who’s lost face. She keeps a running list.”

That sounds absolutely true. “Okay,” he says. “And don’t worry. I can keep a kid alive for forty-eight hours.”

“Hmmm,” says Yanli, and hangs up on him.

Wei Ying turns to his tiny guest, who's sitting on the couch, kicking his feet back and forth. “You wanna do something?” he asks.

“Like what?” Yuan asks.

“Uh…” says Wei Ying. “I don’t know. Do you have pajamas and stuff?”

“Dunno,” says Yuan, glued to YouTube.

Wei Ying sighs and starts digging through the SpongeBob bag. There’s a blue t-shirt, a couple of pairs of underwear, a pair of pajamas, and some papers rolled up and stuffed in the back. When Wei Ying takes them out and straightens them, he sees that Xuanyu has left him with an American birth certificate that says Yuan Wen, a mom’s name Wei Ying doesn’t recognize, and no father listed. There are a couple of other official looking documents.

Suddenly Wei Ying wonders if his cousin is actually planning to come back at all, or if Yanli is right and this is a dump-and-run situation.

“You don’t have, like, a winter coat,” says Wei Ying. “Is there another suitcase around somewhere?” Yuan doesn’t appear to know. Wei Ying looks around for a minute, but this appears to be everything that was left behind for Yuan. “You need more stuff than this,” Wei Ying says. “Hey, you wanna go shopping?”

“Cartoons,” says Yuan, pointing to the laptop.

“Yeah, cartoons will be here later,” says Wei Ying, and slams the computer shut. “Let’s go outside. I don’t know where you’re gonna sleep. You want a sleeping bag or something? Maybe a pillow?”

“I want cartoons,” says Yuan again, looking suspiciously like he might cry.

Wei Ying picks him up and swings him around a couple of times before he can get started on that. “Nah,” he says, “how about ice cream?”

“I eat ice cream for breakfast?” Yuan asks, hopeful but also dubious.

“It’s basically milk,” Wei Ying reasons, “and cereal is sugary anyway, so what’s the difference? Let’s go shopping. My sister says I need to buy you toys.”

“Toys!” says Yuan, perking up. “Toys and ice cream?”

“Why not?” says Wei Ying. “It’s not my credit card.”

The credit card belongs to his adopted dad, and it’s for emergencies, which arguably this is. Wei Ying grabs a Coke and another couple of Advil because his head is still throbbing, and then he takes Yuan on the subway downtown. He’s a pretty quiet kid, he just likes to cling like a koala. Could be worse, Wei Ying decides.

Ladies in shops say, “Oh, what a cute little boy! What a cute dad,” and when Wei Ying explains a little awkwardly that he needs basically everything for a kid for a couple of weeks—he’s revised how long he thinks he might be stuck with Yuan—they bring him coats and mittens and little hats, and a dizzying array of sweaters and t-shirts and jeans. Wei Ying shrugs and buys all of it, because Yuan doesn’t seem to have any preferences.

He does care when they get to a toy store—he wants puzzles and teddy bears and legos and a ray gun that lights up, and basically every other toy he can get his little hands on. “You don’t need all of this,” Wei Ying scolds him. “You can have one, so pick the one you want.”

There’s agony on Yuan’s face as he crouches over a bucket of blocks and a teddy bear, looking seriously from one to the other. Wei Ying remembers, suddenly, coming home with his new adopted dad for the first time, and seeing the mountains of toys his new brother and sister had. How strange it had felt, seeing what other kids thought was normal, and how badly he’d wanted something of his own.

He wonders who Yuan has been staying with, whether he’s been passed from “uncle” to “uncle” for a while, since he seems so absolutely calm and resigned to suddenly being with Wei Ying.

“Here,” says Wei Ying, abruptly grabbing the blocks and the teddy bear. “Just this once. Never again, okay? Don’t be greedy.”

“I won’t,” Yuan promises. He clutches the teddy bear in his arms, hugging it tightly.

Wei Ying swallows uncomfortably. He’s a busy person; he has school and an orchestra to perform in, and he can just barely take care of himself. He is not in the market to start having feelings about little kids who appear out of thin air, especially when they’re likely to vanish just as quickly.

“Well… Just this once, then,” Wei Ying says again. Who cares, right? He picks Yuan up and carries him and the blocks over to the counter.

He has to balance a thousand bags and a kid on the way back, and he maybe understands why people buy strollers. They stop on the way home for pancakes and then ice cream, and Yuan somehow gets sticky up to his elbows.

It’s barely after lunch and Wei Ying is fucking exhausted.

Yuan must be tired, too; he slumps in Wei Ying’s arms, head against his shoulder, teddy bear dangling from one sticky hand. “Hey, buddy,” says Wei Ying, dragging him and all their bags into the elevator in his building. “You wanna take a nap?”

“No,” says Yuan. “I’m a big kid, I’m not a baby.” He yawns.

“Okay, well…” Wei Ying still hasn’t solved the ‘I only have one bed’ issue. “You can lie down on the couch and if you happen to fall asleep, no big deal, right?”

“I’m a big kid,” Yuan insists, clinging to him. His eyes are mostly shut.

Wei Ying kicks all the bags of clothes out of the way to try and make room to get into his one-bedroom apartment, and almost as soon as he’s closed the door, someone knocks.

It is entirely possible, he realizes suddenly, that having a kid stay in the dorm with him is against some kind of lease. He didn’t look very carefully when he was signing papers.

Well… He’ll burn that bridge when he comes to it, Wei Ying decides. He cracks the door open. “Yeah?”

Standing in the hallway, unexpectedly, is the first violin. Well, the guy who plays the first violin. He’s tall and ungodly handsome and almost always dressed in white like some kind of cult leader. He also seriously, seriously disapproves of Wei Ying and everything he does. He’s got this perma-frown on his otherwise icy cold face whenever he looks Wei Ying’s way—usually because Wei Ying is snickering, or causing trouble, or one time put bubbles in the tuba. It was for science.

“Uh,” says Wei Ying, shifting Yuan a little bit farther out of sight. “What’s up?”

“You missed rehearsal,” says the first violin.

“Yup,” says Wei Ying. “Sure did. Did you come by to give me some sheet music, or…?”

“Why did you miss rehearsal?”

Wei Ying waffles for a second, trying to come up with a good enough reason, even though he knows instinctively that nothing will be good enough because the first violin would never, ever miss anything. He can’t come up with one, so he lets the door open a little more.

First violin’s eyes go fractionally wider.

“Sorry,” says Wei Ying, “I had stuff to do for my little kiddo.”

Yuan takes this moment to yawn. He is sleepy and adorable. He has a teddy bear in one hand and his thumb in his mouth, although he takes it out long enough to mumble, “I’m a big kid.”

Wei Ying takes great satisfaction in the look of mingled horror and apology on the first vioin’s face, because up until now their interactions have been entirely Wei Ying trying to say something friendly and getting shut down absolutely cold.

“Your… child,” he says.

“Yup,” Wei Ying says. “This is A-Yuan. Isn’t he cute?”

“He’s staying with you?”

“He is for now,” Wei Ying says, which is true. “I’ll be at rehearsals and classes tomorrow. I’ll… drop him off at daycare, or something.” That sounds right. There’s probably a daycare around somewhere.

They stare at each other for a long minute. Wei Ying definitely learned the first violin’s name at some point; he thinks it’s Lan something. Something Lan, in English. He looks ever so slightly suspicious, and Wei Ying has this weird out-of-body moment where he thinks maybe this is a romcom and the first violin is the suspicious neighbor who’s always getting in the way, trying to bust him for having a fake kid.

Well, joke’s on him: the kid is real.

“I brought you the notes from today,” first violin says, holding out a stack of papers. “Don’t miss rehearsal again.” Then he turns on his heel and stalks away, silent and with perfect posture.

Wei Ying sticks his tongue out at him and kicks the door shut.

“Who was that?” Yuan yawns.

“No one,” says Wei Ying. “No one you need to worry about, at least.” He drops the papers on the floor and carries Yuan over to the couch.

The kid is little, he can sleep on a couch for a couple of nights. Actually, he’s little enough that he’d probably even fit in Wei Ying’s bed with him. Yuan curls up next to him, cuddling his teddy bear, and Wei Ying checks his texts in case Yanli has learned anything about Yuan’s mom from her mom. His phone battery is almost dead, so he has to plug it into his laptop.

“Cartoons?” Yuan says sleepily.

“Later,” Wei Ying lies. He has two texts from Yanli. The first one says, Mom says his mother is a good-for-nothing cousin who up and vanished to Miami, and who goes to Miami?? The second text says, Mom says she’ll track down Xuanyu but it could be a little while because she’s not on the same continent 😂 Be good, A-Ying! Send me pictures of my new nephew!

Wei Ying snorts at “new nephew” but he takes a couple of pictures of Yuan to text her anyway. And then, when Yuan is definitely totally asleep, he does just a little Google stalking.

First violin is Lan Zhan, of the Beijing Lans, some kind of famous child prodigy on the piano and violin. Wei Ying clicks through a couple of YouTube videos of him performing on giant stages, tiny and stiff, maybe eight years old, and holding himself with the exact same icy disdain he had this afternoon at the door. Born in San Francisco, apparently. Perfect at everything he does, apparently. Wei Ying can’t find a single clip of him talking, though. Just performing.

He’s so handsome, it’s really a shame that he’s so uptight, Wei Ying thinks with a sigh. Such a good face is wasted on him and that frosty stare. Imagine someone with that face who smiled.

For dinner, Wei Ying orders a pizza on the general assumption that every child in America loves pizza. He and Yuan eat pizza on the couch, looking dubiously at each other.

“I want my teddy bear,” Yuan says.

“You’ll get him all gross with pizza sauce,” says Wei Ying, and swoops in to wipe his face off with a napkin for the third time. “After you wash your hands.”

“I wash my hands,” says Yuan, and hops off the couch. He drops his pizza crust on the floor. It’s not like Wei Ying keeps the place nice, but he doesn’t leave chewed food on the floor.

“Hey!” he says. “God, don’t you have any manners?”

“What’s ‘manners’?” Yuan asks. He climbs up on a chair in the kitchen and then climbs up onto the counter, kneeling so he can reach to put his hands under the faucet.

“Manners means behaving yourself,” says Wei Ying. He picks the crust up off the floor. “Like, put your trash in the trash, not on the floor. Here. Put this in the trash.”

“I washed my hands,” Yuan says.

“Then you’re gonna wash ‘em again,” says Wei Ying. This is giving him a headache. He’s not good at enforcing rules. He barely follows them himself.

Yuan stares at him for a second, and then his eyes get really big and wet and his lower lip starts to tremble. “But—I—washed—my—haaaaands,” he wails. “You said! I did! It’s not faaaair.”

Wei Ying objects to this obvious emotional blackmail. For one thing, he’s not sure how to respond to it; Yuan is just sitting there on the kitchen counter in between the dirty dishes and the take-out containers, bawling his little eyes out.

This is not an apartment for a little kid to live in. Wei Ying is not the uncle this kid needs.

“Hey,” Wei Ying says. “Knock it off.” He picks Yuan up and lets him get his wet hands all over Wei Ying’s sweater. He’s all sniffly and snotty and gross. “Washing your hands is nothing to cry over,” Wei Ying scolds. “If I cried every time someone told me to do something when I was little—”

Of course, there hadn’t been any grownups to cry to for a couple of years there, and then suddenly he’d been with the Jiangs, who had all these rules and expectations and half the time it felt like he was an alien who’d been dropped on a planet where he didn’t know what anyone was saying. He’d figured it out. Wei Ying has always been adaptable, and Yanli had tried her best to help him figure out what was going on. Jiang Cheng eventually, too, once he’d gotten over the dog thing.

“It’s been kind of a weird day for you, huh Yuan-er?” Wei Ying says. “Nobody ever tells you what’s going on.”

“I want my bear,” Yuan says tearfully. He sounds exhausted.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying sighs. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.” He carries the kid back into the living room and hands him the teddy bear. “Listen, I know this is weird, but you’re gonna stay with me for a couple of days, okay? Until we figure out where you belong.”

“Where I belong?” Yuan echoes.

“Yeah, there has to be someone… Uh, some cousin, or… I don’t know, okay, kid? Someone who has space and time for a kid. And then it’ll all be better and make more sense. But for the next couple of days, you and me are gonna just do our best. Okay?”

“I guess,” says Yuan.

He doesn’t sound especially hopeful, which seems fair. Wei Ying isn’t feeling especially hopeful about this, either.

Yuan sleeps in Wei Ying’s bed and Wei Ying sleeps on the couch, and it’s fine but he wakes up with a sore neck and a headache again. Yuan doesn’t want to get out of bed, he’s sleepy and grumpy, and dragging him into a bath and then getting him to wear clothes turns out to be a huge pain in the ass. He shouts, “I don’t wanna!” about four hundred times.

“If I had behaved like this when I was your age—” Wei Ying starts. Yuan sits on the rug clutching his bear and staring up at him with murderous intent. “Listen,” Wei Ying tries, crouching next to him. “You have to wear pants. Everyone has to wear pants. It’s just—it’s the law.”

“Girls don’t has to wear pants,” Yuan says.

“...Yeah, okay, fair, if you wanna wear a dress I’ll go get you a dress, but you have to wear something. And you don’t have a dress, so you have to wear pants. Do you want the police to come?”

“Pants is the law?” Yuan repeats, suspicious.

“Yes,” Wei Ying lies with great certainty. “Pants are the law.”

Yuan huffs angrily at that but allows Wei Ying to wrestle him into a pair of tiny jeans.

Wei Ying loads up all his sheet music and notebooks and music theory and his flute, and then wrestles Yuan into a winter coat, which he only agrees to when Wei Ying zips the teddy bear up inside it. He has a vague idea that there’s a daycare at the end of the block, but when he knocks on the door the woman look at him like he’s crazy.

“There’s a waiting list,” she says, horrified. “And…it’s really expensive.”

Childcare is expensive everywhere, he expected that. America is fucked up, Wei Ying decides, and apparently Yuan is about to learn some music theory.

He carries Yuan in through security and the security guards fuss over him but don’t seem to think it’s especially weird. It’s not until he gets to the classroom, where everyone’s sitting around a big table with their books out, ready to discuss diatonic chords in natural and melodic minors, that he gets some stares.

Mostly from the first violin, who is sitting where he always sits, next to the professor’s chair, with his back ramrod straight and his notes in perfectly organized pages with little colored tabs on them.

It’s not a big room; most of it is taken up by the table and the chairs around it, but there are a few single-student desks at the back of the room, and Wei Ying puts Yuan in one of those. “You just sit here, and… Uh…” There is nothing for a four-year-old to do. “Take a nap?” Wei Ying suggests.

“No,” says Yuan firmly, wiggling out of his coat.

“Okay, well, you can have a piece of notebook paper to write on. Do you know how to write?”

“No,” Yuan says again, giving him a look like he thinks Wei Ying might be a little stupid.

“Oh,” says Wei Ying. “Well, maybe today is the day you learn!”

“You should have an activity for your son,” says the first violin—Lan Zhan—disapprovingly, from across the room.

“I didn’t know he was gonna be here with me today, did I?” says Wei Ying, turning to him. “Don’t you judge me. Unless you have a bag full of toddler toys.” Honestly, the nerve of that guy. Wei Ying thinks he’s doing pretty well for his second day of fatherhood. He turns back to Yuan. “If you’re good and quiet, I’ll get you snacks later.”

“I have snacks now?” asks Yuan hopefully.

“No,” says Wei Ying, because it never occurred to him that you have to feed kids all day, like a little pet or something. “After class we’ll go downstairs to the coffee shop. Do you like croissants?”

Yuan wrinkles up his nose. “What’s that? I don’t like them,” he says.

There is a sudden movement at Wei Ying’s elbow, and then Lan Zhan is standing there. “Here,” he says. He holds out a notebook and a pack of highlighters in a rainbow of colors. “He can draw.”

“I know how to take care of my own kid.” Wei Ying scowls, but he takes the highlighters and hands them to Yuan anyway. “I mean. Thanks.”

“Here.” Lan Zhan is also holding out an apple.

Wei Ying stares at him for a minute. “Wow,” he says. “You’re really prepared, huh? Thanks, but I’ll get him a cookie later—”

“It is too early for cookies,” says Lan Zhan, with a disapproving wrinkle on his forehead.

“Cookie!” shouts Yuan happily. “Where are cookies?”

“No cookies,” says Wei Ying. There are other students trickling in, now, and they sure are curious about the little kid sitting at the back of the room. “If you’re good and you’re quiet, maybe cookies later. Maybe.”

Yuan uncaps the pink highlighter. “I’m gonna draw cookies,” he says.

Lan Zhan is still holding the apple. Wei Ying takes it delicately from him and puts it on the desk. “Apple first, then cookies,” he says. Yuan snorts. “He’s having a rough week,” Wei Ying says apologetically to Lan Zhan. “Thanks for giving him something to draw with, though. That was really nice of you.” He tries a smile. His smile has been rated pretty good in the past by plenty of people.

Lan Zhan turns away. “He must not disrupt class,” he says, and walks back to his seat.

What a freaking pain in the ass he is, Wei Ying thinks, and scowls. See if Wei Ying ever tries to be nice again.

He stomps over to the chair at the table closest to where Yuan is sitting and fishes his books out of his bag just as the professor comes into the room. He’s an older white guy who mostly just lectures, so Wei Ying figures as long as Yuan is quiet it won’t be too much trouble. The professor blinks a couple of times, says, “Oh my, what a small visitor,” and adjusts his glasses.

Things are basically okay for twenty, maybe thirty minutes. The class is pretty boring, and Wei Ying would be dozing off as usual if he weren’t low-key worried about how Yuan is doing the whole time. He’s coloring and seems perfectly content, but then he drops one of his highlighters. “Uh-oh!” he says, and the professor stops, frowns, and clears his throat a couple of times.

The lecture goes on, but Yuan wiggles out of his chair and chases the highlighter around on the floor. “Hey,” Wei Ying hisses. “Get back in your chair!” Yuan looks at him, obviously chooses to ignore him, and crawls under the table.

Wei Ying attempts to grab him, but Yuan has vanished wherever dropped paper clips and pens go. Wei Ying sits there fuming—if he’s gonna get kicked out of class, he’d like it to at least be his own fault. One of the women in the class giggles and gives him a sympathetic look, which is nice at least. Eventually, Wei Ying reasons, the kid will have to come out from under the table, and then he can grab him.

Except when Yuan pops up, he’s at the head of the table, between Lan Zhan and the teacher. He looks around, sees Wei Ying gesturing furiously for him to come back, and sticks his lower lip out. Yuan bangs on the table a couple of times experimentally. Then he looks up at Lan Zhan.

Well, this is going to be a disaster. Wei Ying grimaces, already starting his apology—“Sorry, I didn’t realize he—” and leaning across the table, when Lan Zhan, still studiously taking notes, simply leans down and swings Yuan up into his lap. He hands the child a pen and a piece of paper, and continues taking his own notes in his immaculate notebook.

What the hell?

“A-Yuan! Come here!” Wei Ying whispers.

“He is fine,” says Lan Zhan, not turning to look at him. Yuan looks up at Lan Zhan, and then at the pen he’s been given, and then at Wei Ying, and shrugs.

Wei Ying feels, like, a bunch of things at once. First of all, he tried flirting at least a dozen times, and never got so much as a raised eyebrow from Lan Zhan, but apparently a four-year-old can just help himself to his lap. That doesn’t seem fair; Wei Ying is also very cute. Second, he’s surprisingly grateful to Lan Zhan for being cool about this, and not a dick like he had expected. Third, he’s irritated that Yuan seems perfectly content over there.

It’s too many feelings to feel all at once, and he realizes belatedly he’s missed several minutes of notes because he’s been staring into space.

Yuan just sits there, drawing, until the end of class, when the professor clears his throat again and says, “And did our little visitor learn anything today?”

“It has five whole-steps. It has two half-steps,” says Yuan, mostly to himself. He’s scribbled all over the page.

“That is correct,” says Lan Zhan. He says, “Thank you,” stiffly to the professor, who looks astonished, then picks Yuan up and holds him out at arm’s length to Wei Ying. “You should bring him toys next time.”

“Yeah,” says Wei Ying, taking Yuan, who seems perfectly happy to be handed back and forth like a football. “I’ll plan better next time. Hey, I gotta say thanks—”

Lan Zhan has already gathered his things and stalked out of the room.

“That guy is such a dick,” Wei Ying grumbles.

“Such a dick,” Yuan echoes. One of the other people in the class gives him a horrified look. “I drew a scale,” he says, holding up his paper. It is covered in indecipherable scribbles.

“Nice work,” says Wei Ying. “Okay, I promised you a cookie, right? And then we’ll pick you up something to play with, and then you’re gonna hear an orchestra rehearse. You excited?”

“I’m excited,” Yuan agrees. “What’s orchestra?”

“It’s a bunch of different instruments,” Wei Ying explains. He puts Yuan down, but the kid clings to his hand. “It’s going to be loud, but it’s good music.”

“Okay,” says Yuan. He pushes his hair out of his face with one hand. He looks pretty resigned to doing whatever weird thing Wei Ying is dragging him off to do. Wei Ying retrieves his winter coat, and his teddy bear, and the highlighters Lan Zhan loaned him, and by the time he’s gathered all the little-kid stuff everyone else has left the classroom.

“Just okay?” Wei Ying teases. “Don’t tell me you have a hot date to go to instead?”

“No,” says Yuan.

“Something you’d rather be doing?”

Yuan shrugs.

This was weird to Wei Ying yesterday, too—a little kid should throw a fit, maybe scream and cry about going home, or wanting his mommy. Yuan hasn’t done that, and it’s strange. Wei Ying drops to a crouch, eye-level with Yuan.

“Hey,” he says. “Are you okay? You wanna go home?”

“Home?” Yuan echoes, tilting his head.

“Your home,” Wei Ying prompts. “With people you know. Can you tell me where that is?”

Yuan stares at him, then shrugs.

“My cousin brought you to my apartment, but wherever you were before that,” Wei Ying says. His heart feels like it’s stuck in his throat. A kid ought to think of somewhere as home.

“Dunno,” says Yuan. “Lots of places. I see a train. You said cookies.”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, swallowing hard. “Were you with Xuanyu for long?”

Yuan shrugs. “Lots of uncles,” he says vaguely. “And cousins. Can I have two cookies?”

“No,” says Wei Ying, because he’s a sucker but he’s not an idiot. “Hey, listen. You’re gonna stay with me for a little while, okay? Did I tell you that? And we’re gonna figure out where you belong. I’m not gonna just hand you off to someone else.”

He wants to say I’m gonna find you a home, or I’m gonna find you a family, but he remembers too vividly the empty feeling of being moved around from place to place, handed off and told repeatedly, “this is where you live now,” only to be moved a few weeks later. He hadn’t particularly believed Jiang Fengmian when he’d said, “You live here now,” not for a long time. And he doesn’t know what he’ll do—give Yuan back to Xuanyu? Demand Xuanyu find his actual parents? Track down his parents himself and ask them what the hell is wrong with them? Give Yuan to the correct American authorities?

It feels lousy. All of it feels just…absolutely awful.

“I get a cookie,” says Yuan, considering, “And teddy bear also gets a cookie?”

Wei Ying waves a finger at him. “You’re pretty clever, huh? We’ll see how much trouble your teddy bear causes during rehearsal.” At least the kid doesn’t seem horribly traumatized. He takes Yuan’s hand, and shoulders all his own stuff and all the kid stuff on the other side. “Okay?”

Yuan sighs loudly, in a way that suggests there is no justice in the universe if there are no cookies forthcoming. “Okay.”

Rehearsal turns out to be a lot easier than Wei Ying was expecting, because the flute section—all of them but Wei Ying are women—adopts Yuan immediately, and then the drummers give him a drumstick and let him hit the timpani for a while, and he’s the happiest kid anyone has ever seen.

It’s a competitive program and a super competitive orchestra to get into, but everyone’s happy for a reason to goof around for a while. Except Lan Zhan, of course, who sweeps in wearing his floor-length winter coat and sits down alone to start tuning his violin. He carries a little island of silence with him.

Wei Ying balls up a piece of scrap paper and throws it at his head. It misses, but Lan Zhan turns and gives him the side-eye to end all side-eyes.

“You didn’t let me say thank you earlier,” says Wei Ying, cheerfully determined. “You didn’t have to let him crawl all over you. I brought your highlighters, too. Here.” He holds them out. When Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything, he prompts, “Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” Lan Zhan takes the highlighters, drops them in his bag, and turns back to his violin.

This is why Wei Ying gave up on trying to flirt—or even be nice to him. It’s impossible to have a conversation. Wei Ying huffs a little. “Do you have a lot of babysitting experience?” he asks, mostly as a joke.

“No,” says Lan Zhan.

“Me, neither,” Wei Ying says, determined to at least try to turn this into a conversation. “I guess I’m gonna get really good at it really fast! I do need to figure out something to do with him all day, though, he can’t just sit in my classes. There’s no pile of legos to cover that, right?”

Lan Zhan turns to look at him again, and he’s either being super judgmental, or he’s concerned, or maybe he’s thoughtful, or maybe—

Maybe Wei Ying just lacks the context to guess what the hell that expression could mean.

“You have no plans,” Lan Zhan says, not a question. Behind Wei Ying, Yuan is learning about quarter notes and eighth notes from an enthusiastic trumpet player and the percussion section.

“I didn’t know I needed any,” Wei Ying says ruefully. “I figured… I don’t know, people do something with kids all day, right? I’ll figure it out,” he adds. “Don’t worry about it. He’s a good kid, anyway. God, I wish my sister wasn’t in Chicago. She’d love to babysit. Probably.”

“He is staying with you?”

That is a question. Oh my god, Wei Ying thinks, they’re almost having an actual human conversation! “For a while, yeah,” he says, wondering where Xuanyu is right now. Has Mrs. Yu tracked him down? Is he really planning to come back in the next day or two? Somehow, Wei Ying doubts it. You don’t leave a kid with his birth certificate in a bag normally, right?

“He should be enrolled in school.” Lan Zhan turns back to his music, effectively ending the conversation again.

“He’s a baby,” Wei Ying says, but then the conductor comes in and everyone starts warming up in earnest. The guy who plays bells and one of the women who plays flute bring Yuan back to Wei Ying.

“I’m playing music,” Yuan says. “You heard me?”

“Yup,” says Wei Ying. “What do you think, are you going to be a drummer when you grow up?”

Yuan makes a face and shrugs. Maybe piano lessons, Wei Ying thinks. He’s old enough to start learning scales and middle C and stuff.

The conductor looks meaningfully at Wei Ying. “Sooooo sorry,” he says, scooping Yuan up. “I didn’t want to miss class again, but my babysitter—” doesn’t exist “—didn’t show up again.”

The conductor’s face softens and he nods. “It’s tough, huh?” he says. “Have you looked into the daycare at the college? They do a discount for students and teachers.”

Wei Ying had no idea such a thing existed, but he agrees immediately. “Yeah, totally, that’s my first stop tomorrow morning. I really didn’t think he’d have to come with me today, sorry.”

“It’s nice to see a father stuck with a kid for once,” says one of the flutes loudly. There is general agreement from the entire wind section.

The conductor sighs. “Why don’t you go see if the daycare is still open? Maybe you can get him set up for tomorrow. Go on. Your friend can bring you all the notes, and I’ll expect to see you in the rehearsal rooms a lot this week, okay?”

“My friend,” Wei Ying repeats, baffled.

“Zhan,” says the conductor, turning to the strings. “You don’t mind, right?”

“No, that’s okay—”

“I do not,” says Lan Zhan, not looking up from his sheet music.

Wei Ying starts to say Do you think all Chinese people are friends, but bites his tongue at the last second because taking Yuan to the daycare is good, and getting kicked out of the orchestra program is bad. “Ha ha, friends,” he says instead. “Okay, thanks, I’ll see you later, then,” and he looks at Lan Zhan like maybe this time Lan Zhan will say something, but he doesn’t.

Whatever. Wei Ying grabs Yuan and all of Yuan’s stuff and hustles them out just as everyone in the orchestra starts tuning up.

“That’s loud,” says Yuan. “I can bang on things?”

“Only drums,” Wei Ying says. “Come on. Ugh, we’re gonna have to say thank you to that stuck-up guy later. Be extra cute, okay?”

Yuan pretends like he’s thinking about that, which is extra cute. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll try.”

There’s a daycare in a building that Wei Ying has never gone into, and the woman running it seems extremely dubious but takes all of Yuan’s information down. “Tomorrow bring in his immunization records, proof of address, your proof of enrollment, and his birth certificate or his passport,” she says. “If he’s four he should really be in Pre-K.”

“I’ll bring in whatever I can,” Wei Ying says. He wonders which of those documents Xuanyu left in the SpongeBob backpack. Hopefully he won’t have Yuan long enough to worry about Pre-K.

“No immunizations, no daycare,” she says firmly. “Everything else we can work around, but he can’t give anyone chickenpox or measles.”

“Cool, cool,” says Wei Ying, doing some mental calculus. He may not get any practice time in this week at all.

“You should have all those forms,” she says. “If you can’t find them, call your pediatrician. Or his mom will know.”

Well, maybe she does, but where and who is she? Wei Ying grimaces. “I’ll work on that,” he says. “So I can drop him off tomorrow?”

“As long as you have the documentation.”

He carries Yuan out of the building. It’s freaking cold outside. He hopes the reason Yuan didn’t have a winter coat before was that Xuanyu was somewhere warm.

“You’re a lot of trouble, you know that?” Wei Ying says to him.

“I’m extra-cute,” Yuan replies.

Hard to argue with that. “More pizza for dinner?” Wei Ying asks.

Yuan looks around. “Where’s my teddy bear?”

Wei Ying stops dead in the middle of the sidewalk. “Shit,” he says. “I thought you had him. Did you leave him at the daycare?”

“No,” says Yuan. “I don’t know.”

“We can get him tomorrow?” Wei Ying offers hopefully, but he knows before it happens that Yuan’s about to burst into tears.

“I wannnnnnnt it,” he says, eyes filling up with tears. “I want it, I want it!”

“Okay, god, calm down,” says Wei Ying, picking him up. “We’ll go back and check, okay, don’t cry.”

“He’s lost,” Yuan sobs, “he’s gone, he’s lost, he’s gone.” He kicks his feet a little, like carrying him and two people’s worth of stuff isn’t hard enough already.

“Stop crying,” says Wei Ying, but he doesn’t think it’ll work, and it doesn’t.

The teddy bear isn’t at the daycare. Yuan has a full-on meltdown, head tossed back, sobbing so hard Wei Ying can’t really understand what he’s trying to say. “We’ll get you a new one,” Wei Ying tries, but that sets off another round of scream-crying for some reason.

If the teddy bear was left at rehearsal or even in the first classroom, there’s a pretty good chance they can find it tomorrow, but by tomorrow Yuan might have cried himself into a puddle of goo. And the other parents at the daycare are looking at them both, some with sympathy and some with judgment.

What happens, Wei Ying wonders suddenly, if one of them calls some kind of American authority about Wei Ying’s shitty parenting? He doesn’t have any actual legal right to take care of this kid, and he doesn’t know what would happen to Yuan.

He hugs Yuan just a little bit tighter. This would be easier in China, where the Jiangs could pay the right people to handle the right things. Not that Mrs. Yu would necessarily help him, she’d call him an idiot and tell him that bringing home a random child was making the family lose face. But she’d have the right connections.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Wei Ying says, bouncing Yuan a little, trying to get him to calm down. “We’ll find him, he’s not lost.”

“He’s go—oo—one,” Yuan hiccups. He cries into Wei Ying’s shoulder. “I miss him.”

God, can Wei Ying call the toy store and get a teddy bear delivered tonight, maybe? “I’ll fix it,” he promises, “I’ll find him, I’ll fix it.”

“You fix it?” Yuan says, staring at him, tears still streaming down his face.

“Yes,” says Wei Ying. “We’ll go home, and I’ll fix it, just calm down.”

Yuan sniffles miserably and hides his face in Wei Ying’s neck. It’s gonna be all gross, Wei Ying thinks, trying not to grimace. He definitely needs to give this child a bath, and he doesn’t know if cheap knock-off Axe body wash is suitable for children. Or if he’s big enough to take a bath on his own. Probably not, right?

Yuan sniffles quietly the whole way home, clearly miserable. He even sings a little song to himself as they trudge to the elevator back up to Wei Ying’s apartment. The lyrics are something like, “He’s gone, all gone, he’s gone,” and it’s the most depressing thing Wei Ying has ever heard. Yuan should start a recording career.

Wei Ying is just realizing how hard it’s going to be to juggle his keys, his bags, and Yuan while opening the door when he steps out of the elevator and Lan Zhan is standing in front of his apartment. He is absolutely pristine, like somehow the general wintery grime of the city can’t touch him. He doesn’t deign to get sweaty or tired or step in puddles that soak through his shoes. He probably floats a centimeter above the sidewalk.

“Hi,” says Wei Ying, perking up. “Perfect, awesome, so glad you’re here.” He hands Yuan to Lan Zhan with a bright smile and starts digging for his keys.

He wouldn’t have been surprised if Lan Zhan had held the kid out at arm's length like a cartoon character, but Lan Zhan takes Yuan and holds him on his hip like a normal human being. “He is crying,” says Lan Zhan.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. “We lost his teddy bear today; it’s been a whole thing.”

“Gooooooooooone,” Yuan wails, tipping his head back.

“He is not gone,” says Lan Zhan. “You may stop crying.” As Wei Ying finally gets the door open, Lan Zhan reaches into his bag and pulls out—

“Holy shit!” says Wei Ying. “You absolute fucking hero!”

“My bear!” shouts Yuan. He clutches it in both hands. “My bear!”

Wei Ying holds the door open and Lan Zhan carries Yuan in. “I can’t believe how clutch you are,” says Wei Ying. “Wow. Thank you. I take back my comments earlier. We are now officially best friends.”

Lan Zhan gives him a look that would turn a glass of water instantly to ice.

“Too late!” says Wei Ying, refusing to be intimidated. “You saved the day. We’re friends. You’re gonna have to deal with it. I owe you.”

“You do not,” says Lan Zhan. He puts Yuan down, and Yuan promptly wraps himself around Lan Zhan’s leg.

“Say ‘thank you,’” Wei Ying prompts.

“Thank you,” says Yuan, muffled. He looks up at Lan Zhan and beams.

Lan Zhan is looking around the apartment. “This is a dorm,” he says.

“Yeah, campus housing,” Wei Ying says. “So, do you want a beer or something?”

“It is not suitable for a child.”

Wei Ying grimaces. He drops his jacket and all their bags by the door, kicking it all out of the way, but it’s not like the rest of the place is picked up, either. There’s a small mountain of recycling all over the living room, and his bedroom floor is covered in clothes and books and notebooks. The couch still has last night’s pizza box on it. “Uh,” says Wei Ying. “Well, no, it’s not ideal, I guess.”

Lan Zhan is nearly frowning. “He can choke. Or break things. Or fall.”

“He’s not gonna do that, are you buddy?” says Wei Ying. He pries Yuan off of Lan Zhan’s leg. “You wanna watch some more cartoons? I’ll set up the laptop.”

“My bear likes SpongeBob,” says Yuan, climbing onto the couch. It’s a full-body workout for him.

“Everyone likes SpongeBob,” says Wei Ying, setting up the laptop. “Right, Lan Zhan?”

“What is ‘SpongeBob’?”

Wei Ying recoils. “Seriously? Come on, it’s even on in China! You must know SpongeBob.”

“I don’t watch television,” says Lan Zhan. That is somehow extremely predictable. “It’s a cartoon? For children?”

“SpongeBob is for everyone,” says Wei Ying. “He lives in a pineapple under the sea. He’s a sea sponge. And his pants are square.” He likes the slightly baffled look on Lan Zhan’s face. He’s sure Lan Zhan is smarter and more studious and more knowledgeable than he is, but he doesn’t know anything about cartoons.

“Hmmm,” says Lan Zhan.

There is a world of judgment in that noise. “I really didn’t know he was coming to stay with me,” says Wei Ying, which is the absolute truth. “And I don’t know how long he’ll be staying, either.”

“You do not communicate with his mother?”

“Never,” says Wei Ying. “He was dropped off by a cousin with a vague note, and now here we are.” It’s amazing, he thinks with satisfaction, how easy it is to tell the truth and let someone hear a lie.

Lan Zhan’s frown deepens. “You don’t have custody?”

Wei Ying laughs. “No, no way. I’m not—I mean, hell, I’m here on a student visa. I don’t even know if I could get—If I’d want to get—Oh my god, no.”

Two days with Yuan have been exhausting. He has no idea what would be involved in even thinking about maybe getting custody, let alone how tiring—and expensive—that would be. Surely someone wants this kid. Surely someone is more qualified and knows what they’re doing with a four-year-old.

What if no one wants him, though? a tiny nagging voice wonders at the back of Wei Ying’s mind. He remembers being unwanted, not in actual conversations, but the feeling of being shuffled from room to room, told to wait, the scratchy feeling of government building rugs and staticky plastic waiting room chairs. Strangers talking about you, not to you, and sheets that always smell like soap.

Lan Zhan is looking at him, but his expression is totally mysterious. “No,” says Wei Ying. “I wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what to do or how to do it.”

“It could be figured out,” says Lan Zhan.

“No, no, no, this is just—If this becomes a thing I have to deal with, then I’ll have way bigger problems. Hey, do you want a beer? We can watch some SpongeBob. I can order food. I owe you, remember?”

“No, thank you.” Lan Zhan goes through his bag and takes out the papers from the orchestra.

For a minute, Lan Zhan hesitates. The papers in his hand hover over Wei Ying’s hand, and he looks poised to say something.

“Yeah?” Wei Ying says. “What? What’s up?”

Lan Zhan shakes his head. “You do not need to thank me,” he says. “You do not ‘owe me.’ I have not been inconvenienced.” And then he takes his bag and sweeps out of the apartment.

“You’re welcome!” Wei Ying shouts after him, just to be a dick about it. If Lan Zhan hears him, he doesn’t acknowledge it.

Dinner is cold pizza, which Yuan refuses to eat. He nibbles the edges and makes faces and kicks his feet. Probably kids aren’t supposed to live on pizza and cookies, but it’s not like Wei Ying has a fridge full of vegetables. He tries to give Yuan a bath, but Yuan has another meltdown when he can’t bring his teddy bear, and Wei Ying eventually has to compromise; it’s enough that the kid got wet and had some soap near him at some point, probably. They’ll try again tomorrow.

He’s so tired by the time he gets Yuan to bed that he only belatedly realizes he hasn’t looked at the music from yesterday, let alone from today; he’s done no practicing, and he didn’t pay attention to anything in class. He tells himself it’ll be better tomorrow if he can drop Yuan off at daycare, which reminds him that he has to check and see what documentation Xuanyu left with him.

His phone buzzes as he’s trying to find the papers. “Yeah?” he says, then switches to Chinese when he realizes it’s Yanli. “Please tell me you have good news.”

“Well…”

“Go ahead, tell me,” Wei Ying sighs.

“Mom says that no one knows where Mo Xuanyu is. He might have changed his number and dropped off the face of the earth? He can’t be found, at least. None of the cousins or aunties know where he is or who he’s staying with, so he’s probably not coming right back for A-Yuan.”

“I kind of guessed that.” Wei Ying finds the birth certificate, carefully folded up with some other papers. One of them is a little immunization booklet, thank god.

“Mom also says that it’s pretty clear-cut that he’s an orphan in everything but documentation. She talked for a pretty long time about what a shame everything in America is, you know, no extended family, no sense of family face, no morals. She really wants us to move back before I have the baby.”

“No chance,” says Wei Ying. “You like Chicago.”

“I do,” she says. “It’s so cold in the winter, though.”

“Make your rich model husband buy you a better coat,” Wei Ying suggests.

“He’s a doctor,” says Yanli.

“A plastic surgeon is not a doctor,” Wei Ying sneers. He can’t help it.

Yanli sighs and waits.

“Fine, fine, he’s a great man, he loves you very much, he’s the world’s greatest plastic surgeon,” says Wei Ying, rolling his eyes. “I’m very happy for you both, and I’m definitely not worried your baby will get all of his shitty genes instead of your awesome ones.”

“A-Ying.”

“I’m just saying! Don’t let him turn my nephew into a total dick. I’m gonna have to visit a lot.”

Her voice goes soft and gentle. “How are you coping? You must be very tired. Children are a lot of work, even if you expect them.”

“Yeah, he’s a fucking handful,” says Wei Ying. “I don’t know. I got him signed up for daycare, that should make the rest of the week easier.”

There is a long pause.

“What are your…plans?” Yanli asks.

“Don’t have any,” says Wei Ying honestly. “I figure I’ll play it by ear. Maybe Xuanyu’ll come back, maybe his parents will show up, maybe a rich uncle will suddenly want to adopt him. I’m gonna give it a little while.”

“What about your studies?”

“I’ll make it work,” says Wei Ying. He sounds certain, at least.

Yanli pauses again. “He’s not your responsibility,” she says. “I’m sure it’s tough for you to think about, but he’s probably better off with people who are prepared for these situations.”

“No,” says Wei Ying flatly.

She’s still being so delicate. “He’s not a kitten. You can’t just keep him.”

Wei Ying closes his eyes and tilts his head back, grimacing at the ceiling. She means well, he reminds himself, and she’s the best and kindest person he knows. She’s trying to help.

If she’d hung out with Yuan in real life she wouldn’t be saying that, though. If she knew how it felt to be passed around and not wanted anywhere, she wouldn’t be saying that. He’s glad she doesn’t know. He doesn’t want anyone else to feel that.

He especially doesn’t want Yuan to feel that, and he’s pretty sure he already does.

“I’ll FaceTime you tomorrow,” says Wei Ying. “You’ll see how cute he is.”

“I’m sure he’s adorable,” Yanli says. “I guess… If you’re sure…?”

“I’m sure that I’m not doing anything about it tonight,” says Wei Ying, with some forced levity. “It’s later here than in Chicago, remember? Love you. Tell my nephew I love him, too.”

“He’s kicking. I think he knows.”

He hangs up. He’s sitting on the floor in the hallway of his dorm apartment, which is, as Lan Zhan pointed out, no place for a kid. He just can’t help but feel like government custody is no place for a kid, either.

He ends up sitting there in the dark, holding the SpongeBob bag, for a long, long time.

Chapter Text

“My bear has a name,” says Yuan to no one in particular the next morning over his Cheerios. “My bear’s name is Bunny. This is my bear, Bunny. Say hello, Bunny.”

“Hello, Bunny,” says Wei Ying. He’s gonna need to grocery shop. It’s convenient that he eats like a child himself, but he definitely needs to give Yuan some kind of vitamin at some point. Maybe a fruit.

“Hello,” says Yuan. “Hello, hello.” He waves his bear around.

Wei Ying swoops in to save the teddy bear from being dragged across the table and knocking over the bowls. “Why is his name Bunny?” he asks.

Yuan wrinkles up his nose. “Why?”

“Yeah, why?” Wei Ying is trying to organize all his own papers, and the papers he needs to bring in for Yuan, and his homework, and the stuff he needs for classes today, and a grocery list, and honestly, it might just not all happen.

“Because he said, ‘My name is Bunny,’” says Yuan. “Hello, bear! Is this your house? No, I don’t like Cheerios.”

He might not have a future as a novelist. “Is Bunny ready to go to daycare?” Wei Ying asks. “Try not to lose him again, okay?”

“I don’t lose him,” says Yuan, hugging his bear tightly.

“We can’t always count on a handsome stranger to bring him home,” Wei Ying says. “So you have to keep an eye on him. Go put your coat on.”

“I have to put my coat on?” Yuan asks.

He’s so cute, and his questions are so cute, but Wei Ying feels like he can’t remember three days ago, when he didn’t have to explain every fucking thing he was saying. “Yup,” he says. “It’s cold outside today.”

“It’s cold today,” Yuan tells his bear, climbing down from the couch.

“If you don’t put your coat on, you’ll turn into a snowman and you won’t melt until the spring.”

Yuan stares at him with very big eyes. “I turn into a snowman?”

“Yup,” says Wei Ying with relish. “And I’ll put you on the sidewalk until the weather warms up and you melt back into a boy.”

“Wow,” says Yuan. He puts his coat on without the whole fuss of yesterday.

Dropping him off at daycare ends up taking a while because everyone needs copies of his forms, and they keep asking Wei Ying questions he has to lie about, like, “Are you his dad?” He’s not sure what would happen if he said no, so he says yes. There’s no father’s name listed on the birth certificate, but no one seems to notice. They just want the immunization records and Wei Ying’s proof of being a student.

He’s pretty sure he can coast on people not asking for a little while, but eventually he’s going to need some kind of legal right to have this kid.

...if he wants to keep him, that is.

“I’m gonna go, you’re okay?” Wei Ying asks Yuan.

Yuan doesn’t seem even remotely bothered to be left. “Bye bye,” he says, and wanders off to play with the blocks without so much as a sniffle.

Wei Ying must be gaping, because one of the daycare ladies pats his arm. “It’s a good sign,” she says. “By four they should be a little independent. He’ll be so happy to see you this afternoon, you’ll see.”

“I guess,” says Wei Ying. They have his number, they can call him if anything happens, but he is weirdly reluctant to leave Yuan behind, even if Yuan doesn’t care.

“You’ll get used to it,” the woman tells him sympathetically.

He starts to say I won’t, because he won’t have Yuan for long enough, but that sits wrong, so for once he manages to keep his comment on the inside.

He grabs a couple of hours in a practice room to learn the outline of the music—there’s a piece that should be pretty easy and a piece that’s written in a crazy time signature he needs a metronome to even begin to untangle—and starts working on a couple of assignments for classes that are slightly overdue.

On his way out he hears, faintly, a violin in one of the other practice rooms, and Wei Ying can’t stop himself from cracking the door open to see if it’s Lan Zhan. It sounds amazing, so of course it is. He really is ridiculously talented. Wei Ying stands there for a long minute, just listening. He gets why Lan Zhan was already a famous performer as a kid.

Lan Zhan finishes the piece and turns his head very slightly. “Did you need something?” he says, more a statement than a question.

“Oh, uh, sorry, I know I’m being rude, I just wanted to thank you again when you couldn’t run away. Me and A-Yuan really appreciate you bringing his bear back, and you said it’s no big deal, but it’s definitely out of your way, so you have to let me buy you a coffee or a beer or lunch or something, okay? Because no matter what you say, we do actually owe you.”

Wei Ying tries his brightest smile, which generally gets him what he wants. He’s been accused of trying to “cute his way out of things,” mostly by his brother, who is jealous that his own resting scowl-face doesn’t get him nearly as much positive attention.

Lan Zhan blinks at him for a moment. “I am practicing,” he says.

“Right… Well, it doesn’t have to be right now, maybe we could do something after class! Wait, no, I have to pick up Yuan-er from daycare. Boy, I tell you, I was way more fun last week before I was a full-time dad.”

“Being a father…isn’t fun for you?”

Wei Ying stops, because he can’t quite tell what that tone is. Is Lan Zhan judging him? It doesn’t sound like it. More…troubled? Wistful? It’s pretty hard to figure out what someone means when their voice is generally completely expressionless.

“I love that kid,” says Wei Ying, “but I’m also exhausted. I don’t know, usually people get months to prepare for this stuff, and I had like…no warning. I’m doing my best, you know.” He smiles and shrugs.

Lan Zhan still seems vaguely troubled, but as usual his expression is so distant that it’s hard to tell. “Perhaps it will become easier with practice,” he says. He looks meaningfully at his own violin.

“Right, right, I’m interrupting. Sorry,” says Wei Ying, laughing. “And I’m slacking on my own practice, I know, but if I don’t grocery shop, A-Yuan will run out of Cheerios and there will be real trouble.”

“You must buy Cheerios, then,” says Lan Zhan, and Wei Ying wonders if he has any idea what a Cheerio is. For a guy born in the U.S., he doesn’t seem like he’s spent much time eating its cheap foods.

“See you at orchestra rehearsal, then,” says Wei Ying, and ducks out of the practice room.

He’s not sure why he wants to bother Lan Zhan so much. He likes the guy. He’s frosty, but he’s not mean, he’s just…distant and kind of stuffy. But he’s been genuinely helpful whenever the opportunity has arisen. Wei Ying wants to get him to smile or laugh or chill out, at least a little. Maybe if he teases him a little more, or needles him a little more. He’ll either get punched in the face—and strangely enough he thinks the first violin might have a wicked punch—or he’ll get a smile of some kind. Eventually.

“There’s a cold going around the daycare,” says Maria when Wei Ying picks up Yuan. “All the kids are getting the sniffles. Don’t worry too much unless he has a fever. You do have a thermometer, don’t you?” she adds doubtfully.

“Yeah, of course,” says Wei Ying.

She frowns at him. “Okay,” she says. “It’s a pretty nasty cold, so keep an eye on him, just in case. All the new kids get the worst bugs. Yuan! Your dad is here!”

Wei Ying’s heart clenches in his chest, just for a second. If Yuan looks up and says, “He’s not my dad,” then he’s going to have do a lot of explaining, and he doesn’t think it’ll go well.

But Yuan looks up from a game with cars he’s playing with some other kids and sees Wei Ying and smiles. “Hi!” he shouts, and runs over and wraps himself around Wei Ying’s leg.

“Hey, A-Yuan,” says Wei Ying. “Did you have a good day?”

“This is my car,” says Yuan, holding up a little plastic toy. He pushes hair out of his face. Maybe he needs a haircut? “It goes around the tracks.”

“Sounds good,” says Wei Ying. “Wanna show me?”

Yuan drags him back to the play area and shows him how the car goes around the track a few times, until Wei Ying is too bored to pretend to care anymore. “Okay, let’s go home,” he says, picking Yuan up. “I bought groceries, so we’re gonna cook dinner.”

“I can help?” Yuan asks, perking up.

“I’m counting on you,” says Wei Ying. “One, two, three…”

Yuan doesn’t get the joke, but he says, “Four! Five! Six!”

Maria the daycare lady smiles at them. “We love an involved father,” she says.

Yuan deserves an involved father, Wei Ying thinks, and swallows uncomfortably. It can’t be him; he doesn’t have the time or resources or right to keep him. But…it has to be someone.

They make dinner, rice in the rice cooker and some stir-fried vegetables that Yuan is very dubious about.

“I’ll add spice,” says Wei Ying. “Then you’ll like it.”

“Okay,” says Yuan, frowning. He’s sitting on the counter and Wei Ying has made him the ‘supervisor.’

“Sometime I’ll have my sister come cook for you,” Wei Ying says. “Pork and lotus soup. You’ll love it.”

“Do I like that?” Yuan asks uncertainly.

“Everyone likes it,” says Wei Ying. He texts Yanli and asks her for recipes she might feed to a little kid.

Yuan kicks his little feet against the cabinet. “I can watch SpongeBob?”

“Sure,” says Wei Ying. “Did you have fun at daycare today?”

“Sure,” Yuan echoes.

Wei Ying stops putting chili powder into the food long enough to frown at him. “Hey,” he says, “Do you like it here? Are you…” How do you ask a four-year-old if he likes his life? Does he have any concept of his life? Does he remember what happened a few hours ago? Wei Ying is vaguely aware that kids aren’t great at memory and stuff, but he isn’t sure how that translates to actual kids and their actual feelings.

“I like it,” says Yuan. “I like my Bunny.” He sneezes, and Wei Ying lunges to aim him away from the food so he doesn’t sneeze all over it.

“You’re not bored?” Wei Ying asks. “You don’t miss… I mean, you’re not homesick?”

“Homesick?” Yuan repeats, frowning.

“It’s when you miss your home,” says Wei Ying. “I feel homesick for China sometimes.”

“Your home is China?” Yuan says. “What’s China?”

“China is a country that’s far away,” says Wei Ying. “Maybe I’ll take you there sometime.”

“Okay,” says Yuan. “SpongeBob now?”

Wei Ying picks him up and puts him on the couch in front of the laptop. “We’ll go to China,” he says.

Yuan picks up his teddy bear and says, “Okay, we go to China.” And then he’s hypnotized by the cartoons and stops talking. He sneezes again and wipes his nose partially on his sleeve, partially on his teddy bear. It’s so gross, Wei Ying is almost impressed.

Wei Ying turns off the stove just as the doorbell rings. Yuan doesn’t look up from his cartoons, but Wei Ying, who isn’t expecting anyone, frowns.

Maybe it’s Mo Xuanyu, come back to apologize and take Yuan away. That’s… Well, that should feel hopeful, and instead it feels a little scary. Wei Ying decides not to explore that feeling.

He cracks the door open. “Yes?”

Lan Zhan is standing in the hallway. This is starting to become a habit. He looks as aloof and slightly stern as ever, but he is also carrying two giant bags.

“Uh,” says Wei Ying, sliding the door open. “Did I forget my homework again? We didn’t lose Bunny this time.”

“Bunny?” says Lan Zhan.

“His teddy bear is named Bunny, apparently. I tried asking him about it but he just said, ‘that’s his name.’”

Something flickers across Lan Zhan’s face. “Bunny is a good name,” he says. “May I come in?”

Wei Ying steps back automatically, and Lan Zhan sweeps past him. “Wait, but—Did I forget something for real? Or am I failing? I can definitely see some of our professors telling you to come tell me I’m failing.”

“You are not failing. You are both smart and a talented musician.” Lan Zhan says this as tonelessly as he says everything else, and Wei Ying honestly can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a compliment, or…? Lan Zhan puts his bags down and looks around with a little frown.

“What?” Wei Ying says, closing the door and walking into the living room. “What, I’m dying of curiosity. Yuan-er, say hi. Look who came to visit us.”

Yuan looks up indifferently from his cartoons. “That’s my rich friend,” he says. “Hi.”

“Your—” Wei Ying splutters. “Hey!” He picks Yuan up and spins him around, which isn’t much of a punishment, honestly. “I’m your rich friend!” he says.

Yuan giggles. “Put me down,” he says, wiggling. “He bringed presents?”

“Brought,” Lan Zhan corrects, not unkindly, and then, unexpectedly, says, “Yes.”

“What?” says Wei Ying, just as Yuan cheers and wiggles free. He sticks his whole head in one of the bags.

“I want presents!” Yuan says.

Wei Ying drags him back out of the bags. “He’s just kidding,” he says. He looks up at Lan Zhan with a frown. “He doesn’t need presents. You didn’t really bring him anything, did you?”

Lan Zhan sits down on the floor, ridiculously gracefully. Wei Ying wishes there were fewer clothes and textbooks and shoes lying around on it. “Covers for the electrical sockets,” he says. “Covers for the stove knobs. Latches for cupboards.”

Wei Ying is truly bewildered. “My…are my cupboards broken?”

Lan Zhan looks at the bags and not at him, almost like he’s embarrassed. “His visit is unexpected,” he says. “I… I read an article on childproofing an apartment.”

“Oh!” says Wei Ying, and sits down next to him. Yuan climbs into his lap and chants, “Toys! Toys! Toys! Toys!”

Lan Zhan pulls things out of the bag. There are little plastic things to go on the corners of tables, and little plastic things to put in electrical outlets, and see-through covers for the stove so little hands can’t turn it on by accident. “I think most of this is for babies,” Wei Ying says. “But this is—Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan!”

Lan Zhan glances at him sideways, not quite meeting his eyes.

“This is the nicest thing I think anyone’s ever done,” Wei Ying says earnestly. “This is amazing.”

“Toys?” says Yuan hopefully.

“No,” Wei Ying tells him. “This is all—Uh, this is all grown-up stuff to keep you safe. Say ‘thank you.’”

Yuan sticks his lower lip out, but he dutifully says, “Thank you,” in a miserable voice.

Lan Zhan pulls a box out. It’s covered in pictures of brightly colored dinosaur toys held together with brightly colored plastic screws. Take apart dinosaurs! the box says.

“Dinosaur!” Yuan shrieks in delight, grabbing the box.

“He doesn’t need—” Wei Ying starts, but Yuan is already trying to rip into it.

Lan Zhan definitely looks like he’s considering becoming slightly embarrassed. “It encourages creativity, hand-eye skills, and STEM thinking,” he says, not looking at Wei Ying.

“Oh my god,” says Wei Ying. “You went to a store and you bought everything they handed to you, didn’t you?”

He’s so delighted by the image of cold, perfectly polished Lan Zhan being overwhelmed and uncertain in a store for kids that he forgets to keep objecting, and Yuan gets the dinosaur box open with a delighted shout.

“Why would you do this?” Wei Ying asks. He’s not mad, he’s just confused. “Are you secretly Santa Claus?”

“This one is green,” says Yuan, holding up a dinosaur. “Look! Look, look, look!”

“I see, I see,” says Wei Ying absently.

Lan Zhan keeps pulling things out of the bags. A bike helmet. A couple of books for learning colors and letters. “You aren’t sure how long he’s staying with you,” Lan Zhan says. “You were unprepared.”

“Oh, shit,” says Wei Ying. “Oh, no. This is so nice, but I can’t accept this. We can’t accept this. He might not even be here tomorrow, for all I know.”

“He should be safe for today, then,” says Lan Zhan stubbornly.

“No, you think—” Wei Ying sighs. He puts his hand on Lan Zhan’s arm and tugs on his sleeve. Lan Zhan looks truly taken aback by that, so Wei Ying moves his hand. “You think I’m some awesome dad who’s suddenly got his kid and is doing the right thing taking care of him, right? You have the wrong idea. I was teasing you. He’s not really my son. He’s… I don’t know whose son he is. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have let you think that. You have to pack up all of this.”

“You don’t know who he belongs to?”

Wei Ying shakes his head. He puts some of the stuff back in the bags, and Lan Zhan frowns at him. “My cousin showed up with him one night and then he just ditched him. I don’t know when he’s coming back or who Yuan-er belongs with. I’m just kind of babysitting.” Yuan has pulled the legs off his dinosaur and is holding them up, inspecting each one individually.

Lan Zhan gives Wei Ying a long, long look that Wei Ying can’t read at all. It goes on way beyond being comfortable. Wei Ying straightens his spine like it’ll help with being shorter than Lan Zhan. He’s not intimidated. He did something dumb, but for the best reasons. Lan Zhan will just have to deal with that.

Lan Zhan must find something in Wei Ying’s face, because he nods, once. “A child was left with you, by surprise, and you are taking care of him?” Lan Zhan says. His tone has, perhaps, melted one or two whole degrees from the frost earlier.

Wei Ying shrugs. “It’s not like I’d kick him out. My sister’s mom is trying to track down his family, but it seems like no one wants him. Shit, I shouldn’t be saying this with him in the room. I don’t know what I’m going to do with him, exactly, but…”

Yuan crawls into Lan Zhan’s lap and holds up his dinosaur. “See?” he says. He makes a growling noise. “Dinosaur says grrrrrrrrr. He’s a dog!”

“Dinosaurs are birds,” says Lan Zhan, firm but kind.

“My dinosaur is dogs,” says Yuan. He’s so comfortable, he leans back against Lan Zhan. Wei Ying reaches out for the kid—he’s going to get Lan Zhan all dirty and sticky and probably sneeze on him—but Lan Zhan shakes his head.

“Sorry I kind of lied,” Wei Ying says. “You want me to help you pack this all up?”

Lan Zhan tilts his head very slightly. “You are taking care of a child,” he says. “Will this not be useful?”

“Sure, sure, it’s useful,” Wei Ying says. He can’t figure Lan Zhan out at all. “But this has to be…a lot of money.”

“He’s my rich friend,” Yuan says, making two dinosaurs fight each other.

“But—”

Lan Zhan stands up, holding Yuan. “If it is useful you must keep it,” Lan Zhan says. “I will go. He should have a bath and a bedtime.”

“I know,” says Wei Ying, standing up too. He hadn’t really considered bedtime. It’s more like, whenever Yuan passes out, that’s clearly time for him to be asleep.

Yuan sneezes and Lan Zhan doesn’t even flinch.

“There’s a cold at the daycare,” says Wei Ying. “Give him to me, I’m gonna go soak him in a tub for a while. He’ll get you all snotty.”

Lan Zhan considers that for a moment, then nods and hands Yuan to Wei Ying.

“I’m gonna figure all of this out,” Wei Ying says, sounding cheerful and extremely self-assured because he learned how to do that very convincingly when he was pretty young. “I mean, I’m an orphan, and I turned out great. I can definitely do this.”

For some reason that makes Lan Zhan look at him again—that sounds stupid, but sometimes he looks at Wei Ying like he’s seeing deep into his soul, and it’s a little creepy except that Lan Zhan is also astonishingly beautiful, and Wei Ying doesn’t mind beautiful people staring at him—but Wei Ying isn’t sure what it means. “You know, a week ago you couldn’t stand me,” Wei Ying says, grinning. “Isn’t this better?” He can’t help just a little flirtiness creeping into his voice.

Lan Zhan snorts and sweeps out of the apartment.

Wei Ying refuses to be discouraged, but… “He’s really a pain in the ass,” he says to Yuan. “He must have noticed how cute I am, right?”

“How cute I am,” Yuan echoes. “He’s coming back?”

“I don’t think so,” says Wei Ying. “You ready for a bath?

Yuan holds up his dinosaur. “He comes in the bath?”

“Yeah, he can come in the bath with you,” Wei Ying agrees. “All the dinosaurs can come in the bath. Go put them in the bathtub!” He puts Yuan down, who grabs the whole pile of dinosaurs and begins toddling them into the bathroom. Wei Ying gives himself a little pat on the back, because he’s pretty sure he just figured out how to hack bathtime.

Yanli calls the next morning as Wei Ying is trying to argue Yuan into bringing only one toy with him to daycare. Yuan seems a little more grumpy than usual, and he’s sneezing a lot, so Wei Ying figures he’s caught the cold from daycare.

“So, I have news,” Yanli says. “Is my little nephew around?”

“He’s right here,” says Wei Ying. “Say ‘Hi Auntie’!”

“Dinosaur doesn’t want to,” says Yuan murderously, and sits down with his arms crossed.

Yanli switches into Chinese. “Bad news first,” she says. “Mom wants to know why you’re running up a huge credit card bill on some child she’s never met, and she thinks the family is losing face by taking in strays. That’s a quote.”

“God,” says Wei Ying, also in Chinese. “She must have been thrilled when your father brought me home, then.”

He can almost hear Yanli wince. “She doesn’t mean it like that. She’s just grumpy because she can’t find Mo Xuanyu. He may have just vanished forever.”

“What does that mean for us?” Wei Ying asks. He offers Yuan some Cheerios in a bowl, and Yuan sniffles miserably at him.

“It means I don’t think anyone is coming back for him.”

Yuan hasn’t shown any signs that he understands Chinese, but Wei Ying drops his voice a little anyway. “So what does Mrs. Yu think I should do?”

“New York has good resources,” says Yanli reluctantly. “A-Ying… You’re so busy, and your place is small, and you don’t have a job. I’m sure he’s cute—”

“He’s adorable,” says Wei Ying fiercely, even though Yuan is currently getting snot all over everything in his apartment. “And he’s smart, and he’s funny. A-Li, he doesn’t cry when I leave him at daycare. He just…thinks people are going to leave him behind.”

He waits. She doesn’t say anything.

“I can’t just…” Wei Ying says, and trails off.

“You can’t keep him just because you found him. Keeping him would entail—I honestly don’t even know. How serious are you? Have you thought about what this would do to your life? You’re on a student visa; would he come back to China with you? Would you stay there? How would you stay there?”

“I don’t know,” says Wei Ying. He grabs a paper towel and tries wiping Yuan’s face off a little bit. “I haven’t thought it all the way through, I’m just—I’m not ready to just call the cops. If Xuanyu doesn’t want him and his parents don’t want him, someone must want him. He’s a good kid. He deserves—”

“I love you,” says Yanli.

“I’ll figure something out,” Wei Ying says. “Don’t worry about me. Don’t worry about us. He’s a little fussy, he caught a cold, but I’ll send you some more pictures.”

“Take care of him,” says Yanli. “Take care of yourself.”

“Love you,” says Wei Ying, and hangs up.

He looks at Yuan for a long minute, sitting on the floor, crying quietly to himself over a bowl of Cheerios. He’s snotty and his face is a little red, and he’s no fun to try and get ready for daycare.

“Hey,” says Wei Ying in English. “You want to keep staying with me? Maybe for a long time?”

“Okay,” says Yuan sadly. He pushes the Cheerios away and lies down on the floor.
“I don’t want this. I don’t waaaaant this.”

“Oh buddy, we all feel that way sometimes,” says Wei Ying. He picks him up and tries wiping him off again with minimal success. “We’re gonna push through, okay? I’ll come get you after rehearsal and you and me will do something fun.”

“Okay,” says Yuan, putting his head on Wei Ying’s shoulder. He’s still almost-crying but mostly just sighing and sneezing a lot. It’s cute, and also pathetic.

“Just hang in there,” says Wei Ying.

Yuan does not hang in there; around noon Wei Ying gets a phone call from the daycare. “He just threw up,” says Maria apologetically. “And we can’t have any kids who are actively sick here. You need to come pick him up.”

“Oh, of course,” says Wei Ying, with a little flicker of panic. He puts his flute away and apologizes to the conductor as he rushes out. He stops to look at Lan Zhan, giving him what he hopes is a little bit of psychic Feel free to bring the homework and stuff by later, please, but he dashes out before he has a chance to see if Lan Zhan understands it.

When he gets to the daycare, Maria is holding Yuan in her arms, and he’s crying. When he sees Wei Ying, he holds his little hands out demandingly and Wei Ying drops his bags and takes him, even though he almost immediately sneezes on him and wipes his nose on Wei Ying’s shoulder.

“He missed you today,” says Maria. “He’s been throwing up and he’s pretty sad. He should probably see a doctor.” She pauses. “Do you have a pediatrician?”

“No,” says Wei Ying. “Fuck, I didn’t even think about it.”

Maria grimaces. “And…insurance?”

“Shit,” says Wei Ying. “The school required me to get it, but… Just guessing it doesn’t cover him.”

Maria pulls out a business card and hands it to him. “Here’s the one we recommend,” she says. “They’re sympathetic and they’ll do their best to help you pay for things.”

That’s good, but Wei Ying isn’t even sure if he can legally take someone else’s kid to a doctor. Is that a thing you can do? Will they ask for some kind of paperwork? He doesn’t have Yuan’s birth certificate with him right now.

“Should I call and tell them to expect you?” Maria asks. “I can fax over the immunization records and birth certificate.”

“Yeah,” says Wei Ying, because what else is he supposed to do? Yuan is crying quietly into his shoulder. He reached out for Wei Ying. He’s sick and he wanted Wei Ying to hold him.

Someone’s eventually going to notice that there’s no father’s name on the birth certificate, but…maybe not today, if he’s lucky.

He takes a cab to the doctor’s office, which is a small set of rooms on the first floor of an apartment building. The receptionist asks him about insurance and then Yuan throws up on her desk. Everyone else waiting is also a parent with a crying child, so no one seems to think this is too weird. They give Wei Ying a bunch of forms to fill out while he waits, and he ticks the box that says, “Relationship to child: father,” and hopes no one’s going to ask him to prove it.

He carries Yuan back over to the desk. “He was just dropped off with me a few days ago,” Wei Ying says. “His mom has a lot of this information and she didn’t leave it with me.”

The receptionist is an older black lady, and she says sympathetically, “Oh, no. Can we call her real quick and get some of the information?”

“She’s not in the country right now,” says Wei Ying, and holds his breath to see if that will work. He keeps smiling, though.

The receptionist looks at the desk and then back up at him. “It’s okay,” she says, dropping her voice. “You don’t need to show us any information about… How you got here.” She says this in a very hinting tone.

It takes Wei Ying a second, and then he realizes she thinks he’s in the country illegally and that’s why he doesn’t have paperwork or insurance. “I can pay,” Wei Ying says. He’s not going to argue. This makes life a little easier for the next few minutes, maybe.

“You just worry about him,” she says, nodding to Yuan.

Wei Ying is worried about him; he’s lying listlessly on Wei Ying’s shoulder, coughing every now and then, and sometimes he says, “My tummy hurts,” or “I want my Bunny,” and then cries a little. It feels like it takes forever before a nurse comes to get them.

Yuan cries when they take his temperature and he cries when they look in his ears and in his nose. “Just hold him and don’t let him wiggle too much,” says the nurse.

Wei Ying tries, but Yuan won’t stop kicking his feet and screaming when the doctor comes in to examine him. She’s a tired-looking older white lady with her hair piled up on her head.

“He sure feels terrible, huh?” she says. “Don’t worry, Yuan, we’re gonna fix you right up.”

For some reason that makes Yuan scream more. He clings to Wei Ying and cries, and gets tears and snot all over Wei Ying’s hoodie, and for some reason it makes Wei Ying want to grab him and run out of the office so he won’t be upset anymore. “He’s okay, right?” Wei Ying asks.

“He’s got the tummy bug all the little ones have right now,” the doctor says. “You need to wash your hands about every five minutes or you’ll get it, too. You’ll need to make sure he drinks some Pedialyte and eats only tummy-friendly food for a day. Applesauce, rice, bananas. Whatever he’ll eat.”

Wei Ying holds him a little tighter. “But he has a fever,” he says.

“Yeah,” says the doctor. “If it doesn’t come down in a day then he should come back. Or if he keeps throwing up and can’t keep anything down. We don’t want him to get dehydrated. But he’s okay. You’re okay, right, Yuan?

Yuan cries and clutches Wei Ying’s hoodie with both hands. “I wanna go home,” he says.

“Soon, okay?” says Wei Ying. “We’re going home soon.”

“I want to go home now,” Yuan says.

Wei Ying rubs his back. “We’ll go home, maybe have another bath, and you can go to bed,” he promises.

Yuan peers up at him with one accusing eye. “A bath with dinosaurs?”

“Of course,” Wei Ying says.

The doctor is smiling at both of them. “He’s gonna just be a sad little guy for a little while,” she says. “He might throw up again, but unless his fever gets a lot higher or it stays elevated for a long time, he’s okay. Simple, plain foods, and lots of Pedialyte to make sure he’s hydrated. Okay? Yuan, you listen to daddy, okay?”

“Okay,” says Yuan, wiping his nose on Wei Ying’s hoodie. He’s clutching Wei Ying like a little koala bear.

Something happens inside Wei Ying’s heart at that moment. It’s not quite a shift, it’s more like…things clicking into place. “I’ll take you home,” he says again, and home is his apartment.

“Don’t worry, daddy’s doing his best, and you’ll feel better soon,” the doctor says, and Yuan sniffles sadly in reply.

The doctor gives him some written directions about what to buy and what to look out for. The visit ends up costing a couple of hundred dollars, and Wei Ying holds his breath again, but Mrs. Yu’s credit card doesn’t get declined, so she must not have cut him off yet. They even give him a couple of bottles of Pedialyte to take home with him and give to Yuan.

The poor kid sniffles the whole way home. At least he doesn’t throw up in the cab, or in the elevator. Lan Zhan is, maybe unsurprisingly, standing in the hallway outside of Wei Ying’s apartment, so Wei Ying tosses him the keys and says, “Can you open it for us? He’s sick.”

Lan Zhan catches the keys with effortless agility and opens the door. He holds the door for them.

“You took him to the doctor?” Lan Zhan asks.

Wei Ying switches into Chinese. “You speak Chinese, right? I don’t have any fucking insurance for him, and I didn’t realize how many documents I’d need to take him to the doctor, and I don’t know what I’m gonna do the next time he gets sick or needs something.”

Lan Zhan considers that, stone-faced. Wei Ying puts Yuan on the counter and begins stripping sweaty, snotty clothes off him.

“He’s fine this time,” Wei Ying continues, “but what if he’s not, next time? What if I need to show papers for something? No one wants him but me, and I don’t have any way to keep him.”

“What did you say?” Yuan asks, sleepy. “My tummy hurts. It’s bedtime? Where’s Bunny?”

“I said, you have to learn Chinese,” says Wei Ying, switching back to English. “You can have Bunny after your bath. You’ll get him all germy.”

“Nooooo,” Yuan wails, kicking his feet.

In Chinese, Lan Zhan asks, “You intend to keep him?”

“If I can figure out how,” says Wei Ying, surprising himself. He blinks a couple of times. “Shit. I… I think I want to keep him.”

Lan Zhan nods once. “Then we will figure something out.”

He sounds so sure. Wei Ying stares at him. Lan Zhan’s jaw is slightly set, and he is looking off into some middle distance like he can glare it into submission. “You really think we can?” Wei Ying says.

“If it is what is best for the child, we will find a way.”

Wei Ying is simultaneously warm all over and confused about why he feels that way. “What are you, some kind of baby freak?” he asks in English. “Do you collect babies?” Yuan is crying quietly, and Wei Ying is ready to give up on giving him a bath. He picks a hoodie up off the floor and wets the sleeve and uses it to wipe Yuan down wherever he seems sticky.

Lan Zhan huffs. “You don’t have a clean towel?”

Wei Ying honestly can’t remember the last time he did laundry. “He’s fussy and it’s working,” he says. He hands the kid to Lan Zhan so he can dig some Pedialyte out of his bag.

“I am not a ‘baby freak,’” says Lan Zhan, sounding stiff. “I merely… I am fond.”

“Really? You don’t seem the type. Here, the doctor says you have to drink this,” Wei Ying says to Yuan.

Yuan hides his face in Lan Zhan’s chest.

“It’s dinosaur juice,” Wei Ying tries. “Don’t you want some dinosaur juice?”

Yuan turns to stare at him for a minute. Then he looks up at Lan Zhan. “I want dinosaur juice?” he asks.

“You do,” says Lan Zhan firmly. “You must drink it to become healthy.”

Yuan considers this for a second. “I don’t think I want it,” he says tiredly, but he lets Wei Ying give him some in a plastic cup he got from Starbucks.

“There were no other children except my brother,” says Lan Zhan suddenly. “I suppose I…worry when I see children who are lonely.”

“Right, right, a child prodigy,” Wei Ying agrees. He hadn’t considered, but probably all that performing from a young age means Lan Zhan didn’t go to regular school or have a lot of friends. Maybe that’s why he’s so icy. “Are you hungry?” he asks Yuan, who shakes his head. “Then maybe it’s bedtime. What do you think? Bedtime for you and Bunny?”

“Okay,” says Yuan, and reaches for him with both hands. It does something to Wei Ying’s heart, honestly. He might need to have a doctor check on it.

“Where is his room?” Lan Zhan asks.

“Oh, he’s been sleeping in my bed, it’s just about big enough for two of us.” Wei Ying carries him into his room, kicking clothes and papers out of the way as he goes. “I guess that’s not a very good long-term plan, huh?”

Lan Zhan looks horrified, which is to say his face twitches very slightly. “There are several problems to solve,” he says.

Wei Ying laughs. “You have a way with words. I like it.”

Yuan is basically asleep before Wei Ying even puts him down, and once he has Bunny firmly in his clutches he curls up in a little ball under the blankets.

“I didn’t mean for us to be a problem for you to solve,” Wei Ying says quietly. “It’s okay. I’ve got this.”

“I am not…” Lan Zhan starts, and then stops. He frowns. “It is not an inconvenience.”

“Right, but a week ago you didn’t even like saying ‘hello’ to me,” Wei Ying points out. He realizes suddenly that they’re standing in his bedroom talking, which is a little weird, and he ushers Lan Zhan out but leaves the door open so he can hear if Yuan starts crying or barfing or something.

“I do not say ‘hello’ to anyone,” Lan Zhan points out, with his infuriatingly calm logic. “You were not special in this regard.”

Wei Ying gapes at him. “Wow,” he says. “Is that supposed to make me feel better? You’re really something. You know, you’re lucky you ran into me. I’m great at people. Everyone wants to be my friend. Maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll teach you how to be friends with people. Friends—ever heard of it?”

Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying’s messy couch with palpable distaste, carefully moves a few things aside, and sits down like he’s some kind of royalty who was trained to move while balancing a book on his head. “I am aware I am not social,” he says.

“That’s not—You’re not friendly,” says Wei Ying, throwing all of Yuan’s toys off the couch so he can sit down, too.

Lan Zhan’s face doesn’t even flicker. “I am polite,” he says.

Wei Ying sighs. “I’m gonna fix you,” he announces. “Get you some friends. Obviously starting with me. Oh hey, does this make me your best friend? I guess if I’m the only one I have to be the best one, right?” He starts cackling as soon as he thinks about it.

Lan Zhan looks like he’s maybe actually considering it. “My brother is my friend,” he points out. “So I have two.”

Wei Ying stops laughing. “Oh man,” he says, “you have to stop agreeing with me when I’m just teasing you. You probably have lots of friends in San Francisco or wherever. I was just joking. You’re tall, you’re ridiculously handsome, you’re smart… I’ll settle for being in your top one hundred friends, okay? Please don’t say you have two friends, it’s too depressing. Plus, you have at least three! Don’t forget about A-Yuan.”

“Three friends,” Lan Zhan agrees.

Wei Ying groans and covers his face. “No—You have—Stop it. Lots of friends. The whole orchestra. The professors, probably. You just don’t try and socialize with them. Listen, I’ll throw a party and we’ll invite everyone, and you’ll hang out with them and get to know everyone and have lots of friends. Okay?”

“If I wished for ‘lots of friends,’ I would socialize,” Lan Zhan says. “I do not.”

It’s like talking to a wall. “Everyone likes having friends,” Wei Ying argues. “This is the dumbest conversation I have ever had. We’re friends now, and I’m friends with everyone, so now you’re friends with everyone, okay? Deal with it.”

It would be so easy for Lan Zhan to make friends, if he wanted. He’d just have to let one tiny smile crack through that icy facade of his, and everyone would be swooning at his feet. But he doesn’t smile, he just looks at Wei Ying like he’s a particularly difficult piece of music to decipher, with a tiny wrinkle between his perfect eyebrows.

Wei Ying can’t help but think about Lan Zhan saying that he was a lonely child. It’s good that he’s friends with his brother—Wei Ying is friends with his brother, too, even when his brother is an idiot—but surely there must have been some other friends somewhere? Or has he always been this self-contained, quiet, perfect person? What does he do when he has a bad day? Does he ever have one?

“We are friends,” says Lan Zhan finally.

“Right, exactly,” Wei Ying says. “You’re helping me out with A-Yuan when you don't need to, that’s what friends do. I’m glad we’re friends.” He beams at Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan blinks at him a couple of times. That’s not quite the reaction Wei Ying is used to getting when he turns his full smiley charm on someone, but at least Lan Zhan reacted at all. If only Lan Zhan were a normal person, he thinks despairingly. It’s so weird trying to flirt with someone who doesn’t seem to know that flirting even exists.

Not that he’s flirting. He’s just smiling. But people in the past have been known to mistake the one for the other, and Wei Ying is nothing if not easy.

“I think I can find solutions to your problems,” Lan Zhan says. “It is…very kind of you to upend your life for a child you just met.”

“If no one had adopted me, who knows where I’d be right now,” Wei Ying sighs. “Someone’s gotta step up. It’s not ideal. I wish I had a job and a bigger apartment and maybe… I don’t know, citizenship over here? That would make my life a lot easier. But I’m a big believer in just doing stuff and figuring it out later.”

“That sounds risky.” Lan Zhan frowns.

Wei Ying shrugs. “Eh, it’s always worked out for me.” Mostly, he amends silently. Sometimes. With some help from Yanli, and a lot of apologizing, and a few lucky escapes.

“You should not take risks with a child,” Lan Zhan admonishes. He stands up. “I will go. I will tell you when I have a plan.”

“Sounds good. I’m gonna skip classes again tomorrow. Can’t leave a sick kid at daycare, and I wanna stay home and make sure he’s okay, anyway. Bring me my work or whatever, okay?” Wei Ying doesn't bat his lashes, but it’s a close thing.

He thinks he hears Lan Zhan snort under his breath. A reaction! Wei Ying thinks, delighted. He got an actual reaction! “See you tomorrow, then,” he says, walking Lan Zhan to the door.

Lan Zhan hesitates in the doorway and Wei Ying thinks for a minute that maybe he’ll say something about friendship, or flirting, or something. Instead, Lan Zhan pauses, and then says, “You must wash your hands, or you will also get sick.” He lets himself out.

Wei Ying closes the door and shakes his head. He has so much work to do.

Yuan is fussy in the morning, and he wants Wei Ying to carry him everywhere. Wei Ying puts him down for a second to try to prepare some rice for breakfast, and Yuan bursts into tears, so Wei Ying picks him up again and figures out how to use the rice cooker one-handed.

He doesn’t throw up, though, and he eats a little rice and half a banana and insists on sitting in Wei Ying’s lap on the couch.

“I need more coffee, though,” Wei Ying says, trying to move him.

“I stay here!” Yuan shouts, clinging to his arm.

Wei Ying sighs. “Okay, okay. You can stay on my lap.” He picks up one of the books Lan Zhan got for Yuan and starts reading to him. It’s called The First Big Book of Why, which is such a Lan Zhan choice for a book for kids that Wei Ying almost laughs out loud. He reads him a page titled, “Why do I like candy?” and another about “Why I have a belly button.” He can’t tell if Yuan understands it much or not, but he seems content to sit and listen, and any time Wei Ying stops, he begins kicking and fussing again.

It would be a nice way to spend a morning, if Wei Ying weren’t starting to worry he might fail a class or two, and if Yuan weren’t still sick and sniffling and getting snot all over his bear, and if he’d let Wei Ying get up to get his coffee. Stay-at-home-dad, Wei Ying thinks. Not the worst job.

After a couple of hours, Yuan falls asleep and Wei Ying puts him on the couch for a nap. He picks up a little bit—Lan Zhan isn’t wrong, it’s not really a suitable space for a little kid—and attempts to do the dishes, but the sink is already full of dirty dishes so there’s no space to begin. He texts Yanli, How mad do you think your mom would be if I adopted Yuan? She doesn’t reply immediately, which feels ominous.

By afternoon, Yuan has perked up enough to play with a toy, although he still doesn’t want to be put down, so when Wei Ying answers the door, he’s got Yuan on his hip. Lan Zhan has two bags again, and no particular expression.

“Hello, friend, come on in,” says Wei Ying.

“Hello, friend,” Yuan echoes. “I’m sick.”

“I am aware,” says Lan Zhan gravely. He comes in and starts to put the bags down, realizes there’s no clean surface, and sighs, just a little.

“He’s feeling better today, though, aren’t you, Yuan-er?” Wei Ying coaxes.

“I feel shitty,” says Yuan, and Wei Ying realizes maybe he needs to start watching what he says around Yuan a little more consistently.

“I have a solution,” Lan Zhan says in Chinese. “We should discuss. Can you put him down?”

“He won’t let me,” Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan’s Chinese is beautiful, like all he’s studied is classical poetry or something. “It’s okay, he doesn’t know any Chinese. Just tell me.”

“The simplest way forward,” says Lan Zhan, “is for us to get married.”

Wei Ying almost drops Yuan.

“What the fuck?” he says in English, then remembers that Yuan has been repeating everything he says and goes back to Chinese. “I’m sorry, what did you say? Are you feeling well? Do you have a fever, too?” He reaches out and puts his hand on Lan Zhan’s forehead.

Lan Zhan stands there patiently until Wei Ying steps back. “I am not ill,” he says. “There is no faster path for you to become a citizen, which will allow legal adoption proceedings to begin. It would also allow me to put Yuan-er on my insurance. It is a simple and potentially quick solution to your problems.”

Wei Ying just…gapes. After a minute he sits down on the couch, with Yuan on his lap. His legs feel a little unsteady.

“Read me a book?” Yuan says hopefully.

“In a minute,” Wei Ying promises in English. He looks up at Lan Zhan, who is doing the thing he does again where he stares off into space with a totally neutral face, like he doesn’t care what Wei Ying says next. He has one hand behind his back, clenched into a fist in the small of his back. “Let’s get married?” Wei Ying says. He stays in English this time, because there’s no way Yuan understands this conversation. Wei Ying doesn’t understand it. “Are you—Don’t you—Would that even work?”

Lan Zhan says steadily, “It would. We have been acquainted for long enough to make it believable. We would need to combine our finances and show some proof of a relationship. The questions can be...invasive. Presumably, we would need to live in the same place. Once we apply for a green card and change of status for you, we could hire a family lawyer to deal with Yuan-er’s situation.”

“Did you… Did you just ask me to marry you and move in with you?” The room is spinning, right?

“I did not,” says Lan Zhan, also switching to English. “I have merely pointed out an option available to you.”

Wei Ying laughs weakly. “Come on,” he says, “you gotta at least try and make it romantic, right? Tell me you’ve always loved me. Tell me you’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”

Lan Zhan just looks stubbornly into space.

“Can I at least have some time to think about it?” Wei Ying asks. Yuan tugs on his sleeve and whines a little.

“There is no deadline,” Lan Zhan says. “You are the one who said it was important to be expedient.”

Wei Ying could scream. He gapes at Lan Zhan for a minute longer, but of course Lan Zhan doesn’t say “just kidding.” He also doesn’t get down on one knee and suddenly pull a ring out of his pocket. Not that Wei Ying wants that, exctly, but he had thought if he got proposed to it would at least be someone he’d been on a date with.

He’d thought it would be someone who liked him.

Wei Ying takes a couple of deep breaths. “I need some time to figure this out,” he says. “Unless there’s an emergency with A-Yuan, we can wait a while before we consider this crazy idea, right?”

Another emergency,” Lan Zhan corrects him quietly. “Yesterday could have been unfortunate.”

Lan Zhan clearly just said he doesn’t care one way or the other, so why does Wei Ying feel like he’s being railroaded? “Your family won’t mind?” he asks. “If you marry a stranger? A stranger who’s a man?”

“We would not tell people that you are a stranger,” Lan Zhan points out.

“We’d just tell them, ‘Oh, we’ve been secretly in love this whole time and never mentioned it.’ That sounds crazy!”

Lan Zhan leans in and picks up Yuan and carries him into the kitchen, where he cleans off the counter with brisk efficiency and then begins preparing a snack for him. “I do not tell people my business,” Lan Zhan says. “They would not be surprised if I had never mentioned a romance.”

“You’ve thought about this!” Wei Ying says accusingly.

“I would not have suggested it if it were not viable.” He hands Yuan some sliced banana and begins collecting dirty dishes to stack them around the sink.

“Your own brother wouldn’t be surprised if you got married, and he’d never even met the person?” Wei Ying says, sounding just a little hysterical, even to himself.

Lan Zhan glances at him over his shoulder. “If you wish to meet my brother, I can arrange it.”

Wei Ying jumps to his feet, gesturing wildly. “Of course I’d need to meet him! And you’d have to meet my sister! She’s in Chicago, and she’s pregnant, so we’d have to go there, and my brother is in San Francisco, and my adopted parents are in China, are you suggesting we just hop on a plane—”

“It can be done after we sign the papers, if you wish.” Lan Zhan turns the water on in the sink and starts washing dishes, which is both a weird thing to do and a good way to ignore Wei Ying shouting behind him.

Wei Ying stomps over and picks Yuan up. Yuan looks from one adult to the other, with his eyebrows raised and his mouth quirked into a slightly confused expression. “Everything is fine,” says Wei Ying to him. “Do you want to read a book?”

“Read a book in bed,” says Yuan, putting his head on Wei Ying’s shoulder.

It’s a great excuse to leave the room for a couple of minutes to calm down, so Wei Ying carries Yuan back into the bedroom and reads him a book called Where’s My Dinosaur three times in a row until he dozes off.

He’s still mad. Or—Is mad the right word? He feels conflicted.

“What do you get out of this?” Wei Ying demands, storming back into the kitchen.

The kitchen is spotless. The dishes are all washed, the counters are all clean. Wei Ying doesn’t own a mop, but Lan Zhan has somehow made the floor cleaner.

“It is not troublesome to appear in court and sign a paper,” says Lan Zhan calmly. “I lose nothing. My family will be surprised, but not unreasonably.”

“But—” Wei Ying splutters. “But what if you meet someone you’re actually in love with in the meantime?”

“It is unlikely,” says Lan Zhan, with a finality that makes Wei Ying a little sad.

“We’d have to move in with you,” Wei Ying points out. “I’m messy and he’s a little kid. It would be noisy and distracting and expensive.”

Lan Zhan shrugs one elegant shoulder and starts cleaning off the couch.

“Stop acting like this is normal!” Wei Ying shouts.

Lan Zhan looks pointedly toward the room where Yuan is sleeping.

Wei Ying drops his voice, but the hysteria is real; it’s choking him a little. “This is not something people just do casually! It’s not something people offer to do for strangers.”

Something like a tiny smile plays at the edge of Lan Zhan’s mouth. “We are not strangers,” he says. “You are my best friend.”

Wei Ying’s mouth drops open. “No fair using my own words against me!” he hisses. “You play dirty!”

“If you have a better solution, I will, of course, support it,” says Lan Zhan.

And that’s the thing, right? Wei Ying doesn’t have a better idea, and he doesn’t know how long it will be before someone asks him whose kid Yuan is, or how he got him. How long before Mrs. Yu cuts off his credit card because he’s embarrassing the family. How long before he flunks out and loses his scholarships and student visa because he’s a full-time dad all of a sudden.

“I need a couple of days to think about it,” he manages.

Lan Zhan pauses cleaning the living room long enough to give him a look that says, I’m not the one in a hurry.

“I’ll spend the weekend thinking about it,” Wei Ying says, “and if I come up with something more rational, then we’ll try to save you from this dumb idea of yours, okay? Just… Let me get my head around this.”

“I brought snacks,” Lan Zhan says, nodding to the bags he carried in. “More books. Snow boots.”

“You’re not his dad yet,” Wei Ying grumbles. “But…thank you. This whole thing is absolutely fucking insane, but thank you.”

Lan Zhan inclines his head ever so slightly and continues cleaning. He is the weirdest person Wei Ying has ever met. Maybe also the best person, but definitely the weirdest.

Lan Zhan cleans the whole apartment and then he goes home, without so much as hinting at a, “wasn’t that funny, here’s my real plan.” Wei Ying sits with Yuan on his lap on the couch after he gets up from his nap, watching a brightly colored cartoon where people won’t stop screaming, and tries to think of other options.

He calls Mo Xuanyu, just to check, and the robotic voice tells him the number is no longer in service. Wei Ying calls Yanli instead.

“I need to actually talk to A-Yuan’s mom,” he says in Chinese. “I need to make sure if I keep him, no one’s going to show up at the last second and object.”

“There’s no one to show up,” says Yanli. “Wait. You’re really thinking about this?”

“Maybe,” Wei Ying lies.

“A-Ying, this is such a big decision—”

“I know,” he says. “But… But if not me, then who? He’s so little, A-Li. He just wants someone to stay with him. Don’t worry about us, okay? I have a plan. Well. There is a plan. Well. It’s kind of a plan.”

She sighs loudly. “That sounds bad. That sounds like when you and A-Cheng tried to break into the school at night, and—”

“I’m a grown-up now,” says Wei Ying, mildly offended, “and I would never do stupid shit like that anymore!” He considers for a minute. “Let’s not tell A-Cheng until we have to, though, okay, because he’s gonna explode.”

Yuan whines, “What are you saying? I wanna hear the cartoon.”

“Say hi to your auntie,” Wei Ying coaxes, holding the phone out to him. “Say, ‘Hi Auntie A-Li.’”

“Hi, Auntie A-Li,” Yuan says. “I feel shitty.”

“Ha ha, who taught him that?” Wei Ying says quickly. “He’s still sick. He’s so cute, you’re gonna love him.”

“If you’re really doing this, then you have to bring him here. I have to hug him in person,” says Yanli. “He’s gonna have a cousin any day now.”

Wei Ying loves her so much that it’s almost ridiculous. Anyone can be nice, but Yanli has the biggest, kindest heart out of everyone in the whole world. “We will,” he says. “First thing. Do you think… Is your mom really gonna freak out over this?”

“Yes,” Yanli says. “But she freaks out over everything. You’ve never let her stop you before.” She says it fondly, like all the shenanigans and punishments when Wei Ying was growing up were all adorable.

“Don’t worry, I’m going full-steam ahead,” Wei Ying says. “You know me. I’m reckless.”

Yanli says, “You have always loved people recklessly. It’s one of my favorite things about you.”

He won’t be able to fall in love recklessly once he’s married, Wei Ying thinks ruefully. But maybe it’s enough that he loves Yuan. It’s only been a few days, surely it’s too quick to fall in love, even with an adorable kid? But Yuan looks up at him with his big eyes and holds his book up and says. “Read to me now?” and Wei Ying thinks, Nope. Too late already.

“Please try and remember that that’s something you like about me,” says Wei Ying. “And please use the auntie network to track down A-Yuan’s mom for me?”

“I have nothing to do but sit around all day,” says Yanli. “I’m on it.”

The next day Yuan clearly feels better because he spends a lot of it running around the apartment with toys, knocking things down, and generally being a huge nuisance until Wei Ying bundles him up in maybe too many sweaters and a coat, and takes him outside to a playground. There are a couple of other moms there with little kids in strollers and out of strollers, running around screaming, and Yuan is a friendly little kid who seems perfectly happy to play with other little kids, even ones he’s just met.

It’s brisk outside but not unbearable. Wei Ying should maybe not just have worn a hoodie, but he’s okay as long as he keeps his arms folded across his chest.

Yuan and another little boy run up a platform and down the slide and up the platform and down the slide about three hundred times in a row. And then something must happen, because the other little boy overbalances and falls and slips and lands at the bottom of the slide on his back, head-first.

He screams, and then starts to cry. Before his mom, or Wei Ying, or any of the other adults can react, Yuan is already there, crouched over him, saying worriedly, “Are you okay? I give you a band-aid.”

“Awww,” says the other mom, a tall lady who scoops up her sobbing son. “That’s so sweet! What a nice boy you have.”

“Yeah,” says Wei Ying, proud like he taught Yuan to be nice.

“He’s okay?” Yuan asks, tugging worriedly on Wei Ying’s jeans.

“He’ll be fine,” Wei Ying promises.

“He needs a band-aid,” Yuan says.

The other little boy has mostly stopped crying, because his mom is bouncing him gently. “At this age they get hurt all the time,” she says with a rueful little, am I right? smile at Wei Ying. “But it’s so cute that he’s worried. Some little boys are such monsters. You can tell he’ll grow up to be a sweetheart. Won’t you, honey?” She smiles at Yuan.

Yuan smiles politely in return, but puts his arms around Wei Ying’s leg and clings.

“Maybe he’ll grow up to be a doctor,” says Wei Ying, ruffling Yuan’s hair. Of course his kid is the nicest kid. Of course his kid is gonna grow up to be kind and brilliant and concerned for other people. Of course all the other parents think his kid is the best.

“You’re the best, huh, Yuan-er?” Wei Ying says.

“You don’t have a band-aid?” Yuan asks, frowning.

The mom laughs. “Good luck with that,” she says. “Every time they fall down, they think they need a band-aid and a lollipop.” Her son perks up at that, like lollipops are going to appear out of nowhere. “Nice to meet you,” she says, and carries her son away.

“Band-aids and lollipops?” says Yuan.

“You’re not hurt, though,” Wei Ying points out, “so you don’t need them.”

Yuan considers that for a minute, then holds up his hand. “Ow?” he says, testing.

“Not ow,” Wei Ying says firmly. “Knock it off. Listen up, okay?” He picks Yuan up. “You and me, we’re gonna stick together. For a long, long time. So you have to tell me the truth. No pretend ows. If there’s a real one, you tell me and I’ll fix it. But you have to tell me the truth.”

Yuan considers that. It’s a deep concept for a little kid, way beyond ‘can I have a lollipop?’ Sometimes Yuan looks like a tiny little adult, with these tiny little adult expressions on his tiny little face. “I tell the truth,” he agrees. “You tell the truth?”

Wei Ying holds up one hand. “I promise. You promise?”

“I promise,” Yuan says.

“Then we’ll stick together,” Wei Ying says. “You and me, buddy. Okay?”

“Okay,” says Yuan.

Fuck. Wei Ying realizes he’s willing to do any stupid thing to keep this kid. It’s a sinking feeling—Oh god, what am I about to do?—but at the same time there’s a funny buoyancy to it. It’s easier to be stupid and reckless once you know you’re all in and there’s no going back.

“I wanna get down,” Yuan says. “I wanna play. Push me on the swing?” He wiggles furiously until Wei Ying puts him down.

“Of course,” Wei Ying says. He takes his phone out of his pocket and looks at it for a minute.

“Push me!” Yuan shouts, trying to climb onto a swing with mixed success. “Push me!”

Okay, Wei Ying texts Lan Zhan. Let’s do this. Why not? He hesitates for a minute, heart pounding. But at the same time, he’s not nervous. Honestly, he feels giddy. What is life, if not an adventure full of surprises?

He hits send, laughs at himself a little, and goes to help Yuan onto the swing.

Chapter Text

Yuan is way more fun when he’s not sick. Actually, he’s way more fun right up until Lan Zhan comes over on Sunday, frowns at the mess that’s reappeared, and starts cleaning. Because the minute Lan Zhan starts that, Yuan starts following him around, picking things up and handing them to him.

“Come on,” Wei Ying whines. “This isn’t why you came over.”

“It is unsuitable,” says Lan Zhan.

“Unsuitable,” Yuan echoes, matching his tone exactly.

“We’re moving out, though, right?” says Wei Ying. “So what does it matter? Is your place big enough for us? I mean, we can all crowd into one bed, I guess. Or you can move in here—”

“Unnecessary,” Lan Zhan says immediately. “My apartment is bigger. We will live there.”

Wei Ying can’t believe they’re having this conversation. “Okay,” he says. “I mean, I have this place until June, so if you want, we can keep living here and pretend to live with you.”

“No,” says Lan Zhan. “They will check.”

“I’m trying to help you out, my dude,” Wei Ying points out, but subsides when he gets that totally blank, I am waiting for you to stop being ridiculous look. “Okay. Fine! Do you have the paperwork?”

Lan Zhan pulls a laptop out of his bag. “We can begin online,” he says. “Tomorrow we will obtain the marriage license, and twenty-four hours later the city can perform the marriage. We will require a witness, if there is someone you wish to bring.”

“Holy shit,” says Wei Ying. “Married by Tuesday, huh? That’s so fast. I—No, all my family is pretty far away. I can ask a friend to come with us, if you want? I don’t think Huaisang would mind.”

Lan Zhan gives him a look that says he is perfectly indifferent either way.

“What about your brother?” Wei Ying asks. “Is he in the city?”

“He is,” Lan Zhan says, and pauses. Yuan tugs on his sleeve, so Lan Zhan pulls him up into his lap. “I would rather explain it afterward,” he says at last.

So even Lan Zhan realizes this is kind of stupid, Wei Ying thinks. It makes him feel a little more light-hearted. “Okay, then I’ll text my friend and ask him to meet us at the courthouse on Tuesday. I just won’t say why, and that way he can’t accidentally tell anyone. This is your last chance to back out.”

Lan Zhan opens his laptop, carefully balanced on top of his legs and not Yuan’s, and says, “I will enter my information as Spouse A.”

Fuck it, Wei Ying thinks, and texts Nie Huaisang. He’ll definitely assume it’s a joke or a prank, especially once he sees Yuan, and how hot Lan Zhan is.

Speaking of which, Wei Ying pulls out his phone and snaps a picture of Lan Zhan and Yuan. It’s fucking adorable. Lan Zhan tilts his head very slightly, a puzzled question.

“We have to show that it’s a real relationship, right?” Wei Ying says. “I’d definitely have pictures of you on my phone.”

“Very well.” Lan Zhan sits up a little straighter and looks at him impassively.

Wei Ying laughs and takes a couple more pictures. Somehow he knows that, if they were really dating, his phone would be full of pictures of Lan Zhan making exactly that expression.

Yuan tugs on Lan Zhan’s sleeve. “Read to me?”

“As soon as I am finished,” he says, typing. After a minute he hands the laptop to Wei Ying. “Spouse B,” he says.

“Oooh, such dirty talk, so romantic,” says Wei Ying, sighing. Lan Zhan looks at him patiently. Wei Ying shrugs and slumps on the couch and starts filling in the information.

Lan Zhan picks up one of the books piled on the couch. “Do you know the ABCs?” he asks Yuan.

“Now I know my A-B-Cs, next time won’t you sing with me,” Yuan sings. He looks up at Lan Zhan. “I know.”

“Then show me A,” says Lan Zhan, opening a book about the alphabet.

Yuan wrinkles up his nose and sings, “A B C D E F G,” and then stops, and then frowns. “I don’t know,” he says.

“This is A,” says Lan Zhan, pointing. His eyes flicker up to Wei Ying. “You are not filling in your information.”

“I’m distracted,” Wei Ying says, which he is. He could watch Lan Zhan teach the alphabet all day. “I bet A-Yuan’s missed a lot of school. He should be in Pre-K.”

“He will catch up,” says Lan Zhan, with absolute certainty. “This is A. Words that have the sound ‘ah’ have an A in them.”

Wei Ying is never going to get this dumb basic information filled in at this point. He types in his name and his parents’ names and where he was born and passes the laptop back to Lan Zhan. “A-Yuan, do you know how to write your name? Oh shit, I wonder what character his mom used for Yuan?”

“We will choose one that is appropriate,” says Lan Zhan. He picks Yuan up with both hands and trades him to Wei Ying for the laptop.

“Let’s play soccer,” says Yuan, crawling out of his lap and reaching under the couch for a toy soccer ball. “I’m bored, let’s play.”

Wei Ying kicks the ball around with him for a few minutes while Lan Zhan finishes up whatever he needs to do and submits the online document. “Monday we will go to the courthouse,” Lan Zhan says. He doesn’t ask if Wei Ying is sure, which is nice. He doesn’t try and find a reason to change his own mind, either. Once Lan Zhan has decided something, it seems, he has decided forever.

“Okay, after orchestra, I guess?” Wei Ying says. “I’ll pick A-Yuan up from daycare and we can take him downtown. You want to come to our wedding, right?” he asks Yuan.

Yuan kicks the ball a little too hard and it thumps against the wall. “I want to?” he says.

Lan Zhan picks the ball up. “Play soccer outside,” he says firmly. Yuan holds his hands up and Lan Zhan picks him up, too.

“Let’s go play some fucking soccer, I guess,” says Wei Ying.

They aren’t too far from a park where there’s a wide enough sidewalk to kick the ball back and forth a little bit. Yuan looks adorable, bundled up in his coat and hat, trying his best to kick a ball that’s a quarter as big as he is. Lan Zhan looks pretty adorable, too, carefully trapping the ball under his dress shoe and then gently kicking it back to him.

Wei Ying plays for a little while before he gets bored, but it seems like Yuan and Lan Zhan might just be the kind of people who never get bored. He wouldn’t have expected it of Lan Zhan, to be honest. He seems like he’d be picky and standoffish and cold, but now that they’re friends he never acts that way. He’s just closed off.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, but Lan Zhan is busy coaxing Yuan to kick the ball better. “Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying shouts. Lan Zhan stops and looks at him. It’s almost embarrassing how much Wei Ying likes having Lan Zhan look at him, even when he looks a little sarcastic. “When are we going to see this magical apartment of yours, huh?” he asks. “Is it ready for a kid? Should we pack our stuff next weekend? Next month?”

“You may move in tomorrow if you wish,” says Lan Zhan. He kicks the ball back to Yuan. It rolls past him and Yuan shrieks with glee and chases after it.

“Wow,” says Wei Ying. “Just…bring our stuff over and that’s it?”

“Are there other steps you wish to take?”

Wei Ying splutters for a second. “I mean, I always thought that when I got married and moved in with someone, we’d pick out furniture together and do all that couple stuff, you know?”

“If you wish—”

“If I wish, we can go pick out furniture, I know, I know,” says Wei Ying. “I got it. Anything I want. That’s really strange, you know? You shouldn’t be so accommodating. You’ll spoil us.”

Lan Zhan doesn’t look over when Wei Ying says that. Maybe he didn’t hear.

“I’m cold,” says Yuan suddenly. “It’s cold outside. It’s going to rain?”

“It might snow,” says Wei Ying. “Have you ever seen snow?”

Yuan shakes his head. “I don’t think so,” he says.

“He’s from Miami. You’re from San Francisco; did you ever see snow as a kid?” Wei Ying asks.

Lan Zhan inclines his head slightly. “We traveled a lot as I performed. I saw snow.”

“But…did you play in it?” Wei Ying asks.

“I did not.”

Wei Ying is starting to suspect some things about Lan Zhan’s childhood, and when he meets this brother of his, he might give him a piece of his mind. “Did you play at all?” Wei Ying asks.

Lan Zhan picks up the soccer ball and hands it to Wei Ying. “I will see you tomorrow,” he says. “After orchestra rehearsal we will go downtown.”

“Okay,” says Wei Ying. Yuan clings to his leg a little. “Hey, don’t think I didn’t notice you didn’t answer!” he yells after Lan Zhan as he walks away. He looks down at Yuan. “From now on, you and me are going to live with him, okay? Does that sound nice?”

“I guess,” says Yuan, hugging his leg. “You and me?”

“Both of us,” Wei Ying says. “I guess you can call him ‘dad’ if you want to.”

“He’s your dad?” Yuan asks.

Wei Ying laughs and picks him up. “No, he’s your dad,” he says. “If you want him to be. Don’t worry, he’s nicer than he looks.”

“He’s nice,” Yuan agrees. He doesn’t say ‘dad’ again, though. Wei Ying wonders how many different random people have told Yuan to call them ‘mom’ or ‘dad,’ as he got passed from person to person.

That won’t happen anymore, though. “Let’s go pack our stuff, since you like cleaning up now,” Wei Ying says.

“I like it,” Yuan agrees, and Wei Ying rolls his eyes as he carries him back to the apartment.

Wei Ying is weirdly calm the next day. He drops Yuan off at daycare (“I didn’t barf today!” says Yuan proudly, and Maria cheers), apologizes to his professors and hands in some late work he’s put very minimal effort into, and shows up to orchestra rehearsal able to sight-read the music well enough not to get called out on not really having practiced at all.

Lan Zhan sits silently and doesn’t look at him for two hours, which is a hell of a way to spend the day you’re getting married to each other. When the conductor goes to talk to the percussion section about their tempo, Wei Ying crumples up a receipt from the drug store and chucks it at Lan Zhan’s head.

Lan Zhan catches it without looking around.

Wei Ying pouts a little bit at that. He knows Lan Zhan doesn’t hate him anymore, he doesn’t even necessarily dislike him, but he’s just as unreceptive as he’s ever been, and it’s not fair. Wei Ying is cute, charming, and marrying him tomorrow. If that doesn’t at least warrant a smile, what does?

He thinks he catches Lan Zhan’s eye later, in a pause when the conductor is working with the woodwinds but not the flutes, but Wei Ying waves and winks and gets nothing—nothing!—in return. It’s terrible.

At the end of rehearsal, Wei Ying puts his flute away and waits until the room has mostly cleaned out. Lan Zhan walks over. “You know, you’re a big disappointment,” Wei Ying scolds him. “We’re going to be newlyweds in twenty-four hours, and you don’t even smile at me.”

“I don’t smile at anyone,” Lan Zhan points out evenly.

“But we’re getting married,” Wei Ying argues.

“Holy shit,” says a flute behind him. “You’re what?”

Wei Ying turns and winces. “It’s, uh, it’s kind of a secret,” he says to her. “If you don’t mind not telling anyone for a little while.”

Her eyes are enormous as she looks from him to Lan Zhan and back. “Oh my god,” she says. “I knew it. I knew you were trying to flirt with him!”

“No, I wasn’t,” says Wei Ying, but she’s already squealing.

Lan Zhan gives him a look that says, This is your fault. Wei Ying nods and sighs, because it kind of is.

“You could be a little more excited, though,” Wei Ying says, as he follows Lan Zhan out of the room. He waves at everyone as he goes, since he really does know everyone. Lan Zhan doesn’t even glance left or right. “Do you ever hang out?” Wei Ying demands. “When we’re married, we have to start hanging out with people. No one would ever believe I married someone this anti-social.”

“I am not anti-social,” says Lan Zhan.

It’s not even worth arguing about. “Okay, well, my sister’s going to want to meet you, like, the second we do this, and my brother’s going to flip out, too, so you should brace yourself for that. We should know about each other’s families, right?”

Lan Zhan ignores him.

Wei Ying talks the entire way to daycare to pick up Yuan. When they get there, Yuan looks up and shouts, “Hi!” and runs over, throwing his arms around Wei Ying’s leg. If there had been any doubts in Wei Ying’s mind, that would have erased them. “I missed you,” says Yuan, looking up at him.

“You ready to go down to the courthouse with us?” Wei Ying asks. Just to try it, just to see what it feels like, he turns to Maria and says, “We’re filling out the paperwork to get married.”

“Oh!” Maria says, beaming. “Oh, that’s so nice. When’s the wedding?”

“Uh…” Wei Ying says. “Tomorrow, officially. We’re not doing a big thing. My family’s in China, his is…” He pauses.

“Busy,” says Lan Zhan firmly.

“I really ought to know where your parents are,” Wei Ying points out.

Lan Zhan helps Yuan put his coat on and ignores Wei Ying until they are outside. “My family is my brother and my uncle,” says Lan Zhan. “They are both in the city. You can meet them whenever you like.” He flags down a taxi and gives the driver curt directions.

“Wait, so… You, me, and Yuan-er are all orphans?” Wei Ying asks. “Holy shit. That’s like… It’s like fate, or something.”

Lan Zhan puts Yuan on his lap and buckles them both in together. “I will buy a car seat,” he says.

“Right, right.” Wei Ying climbs in after them. Lan Zhan stares at him pointedly as the cab pulls away from the curb. “What?” Wei Ying says. “Did I do something?”

“You have not buckled your seat belt,” says Lan Zhan.

“In a taxi?” Wei Ying scoffs, but Lan Zhan keeps staring, so he sighs heavily and buckles himself in.

Yuan says, “After this we go to the airport?”

“No,” says Wei Ying. “We’re going to get married.”

“We’re getting married?” Yuan repeats, incredulously. He looks from one of them to the other. “Holy shit!”

Wei Ying winces. “I know, I know,” he says, “I gotta watch my mouth around him.”

“He repeats everything,” Lan Zhan says, and sighs a tiny little sigh.

Yuan adds loudly, “Because I like a wedding!”

“Do you know what a wedding is?” Wei Ying asks.

Yuan looks out the window at the streets speeding past. “I seen it on TV,” he says, “on a computer. And it was purple.”

Wei Ying blinks a couple of times. “Sometimes talking to a kid is like having someone describe a dream to you,” he says. “At a wedding you wear red. Or white, I guess. Depends on the country.” He bats his eyes at Lan Zhan. “Should I buy a dress?”

“If you would like a dress,” says Lan Zhan evenly.

“I like purple,” Yuan says. “And I like blue. That’s blue.” He points to Lan Zhan’s jacket.

“He’s talking a lot more than he was a few days ago,” says Wei Ying.

Lan Zhan nods. “Perhaps he feels more comfortable.”

“Maybe he knows we’re about to do something stupid to keep him.”

Yuan cranes his neck to look up at Lan Zhan. “Do you like purple?” he asks. “Or blue?”

“I like blue,” says Lan Zhan.

“Wow,” says Yuan again. “Holy shit!”

Wei Ying winces. “He’ll grow out of it. I’ll watch my mouth. I promise. You—stop saying that. That’s not nice, don’t say it.”

“You say it,” says Yuan, frowning. “What’s that?” He points out the window.

“A building,” says Lan Zhan.

“What’s that?”

“A store.”

“What’s that?”

“A car.”

“I’m going to lose my fucking mind,” Wei Ying says loudly, realizes a second too late that he just promised to stop swearing, winces, and sinks into his seat as much as he can. He ignores the next twenty minutes of Yuan demanding to know what things are and Lan Zhan, with apparently endless patience, answering him.

Wei Ying is still crabby that his soon-to-be husband is mostly ignoring or refusing to flirt with him, but at least he’s a great dad.

City Hall is crowded and confusing and everyone there is a little bit rude, unless they see Yuan, and then they get nicer and more helpful. He’s just so cute, Wei Ying thinks proudly. No one can resist him.

They’ve already done some of the stuff online, so all they have to do is fill in a couple of forms with a nice older white woman who ignores both of them in favor of making faces at Yuan. He giggles at her and hides behind Wei Ying’s leg while Wei Ying signs everything.

“And that’s it?” he says uncertainly. “We’re…married?”

The woman says, “There’s a twenty-four-hour waiting period, honey. You go to the courthouse tomorrow and get it witnessed, and then you’re married. Right now, you’re just in possession of the proper papers.” She makes another silly face at Yuan, who giggles again. “And then you’re gonna have two daddies, isn’t that sweet?”

“I like to have two daddies,” Yuan agrees. He tugs on Wei Ying’s jeans. “I’m bored. Do we go to the airport now?”

“What is your obsession with the airport?” Wei Ying asks, picking him up.

“I don’t like it,” Yuan says. He doesn’t sound upset, though. “I want to play. I want to read a book. I want to go home.”

Wei Ying had sort of thought there would be more…ceremony. Even if this is just the paperwork, and tomorrow is the actual day. “Okay,” he says. “Those things are all fair. Are you ready to see your new apartment?”

“No,” Yuan says firmly. “I like to go home.”

“We are going home,” Wei Ying says. “We’re going to Lan Zhan’s home. That’ll be nice, won’t it?”

It’s like a sudden storm has rolled in over their perfect kid. “No!” he shrieks. “No, I want to go home, I want to go hooooooooome!” He bursts into what seem like the angriest tears Wei Ying has ever seen.

Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan, who has the tiniest wrinkle of concern on his flawless forehead. “Then we will return to your home,” he says.

“You can’t just give him everything he wants,” Wei Ying says.

Lan Zhan purses his mouth slightly. “He is upset at the idea of moving,” he says. “That seems…fair.”

“Shit,” says Wei Ying, and cuddles his squirming, screaming son a little more tightly. “Hey, A-Yuan, it’s okay. Wherever you go, I’m going too. Together, remember? I promised. We’re going to the new apartment together.”

“I don’t want to,” Yuan sobs into his shoulder.

“Then…” Wei Ying pauses. “Okay, buddy, it’s okay. Please calm down.”

“Then we will go to your apartment,” says Lan Zhan, like that’s that.

Wei Ying hadn’t realized all three of them would be going to his apartment. It’s mostly packed, but still somehow a huge mess, and he knows the instant Lan Zhan walks in that he’s about to start cleaning. Yuan stopped crying on the way back, but he’s clingy and wants Wei Ying to carry him everywhere, so Wei Ying sits him down on the couch and reads him a couple of books until he seems calmer.

Lan Zhan keeps coming in, hovering a little, and then walking out again to go pack or clean something. It takes Wei Ying the better part of an hour to realize he wants to say something.

“Just spit it out,” Wei Ying says, the sixth time Lan Zhan stands awkwardly far from the couch and stares at both of them with his eyebrows pointed ever so slightly down. “Ask me whatever it is you want to ask me.”

Lan Zhan takes a deep breath, and doesn’t say anything.

“Oh my god, just say it,” Wei Ying says.

“Immigration will ask if this is a real marriage,” Lan Zhan says finally, looking somewhere into space over Wei Ying’s head. “If it is not possible to move A-Yuan, then… I should stay here.”

“We can just fucking move him,” Wei Ying points out. “He’s like, two feet tall, what’s he gonna do about it?”

Lan Zhan frowns at him.

Wei Ying holds up his hands in surrender. “Right, right. So if we stay here a few more days to let him settle, you want to stay here, too? Where? He’s already sleeping in the only bed.”

“He can sleep in the bed. You sleep on the couch. I will sleep on the floor.” Lan Zhan pauses. “I will clean the floor, and then sleep on it,” he corrects himself.

“I’m not making my husband sleep on the floor!” Wei Ying protests. “That’s ridiculous!”

“I should stay here,” Lan Zhan repeats. The reason he likes Yuan so much, Wei Ying decides, is that they’re both stubborn assholes.

Wei Ying huffs a little. “Well, I don’t want you to sleep on my shitty couch. My neck is killing me. Tonight we’ll put the munchkin on the couch, and you take the bed, and I’ll sleep on the floor.”

There is a pause.

“I…also would not make my husband sleep on the floor,” Lan Zhan says eventually.

Wei Ying laughs. “You’d rather share a bed with me?”

There is a much longer pause.

“I mean,” Wei Ying says slowly, when it becomes clear that Lan Zhan is just not going to respond, “I mean, I guess we do have to prove it’s a real marriage, right? Not just for a green card, even though it totally is. I Googled, and they ask stuff like, ‘which side of the bed does your spouse sleep on?’ So we should probably know that stuff.”

Lan Zhan’s continuing silence speaks volumes.

“So…you wouldn’t mind if we both crashed in my bed?” Wei Ying asks. Getting married, filling in the paperwork, that seemed kind of normal, but sleeping next to Lan Zhan… What if he snores? What if he kicks all night? It’s the kind of thing Wei Ying should know, but for some reason it gives him butterflies in his stomach.

Imagine sleeping next to the hottest guy in the world, but you’re just gonna sleep, and also you’re halfway married.

“Okay, well, if you don’t mind, I don’t mind,” says Wei Ying cheerfully, because what the hell else can he say? He doesn’t mind! He’d happily sleep with Lan Zhan anyway, except all his flirting and sleeping with people has been curtailed for the foreseeable future. Like, the next fourteen years until Yuan goes away to college.

Shit, he hadn’t really thought about that part.

“It is an acceptable arrangement,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying deflates, just a little bit. “You know, this is almost our honeymoon,” he complains. “We’re basically newlyweds, and you just said that us sleeping together is ‘acceptable.’ Couldn’t you try and make it sound a little hot and sexy? Even if you don’t mean it? I can’t believe I’m marrying such a cold fish.”

Lan Zhan looks right at him and says, “You are attractive, and I do not mind sharing a bed with you.”

“Uuuuugh,” Wei Ying complains, slumping down horizontal on the couch. “Now you’re making fun of me. This is going to be a long the-rest-of-my-life.”

Yuan crawls on top of him and lies down, which is cute, but also he’s, like, one inch away from kicking Wei Ying in the balls if he starts flailing again. “Oh my god, can you move him?” Wei Ying asks.

Lan Zhan picks Yuan up, and Yuan transfers his clinging to Lan Zhan’s neck instead. “If you wish, after you have your green card and A-Yuan, we can part.”

Wei Ying thinks about that for a minute. Just his luck to meet a hot guy who likes his kid, and the hot guy is already looking for a nice way to break up with him. “I guess, after we have the citizenship and the baby stuff all figured out,” Wei Ying says, “I can help you meet a nice girl. Or a nice boy. I wouldn’t just leave you to keep being lonely. Not now that we’re best friends.” He grins up at Lan Zhan.

“I will clean your room,” says Lan Zhan, and carries Yuan away.

“I’m gonna be nice to you whether you want me to be or not!” Wei Ying shouts after him, and then puts a pillow over his own face. His life has gotten too strange to deal with in the last week, so he’s just…not going to think about it for a while.

Yuan falls asleep in front of the laptop. “He did not brush his teeth,” says Lan Zhan quietly.

“Oh,” says Wei Ying. “Yeah, I guess I…forgot to buy him a toothbrush. But it’s okay. The baby teeth fall out.”

“Hmm,” says Lan Zhan disapprovingly.

There’s nowhere to hang out in the tiny apartment if Yuan is asleep on the couch and they don’t want to wake him up. “I guess… We should go to bed?” Wei Ying says. “It’s so early.”

“This is when I go to bed,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying just barely restrains himself from rolling his eyes and saying, Of course it is. “You can use the bathroom first,” he says instead.

It takes ten awkward minutes to get ready for bed, and Wei Ying is zero percent tired when he strips down to his boxers and crawls into his definitely-not-big-enough-for-this bed. He wishes he’d washed the sheets. Lan Zhan absolutely sleeps on clean sheets every night. He probably does laundry every day. He probably uses a silk pillow so he never gets weird face creases in the morning. He probably—

Lan Zhan flips the lights off. Suddenly, Wei Ying’s breathing is very loud in his own ears.

“So,” Wei Ying says loudly, “which side do you like? Where do you sleep when you sleep with someone?” There’s a rustling sound that has to be Lan Zhan undressing and folding his clothes carefully. Wei Ying can’t see it, but he can imagine. Lan Zhan is so tall, and his shoulders are so wide. Is he skinny? He seems like he’d have a lot of muscles, but the lean kind of muscles. His legs always look really long, too.

“I do not sleep with people,” says Lan Zhan. “You may have either side.”

“I don’t either,” Wei Ying argues, but he scooches over toward the wall. “How about the left? You can have the left side, if you want it.”

“I have no preference,” says Lan Zhan, and then the bed creaks, and bounces.

It must be Wei Ying’s imagination, but he’d swear he can feel heat radiating off of Lan Zhan. They must be barely a centimeter apart, the bed’s just not that big. It’s too dark to see, but… He can feel him. Right over there. Being hot.

Wei Ying can hear himself breathing, and it’s weird. He’s not used to trying to lie still. “Um,” he says. “Comfortable?”

“It is fine.”

Maybe Wei Ying should have insisted on sleeping on the floor. Maybe he should have pointed out how small the bed is. Maybe he should have rolled up a towel and used it to separate the bed, like Uncle Fengmian did back when Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng had to share a bed on vacation and wouldn’t stop kicking each other all night.

“Not too hot?” Wei Ying whispers. “Too cold? I have another blanket.”

“It is fine.”

Wei Ying’s leg itches, and he tries rolling on his side, his back to Lan Zhan, to see if it helps, but then his arm is uncomfortable, and he rolls back the other way, and bumps Lan Zhan just a little—his skin is scalding—and then tries to kick off the blankets a little because he hates having his feet trapped under the blankets.

Lan Zhan isn’t moving at all. Like, not at all.

“Sorry,” Wei Ying whispers. “Sorry, it takes me a little while to get comfortable. Am I bothering you? I can just go out to the living room—”

A heavy hand clamps down on his arm, and Wei Ying freezes.

“You must relax,” says Lan Zhan sternly. “Take deep breaths. Lie still.”

Lan Zhan’s hand is so warm and so heavy on his arm that Wei Ying would swear he could trace Lan Zhan’s fingerprints on his skin. “Okay,” says Wei Ying, a little strangled. “I’ll try.”

“Close your eyes,” Lan Zhan orders.

“It’s dark, it doesn’t matter—”

Lan Zhan squeezes his arm.

It’s suddenly a little difficult to breathe, so Wei Ying closes his eyes. “Okay,” he says. The urge to wiggle around just to spite Lan Zhan is overwhelming, but for some reason he doesn’t.

“Breathe,” says Lan Zhan. Wei Ying can hear his deep, even breaths, and he tries to match them. It’s impossible to relax, though, because Lan Zhan’s hand is still on his arm, and it’s all he can think about. His hand is so big. Has Lan Zhan ever touched him before? He doesn’t think so. He’s about to marry someone he’s never even touched. Well, now they’ve touched. What if he rolled over and curled up against Lan Zhan’s side? He’s so warm. He’s probably already asleep—would he notice? Would he mind? How is Wei Ying supposed to fall asleep like this every night for the next million years when he can’t even hold still—

He falls asleep.

Wei Ying wakes up alone in bed, sprawled across the entire mattress. He’s disappointed for a second and then remembers that he’s not supposed to be disappointed, he’s supposed to be relieved.

He can hear voices in the other room, so he pulls on a pair of joggers and puts his hair in a ponytail and walks out to see what his family is up to. Lan Zhan is sitting on the floor—the floor which is currently completely clean—with Yuan in his lap, reading him a book.

“A,” Yuan says. “Apple.”

“B,” says Lan Zhan, pointing to the next page. “Banana.”

“I like a banana,” says Yuan.

“They are delicious,” Lan Zhan agrees. Wei Ying leans against the wall and bites down on a smile. Lan Zhan takes everything Yuan says so seriously. It’s so charming. Wei Ying feels a little bit warm inside, watching them.

“I can have a banana. We get them at the store,” says Yuan, looking around.

“You have already had a banana,” says Lan Zhan. “What letter is this?”

Yuan stops squirming and settles down. “Cat,” he says.

“C,” says Lan Zhan. “Cat begins with C.”

Against all odds, Lan Zhan is going to be an amazing dad. Wei Ying is actually really lucky. “Hey,” he says quietly. “You ready to go get married?”

“I am,” says Lan Zhan.

“Cat,” says Yuan. “C-A-T.”

“Wow, holy shit!” Wei Ying says, walking in. He squats next to Yuan. “You spelled cat! What a smart kid.”

“Cat, C-A-T,” says Yuan again, beaming.

“Point to a C,” Lan Zhan prompts.

Yuan frowns at the book for a minute, then points to the cat.

“Okay, maybe he just memorized that, but still, memorization is a skill!” Wei Ying argues. He grabs Yuan and stands up. “I’m gonna get him dressed. He should wear something fancy, right? His dads are getting married.”

“I have two dads,” Yuan says. “That’s so lucky.”

“That is so lucky!” Wei Ying says, and blows a raspberry against Yuan’s neck, which makes him giggle and kick his feet. Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan. “I just want to thank you again—”

“No need,” says Lan Zhan, standing up. Somehow, inexplicably, he looks even more attractive than he did last night. “I will also get dressed.”

“Don’t get dressed on my account,” Wei Ying jokes. “We’re getting married, I appreciate the view!”

Lan Zhan gives him one of those side-eyes that says he thinks Wei Ying is truly ridiculous as he walks away.

“He likes me, actually,” Wei Ying tells Yuan. “Don’t let him fool you. He thinks I’m great.”

“We’re going to school?” Yuan asks.

“No, today we’re going to get married. We’re going to a wedding. I’m gonna call my friend Huaisang, you’ll like him. He’s kind of weird. Hey, you’re gonna be our best man. Is that cool? You ready to be a best man?”

“I’m not a man, I’m a kid,” Yuan objects.

Wei Ying blows another raspberry on his neck, which wins that argument.

Yuan doesn’t exactly have any nice clothes, so Wei Ying persuades him to wear his cleanest jeans and a hoodie that has little bunny ears on the hood because it’s so cute. “We’re going to the airport?” Yuan asks. He looks a little worried.

Wei Ying frowns at him. “Why do you keep asking that? Do you like the airport?”

“I don’t like it,” Yuan says, shaking his head. “We staying here at home?”

Wei Ying just looks at him for a minute, because he can actually feel his heart breaking into little pieces. “You’re staying here,” he says. “Remember? You’re always staying here with me, now. No airport. Staying here. I’m gonna take care of you.”

“Staying here,” Yuan repeats. “I’m worried. But now we staying here?”

“You and me and Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says. Worry feels like a big concept for a little kid. Maybe it’s just one of those words he picked up, like ‘holy shit.’ But it makes Wei Ying furious that someone taught this kid how to worry. “Well, we’re staying together. I don’t know if it’ll literally always be here, since this place is pretty small. Okay? That’s what a wedding means. We’re staying together. You don’t have to worry anymore. You’re staying with me. With us.”

“A wedding means staying together,” Yuan repeats. He gets that funny adult-expression on his face and wrinkles his nose up in thought. “Okay. I like a wedding. Let’s go.”

“Wei Ying must put a shirt on, first,” says a deep voice behind him.

Wei Ying startles and whirls around. Lan Zhan is standing there, fully dressed in yesterday’s clothes but somehow looking absolutely perfect, and his face is—

“Were you staring at me?” Wei Ying asks.

Whatever mysterious thing Lan Zhan’s face was doing, he stops. Was he… smiling? Lan Zhan looks away. “No.”

Wei Ying laughs. “Okay,” he says. “Whatever. I’ll go put a shirt on. You can explain weddings to him for a while.” He shakes his head as he walks past Lan Zhan.

For just a second, it had looked like Lan Zhan’s expression was soft?

But nothing about Lan Zhan has ever been soft: not his voice, not his face, certainly not his expression. He’s basically a wall that’s come to life and is walking around, being handsome for no good reason. He’s smart, and he’s talented, and he's kind, and he’s crazy hot, so if he were also nice and soft, he would be… He would be...

Wei Ying would be in trouble, is what.

Wei Ying finds his cleanest button-up shirt and brushes his hair. He grabs a pop tart and offers one to Yuan, who is delighted, and Lan Zhan, who is clearly horrified in his understated way. “Ready to do this?” Wei Ying asks.

“I’m ready!” Yuan says loudly.

“That settles it,” Wei Ying laughs. “Let’s go.”

Huaisang is waiting for them at City Hall with the biggest coffee Wei Ying has ever seen in his life. “I thought you got arrested,” Huaisang says. “We have a party that’s a rager, the biggest party of the semester, and then you drop off the face of the earth for over a week and tell me to meet you at City Hall? Holy shit, what’s he doing here?” He looks at Lan Zhan with huge eyes.

It’s possible the topic of ‘the hot violinist who hates me’ has come up more than once. “Funny story,” Wei Ying says. “We need a witness for our wedding. Surprise!”

For a second, he thinks Huaisang is going to faint right there on the sidewalk. Lan Zhan stands with one hand behind his back and the other holding Yuan’s hand, while Yuan bounces up and down with excitement. “It’s a wedding!” he says. “I like a wedding.”

“Oh my god,” croaks Huaisang. “Wei Ying, what have you done?”

“Ha ha,” says Wei Ying sarcastically. “Why does it have to be me who did something?”

“Of course it was you!” Huaisang shouts.

“Well… Yeah, it was. Lan Zhan, this is Nie Huaisang, he’s my friend. And this is Yuan-er. This is Lan Zhan, my fiancé! I guess I never mentioned that me and the first violin… Uh, we started getting along.” He smiles.

Huaisang is still gaping at him. “I thought you said he hated you!”

“I did not hate him,” says Lan Zhan stiffly.

“See? He did not hate me,” Wei Ying says. “Actually, once you get to know him, he’s pretty cool. But obviously super private, so I didn’t want to tell anyone until it was a real relationship.”

“Getting married is pretty real,” says Huaisang.

“Holy shit,” agrees Yuan gravely. Huaisang turns to gape at him.

Wei Ying sighs. “It’s cold out here, let’s get inside and I’ll explain everything.” He steers Huaisang toward the doors of City Hall and then looks over his shoulder to give Lan Zhan a thumbs up. They haven’t exactly decided what kind of “yes we’ve been dating this whole time” lie they plan to tell, but Lan Zhan seems like a terrible liar, so Wei Ying figures he’ll just handle it.

“Okay, okay, I understand that you two are… I mean, getting married, I guess,” Huaisang says. “But that doesn’t explain where he came from.” He points at Yuan. “What is going on?”

“He’s my son,” says Wei Ying, and doesn’t offer any additional information even when Huaisang looks like he’s going to keel over again. “Obviously we have to get married, because single parenting is too hard. I’m just kidding. It’s a good thing Lan Zhan loves him, though, isn’t it? Don’t marry anyone who doesn’t love your kid. That’s my advice to you.”

“Don’t—What—Wei Ying!” Huaisang splutters.

“I have a lot of advice to give you, honestly,” says Wei Ying. They’re all following Lan Zhan now, who seems to know where he’s going through the crowds and the desks. “No matter how pretty the person is, if they don’t get along with your family and your kid, the marriage just won’t work.”

“When did you have a kid? I don’t understand! You’ve never mentioned any of this. I just don’t understand,” Huaisang wails.

“A-Yuan is four,” says Wei Ying.

Yuan helpfully holds up four fingers and says, “One, two, three, four!”

There’s no line at the desk Lan Zhan has led them to. Wei Ying has about three seconds of butterflies in his stomach, but what the hell, he’s already decided. “You ready, honey?” he asks Lan Zhan. ‘Honey’ sounds terrible. “Baby?” No, that’s worse. “Lover?” He winces before he can even finish the word.

“I am ready,” Lan Zhan says, pulling out all their papers and documents.

The thing about getting married at the courthouse is that it goes shockingly quickly. Just sign the paper, get the guy to say the thing and stamp the stuff, get Huaisang to sign as a witness no matter how many times he wails, “I don’t understand, this is for real?”

And then the clerk says, “I now pronounce you husband and husband. You may kiss…each other.”

Oh, Wei Ying thinks.

Right.

That.

Of course if they’re getting married they’d kiss! They’re supposed to be in love, right? How will they convince immigration if they can’t even convince Huaisang and the clerk?

And so Wei Ying, who is holding Yuan on his hip, shifts the kid over a little bit and pushes up on his tiptoes. “Congratulations to us,” he says, and—

His plan was a quick peck on the mouth, something even Lan Zhan couldn’t recoil from or object to. And then he’d say, “He’s not very demonstrative,” and everyone would agree.

What happens is—

His mouth brushes against Lan Zhan’s, and Lan Zhan’s arm comes around his waist, and Lan Zhan’s lips are surprisingly soft, and then they’re surprisingly open, and they are kissing. Like, for real kissing. He’d expected reluctance and stiffness, and instead there is something hungry about the way Lan Zhan chases after his mouth.

Lan Zhan’s arm is like iron, pulling him up closer, and Wei Ying feels crushed—crushed against Lan Zhan, crushed into this kiss, helplessly opening his mouth to what can only be described as an onslaught.

It’s sexy as fuck.

“Kissing!” says Yuan loudly. “They’re kissing.”

Wei Ying has never been kissed this hard or this thoroughly in his entire life, so it takes him a second to realize that it’s over and Lan Zhan has stepped back. His head is spinning and he’s not sure he remembers how to breathe.

“They kissed,” says Yuan seriously, looking at Huaisang. “It’s a wedding. We all get married.” Huaisang has been taking pictures with his phone.

“Ha ha,” says Wei Ying, reevaluating everything about his life really quickly. He has miscalculated pretty badly, it turns out. “It’s not like that’s the first time we’ve ever kissed. That was just… Wow. I guess we’re married now.”

Huaisang is just staring and staring. “I can’t believe it,” he says. “But… I guess I believe it now! You really know how to keep a secret, don’t you?”

“I sure do,” says Wei Ying. How, he wonders, can he get Lan Zhan to kiss him again? What kind of scenario can he set up where people have to kiss? Maybe he’ll take Lan Zhan and Yuan to a baseball game and pay someone to put them on the kisscam. Maybe he’ll throw himself a wedding banquet and get the guests to clang their spoons against the champagne flutes so they have to kiss.

He can’t possibly be married to Lan Zhan, and know he kisses like that, and not get kissed again.

Lan Zhan looks completely unflustered, which is absolutely unfair. He reaches into the pocket of his overcoat and pulls out a ring box, which he opens. There is a lovely plain silver band in it.

“Oh,” says Wei Ying. “Shit, I forgot.”

“What’s that?” Yuan asks.

“A ring,” Lan Zhan says. He takes the ring out, and Wei Ying doesn't know what else to do, so he holds out his hand, and Lan Zhan puts the ring on his finger.

“They’re getting married,” Yuan says loudly.

“I’ll get you one, too,” says Wei Ying. He had literally never imagined this as a wedding, with the kissing, and the ring, and all. “Sorry. I suck.”

“No need,” says Lan Zhan, chin high. Huaisang snaps another couple of photos.

Wei Ying lets Yuan slide down to the floor and takes his hand, and they follow Lan Zhan out of the building again. They’re married. They’re for-real-married. Wei Ying, it turns out, is having a lot of feelings about that.

“Why didn’t you guys do a regular wedding, though?” Huaisang asks. “What’s the rush?”

“Seemed easier to get married, then tell our families afterwards, when they can’t object,” Wei Ying says. “And it wouldn’t be legal in China, anyway. So we figured we’d just do it now. That way we can start sleeping together.”

“We are already sleeping together,” Lan Zhan says, with impeccable honesty.

“Lan Zhan! I was joking!” Wei Ying almost stomps his foot with annoyance.

Yuan looks at Huaisang and explains earnestly, “We have a wedding and I get married. It means we don’t go to the airport. I go to daycare. And after that—We’re married!”

Mildly garbled but generally correct. “You got married?” Wei Ying asks teasingly.

“We all get married,” Yuan says. “We are a family. We stay together. That’s what wedding means.” Then he starts singing the A-B-C song to himself.

“Clearly you’ve been planning this for a while,” says Huaisang. “Wow. I can’t believe I never even suspected you two were a couple! I should have known from all the flirting and teasing, I guess.”

“All the what?” Wei Ying says.

“Let me take you guys out for brunch or something,” Huaisang says. “We need to celebrate at least a little.”

“No need,” Lan Zhan says again.

Wei Ying scowls at him. “We’re definitely celebrating,” he scolds. “We’re going to have a nice dinner and invite all of our friends. All of my friends. They’ll be your friends soon.”

“Brunch,” Huaisang insists, and there isn’t a pressing need to go somewhere else, so—

The thing is, Wei Ying realizes over French toast, people will have questions.

“Where did you meet?” Huaisang asks. He and Wei Ying are having mimosas. Yuan has a chocolate chip pancake and syrup all over his face. Lan Zhan is having fruit and oatmeal. Plain. He won’t even add cinnamon.

“Class,” says Lan Zhan.

“First date?”

“I went to Wei Ying’s apartment to deliver homework he had missed,” Lan Zhan says.

“That was not a date!” Wei Ying protests. He hates this, he hates how Lan Zhan is technically telling the truth but making them sound so boring.

“Awww,” says Huaisang. “Cute.” He drains his mimosa and pauses dramatically. “You’re really not gonna explain the baby?”

“He’s not a baby, he’s a big kid,” Wei Ying says.

“A-Yuan is Wei Ying’s child,” says Lan Zhan. And then he gives Huaisang a look that says, No further questions will be tolerated. It’s a lot like all of his other looks, actually.

Huaisang throws his hands up in the air. “Okay,” he says. “I get it. So… When are you gonna tell your families?”

“About the wedding? Uh…” Wei Ying makes a face. “I guess we better rip the band-aid off. You’re our official wedding photographer, so text me those pictures you took.”

Huaisang pulls out his phone. “They’re pretty cute,” he says. “You guys are… I mean, you can see it all over your faces. Just post these and everyone will get it. They at least know you were dating, right?”

“Sure,” says Wei Ying.

The photographs are certainly something. The first few are just the slightly out-of-focus backs of their heads standing in front of the desk for the paperwork. But there’s one where Wei Ying is looking at Lan Zhan, and…yeah, there’s a look on his face. And then the kiss, well.

It makes Wei Ying’s heart start pounding again, just looking at it.

There’s a video of Lan Zhan putting the ring on Wei Ying’s finger, and that’s probably the easiest thing to post. No questions necessary, right? It ends with Yuan’s piping little voice announcing, “They’re getting married,” so even if you somehow didn’t know what the ring meant, it has a narrator.

“I’m gonna throw this up on Facebook and Weibo,” says Wei Ying. “That ought to cover it.”

“People are gonna flip,” Huaisang says, sounding delighted. “I can’t wait to see the drama.”

Wei Ying can’t decide what caption to put on the pictures and video as he uploads them. Something sappy to sell the idea that they’re in love? A long story about how they met and fell in love? He eventually settles on, “Surprise!” and leaves it at that as he presses “post.”

“Brace yourself,” Wei Ying says to Lan Zhan. “Wait, we’re not even friends online, you’re not gonna have any of this stress. This isn’t fair.”

“I will inform my family,” Lan Zhan says, and takes out his phone.

Wei Ying cranes his neck to see what Lan Zhan is typing. Maybe he crowds into Lan Zhan’s space a little bit, too, but they’re married; it would be weird if he didn’t.

“I am done,” says Lan Zhan.

“But you don’t even have the pictures or the video,” Wei Ying objects. “What did you send them?”

Lan Zhan holds out his phone. He has texted, “I am married” to two numbers titled “Uncle” and “Brother.”

“That’s it?” Wei Ying demands. “At the very least, shouldn’t you mention you’re a dad now? And that’s only if you don’t want to mention that your new husband is brilliant and talented and handsome and smart and funny—”

“They are aware of my standards,” says Lan Zhan, and puts his phone away.

Wei Ying blinks at him. “What?”

“He is sticky,” says Lan Zhan, standing and picking Yuan up. “I will take him to wash his hands. And face. And hoodie.”

“Wait, but—Did you just agree with me?” Wei Ying demands, but Lan Zhan has already walked away.

“You guys are adorable,” says Huaisang. “I can’t believe I never noticed.”

Wei Ying’s phone starts vibrating, which distracts him from the serious fog of what???? he’s stuck in.

“Are you going to get that?” Huaisang asks, like he’s dying to see Wei Ying get eaten alive by his family.

Wei Ying has four notifications. No, ten notifications. No, fourteen notifications, and then his phone starts ringing and it’s Yanli calling. He winces.

“Yes?” Wei Ying says.

“Wei Ying, what did you do!” Yanli shouts.

“I, uh, I thought it was pretty self-explanatory.”

“Wei Ying! This had better be a joke! If you got married and didn’t tell me or invite me, I’m going to get on a plane and—”

“No no no no no,” Wei Ying says quickly, “you’re way too pregnant to fly.” He’s been counting on the idea that he’s safe from his family showing up on his doorstep, to be honest.

“Then here’s your option,” says Yanli. “Either you and your husband and your child are in Chicago tomorrow, or I’ll be in New York. How could you? Why wouldn’t you tell me—”

His phone beeps because someone else is trying to call him. “I love you,” says Wei Ying quickly. “I didn’t invite you because you can’t fly right now, but I promise we’ll be out there as soon as we can, I gotta go, I have another call, love you, bye!”

He clicks over to the other call, hears his brother shout, “Wei Ying, you better not have fucking done what I think you did!” and hangs the phone up.

He has fifty-seven new notifications. “I’m just… Gonna put that on silent,” Wei Ying says.

Lan Zhan comes back, carrying Yuan, who is singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and is significantly less sticky. “We should probably get back to school,” Wei Ying says. “My, uh, my family would like to meet you, I think.”

“Of course,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying stares at him for a minute. There is zero percent chance that his family will meet Lan Zhan, think, “Oh, of course, it makes sense that he’d want to be with our Wei Ying,” and then politely leave again. At the very least, they will be confused, and more likely they will be suspicious, and with good reason. Lan Zhan is so obviously smart and competent and organized and quiet, and Wei Ying is…Wei Ying.

“You love me because opposites attract,” Wei Ying says, trying to figure out exactly what he’s going to tell people.

“No,” says Lan Zhan.

“...It has to be that,” Wei Ying argues. “Because otherwise why—”

“Many reasons,” says Lan Zhan. “A-Yuan.”

Wei Ying deflates a little bit. Right, right; Lan Zhan loves the kid, not him. “That’s not what we’re going to tell my family, though,” Wei Ying says.

Huaisang picks up the bill with badly concealed glee at watching them argue. “Did he just wear you down with all his lame flirting?” he asks.

“No,” says Lan Zhan again. “Shall we go?”

Once they’ve safely ditched Huaisang and are back in a cab headed uptown, Wei Ying scolds him. “You can’t just say no! You have to have a believable reason to like me! No one’s going to believe we got married otherwise. I mean, they’ll believe we got married, but they’ll think we have an ulterior motive.”

“We have an ulterior motive,” Lan Zhan points out.

“What’s ‘ulterior motive’?” asks Yuan, sounding the words out carefully.

“A secret or secondary reason to do something,” explains Lan Zhan.

“We want them to think we’re in love!” Wei Ying says. “Remember, immigration might call any of them and ask! You need to come up with some kind of lie about why you like me, okay? Just… I’ll write you a list, and you pick whatever you think you can say with a straight face. Maybe we should practice. So when my sister says, ‘Why in the world did you marry my brother?’ You’ll say—”

“Many reasons,” Lan Zhan says. “There are many reasons to marry him.”

“No one’s going to believe that, though,” Wei Ying scoffs. “So you’ll have to come up with something better. Okay, quiz time. What do I like? When’s my birthday? What’s my favorite food? What’s my favorite color? If we’ve been dating, you should know all of that.”

“You enjoy spicy food,” says Lan Zhan. “Your birthday is Halloween. Your favorite colors are red and black. You like music, spending time with friends, and are surprisingly devoted to helping others.”

Wei Ying doesn’t know what to say to that. He starts, fails to manage any words, starts again, and clears his throat. “Lucky guess,” he says finally.

“It was not.”

“I can’t believe you’re treating me like homework,” Wei Ying says. “I’m your husband.”

“I am aware.”

Wei Ying is feeling about nine things at once, and none of them will settle down long enough for him to name them. He’s definitely mad that Lan Zhan knows him so well when he only started speaking to him a week ago. He’s a little confused that Lan Zhan knows his birthday. He’s taken aback that Lan Zhan said something sort of nice about him and sounded like he meant it. He’s grumpy that he couldn’t list off a series of things about Lan Zhan like that.

Or, actually… “You like white and blue,” says Wei Ying slowly. “I don’t know your birthday, but you like music and doing well, and being reliable when people need you. You never lie. You’d do just about anything for anyone if they needed you.”

“Not for anyone,” Lan Zhan corrects him quietly.

“Fine, fine, for anyone who’s desperate.” Wei Ying waves him off. “And you like little kids. You grew up amazingly talented but kind of lonely, and your only family is your brother and your uncle. Wow. Okay, maybe someone will actually buy this! But I have to warn you, I’m gonna start touching you a lot. I’m a very touchy person, and if I never touch you, people will be suspicious. So I might… I don’t know, hold your hand. Or touch your arm. I might… Well, to be honest, I might kiss you.”

Lan Zhan looks straight ahead and says, “Of course.”

Wei Ying had thought maybe he’d object. He’s glad that didn't happen, but he also didn’t say, “Yes, of course, and I will kiss you until you forget which way is up, like I did earlier.” Wei Ying, it turns out, would sort of like to be ravished by another kiss like that one.

“And I’ll have to get you a ring, too,” Wei Ying adds, when it becomes clear that Lan Zhan has no further comment. “You probably get hit on all the time, so I’m definitely gonna get you a ring. Otherwise how will people know you’re married?”

“I will tell them,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying scowls at him. “Every time someone flirts with you, you’ll just shut them down? You’ll have to spend all day doing that. No, I’m gonna get you a ring so everyone knows you’re taken.”

“I’m bored,” says Yuan, tugging on Lan Zhan’s sleeve. “Read me a book?”

“We don’t have one,” Wei Ying says, but Lan Zhan pulls an ABC book out of his coat pocket.

“A!” says Yuan excitedly, pointing to the A on the cover. “Right?”

“Correct,” says Lan Zhan.

“I can read,” says Yuan. “A-B-C. A is a dinosaur, his name is Bunny. He goes to the airport to get married.”

“That’s… What is going on in that weird little head of yours?” Wei Ying says.

“He is at an appropriate age to make up stories,” Lan Zhan says. “They may include elements of his real life, or they may include concepts he is learning about.”

Wei Ying laughs. “Did you read a child psychology book?”

“Yes.”

“Wait, for real? Like, this week?”

“Yes.”

“And Bunny goes on an adventure,” Yuan continues to no one in particular. “He goes to daycare, but there’s so much cake. He can’t eat the cake, it isn’t time for dessert yet. Dessert is for good boys. And they don’t go to the airport, they go home!”

Wei Ying asks skeptically, “So it’s just normal for him to talk nonsense all the time?”

“Yes.”

That doesn’t sound like it can be true, but Wei Ying doesn’t know enough to argue.

Dropping Yuan off at daycare is fun, because as soon as they walk in, he shouts, “We got married!” and all the kids cheer, and Maria gasps, winking at Wei Ying. “Really?”

“Really!” Yuan chirps, beaming. “There was a ring and they kissed.”

The full force of all three daycare ladies staring at them makes Wei Ying just a little bit uncomfortable, and he slips his hand into Lan Zhan’s almost like he thinks Lan Zhan can protect him. He’s pretty surprised when Lan Zhan squeezes his hand in what feels like reassurance.

“Yup,” says Wei Ying, holding up his other hand to show off the ring. “Big morning.”

“Congratulations!” Yuan says.

“Oh, yes, congratulations,” Maria agrees. “Oh, I’m so… That’s so nice.” She sounds a little choked up. “Yuan is such a sweet kid; he deserves two dads who love him.”

“He does,” Lan Zhan agrees. He turns to Yuan and says, “Be respectful, obey the rules. We will return for you in a few hours.”

“Okay!” Yuan says.

Wei Ying gives Lan Zhan a slightly incredulous look. “Be respectful and obey the rules? Yuan-er, have fun, be nice.”

“Okay,” Yuan says again, looking a little puzzled. “I go play with the cars now.”

“I can’t believe you don’t want him to have fun,” Wei Ying complains, pulling Lan Zhan outside.

“It is important to be respectful,” Lan Zhan says. “He does not need to be instructed to have fun. He will naturally enjoy playing.”

“He’s had a tough time,” Wei Ying argues. “He doesn’t naturally enjoy stuff, he worries. I don’t think four-year-olds are supposed to worry all the time. The whole point of me—of us—adopting him is to give him some stability and love.”

Lan Zhan tilts his head ever so slightly, like he’s considering that. It’s a little chilly outside, and Wei Ying kind of likes holding hands like this. He wonders if Lan Zhan is going to notice and pull his hand away.

“Perhaps it is good to have contrasting parents,” Lan Zhan says at last. “One to encourage play, one to encourage respect. Children require balance.”

Wei Ying considers that. “So, I’m fun dad and you’re rules dad?”

Lan Zhan gives him one of his sideways glances and maybe frowns a little bit. “...I am not fun?”

Wei Ying snorts, then realizes Lan Zhan is asking for real. “Uh, sure, sure, sure, you’re fun. You never want to goof around in class, you never flirt back when I try and get your attention, and you shush me all the time, but sure, you’re fun.”

Barely audible, Lan Zhan mutters, “Learning in class is fun.”

That’s so cute and misguided Wei Ying can’t stand it. “Right, of course,” he says, maybe just a little patronizingly. He squeezes Lan Zhan’s hand. “We’ll figure out ways for you to have more fun, okay? You and me, we can… I don’t know, take A-Yuan ice skating or to the zoo or something. You aren’t allowed to turn my son into a nerd.”

“He is already very bright,” says Lan Zhan.

“Of course, he’s the smartest kid in the whole world! I’m saying you can’t make him a nerd,” argues Wei Ying. “Not just smart, like… Shy and weird.”

Lan Zhan frowns for real this time. “I am neither shy nor weird.”

“Well no, you’re not, you’re too hot to be shy or weird,” Wei Ying says. They’re walking into the music building. “You’re quiet, but you’re not shy.”

“Correct,” says Lan Zhan, pushing open the door to the orchestra room.

A loud voice shrieks, “Oh my god, you two got married?” and the room erupts into chaos.

The flutes want to congratulate them and cry a little over neither of them being single anymore. The other strings seem pretty confused that Lan Zhan has friends, let alone a boyfriend, let alone a husband. The percussion section mainly seems mad no one was invited and there’s no party. The other woodwinds want all the gossip.

Wei Ying likes attention, and he likes being congratulated, but there is certainly something about having tall, broad-shouldered Lan Zhan standing next to him like a quiet, handsome human shield. He shows everyone his ring, but he doesn’t let go of Lan Zhan’s hand, because so far Lan Zhan hasn’t asked him to. Maybe Lan Zhan is a better actor than Wei Ying has been giving him credit for.

“I knew you were flirting with him, but I didn’t know he liked it!” one of the women says, sniffling a little. “It’s so sweet. Did you two elope because your parents aren’t cool with the…” She waves her hand around vaguely.

It takes Wei Ying a second. “Oh, the gay thing?” he says. “Nah, who cares. My adopted parents are gonna be thrilled I saved them the money of throwing a wedding.” Lan Zhan turns and gives him a questioning look. “My sister’s wedding was crazy,” Wei Ying explains.

“They will not wish to celebrate you?”

“Eh, my adopted mom has never been too hot on me, to be honest,” says Wei Ying. “You’ll meet her eventually, but let’s not rush that. She could scare anyone.”

Lan Zhan’s beautiful forehead wrinkles disapprovingly. “I will not be scared.”

Wei Ying can’t decide who would win, if Mrs. Yu and Lan Zhan went head to head. One of them is clearly more terrifying, but Lan Zhan seems like the strong tree that is still standing after the storm passes. “What about your uncle? Any word from your family?”

Lan Zhan pulls his phone out of his pocket. “I have messages,” he acknowledges, then puts his phone away again.

“You’re…not gonna read them?” Wei Ying asks disbelievingly.

“The conductor has arrived,” Lan Zhan says, nodding toward the door. He squeezes Wei Ying’s hand again.

“Okay.” Wei Ying pulls his hand free, at last, but now his fingers feel cold and he doesn’t love it. “See you after rehearsal, then. Uh. You should kiss me, though.”

It’s so shameless that he expects Lan Zhan to object, but Lan Zhan just nods and kisses him. This is not the earth-shattering, mind-wiping kiss they had earlier, but it’s still surprisingly complete—still not the dry brush of lips Wei Ying expects. Lan Zhan’s mouth is hot and open and…demanding.

Wei Ying loves being kissed like this, like someone wants to possess every inch of him.

It’s not until a few minutes into rehearsal that Wei Ying’s brain finally clicks into gear and he realizes that Lan Zhan was kissing him like that because they’re in public, and there are witnesses. People who will need to validate that they are in love. He’s so smart; he’s probably making sure no one starts a rumor that the marriage is fake. So he has to kiss like he means it.

It’s a deflating thought, and it hurts Wei Ying’s feelings a little bit. Whoever eventually gets Lan Zhan to kiss them like that in real life is going to be a really lucky person. Wei Ying hopes they’re somehow good enough to deserve Lan Zhan. But no one is, he’s pretty sure, so at least he hopes they know how lucky they are.

Chapter Text

“I have a suggestion,” Lan Zhan says after practice.

Wei Ying kind of hopes it’s “we should make out as much as possible, just for practice convincing people,” but he’s smart enough not to say that in a room full of other people, most of whom are watching them and whispering. Lan Zhan doesn’t seem to notice, but he’s also basically made of stone.

Really hot stone.

“Yeah?” Wei Ying asks.

“We could take A-Yuan to visit my apartment, then return to yours to sleep. It would be a less jarring transition for him that way.”

It’s a great idea, even if it doesn’t involve kissing. “Right,” says Wei Ying. “That’s great. We can maybe take some of his toys there or something. Tell him it’s also home.”

Lan Zhan does that thing where he nods a little bit and says nothing. Wei Ying is gonna have to figure out what all his tiny expressions mean. He could be furious, or madly in love, and Wei Ying would never be able to guess.

They pick up Yuan from daycare, and Wei Ying says, “We’re going to have an adventure!”

Yuan looks at him with what feels like adult suspicion. “No,” he says firmly.

“We are visiting my home,” Lan Zhan says. “Then we will return to yours.”

“...okay,” Yuan says uncertainly. He clings to Wei Ying’s hand.

“You worry too much,” Wei Ying scolds him, bundling him back into his hat and jacket.
“There’s nothing to worry about anymore, kid.”

Yuan is still weird and clingy for a few minutes. Lan Zhan lives farther from campus than Wei Ying, and after two blocks Yuan tugs on Lan Zhan’s jacket and says, “Pick me up?”

“He can walk,” Wei Ying says, but Lan Zhan has already picked Yuan up. “You’ll spoil him,” Wei Ying sighs.

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan lives in a high rise, and the doorman greets him by name immediately. “This is my husband,” Lan Zhan says. “Please allow him access to the apartment whenever he wishes. He will need keys.” Then he sails past the security desk and over to the fancy chrome and gold elevators.

Wei Ying is starting to feel like he’ll spend the rest of his life translating Lan Zhan for other people. “Hi, nice to meet you. We just got married today, so you’re gonna see a lot of me.”

“Mister Lan—” the security guard starts, but the elevator dings open, and Lan Zhan steps in with Yuan, so Wei Ying hurries after them.

“That’s what you're gonna do?” Wei Ying asks as the doors slide shut. They are going to the top floor of the building, which is a little impressive. “Just drop, ‘This is my husband’ like a bag of rocks on people?”

“You are my husband,” Lan Zhan says.

“This is an elevator!” Yuan announces. “We going up.” He has his little arms around Lan Zhan’s neck, and it’s so cute that Wei Ying takes his phone out for a couple of quick pictures.

“First trip to the new house,” Wei Ying says.

Yuan frowns. “No.”

“Relax, relax. You’re staying with me, you little worrywart,” says Wei Ying. In Chinese, over Yuan’s head, he says, “Do you think he needs a therapist or something?”

Lan Zhan makes a noise that might be agreement and might not.

The elevator doors ding open on an elegant hallway with a nice rug, a couple of apartment doors, and a man knocking politely on one at the end of the hall. When he hears the elevator, he turns.

He looks just like Lan Zhan, but a little older and maybe a tiny bit more tired. Wei Ying’s stomach drops. “Uh-oh,” he says, trying not to make a face as he braces himself for the screaming.

“Oh good, you’re here!” says the man who has to be Lan Zhan’s brother. He smiles. “I’m glad I didn’t have to track you down.”

He…doesn’t sound furious. “This is my brother, Lan Huan,” says Lan Zhan, carrying Yuan down the hall. “This is A-Yuan, and this is Wei Ying.”

“His husband,” Wei Ying clarifies, because apparently brothers get less information than security guards do.

“I know, I saw the pictures!” Lan Huan has the kind of eyes that twinkle when he smiles, and he looks a lot more delighted than Wei Ying was expecting. “But I’m dying to know what happened. You never tell me anything!”

“I told you I am married,” Lan Zhan says, unlocking the door.

The apartment is, like, holy-shit big. There are big windows in a big corner living room looking out over the city, and beautiful furniture that’s tastefully chrome without looking like it belongs in a factory. The kitchen has clearly been renovated recently and it’s all white and blue, with an island for cooking, and the walls, where they aren’t giant windows, are painted pale blue.

“Wow,” says Yuan, looking around.

“Do you wish to get down and explore?” Lan Zhan asks. Yuan shakes his head immediately, and clings again.

“It’s so nice to meet my new brother-in-law,” says Lan Huan to Wei Ying.

Holy shit, Wei Ying has accidentally married into money. “Oh,” he says, “no wonder you wanted us to move in with you, rather than you moving in with me.”

“I have space,” Lan Zhan says.

“It’s really nice to meet you, too,” Wei Ying says to Lan Huan. “Your brother has told me exactly nothing about you.”

Lan Huan smiles like Wei Ying is joking. “I bet I know even less about you,” he says. “Quite a surprise announcement. I think he may have given our uncle a heart attack.”

Lan Zhan takes his shoes off and walks around the apartment. He very quietly, but very seriously, points things out to Yuan as he goes. “Our couch,” he says, “our table. Our windows. Our view of the city. We will keep your toys here. You may choose a room, or you may stay with us, if you wish.”

“I will stay with you,” Yuan says.

Wei Ying has accidentally married someone rich, and accidentally married someone who is an ideal father, and his heart is just… Fluttering is the wrong word, but soaring feels too emotional even to think to himself.

“Ahhhh,” says Lan Huan, looking from Wei Ying to his brother and back. “I see.”

Wei Ying shakes himself a little. It’s rude to just…stare at people, even if you’re married to them. “Sorry, what?” he says.

“Shall we celebrate?” Lan Huan asks. “It’s not every day my little brother gets married. And acquires…a son? I assume?”

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan, and carries Yuan down the hallway to show him all the rooms.

“Yuan-er is mine,” says Wei Ying honestly, “but Lan Zhan just loves him.”

Lan Huan smiles again. “Not many people realize what a soft heart my brother has.”

“Yeah, he gives off a frosty first impression,” Wei Ying agrees. “I thought he hated me for the longest time.”

“Clearly not!” says Lan Huan. “Let me get the sparkling apple juice.” He walks down the long hallway back to the kitchen.

“Sparkling…apple juice?” Wei Ying repeats. The farther he walks into this apartment the more it feels like a dream.

“We do not drink,” Lan Zhan says, reappearing from one of the bedrooms with Yuan. “And this way Yuan can drink as well, if he wishes.”

“I’m hungry,” Yuan says. “I think I get down now.” He wiggles a little, and Lan Zhan puts him down.

Wei Ying calls down the hall after him, “Be careful when you run around, okay, there’s a lot of stuff you could break—” and then he realizes that the coffee table and the kitchen island and everything Yuan could bump into have little plastic baby-proofing pieces on the corners, and all the electrical sockets have little baby-proofing plugs in them. “Oh my god,” Wei Ying says, turning to Lan Zhan. “You already set all this up for him?”

Lan Zhan looks faintly puzzled. “Of course.”

“That’s—You’re so—Thoughtful,” Wei Ying says. God. “Kiss me again?” The words fall out of his mouth before he can stop them. “Uh, to, because, we need to convince your brother,” he adds hastily, so he doesn’t give himself away too badly.

Lan Zhan doesn’t seem to need the justification. Wei Ying finds himself suddenly backed against the wall, with Lan Zhan’s hands on his hips and his tongue in his mouth. His heart pounds furiously and his hands, of their own accord, meet behind Lan Zhan’s back and pull him in closer.

It’s like being kissed by a wall of hot steel, except that doesn’t sound particularly sexy, and this is melt-your-underwear embarrassing-noises-in-public good.

Wei Ying knows that there’s a little bit of danger here: he’s plastered to Lan Zhan, which means Lan Zhan is going to be able to tell pretty soon that this isn’t just a for-pretend-purposes kiss. But it’s not his fault if his body reacts, right? He hasn’t been kissed in a long time.

He hasn’t been kissed like this, ever.

Lan Zhan’s brother politely clears his throat, and Wei Ying distantly suspects this may not be the first time he’s done so. Wei Ying reluctantly tears his mouth away from Lan Zhan’s, which immediately feels like a mistake.

Lan Huan is holding Yuan’s hand, and they’re both looking at Wei Ying and Lan Zhan. “Uh,” says Wei Ying, trying to catch his breath. “Sorry?”

“No no, we are very pleased for you,” Lan Huan says. “Congratulations.”

“Congratulations,” repeats Yuan solemnly.

“He’s hungry,” Lan Huan goes on, “so I wondered if A-Zhan wanted to cook tonight?”

“Of course,” says Lan Zhan.

“You cook?” Wei Ying whispers against his throat.

“I do.”

He definitely should know that, but Lan Huan doesn’t shout, “Busted!” or anything. “Wow,” says Wei Ying, and then remembers his arms are still around Lan Zhan’s back and forces himself to move them. Lan Zhan moves away, and with heroic strength Wei Ying doesn’t chase him with his mouth and kiss him again.

Not only does Lan Zhan cook, but he shows Yuan everything he’s doing and lets him help whenever it’s appropriate and safe. Wei Ying could honestly watch his husband seriously explain the ratio of water to rice one uses to a four-year-old for hours. It’s just so cute.

“I’m so happy for my brother,” says Lan Huan quietly. “And for you, of course. You can imagine that I worry.”

Wei Ying definitely can. “He doesn’t make friends easily,” he agrees.

“He never has. And he’s always said it doesn’t bother him, but he’s also never seemed…as happy as he could be. As he does now.” Lan Huan looks at his brother and smiles warmly.

Wei Ying’s brother is going to be such an asshole about this whole thing, it isn’t fair. “You aren’t mad we snuck out without telling anyone?” Wei Ying asks.

Lan Huan laughs. “I don’t expect A-Zhan to tell me anything about his love life,” he says, “including that he has one at all. But you’re just what I would have expected.”

“Wait, I am?” Wei Ying says. “That’s—What?” No, he’s not. Lan Zhan’s supposed to be with someone quiet and beautiful and elegant, someone who appreciates opera and meditation.

Lan Huan beams at him. “Patient with my brother. Kind to children. Someone who makes him laugh.”

“Makes him laugh?” Wei Ying has just a second where he’s sure he’s forgotten English. That can’t be what Lan Huan just said.

“Well, makes him smile,” Lan Huan amends. “He smiles just looking at you.”

No, he doesn’t. What? Wei Ying is so flustered he doesn’t know what to say. He’d prepared a whole list of lies to tell Lan Zhan’s family, justifying a relationship that could clearly never have happened.

“I…I mean…I guess I’m just still surprised someone like him would choose someone like me, ha ha,” Wei Ying says finally. He can’t take the way Lan Huan is smiling at him. Oh god, Wei Ying realizes bleakly. Lan Zhan’s family has been worried about him and they think Wei Ying is the solution. But in reality, Wei Ying and Yuan are going to be a huge impediment to Lan Zhan eventually finding someone he really does like. Wei Ying isn’t helping, he’s ruining things. And he’s figuring it out way too late.

He swallows down the guilt. “Aren’t they sweet?” he says instead, and takes his phone out. He takes a few pictures—Lan Zhan has let Yuan sit on the counter and help him measure out vegetables, and they’re both working very seriously together.

“I’m delighted to have a nephew,” says Lan Huan. “And a brother-in-law. And a happy brother.”

Wei Ying is pretty sure he’s going to end up with a guilt ulcer. It really hadn’t seemed like such a terrible idea when Lan Zhan suggested the wedding, because who was it hurting? But now it’s clear that lots of people are going to end up hurt, or disappointed, or lonely.

Yuan is worth it, Wei Ying reminds himself, but he wishes there was a way he could take all the consequences on himself, rather than letting anyone suffer because of it.

The food is delicious, if you like completely bland stuff, and the Lans toast with sparkling apple juice in champagne flutes, which Wei Ying thinks is adorable and also hilarious. Despite all of Lan Zhan’s protests, he is, in fact, a nerd, but as long as he’s Wei Ying’s nerd it’s okay.

Eventually, Yuan begins to yawn and starts tugging on Wei Ying’s arm, asking when they’re going home. So even though Lan Zhan has a bedroom all set up for him, they say good night to Lan Huan—who won’t stop smiling at them, god, is he trying to make Wei Ying die of guilt—and head back to Wei Ying’s cramped little student apartment. Yuan is asleep on his shoulder by the time they carry him in and put him on the couch, so Wei Ying just takes his shoes off and puts a blanket over him.

“So…” Wei Ying says. “We’re married.”

“We are,” Lan Zhan agrees.

There is no cool way to ask Lan Zhan what he has planned for a wedding night. Nothing, right? They’re not in public now. There’s literally no reason for them to kiss, let alone touch, let alone—

If Wei Ying doesn’t die of guilt, he’s gonna die of blue balls. The idea of sleeping next to Lan Zhan, now that he knows how Lan Zhan kisses, is getting him a little hot and bothered, but there’s no discreet way to deal with that problem when you’re sharing a bed with the problem himself.

“So…it’s bedtime, I guess,” Wei Ying continues.

“It is.”

God damn it. Lan Zhan is just standing there, expressionless, being all hot and tall. And now Wei Ying knows what he tastes like, but he’s just supposed to lie perfectly still next to him all night.

Maybe he doesn’t need to feel too guilty about ruining Lan Zhan’s life, since he is also punishing himself with years and years of nightly torture.

No no, he’ll get over it eventually. He tells himself that as he brushes his teeth and changes into an old pair of shorts to sleep in. Either he’ll find someone else to crush on, or Lan Zhan will fall in love with someone else who deserves him, and eventually Wei Ying’s problems will solve themselves.

He climbs into bed next to Lan Zhan and gets a whiff of whatever Lan Zhan smells like, sandalwood maybe, and this time the smell makes him think of kissing, and kissing makes him think of touching, and touching—

Wei Ying rolls so he’s facing very carefully away from Lan Zhan. “Good night,” he says. He has touched the muscles under those expensive pajamas now, he has sucked on that beautiful lower lip. But he’s not going to think about that right now, he’s just going to sleep and that’s all. That’s all!

Wei Ying wakes up plastered to Lan Zhan.

It takes him a minute to figure out where he is, because his brain is foggy and he’s so warm, and he’s snuggled up right against a warm shoulder and there’s a warm arm around him. His brain won’t process that, and he blinks sleepily in the dark room until he realizes that he cuddled right up against Lan Zhan at some point during the night. He’s lying on top of Lan Zhan’s arm, and his face is pressed into the crook of Lan Zhan’s neck. He could, without moving much, kiss his husband.

“Good morning,” says Lan Zhan, startling the fuck out of Wei Ying.

“Shit,” Wei Ying says, scrambling back across the bed. “Sorry. I must have, uh, rolled over in my sleep.”

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan.

“Wait, what time is it?” Wei Ying asks, blinking. “Five A.M.? Why are you awake?”

“I am always awake at this time,” says Lan Zhan, getting out of bed. “Go back to sleep.”

“But… But why…” Wei Ying can’t quite figure out what he wants to ask, and it’s still dark out, so he doesn’t have any interest in getting out of his nice warm bed. After Lan Zhan leaves and closes the door, he pulls the blankets up over his head.

He’s a little mortified, wondering how long he’d been asleep while Lan Zhan was lying there, trapped under him. Lan Zhan is too polite to wake him up or shove him off, apparently. So Wei Ying will have to figure out some way to—to—to sleep politely.

He must doze off again, because the next thing that happens is that he blinks, and Yuan is staring at him. Yuan is fully dressed for daycare and someone has brushed his hair and his breath smells minty when he says loudly, right in Wei Ying’s face, “Rich uncle says to get up, it’s time to go.”

“Rich… What?” Wei Ying blinks and pushes some hair out of his face.

“It’s time for daycare!” Yuan says. “We played dinosaurs and my dinosaur was big. And then he ate the other dinosaur.”

Message apparently delivered, he wanders out of the bedroom. Wei Ying’s brain is running at about ten percent, so he drags himself up and gets dressed, still trying to figure out if Lan Zhan ate a dinosaur or what.

“Rich uncle?” Wei Ying says, walking into the living room.

“I can tie my shoes!” says Yuan excitedly; he sits down on the floor and fails to tie his shoes very well, but he does it enthusiastically.

“He asked me to show him how,” says Lan Zhan. He looks, like always, perfect. At least this time he brought clothes to change into, but he hasn’t showered in a couple of days, Wei Ying knows for sure, and yet he still looks impeccable and his hair is perfect.

It would help Wei Ying’s increasingly cranky libido if Lan Zhan looked a little mussed, or dirty, or—

No. No, that image isn’t helping, actually.

“If you’re teaching him, I’m sure he’ll get it perfectly any minute now,” says Wei Ying. “Uh. So. Sorry about… Uh, last night.”

“What happened last night?” Yuan asks, giving up on his sneaker.

Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan, and Lan Zhan looks resolutely straight ahead and not back at Wei Ying.

“Nothing,” says Wei Ying. “You ready to go to daycare?”

“Are we getting married today?” Yuan asks.

Wei Ying crouches to fix the shoelace disaster and laughs. “No, you only get married once! Right, Lan Zhan?”

“Once,” Lan Zhan confirms.

It makes Wei Ying start feeling guilty all over again. “I’m sorry—” he says, this time in Chinese.

“No need,” says Lan Zhan. He switches back to English. “Tonight, should we attempt to stay at my home?”

“What do you think, A-Yuan? Do you want to stay at Lan Zhan’s house tonight? Wasn’t it nice, yesterday?”

Yuan sounds a little dubious when he says, “Uncle rich’s house?”

“You can’t call him uncle rich. He’s not your uncle. He’s your—your—” Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan for help and gets none. “He’s your dad,” he says.

“No,” says Yuan confidently. “My daddy is at the...the far away. He didn’t come back.”

This time Lan Zhan does look at Wei Ying. His beautiful eyes are troubled, and Wei Ying can feel how his own heart has been bruised.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, picking Yuan up. “Then he can be your papa.”

“What’s ‘papa’?” Yuan asks.

“It means he loves you and he’s going to help me take care of you, and he’ll never go away and not come back.” God, Wei Ying is such a sap, he could honestly burst into tears right now. He fights through it, though. His eyes sting a little, but no one notices.

“He’s papa?” Yuan repeats.

“He’s your papa. Is that okay?”

Yuan makes his tiny-adult face for a second, then shrugs. “I’m happy he stays,” he says. “I stay, too. We all stay.”

“Yes,” says Wei Ying. His eyes are burning, so he kisses Yuan on the cheek a couple of times, to make him giggle and squirm. “We’re all staying. That’s why we got married.”

When Wei Ying looks up, he’d swear he sees a flash of genuine emotion on Lan Zhan’s face, but it’s hard to say which one, exactly.

“Let’s pack your backpack full of stuff, and tonight we’ll stay at papa’s house, okay?” Wei Ying says. “Which pajamas do you like?”

“I like all of them!” says Yuan. “I’m helping, I can pack!” He wiggles to get down and races into the other room to start putting things in his SpongeBob bag.

Wei Ying has to clear his throat a couple of times before he can ask, in his most normal voice, “Do you think we’re making it worse by letting him dictate where we go? Should we just act like this is all normal and not baby him?”

“He is a baby,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying sighs. “You know what I mean.”

Lan Zhan considers that, but doesn’t say anything, so Wei Ying figures he doesn’t object.

“Okay, I’m ready!” Yuan shouts. He’s shouting a lot, lately. “I have pajamas and my toothbrush. Rich—Papa says I have to brush my teeth. He says everyone brush their teeth. Do you brush your teeth?”

“I do,” says Wei Ying. He thinks he sees Lan Zhan make a skeptical face at that, but honestly who can tell? “I do!” Wei Ying insists, just in case. “Do you think I’d be so fun to kiss if I didn’t?”

He means it to be teasing, but Lan Zhan doesn’t react that way. He just looks at Wei Ying, makes a face like he’s considering that argument, and then nods once.

Wei Ying doesn’t know what the hell to say to that, so he turns to Yuan instead and says, “How about underwear? How about socks?”

“Underwear? Gross,” says Yuan.

“You need it,” Wei Ying says, “so go pack it. And your favorite book. And don’t forget Bunny.”

“Which book is my favorite book?” Yuan asks, racing out of the room again. “I gotta check!”

“So…” Wei Ying says, “What about, like…paperwork, and immigration stuff, and health insurance, and adoption papers? I know it’s only been a day, but there’s probably a lot of really boring, confusing, terrible things I ought to be worrying about, right? I’m trying to brace myself.”

Lan Zhan shakes his head. “I have begun compiling a binder,” he says, and then Yuan comes running back in with his bag and his teddy bear, and Lan Zhan doesn’t keep explaining.

They take Yuan to daycare, and this time when they drop him off Wei Ying tries a coaxing, “Can I have a goodbye hug?” Yuan throws his arms around Wei Ying’s legs and clings for a second, then turns to Lan Zhan, who drops to a crouch and holds his arms out and gets a real, proper, squeezing hug.

Wei Ying’s heart is going to explode, it’s fine.

Then Yuan runs off to play with trucks and the other kids—he appears to have made friends with literally all the other children, they greet him with cheers—and Wei Ying and Lan Zhan have to separate to go to classes.

“You’re probably ready for some time apart,” Wei Ying says, with a little laugh. “I know you offered to marry me, but you probably didn’t realize we’d be spending every second together for a couple of days. I haven’t practiced in a week, I’m gonna get kicked out of the orchestra. And you can get some peace and quiet for a little while.”

Lan Zhan inclines his head slightly at that. Agreement? Maybe.

“So… I’ll see you later, I guess.” Wei Ying can’t just keep demanding kisses, even though if they were in love, he’d definitely be demanding kisses, and they’re pretending to be in love, but he also has to balance that against annoying Lan Zhan so badly that he asks for a divorce.

“Practice well,” Lan Zhan says. “It would be inconvenient if you were removed from school.”

Wei Ying starts to splutter—that is the least romantic thing any husband has ever said to his brand-new husband, inconvenient—and then Lan Zhan kisses him again. It catches him totally off guard. One minute he’s trying to figure out how he’s going to scold Lan Zhan, and the next Lan Zhan has his arms around him and his mouth crashes against Wei Ying’s.

This kiss is hot and fast, and Wei Ying would lose his balance if Lan Zhan weren’t holding him so tightly. Instead, he loses his breath entirely.

Lan Zhan pulls back just a fraction to say, “I will see you later at the daycare,” against Wei Ying’s mouth. And then he lets go, and Wei Ying staggers and when he catches his balance, he’s alone.

Not alone—there are other students staring at him, a couple of whom he recognizes from the orchestra or music theory classes. One of the girls wolf-whistles at him.

So that’s why Lan Zhan kissed him. Wei Ying manages what he hopes is a convincing cocky grin and waves like he knew they had an audience all along. His head is still spinning a little bit.

He wants Lan Zhan to kiss him like that when they don’t need to. He wants to know what that kiss would feel like if Lan Zhan meant it. He groans and rolls his shoulders back. This is going to be a long, long marriage.

Wei Ying doesn’t get kicked out of the orchestra. He finds enough time to scrape together his missing homework and a couple of hours of rehearsal. He apologizes a few thousand times to everyone, and mostly everyone lets him off the hook because they all seem to know that he just got married. This goodwill won’t save his grades if he doesn’t pay some attention in class, but Wei Ying is pretty distracted, and stuff like newly-adopted sons and shockingly-hot husbands seem more important than grades.

He would swear his mouth is still tingling from that kiss.

Yuan is delighted to see him. He runs over and shouts, “Look! Look, I have a truck!” and then proceeds to talk for a solid minute about the truck, which might be named Blue, or maybe the truck is blue, or maybe the truck… Well, it’s unclear, but Yuan is very excited, and some of the other kids at the daycare are nodding along and chiming in, so something exciting has happened today.

“Are you ready to come with me to Papa’s apartment?” Wei Ying asks.

“We’re all going, so it’s an adventure!” says Yuan, which isn’t quite an answer, but Wei Ying is getting more used to the idea that half the time Yuan is having his own conversation.

Lan Zhan shows up a minute later. He says in Chinese, “I have brought your suitcases to my home already.”

“Papa!” says Yuan and runs over and hugs his leg. Lan Zhan freezes, but not in a bad way; something like a very soft smile is playing across his face.

“Oh my god, you’re such a softie!” says Wei Ying, absolutely delighted. “Who knew?”

“I am…appropriately soft,” Lan Zhan says stiffly, takes Yuan’s hand, and walks him out.

Yuan chatters the whole way to Lan Zhan’s apartment, and for once he doesn’t seem particularly worried about going somewhere new. When Lan Zhan opens the door to his apartment, Yuan kicks his sneakers off and goes running in, shouting, “My dinosaur is here!”

“Good plan,” says Wei Ying. Lan Zhan inclines his head a little. “Are you making dinner again?”

“I am,” says Lan Zhan.

Yuan jumps up from his toys and shouts, “I’m gonna help!”

Wei Ying spends the time they’re cooking together taking more pictures with his phone and pretending he can’t see how many missed calls and unread texts he has. Hopefully Yanli’s useless husband will stop her from doing anything too rash. “We need to go visit my sister,” Wei Ying says, leaning on the kitchen island.

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan. He gives Yuan a bowl of vegetables he has chopped and helps him add them to the pot.

“No, I mean like, soon. She’s pregnant, so she can’t fly here, but if I don’t go to Chicago pretty soon with you and A-Yuan, she’ll murder me. And she’s the only relative I have who even likes me, so it’s pretty important not to fuck it up.”

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan again, and then, “Of course.”

“I can’t use the knife, the knife is only for adults,” Yuan tells no one. He cranes his neck to look up at Lan Zhan. “Can you read me a book?”

“When dinner is completed,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying asks skeptically, “You’re cool with just taking a weekend and flying to Chicago to meet my sister and her stupid husband?”

“I am pleased your sister wishes to meet A-Yuan,” says Lan Zhan, which isn’t exactly an answer.

“I’ll read you a book,” says Wei Ying, picking Yuan up off the counter. “Are you excited to meet your Auntie Li? She’s gonna love you.”

“Not really,” says Yuan, wriggling free. “Read me the dinosaur book?”

“Aren’t you bored of the dinosaur book?” Wei Ying complains.

“No,” says Yuan definitely. His toys are stacked in a box in the living room and his books have been neatly arranged on a colorful bookshelf by the big windows. He grabs one of the books and comes running back, holding it out.

Wei Ying reads to him about dinosaurs dancing for a while, and then the ABC book, until Yuan starts asking too many questions about everything. He knows what noises H-is-for-horse and E-is-for-elephant make, but he wants to know what K-is-for-kangaroos sounds like, and Wei Ying doesn’t know, so he makes a honking noise, and Yuan refuses to believe that’s what a kangaroo sounds like.

Worse, when they get to R-is-for-rabbit, Wei Ying says, “I don’t think rabbits make noise.”

“Animals make a noise,” Yuan insists. “What does the rabbit say?”

“He…squeaks? Eeek eek?” Wei Ying tries.

“No! That’s what the mouse says!”

Wei Ying needs help. “Lan Zhan! What noise do rabbits make?”

“They must stay silent to avoid predators,” says Lan Zhan. He pauses, then adds, “They twitch their noses, though.”

“Rabbits say—” Wei Ying starts, and then wiggles his nose.

Yuan collapses into giggles. “Do it again!” he demands. Wei Ying obligingly wiggles his nose again. Yuan slides off his lap and goes running into the kitchen. “Can you do it?” he asks, tugging on Lan Zhan’s leg.

“No, he’s not the type who—” Wei Ying says, but Lan Zhan looks down at Yuan and, with a perfectly straight face, twitches his nose back and forth a couple of times. Yuan laughs so hard he falls over on the floor.

“In a million years I couldn’t have imagined you doing that,” says Wei Ying. “Wow.”

Lan Zhan shrugs elegantly.

Dinner goes well. Everything goes well, actually, until Yuan has to put pajamas on and go to bed, and he realizes they aren’t going home. “No!” he says. “I don’t want to stay. I don’t like it! I want to go home.”

“But I’m staying here with you,” Wei Ying points out, picking him up. “We both are.”

He thinks Yuan will scream or kick his feet or have a fit, but instead his lower lip starts to tremble and his eyes fill up with tears. He doesn’t say anything, though. He just hides his face against Wei Ying’s shoulder.

Wei Ying looks helplessly at Lan Zhan. “What do we do? I know we should—I mean, we should probably just let him cry and deal with it, right? But… I can’t.”

Lan Zhan nods. Wei Ying had expected him to be the strict parent, but it seems like maybe Yuan doesn’t have a strict dad, just two softies. “Perhaps if he sleeps with us?”

“Hey,” says Wei Ying, nudging Yuan. “Would that help? You wanna sleep with us tonight?”

Yuan whispers, “I want to go home,” and breaks Wei Ying’s heart again.

He doesn’t stop crying, but he also doesn’t protest when they carry him into Lan Zhan’s elegantly understated bedroom. Wei Ying wishes the kid would scream or something. He’s so quietly, tragically resigned. Wei Ying climbs into bed still in his jeans and hoodie and lies down with Yuan cuddled next to him. “I’m not going anywhere,” he says. “We’re both gonna be here all night with you. Okay?”

“Okay,” says Yuan miserably. Lan Zhan has changed into his pajamas, and he climbs into the other side of the bed.

The good news for Wei Ying is that with Yuan in between them there’s no chance he’ll accidentally try and cuddle up to Lan Zhan overnight. The bad news is that he doesn’t know what the hell to do to make Yuan feel better.

And he still wants to cuddle up to Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan turns the lights out and Wei Ying goofs around on his phone until Yuan’s quiet crying turns into slow, sleepy breaths. “You think we’ll have to do this every night?” Wei Ying whispers.

“...perhaps,” says Lan Zhan. His bedroom is really dark. It’s also really quiet. These are the benefits of living on the top floor; no city noise can get up to it. “I am willing.”

Wei Ying sighs. “Me too. I mean, he has to grow out of it eventually, right? Like, by the time he goes to college? We can’t go to college with him. That would be weird.”

“He could go to college and live at home,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying laughs, then makes himself be quiet, because the last thing he wants is to wake Yuan up and have another round of crying. “Let’s plan to have him fixed before then, okay? Having a kid in bed every night will cramp our style.”

A second after he says it, he realizes he just accidentally admitted that he would kind of like to turn these chaste nights of sleeping into what he assumes would be wild and hot nights of—

Stop, stop, stop, he tells himself, squeezing his eyes shut. Do not imagine that, it will only make things worse.

“I mean,” he says hastily, “eventually you’re gonna want to meet someone and sleep with them, right? And it would be awfully awkward to explain you can’t because of your fake husband and his crying son. I’m just looking out for you. I don’t want you to be pining and lonely from now until you’re old.”

“I do not mind,” says Lan Zhan. “Good night.”

Wei Ying sleeps badly because he has Yuan snuggled up against him, which means he can’t roll over or kick the blankets off. Yuan sleeps, at least, and in the morning he sits up, with his hair sticking straight up, and rubs his eyes with one sleepy fist. “You’re here,” he says. “I’m here? Where are we?”

“Papa’s house,” says Wei Ying, “remember? This is home, too.”

Yuan stares at him, and then turns and stares at Lan Zhan, with a skeptical adult frown that looks entirely out of place on his face. “We can have breakfast?” he says finally. “I want a donut.”

“No donuts,” says Lan Zhan, getting out of bed. “But you may help me make toast.”

“I’m going back to sleep!” Wei Ying says, and pulls the blanket over his head.

He naps until Yuan comes to wake him up again. Yuan seems absolutely fine now. “You always go back to bed,” he says. “We’re gonna be late!”

“Maybe tonight you can sleep in your own room,” Wei Ying grumbles, “and I can get some decent sleep.” His phone buzzes a couple of times. “Hello?” Wei Ying says, answering it.

“Where are you?” shouts Jiang Cheng. “I’m at your apartment and if you’re not here—I swear to god, if this is a joke to you—”

“Whoa,” says Wei Ying, “you’re at my apartment? Like...right now?”

“Yes, right now! Guess how much last-minute cross-country plane tickets cost, asshole? Open the door!”

Wei Ying sighs. “I’m not actually there. I’m at—I’m at my husband’s apartment.”

Husband. Just… It sounds so strange.

“Where the hell is that?” Jiang Cheng shouts.

“Maybe we could meet for a coffee or something—”

“Tell me where you are right now so I can tell Yanli you’re alive and well, so I can break your legs! You made her cry!

Wei Ying can’t defend himself against that, so he gives Jiang Cheng the address. “Uh,” he calls out to the living room, “I think I’m gonna be late to class again. We’re about to have a visitor.”

“Hmm,” says Lan Zhan. He appears in the bedroom doorway, frowning.

Wei Ying is tired and he feels clammy from sleeping in his jeans all night and his eyes hurt, and the idea of dealing with Jiang Cheng gives him a headache. “You should go,” he says. “Take A-Yuan and go to daycare, and I’ll deal with my brother. He’s…a lot.”

“I will stay,” says Lan Zhan, and vanishes again.

Wei Ying changes into the clean clothes Lan Zhan brought over in his suitcase, which helps a little, but he really needs a drink and a nap. And for Jiang Cheng to be in San Francisco, like he’s supposed to be.

“We’re gonna be late,” Yuan whines, picking up his backpack and walking over to the door.

“We have made alternative plans,” says Lan Zhan. “We are not late. You must trust that we have made the correct choices.”

That stops Yuan from complaining, but he seems truly puzzled about what it could possibly mean. It’s a big concept for a little kid, Wei Ying thinks. “We don’t go to daycare?” he says eventually, like a question.

“We must stay. Family is the most important,” Lan Zhan says.

“Ohhhh,” says Yuan, nodding. “What about lunch?”

“Family is more important,” Lan Zhan says. “But we will have lunch.”

“More important,” Yuan repeats. “It’s more important,” he tells his teddy bear, unpacking him from the bag.

“I should probably warn you about my brother,” Wei Ying starts, but then the phone rings, and it’s the doorman asking if he should send up a visitor. Wei Ying sighs. “Well, I guess you’ll understand when you meet him. He’s a good guy. I mean, I love him a lot, but he’s also kind of an asshole sometimes.”

“Hmm,” says Lan Zhan.

“It’s just one of those things where we get under each other’s skin, you know? I drive him nuts, he drives me nuts—” Someone pounds on the door, and Wei Ying braces himself and opens it.

Jiang Cheng looks exhausted, so he probably flew overnight, and he looks furious, so he’s just himself. “Hi!” says Wei Ying brightly. “Come on in!”

“Of course I’m coming in!” Jiang Cheng shouts. He drops his bag by the door and takes his shoes off. Wei Ying can see him look around the apartment with a puzzled, calculating glare. His eyes land on Lan Zhan and his face gets a little redder. “So you’re him, huh? What’s so special about you? Why did you run off with my brother?

“Hey now,” Wei Ying interjects.

“We have not ‘run off,’” says Lan Zhan stiffly. “You have been given the address.”

“You know what I mean!” Jiang Cheng yells.

Yuan is staring at him, not exactly like he’s scared, but clearly mystified and maybe a little awed. He edges over to Lan Zhan and reaches up to slip his hand into Lan Zhan’s.

Wei Ying forces a laugh. “No one ran off with anyone, it’s cool! I’m still right here, I’m just married! And, uh, this is Yuan-er. A-Yuan, say hello to your uncle."

“Hello,” says Yuan. “Wow. Holy shit.”

Wei Ying bursts out with real laughter, and Jiang Cheng turns on him accusingly. “You taught him that!”

“Not on purpose.”

“A-Li told me you got some idiotic idea about keeping Mo Xuanyu’s kid? You’re here on a student visa, what are you thinking? This doesn’t even make sense!”

Wei Ying remembers at the very last second that he shouldn’t explain the changing visa situation to Jiang Cheng, because if immigration calls him, he will absolutely not be able to lie. “He’s my kid now,” he says instead. “We’re gonna make it work.”

“We got married,” whispers Yuan.

“What are you talking about! What does he mean, you got married! How could you have gotten married and we’ve never even met the guy! Why wasn't anyone invited! You’re so stupid and selfish sometimes, Wei Ying!”

Wei Ying scoffs. “What, you want to throw me a party?”

“A-Li does! She’s gonna murder you.”

Lan Zhan has a little crease right between his eyebrows. He picks Yuan up and says, “We will go and read a book,” and carries him out of the living room into the master bedroom, where he closes the door, cutting off Yuan’s piping little voice asking, “Is he mad? Why is he so mad?”

“I can’t believe you came in here and made this first impression on my husband and son!” Wei Ying scolds. “Now they think you’re some kind of maniac. You could have brought him a toy from the airport or something. You could be his favorite uncle.”

Jiang Cheng stares at him like he’s grown a second, third, or maybe fourth head. “You aren’t keeping him. You know that, right?”

“Of course I am! I promised.”

“But—” Jiang Cheng stops and bites his lip. After a minute, he sighs and flops on Lan Zhan’s expensive couch. “Listen,” he says, “I get that it’s probably hard for you, because we took you in, but who’s gonna take care of you if you’re taking care of him?”

“I’ll take care of myself,” says Wei Ying. He pauses. “And, I mean, Lan Zhan will help.”

“Who, that statue you married?”

“He’s nice! He’s just…reserved.”

Jiang Cheng snorts. “Yeah, he seems madly in love. Did you do that thing you do, where someone doesn’t like you, and you run them over trying to get them to?”

“....no,” says Wei Ying uncertainly.

“And then you drag people into your stupid schemes and ideas, and somehow it’s never you who gets in trouble, it’s always the rest of us?”

It was his scheme, Wei Ying doesn’t say, but his stomach flips and flops around with guilt. “Uh,” he says. “I don’t think so, but…I can’t rule it out entirely.”

“Wei Ying,” groans Jiang Cheng, slumping back against the cushions. “This is the thing! You’re so impulsive! And you get these dumb ideas, and if there’s no one to stop you—Have you considered what a shotgun wedding is gonna do to his life? Just because you like him, and he puts up with you, is no reason to make him deal with all of…this!” He waves his hand around the room in general.

Wei Ying sits down on the couch, too, far enough away that Jiang Cheng can’t reach over and hit him without a little effort. “He does like me,” he argues. They’re supposed to be in love, and he would definitely argue about this if the marriage were real. “He proposed to me! Well… No, well, I guess he didn’t, he kind of said something about it, and then I asked if he was proposing, and he said no, but...I mean, he married me. He didn’t run screaming out of City Hall or anything.”

“You’re very persuasive,” Jiang Cheng points out. “How many things did you talk me into when we were kids that ended up as giant disasters?”

“About as many as you talked me into,” grumbles Wei Ying. “But it’s too late now! We’re married! We signed the paperwork and I’m moving in here. It’s gonna be fine.”

“It better be,” says Jiang Cheng. “I’m busy plotting to murder you for Yanli; I don’t have time to plot his murder, too, for breaking your stupid heart.”

“He won’t,” Wei Ying says. “He’s good. He’s really good.”

Jiang Cheng glares at him, but this is a different glare, like he’s trying to make sure Wei Ying is telling the truth. “You’re going to see A-Li,” he says. It’s not a question.

“The first free weekend we get,” Wei Ying promises.

“That’s not good enough!”

The bedroom door opens and Lan Zhan walks out, as quiet as a ghost, as always. “This weekend,” he says. “We will rearrange our schedules.”

“This weekend, like, in a couple of days?” Wei Ying says. “That’s insane.”

Lan Zhan just looks at him. “You said it must be as soon as possible.”

“Yeah, but—I mean, I figured, maybe after she has the baby, or—”

“Dude, you want to wait over a month?” Jiang Cheng asks, outraged.

“We will go this weekend,” Lan Zhan says again.

Jiang Cheng points at him. “I want to talk to you,” he says. “What the hell are you doing, marrying my brother without even asking if it’s okay?”

Lan Zhan blinks, once. “Whom should I ask?” he says.

“Me!” Jiang Cheng shouts, standing up. “Or my dad!”

Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying, and Wei Ying shakes his head. “This is news to me,” he says.

“It’s polite to meet the family first, and make sure we like you,” growls Jiang Cheng. “You can’t just waltz in, and—and—and—”

“I considered carefully,” Lan Zhan says. It’s the first time Wei Ying has ever heard him lie.

Wei Ying jumps in. “We’ll make it up to you,” he says. “I was planning to tell everyone and throw a party or whatever! But you know how your mom gets. After all the crazy expense of A-Li’s big wedding, I figured she’d be glad to save the time and stress. And money.”

“Mom loves stress,” says Jiang Cheng. “Have you even listened to any of your messages? She’s furious.”

“No,” Wei Ying admits. “I just kind of figured… You know, we’d do it, hope for the best, deal with it later.”

“So were you planning this before you decided to adopt a kid? Or did you figure it would be easiest to screw up your whole life at once?”

Wei Ying doesn’t love lying to his brother; he chooses his words carefully. “We had never talked about getting married before,” he says. “But after I had Yuan, it seemed like the best thing to do. That poor kid is a little messed up from being passed around from person to person, and he loves both of us, so we wanted to give him a stable family as quickly as possible.”

Not a word of lie in the explanation. Wei Ying winks at Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan ignores it.

“You two idiots could have moved in together without a wedding,” Jiang Cheng shouts. “What, were you worried about getting married before you started having sex? Be serious.”

“We have not—” Lan Zhan starts.

Wei Ying jumps to his feet. “No no no no!” he says, quickly and loudly. “Jiang Cheng, you can’t shout about sex! There’s a four-year-old listening to us in the bedroom. Please. Have some manners.”

“I want to talk to your husband,” sneers Jiang Cheng, crossing his arms.

Wei Ying throws his hands up in the air. “I mean, I guess you can, but can you please be a little cool about it? You came in here already at an eleven—”

“You got married and we all just got a post on social media.”

Wei Ying grimaces guiltily. Then he turns to Lan Zhan. “Fine. Is this okay with you? I can kick him out. This is your place, after all.”

Lan Zhan stares at Jiang Cheng, who stares back. Wei Ying feels weirdly superfluous in his own relationships.

“We will speak,” says Lan Zhan.

“Ooookay. I guess I’ll go read the dinosaur book to A-Yuan a few more times. Be nice. Okay? Please?”

“I’m always nice,” Jiang Cheng says. Wei Ying snorts.

He walks out of the living room, but as he passes Lan Zhan he reaches out to give his hand a little squeeze. Maybe it’s for good luck, or maybe it’s just for Wei Ying to remind himself that Lan Zhan isn’t going to run off just because Wei Ying’s whole family is insane. But either way, Lan Zhan catches his hand as he walks by and doesn’t let go, and then he yanks, and suddenly Wei Ying has been reeled in like Lan Zhan is catching a fish.

He laughs because he doesn’t know quite what else to do. Lan Zhan’s chest is so solid and so warm. “You promise to be nice, too?” Wei Ying asks. He’s not sure why Lan Zhan grabbed him so suddenly. He never has before. Is he…jealous? Of Wei Ying’s brother? Or…?

Lan Zhan puts an arm around his waist, says, “I am always nice,” and kisses him.

Holy shit, Wei Ying thinks, and then he doesn’t think about anything for a minute because Lan Zhan is still the best kisser in the world. Strong arms, wide shoulders, hot mouth, determined tongue, ferocious intent—Wei Ying is gonna die one of these times, because all the blood in his whole body has rushed out of his brain, and his lungs aren’t giving him any oxygen.

It will be a glorious death.

Wei Ying laughs against Lan Zhan’s mouth. “Every time you do that it’s a surprise,” he manages. Lan Zhan kisses him again, but a little less ferociously.

“Oh my god, you already moved in together, can you not put this on hold for five minutes?” Jiang Cheng complains loudly.

Oh.

Right.

It’s because they have an audience again.

The little part of Wei Ying’s heart that had been fluttering with delight at the idea that Lan Zhan might have been jealously claiming his territory withers and dies. Wei Ying puts his hands on Lan Zhan’s shoulders and pushes a little, because if he doesn’t get some space from Lan Zhan so he can clear his head, it’s all going to start hurting his feelings.

“I’m going to hang out with A-Yuan,” he says, trying to sound totally unflustered and normal. “Don’t kill each other.” He goes into the bedroom and shuts the door behind him.

“Hi,” says Yuan, holding his teddy bear. He’s sitting on their bed, kicking his feet against the mattress. “It’s loud today.”

“It sure is. That’s my brother. He’s loud a lot.” Actually, now there are no noises coming from the living room at all, which makes him worry even more.

“Your brother is loud?” Yuan repeats. “He should go in time out. That’s where Bunny goes when he’s bad. He goes to time out at daycare because he didn’t help. Everyone has to clean up.” He starts singing, “Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up,” to himself. Either he’s a musical genius or Wei Ying has no idea what he’s talking about. He leans toward thinking his son is a genius, of course.

“You always help Lan Zhan clean, don’t you?” Wei Ying says, sitting down next to him.

“I like helping,” Yuan says. “Okay, I’m gonna tell you a joke. Why did the—no. Why did the…” He looks around the room for a minute. “Book. Why did the book?”

“Why did the book what?” Wei Ying asks, baffled.

“Yes,” says Yuan, nodding. “Because he likes to go to school!”

It…almost makes sense? “Oh,” says Wei Ying, “of course. I should have known. Because he likes to go to school!” He tickles Yuan until he giggles and tries to curl up into a ball. “Do you want me to read you a book?”

“No,” says Yuan, and Wei Ying feels a tiny bit of disappointment, until he adds, “Bunny wants to read the book about the dinosaurs dancing.”

“We’ve read this one a thousand times,” Wei Ying groans.

“No,” Yuan says again. “You read it to me, but now you can read to Bunny.” He holds his teddy bear up hopefully.

Wei Ying sighs, but there’s no way he’s not going to read to Yuan. “Fine,” he says. “I’ll read, you point to the letters.”

“That’s a D,” says Yuan, pointing to the correct letter on the cover.

Wei Ying’s son is absolutely, definitely a genius.

They read the book two more times before Wei Ying decides he’s left his brother and his husband alone for too long. There’s been no noise from the living room at all, which can’t be good. “Let’s go interrupt,” he says, picking Yuan up.

“Interrupt?” Yuan asks. “That’s bad.”

“Not if it saves a life,” says Wei Ying. He’d put money on Lan Zhan being the last man standing in the living room, but just in case he doesn’t want to have to explain any murders to his sister.

Lan Zhan and Jiang Cheng are sitting in the living room. Neither of them is speaking. Lan Zhan has a cup of tea. It’s just…quiet, but the room feels weirdly like it might explode.

“Did I miss something important?” Wei Ying asks.

“No,” they both say at the same time, and then Jiang Cheng glares at Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan is simply not looking at Jiang Cheng at all.

“Uh-oh,” says Yuan solemnly.

Wei Ying agrees, but he can’t see the point of saying so. “So…” he says, “we’ll go to Yanli’s this weekend, I guess? And now that you’ve met Lan Zhan, you can tell the family that it’s fine.”

That’s what you think I’m gonna tell them?” Jiang Cheng says. “You’re such a selfish idiot sometimes. You can explain to mom and dad yourself why you didn’t introduce them to your husband or invite them to the wedding. I’m here to make sure he’s not… He’s not…”

“He’s not what?” Wei Ying asks.

Jiang Cheng shrugs angrily. “Taking advantage of you somehow!”

Wei Ying laughs so hard he has to put Yuan down. “You think he’s taking advantage of me?

“No,” Jiang Cheng grumbles, “not anymore. But I wondered.”

“Aww, that’s sweet. No, he’s in this for real. He—He loves Yuan-er and me.”

Jiang Cheng stands up and grabs his bag. He looks so pissed off. “Yeah, I get it,” he says. “I don’t get why you didn’t tell us, though. Asshole.”

“What’s ‘asshole’?” Yuan asks.

Wei Ying claps a hand over his little mouth. “Don’t,” he says. “Your papa’s gonna be so mad if I teach you more bad words.”

“What’s ‘bad words’?” Yuan asks immediately, pushing his hand away.

“Words that adults may say but children must not,” says Lan Zhan.

“Why is it bad?”

Jiang Cheng says loudly, “I’m going to my hotel to take a nap. I was just told to make sure he wasn’t a murderer, and I did, so I’m flying home tonight. When mom murders you, don’t ask me for help. When A-Li murders you, don’t—”

“I get it, I get it. Don’t you even want to hang out with your nephew?”

Jiang Cheng stares at him for a minute. “I can’t believe you’re really serious about all of this,” he says.

“I am completely serious,” Wei Ying says. “A-Yuan, this is your shu shu.”

Yuan giggles. “Shu shu,” he says.

For half a second, Wei Ying can see Jiang Cheng soften. No one can resist how freaking cute Yuan is, and Wei Ying doesn’t know how anyone ever let him go. But Jiang Cheng goes right back to glaring a minute later.

“I’ll be nice to the kid,” he says, “none of this is his fault. But you—” He points angrily at Wei Ying. “You’re in the doghouse forever.” Then he storms out and slams the door.

Wei Ying sighs heavily. “So that was my brother,” he says.

“Shu shu,” chuckles Yuan to himself. His pronunciation isn’t terrible.

Wei Ying can’t get a read on how annoyed Lan Zhan is. Like, clearly kind of annoyed, because he hasn’t said a word in a while, and everything he’s said has been a little curt. “This is why I figured we should do the wedding fast, before you met my family,” Wei Ying says, trying for a little joke. “Anyone would have called off the wedding after that.”

“I would not,” says Lan Zhan. He picks up Yuan’s bag. “We should go to class. We will be only a few minutes late.”

Right, right; because it’s not a real wedding, and he’s doing it for Yuan’s sake. Wei Ying can’t believe he’s married someone who’s so patient and kind and generous, but it’s all a scam. Only he could possibly manage to fake-marry someone better than he’s ever going to real-marry.

“Daycare,” he says to Yuan, who cheers and goes to get his teddy bear. It is astounding—and dangerous for Wei Ying’s heart—how fast this is all starting to feel normal.

Chapter Text

Normal feels like this: they drop Yuan off at daycare, and Wei Ying practices for a few hours, and everyone at orchestra asks when they’re having a party to celebrate getting married, and Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything, so Wei Ying says, “Uh, next week?” before he realizes that he’s going to need a babysitter? For his own party!

“Tickets are going to be crazy expensive for flying to Chicago this weekend,” Wei Ying says after rehearsals. “Are you sure—”

“They are purchased,” says Lan Zhan, so apparently they don’t need to talk about that anymore.

Yuan clearly had a big day at daycare, because he tries to tell them about it, and Wei Ying definitely understands…maybe half of it? He played hide-and-seek, and maybe there was a dog? He keeps rushing ahead on the sidewalk and shouting, “I see a truck! I see a garbage truck!” and then running back and grabbing Wei Ying’s hand. The third time he does it, Wei Ying looks over at Lan Zhan, who purses his lips ever so slightly.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Wei Ying says.

“We’re going to Papa’s house,” Yuan says, frowning. “Aren’t we?”

Fair point. “I mean, I’m not going anywhere without you,” Wei Ying clarifies.

“Okay,” says Yuan. “Can we have a dog? I like a dog.”

Wei Ying shudders. “No,” he says. Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow. “I’m—well, I don’t want to say scared, I’m not scared, I just don’t like dogs,” Wei Ying lies.

“Ah,” says Lan Zhan, and Wei Ying feels like perhaps Lan Zhan has seen through him a bit.

“Can we have a cat?” Yuan asks.

“No,” says Wei Ying. “We already have a baby and a husband. We’re full up.”

Yuan frowns. “We have a baby?”

“You!”

“I’m not a baby,” Yuan says. “I’m a big kid. Can we have a bunny?”

“You already have a bunny.” Wei Ying points to his teddy bear. “Right?”

Lan Zhan says, “You would like a bunny?”

“Yes,” says Yuan definitely. “I like a bunny. I want one. And he has two ears and two eyes and two noses.”

“One nose, hopefully,” Wei Ying says.

“One, two, three, four!” Yuan says, and then lets go of his hand to go running and look at another truck parked by the curb.

Lan Zhan cooks dinner again, and this time instead of helping, Yuan decides he’s going to pick up, but he’s too small to put anything back where it goes—plus he doesn’t know where anything goes—so Wei Ying ends up carrying him around the apartment saying, “Does the spoon go here?” and pointing to the freezer, to make him giggle and shake his head. It’s not a very efficient way of putting things away, but it’s pretty fun. By the time they’ve found homes for all of Yuan’s toys (“Does this go on my head?” Wei Ying asks, putting a book there, and Yuan falls down laughing like this is the funniest thing he’s ever seen), dinner is ready.

“Do you need me to buy you some spices?” Wei Ying asks. “Or did you make it bland because you think kids don’t like flavor?”

The look Lan Zhan gives him is completely neutral and yet somehow could also peel paint off the wall.

“I’m just saying!” Wei Ying protests. “I’m gonna buy you some chili flakes! And some hot sauce.”

Lan Zhan reads to Yuan for a while in what’s supposed to be his room. Yuan has pajamas with dinosaurs on them, and a bedspread with rocket ships and stars on it, and a bookshelf full of his books. And he’s sleepy, Wei Ying can tell, because he’s all curled up, rubbing his eyes and yawning. But when Lan Zhan says, “Now it is bedtime,” and starts to tuck him in, Yuan has another absolute meltdown. He cries so hard he hiccups, and Lan Zhan ends up picking him up and carrying him into their bedroom instead.

“Kid, you gotta get over this,” Wei Ying says, but not meanly.

“He is not doing it on purpose,” Lan Zhan says.

“Yeah, I know.” Wei Ying sighs. “There’s been a lot of change and a lot of stress for a little guy.” He sits down on the bed next to Lan Zhan, who is rubbing Yuan’s back under the blankets. “He’s gonna figure it out, right? What does your child psychology book say?”

Lan Zhan waits a long minute before he answers. “He will need to see that what we say is true,” he says finally. He turns and looks at Wei Ying. His eyes are beautiful, and his mouth is infinitely kissable, but Wei Ying doesn’t have a reason to kiss him, except that he’s so good and so handsome and it’s a little dim in the bedroom and it feels like a moment when you should kiss your husband.

“So as long as we’re perfect and never screw up, he’ll be fine?” Wei Ying says, softly joking.

“We must try,” says Lan Zhan.

Yuan’s tiny, sleepy voice under the blanket says, “I’m tired. It’s bedtime now? I’m sad.”

“It is bedtime,” Lan Zhan agrees. He looks at Wei Ying again. “You may continue to stay awake and do work or speak to your sister about this weekend.”

“Yeah,” says Wei Ying, who kind of wants to just crawl into bed with his son and his husband. “That’s a good idea. I’ll go talk to her and let her know we’re coming and that A-Yuan’s a little fragile.”

“He is very strong,” says Lan Zhan, and turns out the lights.

Wei Ying takes that as his cue to leave. He just… He wants to snuggle up with Lan Zhan, not even necessarily in a sexy way, not with a kid there, but just for the comfort of knowing he’s not alone in trying to figure out how to make Yuan feel better.

By the time he talks to Yanli—she only cries a little—he’s exhausted, and it’s clear both Lan Zhan and Yuan are fast asleep. He doesn’t want to disturb them, and for a minute he seriously considers just going to sleep on Lan Zhan’s very comfortable couch. But as he hesitates in the doorway Lan Zhan’s eyes open, and then he says quietly, “Come to bed.”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying whispers, relieved not to have to decide if it’s selfish to join them. “Of course.” He slips under the blankets and puts an arm over Yuan, hopefully comforting and not suffocating.

His hand is just millimeters away from Lan Zhan’s hand, but neither of them moves.

“So here’s a question,” says Wei Ying the next night. “We’re taking him to Chicago tomorrow, right? But he’s already terrified of the a-i-r-p-o-r-t, so… What are we going to do?”

“I am not sure,” Lan Zhan admits, which makes Wei Ying feel better and worse at the same time.

“Hey,” says Wei Ying, trying to catch Yuan by the back of his sweater as he goes racing past, chasing a toy truck. “Tomorrow we’re going on an adventure.”

As soon as he says it, he can see that it’s the wrong thing; Yuan’s face goes blank. “Oh,” he says uncertainly. “An adventure?”

“All together,” Wei Ying clarifies. “You and me and papa are all going to visit my sister. Your aunt. She’s going to have a baby, so we’re going to visit her.”

“A baby?” Yuan considers this. “Okay.”

Wei Ying was going to try and soften the blow by warning him about the airport, but now he can’t bring himself to utter the word. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s going to be fun, and you’re going to stay with us. Okay? You’re staying with us.”

“Okay,” Yuan says again, frowning. “Are you sad?”

“Am I sad? No, I’m good. So even if tomorrow is scary, just remember that we’re all staying together, okay?”

“Tomorrow is scary,” Yuan repeats, starting to look more upset.

“No, no, no,” Wei Ying says, picking him up. “I just meant, if tomorrow is scary, because we’re going to the airport—”

Yuan bursts into tears, and Wei Ying kind of can’t blame him. “Whoops,” he says. “Shit. Don’t do that. Nothing bad is going to happen, I promise. I promise!”

Yuan is crying silently, giant tears streaming down his cheeks, and his expression is full-on betrayed. “We got married,” he whispers.

Wei Ying wants to crawl under the floor. He has never felt like a worse person. “I know, I know—” he says.

Yuan holds his arms up imploringly to Lan Zhan, who swoops in and takes him. Yuan puts his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck and cries quietly into his shoulder.

“I’m gonna throw myself out a window,” says Wei Ying. “Fuck.”

“It cannot be helped,” says Lan Zhan. “Perhaps if he knew that, when we return from our trip, there will be a bunny…”

Wei Ying doesn’t think it’s gonna work, but Yuan turns his head to peek out at them. “A bunny?” he sniffles.

“We will bring you back here with us after this trip,” Lan Zhan says, “and we will choose a bunny to join our family.” Wei Ying can’t believe that of the two of them pretending to parent, it’s Lan Zhan using lies and bribes to get Yuan to calm down. He’s sort of impressed.

Yuan considers that, and he doesn’t look convinced, but he does at least look interested.

“Brave boys get bunnies,” says Wei Ying. “So if you’re very brave and good this weekend, there’ll be a bunny. Maybe.”

“I want—I don’t want—I don’t know,” Yuan hiccups, starting to cry again.

It is, perhaps, too much to ask him to process all of this. Lan Zhan holds him and rubs circles on his back while he cries, and Wei Ying feels helplessly terrible. “Maybe… I’ll go see my sister and you stay here with him?” he says.

“No. I do not believe separation would be better.”

Fuck, that’s a good point. “He didn’t cry at all the first day I dropped him off at daycare,” Wei Ying says. “And he didn’t cry when he woke up at my apartment. Why’s he all weepy now?”

“He has something to lose now,” says Lan Zhan, quiet and devastating.

Wei Ying doesn’t know what to do. “You’re gonna love your auntie,” he says. Yuan looks at him with big, teary eyes, and then deliberately turns his head to look the other way, resting his other cheek against Lan Zhan’s chest.

Wei Ying would also like to curl up against Lan Zhan’s chest and cry. “I don’t know how to fix this,” he says.

Lan Zhan considers for a minute. “Perhaps it will not be fixed easily.” He sits down on the couch. “He will see with time.”

“I’m gonna…make some tea, I guess,” says Wei Ying, because he needs to do something, and Lan Zhan doesn’t drink.

Yuan keeps crying until he falls asleep, but Lan Zhan lets him stay on his lap, sniffling quietly in his sleep. He sits and drinks tea quietly with one hand, and keeps rubbing Yuan’s back with the other, and Wei Ying sits next to him fidgeting unhappily with his phone. He opens and closes apps almost immediately, because none of them are giving him what he wants—some idea of what to say to Yuan.

“Oh, look, my brother texted. He’s back on the west coast and he says he’ll break both my legs if I ever—”

Lan Zhan reaches out and puts his hand on top of Wei Ying’s, blocking his phone. “Your brother is…emotional,” he says eventually.

Wei Ying would move his phone, but honestly he feels a little bit better with Lan Zhan’s hand on top of his. His hand is so big and warm. “What are we gonna do?” Wei Ying asks quietly. “I know I keep saying that, but...”

Lan Zhan looks at him. “You are also an orphan,” he says. “Did you not cry?”

“No,” says Wei Ying. “Well, I cried because Jiang Cheng had a dog and I was scared of it. I’ve totally grown out of that now, obviously. But I didn’t cry usually. Look at me, I’m a happy guy. Do I seem like a crier? And I knew how lucky I was! No one wants an adopted kid who—Well, we want one who cries. But no one else would. Yuan-er lucked out.”

Lan Zhan maybe frowns at that, but it’s gone in a microsecond. “Perhaps if A-Yuan were older, he would feel the same,” he says. “I am glad he does not.”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. “I mean, I grew up fine, I’m doing great. If he were older, we could explain—”

Lan Zhan squeezes his hand, and Wei Ying stops talking.

He would really, really like Lan Zhan to kiss him right now.

There’s no excuse at the moment. No witnesses, and even Yuan is asleep, so Wei Ying can’t even argue that they need to behave like they’re in love because kids are such unreliable little narrators. But Wei Ying is tired, and he’s sad for Yuan, and sad for himself because he can’t do anything to help Yuan, and he’d like something nice to make him feel better. So Wei Ying leans in a little bit. He almost doesn’t realize he’s doing it. Lan Zhan feels like a magnet, pulling him in. Lan Zhan is gravity. Lan Zhan is the center of the universe.

Wei Ying is as surprised as anyone when his mouth meets Lan Zhan’s over Yuan’s head. It’s not a bruising, crushing kiss this time; it’s soft and slow, and the thrill of it races down Wei Ying’s spine and back up again, making his fingers and toes tingle. His mouth opens to Lan Zhan’s and he edges over, closer, pressing himself up against Lan Zhan’s side, trying not to wake Yuan up.

Lan Zhan’s free arm moves from Wei Ying’s hand up around the back of his head, curling warmly around his neck, and pulls him in even closer. Lan Zhan’s not just a good kisser, he’s a kind kisser, and a generous and patient one. Wei Ying could drown like this, in his feelings, and in Lan Zhan.

“They’re kissing,” says Yuan’s tiny, sleepy voice. “It’s bedtime?”

Wei Ying pulls back and laughs. His whole chest feels warm, like Lan Zhan has slowly been melting something inside him that he didn’t realize was frozen. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s bedtime. Do you want to sleep in your own room tonight?” He’s not that hopeful about it, to be honest, but it seems worth a shot. If he could get Lan Zhan alone in a bed—

“No!” Yuan wails, clutching Lan Zhan’s shirt.

“Then you will sleep with us,” says Lan Zhan easily. His mouth is red from all the kissing, and Wei Ying wants to chase it and bite that lower lip. Lan Zhan stands up and carries Yuan into the bedroom.

Wei Ying allows himself one tiny selfish little groan. That kiss felt so real, and he can’t think of an ulterior motive for Lan Zhan to have kissed him, except maybe being too polite to refuse. So maybe he wants—

But why would he? It’s baffling, and now Wei Ying can’t ask him, because he’s reading Yuan a bedtime story. Yuan is the priority. He’s certainly Lan Zhan’s priority. And Wei Ying, for once in his life, will have to live without the attention.

Friday is tough. The second Yuan sees packed suitcases his eyes well up with tears, although he just stands there silently, looking at them. Wei Ying picks him up and Yuan clings to him like a little koala. Nothing either of them says makes Yuan less upset, although he won’t say anything. He just hides his face or shakes his head.

“He also thinks we do not wish him to cry,” Lan Zhan says quietly, wheeling their suitcases out into the elevator.

“It’s okay if you want to freak out and scream, buddy,” Wei Ying says, in what he hopes is an encouraging way. “It’s cool. Feel all your feelings.”

“I want to go home,” says Yuan miserably.

He doesn’t want to read a book in the cab to the airport, and he doesn’t want to play with any of the toys they packed. He just sits on one lap or the other and clings to his teddy bear and cries quietly.

Wei Ying has a new plan for his life, and it’s to stop learning music and start learning how to orchestrate—ha—elaborate revenge plots. He’s going to pick up the skills to use a couple of deadly weapons, and he’s going to find every cousin who’s passed Yuan along, and he’s going to murder them.

“Do you think I could beat someone to death with my flute?” he asks Lan Zhan, while they wait to board.

“Hmm,” says Lan Zhan. “You can achieve many things. But perhaps it would damage the flute.”

The worst part of boarding is that Yuan has to sit in his own seat, with his seatbelt fastened, which means Wei Ying has to put him down. The flight attendants wave and wink and smile at Yuan, but he just stares at them with big tear-filled eyes, clutching his teddy bear.

“Afraid of planes?” one of the flight attendants asks sympathetically.

“Kind of,” Wei Ying says. He pulls out the dinosaur book and reads it quietly to Yuan, regardless of how Yuan sits there, not reacting. And then he reads another book, and another, even though Yuan is still curled up around his teddy bear. “Should I stop?” Wei Ying asks. “Would you rather take a nap?”

Yuan shakes his head and grabs Wei Ying’s hand holding the book with both of his little hands.

“Okay,” says Wei Ying. “I hope I don’t lose my voice. Let’s do this!”

Lan Zhan hands him an open bottle of water without comment.

It feels like the flight takes forever, even taking turns reading to him or having him sit on their laps when they can. And the worst part, Wei Ying thinks, is the way Yuan just sits there without complaining, like he knows it won’t even matter. Wei Ying carries him back off the plane and Yuan clings to his neck, and—Wei Ying doesn’t think of himself as a guy who cries very much, but he’s definitely a little sniffly, because this whole thing makes his chest hurt.

“Don’t worry,” he says a thousand times, to no effect. “You’re gonna love your aunt! And you’re gonna have a good weekend and then we’re all going back home together.”

“Okay,” says Yuan resignedly.

The only thing keeping Wei Ying from falling apart is that Lan Zhan is so solid and strong. He makes sure no one forgets a suitcase or a teddy bear on the plane, he hails the taxi and makes sure the address is right, he finds snacks in the pockets of his coat whenever they think Yuan might want one. He is completely unflappable, and if Wei Ying hadn’t started noticing his concerned little sideways glances, he’d think Lan Zhan wasn’t worried at all.

“He’s gonna forget how to walk,” Wei Ying jokes, carrying Yuan from the taxi to his sister’s house. It’s cloudy and raining in Chicago, and Lan Zhan holds an umbrella over both of them.

Halfway up the driveway, the door to the house opens and Yanli comes running out. Well, running as well as a woman who’s eight months pregnant can run. A second later, her dumb husband comes dashing after her. He’s wearing a jacket and holding an umbrella, and to his credit he does try to catch up with her.

“A-Ying!” she says. God, he missed her voice. “Are you hungry? Have you eaten? Look at you, all tired and wet! You’re really here!” She grabs him and makes the best attempt her tiny, pregnant self can make at kissing his cheeks and giving him a hug. “And you! What a beautiful little boy. This must be Yuanyuan? We’re so happy to meet you, we’re so glad you came to visit us.” She kisses his cheek, too, and he mumbles, “Hello.”

“And you,” Yanli says, turning to Lan Zhan. His face is totally blank, which Wei Ying is starting to think means he’s preparing for something bad to happen. But then she hugs him, too—she’s hilariously tiny next to him—and says, “I’m so happy to meet you! I could kill A-Ying for not bringing you around sooner! Here, lean down and hug me, it’s hard to hug around this baby.”

Lan Zhan, to Wei Ying’s absolute astonishment, leans down and hugs her.

“Come in, get this poor little bear out of the rain,” says Yanli, shooing them all toward the house. She looks great, but also tired, and by the time Jin Zixuan catches up they’re all already headed inside. Her house couldn’t be any cuter; it’s beautiful and homey and warm, and as Wei Ying kicks off his shoes, he smells something familiar.

“Pork and lotus soup?” he says hopefully.

She beams at him. “Of course! I don’t know if my nephew has ever had any, and that’s not okay!” She switches into Chinese. “Is he okay? Has he been crying?”

“He thinks we’ve flown here to dump him with yet another set of strangers,” Wei Ying replies. “He’s been crying all day, he’s exhausted.”

“Oh no, sweetheart,” says Yanli, in English again. “Your daddies love you very much! You’re here so I can meet you and say hello, and in two days you’re all flying back together. Won’t that be nice? Staying together?”

There’s something about Yanli’s smile. It always comforted Wei Ying when he was little, and it comforts Yuan now. For the first time all day he perks up, just a little. “We got married,” he tells her.

“Yes, you did,” she agrees. “Isn’t that nice? But it wasn’t very nice not to invite me. I missed it, because I’m having a baby. So you had to come here to meet me. Thank you for traveling all this way.”

“You’re welcome,” says Yuan seriously. He looks around a little. “You have a baby?”

“Here,” says Yanli, putting her hand on her stomach. “He’s not born yet. Would you like to say hello?”

“Hello, baby,” says Yuan. He pauses for a second. “The baby…has toys?”

“We’re getting all his toys ready for him,” Yanli says. “Would you show me what your favorites are, so I know what to give him?”

Yuan considers that, nods, and wiggles to get down from Wei Ying’s arms for the first time in twenty-four hours. Yanli helps him take his sneakers off and then he carries his backpack and his teddy bear into the living room, holding her hand and explaining with his normal mild incoherence that the bear’s name is Bunny, and also he likes trucks and dinosaurs.

“Oh, thank god,” says Wei Ying, sagging a little against Lan Zhan. “I told you, didn’t I? My sister is amazing. She’s magic.”

Lan Zhan clears his throat a little, and Wei Ying realizes that Zixuan is standing right behind them.

He looks all fancy, like mud and rain couldn’t stick to him, and he’s got that same mild sneer he always has. “This is my brother-in-law,” says Wei Ying. “He’s a dick.”

“Glad to see you’re just as immature as ever,” Zixuan says. “First you get married without even telling anyone you met someone, then you adopt a baby without any warning? How could you think you’re qualified to raise a child when you can’t even be polite?”

“What does being polite have to do with raising a child?” Wei Ying argues.

Lan Zhan magically appears between the two of them. “Hello,” he says. It sounds vaguely…threatening.

“I Googled you,” says Zixuan. “You’re pretty famous, and very talented. I’m not sure what you’d want with him, but it’s very nice to meet you.”

He holds out his hand to shake, and Lan Zhan just stares at it, until eventually he drops it.

“You sure know how to introduce yourself, don’t you?” Wei Ying scolds Zixuan. “He married me, he must like me. I mean, at least a little bit.”

“It’s his funeral,” says Zixuan. “You know the stress of all of this could put Yanli on bedrest? Or she could have the baby early? Are you trying to hurt your sister? You’re always so selfish—”

“I wasn’t going to plan a wedding she couldn’t come to!” Wei Ying protests. “That would have been awful.”

“So you couldn’t have waited six months? Or a year?”

“No,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying has to jump in. He’s been thinking about plausible lies for why they had to get married so quickly that won’t make people immediately wonder about his green card status. “His insurance will cover A-Yuan and mine won’t,” he says.

“You’re ridiculous,” says Zixuan. “If you’d just told the family you were engaged to someone, it wouldn’t have been such a shock. Good luck with him,” he says to Lan Zhan, rolling his eyes, and storms off further into the house.

“See?” Wei Ying says. “He’s a dick.”

“He is certainly judgmental,” Lan Zhan agrees.

“For whatever dumb reason my sister loves him, so I’ve been putting up with him for years. Even though half the time he’s a dick to her, too. I mean, he used to be. He’s nice to her now, mostly. And he’s super excited about the baby. Maybe he’ll get better when he’s a dad? I still won’t be able to stand him, though.”

Wei Ying takes Lan Zhan’s hand and pulls him into the living room. He’s only visited Yanli a couple of times, but he knows the basic layout of her adorable little house. She’s sitting on the floor, leaning back against the couch with one hand on her belly, while Yuan sits on the floor with her, holding a book. “D is for dog,” Yuan says. “This is D. See him? He’s a D. And this is the dog, he is named…”

“What’s his name?” Yanli asks encouragingly.

“Chicken Wing!” says Yuan, and bursts into giggles.

“The dog’s name is Chicken Wing?” Yanli asks, looking up at Wei Ying and smiling.

“I get a bunny and we name him Little Bunny,” says Yuan. “But he’s at home.”

“You have a bunny?” Yanli asks Wei Ying.

“No, no, that’s just something Lan Zhan said to bribe him—”

“I did not,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying turns to stare at him. “Wait, you’re seriously going to get a bunny just to bribe him?”

Lan Zhan looks away. “Not just to bribe him,” he says. Wei Ying would swear he almost sounds embarrassed.

“Awww,” says Wei Ying. “I can’t believe what a softie you are. You secretly want a bunny, don’t you!”

“Wei Ying, don’t tease him,” says Yanli. “Lan Zhan, please, it’s so nice to meet you. Won’t you tell me about yourself? My silly brother didn’t tell me anything, I’m afraid. I thought maybe you were a serial killer or something, so my husband has been Googling you like crazy, but everything we’ve found has been wonderful. Falling in love with someone in the same orchestra is so romantic!”

“What’s ‘romantic’?” asks Yuan.

“It’s romantic that your daddy fell in love with your other daddy,” says Yanli. “They love each other, so they got married, and that’s romantic.”

“Daddy?” asks Yuan, frowning a little bit.

“She means me and Papa,” Wei Ying clarifies.

“Ohhh,” says Yuan. He looks at Wei Ying and says, “Romantic.”

Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan, throat trying to close up with guilt. Lan Zhan deserves romantic. He deserves a real wedding. “Why don’t you tell ayi about the wedding?”

“We went in a car, and the car goed past a truck, and the truck was big,” says Yuan. “Then we were inside and we waited. And…we got married! And I was there, and he was there, and my Bunny was there.”

“I thought you didn’t have a bunny yet,” says Yanli.

“This is Bunny,” says Yuan, holding up his teddy bear. “He’s my friend.”

“Of course,” says Yanli. She looks up at Wei Ying. “Oh, I wish I could pick him up and snuggle him. I understand now, A-Ying. I really do.”

“He’s just…” Wei Ying shrugs helplessly. “He just needs some stability and love. And I can do that, so…” He reaches out without really considering and squeezes Lan Zhan’s hand. There’s just something so grounding about him. “You know what, though? He loves to cook. Maybe he could help you in the kitchen?”

“I can cook!” Yuan says excitedly. “I don’t touch a knife, it’s for adults. But I carry things, and I count them. One, two, three, four, five...” He trails off uncertainly and looks up at Lan Zhan.

“Six,” says Lan Zhan.

“Six!”

“You didn’t tell me he was a scholar, too,” says Yanli. She holds up both hands. “Help your poor, pregnant sister up.”

Wei Ying gives her a hand. She’s tiny, but unwieldy, and they’re both laughing by the time he gets her to her feet. “Should you be cooking?” Wei Ying asks. “Lan Zhan loves to cook, too.”

“But he doesn’t know the recipes you grew up on, does he?” Yanli says. “Oh, I just had the best idea. I’m going to make him a cookbook! All the food we ate when we were children. Would you like that?”

“You’re so embarrassing,” Wei Ying says. “He doesn’t—”

“I would like that very much,” says Lan Zhan. “Thank you.”

Wei Ying stares at him. “You would?”

“It would be nice to cook recipes from both our families for A-Yuan,” says Lan Zhan.

Oh, that does make sense. “That’s really… That’s really nice, actually,” says Wei Ying, trying to sound a normal amount of touched by that, and not super overwhelmed.

Yanli beams at both of them. “I’m so glad for you two,” she says. “I’m still mad about the wedding, but I’m very glad Wei Ying has someone to look after him. Oh no; you don’t eat everything so spicy it makes you cry, do you?”

“I do not,” says Lan Zhan.

“I like spicy,” says Yuan. “Well. Sometimes.”

Yanli holds out a hand to him. “Will you come and help me in the kitchen? I can’t find everything I need, because of the baby.”

“Okay,” says Yuan, and takes her hand. She walks him into the kitchen, explaining what a lotus is and how to cook them.

“You don’t really have to—” Wei Ying starts.

“I would like to,” Lan Zhan interrupts.

Wei Ying steps a little closer, so they can speak more quietly. “I know we have to convince my family and stuff, so it’s really nice of you to play along. Did you realize how much work this was all going to be for you, though? All this pretending?”

“I knew,” says Lan Zhan. After a moment he adds, “I am not pretending to enjoy cooking.”

What Wei Ying hears is, I am merely pretending to like you. He sighs. “I know, I know,” he says, even quieter. He’s basically whispering in Lan Zhan’s ear at this point. “I just want to make it easier for you, not more work. Just because—”

Zixuan walks in, and he either looks his normal amount of arrogant and dickish, or he looks a little suspicious at all the whispering. It’s hard to tell, so Wei Ying leans in that little bit more and turns whispering into kissing. He catches Lan Zhan’s mouth at a funny angle, at least until Lan Zhan turns to face him better. Their mouths line up so well, it’s a good thing they’ve practiced, because it’s easy to make it look natural when Wei Ying bites at Lan Zhan’s surprisingly pouty lower lip, or when Lan Zhan’s hand closes around Wei Ying’s wrist with surprising strength, or—

“You already have a child,” Zixuan complains loudly, “and you can’t make another one like this, so maybe you could be a little less gross in my living room?”

“I’m gonna do it twice as much,” Wei Ying says against Lan Zhan’s mouth. Maybe it comes out a little muffled. Hard to say.

Zixuan sighs a bunch of times, which honestly just makes Wei Ying want to shove his hand down Lan Zhan’s slacks, because then he could kiss Lan Zhan and jerk him off, and touch all of his skin, and maybe get down on his knees and—

Wait, this is supposed to be about irritating his brother-in-law.

Wei Ying pushes Lan Zhan away. He’s breathing heavily more because his brain is still running through exactly how hot and heavy he wants to get, and it’s doing things to him. “Okay, uh…let’s go see how dinner’s doing,” he says, because his brain has forgotten how to make complicated words and sentences.

“Indeed,” Lan Zhan says. He doesn’t look ruffled. Or does he? His eyes are very dark, and he’s staring at Wei Ying’s mouth. Then he catches himself and looks away.

It’s heartening, Wei Ying thinks, that even if all this kissing wouldn’t be Lan Zhan’s idea, at least he’s not hating it.

Dinner is lovely. Zixuan tells a long boring story about how great his job is, which Wei Ying doesn’t even have to pretend to listen to, because Yuan is being so cute and asking about every ingredient, and how the baby is doing. He seems a little confused about where the baby is, but he isn’t crying or freaking out, so Wei Ying is happy to answer all his questions. The food is perfect, and his sister is perfect. Wei Ying is just so relieved that he didn’t screw things up too badly with his family by running off to get married.

“You can stay in the guest room,” Yanli says. “We weren’t sure if Yuanyuan would want to stay in the nursery or with you.”

“I can stay here?” Yuan asks, looking around the nursery. It’s a little over-the-top, with rocket ship wallpaper and a knee-deep pile of stuffed animals for a baby who won’t even be born for another month.

“Of course you can. Would you like me to read you a bedtime story?” Yanli asks him. She smiles at Wei Ying. “You don’t mind, do you? It’s good practice for me.”

“You don’t need to practice,” he scoffs, and then switches to Chinese. “He hasn’t wanted to sleep on his own in a few days, so don’t be surprised if he totally freaks out,” he says.

“Got it,” Yanli says.

Yuan frowns at them. “What did you say?”

“We’re speaking Chinese,” Yanli says, in English. “No one’s taught you any?”

“Not yet,” says Lan Zhan, in a tone that indicates he has plans.

“I can learn it at school?” Yuan asks.

“You can learn it at home,” Wei Ying says. “If you want to.”

“There are bilingual preschools and programs,” says Lan Zhan. “I have been researching.”

It is honestly amazing how Lan Zhan keeps finding new ways to be thoughtful. “Wow,” he says. “Really?” Lan Zhan just nods at him.

“Then maybe I’ll read you a book in Chinese,” says Yanli, “and you can learn the colors! Would you like that?”

Yuan nods seriously.

They help Yanli get him ready for bed, and then Wei Ying and Lan Zhan go to the guest bedroom. “You may stay up and talk to your sister,” Lan Zhan offers.

“Nah, she’s going to bed early because she’s pregnant,” Wei Ying says. “I can’t believe we have a bed all to ourselves tonight. Uh. Ha ha.” He’s wearing pajama pants, but he’s about to climb into bed with his husband, and his sister and her dumb husband probably think they’re in here having sex, and now it’s all Wei Ying can think about. “Hey, uh, last time I kind of…ended up cuddled up to you in the morning. I’m sorry! I guess I’m just a cuddly sleeper. Will that… Uh, does it bother you?”

“No,” says Lan Zhan shortly. He climbs into bed.

Wei Ying crawls in a minute later. He is suddenly acutely aware that he’s spent a week now in bed with the handsomest man in the world, and there’s been an adorable little reason for them not to touch, or even think about touching, but now he’s gone, and—

“I wonder if my brother-in-law is listening at the door,” Wei Ying says quietly. “He’s probably standing out there, hoping to hear something so he can complain about it.”

“Hmm,” says Lan Zhan. “Hoping to hear what?”

Lan Zhan just radiates warmth. This bed isn’t as big as their bed back at Lan Zhan’s apartment, because no bed in the world is that big. But it means Lan Zhan is so much closer. Wei Ying can hear him breathing. He can almost feel it. “You know,” he says. “What newlyweds would be doing on the first night they’ve had alone in a while.”

“Ah,” says Lan Zhan. He clicks off the light by the bed, and then it’s so still, and so dark, and Wei Ying’s whole body wants to go toward him like gravity.

“What if he’s listening right now?” Wei Ying whispers. He can feel where Lan Zhan is more than he can see it. He’s so close. He’s so attractive. He’s so nice. Wei Ying is almost vibrating.

“Indeed,” says Lan Zhan, sounding a little closer than Wei Ying expects. Wei Ying turns to see where he is and—

It’s easy to find Lan Zhan’s mouth in the dark. Wei Ying has it memorized now, the way he kisses, the way he tastes, the way he can’t help but grab Wei Ying’s arm or his waist. It’s better in bed, because Lan Zhan’s arms come around him and Wei Ying shifts and then somehow he’s on his knees straddling Lan Zhan’s hips. His skin is burning up; Lan Zhan’s hands are branding him where they clutch his hips, pulling him in. Wei Ying curls his hands in the front of Lan Zhan’s stupid, beautiful pajamas and pulls him even closer. He’s going to catch on fire and die from this, from how badly he wants to touch every inch of Lan Zhan’s skin. Is it salty where he’s sweating? What does his neck taste like? Does he have any sensitive, ticklish spots? If Wei Ying scraped his teeth along Lan Zhan’s neck, would Lan Zhan flip them over, and pin him to the bed, and—

There is a polite knock on the door and then it cracks open. “Sorry,” Yanli whispers. “You were right. He started crying and he only wants daddy.”

Wei Ying groans, full-on groans, and puts his head on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. Lan Zhan’s hands fall away from him, and Wei Ying is suddenly aware of how disheveled he looks, hair hanging in his face, cold air on the bare skin of his back.

“I’m sorry,” says Yanli. She giggles. “We came at the worst possible moment, huh?”

“No, it would have been worse a couple of minutes later,” says Wei Ying. His voice sounds strangled, and he flashes Lan Zhan a quick apologetic smile for making such a presumptuous joke. He forces himself to take a deep breath and let go of Lan Zhan, scooting back over to his side of the bed. Yanli is silhouetted in the doorway, holding Yuan in her arms, and Wei Ying can hear him crying quietly. “We should have expected it. Sorry, kid. It’s okay. Come on in.”

Yanli carries Yuan in and Lan Zhan holds his arms up to take him. Yuan tucks himself in right in between them, which is honestly for the best. Wei Ying is gonna need a long time to calm down.

Yuan curls up against Wei Ying’s side and falls asleep so quickly that Wei Ying would think he was faking it, if he wasn’t such a good kid. “So…uh, sorry,” says Wei Ying. “That got a little out of hand, huh?” He laughs shakily. “But I guess it worked out perfectly, right? They definitely think we’re really… Well. Uh. So, great job.”

“We should sleep now,” says Lan Zhan. Wei Ying hears him roll over. Roll away. Yuan makes a sleepy noise of objection.

Wei Ying lies there for a long, long time in the dark, trying to reconcile feeling guilty about dragging Lan Zhan into this when he’s clearly not interested with his own fantasies of what might have happened if Yuan had managed to keep it together for just a few more minutes.

When Wei Ying wakes up in the morning, he’s alone in Yanli’s guest bed, so he changes into sweatpants that Lan Zhan packed for him and rolls downstairs.

Yanli and Lan Zhan are in the kitchen. She’s sitting at the kitchen table and directing him where to find things, with Yuan sitting next to her playing with dinosaurs on the table. “Good morning,” Yanli sings, holding her arms out for a hug. Wei Ying goes over, because it’s clear she’s not moving. “Your husband is so lovely,” she whispers, and pinches his side gently. “How did you get so lucky?”

Wei Ying swallows down a little guilt and jokes, “Because I didn’t marry a plastic surgeon—ow! That one hurt.” He gives her puppy-dog eyes.

“Good, it was supposed to. I hope you’re nicer to him than you are to your poor family. Oh wait, listen to this. You’ll be very impressed.” She switches into Chinese. “A-Yuan, what’s this?” She points to the dinosaur.

Yuan looks up, wrinkles his nose, and in very passable Chinese says, “Blue?”

“This is blue,” Yanli says, pointing to Lan Zhan’s pajamas. “What’s this?”

“...green?” Yuan says eventually, in Chinese, after great consideration.

Yanli switches back to English as she gives him a big kiss on the cheek that makes him giggle. “What a brilliant little boy you are! You learned all the colors last night!”

“I learned the colors,” Yuan agrees in English. “This is green!” He holds up his dinosaur for Wei Ying to inspect.

“If you teach him Chinese, how will we talk about stuff he shouldn't hear about, like birthday presents and airplanes?” Wei Ying says, but of course he’s proud, and of course his kid is the smartest kid in the world.

“If I don’t teach him Chinese, how will he talk to his grandparents, who didn’t go to an international school like we did?” Yanli argues.

“Speaking of which,” Wei Ying says, sitting on the table, “have you heard from your mom at all about his mom?”

Lan Zhan brings him over a cup of tea. “Good morning,” he says.

“It’s okay, you can kiss in front of me,” Yanli laughs.

The problem isn’t the kissing, it’s that Wei Ying’s brain is still going around in circles about what almost happened last night. But he leans forward and puckers his lips, and Lan Zhan does this adorable little almost-snort of amusement and kisses him before he goes back to the stove.

“I have a little news,” Yanli says, “and don’t worry, it’s good. Mo Xuanyu is fine, he’s in Austin and he’s ‘too busy’ to return my calls.” Yanli rolls her eyes. “And A-Yuan’s mother is apparently thrilled there’s someone to keep him, since she’s… Uh, let’s say ‘not able to’ right now.”

“Right now?” Wei Ying frowns.

Yanli shakes her head. “She’s not interested in being a mother at all, according to her, according to my mother. So she’s happy to provide a legal statement to that effect, and sign whatever needs to be signed in order to pass custody along to a family member. I wasn’t sure if that was what you’d want to hear, or if you’d get cold feet, but… Well, now I’ve met Yuanyuan and of course you want to keep him.”

“My mom?” Yuan says, looking up. “My mom had to go away.”

Yanli inhales sharply and her eyes well up a little. “Oh, sweetheart,” she says, “but you know we love you very very much, and we won’t go away, right?” She hugs him.

Yuan tries to wiggle out of the hug, realizes it won’t work, and sighs. It’s hilariously adult. “Okay,” he says.

“I don’t know how much he understands any of it,” says Wei Ying, “but hopefully when we don’t go away, he’ll get it. Please don’t suffocate him with your giant belly, sis.”

“I’m not!” Yanli protests, but she lets him go. “But we should talk about how good your Lan Zhan is! I can’t imagine if I were dating someone, and he brought home a child, and instead of running away, my first thought was ‘well, we have to get married now, so he’ll have a stable home.’” She beams at Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan doesn’t turn toward her, but Wei Ying can see that the tips of his ears are pink, and it’s adorable. “I trapped him into marriage,” Wei Ying says, like it’s a joke instead of what actually happened.

“Oh yes, I can tell how miserably trapped he is,” Yanli agrees, laughing.

“Look how stoic he is,” says Wei Ying fondly. “He could be feeling anything, and you wouldn’t know.”

“That just makes it cuter that you can tell,” Yanli says.

“I actually can, sometimes! I’m making a study of all his teensy tiny little expressions. Maybe I’ll keep a research notebook,” Wei Ying says. “Since he never tells me how he feels about anything.”

“Lan Zhan, you should try and talk about your feelings more,” Yanli chides him kindly. “Sometimes my brother is very bad at figuring out how other people feel. Let me guess: you’re from a family that doesn’t express feelings very much?”

And he grew up as a child prodigy without a ton of friends,” Wei Ying says.

Lan Zhan clears his throat. “I attempt to demonstrate my feelings, as I often fail to… To communicate them effectively.”

“Right, right, I’ll keep a look out for you suddenly acting all lovey-dovey,” Wei Ying laughs. “Hey, you want to go do touristy stuff today? I’ve never really looked around Chicago.”

“No way,” Yanli protests. “You’re gonna make the pregnant lady waddle all over the city? Aren’t you here to visit me? Here, take some pictures of me and my favorite nephew.” She tries to pull Yuan onto her lap, realizes she can’t, and ends up leaning in instead.

Wei Ying doesn’t have his phone. “Hey, Lan Zhan, gimme your phone,” he says.

“In a moment,” says Lan Zhan, hands full with whatever he’s chopping.

Wei Ying can see his phone in his pocket, and what the hell, they’re married, so he slides his hand into Lan Zhan’s pocket to help himself.

The temptation to wiggle his hand around and do some groping is almost overwhelming, but Lan Zhan goes suddenly still, and Wei Ying isn’t actually trying to be a jerk, so he smiles apologetically and pulls the phone out. “Sorry,” he whispers, and uses the phone to snap some pictures of Yanli and Yuan. They’re so cute.

This, improbably, is family, and it feels like everything Wei Ying has wanted since he was little and didn’t think he’d ever entirely be a part of anyone’s family. Somehow, he’s lied and tricked his way into the best possible scenario—if only it were real.

“Are you going to cry?” Yanli asks, gently teasing.

Wei Ying shakes his head. “Of course not,” he says, manfully hiding a sniffle. “I’m just happy to be here with you. I can’t believe A-Yuan is about to have a little baby cousin.”

“I can’t believe my baby brother has a husband!” Yanli says. “You’re going to let me throw a party, aren’t you? Maybe next year, on the anniversary? Since I’m not exactly party-ready right now.”

“You can throw me a party whenever you want,” Wei Ying says, kissing her cheek. He hands Lan Zhan his phone back.

“Will you help me find things?” Yanli asks Yuan. “I can’t see over my tummy, so it’s hard.”

“I can help!” Yuan says, jumping off the chair. “I wanna help!”

Yanli beams at him and struggles to her feet, offering him a hand. “I need to find some things in my room. Do you think you can help?” Yuan nods very seriously and lets her walk him out of the room.

“Isn’t she great?” Wei Ying says.

“Your sister is very kind,” Lan Zhan agrees. Whatever he’s cooking smells great, although also not very spicy.

“I think we’ve totally fooled her and her husband,” Wei Ying goes on. “I didn’t realize you were going to be such a good actor. This has been easier than I thought. Maybe all those years of performing helped, huh?”

“Perhaps,” says Lan Zhan.

“We just have to fool them for a couple more days, and then we can go home and plan how we’re gonna fool all our friends. When do you think we’ll actually be talking to immigration?”

“Hmm,” says Lan Zhan. “We must establish the marriage. Change your address officially. Combine bank accounts. But not too long. The process may be slow.”

“Let me know if you need me to pitch in with anything,” Wei Ying says. “So far I haven’t helped at all.”

“I have a binder,” Lan Zhan says. “It is already being organized.”

Wei Ying laughs and bumps his shoulder against Lan Zhan’s. “Okay, okay, I get it. You don’t want me to mess it up. Do you need anything from me, though? I understand what a huge favor you’re doing for me here, and I don’t want to take too much advantage of you.”

“You are not,” says Lan Zhan.

God, he’s just so nice. It’s a really unfortunate thing, developing a crush on your husband. Wei Ying had assumed this would be easy. Lan Zhan had been so icy and unpleasant to him, it had never occurred to him that he might end up spending the next however many years with this dumb, burning feeling in his chest whenever he looks at him.

“Okay,” says Wei Ying. “But tell me if I… If the pretending gets to be too hard, okay?”

“It will not,” says Lan Zhan, quietly certain.

“No, I’m serious—” he starts, but just then Zixuan walks in, and they can’t continue the conversation anymore.

It’s actually a really lovely weekend vacation. Yanli is so happy to spend time with Yuan that Wei Ying gets actual time to himself to take an actual nap and drink an actual beer. He hadn’t realized how weird the last few weeks of his life had been until he suddenly has a few spare minutes to spend however he wants, without worrying about school or Lan Zhan or Yuan.

Of course, he spends a lot of those free moments gazing at Lan Zhan, imagining getting his hands on those steely muscles underneath his dress shirt. Or the muscles of his thighs. Or all that soft, hot skin he’d started feeling in bed. Or—

“God, restrain yourself,” says Zixuan, rolling his eyes, flipping the channel.

“I didn’t say anything!” Wei Ying objects.

“Ugh, you know you’re in public, right? Just…tell your face that I don’t want to know everything you think about when you look at your husband, all right? Gross.”

Wei Ying hadn’t realized his face was doing anything in particular.

Later, he gives Yanli a shoulder massage while they sit in the kitchen, looking out at the living room, where Lan Zhan is sitting on the floor with Yuan in his lap. Lan Zhan is patiently reading the dinosaur book to him for what has to be the hundredth time, and quietly coaxing Yuan to point to the letters he recognizes.

“You really lucked out, huh?” Yanli says.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, and then on a sudden surge of guilt and some other feeling he’s afraid to name, he says, “Hey, what do you do if…”

“If?” Yanli says, when he trails off.

“If you, uh… Let’s say you got yourself into a situation. Where you’ve agreed to something, but then… You’re not sure you can hold up your end of the bargain.”

“You have to try your best,” Yanli says. “Are we talking about anything in particular?”

“No, no, just an example,” Wei Ying says quickly. “Just… What if you thought you could do something, and it wouldn’t be too hard, but then you realize…you’ve got all these feelings involved.”

“You’re supposed to have feelings about adopting a child,” Yanli says gently.

“No—” Wei Ying starts, but that’s a much better thing for her to think he’s talking about, so he stops. What’s the best way to tell your fake husband you’ve caught feelings for him? he doesn’t ask. The answer is so obvious: keep it to himself forever, don’t add to Lan Zhan’s burden when he’s already taken on so much. “I have all these feelings, and I don’t know what to do with them,” he says honestly.

Yanli reaches up to squeeze his hand. “Aww, honey,” she says. “You’ve always had too many feelings to deal with. I’m so happy for you, though. Just as much as Yuanyuan, you deserve to feel wanted and loved and secure.”

No chance, Wei Ying thinks. “As long as he’s happy,” he says instead.

“It’s nice that you both can get what you need,” Yanli says.

Lan Zhan is helping Yuan draw capital letters on a piece of paper, with his enormous hand engulfing Yuan’s tiny one. Yuan’s little face is all scrunched up with concentration.

Wei Ying wonders if maybe he loves them both.

“I’m just lucky, I guess,” Wei Ying says.

The only other thing that happens during the visit is that while Zixuan and Yanli drive them to the airport, Zixuan says, “So I hear the immigration questions are basically like the inquisition.”

Yuan has gone very quiet on Lan Zhan’s lap. Actually, he got quiet as soon as he saw them packing the suitcases to head back home, and he hasn’t managed to perk back up yet.

“Yeah?” Wei Ying says, trying to be polite. Yanli has asked him to be nice nice four hundred times, and he’s not gonna, but this is his version of trying.

“My buddy said they ask you a million questions to try and catch you out. Who sleeps on which side of the bed, what kind of moles or scars they have, if they snore, what their family is like, where did your first dates take place, what was the proposal like… It sounds exhausting. You’ll probably say something dumb and get yourself denied.”

“Honey,” says Yanli.

“I will not!” Wei Ying protests. “I’m super charming, everyone agrees. Right?” He winks at Lan Zhan, who snorts a little but says nothing.

“What was your honeymoon like, what’s your day like around the house, which chores do you do, what pajamas do you wear, what medications does your spouse take every day, what vacations have you been on together… My friend said the list goes on and on and on and on. They’re just trying to catch you out by drilling you to death. How do you celebrate holidays together? What are your family rituals? Who are your child’s friends at school?”

Wei Ying grimaces at Lan Zhan. They have some homework to do, apparently. Lan Zhan doesn’t look upset, though. Maybe Wei Ying will start a binder of his own.

Yuan starts crying in the airport again, no matter how many times Wei Ying points out that they’re all flying home together this time. “I’m scared,” he says very quietly. Wei Ying picks him up and hugs him so hard it’s amazing he can still breathe.

“I know it’s hard sometimes, after people have left you, to believe that we love you and we won’t leave,” he says. “But I promise. I swear. Okay?”

“Okay,” Yuan says, polite but miserable.

For some reason, Lan Zhan is giving Wei Ying a very serious look, like he’s trying to see straight through him, and whatever he’s noticed there worries him. “What?” Wei Ying says, but Lan Zhan just shakes his head and takes all their bags.

Wei Ying downloaded some episodes of Sesame Street: Fun Fun Elmo in Mandarin from YouTube, and Yuan alternates between those and SpongeBob on the flight home, until he falls asleep with tears still drying on his cheeks. He doesn’t wake up when they land, and he stays asleep until they walk back into Lan Zhan’s apartment and he says sleepily, “We came home?”

“Yup, we’re home,” Wei Ying says. He’s even more exhausted than he would have expected.

“Okay,” Yuan says. “I sleep in my room.”

“Really?” Wei Ying asks.

“The baby sleeps in his room,” Yuan says. “And I sleep in my room. I’m not a baby. I’m a big kid. But… Bunny comes with me.”

“Of course,” says Lan Zhan gravely. Wei Ying wonders if he’s as excited about sleeping without little tiny feet kicking him all night as Wei Ying is.

Wei Ying helps supervise pajamas and tooth brushing and wonders how many things they can persuade Yuan to do by telling him the baby does them, too.

He reads Yuan a couple of books in his bed in his actual room, and the whole time he wonders when Yuan will start to cry and freak out. But being back home—even this second home—seems to have settled him down, and after the second book he’s sleepy enough that Wei Ying can tuck him in and turn off the light.

He stands in the doorway, listening to Yuan’s breath get slower and quieter. Every now and then he’ll say something, barely audible, that only half makes sense. He seems to be reassuring his teddy bear. And then he stops talking all together, and it sounds like he’s actually fallen asleep.

“Can you believe,” Wei Ying whispers to Lan Zhan, who’s unpacked their suitcases, “he’s actually asleep! In his own bed!”

“I am glad,” says Lan Zhan.

It’s late, because they spent most of the day in Chicago, and traveling with a kid, even a sleepy one, is hard. “Maybe I’ll sleep well,” Wei Ying says. “After sharing a pretty small bed with a little kid for three nights.”

Lan Zhan nods once. He goes to the bedroom, presumably to change into his pajamas, and Wei Ying follows him.

“Not to be weird,” he says, “but I am supposed to be able to tell immigration if you have any moles, or scars, or whatever. And your pajamas are totally full coverage, so I don’t have the vaguest idea.”

Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything, but he does take off his sweater. And then he turns and looks Wei Ying dead in the eyes and undoes his tie.

Wei Ying’s mouth goes dry immediately. “Uh,” he says. The eye contact makes him feel like he’s watching porn, even though literally all Lan Zhan is doing is loosening his tie, and then pulling it off, and then undoing one button with his long, elegant fingers, and then another, and then another… Wei Ying’s heart is pounding and he’s not even sure why.

“You as well,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying is starting to hear static between his ears. He can see a little triangle of skin below Lan Zhan’s throat, and he’s seen actually fully naked people who made him feel less turned on than that patch of skin does. “Right,” Wei Ying says, and has to clear his throat. He pulls his hoodie and t-shirt off in one motion that leaves his hair sticking up, and drops them on the floor. He wonders if Lan Zhan can see how hard his heart is beating.

Lan Zhan undoes another button, and then pulls off his dress shirt. He is, of course, wearing a pristine undershirt. Somehow, all the layers he wears makes every one he reveals even sexier. He undoes his belt next, circling it neatly around his hand. He folds his shirt and puts it on the dresser, with the belt on top of it.

“You have a scar,” says Lan Zhan, reaching out. His fingers brush lightly over Wei Ying’s chest, barely touching. Not really touching at all, honestly, so there’s no reason for Wei Ying to feel a jolt of lightning shudder through his body.

“I—Yeah, I—This one’s from falling out of a tree. And this one’s from a skateboarding accident. This one…” He has a scar from a burn on his chest, but how he got it is too embarrassing to explain. “Me and Jiang Cheng got up to a lot of nonsense as kids.”

“Ah,” says Lan Zhan, and drops his hand. He’s looking at Wei Ying so carefully that Wei Ying wants to squirm. He knows he’s pretty cute, and he’s never had any complaints, but just standing there, shirtless, while the man you’re falling in love with is steadily cataloguing everything about your body? It’s too much.

Wei Ying drops his eyes. “Hey, you still have a shirt on,” he says. “That’s not fair.” He kicks off his jeans and his socks.

“Then I will remedy that,” Lan Zhan says, and pulls his undershirt off. His skin is flawless and his muscles ripple when he moves. Wei Ying doesn’t know how much harder his heart can beat before it explodes. Miles of bare skin, and he wants to put his mouth on every single inch of it.

Wei Ying is still wearing his boxer briefs, which are doing a poor job of concealing how much he likes looking at Lan Zhan shirtless. “Uh,” he says. “So, I’ll just tell immigration that you’re beautiful. That—I mean—That you’re just—perfect.”

“You have not seen all of me,” Lan Zhan points out quietly, and undoes the button on his slacks.

It’s too overwhelming at this point to just stand there, staring, so Wei Ying looks at the ceiling for a minute, and then at the floor. Lan Zhan folds his pants neatly. There’s no part of him that’s not perfect. Wei Ying has felt those thigh muscles, and those perfect abs. His hand floats out of its own accord, reaching forward, brushing over the light dusting of hair on Lan Zhan’s chest, the darker, thicker trail that leads downwards.

“We—” Wei Ying says, and swallows hard. He can’t think straight. His voice goes hoarse and deep as he chokes out, “What if they ask us about sex?”

“Do you think they will?” Lan Zhan asks. Has he stepped closer? Or has Wei Ying? He can’t remember, but now he’s close enough to feel the heat radiating off of Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan’s eyes are so dark, and they’re flickering down to Wei Ying’s mouth, and his chest, and then…further down.

“They could,” Wei Ying says. “What if they ask us if we’re sexually compatible? Or what you like in bed? What if they want to know what you taste like? Or what noises you make—”

One of Lan Zhan’s hands lands on Wei Ying’s hip, and one of those very long fingers dips under the waistband of Wei Ying’s underwear. His finger drags, very gently, back and forth against Wei Ying’s skin.

Wei Ying is never going to breathe again.

“We must be able to answer these questions,” Lan Zhan says gravely.

Wei Ying doesn’t care why he said it, because that’s a yes. He crashes their mouths together, too hard to be sexy, but Lan Zhan catches him, rolls with him, hands on Wei Ying’s hips, pulling their hips together. Wei Ying is on fire, he’s being electrocuted from the inside.

If Yuan gets out of bed tonight, he’s going to be too late to interrupt, because now that it’s started, Wei Ying isn’t going to let anything stop them. He kicks the door shut with one foot, while he wraps his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck and kisses him more deeply. Lan Zhan’s mouth is so open under his, hands tightening and digging into Wei Ying’s hips. Wei Ying wants bruises. He wants marks. He wants proof that there was a night when Lan Zhan wanted him as much as he wants Lan Zhan every minute of the day.

“Neither of us has had sex since Yuan popped up in our lives, huh?” Wei Ying laughs against Lan Zhan’s mouth. Lan Zhan is hard against his thigh.

“No,” says Lan Zhan. His voice is strained.

“Tell me what you want,” Wei Ying says. “Tell me everything you like, and I’ll try and make it good for you. Can I—Would you like it if I sucked your dick? Please?”

Lan Zhan makes a stifled, groaning noise and closes his eyes. “I—yes,” he says hoarsely. “Please?”

“For research!” Wei Ying grins, and drops to his knees. He’s reverent when he slides his hands down Lan Zhan’s body, wondering at how a man so strong and muscular can feel so soft under his touch. He wants it so badly his mouth is watering, and his legs have gone a little weak, but luckily that’s not such a big problem on his knees. He tugs gently on Lan Zhan’s underwear, but then he stops and presses his face against Lan Zhan’s hip, breathing him in for a second. Lan Zhan’s cock is straining against the fabric, and Wei Ying mouths at it softly for a moment, breathing hard, running his tongue along it through the fabric, just gently. He has to memorize every detail of this, after all. In case anyone asks.

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan, through gritted teeth.

Wei Ying grins up at him. The view from his knees is amazing. Lan Zhan’s hands are clenched into careful fists, and his pale skin is flushed red all the way down his chest. “You can pull on my hair if you want to,” he says. “I kind of like it.”

“Just—Wei Ying—Please,” says Lan Zhan.

Imagine making this man, this immovable, perfect, immaculate man, lose the ability to say anything but ‘please’ in that voice. Imagine. Wei Ying is so hard he thinks he’ll probably black out when he comes, and he’s excited to find out. “I’m just teasing,” he says softly, and pulls Lan Zhan’s underwear down. One of Lan Zhan’s enormous hands settles on his head, fingers threading gently through his hair.

Every part of Lan Zhan is perfect. Wei Ying isn’t surprised, he’s just happy to be right. Lan Zhan tips his head back and Wei Ying dives in, tasting and teasing and licking and sucking gently, until he sees what makes Lan Zhan squeeze his eyes shut, and what makes his thighs tremble under Wei Ying’s hands. He takes Lan Zhan in as deeply as he can, enjoying the little ache in his jaw, and Lan Zhan’s hand goes tighter, tugging on his hair. It’s not a “stop” gesture; it feels more like a helpless little clench of those amazing muscles.

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan. He sounds desperate, and Wei Ying can tell it’s meant to be a warning, but the last thing he wants is to stop. He’s having the time of his life. He’ll do this every day if Lan Zhan will let him. If Lan Zhan won’t mind.

Lan Zhan comes with a groan that rolls through his whole body, that sends fire down Wei Ying’s spine and makes his own cock twitch with anticipation. He could almost come just like this, without Lan Zhan even touching him, after all this time of wanting and not touching, not even touching himself. Lan Zhan trembles under his hands and tips forward, catching himself with a hand on Wei Ying’s shoulder. HIs breathing is so heavy and hard that it echoes through the room like thunder.

Wei Ying licks him one last time, gently, and then squirms around a little. He can’t sit still, not when his whole body is thrumming with this energy. “Lan Zhan,” he whines. “Was that okay? Did you like it? Can we do it again? Not now, of course, but what if they ask—”

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan.

“You’ve said my name a thousand times in a row tonight,” Wei Ying complains. “Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan—”

Lan Zhan must have recollected himself, because Wei Ying finds himself abruptly dragged to his feet and then all but thrown on the bed. He laughs as he bounces a little, on his back, and then he doesn’t laugh at all because Lan Zhan has climbed on top of him, and the way he crawls up the bed is like a wild predator who has finally found his prey.

“I wish you could fuck me,” Wei Ying says. “I guess not right now, but I’ve been imagining—Is that too much, do you want me to stop? I know we’re only pretending, but I can’t help it, you’re so hot, sharing a bed with you has been agony—”

“Not pretending,” says Lan Zhan, and kisses him. His hands are braced on the bed on either side of Wei Ying, and his knees are bracketing Wei Ying’s hips. His kiss is ferocious, all teeth and biting, and he kisses all the breath out of Wei Ying, all the jokes, all the flirting, until the only thing Wei Ying can do is roll his hips up helplessly, asking to be touched.

Lan Zhan scrapes his teeth down Wei Ying’s neck and drags his mouth down Wei Ying’s chest. Wei Ying has forgotten how to speak, or he’d be begging to have that mouth everywhere, those hands holding him down, taking him apart.

Lan Zhan seems to know. He presses Wei Ying down into the bed, and then uses one hand to coax Wei Ying’s leg up, hooked over his shoulder, before Lan Zhan takes Wei Ying in his mouth. He sucks once, ferociously, and then stops, and Wei Ying whines, starting to try and sit up. He gets a firm hand against his chest, shoving him back down. “Stay,” Lan Zhan orders, and then reaches out with his other hand to open a drawer in the stand by the bed.

Lan Zhan, the most organized and prepared and brilliant man on this planet, has lube by his bed. Wei Ying would sing his praises if he could catch his breath. “Wow—” he starts, but Lan Zhan has already slicked up his fingers and then he’s pushing Wei Ying down with one hand, pinning him in place, as his mouth takes Wei Ying in again, and one glorious finger presses inside him.

If Wei Ying weren’t so thoroughly caught in place under the onslaught of Lan Zhan’s hands and his mouth and the weight of his body, he might try to say something, or wiggle back, or encourage Lan Zhan. But he can’t move, and he’s not even upset about it; he feels entirely owned, entirely surrounded and overwhelmed and helpless, and all he wants is for Lan Zhan to do exactly as he wants. The surrender is beautiful. Just for this minute, Wei Ying has nothing to plan, and nothing to worry about except how every part of his body is singing the same chords in the perfect key, vibrating through every inch of him.

It is a timeless, endless minute, when white light rolls through Wei Ying’s body and his soul detaches from reality, and there is only weight and pleasure and the purest note he’s ever felt. He comes and his whole body goes cold and then hot and then electric and then—

Wei Ying has to force himself to remember how to breathe, as he blinks his eyes open. He doesn’t remember closing them. Lan Zhan is kissing his neck, nuzzling under his chin, scraping his teeth so gently against the sensitive skin under his ear and along his jaw.

“I,” says Wei Ying, but then he can’t remember what he was going to say. This, he thinks fuzzily, is why people like weighted blankets. He likes Lan Zhan like this, pressing down on top of him.

“Mmm,” agrees Lan Zhan, sucking on his ear.

“That was…”

“Yes.”

Wei Ying closes his eyes again. He’s gonna give immigration the most glowing review they’ve ever had for any sex with anyone. He’s never going to move again. He probably can’t.

Lan Zhan lies down next to him, but one arm is still heavy across Wei Ying’s chest. Wei Ying tangles his fingers with Lan Zhan’s, to make sure it stays there. Otherwise, he’ll float away.

“You said once,” Lan Zhan growls in his ear, “that I am not fun.”

“What?” Wei Ying says. He doesn’t remember that. “I’m an idiot.”

“I am fun,” Lan Zhan says smugly. He throws a leg over Wei Ying, pinning him in place. Wei Ying can feel the rise and fall of his chest, feel the hot puffs of Lan Zhan breathing.

“Yeah. Yeah, you are,” Wei Ying agrees, and falls asleep.

Chapter Text

Wei Ying wakes up late the next morning, feeling more relaxed than he has in weeks. Or months. Or for as long as he can remember. There’s a little twist of guilt in his stomach, because it was an awfully flimsy excuse for them to sleep together. But then he remembers Lan Zhan’s voice when he’d said “please,” and it feels pretty clear that Lan Zhan had at least been enjoying himself.

Maybe if Wei Ying can make the sex fun enough, he can convince Lan Zhan that they should keep doing it. Maybe Lan Zhan will even want to keep him around.

Wei Ying drags himself out of bed and throws on some sweatpants before he walks out to Lan Zhan’s beautiful living room, where Lan Zhan is looking over his notes for class with Yuan on his lap. Yuan has his own paper and a crayon, and whenever Lan Zhan makes a note, Yuan makes one, too.

It makes Wei Ying remember that day he’d dragged Yuan to class with him, and how Lan Zhan had been so frosty to him and so kind to Yuan. “He’s a daddy’s boy, huh?” Wei Ying says fondly.

“If you were up earlier in the morning you could also spend time with him,” says Lan Zhan. It’s kind of a dig but his voice isn’t very judgmental.

“I’m up now,” Wei Ying protests.

“I will go to school,” says Yuan. “Right?”

“Not today, but yes. Soon. I am registering you for a bilingual preschool in the city. We will have to work our schedules around it. It will not be difficult.”

Wei Ying frowns. “He’s not too little for school?”

“I’m not little! Look, I’m learning! I can practice!” Yuan holds up his crayon scribbles.

Lan Zhan inclines his head a little. “I am showing him how to draw characters.”

“One, two, three,” says Yuan, drawing a passable imitation of the Chinese character for big. He gets the lines in the right order, if not the right shapes.

“Okay, okay, if you two don’t need me, I’ll just go back to bed,” Wei Ying says. “I get it. I’m not needed! Only one dad is required for the cutest mornings in the world.”

He’s joking, mostly, but then Lan Zhan looks up at him and says seriously, “You are needed.”

Wei Ying’s stupid heart, which doesn’t seem to know that this whole marriage is supposed to be mostly a business transaction, flips over. “Yeah?” he says, trying not to sound too hopeful.

Lan Zhan picks Yuan up and hands him to Wei Ying. “He must get ready for daycare.”

“I can do it myself!” Yuan objects, but he doesn’t wiggle too hard to get down.

“Sure, sure, right, of course,” Wei Ying says. “You slept in your own room alone last night, huh? Great work.”

“I had Bunny, I wasn’t alone,” Yuan objects. Wei Ying carries him into his bedroom and puts him down, and Yuan starts carefully organizing things to go in his bag.

“I’m glad you had Bunny,” Wei Ying says.

“Papa says today we get a bunny,” Yuan adds. “After your classes, we can go and find him. We all go together!”

“Find…a bunny?” Wei Ying repeats. He sticks his head out of the bedroom door. “Lan Zhan? You’re looking for a bunny?”

“We told him if he was good, he could have a bunny,” says Lan Zhan. “He was very brave.”

“I thought you were joking!” Wei Ying waits, but Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything else, so…not a joke? “Okay, where are we keeping a bunny?”

“We have space.”

“I will feed him,” says Yuan, “and I will pet him. He will live with us. We can have a bunny. He eats carrots. He also eats…cereal! And sometimes he eats a giraffe.”

“I don’t think he does,” says Wei Ying, but it’s fairly clear that Yuan isn’t really talking to him anymore.

After they’ve dropped Yuan off at daycare, Wei Ying digs a teasing elbow into Lan Zhan’s ribs. “Just adopting a baby and getting married wasn’t enough for you? You needed a pet, too?”

Lan Zhan doesn’t look at him. “Pets teach responsibility,” he says.

“Uh huh,” says Wei Ying, unconvinced.

Lan Zhan’s ears go a little bit pink. “A-Yuan likes bunnies,” he says. “Bunnies are…nice.”

“Oh my god,” says Wei Ying. “Are we getting this bunny for you? Did you… Did you always want a bunny and your uncle wouldn’t let you?”

“We traveled too much,” says Lan Zhan primly. “And I was busy practicing.”

Wei Ying’s mouth drops open. “Oh no,” he says. “Do you need more than one bunny? We could get two or three. You have lots of room.”

“One is fine,” says Lan Zhan.

“No, no—If you always wanted a bunny and your uncle wouldn’t let you have one, then we need to get a minimum of five bunnies. Maybe ten.”

“You are being ridiculous,” says Lan Zhan.

“I’m dead serious!” Wei Ying protests. “I bet you were an adorable kid. You deserved a bunny!”

Lan Zhan doesn’t smile, but he also doesn’t look displeased. “A-Yuan deserves a bunny,” he says. “But one is sufficient.”

“A hundred bunnies,” grumbles Wei Ying. “Yuan-er and you both deserve more than one lousy bunny, after how lonely you’ve both been. We’re gonna fill the apartment with bunnies. Why haven’t you gotten yourself a bunny!?”

“No need,” says Lan Zhan. “But tonight, we will find one. I have called a pet store.”

“The only person who deserves to be spoiled more than poor little A-Yuan is you,” Wei Ying says. “When I meet this uncle of yours, I’m gonna—”

“No need,” says Lan Zhan again, before Wei Ying can decide what threat to end the sentence with. “My uncle means well. He is perhaps…misguided in what most benefits children. But my brother and I have grown to be confident and capable adults.”

Wei Ying has a lot of arguments for that, starting with how Lan Zhan is still so freaking lonely that he’s dropped everything for a kid he just met and upend his entire life for someone he hardly knows. But arguing with your new husband about how badly his family sucks feels like a misstep, so he swallows it instead.

“You’re both amazing,” says Wei Ying. “I don’t necessarily credit that to your uncle.”

“Have your parents called you?” Lan Zhan asks.

Wei Ying frowns. “What do you mean?”

“You have adopted a child and gotten married. Your sister has communicated with them on your behalf, but…have they called you to wish you congratulations?”

Wei Ying hoots with laughter. “As if Mrs. Yu would ever do that. She’s probably happy I’m finally out of her hair. I’m your family’s problem now.” He bats his eyes a little.

Lan Zhan frowns, just a little wrinkle between his eyebrows. “You are not a problem,” he says.

Wei Ying rolls his eyes. “Uh huh.”

“They should not—They should not treat you as a problem.”

“Oh, it’s fine, it’s fine,” says Wei Ying, waving him off. “I was lucky they took me in. My parents were friends of Uncle Fengmian, and half the kids at school thought it was because he was my real dad, so you can see where there would be tension. And Mrs. Yu isn’t wrong! I got suspended from school a bunch of times. I’m impulsive, I’m loud, I’m a show-off, I’m a pain in the ass…” He laughs. “I’m fully aware of all of it. I don’t know if you know what you signed up for.”

“I know,” says Lan Zhan, still frowning.

“Well, then you can imagine how happy she must be to pass me off! At least she’s been helping out with A-Yuan, although honestly that’s probably to keep face with the family more than anything else. And Yanli and Jiang Cheng have never treated me like anything but a brother! I mean, a brother who’s a pain in the ass, but a brother.” He elbows Lan Zhan again, but this time Lan Zhan catches his arm and frowns. “What?” Wei Ying says. “This isn’t a big deal. Your uncle wouldn’t let you have pets. My brother has never forgiven me because he had to give away all of his dogs when I got adopted because I was scared of them.”

“You are family,” says Lan Zhan insistently. Insistently for him, anyway.

“I know, I know,” says Wei Ying, shrugging. “It’s not like being family means I’m magically some quiet, studious, perfect kid like you. At least they helped me with school, you know?”

“You are my family,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying likes him so much. He’s so generous when he doesn’t need to be. “Yup,” he says, swallowing hard. “Until all the paperwork goes through! I’m kidding, I’m kidding.” He lowers his voice, because they are technically in public. “Hey, that wasn’t too bad last night, right? Just let me know if you’re up for more…research. As long as you’re stuck with me, I can at least make it fun for you! ...If you want.”

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan, and then stops, and shakes his head. “Yes,” he says. “I would enjoy that.”

“I bet you would.” Wei Ying grins at him, glad Lan Zhan has stopped looking quite so upset. “Then we can make that happen! I’ll see you after class for bunny buying, right?”

“You will,” says Lan Zhan seriously. Wei Ying bounces up on his toes to give him a quick kiss. Lan Zhan grabs him, each of his enormous hands engulfing one of Wei Ying’s biceps, and pulls him in forcefully.

Apparently, last night popped some kind of cork for Lan Zhan, and now he’s big into grabbing and public displays of affection? That’s great for Wei Ying, honestly. He wants to be kissed like this as often as possible, whether it’s to perform for a crowd, to fool immigration, or just because Lan Zhan understands that Wei Ying wants him to enjoy himself. He can make life easier—or at least more fun for Lan Zhan—and get what he wants, too, even if it doesn’t mean everything he wants it to mean.

The cutest thing about the bunny isn’t its little twitchy nose or its long floppy ears. The cutest thing is the way both Lan Zhan and Yuan stare at it with giant, hopeful eyes, carefully petting it. The bunny seems a little overwhelmed by all this attention, honestly, sitting perfectly still in the middle of the living room like it's not sure where the safest place to go is.

“Gentle petting,” Wei Ying reminds Yuan.

“I know,” says Yuan. “He’s a baby! I’m careful!”

He’s not a baby, he’s a full-grown rabbit, but that’s okay. Lan Zhan is sitting on the floor with them, coaxing the rabbit with little snacks of celery and bok choy.

“I guess I’ll make dinner, since you two are so busy with our new friend,” Wei Ying says. “Maybe I should make rabbit stew!”

Yuan and Lan Zhan both look up at him with identically betrayed expressions, and it’s hard to say which one is more devastating.

“Joking!” Wei Ying laughs. “You two are ridiculous. It’s a good thing you have me around to lighten the mood.”

Yuan blinks at him. “Rabbit stew?” he says, with a little tremble in his voice.

“He is joking,” Lan Zhan assures him. “The rabbit is our friend.”

Yuan pets the rabbit with such careful, gentle strokes that his little hands barely touch it. “Okay,” he says dubiously. “We don’t eat my friend. Please.”

Wei Ying makes dinner, and then spends a good ten minutes trying to persuade his husband and his son that rabbits should go back in their luxuriously appointed cages before anyone eats, because otherwise the dumb thing will hop around and shit all over the floor. It’s not that it’s not cute, it’s more that Wei Ying is used to living in a civilization.

Maybe he made the food a little too spicy, because after a couple of bites Yuan says, “Oh no, I miss the bunny,” and slides out of his chair and back to the floor. He goes over to the cage and puts his fingers through the little wire squares, wiggling them around. The bunny, happily munching its dinner, ignores him, which doesn’t seem to discourage him any.

Lan Zhan’s face is red, but he politely eats the entire meal without comment. Wei Ying watches him fondly as he sweats and his eyes water, but he never says anything about Wei Ying being a shitty cook. What a good husband, Wei Ying thinks.

Yuan doesn’t want to go to bed, but it’s not because he’s crying and miserable, it’s because they won’t let him take the bunny with him. “The bunny must also rest,” says Lan Zhan seriously. The bunny, inside its cage, twitches its nose a little.

“Okay,” says Yuan sadly. “Good night.” He still doesn’t move, though; he stays squatting by the bunny cage on the floor.

Wei Ying picks him up and flips him upside down, and he squeals and giggles. “Bedtime!” says Wei Ying firmly. “If you’re not good, we’re gonna put you in the cage with the bunny.”

“Hmm,” says Yuan, upside-down. “Okay.”

“Not okay, you goof.” Wei Ying carries him into his room and drops him on the bed. “What book should I read you?”

“Dinosaurs!” says Yuan, just like he has literally every night for a week. Wei Ying heroically stifles a sigh, but he does roll his eyes a little and look at Lan Zhan, who has followed them.

“Read it to him in English, then ask him the colors in Chinese,” says Lan Zhan. “He has gotten very good at them.”

That makes reading the dinosaur book for the three hundredth time a little less mind-numbing, but by the time Yuan dozes off and Wei Ying turns the light off and sneaks out, he’s still bored out of his mind.

He can think of a very good cure for boredom, though.

“You’re seriously going to bed now?” Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan is in his pajamas.

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying stares at him for a minute. “I—I thought we could—Well, if you want to go straight to bed, I guess we can…”

“I do not wish to go straight to sleep,” says Lan Zhan, and kisses him.

Thank god, Wei Ying thinks, but can’t say, because he’s clutching Lan Zhan and Lan Zhan has his arms around Wei Ying’s waist, literally lifting him off the floor. Wei Ying starts to laugh right until his back hits the living room wall and it shocks all the air out of him.

Lan Zhan puts him down, but he’s caged between the wall and Lan Zhan’s strong arms, which is the only reason he doesn’t worry he might float away. He’s so happy—Lan Zhan wants this, too, enjoys it at least a little, doesn’t totally regret this impulsive decision that might end up ruining his chances at happiness. Wei Ying wraps his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck and drags him into a nice long thank-you kiss, a kiss he hopes is enticement enough. Lan Zhan paws at him a little, tugging on his hoodie, until Wei Ying pulls it off, and then Lan Zhan surges back in. His kisses are hot and almost desperate, as if they hadn’t done this just the night before.

“Okay, okay,” Wei Ying laughs, “but we don’t want to wake up the baby, or disturb the bunny, right?”

Lan Zhan just growls and kisses Wei Ying’s neck, teeth dragging a little more than they probably need to. Wei Ying loves it. He’d like so badly for this to be real, to belong to Lan Zhan, to be marked by him.

What he wants even more, though— “Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, half scolding, “if we go into the bedroom, you can fuck me, properly this time. Isn’t that—”

He only gets halfway through the sentence and then he’s being dragged into the bedroom, which suits him just fine. Lan Zhan is so decisive. Let’s get married. Let’s adopt a child. Let’s fuck.

Wei Ying is ready—excited even—to be thrown on the bed and have his clothes ripped off. He likes this unrestrained version of Lan Zhan, the one who growls and grabs and takes. He’s all ice on the surface, but Wei Ying has seen the bubbling lava underneath, and it’s so sexy. No one has ever wanted him like this before, which is hilarious, because everyone else has wanted him for real.

But even though Lan Zhan’s eyes are wild and dark, he undresses himself and then Wei Ying with careful, steady hands. His touches are gentle, skimming up and down Wei Ying’s sides, trailing over his chest, hands first and then his mouth, sucking heavy kisses over his ribs, teasing teeth that never hurt when they scrape across his nipples. Wei Ying wants more, actually, and he rolls his hips up, groaning a protest at all this gentle handling. “You don’t have to hold back,” he says. “I can take it. I’m tough.”

“I am not,” says Lan Zhan, and kisses him again.

It’s absurd, and Wei Ying tries to laugh, but he’s drowning under the weight of Lan Zhan’s kiss, and his body, and his knee gently nudging Wei Ying’s legs apart. Wei Ying wonders if Lan Zhan realizes that Wei Ying would give him anything right now. “Whatever you want,” he says, gasping, head tipped back to give Lan Zhan’s mouth better access to his neck.

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan, and keeps kissing him.

Lan Zhan’s hands are terribly talented from years of playing music, and even though he must see—and feel—how hard Wei Ying is, how he digs his heels into the bed and rolls his hips up, inviting Lan Zhan to get to it already, instead he uses those beautiful fingers and the lube he’s been keeping next to the bed to take Wei Ying apart completely. Lan Zhan kneels above him, watching Wei Ying so intently that Wei Ying can’t stand to look back at him, for fear that Lan Zhan will see all his real emotions written across his face. But he’s gauging carefully how every press, every kiss, every nudge, every movement of his fingers makes Wei Ying squirm and gasp. He’s generous, and he’s kind, and he’s relentless, until Wei Ying is so wound up that he’s gasping for breath, strung so tightly he’s sure that if Lan Zhan ever actually fucks him, he’ll explode into a thousand little stars.

Still, Lan Zhan doesn’t. It’s like he’s trying to wring every sound out of Wei Ying, as he does his best to make him lose his mind. Wei Ying doesn’t realize he’s been saying, “Please, please, please,” until Lan Zhan kisses him quiet, swallowing the words while he uses one hand to stroke Wei Ying’s cock, a little too gently to be satisfying, too fleeting to be anything but a tease. “Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying sobs, digging his fingers into Lan Zhan’s shoulders. Lan Zhan kisses his cheek, then his forehead, then his jaw.

And then, at last, Lan Zhan kisses his way down Wei Ying’s stomach. He licks at Wei Ying’s thigh for a long minute, teeth scraping all the most sensitive places where Wei Ying’s already trembling. And finally, finally Lan Zhan rolls a condom on himself, and presses in.

He’s as good at this as he is at everything else. He’s as good at this as he is at everything else, and he seems determined to make Wei Ying his instrument. Wei Ying is going to help—he digs his heels in, matching Lan Zhan’s pace, pushing back—but he’s so immediately overwhelmed by sensations, by feelings, by the pure joy of it, that he gives up. It’s like fighting the ocean when he ought to just ride the wave.

Wei Ying thinks, Wow, and then he doesn’t think anything at all. Everything in the whole world narrows down to the sparks lighting inside his body, the hot press of their skin together, the burning in his lungs because remembering to breathe is the last thing on his mind. “I won’t,” he gasps, “Lan Zhan, I can’t—”

“I am here,” says Lan Zhan, serious and dedicated as ever, and that’s what tips Wei Ying over the edge.

It is a long, beautiful fall. Wei Ying’s heart cartwheels out of his chest, his soul visits the stars somewhere, his whole self turns into a supernova and flares across the universe. He floats, weightless, for a long time, and by the time he starts to come back to himself, to the bed underneath him and the hot, sweaty, beautiful body on top of him, it’s clearly too late to worry about making sure Lan Zhan comes, too, because he already has.

Lan Zhan is half collapsed across him, his arm and his thigh heavy across Wei Ying’s body. Wei Ying isn’t sure he can ever move again, but he tries, curling into Lan Zhan. The bedroom was a sauna a minute ago, but now the air around them is cooling, and he’d hate for Lan Zhan to get a chill. His eyes are closed, and his face is relaxed. He looks, for once, young and vulnerable.

Wei Ying leans over and kisses his cheek, just a gentle press of his lips against that perfect skin. “How did we start with ‘do me up against a wall’ and end up with you trying to…to…to take care of me?” he asks. “I’m not the ridiculous one. You are.”

Lan Zhan doesn’t open his eyes. “I will take care of Wei Ying,” he mumbles against Wei Ying’s chest, and his arm tightens a little.

Wei Ying laughs. It’s a rusty imitation of his usual laugh, because he’s been scraped a little raw by all of this. Not just the mind-blowing sex. Not just the hottest man in the world. Not just knowing he can make Lan Zhan happy this way. But— “The wedding was enough,” he says. “Agreeing to marry me, agreeing to help me look after A-Yuan when you didn’t need to… You’re really too much, you know? Who’s gonna take care of you? I guess it’ll have to be me, won’t it?”

“We are married,” says Lan Zhan, still speaking directly into Wei Ying’s skin. “It must be you.”

Wei Ying hears the implication: that Lan Zhan can’t find someone he truly wants to do it, because they’re married. But he wants it to be him; he wants to find some way to repay Lan Zhan some tiny percentage of what he’s given.

“Of course it’ll be me,” Wei Ying says. “As if I’d let you go now.”

As soon as he says it, he winces, but Lan Zhan doesn’t see. Lan Zhan has probably already seen; Wei Ying’s feelings must have been written across his face like fireworks the entire time they were having sex. He was nice enough not to say anything, and Wei Ying thinks they can get by like that for a while, at least. The sex is good enough that Lan Zhan probably won’t mind, even if he realizes Wei Ying is pining for him. And he’s much too kind to bring it up or throw it in Wei Ying’s face, so Wei Ying can just keep…clinging.

“Mmm,” says Lan Zhan eventually.

So they just won’t talk about it. It’s probably safest that way. Wei Ying manages to pull a blanket up over both of them and then curls further into the warmth of Lan Zhan’s arms to drift off to sleep.

“Uh, did I mention that we’re throwing a party?” says Wei Ying as they grab lunch.

Lan Zhan pauses midway through a bite. “You did not,” he says.

“Yeah, everyone in the orchestra was like, ‘hey congratulations!’ and then all my other friends were like, ‘how did you get married without a party?’ so I let Huaisang talk me into a party. Uh, at your place. Our place. If that’s cool?”

“It is cool,” says Lan Zhan, and goes back to eating.

He’s so cute. Who says ‘it is cool’ like that? No one. Wei Ying grins at him. His husband is the cutest, weirdest person.

Huaisang has huge party plans, it turns out. “Is his place big enough for a quartet?” he asks Wei Ying, at their planning meeting. “We could get John and Andy—”

“It is, but I want a cool engagement party,” Wei Ying says, waving him off.

Huaisang stares at him. “Engagement party? You’re married.”

“Right, but I didn’t get an engagement party, or a bachelor party, or a wedding party,” Wei Ying argues. “I’m owed many, many parties.”

“Does Lan Zhan seriously party, though?” Huaisang asks. “I’m having a hard time picturing it.”

“He doesn’t drink,” says Wei Ying. “I guess his whole family doesn’t drink. It’s like, a thing. I respect it, whatever.”

Huaisang asks dubiously, “So is he any fun?”

Is it possible to die from blushing? Wei Ying finds himself suddenly hot all over. “Uh,” he says. “Yeah, he’s… He’s fun. He’s very fun. He’s the most fun—”

“Ew!” squeals Huaisang. “Gross! I didn’t ask if the sex was good, dude! Tell your face not to be so obvious!”

Wei Ying shrugs, smiling helplessly. “Can’t help it,” he says. “You wouldn’t believe how good—”

“Stop, stop, stop,” says Huaisang, waving his hands frantically. “I would believe, I would, I’ve seen how he looks at you, stop. When you first said you were getting married, I thought it was a prank, and then I saw his face. I get it!”

Wei Ying blinks at him a couple of times. He can’t ask what that’s supposed to mean without explaining why he’d be confused, though. “Huh,” he says. “His face is pretty…hard to read.”

“Not when he looks at you, it’s not,” says Huaisang. “Or A-Yuan. Explain again why you’re adopting a kid?”

“Oh,” says Wei Ying breezily, “it’s kind of a big family mess, but he’s gonna stay with me.”

“Right, makes sense,” says Huaisang dubiously. “The guy who isn’t done with school yet and doesn’t have a job.”

“It means I have the most time for him,” Wei Ying says. “Plus, I know how he feels. Me and Lan Zhan both know what it’s like to need family. It’s a perfect opportunity for all of us.”

Huaisang sighs heavily. “Do you have to brag all the time about your perfect relationship? We all get it. No one has ever been happier. Let me throw you this giant party, maybe you can get all the bragging out of your system. Then I’ll be able to stand you again.”

Wei Ying crumples up a paper ball and throws it at Huaisang’s head. Apparently, he and Lan Zhan are both much better actors than he’d expected, and it sits a little strangely in Wei Ying’s stomach. He’s not sure why, though. He should be pleased that no one’s questioned anything about it. That was the goal. They did this crazy, reckless thing, and it’s working out perfectly. It’s just…. Something about it feels strange, and Wei Ying can’t put his finger on what or why.

Oh, well. He’ll figure it out eventually.

“I have changed your address,” says Lan Zhan, “and combined our bank accounts. I am returning the cards and other documentation to you.”

Wei Ying had kind of forgotten that Lan Zhan was doing all of that. Lan Zhan has a no-shit for-real binder with plans for everything they need to get done, and all of those plans are broken down into smaller plans. Wei Ying looked at it for about thirty seconds and got bored and stopped.

“Do you need me for anything?” he asks.

Lan Zhan shakes his head. “It is taken care of. And after the Christmas break, A-Yuan will begin preschool. His Chinese is coming along well.”

“Is it really going to be good enough, though? How will he know what to do in school?” Wei Ying frets.

“He is young enough to pick the language up quickly, and the teachers speak both languages,” says Lan Zhan confidently. “He will excel.”

“He’s only been your son for a few weeks,” Wei Ying points out. “Maybe he’ll be a school fuck-up, like me.”

Lan Zhan raises one eyebrow. “Your grades are impeccable and your talent is inarguable,” he says. “It would not be bad for his performance in school to mirror yours.”

Sometimes, Lan Zhan says these outrageous things, and it really makes Wei Ying kind of mad. Why is he so out of touch with reality? “Getting kicked out for pranks and fucking around?” Wei Ying scoffs.

Lan Zhan considers that for a moment. “It would not be bad for him to have friends,” he says. “And mischief can be expected of children. It does no harm if it doesn’t harm others.”

“Can you build a time machine and go tell Mrs. Yu that, please?” Wei Ying squints at him. “You really wouldn’t care if Yuan-er got in trouble at school?”

“Why would he get in trouble?”

“Being disrespectful.”

Lan Zhan shakes his head. “He is never disrespectful.”

“Breaking something.”

“He would not break anything on purpose.”

Wei Ying throws his hands up. “I don’t know! What if he lets all the school pets go free, or he tries to break into the lab to let the mice and rabbits go because he thinks they’re pets?”

“That would demonstrate compassion, and I would object to the school punishing him,” says Lan Zhan. “Of course, such actions would have consequences. But not punishments.”

“Are you trying to make me be the stern dad?” Wei Ying truly can’t believe his life is this absurd. “I’m gonna be awful at it! You’re gonna tell him everything he does is cute and perfect and I’m gonna have to be the one who tells him that life has rules!”

“Indeed, life has many rules,” Lan Zhan concedes.

Wei Ying is starting to be able to hear what he’s not saying. “But…” he prompts.

Lan Zhan shrugs, elegantly. “But many of them are foolish. I hope A-Yuan will be wise enough to decide for himself.”

“Oh my fucking god,” says Wei Ying. “Yuan-er! Come here.”

Yuan comes over, holding the rabbit in both arms. It’s not a huge rabbit, but he’s not a huge kid. “Hi,” he says.

“Listen up,” says Wei Ying. “You’re about to start school, and if you ever do anything naughty or bad or rude or disrespectful, I’ll—I’ll—I’ll make you drink bitter tea with every meal.”

“Oh no,” says Yuan, mostly sounding confused. He looks up at Lan Zhan. “Does the bunny drink bitter tea?”

“No,” says Lan Zhan. “The bunny will not be punished.”

“Oh,” says Yuan, “okay.”

“Would you like to feed him a snack?” Lan Zhan asks. Yuan nods fervently. “We will give him cilantro,” says Lan Zhan, and leads Yuan into the kitchen.

“Do you see?” Wei Ying shouts after him. “You’re going to spoil him! And the bunny!”

“Hmmm,” says Lan Zhan. He helps Yuan carefully put the rabbit on the kitchen floor and feed it some greens. “Would you also like a snack?”

“You can’t bribe me!” says Wei Ying. “Yes, I would, though.”

He’s being obnoxious and he knows it, so there’s no reason for Lan Zhan’s face to go very slightly soft. He might even be stifling a smile, although that could be a smile at the bunny, or at Yuan. But Wei Ying feels it, like a little warm arrow hitting his heart. He’s started collecting all these moments, rare though they are, when things between them feel real.

In Chinese, Lan Zhan says slowly, “Give this to the bunny.”

“Give it,” Yuan repeats, also in Chinese. “I give it.” He crouches and feeds the rabbit.

“I wanna be the nice dad,” Wei Ying whines, leaning on the counter. “Also, what kind of snacks do you have?”

“Crunchy ones,” says Lan Zhan. “Green for the rabbit. Spicy for you.”

Wei Ying would like to be annoyed, but he’s delighted instead. Lan Zhan knows what he likes and goes out of his way to throw in extra spices when he’s cooking, unless he’s making a recipe he learned from Yanli, which he always reproduces faithfully. He and Yanli are apparently emailing back and forth about cooking quite a lot, now.

Sometimes, watching Lan Zhan and Yuan, Wei Ying feels like his heart is so full that it’s going to start overflowing, and he’ll drown in his own feelings. He can’t stand that, though, so he says, “Hey, I’m waiting for my snacks!”

“Please,” prompts Yuan, in English.

“Pleeeeease,” Wei Ying repeats.

Lan Zhan is definitely smirking a little. He’s lucky it’s so hot. Wei Ying wonders what it would take to get him to smirk like that in bed. What would Wei Ying have to do to make him this smug?

Actually, the question is, what would Wei Ying have to do that he hasn’t done already, because Lan Zhan should already be over-the-moon smug about how easy it is for him to reduce Wei Ying to a shameless, begging mess in bed.

Wei Ying should maybe feel less frantic, but it’s all he can do to keep his hands to himself. He’s allowed to touch—hell, people outside this apartment might even think that’s why they got married—and it’s all he wants to do, all the time. He would honestly do all his homework while sucking Lan Zhan’s cock, if he could just figure out how.

“Snacks?” says Lan Zhan, and it’s maybe not the first time. He has a bag of spicy junk food on the counter, which Wei Ying knows he had never even heard of before Wei Ying and Yuan moved in.

There’s no need to blush when you fantasize about the man you’re literally already having sex with, but Wei Ying’s cheeks are hot anyway. “Yup,” he says. “Hey…when is A-Yuan’s bedtime again?”

Maybe Lan Zhan can read his mind, because his eyes go a little dark. “Soon,” he says. “A-Yuan, it is time to put the bunny back in his cage.”

“Okay,” sighs Yuan, picking the bunny up and carrying him back into the living room.

Wei Ying bites his lip and tries not to smile too hard at Lan Zhan, but Lan Zhan is definitely looking at him like he wants to throw Wei Ying up against a wall, or maybe down onto a bed. Which is…

This has to be the best fake marriage of all time, right?

Nie Huaisang does know how to throw a great party, Wei Ying has to admit. Lan Zhan’s pristine apartment is crowded with everyone from the orchestra and everyone from their other classes and then a bunch of people Wei Ying only vaguely knows, but hey—the more the merrier, right? Everyone wants to hug him, and congratulate him, and hand him a drink. And he doesn’t actually deserve any of that, but it feels great. He’s been in this bubble with Lan Zhan and Yuan for the last few weeks, trying to catch up on schoolwork, trying to keep Lan Zhan happy, trying to figure out what will make Yuan feel safe. And just for one night he gets to be stupid and drunk, and it’s great.

Lan Zhan doesn’t drink, so Wei Ying hasn’t offered him one, but the band conductor, who actually showed up, gives Lan Zhan a drink and an encouraging slap on the back. “Whoa, you don’t have to—” Wei Ying says, snatching the drink out of his hand. He drinks it himself, super quick.

His head is buzzing as he grins at Lan Zhan. “See?” he says. “I’m a better husband than you expected, right?”

“No,” says Lan Zhan, barely audible over the rager that’s raging around them. “I expected it.”

Wei Ying gapes at him. “You’re so—Why do you keep—I mean, I didn’t expect me to be a good husband!”

“Mmm,” agrees Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying has no idea what Lan Zhan is agreeing with, so he waves him off impatiently. The room is spinning, but it’s nice. He doesn’t have to worry about Yuan, because the entire flute section is taking turns passing him around and reading to him, or coloring with him, and they’ve all fought over who’s going to get to babysit him next time Lan Zhan and Wei Ying go on a date.

Maybe they should go on a date.

“Hey,” Wei Ying says, grabbing Huaisang’s shoulder. He should probably not have had that last drink. “Is it weird that I think I might be in love with my husband?”

Huaisang blinks at him. “No,” he says. “It’s weird that you just said that to me.”

Wei Ying has to think about that for a second. “Oh,” he says. The alcohol fizzing in his veins makes it easier than usual to lie. “I’m just...thinking about the citizenship interview.”

“Oh,” says Huaisang. “Right. I hear that’s brutal.” He sounds drunk, too. It’s nice to have drunk friends to be drunk with.

“They’re gonna ask me all these questions,” Wei Ying says. “How am I supposed to tell them I love him and make it sound real. I don’t know if I’d believe me.”

Huaisang looks a little puzzled, and then he gives Wei Ying a hug. “Bro,” he says. “Bro, they’ll look at your face and believe you.”

Wei Ying blinks a couple of times. “What’s wrong with my face?” he asks.

“No, I mean. Your face when you look at him is, like, obviously in love,” says Huaisang.

“Oh,” says Wei Ying. That’s terrible. He looks at Lan Zhan so much. What if Lan Zhan has seen him looking? “Do you think he knows?”

Huaisang looks over Wei Ying’s shoulder at the crowd. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m pretty sure.”

“Shit,” says Wei Ying. It’s one thing to fall in love with the man you’re married to. That’s bad. That’s level one bad. But then if that man, who already married you, finds out you’re in love, that’s level ten bad. It’s so bad. It’s very, very bad. It’s…

He can’t remember. It’s awful. It’s a catastrophe. Why is it bad?

Huaisang gives him a pat on the shoulder. “No way, dude, it’s great. You two are like… So in love.”

“Who told him?” Wei Ying asks. He didn’t mean to burden Lan Zhan like this. He should go apologize. He sways a little. Maybe he should ask Lan Zhan why it’s bad that he’s in love with him.

Or would that be worse?

“I think…your face, probably,” says Huaisang. “Didn’t you say it when he proposed?”

“No,” says Wei Ying, thinking back. “Shit, I never got him a ring.”

“Why don’t you—” Huaisang says, and stops to hiccup. “Why don’t you get him a ring and tell him again, then?” Huaisang asks. “If you forgot the first time.”

“I didn’t forget, I…” Wei Ying trails off. Why didn’t he say it? Oh, because back then, so long ago, he hadn’t realized yet. Not like now. Not like today, when looking at Lan Zhan makes him feel like the sun is rising inside his chest. “What if I say it and he’s mad?” he says. “That’s not the deal. That’s not the—the deal we have.”

Huaisang frowns at him. “Dude,” he says. “Bro, has he ever been mad at you?”

“Yes,” says Wei Ying. “Well. No, not since—I guess not since I actually got to know him. He just has…” Wei Ying gestures vaguely. “He kind of looks mad all the time.”

“Yeah, when he looks at people, and stuff,” says Huaisang. “But not when he looks at you.”

Huaisang is a good bro. He throws a good party, he gives good hugs, and he sounds so sure.

“You gotta tell him,” says Huaisang. He squints a little. “You really never told him?”

“I… We don’t… Uh, he doesn’t talk much, so,” says Wei Ying, trying to think of a plausible explanation.

“That’s true. Okay. Okay, dude, so you gotta show him, then. If you can’t say it, you gotta show him.”

Wei Ying nods seriously. “I gotta get him that ring.” Someone has handed him another drink. He probably shouldn’t drink it, but he can’t remember why. Oh right—he’s a dad now. A responsible dad. “Last time I drank this much, I woke up with a kid,” he says. “You think if I drink enough tonight I’ll wake up with another one?”

“Boy, I hope not,” says Huaisang, looking suspiciously into his own plastic cup of beer.

Someone tugs on the cup in his hand, and Wei Ying turns around to see Lan Zhan switching out his beer for water. “Hey,” Wei Ying protests. “It’s a party! I can drink at a party.”

“Indeed, you have drunk at this party,” Lan Zhan agrees.

Wei Ying looks at him carefully, checking for judgment, but if anything, Lan Zhan looks fond.

“You’re saying I should take a break to drink water,” he says.

“It would be wise,” Lan Zhan agrees.

His face is so good. Wei Ying could look at it all night. His skin is so pretty, and his lips are so soft, and his hair is perfect, and his eyes are big and gentle. Wei Ying could seriously stare at his face and just never look away. He’s so full of feelings.

He’s gotta say something. He’s gotta—

“Not right now,” hisses Huaisang in his ear. “If you say it when you’re drunk, he won’t think you’re sincere.”

Huaisang is such a good bro. “Text me,” says Wei Ying. “Remind me tomorrow, okay? In case I forget.”

“You won’t forget,” Huaisang scoffs.

Lan Zhan raises one perfect eyebrow. “I can remind you,” he offers. “I am sober. Remind you of what?”

“No!” Wei Ying says sternly, and points his finger at Lan Zhan. He thinks for a second Lan Zhan is going to bite it. “No, I can’t tell you. It’s a secret. Until I tell you. Because it’s a bad idea, but I forget why, so I’ll tell you when I remember. Okay?”

Lan Zhan looks very mildly baffled. “Then I will wait,” he says. “But you can tell me anything.”

Wei Ying beams at him. “We should go on a date,” he says. “Have we ever been on a date? Let’s go on a date.”

“Very well,” says Lan Zhan. “Drink your water.”

“Sure,” says Wei Ying. Lan Zhan keeps looking at him. “Oh,” says Wei Ying. “Drink it, like, now.”

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying puts a hand on Lan Zhan’s chest. “What about you,” he says. “Why don’t you have a drink? ...of water, I guess,” he adds, so he won’t hurt Lan Zhan’s feelings. Really, he just likes putting his hands on Lan Zhan’s chest. It’s so wide. It’s so strong. It’s so warm. It’s so—

“Dude,” says Huaisang, “if you two are gonna start touching each other, I can tell everyone to go home.”

“What?” says Wei Ying. His hand is somehow underneath Lan Zhan’s sweater. Also underneath the shirt under the sweater. Also underneath the undershirt under the shirt under the sweater. He’s just…touching all this silky soft hot skin. “Oh. No, it’s cool. We’re married. I’m supposed to touch him.” He puts his other hand under Lan Zhan’s shirt, too, just to demonstrate. “For purposes.”

It’s easy to just sway forward a little and put his head against Lan Zhan’s shoulder. He’s so sturdy. “You’re a tree,” Wei Ying says.

“What,” says Lan Zhan.

“Do you think we’ll have another baby tonight?” Wei Ying asks into his shoulder.

“Perhaps you should lie down,” says Lan Zhan.

“Perhaps we should lie down,” says Wei Ying, waggling his eyebrows sexily.

Lan Zhan…sighs? Maybe? A little bit? “Excuse us,” he says to Huaisang, and steers Wei Ying to their bedroom.

There is a shocking lack of sex or sexiness in being put to bed. It’s shocking because Lan Zhan is naturally so sexy that Wei Ying wouldn’t have thought there was a way for Lan Zhan to put him to bed that wasn’t at least a little sexy, but it turns out there is one: Lan Zhan tucks Wei Ying in and brushes a kiss on his forehead that is downright sweet.

“Don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret. I like you,” Wei Ying mumbles into the pillow.

There is a long pause. The party in the living room is pretty loud. Maybe Lan Zhan didn’t hear.

“I will not tell anyone,” Lan Zhan says finally.

“Okay,” says Wei Ying. “Good.”

Chapter Text

Wei Ying wakes up with a throbbing headache, a dry mouth, and a small child staring at him.

“It’s late,” says Yuan, frowning.

Wei Ying groans and rolls onto his back. “Lan Zhaaaan,” he moans. “Come get your son. He’s judging me.”

Lan Zhan appears with a glass of water, which he gives to Wei Ying, and then he scoops up Yuan. “The party was a great success,” he says. “You are feeling unwell?”

“I feel…” Wei Ying pauses. There was something he was supposed to do. Or say. Or something. “Uh,” he says. “Lemme drink this water and get back to you.”

“Why does he look like that?” Yuan demands, and his adorable little voice is like a dagger in Wei Ying’s skull right now.

“I will explain,” says Lan Zhan, and carries him out of the room.

Wei Ying lies there in the dark, sipping water and trying to remember what the hell happened last night. Eventually he fumbles for his phone, which got kicked under the bed and has two percent battery left.

There’s a text from Huaisang. You told me to remind you ❤️💍

Wei Ying stares at it for a long minute. What is that supposed to mean? Remind him to love a ring? Remind him to—

Shit.

He remembers now why it’s a bad idea to tell Lan Zhan that he’s fallen in love with him. Lan Zhan will have to spend the next decade politely pretending not to see the way Wei Ying looks at him. Maybe he’ll say they need to stop having sex, since it’s making Wei Ying get so silly about his feelings.

But if Huaisang has noticed, maybe other people have noticed, too. Maybe Lan Zhan will eventually notice. Wei Ying should be honest with him, so Lan Zhan can tell him to go fuck himself, if he wants to. It feels so dirty and dishonest to keep on going the way things are now, pretending this is all normal, keeping a secret about how he actually feels.

Wei Ying calls Yanli.

“Good morning, A-Ying,” she yawns as she answers.

“I have a problem,” Wei Ying says, hoping it’s quiet enough that no one in his apartment can hear. “Don’t make fun of me. I’m so worried. How do I tell Lan Zhan that…that…”

“What?” asks Yanli, sounding concerned. “Tell him what? Please be thoughtful, Wei Ying. He loves you very much, don’t do anything silly.”

“I don’t want him to be mad at me,” says Wei Ying. “How do I tell him that I… Wait, you think he loves me?”

“Yes, of course,” says Yanli. “What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about?”

There’s a pause. “What are we talking about?” Yanli says eventually.

“I need to tell him that I love him,” says Wei Ying. “It’s… It’s complicated, okay, but I haven’t said it before, and maybe he’s gonna think it’s…it’s…too much.”

“Oh, sweetheart,” says Yanli. “No. He’ll love it. He loves you. I am sure.”

Wei Ying’s phone beeps to let him know it’s about to die.

“But how do you know—” Wei Ying says, and then his phone goes black.

He groans and tosses it back on the floor. He has a whole list of things to consider:

First, it is definitely shitty and dishonest of him to sleep with Lan Zhan if he knows he’s in love with him and is pretending it’s all real, but Lan Zhan doesn’t know he’s doing that. If Lan Zhan is just having fun.

Second, he definitely can’t keep sharing a bed with Lan Zhan and not want to sleep with him.

Third, if he tells Lan Zhan, there’s a good chance Lan Zhan will tell him to go sleep in the guest room for the next twenty years, but at least then it’ll be easier to keep his hands to himself.

Fourth, not that much easier, though.

Fifth, they can’t get a divorce because of Yuan, so maybe the kind thing to do is to keep his mouth shut, but then he’s back to the first thing again.

Wei Ying groans loudly. This is all so stupid. He’s done things in the dumbest possible way, in the worst possible order. Who marries someone, starts sleeping with them, and then falls in love?

If only the sex wasn’t so mind-blowingly great. No, wait; he doesn’t regret that part at all.

Lan Zhan opens the door a crack. “Do you require Advil?” he asks, in his deep, solicitous voice.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying croaks. “Advil and…”

He can’t do it. At least, he can’t do it like this. “Advil, and I have some errands to run. Can you watch Yuanyuan today for a while?”

“I can,” says Lan Zhan. “You wish to run errands alone?”

No, Wei Ying thinks. He doesn’t wish to do anything alone, ever again. He likes having Lan Zhan there, he likes having someone to tease, he likes having someone who will just make the things that Wei Ying needs appear out of thin air.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. “Yeah, I guess I gotta do some of this alone.”

Wei Ying drags himself out of bed, chugs two Gatorades (he’s fairly sure Lan Zhan had never heard of Gatorade before Wei Ying moved in), and does a perfunctory search for a jewelry store on his phone. Lan Zhan deserves the best ring in the world, but Wei Ying has zero budget and no taste in jewelry, so this is gonna have to be an “it’s the thought that counts” ring.

It’s a perfectly nice jewelry store. Wei Ying says vaguely, “I need something for my husband,” and they ask him what size ring Lan Zhan wears, and he replies, “Uh…he has…big hands?” and smiles hopefully.

“You can get it sized later,” says the ring guy, and sighs.

Most of the rings are all wrong. They are flashy, or they are sparkly, and Wei Ying can’t picture Lan Zhan wearing anything that isn’t elegant and perfect and also devastatingly plain. Wei Ying is overwhelmed pretty quickly; he just sort of wanted…you know, a ring. He holds out his hand with the ring Lan Zhan gave him, and says, “Okay, what would you get to go along with this, for the tallest, handsomest, kindest, most wonderful person in the world?”

The ring guy, to his credit, doesn’t act like this is totally crazy. He gets a tray of rings, heavy and plain, but there’s one that’s white-gold, perfectly plain but with a sort of sexy burnished quality. That’s like Lan Zhan, Wei Ying decides. It looks plain and a little blank until you get close enough to realize that it’s perfect.

The ring is more than Wei Ying can actually afford. Then he realizes he hasn’t actually looked at his budget in…uh, over a month, because Lan Zhan has just kind of taken over paying for things. Wei Ying hasn’t had to order food, because Lan Zhan is always cooking. Lan Zhan buys all the toys for Yuan; he bought the tickets to Chicago.

“Oh, shit,” says Wei Ying. “He combined our bank accounts. He’s gonna see this purchase, isn’t he?”

“Does he check it every day?” says the ring guy. “Maybe he won’t notice.”

He probably does check it every day. Wei Ying has no idea; he hasn’t asked about it. Any of it. For all he knows, Lan Zhan stole all of his money. Equally likely: he’s put a million dollars aside for Wei Ying. Who can say? It hasn’t seemed important to ask.

“Whatever,” Wei Ying decides. “I’ll just have to propose today. Not propose. What do you call it when you propose to someone, but you’re already married to them?”

“Uh,” says the ring guy. “I don’t know. That’s not a thing.”

“Of course it’s a thing,” Wei Ying scolds him. “I’m doing it, aren’t I?”

The guy raises both eyebrows. “Okay,” he says. “Like…a vow renewal?”

“No,” says Wei Ying, because they aren’t ‘renewing’ anything. “Whatever. It’s fine. It’ll all be fine. The worst that can happen is…well, at least he can’t divorce me, ha ha.”

The ring guy shrugs and takes his credit card.

The ring box burns a little hole in Wei Ying’s pocket for the rest of the day. He’s too nervous to go back home. He’s blown up plenty of relationships—shit, he and Jiang Cheng didn’t speak for a year, one time, and sometimes stuff is still awkward—and he can’t believe he’s about to blow this one up, too.

He gets back to the apartment around dinner time. The doorman smiles and says, “Hello, Mr. Lan.”

He loves being Mr. Lan. He loves it for real, not just for pretend. He has to do this. He actually has to do this. He can’t do it, but he has to do it.

Wei Ying seriously considers just staying in the elevator, riding up and down until he dies. Maybe he could get a job as an elevator man, pushing the buttons for people. No, eventually Lan Zhan would come looking for him, and he’d see him in the elevator. He’d raise one perfect eyebrow and say, “Hello,” with full judgment, and Wei Ying would have to kiss him. That plan won’t work.

He drags himself out of the elevator and into Lan Zhan’s apartment. Their apartment. Where Lan Zhan is sitting on the couch, with Yuan in his lap, reading him a book about dinosaurs.

Wei Ying feels warmth all through his chest, climbing up his throat. They look so right together. Wei Ying wants to walk over there and crawl onto the couch with them, draping himself over Lan Zhan and doing all the funny voices of the dinosaurs in the book, because Lan Zhan doesn’t do them right.

“Can I…” Wei Ying says. He has to stop. He clears his throat. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

Lan Zhan looks up. He gazes at Wei Ying’s face for a long moment, when it feels like Wei Ying’s heart has stopped beating, except it’s also thundering in his ears. Lan Zhan must eventually see whatever he’s looking for, because his face softens just a little bit.

“Of course,” he says. To Yuan, he says, “Can you finish the book yourself?”

“I will read it,” says Yuan confidently. He takes the book. “This dinosaur says… ‘Are you the cat in the hat?’ And the dinosaur says, ‘No, I’m a boy!’ Okay, dinosaur. Now you can dance.”

“You’d think after hearing this same book a hundred times he’d know what it actually says,” Wei Ying complains.

“He is being imaginative,” Lan Zhan says, immediately sweetly defensive.

“I know,” says Wei Ying. “He’s just weird.”

“He is perfect,” says Lan Zhan firmly.

Wei Ying is going to explode, he loves Lan Zhan so much. “Let’s…bedroom?” he says.

Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow.

“To talk,” says Wei Ying. “Oh my god, to talk!”

“As you wish,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying grumbles the whole way to the bedroom, because honestly it would be way easier and less embarrassing to just get naked and demand that Lan Zhan fuck him again. How dare he be so tall and handsome and so good at sex every single way they’ve tried it so far? It is an outrage!

“I’m trying to be serious, here,” says Wei Ying, with his hands on his hips.

Lan Zhan nods.

“Okay, you, sit,” says Wei Ying, pointing to the bed. “I have to tell you something. And you might be mad. You might hate me. But I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking about it, and I have to tell you.”

“I will not hate you,” says Lan Zhan.

“You might! Let me finish.” Wei Ying takes a deep breath. And then another.

“Have you finished?” Lan Zhan asks seriously.

Wei Ying groans. “I can’t do this,” he says, and then, because he doesn’t know what else to do, he puts his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck and crawls into his lap, straddling him on the bed. He hides his face in Lan Zhan’s shoulder, so Lan Zhan won’t be able to see his stupid face, which apparently tells all his secrets. “I have to tell you something.”

“Mm.”

Wei Ying huffs against Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “I’m serious. It’s bad. You’re gonna be mad.”

“Mm.” That one sounded more skeptical.

“I…” Wei Ying holds on tighter. “You’ve been the nicest person in the whole world to me. Even when you didn’t even like me. I think you like me now, a little bit. I know you love A-Yuan. But it was so kind of you to offer to marry me, and help us out, and everything you’ve done for us… I have to be honest with you. I have to.”

“Indeed,” Lan Zhan says. His chest rumbles against Wei Ying’s when he speaks.

Wei Ying is having some trouble breathing, but he grits his teeth and makes himself keep going. “Well, I did the worst thing. I—I took advantage of your kindness.”

“Mm,” says Lan Zhan, doubtful.

“I did!” Wei Ying looks up, finally. Lan Zhan is frowning at him—his beautiful, serious frown. “You married me to help me and I went and fell in love with you, and it’s so rude! I should have told you. I mean, I only just realized it, but I should have told you instead of sleeping with you, because I wanted to sleep with you for all the wrong reasons.”

Lan Zhan hasn’t shoved him off his lap. That’s probably a good sign, right?

“...the wrong reasons?” Lan Zhan repeats.

“I told you it was for immigration questions! But really it was because I wanted to pretend you loved me too!” Wei Ying wails.

Lan Zhan stares at him.

“I’m sorry,” Wei Ying mumbles. “Should I… Do you want me to go?” He ought to move his arms fromwhere they’re hooked behind Lan Zhan’s neck, but he can’t seem to do it.

Lan Zhan’s hands come up and settle on Wei Ying’s hips. “Do not go,” he says.

“Not, like, away away,” says Wei Ying. “I meant… You know, to a guest room or something. If you don’t want to sleep next to someone who’s having thoughts about you. You’re so handsome,” he adds wistfully. “I’m sorry. You’re so beautiful, and you’re so nice, and you love A-Yuan. What was I supposed to do?”

Lan Zhan leans forward and kisses him. Wei Ying makes a startled, slightly panicked noise against his mouth.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying scolds, trying to lean back, but Lan Zhan has a very firm hold on him, and also he chases Wei Ying’s mouth. “Lan Zhan, that’s not an answer! Of course the sex is great! How mad at me are you? How betrayed?”

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan.

“Yes,” Wei Ying says, holding his breath and wincing.

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan again.

“What!”

Lan Zhan, clearly struggling, starts to kiss him again, stops, looks at the floor for a long minute, and then sighs.

“I have done this incorrectly,” says Lan Zhan.

“Oh,” says Wei Ying, in a tiny voice. “I knew it. I’m… I’m sorry.”

Lan Zhan shakes his head. “The fault is mine,” he says.

“Nah,” says Wei Ying. He forces himself to untangle his hands, and starts to stand up. Lan Zhan is still holding on to his hips. “Sorry. Sorry. We had an arrangement, and I fucked it all up.”

Lan Zhan closes his eyes and makes a pained noise. “No,” he says, hands tightening on Wei Ying. “I did this incorrectly. I told you that marriage was the simplest way forward.”

“And it was,” Wei Ying says uncertainly.

Lan Zhan opens his eyes. “No,” he says again. “There were other options. This was the one that would allow me to…to express my fondness for you.”

Wei Ying has definitely heard wrong. “Your fondness? You mean for A-Yuan?”

“I do not. I am fond of him as well. When I said this to you… You asked if it was a proposal. I said it was not. It was merely an option available to you.”

“Yeah,” says Wei Ying. “I remember. I told you to pretend it was romantic.” He winces. “I guess I’ve been fucking this up for a long time.”

“I do not know how to make it romantic,” says Lan Zhan, his voice heavy with regret. “But I would like to try.”

Wei Ying has to think through that sentence about five times before his brain makes sense of it. He barely tried to move away, but he sits back down on Lan Zhan’s lap anyway. “What,” he whispers.

“My motives were impure,” says Lan Zhan. “I am sorry. I would like to ask you again, if you will permit me.”

Lan Zhan’s face is so beautiful and so serious. “Are you asking me to marry you again?” Wei Ying asks. His eyes sting a little. If Lan Zhan means what he thinks Lan Zhan means, he’s going to die from how it all makes him feel. “And move in with you? Because I already did, and the man at the ring store said it’s not a thing.”

“I am not asking you to marry me,” agrees Lan Zhan. “You have already done so. I am asking you to… No. I love you. I apologize for not making it clear earlier. I am asking you to forgive me for my struggles with telling you how I feel. I would like very much to stay married to you. To continue to be married. And…for you to continue to love me.”

Wei Ying’s whole chest aches, but in such a good way. He has to let go of Lan Zhan to wipe tears out of his eyes with the back of his hand. “Is it the simplest way forward?” he says, teasing because he doesn’t know how to be this sincere, even with the person he loves most in the world.

“It is,” says Lan Zhan, and a tiny smile plays around the edges of his mouth. “But I think it is also the correct choice. Perhaps even the romantic one.”

Wei Ying is going to start crying a lot harder and ruin this lovely moment if he isn’t careful. Wonder feels like a fragile little butterfly in his chest, afraid to keep beating its wings. “Really?” he says. “I want to believe you, but why—”

“You are kind and brave,” says Lan Zhan. Wei Ying starts to protest, and Lan Zhan shakes his head firmly. “I am not friendly. I know this. You have always…tried to be kind. Joked. Flirted. It was…strange. I liked it and did not know how to tell you. You worry about my feelings when many people assume I have none.”

Poor Lan Zhan is clearly struggling through these words. It melts Wei Ying’s heart even more, and he leans forward to kiss him. This, Lan Zhan seems to know how to do. Everything that was unclear in his sentences is crystal clear in the way he holds Wei Ying, in the sweet reverence of his kisses.

“Oh,” says Wei Ying, wonderingly. “You were trying to show me, because you didn’t know how to tell me.”

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan.

“I’m an idiot,” says Wei Ying.

Lan Zhan’s mouth does that wonderful thing again, where he’s smiling, even if only Wei Ying can tell. “Perhaps I should have been clearer,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying kisses him again, and this time he squeezes with his thighs around Lan Zhan, and grinds down a little bit, because if what Lan Zhan wants is to show their feelings, well—Wei Ying has enough feelings to show him forever.

A piping little voice in the next room says, “Uh-oh!”

Wei Ying groans loudly as Lan Zhan pulls his mouth away. “What has happened, A-Yuan?” he says, loud enough to carry.

“The bunny,” says Yuan’s voice. He sounds much closer. Wei Ying turns and looks over his shoulder; Yuan is peeking around the door at them. Very cute, but very bad timing. “The bunny is…not in his cage.”

“Where is the bunny?” asks Lan Zhan.

“I don’t know.” Yuan considers for a minute. “Maybe…someone opened the cage? And bunny hopped away.”

Wei Ying is not going to scream. “Who opened the cage?” he asks pointedly.

Yuan has never looked so innocent in his entire life. “I don’t know. Someone,” he says, shaking his head.

Wei Ying snorts with laughter and hides his face in Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “I told you,” he says. “He’s gonna get in trouble and you’re gonna make me be the stern parent. I’m not doing it. I’m no good at it. You go yell at him.”

Lan Zhan pats Wei Ying’s hips a couple of times, so Wei Ying reluctantly crawls off his lap and sits on the bed instead. Lan Zhan takes a moment to carefully straighten his sweater and slacks. “Yuan-er,” he says, “is it possible that you opened the cage to play with the bunny?”

“Is it possible?” says Yuan, doubtful. “Hmm. I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe…a dinosaur!”

“It is unlikely a dinosaur would fit in our apartment,” says Lan Zhan. He holds out a hand, which Yuan takes. “We must find the bunny before a dinosaur eats him.”

“Oh no!” says Yuan.

“It is important that the bunny stay in his cage unless he is supervised,” Lan Zhan goes on, very seriously. “The world is full of dangers for bunnies. Like dinosaurs.”

“I will tell him,” says Yuan, nodding. “Very dangerous.”

“It would be a great tragedy if a dinosaur ate him,” Lan Zhan says.

“Yeah,” agrees Yuan, as they walk back to the kitchen. “Holy shit!”

Wei Ying starts to laugh, and then he can’t stop. He hides his face in a pillow for a minute, because laughing feels a lot like crying right now. He was so tense before he came to talk to Lan Zhan, and now it’s all fixed, but—Well, they didn’t get a chance to release all that tension, did they? So he’s still all wound up, and his body doesn’t quite know what to do. Laugh hysterically? Cry his face off? Jump Lan Zhan in the kitchen and give Yuan issues for years to come?

Then he remembers that he still has a freaking ring box in his pocket and swears to himself as he scrambles off the bed and into the kitchen.

Lan Zhan and Yuan are peering behind the cupboards and under the table. “Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying says, digging the ring box out of his pocket.

“Mister Bunny is behind the stove,” says Lan Zhan.

“I’ll get him,” Yuan volunteers, trying to wiggle between the stove and the counter.

“Perhaps it would be better to lure him out with treats,” says Lan Zhan.

It’s super adorable and all, but Wei Ying hates being ignored. “Lan Zhan,” he says again.

“Can I give him a treat?” Yuan asks. He pauses. “Can I have a treat, too?”

Lan Zhan gives Yuan some cilantro to try and lure the bunny out. Wei Ying grabs Lan Zhan’s hand. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, look, I finally remembered—”

Lan Zhan turns around. He looks at the ring box, and then up at Wei Ying’s face, and then something like a real smile makes his expression go softer than Wei Ying thinks he’s ever seen it before.

“There was no need,” says Lan Zhan, quiet and fond and smiling.

“There was!” Wei Ying insists, beaming at him. “Look at your face! I needed to see you look like this.”

If Lan Zhan were anyone else he might be blushing, but instead he simply takes the ring box out of Wei Ying’s hand and opens it.

“Does it fit?” Wei Ying asks anxiously. “They said they can fix it, or size it, or whatever, if you need—”

Yuan is lying on his stomach on the kitchen floor, waving cilantro under the stove. “You gotta come out,” he says. “You gotta come back to your home. This is your home.”

Lan Zhan slides the ring onto his finger. “It is perfect.”

Later, after rescuing the bunny, and making dinner, and reading Yuan the dinosaur book two more times and then putting him to bed, Lan Zhan gets this sexy, predatory look in his eyes.

“Hey,” says Wei Ying, with a little thrill in his stomach because this time it’s real, it’s all real, and both of them want it to be. “You want to show me some of your feelings?”

“I wish to show you many things,” agrees Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying walks over and sits on the couch, straddling him, arms around Lan Zhan’s neck; it’s deliberately the same way they did earlier, but sexy this time. “How about,” he says, “you do something, and I’ll tell you what I think it means.”

The edges of Lan Zhan’s mouth twitch up. “A game?” he asks.

Wei Ying shakes his head. “I’m very, very serious.” He waits. “You have to start,” he says eventually. “I’m just reading your cues. Show me how you really feel, Lan Zhan.”

“Mmm,” says Lan Zhan. He leans in and kisses Wei Ying’s neck. Wei Ying helpfully tilts his head, giving him better access.

His mouth is hot, and it makes Wei Ying shiver. “I think this means that you like me,” says Wei Ying. Lan Zhan makes an affirmative noise. He tugs on Wei Ying’s hoodie until Wei Ying sits back a little and Lan Zhan can pull it off over his head. Then Lan Zhan goes back to kissing him. He kisses across Wei Ying’s collarbone, and licks carefully at the base of his throat.

“Oh,” says Wei Ying, tipping his head back. “I think that means you really like me.”

Lan Zhan makes another affirmative noise. He puts his hands on Wei Ying’s thighs, digging his fingers in a little bit, and then he scrapes his teeth across Wei Ying’s shoulder. Wei Ying shivers happily again.

“Hmm,” says Wei Ying, “I’m not sure—”

Lan Zhan surges forward and kisses him, demanding. He presses his fingers harder into Wei Ying’s legs, holding him so he can’t wiggle away. Not that he wants to, particularly; Wei Ying rocks his hips a little, looking for friction against Lan Zhan’s rock-hard stomach. Lan Zhan growls and shifts his hands to Wei Ying’s hips, holding him still.

“I think,” says Wei Ying, starting to lose his breath, “that maybe this means… You want to keep me.”

“Wei Ying is very good at this,” says Lan Zhan, and kisses him again.

Lan Zhan is a wall of hot, solid muscle, and Wei Ying honestly loves the way Lan Zhan can use that to hold him still. He whines, high and needy, and Lan Zhan’s arms come around him, and then suddenly Lan Zhan is standing, holding Wei Ying like he weighs nothing at all. Wei Ying wraps his arms and legs around Lan Zhan and laughs. “And I think this means we should move to the bedroom in case Yuan-er wakes up,” he says hopefully.

“Indeed,” says Lan Zhan.

He carries Wei Ying across the living room easily; he even has a hand free to open the bedroom door and close it behind them. Wei Ying finds himself suddenly on his back on the bed, and Lan Zhan is on top of him, peeling his jeans and underwear off.

“I think,” says Wei Ying, arching his back and digging his heels into the mattress to push up his hips and help, “this means you can’t get enough of me.”

Lan Zhan kisses the inside of Wei Ying’s thigh, and Wei Ying gasps. Lan Zhan puts his hands on Wei Ying’s hips and pushes him firmly down, ferocious and gentle at the same time.

“You like me,” Wei Ying marvels, fighting hard to keep his voice anything like normal. Lan Zhan licks up the crease of Wei Ying’s thigh and mouths at his cock. “God! Even when I talk too much?” Lan Zhan takes Wei Ying into his mouth. Wei Ying grabs the sheets on the bed with both hands and holds fistfuls of fabric to try and keep himself still. “Even when I make stupid jokes?”

Lan Zhan makes an affirmative noise, humming. It shakes Wei Ying all the way through.

“Even…God, Lan Zhan, even when I’m impulsive? Obnoxious?”

It’s hard to keep talking, to keep teasing Lan Zhan, when Lan Zhan has a mouth as talented as his hands. Of course he does. Every part of him is talented, and hot, and solid, and sexy. Wei Ying can’t remember what he was going to ask. He knows what this means. Lan Zhan loves him.

He can’t be this lucky. No one can possibly be this lucky. Wei Ying can’t hold still, but he can’t move, either, not with Lan Zhan holding him down. All of Wei Ying’s words have turned into helpless, breathless, whining little noises.

Lan Zhan does something marvelous with his tongue, and Wei Ying can feel himself shaking apart. “Really?” he asks. His voice is high and tight; it’s someone else’s voice, because his body is somewhere else.

Lan Zhan doesn’t reply—too polite to talk with his mouth full—but he rumbles an agreement, and the combination of the rumble, and the heavy possessive hands on his hips, and the mouth working so expertly on his cock, makes Wei Ying shout, and push his hips up into Lan Zhan’s hands, and come flying apart.

There is a long minute when the only sound Wei Ying can hear is his own ragged breathing. His ears are ringing.

At some point, Lan Zhan coaxes him to turn over. He kisses up and down Wei Ying’s spine, lips and teeth and tongue brushing as much bare skin as he can find. Wei Ying is too blissed out to do anything but moan helpfully when Lan Zhan finds a spot that feels good.

All the spots feel good. Wei Ying melts into the mattress.

Lan Zhan has made his way up to Wei Ying’s shoulders by the time Wei Ying finds himself back on the right planet, inside his own body, able to think and move again. “Oh,” he says, and starts to roll over so he can see Lan Zhan better. Lan Zhan puts a firm hand on the small of his back and holds him in place. “Ohhhh,” says Wei Ying. “Well.” He folds his arms so he can pillow his face on the backs of his hands. He presses up and back a little, encouragingly. Lan Zhan growls and nips at him, and Wei Ying shivers again. “I think this means it’s your turn for some fun.”

“All of it is fun for me,” says Lan Zhan sternly.

Wei Ying grins. “I want you to enjoy yourself,” he says. “I want you to have the time of your life. You like this as much as I do! Can you believe we got this lucky?”

Lan Zhan goes still above him, and Wei Ying twists around to look at him and make sure he hasn’t said something wrong. But Lan Zhan is straddling him, looking…thoughtful.

“I have trouble believing,” Lan Zhan says finally.

“Me, too,” says Wei Ying, smiling like a fool. “It would be a shame to waste it.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes flash. “I will not,” he says firmly.

He pushes Wei Ying down again, and rather than slow, gentle kisses, his mouth is ferocious, exploring Wei Ying’s body, finding the places that make him groan and moan and whimper, and then repeating whatever he’s done. It’s like he’s trying to memorize every part of Wei Ying.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying gasps into his own arms. “Lan Zhan, I know you’re trying to show me—To show me how you feel, but I know! I can tell! And I want you to know that—that—Oh god—I love you, too.”

Lan Zhan briefly goes still again. “I am not done showing you,” he says, in a low, sexy rumble.

Wei Ying, who is closer to the table by the side of the bed, says, “Thank god,” and reaches out for the lube, which he tosses over his shoulder. Lan Zhan must catch it, because he growls approvingly and grabs Wei Ying’s hips, pulling them up and back.

Wei Ying loves being manhandled like this. He understands it now: all these pent-up emotions, all the casual gestures that Lan Zhan hasn't done much in regular life before, they’ve all been waiting for an outlet. All of it is stored up inside Lan Zhan somewhere, in a prison of following rules and living up to expectations and being lonely for so long, and all of it comes pouring out in this uncontrollable torrent of touching and kissing and holding on so fiercely.

“Oooh,” says Wei Ying, teasing but breathless, “are you showing me who I belong to?”

“Yes,” growls Lan Zhan, biting his shoulder.

Wei Ying sits up, letting his head fall backward onto Lan Zhan’s shoulder. There’s no way to tease after that. He wants what Lan Zhan wants. One of Lan Zhan’s ridiculously strong arms comes around his chest, holding him, while with the other hand he uses his long, clever fingers to start opening Wei Ying up. Wei Ying groans and pushes his hips back, looking for a little more pressure. Lan Zhan’s arm clamps down around him.

“If I wanted,” Wei Ying says, gasping in time as he rolls his hips, “would you let me go?”

“....yes,” says Lan Zhan, obviously reluctant.

Wei Ying turns his head and kisses Lan Zhan’s cheek. “Don’t,” he orders. He puts a hand on one of Lan Zhan’s tremendous thighs, and the other clutches Lan Zhan’s arm around him.

“I will not,” Lan Zhan says, voice deep and rough. He is hard and hot against Wei Ying’s back. He shifts both hands to Wei Ying’s hips so he can line himself up correctly, and then with a deep, heavy moan he pushes in, and—

Wei Ying, who just came a few minutes ago, should not be seeing stars already. And yet he is, his body loving Lan Zhan’s body, his hips stuttering up and then down. Lan Zhan is going too slowly; Wei Ying is absolutely ready to be fucked through the mattress, but Lan Zhan uses his hold on Wei Ying’s hips to slow him down. He's agonizingly, endlessly, exhaustingly patient.

“Lan Zhannn,” Wei Ying whines, fruitlessly tilting his hips. Or at least, trying to.

Lan Zhan kisses the side of his neck. “I am showing you how important you are to me,” says Lan Zhan, mouth vibrating against Wei Ying’s skin.

“Show me how badly you want to bang me,” Wei Ying complains, letting his head fall entirely back against Lan Zhan. He wiggles a little. Or tries to. Lan Zhan is molten steel, immovable, a wall of bricks. He is the softest person Wei Ying has ever met. He is unbearable.

“So badly,” says Lan Zhan, but he doesn’t move. This is agony. Wei Ying can feel exactly how good it will be when Lan Zhan starts moving, but he doesn’t. Their breathing, heavy and ragged, has synced up. Lan Zhan’s chest moves against Wei Ying’s back in perfect rhythm. They are skin to skin in every place they possibly could be, and Wei Ying still wants more.

“I think this means,” Wei Ying pants, “that you like teasing me. You like watching me squirm.”

“I like pleasing you,” says Lan Zhan. “You like teasing.”

There is something agonizing and beautiful about being so transparent in front of someone. “What? Me?” asks Wei Ying, feigning innocence, but then Lan Zhan finally, finally begins moving, and Wei Ying can’t think of any words anymore.

It is a symphony. It is an opera of sensations. It is the crescendo and the long, final held note that vibrates in the air after the orchestra has finished. Wei Ying thinks he might be crying, but he isn’t sure, because he’s holding on for dear life as every nerve in his body sings out in chorus together. Lan Zhan has one steely arm around his chest, holding him up, or Wei Ying would have melted into a boneless wreck on the bed. He is dragged along helplessly through Lan Zhan’s desire, and he loves it.

He loves knowing that this is how badly Lan Zhan wants him. He loves knowing that Lan Zhan can’t get enough of him. He loves knowing that the person he loves loves him, too.

When Lan Zhan comes, it’s with a shout that Wei Ying has never heard from him before: something hoarse and desperate, something that Wei Ying can translate, but not into words. Some things, it turns out, neither of them needs to say.

Wei Ying is not the most patient person in the world. He can feel Lan Zhan resting his forehead against his shoulder, and the ragged way Lan Zhan is still breathing, so he tries to give him some time to recover, but eventually it becomes clear that Lan Zhan has finished and Wei Ying has not, and this situation cannot be allowed to stand. He wiggles a little bit to see if that reminds Lan Zhan about the problem at hand. Lan Zhan does not immediately move.

“Lan Zhaaaaan,” Wei Ying whines. “Do you want me to do it myself? I will. I’ll just think about your mouth earlier, and how you can’t say how much you like me, but you can suck my dick like it’s the last ice cream cone on earth—”

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan, a little disapprovingly. He brings his enormous hand around and gives Wei Ying’s poor neglected cock a couple of strokes. Wei Ying puts his hand on top of Lan Zhan’s hand.

“Harder,” Wei Ying orders. “Faster. I’m jealous, you’re making me wait—”

Wei Ying guides Lan Zhan’s hand, and Lan Zhan lets himself be guided: faster, harder, until Wei Ying is arching his back and up on his knees again, thighs taut, heart racing, blood pumping through his ears. “Just—” says Wei Ying, “a little—” Lan Zhan twists his hand, “more—”

And then Wei Ying comes for the second time that night. He sees stars again. He sees whole galaxies. He’d collapse, but Lan Zhan is still holding him up. He collapses anyway. Lan Zhan rolls them both down to the bed, taking care of himself and then Wei Ying with the soft cloth he keeps by the bed. And then they can lie there, quiet and sweaty, with Wei Ying cuddled up to Lan Zhan, and Lan Zhan still holding him with a possessive arm.

“That,” says Wei Ying finally, dragging himself back to the present, “was pretty great.”

Lan Zhan kisses Wei Ying’s temple, and says nothing. Wei Ying smiles, because he knows exactly what that means.

Chapter Text

Yuan wakes them up very, very early the morning they’re going to sign the official adoption papers.

“It’s time,” he says, tugging on Wei Ying’s arm. Wei Ying grumbles and rolls over, but Lan Zhan gets up.

“If your papa’s not up yet, then no one on this earth needs to be awake yet,” Wei Ying complains.

“I have been awake,” says Lan Zhan.

Yuan is almost six, and he has learned exactly how to handle this kind of thing. “But…” he says, eyes devastatingly big and sad as he looks at Wei Ying. “But dad.”

Wei Ying groans and puts his head under a pillow. It’s not fair. Who told this kid to be the cutest kid in the world? “Give me ten minutes, or I swear to god, I’m gonna cook the bunny.”

Yuan chirps a happy, “Okay!” and Wei Ying can hear him dash out of the room. He runs almost everywhere now, all the time. He also hasn’t been worried about Wei Ying’s vague bunny-related threats in forever. It’s almost like he doesn’t think Wei Ying is a stern, rule-enforcing dad.

A heavy, steady hand lands on Wei Ying’s back. “He is excited,” says Lan Zhan. “It is nice.”

Somewhere down the hall, Yuan shouts, “We’re having a party!”

“Who is he telling,” Wei Ying complains. “The bunny?” Wei Ying sits up and runs a hand through his hair. Lan Zhan is half-dressed, still shirtless, and Wei Ying holds his hands out, making little grabbing motions until Lan Zhan walks over and leans down to kiss him.

“I will make breakfast,” says Lan Zhan, straightening up. Wei Ying pouts a little, because there’s going to be family over all day, so he won’t be getting more kisses for hours. “My brother will arrive soon. Then your brother will arrive. It is best to be prepared before.”

“He’s not going to scream all day,” Wei Ying says. “He promised. Although if your uncle tells him to stand up straight again, I’m not responsible for what happens after.”

“My uncle is easily distracted by Yuan-er,” says Lan Zhan, with a tiny smile. “You must distract your brother.”

“My brother is easily distracted by giving him something to complain about,” says Wei Ying. “So I’ll just stand right next to him and make fun of how he will never, ever have a girlfriend, and—”

Lan Zhan clears his throat disapprovingly.

“Don’t you defend him. You don’t even like him.” Wei Ying climbs out of bed and stretches. He’s not going to change out of his sweats and hoodie until he has to. He’ll get up early for Yuan’s sake, but he’s not going to put on real clothes until they actually leave to go sign things with the lawyer.

“He is flying in from San Francisco,” says Lan Zhan. “That is good of him. Just…antagonize him gently.”

Wei Ying snorts a laugh. “Tell him to antagonize me gently!”

Lan Zhan gets that very sexy look in his eyes like he’ll beat up the whole world for bothering Wei Ying. “I will,” Lan Zhan says.

“No no no,” says Wei Ying, because he doesn’t want an actual fight today of all days. Today is supposed to be a straight-up celebration. They’ve been counting down to “sign the adoption papers” with Yuan and marking it with big Xs on the calendar. Yuan is over-the-moon excited, but so is Wei Ying; he just hides it better. “He won’t dare cause any trouble today, not with A-Li and the baby visiting, too. I thought he doted on A-Yuan until he met his other nephew. All he’s going to do today is ask if he can hold the baby and sulk when other people are holding him. I told everyone a thousand times they didn’t need to come over this morning. The party isn’t until after we sign all the papers, so why is your entire family and my entire family showing up to spend the entire day in our apartment driving me crazy—”

“Because they love us,” says Lan Zhan, with the gentle smile that’s become Wei Ying’s favorite.

“Oh,” says Wei Ying. It still doesn’t sound like it ought to be true, but Lan Zhan clearly believes it, and Wei Ying always believes Lan Zhan. “Yeah, of course. It’s going to be so much family, though. You and me should run away through the window.”

“We would have to take A-Yuan,” says Lan Zhan, buying into the joke so fast Wei Ying is surprised he doesn’t just pull out a rope ladder. “And he would be difficult to remove quietly. He is very excited.”

“If we told him it was a game, he might do it,” argues Wei Ying.

“And the bunny?”

“The bunny is just gonna have to fend for itself. My sister will look after it. Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whines, “don’t you wanna run away with me? Today is going to be so long and boring.”

“I am never bored with Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan firmly, and kisses him again.

Wei Ying puts his hands on Lan Zhan’s hips, like maybe they have just a couple of minutes before Yuan comes running back in and family arrives, when he could show Lan Zhan just how much that kind of ridiculous statement means to him. But then the doorbell rings and there’s a happy shriek from Yuan. “Jiujiu’s here!” he hollers.

Wei Ying groans and flops back on the bed. “It’s so early,” he whines. He and Lan Zhan had a whole bunch of arguments about whose brother would be jiujiu and whose would be shushu, but Jiang Cheng had gotten shushu first, and they didn’t want to confuse Yuan. He knows the school has done a unit of family names in Chinese, and he wonders how enthusiastically and earnestly Yuan explained that Lan Zhan is “papa” but Lan Huan is “mom’s brother.” It probably made his teacher, poor anxious Mr. Ning, make that big-eyed concerned face he makes all the time.

Wei Ying kind of likes arguing with Lan Zhan, actually. They usually end up taking their arguments to bed with them, and it’s fun because even when Wei Ying loses he’s still winning.

“My brother will help me with breakfast,” says Lan Zhan. He turns and finishes putting on his shirt. What a tragedy.

By the time Wei Ying gets out to the living room, Yuan is perched on Lan Huan’s lap. “There will be a lawyer there,” he’s saying. “I met her, and she’s short, and dad said she’s scary but in a good way, and we’ll sign all the papers. It’s like homework. Do you want to see my workbook? I know more than one hundred characters. I’ll show you!” He slides off Lan Huan’s lap and goes tearing into his bedroom.

Lan Huan twinkles happily at Wei Ying. “He’s excited,” he says.

Lan Zhan appears like a ghost, hands Wei Ying a coffee, and goes back to the kitchen. “I swear he talks so fast he forgets to breathe half the time. We’ve been trying to explain what adoption means, so he’ll get it,” says Wei Ying. “We want him to know what’s going on. In case he ever wonders, you know? He barely remembers last year, he probably won’t remember this, either, but he ought to know.”

“It’s a formal procedure!” says Yuan, dashing back in with his character practice book. “It’s a formal procedure that means I’m adopted. Like we adopted the bunny! We’ll keep him forever.”

“You’re even cuter than the bunny,” says Lan Huan. He pulls Yuan up on the couch, and Yuan opens up his practice book and begins pointing to characters he knows and explaining them in Chinese.

“Mr. Ning says he’s the best student in the class,” says Wei Ying, because whenever he gets the chance to brag about Yuan, he does. In Chinese he says, “You’re so smart, aren’t you?”

“Jingyi is smart, too,” answers Yuan in Chinese. “He’s my friend,” he explains to Lan Huan. “We caught four frogs.”

“They caught them in the park and smuggled them back to the apartment in their pockets,” Wei Ying says. “It took me and Lan Zhan all day to catch them again.”

“Mr. Ning is really nice,” Yuan says in English. “He always helps me. His sister is our lawyer! It’s a co-in-ci-dence. Papa taught me that word!”

Wei Ying switches back to English, too. “Don’t you need to go pack your toys for today?” he says. “You know it’s going to be a lot of boring hours of waiting.”

“I’m not bored,” says Yuan confidently. “I have homework, and I already packed it, and I’m ready! Are we going soon?”

“Oh my god,” says Wei Ying. He loves having the world’s smartest, cutest, most energetic almost-six-year-old, but it’s still so early for Wei Ying to be up and talking to people. “Did you have coffee? Calm down, kiddo.”

“I’m excited!” says Yuan. “I’m skipping school! I have so much work to make up!”

Wei Ying frowns. “Wait, what kind of homework do you have?”

“Chapter books!” says Yuan, jumping back off the couch. “I’ll show you!”

Wei Ying shrugs at Lan Huan. “He reads with Lan Zhan every night. I don’t think he actually has any homework. Your brother is making our kid a nerd, but that’s okay; I gave him permission.”

Lan Huan laughs. “You are also a nerd,” he says.

Wei Ying is very cool, actually, but Lan Huan is too nice to correct, so he doesn’t.

Yuan is so excited that he has trouble settling down for breakfast, even when Lan Zhan gives him a gently reproachful frown. “It’s okay,” says Lan Huan in Chinese. “It just means he’ll sleep very well tonight.”

“I’m not tired at all!” says Yuan loudly, and then, “Oops. No talking while we eat. I forgot. I’m not hungry. I’m done. Can I—” The doorbell rings. “Please?” says Yuan. “Please, can I get it?”

“You may,” says Lan Zhan, and Yuan disappears to run over to the door. “Auntie Yanli!” he shouts. “You’re here! You’re here!”

“Oh, it’s so nice to see you,” says Yanli. “Say hi to your cousin, A-Ling.”

“He’s a baby,” says Yuan dubiously. “He can’t talk. He just cries.”

They have to stop eating for everyone to say hello, and for everyone to hug, and for everyone to insist that everyone else hasn’t eaten yet, and have some food, you look so thin, please, eat! As always, the best thing in the world is a hug from Yanli, and it’s clear that Lan Zhan agrees with Wei Ying about that. Lan Zhan and Yanli exchange cooking emails, and every now and then Lan Zhan will say, “Your sister has reminded me I must tell you out loud: I love you,” which is usually followed by the kind of kiss that makes Wei Ying drag Lan Zhan to bed. Even Yanli’s stupid husband has made the trip, which Wei Ying will grudgingly admit he thinks is nice, although he’s not going to hug him or anything.

It’s big, sprawling family chaos, especially when Jiang Cheng shows up a few minutes later. Lan Zhan’s apartment has honestly never been so loud, not even when they host the occasional party. “I can’t believe they’re letting an idiot like you have a baby,” says Jiang Cheng, in lieu of a hug.

Wei Ying beams at him. “Me, neither!” he says.

“I’m not a baby!” Yuan says insistently. “A-Ling is a baby. I’m a big kid.”

Zixuan says loudly, “A-Ling took his first steps at the airport.”

Yanli pats his arm and shakes her head. “No one else saw it.”

“He did! I’m telling you, he’s gonna be a big strong kid just like his dad.”

Jiang Cheng almost shouts, “He’s going to be a big strong kid just like his uncle! Someone give me my nephew already!” He makes it sound like a personal affront that he wasn’t handed the baby immediately.

The morning gets slightly worse when Lan Zhan’s uncle shows up, because he scowls at Wei Ying, like he always does, but then it gets better again because Yuan shouts, “Grandpa!” and runs over and hugs him, and Qiren turns immediately into a pile of mushy grandpa goo. Yuan hasn’t met his grandparents in China yet, because they’ve been waiting for all the citizenship paperwork for Wei Ying and adoption paperwork for Yuan to be finalized. Then they can worry about passports. Lan Zhan has already started a binder. Wei Ying and Lan Zhan have been discussing maybe taking Yuan to China for the summer, although he still gets fretful and teary when they mention airports.

Yuan drags Qiren over to the fridge. They’ve let him put up anything he wants on the bottom half, which he can reach, so there’s a drawing of a rabbit and a dinosaur, and a picture of him and Jingyi with their perfect attendance certificates, and some workbook pages where the characters for different animals have been turned into animals to help kids remember what they mean, and math worksheets that got stickers and stars on them.

Wei Ying decorated the top of the fridge, so it’s covered in photographs: Yuan beaming on his first day of school, Yuan and Lan Zhan holding hands at the Museum of Natural History as Lan Zhan points up at the giant whale, Wei Ying and Yuan sledding in Central Park, Yuan’s first piano lesson. There’s also a selfie Wei Ying took when he and Lan Zhan got to the restaurant for their first attempted overnight hotel date, which was about three minutes before the babysitter called and said, “I’m so sorry. He won’t stop crying, can you come home?” Their second overnight date is still on hold.

Qiren is surprisingly patient as Yuan points to every picture and explains them all in great detail, exactly like he did the last time Qiren visited them. “And this summer, Jingyi and I will go to the Bronx Zoo summer camp!” Yuan finishes excitedly. “We signed up together!”

“That sounds very nice,” says Qiren.

“We had a sleepover, and he stayed here, and we played with the bunny,” says Yuan. “We had sleeping bags in the living room, and dad gave us flashlights. And we roasted marshmallows on the stove and we made cookies. Look, that’s a picture of us! And Jingyi ate too many cookies and threw up. It was great.”

Qiren looks mildly taken aback by this. “Oh,” he says. “And…that was a nice sleepover?”

“It was the best,” Yuan says.

Wei Ying, who has been hovering sort of nearby just in case Yuan needs him, says, “We’re hoping for a sleepover at Jingyi’s house next, but we’re still working up to it. The school counselors say we need to be patient and give him time, but we’re hopeful. Maybe by fifth grade?” He means it as a joke, and elbows Qiren a little bit, but only gets a thunderously disapproving glare in return. Qiren is absolutely no fun.

“I want to,” says Yuan. “But…” He trails off and glances up at Wei Ying, pulling his hands up inside his sleeves and shifting his weight uncomfortably.

Qiren is a terrible sort-of father-in-law, but a wonderful grandpa, and he changes the subject. “Will you play the piano for me?” Qiren asks. “I want to hear how you’ve improved.”

“I’m much better now,” says Yuan confidently, perking up again.

“A-Yuan,” says Yanli, crouching next to him, “Would you like to come to Chicago sometime? You could stay with me and A-Ling for a few days. I can teach you some recipes your daddy loves from when he was your age.”

“Yes,” says Yuan. “I’d like that.” He looks around for Wei Ying, edges a little closer and slips his hand into Wei Ying’s. Wei Ying gives his hand a reassuring squeeze. They aren’t going to leave him alone overnight before he’s ready, even if he’s never ready.

“Good try,” says Wei Ying in Chinese to his sister. Yuan understands Chinese pretty well now, but he only halfway understands what adults are talking about, so they’re still able to talk about him when they need to. Pretty soon they’re all going to need to learn French or something to talk about birthday presents, though.

“You two deserve a honeymoon,” says Yanli. “And he’s an angel, so we’re happy to take him. Maybe we’ll come stay here with him, instead of him coming to us. That would be less tough for him.”

“Yeah, but you have a baby—” Wei Ying starts. He loves his sister so much sometimes it’s painful.

Yuan tightens his grip on Wei Ying’s hand. “You won’t go away, though, right?” he says. “I’m not scared. I’m just…wondering.”

Wei Ying picks him up, which he can still do pretty easily. It is clearly time for hugs. “It’s okay to be scared.” He gives Yuan a sloppy kiss on the cheek, which makes him giggle. “But what’s today?” Wei Ying asks in English.

“We’re signing papers,” says Yuan, wiping his cheek off with his sleeve.

Lan Zhan, who always knows when Wei Ying needs him, appears out of the crowd of family, suddenly right behind Wei Ying. “What papers?” prompts Lan Zhan, putting his arms around Wei Ying’s waist.

Yuan smiles at him. “Adoption,” he recites. “It’s a formal legal procedure.”

“What does it mean?” Wei Ying asks.

Yuan gets just a little pink. It’s adorable. “You’re keeping me,” he says.

Wei Ying could melt into the floor, he feels so warm inside. He remembers Yanli telling him that he’s always loved recklessly, and he thinks it was all a rehearsal for this, for making sure Yuan and Lan Zhan know how loved they are. “Forever,” he says. “And ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and we’ll never ever ever go away.” He boops Yuan gently on the nose.

“Daaad,” Yuan complains. “I know. But… You and papa want to go away?”

Wei Ying glances over his shoulder at Lan Zhan’s perfect profile. It is hard, it turns out, to have as much sex as they want to have, as quietly as they need to have it, when Yuan is likely to wander into the bedroom after having a bad dream. “We want to go on a vacation,” he says. “For a few days, just me and papa. And we’ll FaceTime you every single day while we’re gone, and we’ll miss you so much we’ll cry every minute we’re away.”

“Don’t cry,” says Yuan, frowning. “Don’t worry; I want to keep you, too.” He puts his arms around Wei Ying’s neck and hugs him.

If Wei Ying didn’t have Lan Zhan standing literally behind him, he’d stagger and collapse. “Oh,” he says, blinking back tears. He clears his throat a couple of times. Bursting into sobs right now would send Yuan a weird message, so he’s not going to. “That’s good. That’s—Then we don’t have to worry.”

“You should have a vacation,” says Yuan. “I’ll stay with Auntie Yanli. I’ll teach the baby, too. He has to learn Chinese.”

Wei Ying can’t really figure out how his voice works, and if he tries he’s gonna cry for real, so it’s a good thing Lan Zhan says, “Then we will go on a vacation. And bring you back presents. You, and the bunny.”

“Good!” says Yuan, perking up again. “I like that.”

“I think I should take a picture,” says Yanli. Wei Ying hadn’t realized she was still right next to them, but she’s beaming at him with her special fond, proud smile. “Today is definitely a day to add to the fridge. Give me your phone, A-Ying.”

Lan Zhan fishes it out of Wei Ying’s pocket. “Wait,” Wei Ying says, “I’m still in my pajamas. We got A-Yuan a little suit with a tiny little tie. It’s gonna be the cutest thing in the world—”

“This is already the cutest thing in the world,” says Yanli firmly. She takes a step back. Behind her, Zixuan is shouting at Jiang Cheng that he has no idea how much work a baby is, and Jiang Cheng is shouting back that he could raise a baby on his own no problem, and Qiren is complaining just a little bit too loudly to Lan Huan that Wei Ying is a bad influence on everyone. “On the count of three, say ‘family,’” she says.

Wei Ying sniffles a couple of times, hoping he doesn’t look sad. He’s not sad, he’s probably the happiest he’s been in his entire life. It’s just overwhelming. “Okay,” he says. He glances up at Lan Zhan. “You hear that? We’re going to smile.”

“I am smiling,” says Lan Zhan, and it’s true; for him, his face is very soft and fond. Wei Ying squeezes Yuan a little tighter, and Lan Zhan holds on to Wei Ying a little tighter.

“One, two, three,” Wei Ying says.

“Family,” Yuan and Lan Zhan dutifully chorus together.

The pictures, when Wei Ying sees them later, are hilarious. Lan Zhan is so formal, standing with perfect posture. His face is blank, but his eyes are soft, and his mouth curls up at one edge. Yuan, in Wei Ying’s arms, is trying too hard to smile. In the second and third pictures he’s turned to Wei Ying, to ask with extreme patience if now he can get down and show his homework to Grandpa, please? Wei Ying is the only one beaming at the camera, eyes definitely sparkling with tears. This picture is going on the Christmas card next year, he thinks. It’s going on the fridge forever.

This is his family, and it is perfect.