Wen Qing gives him a look the moment he crosses the doorway. A familiar look that fixates on the large and fluffy object in the crook of his arm.
“How much bigger do you think you can go, realistically?” she asks, hands on her hips. Her tone is exasperated but her lips have curved into a tiny smirk. “Fluffy stuffed toy of the month seems to grow five times larger every time you come over to see him. Just how many toy stores in the city have you ransacked by now?”
“You’re not allowed to bully me today, I just quit my job,” Wei Wuxian says with a long-suffering flutter of his eyelashes.
Wen Qing’s eyes go wide for a moment. Then she sighs. “He’s in the playground,” she says, pointing down the corridor past classrooms on either side. “Turn left, you’ll find it just in front of you. I’m waiting to meet A-Yuan’s teacher, but I’ll need to be off after that. Thank you so much for this.”
Wei Wuxian gives her a salute and sets off in the direction of the playground. When Wen Qing had called him asking if he could take A-Yuan to the park because she’d received an emergency call from the hospital, he had just walked out of his last remaining job. There was nothing he had wanted more than to sink head first into his bed and go dead to the world for a while. But he had thought of A-Yuan, and how his face would fall when he was told he wouldn’t be going to the park after all.
“Okay,” he’d answered immediately. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
Walking down the corridor of A-Yuan’s school, he has to be careful not to knock into anyone on the way since the median height of the population here is probably around knee high. Some of the older children recognise him as mean TV-gege who comes over every now and then to tinker with the wires of the television, making the screen go black and depriving them of cartoon hour. One of them bursts into tears and of course, they are at the charming age when if one child starts crying everyone else in the vicinity feels morally obliged to erupt in tears too.
“Well, I’m really popular today, aren’t I?” Wei Wuxian says with a rueful smile to no one in particular as he powers on, leaving crowds of screaming children in his wake. An elderly teacher peers out of a classroom, surprised at the ruckus. She relaxes when she spots Wei Wuxian.
“Granny, you know they’re only crying because they’re happy to see me, don’t you? Happy tears!”
Granny Wen huffs a laugh, shaking her head as she goes back into the classroom.
All things considered, Wei Wuxian is grateful to leave the burgeoning cacophony of crying children behind him, feet carrying him to a spot behind the swings at the back end of the playground. He has noticed the rustle and the flash of scurrying feet before he reaches, stopping to make a great show of looking around.
“Hi, is there anyone out here?” he says loudly. He pretends he can’t see the wide blinking eyes behind the bushes next to the dollhouse. “This bunny seems to be lost. He’s cold and hungry and he lost his blanket. If only there was someone who would play with him—”
It happens faster than Wei Wuxian expected. With another rustle, a tiny form in a red T-shirt and yellow shorts tumbles out from behind the bush. Football under his arm, stubby legs hurry up to Wei Wuxian till the owner stops at his feet and looks up at him with eyes wide like saucers.
“Where is he?” he demands. “I play with Bunny.” He lets the football fall to the ground, and stands with his arms akimbo like Superman.
Wei Wuxian squats in front of him. A-Yuan looks at him with a determined expression on his face. He must recently have had his hair cut. It makes his cheeks look even chubbier than usual, a phenomenon that is swiftly accentuated by the pout that appears on his face as Wei Wuxian refuses to reveal the bunny.
“Where is he?” A-Yuan presses, his lower lip starting to wobble now. “Did he get hurt?”
Wei Wuxian puts a grave expression on his face. It’s a struggle with A-Yuan looking so adorable. “He did,” he says with a deep sigh. “You’ve got to take good care of him.”
“Mm-hmm!” A-Yuan nods with such gusto that Wei Wuxian is almost worried he’ll topple over. He put his arms out expectantly for the elusive rabbit.
With a solemn nod, Wei Wuxian brings the large white stuffed bunny out from behind his back and presses it into A-Yuan’s expectant arms.
“Bunny!” He clutches the bunny close in his arms, squeezing it tightly. It is nearly as big as him. He holds it back to look at its face. “I p’otect you,” he says, deathly serious. Then he looks at Wei Wuxian, eyes full of worry. “Gege, is he really hurt?”
Wei Wuxian straightens up. “Yeah, but it’s nothing we can’t fix.” He holds out a hand in solidarity, which A-Yuan immediately bounds up to take with his tiny fingers.
“We save Bunny!” he shouts triumphantly, jumping up and down. “Gege—” He stops suddenly, eyes falling on Wei Wuxian’s backpack which seems to trigger some long-forgotten memory in his brain. He lets go of Wei Wuxian’s hand and makes a screwing motion at the bunny’s arm. “You fix Bunny?”
“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Wei Wuxian says. “You’re very clever, A-Yuan. Shall we go inside now so we can fix him?”
A-Yuan nods vigorously again, grabbing his hand and tugging him in the direction of the building. “Gege, hurry!” he says impatiently, as Wei Wuxian pretends to lag behind.
“Oi, oi, don’t harass your poor old gege,” he says, hand on his hip as he stoops over.
“Old-gege!” A-Yuan whines. He brings the bunny’s nose to Wei Wuxian’s stomach, as high as he can reach, and nuzzles him. “Bunny need our help.”
Wei Wuxian smiles. He can’t help it. Partly because of A-Yuan, partly at the irony in having jobs at three of the most exciting new startups in China and still finding himself most fulfilled by babysitting a four year old child.
They walk into the school building, A-Yuan clutching his new toy under his arm and looking at it in concern from time to time.
Wen Qing is waiting near the door, in conversation with A-Yuan’s teacher.
“—a sweet child, but still quite shy. I do think the right company can help him open up. He’s actually been more and more outgoing for the last year, did anything change?”
Wen Qing looks at Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan as they walk towards her, hand in hand. “Well, A-Yuan has a new babysitter. Not sure if that counts?”
The teacher follows Wen Qing’s gaze. When she spots Wei Wuxian, her eyes widen in recognition and then incredulity. “He’s your babysitter?”
Wen Qing nods, then makes eye contact with Wei Wuxian and grimaces.
“But he—” The teacher bites her lip, then decides to just go for it. “You do realise he’s Wei Wuxian, right?”
Wei Wuxian winces. Oh, here we fucking go.
“I’m aware, since he is my nephew’s babysitter,” says Wen Qing sweetly.
“He... he—” She leans in towards Wen Qing conspiratorially and doesn’t bother to lower her voice. “He’s a terrible influence on the children, you know. He used to come in to service our electronics till we found out. He taught the children pranks. Suddenly, they were flying complicated paper planes all around the classroom. And he claimed he was trying to teach them physics.”
“Sure,” Wen Qing replies, blandly.
“You don’t understand. One of our boys insists on wearing skirts to school. Honestly, parents these days… I sent a letter with him informing them this didn’t fit with the school’s code of conduct but I found out the next day that he’d never even given it to them because Xian-gege told him he could wear whatever he felt like.”
“Did this happen right before the pranking incidents?”
“Yes,” the teacher answers, sounding confused. “Why?”
“Oh, nothing, just that it explains the pranks, doesn’t it?” Wen Qing wheels around, beckoning Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan towards her.
The teacher splutters, mouth opening and closing like a goldfish as she watches them leave.
Wen Qing straps A-Yuan into the back seat of her car and comes over to the driver’s seat. Once she starts off on the road, she asks, “So, which job did you lose this time?”
“The gaming app I was coding for,” Wei Wuxian answers. “That was the only job I had left, keep up!”
“Right,” Wen Qing says. “So, last week you left your job with the TV streaming site because you got annoyed that they didn’t have rights to Avatar: The Last Airbender. Then the weekend before that it was the retail app that... ooh, I remember, they refused to sell sex toys on their site.”
“Full marks!” Wei Wuxian says brightly.
“So, what did the gaming app do?”
“I had... creative differences.”
“Did they not let you play around with the character outfits?”
“Wen Qing, they were so boring! If I want to give my beefy mountain man character a boob window shirt, you can’t just stop me!”
He sighs. He’s already had this talk. Multiple times. Jiejie, Jiang Cheng, Nie Huaisang. Even Jin Zixuan, who just wanted to impress Jiang Yanli by pretending he cared about her brother’s career prospects.
“Look, I just need time, okay? Let me do my own thing, try to understand what I really vibe with. Plus, it’s not like I’ll starve—that’s on you, since you’re my only current employer.”
Wen Qing rolls her eyes. In the back, A-Yuan is kicking his heels against her seat in time to the honking of a lorry behind them.
Wei Wuxian looks outside as the road goes by. Honestly, he was just tired. Tired of working jobs that didn’t get him excited about going to work in the morning. Tired of always thinking at the back of his mind that spending four years of his life getting an engineering degree may very possibly have been an entire waste. Tired of thinking that he was being childish and that he needed to learn to suck it up because this was what being an adult was going to feel like forever.
“The interventional cardiology fellowship program in Japan got in touch with me again,” Wen Qing says, absently tugging at the sleeve of her dark blue hospital scrubs as they wait in traffic. “They want confirmation on whether I’m coming.”
“Of course you’re going. There’s no way you can pass that up.”
“Not until I’ve made arrangements for A-Yuan,” Wen Qing murmurs, deep in thought. “I’m beginning to think the only course of action is to just... adopt him officially and take him along with me. It’ll be rough on him, moving to a different country, but it’s not like I have any other choice. You know what the rest of our family is like, and I couldn’t just leave him with someone I didn’t know.”
“Sure,” Wei Wuxian says. His stomach turns.
“Hey,” she asks, looking around at him. “Are you okay?”
“Of course, what did you mean?” Wei Wuxian answers, with a laugh that sounds too loud even to himself.
Wen Qing doesn’t look convinced, but she leaves it at that.
When she brings the car to a stop by the park, A-Yuan’s energy levels have skyrocketed. Wen Qing turns in her seat to give him a quick kiss and tells Wei Wuxian to remember to take his football from the boot when he disembarks.
Once he’s outside, Wei Wuxian is glad he had mistakenly brought his camera equipment to work that morning. He’d actually forgotten to take it out of his bag after a walk earlier and had spent all day seething internally about having to lug all that extra weight around especially when he knew it was his last day on the job. Still, all is forgotten when he walks into the park hand in hand with A-Yuan.
A-Yuan hugs his football to his chest as they walk into the park. It’s a new acquisition that has climbed up his list of favourite things already, past his collection of stuffed toys to becoming one of his most prized possessions.
Wei Wuxian stretches out under a tree and watches A-Yuan kick around the ball with his chubby little legs for a while. It’s a stunning day to be outside. Still sprawled out on the grass, he takes out his camera and takes a few shots of the people lazing around, children playing, dogs and the skyline.
He then focuses the camera on A-Yuan. He’s very into his game, little forehead furrowed in concentration as he focuses on the ball. It’s adorable. Wei Wuxian grins fondly as he takes a few pictures, wondering if he’s imitating some football player he’s seen on television.
“A-Yuan, you’ve got a clear line, shoot for the goal!”
A-Yuan turns towards him and kicks the ball at him. Wei Wuxian captures a few shots of him kicking the ball, then sets the camera down and pretends to fumble, jumping forward clumsily and deliberately allowing the ball to roll away from him.
“Goal!” A-Yuan shouts happily. He is babbling as he goes after the ball, clearly imitating match commentary he’s heard on TV. “What a shot! Gege miss ball. Lan Wa-ji score!”
Wei Wuxian feels the bottom drop out of his stomach.
“A-Yuan, what did you say?”
“Score goal!” he says, pumping his hands in the hair and running around in circles. “Lan Wa-ji score!”
“Who?” says Wei Wuxian again.
“Lan Wa-ji,” A-Yuan pouts, as though Wei Wuxian is being purposefully dense. “I’m Lan Wa-ji,” he continues, putting one foot on top of his ball and standing very straight. “Gege missed ball!”
He points at Wei Wuxian as though there is any doubt who the disgraced gege in question is.
“Lan...” Wei Wuxian stumbles over the name that has not been on his lips for six years now, “Do you mean... Lan... Wangji?”
But A-Yuan isn’t listening, having started to kick his ball around again. “Lan Wa-ji goal...!” he cries, windmilling his arms as he runs in circles around a frozen Wei Wuxian.
A-Yuan ends up in a pool of mud at some point, and when Wei Wuxian calls Wen Qing, she hisses at him to just deal with it. She must be still at the hospital saving lives, or something like that.
She does text him a few moments later that she’d left the car at the parking area nearby and had decided to take the subway to the hospital, since she was often too tired to drive home after work. Wei Wuxian is grateful. Taking A-Yuan to the subway station in this state would not have been a pleasant experience.
He bundles A-Yuan up in some shopping bags lying around in the boot of his car to protect his upholstery and straps him into the back seat. Glancing back through the rear mirror as he drives out of the car park, he prays he won’t run into anyone. Having to explain the mucky sleeping child cocooned in Hema shopping bags in the backseat is a conversation he isn’t too eager to have.
Back home, he gives A-Yuan a bath and has him put on one of the cropped T-shirts he had gone through a phase with a few years ago. It’s still long enough to skim A-Yuan’s ankles, and he looks so funny Wei Wuxian has to take more photos of him.
A-Yuan doesn’t mention the elusive Lan Wa-ji anymore, and Wei Wuxian is happy not to probe any further. He sets the child down in front of the television with some cartoons on, and goes to the kitchen to make dinner.
He is cutting carrots when the sound of the television from the living room changes. It had turned into calming background noise till this very moment when inexplicably, for the first time ever since he’d moved into this flat, football commentary had started to play.
He lets the knife drop from his hand and rushes into the living room. “What are—?”
“Look, gege, Lan Wa-ji! It’s Lan Wa-ji!”
Rooted to the spot with his limbs turned to stone, Wei Wuxian watches the television screen helplessly. As if on purpose, the camera focuses in on superstar footballer Lan Wangji’s face—stern, focused, handsome, and achingly familiar.
“Gege?” a small voice says.
Wei Wuxian can’t answer. It’s already difficult enough to stop his body from physically reeling over as years and years of carefully sealed away memories barrage past the defences he’d put up so long ago. No sports channels on his TV. All football related news muted on his browser and social media. No FIFA when he games with Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng.
He almost laughs. All that, and it only takes a three second glimpse of Lan Wangji on the television to make him feel like he’s seventeen years old again.
He clicks the television off and walks back into the kitchen, unaware that he’s being followed. That is, until a small body launches itself at his leg and does not let go.
“Gege,” he says mournfully, face buried in Wei Wuxian’s trousers.
Wei Wuxian reaches down to pet A-Yuan’s head. “Hey, look up,” he says gently. “What’s wrong?”
A-Yuan looks up, eyes round and wet. “Lan Wa-ji make gege sad?” he says. “Sorry.”
Wei Wuxian crouches next him and pats his cheek. He gives him his most dazzling smile, although he doesn’t think it reaches his eyes. “I’m not sad. See?” Then he sticks out his tongue and makes a silly face, and A-Yuan giggles.
Wen Qing picks A-Yuan up on her way back from work, and Wei Wuxian grabs a beer and opens his computer. He’s feeling oddly antsy and no, it definitely doesn’t have anything to do with the face he’d seen on his television earlier.
He opens up his professional website, pretty much a daily formality by now. He had set it up a year ago when he’d decided on a whim he might as well use his expensive camera equipment for something productive. Not that he’d know what that felt like, having had a grand total of zero bookings ever since he’d opened the site. Resting his chin on his hands, he regards the single hit he’s received in the last twenty four hours as if staring at it enough would make it go higher.
By his elbow, his phone buzzes again. It’s his sister.
A-Xian, you left Kongzhong too? Let’s talk, whenever you’re home.
He scrolls down to see the other messages he’d received.
Jiang Cheng (17:45): WTF DID YOU JUST DO. CALL.
Nie Huaisang (18:02): omg you’re unemployed now :’) drinks at my place tomorrow?
peacock (19:33): That was foolish of you, as expected. Kongzhong stocks have been on the rise, and they gave you equity. I have a book on choosing the best investment decisions for dummies, you should read it sometime.
Summarily deleting Jin Zixuan’s message, Wei Wuxian calls his sister.
“How was your day?” she asks cautiously.
“You know... took A-Yuan to the park, quit another job. The usual.”
On the other end of the line, Yanli remains silent.
“Hey, don’t worry,” Wei Wuxian says softly. “I’ll figure things out, I just need some time to clear my head.”
“I just... I know you’ve always ended up doing your own thing, whatever any of us say to you. I trust your decisions but just—you’ll be careful, won’t you?”
Wei Wuxian nods. “Yes,” he says, when he realises his sister can’t actually see him. “Jiejie, I know why you’re worried, but what happened last year can’t happen again. Even I can’t be that unlucky.” He smiles ruefully.
“It wasn’t even about luck,” she says, usually sweet voice suddenly sounding firm and heated. “It was about you being sabotaged, all because some jealous, entitled—ah, sorry,” she sighs. “I just get so angry, A-Xian. You’re so talented and you deserve so much more.”
“Hey, what did I say about not worrying,” Wei Wuxian says. “Speaking of, you should worry more about your brat of a husband bullying me! He asked me to read a book on investment choices for dummies, the nerve.”
“You side with me, don’t you?”
“Always,” she says, sounding like she’s smiling widely. She pauses for a moment. “Oh, I think A-Ling just woke up. Take care, will you? We’ll talk again this weekend.”
After the call ends, Wei Wuxian uncaps his beer and takes a long swig. He opens his browser where his blog homepage is already up with his most frequently visited pages. He waits, heart skittering in his chest for the second it takes to load.
Sure enough, there it is. One new comment.
His face breaks into a truly embarrassing smile even before he scrolls down to the comment. At times like this he is glad he no longer rooms with Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang.
User hanguang-jun commented: Nice picture.
It’s a picture he had posted last night of the skyline in the light of the setting sun, flushing pink every building, tower and lamppost in sight. Wei Wuxian re-reads the comment, a familiar warmth pooling in his chest.
So here are the things Wei Wuxian knows about hanguang-jun:
- User hanguang-jun joined the website six years ago. They have no profile picture, no profile info and not a single post on their page. In fact, they may as well just be a bot. All except for the fact that they’ve left comments on nearly every one of Wei Wuxian’s photos ever since he opened his blog the summer before he started college.
- “Good lighting.” “Nice capture.” And recently: “He is cute,” on a picture of A-Yuan drawing stick figures in the mud. Their comments are always brief, just a couple of words long. Always properly capitalised and ending with full stops, like an old person on the Internet.
- They probably belong to a different time zone, since the comments often come in at the middle of the night.
- They like rabbits. Wei Wuxian had noticed this the first time he had posted a picture of a couple of baby rabbits at an amusement park where they let you pet them for five yuan for fifteen minutes. He had commented, “Really cute,” which in hanguang-jun-speak was practically a keysmash. Eager to test his theory, Wei Wuxian had posted another the next day. “Extremely adorable.” And the next. “Very soft.” Then on his third attempt, he had posted a picture taken by Yanli of himself beaming at the camera in the midst of the rabbits, cuddling two close in his lap.
- And that leads to the next point. They never commented on pictures of Wei Wuxian.
When the comment hadn’t come by the morning after he had posted the picture of himself with the rabbits, he was—mildly annoyed, he’ll admit. He had frowned at the picture. He looked cute, didn’t he? Maybe if he had angled his face five degrees to the side...
With a frustrated noise, he had posted the picture to Renren. Immediately, likes and comments had starting rolling in.
Feeling particularly petty, he had then commented on his own blog post: “jealous I’m getting to hang out with all these rabbits, hanguang-jun? (¬‿¬ )” Then he had waited and waited for the comment that never came.
He probably shouldn’t notice so much about them, but it’s not like anyone else was commenting on his photos besides the occasional “Lovely, A-xian!” from Yanli or “hipster cafe? again?” from Jiang Cheng. Almost to spite hanguang-jun, he had posted more pictures of himself after that. Artsy shots he had bullied Nie Huaisang into taking for him. Selfies. Practically thirst traps.
He started getting comments from other people then. New follows, even. And yet: radio silence from hanguang-jun.
Then a week later he posted a picture of an oddly shaped tree near his gym. Like clockwork, his computer had soon dinged with a new comment from hanguang-jun: “Nice picture,” and the knot of disappointment he’d been carrying in his stomach dissipated at last.
Who is he?
Wei Wuxian hunches over his keyboard, staring at the screen. He can’t remember hanguang-jun actually asking him a question before.
He’s wondered in the past if he should be worried he’s being stalked. Hanguang-jun is an odd name to have anyway, and he’s wondered if it’s the name of a historical fictional character or something like that. He had searched for it online in a moment of weakness, and found nothing. What he doesn’t admit even to himself is he’d felt more disappointed than relieved.
It’s silly, but while hanguang-jun could very well be a creepy old man (points in favour: he has the dad voice down perfectly, has way too much time on his hands and no profile picture), he doesn’t sound like it. Wei Wuxian realises it’s a flimsy argument, but it’s hard to feel like his privacy is being invaded when he’s just been saying things as banal as “Nice shot,” and “Good picture,” for six years now.
So he begins to type a reply to hanguang-jun’s comment on the picture of A-Yuan with the bunny toy he had posted just last night.
weiyingphoto (20:05): hi hanguang-jun! ^o^ meet A-Yuan, my friend’s kid who i occasionally babysit! and that’s Bunny with him. he got lost and hurt but we patched him up alright.”
He isn’t expecting a reply. He always replies to hanguang-jun’s comments - even the “Nice shot” ones - with long, rambly paragraphs detailing more about the pictures, about himself, or sometimes just ranting about his day. hanguang-jun almost never replies to them but it feels cathartic, somehow.
So when he gets a notification later of a reply: “They are both very cute,” he is taken by surprise.
“A-Yuan and Bunny say thanks (o´▽`o)” he replies.
His notifications go silent after that. Bored, he starts to scroll up and down his gallery. It’s ridiculous how large it has become and he still has no clue what to do with it.
“At least try sending them to some magazines?” Yanli had suggested once. “I know you post them on your blog, but you know.” The “Literally one other person actually knows it exists besides us and is probably an Internet creep,” goes unsaid.
He had come home after that, scrolled and scrolled absently down his gallery over the years. 2020, 2019, 2018... 2005, 2004...
Suddenly realising what he was doing, he had abruptly jumped to his feet and powered his computer off. He didn’t turn it on again for three weeks. Having a separate laptop for work and using his desktop exclusively for blogging and photography had proven to be more of a blessing than he’d ever expected.
On the first photo he posted after his hiatus, hanguang-jun had commented almost immediately. “Good to see you back.”
Unexpectedly, Wei Wuxian’s heart had fluttered.
weiyingphoto (22:12): sorry i was MIA, hanguang-jun ;; made the mistake of finding some old pictures in my gallery and was reminded of things i should NOT be thinking about anymore lmao. just wanted some time off. lol, why are we such idiots in high school? i can’t picture u being an idiot ever tho (￣ω￣;)
hanguang-jun (03:14): We all make mistakes.
He knows to stick to the more recent years now, with portraits and candids of his family and friends, shots of the city, a segment from his trip to Japan last year. Even more recently, there are a few shots of A-Yuan. He smiles as he clicks through them.
If Wei Wuxian was completely honest, babysitting was only supposed to be a temporary thing after Wen Ning had moved away for college. “Just till I can get a decent sitter,” she had told Wei Wuxian.
Wen Qing’s four-year-old nephew was not supposed to cling to his leg when he made to leave after his first day, staring up at him with wide eyes and wobbly lips. As for himself, he was certainly not supposed to sit back down and continue his story about a school for talking vegetables with A-Yuan listening with rapt attention, still clinging to his leg.
Next month turned into another, and before Wei Wuxian realised it whole seasons had rolled by. A-Yuan had grown two inches, started adding hair to the stick portraits he made of his favourite gege, and had learnt to kick a football.
Wei Wuxian pauses on the pictures of A-Yuan with his football. He still carried his stuffed toys around, but it is this football he seems to be inseparable from these days. He thinks back to how he was holding his football under his arm when Wei Wuxian drew him out of his hiding place the last time he visited.
He shakes his head to end that last thought, and opens up his Taobao homepage.
The next day he goes over to Nie Huaisang’s flat in Songjiang near the university which he and Jiang Cheng used to share with him when they were studying there. Wei Wuxian still has a spare key from when they were roommates and also to crash at in case he was ever in the area and needed to return late.
“Wei Wuxian, is that you?” The sound of the Playstation from the living room abruptly stops.
“Hey, yeah,” he calls back. Toeing off his shoes at the entrance, he takes a beer from the fridge and walks into the living room.
He finds Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang on their feet, standing with their backs to the television occupying the opposite wall and twin sheepish expressions on their faces. They do a poor job of hiding the screen. Wei Wuxian can take one look between them and tell they’ve been playing FIFA.
He remembers Lan Wangji’s face on the television, and how three seconds of that had made the ground shift under him.
“Why are you guys standing like that?” He walks over to the beanbag chairs in front of the sofa on which they usually sit to play and picks up one of the controllers. “Who’s playing?”
“Um, give me a second, I’ll just take this one out and we can play... um, I have—”
“Let’s play FIFA,” he says firmly, sinking down on one of the chairs.
He blinks at the other two when neither of them move an inch.
“Um, Wei Wuxian...” Jiang Cheng says, very slowly and carefully like he is afraid to spook him,
“Can I get you something? Some water?” Nie Huaisang offers.
“What are you talking about?” Wei Wuxian says. He thinks he was perfectly clear. His voice sounds calm and measured to him. So why exactly are they looking at him like he just sprouted three extra heads?
“Um, you want to play FIFA...?” Nie Huaisang says, scratching the back of his hand and glancing helplessly at Jiang Cheng. He inches towards the other controller, lying on the second beanbag. “L-Let me at least change my team, since I have—you know, him on mine.”
“Who, Lan Zhan?”
Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng exchange glances again. Before Wei Wuxian can react, Nie Huaisang has flown to his side and presses the back of his hand against his forehead.
“Oh, you don’t have a fever,” he says, frowning. He sits down on the beanbag next to Wei Wuxian in stunned silence.
“Wei Wuxian,” says Jiang Cheng. “Is everything okay?”
“Why do you keep asking me that?” Wei Wuxian protests. “I just want to play some FIFA.”
“Like I said,” Nie Huaisang says cautiously, “I have L-Lan Wangji on my team, so if you want me to change—”
“And what of it?” Wei Wuxian asks sweetly, fixing Nie Huaisang with a stare.
With a frustrated huff, Jiang Cheng rakes his fingers through his hair and walks over to sit on the couch behind them. Nie Huaisang picks up his controller, casting nervous sideways glances at Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian unmutes the game and chooses his team at random, barely looking at the names. They don’t mean much to him these days anyway, having avoided his once beloved sport at all costs for years.
And for what, he wonders? For Lan Wangji to enter his life again for three seconds with his stupid hair, stupid sweat dripping down his neck, stupid scowl on his stupid, perfect face and make him feel like he was a teenager again? Like he could still go bounding over the stands, chasing after him at the football field during practice with his camera and yelling out his name teasingly till he looked up at him with his brows furrowed in irritation, catching him by surprise and making his face heat up and heart race (with excitement, with shock) and his chest feel like—
Animated Lan Wangji appears on the player list and he jabs at the controller to skip past him hard enough to poke a hole through.
He takes a deep breath. He is fine. He doesn’t care, not in the slightest.
Behind him, Jiang Cheng lets out a long-suffering sigh.
“Shall we?” Wei Wuxian says once he’s selected his team
Nie Huaisang swallows thickly, and nods.
The game kicks off, and Nie Huaisang has possession of the ball. He dribbles down the wing with some player Wei Wuxian doesn’t really recognise. Or care about, really, because he’s located his real target.
Animated Lan Wangji with his perfect stats and perfect animated face is jogging in place in the penalty area, awaiting the ball. It irritates Wei Wuxian to the core. He takes the opportunity to barrel into him with as much as force he can muster with both his hands gripping the controller till his knuckles go white.
(He. Doesn’t. Care.)
“Um, Wei Wuxian?” comes a nervous squeak from somewhere to his right.
“I can’t watch this anymore,” Jiang Cheng declares, and walks out of the room to the kitchen.
Wei Wuxian batters his fingers against the controller at lightning speed, watching his player chase Lan Wangji all the way down the midfield, towards the other end of the field. Then right back down again his own team’s goal. Then round, round, round at his penalty area over and over again in circles.
Nie Huaisang has dropped his controller to the floor at some point, but he doesn’t notice. Somehow, dribbled in by Nie Huaisang’s forgotten striker, the ball reaches Wei Wuxian’s player’s feet as he marks Lan Wangji down, now practically head-butting him as he barrels into him and makes him run circles backwards before the goal. Then mid-chase, the ball leaves his feet and rolls over to score an own goal.
The game pauses and Wei Wuxian frowns in confusion as the celebratory montage starts to play. What just happened?
Next to him, Nie Huaisang picks up his controller.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Wei Wuxian demands as the word substitution flashes on screen and Lan Wangji starts to jog towards the sidelines. “Hey, stop that—don’t take him off, I still have to—”
“Help, Jiang Cheng!” Nie Huaisang wails, darting sideways to escape Wei Wuxian’s hands reaching for his controller. The two fall over on the floor as they scuffle, Wei Wuxian poking and prodding at Nie Huaisang’s ribs and grabbing at his hands.
“This is low, even for you!” Nie Huaisang as Wei Wuxian proceeds to tickle him in earnest.
Suddenly, there is a muffled laugh and Nie Huaisang’s shoulders start to shake. The controller slips from his hands as he slumps forward, giggles wracking his whole body and Wei Wuxian seizes it in triumph.
Jiang Cheng has resurfaced behind them, smacking the controller right out of Wei Wuxian’s hands and catching it neatly with his other hand.
“Will you tell us what the fuck is going on before I call jiejie to send Fairy over to help me interrogate you?”
Wei Wuxian freezes. Looks at the screen, where animated Lan Wangji is jogging in place as the game had paused while he was in the process of getting substituted. Looks around at Nie Huaisang, who is still sprawled on his side, looking at him like he is seriously contemplating exorcising him. Then he looks back at Jiang Cheng, and shrugs.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Really?” Jiang Cheng barks. “You really want to remind me how you started randomly chasing Lan Wangji up and down the entire field?”
“It was funny!” Wei Wuxian protests.
Jiang Cheng’s face shifts slightly and he bites his lips for a moment as though to suppress a grin. He never had liked Lan Wangji much anyway.
“It was scary!” Nie Huaisang takes over. “I was literally replaying every exorcist movie I’ve ever seen in my head for pointers. Also, what happened to blocking his name on every one of your social media accounts, cancelling your subscriptions to every sports channel you used to be obsessed with before and deleting your whole collection of FIFA gameplay recordings?”
“Look, I know he was your friend,” Jiang Cheng says. “Don’t know what the fuck happened to him to make him eventually start to tolerate your annoying ass, but he did. Probably all that yoga and green tea.”
It was tai chi, in fact.
Wei Wuxian remembers waking up at the crack of dawn eight years ago in an unfamiliar bed wearing clothes that weren’t his, and walking out into the balcony to find the football team’s captain and star striker practising an extremely complicated-looking pose.
“Lan Zhan, last night was amazing,” he had said in an exaggeratedly husky voice, hoping as usual to tease out a reaction from him.
Lan Wangji had glanced over, eyes narrowed in anger and ready to snap. Then he had seemed to take in Wei Wuxian’s form and falter. His eyes had travelled down the too-large football hoodie he was wearing over his boxers. All the way down to his bare legs.
With a crash, he had lost his position and fallen on his behind.
Wei Wuxian had felt hot all over at being scrutinised like that—it’s not like he had asked to wear Lan Wangji’s clothes after it had suddenly started to pour down rain at football practice. He had stayed at school well after Jiang Cheng’s archery club and Yanli’s extra classes had ended to take photos of the football team again and his phone had died in the meantime. All he had done was uselessly jab at his phone as the sky cracked open all over him, as if that would make it come back to life.
So if Lan Wangji was now going to glare at him like that for daring to wear his clothes, why did he come over to him in the stands, grab his arm in a vice-like grip and haul him to his car where his chauffeur was waiting to drive them to his house? And why—when Wei Wuxian had balked at the idea of returning home past nine o’ clock to his irate foster parents—had he wordlessly tossed one of his own team hoodies with a pair of joggers at him and pointed him in the direction of the guest bedroom?
“You never told us what happened between you two after graduation,” Jiang Cheng says quietly. “And that’s fine, I don’t even want to know. It would have been okay if you didn’t get like this over him six fucking years later! On a FIFA game too, of all things.”
Nie Huaisang nods. “If you’re dedicated enough to be able to blacklist him so thoroughly I’d say you must have a pretty good reason. You know how hard it is to avoid all mention of someone who is trending on Weibo every alternate hour? Well, you would. I bet it’s pretty fucking hard.”
Wei Wuxian exhales. Not just hard, it was apparently also pointless.
Whatever he tried, for however long, one glimpse of Lan Wangji’s face would always be enough for him to end up right where he started.
“It’s not hard,” he mumbles, though it sounds hollow even to himself. “I really don’t care, it’s just funny chasing the asshole around.”
“Sure,” says Nie Huaisang, and he exchanges a look with Jiang Cheng.
“Whatever,” says Wei Wuxian. Suddenly, he feels completely drained. “I’m tired anyway, can we just watch something on TV?”
Nie Huaisang scrambles for the remote, all too eager to change the screen from Lan Wangji jogging in place.
It had been pretty fucking hard avoiding Lan Wangji all these years, it turns out.
Deciding to remove his name from all his block and mute lists in one fell spur of the moment swoop on the train back to his flat, Wei Wuxian swiftly realises that Lan Wangji in the year 2020 is everywhere.
His phone buzzes with news notifications immediately before the train even reaches the next stop. Lan Wangji dazzles in 5-0 humiliation for Atletico Madrid.
Weibo supertopic trends, where he seems to be a permanent fixture.
Tiktok, where every fifth video seems to be one of his goal compilations, reactions to his goals or fanmade videos of him sweating on the field set to thoroughly inappropriate music.
Closing all his browsers and opening his blog is a relief, honestly. Wei Wuxian opens up his latest post: a generic photo of an ice cream parlour in the background of a matcha ice cream cone he’s holding up in his hand.
Beautiful, hanguang-jun has replied. Wei Wuxian is not sure what about a picture of an ice-cream cone held in his spindly fingers is beautiful, but it makes him smile in a crowded train nonetheless.
weiyingphoto (18:29): nothing beautiful about being on the yizhuang line at 6:30pm on friday evening!
He bites his lip. Then he starts to type another comment.
weiyingphoto (18:30): hanguang-jun doesn’t have to use the subway i bet! (๑˃ᴗ˂)ﻭ
He locks his phone with a click, then looks up. The chatter from the commuters around him begins to register in his brain as he tilts his head back against the cool metal of the railing he’s leaning against.
“... absolutely unreal last night.”
“The third goal, though, that run through at least four of their defenders. God tier should be renamed Lan Wangji tier now!”
“Planning to spend this weekend jerking off to compilation videos of his goals since he is isn’t playing again till next week?”
Turning up the volume on his earphones, Wei Wuxian opens his phone again. He opens his blog again and starts to type yet another reply to hanguang-jun.
weiyingphoto (18:33): hanguang-jun, aren’t you glad it’s friday? what are you planning to do this weekend?
He has barely sent the reply when his phone buzzes with a new notification.
hanguang-jun (18:33): Just resting, the reply comes.
weiyingphoto (18:34): lame! :0 where’s the nearest party at? (¯▿¯)
hanguang-jun (18:35): There is a nightclub a few minutes away.
Wei Wuxian smiles, strangely endeared by the very literal response to his message.
weiyingphoto (18:35): so go out!!! you never know who you may run into! if it turns out to be the love of your life make sure to thank me later ;)
hanguang-jun (18:36): That is extremely unlikely. However, a walk does sound good.
weiyingphoto (18:37): pics or it didn’t happen, hanguang-jun! put that blog of yours to some use.
Wei Wuxian’s station arrives and he finds himself smiling as he crosses the platform, scrolling up and down to re-read the comment thread. He checks out with his subway card at the exit and sets off on the short walk from the subway station to his flat. It is the most he’s ever chatted with hanguang-jun and he finds himself hoping he’ll reply more.
Blaring sounds of the nightclub he has to pass on the way distract him for a moment and he glances up from his phone. He is mildly surprised to see that for once, there is a bigger crowd outside the extremely swanky hotel a few buildings down. The footpath is brimming over with reporters and hopeful fans with cameras at the ready, many even sitting on the ground. The crowd has spilt over even onto the opposite side of the road, where people are lying in wait for a glimpse of whoever they’re waiting for.
Probably a boy band or famous actor. Wei Wuxian shudders at the thought of being that person, having to wind through the flashing lights and screams just to go outside.
He crosses the nightclub at the corner of the main road and into the lane leading off it. It is significantly darker here and Wei Wuxian hugs himself as he walks down, eyes peeled for any sudden movement to suggest a stray dog lurking in a corner.
Then his phone buzzes again. It’s a picture in reply to his comment thread with hanguang-jun.
Wei Wuxian scrambles to open it. It’s a picture of the night sky dotted with stars. He brings his phone close up to his eyes to look at it in minute detail. It’s the first picture hanguang-jun has ever shared anywhere on his account, after all.
He looks up at the night sky above him, then back down again. Then up at the sky again.
They’re almost identical.
hanguang-jun was supposed to be in a different time zone, wasn’t he? Wei Wuxian frowns, suddenly realising that this was not a usual time for him to be replying, either.
He traces the pattern of the constellation in hanguang-jun’s photo with his fingers and looks up again as he walks. He is so engrossed in the comparison that he doesn’t notice the corner he has to turn.
The body he makes contact with is so solid and firm that he actually bounces right off. He closes his eyes, awaiting the fall.
But the cold hard ground he’s expecting doesn’t hit his back. Instead, there is an arm holding him up around the waist and a firm chest pressed against his own.
Wei Wuxian opens his eyes. The man he’s crashed into is taller than him, wearing sunglasses and a mask covering almost all of his face. Wei Wuxian lifts his hands to lay his fingertips on his chest, ready to push him off and straighten up.
Does he have to, though? His fingers skim the hard planes of the man’s muscles and suddenly, teen romance manhua protagonist seems like a viable life goal to have. They really were on to something, weren’t they? The vague, oddly familiar scent of sandalwood makes his brain feel foggier by the minute. Almost like he knew it.
Forever ago. Waking up in an unfamiliar bed, wearing a sports hoodie that wasn’t his own. Being enveloped in a scent that seemed like an unusual choice for a teenaged boy.
No. Way. Fucking Lan Zhan and his ability to fuck with his head even when he’s in the arms of a tall, possibly very handsome stranger.
The man shifts ever so slightly, and Wei Wuxian can only guess he saw the photo open on his phone as he lifted up his hand to place it on his chest. Suddenly, the man intakes a breath sharply and draws back to face him directly through his oversized dark sunglasses.
Whatever he sees makes him freeze for a moment. His chest rises and falls against Wei Wuxian’s, quick and rapid now.
Then he holds Wei Wuxian up by both his arms to straighten him up, takes a step back and hurries away past him without a word.
Wei Wuxian shakes himself. Everything had been getting so weird lately, and he blames Lan Zhan. He looks down at his phone. hanguang-jun’s photo is still open on the screen but there are no new replies to his last comment.
Itching to do something with his hands to channel the nervous energy this whole encounter had brought, he begins to type another comment.
weiyingphoto (18:44): that’s beautiful, hanguang-jun. are you enjoying your friday night? told you it’d be a good idea to get out of the house. did you meet the love of your life already?
But there is no reply after that.
Wei Wuxian returns home, drinks until he feels sleepy enough and flops face-first onto his bed.
“Are you busy today?”
Balancing his phone between his ear and his shoulder, Wei Wuxian slathers some cheesy spread liberally over his bread. His laptop is open on his kitchen counter, open to his professional website. No new messages, the notification says. “Depends,” he says. “Who’s asking?”
Wen Qing sighs. “A-Yuan.”
“What happened now?” Wei Wuxian asks.
“I don’t know, okay?” she replies, sounding frazzled. “He’s been crying since he woke up and he keeps asking for you. Can you just come over?”
Wei Wuxian glances at the time on his laptop propped on his kitchen counter. It’s 11 a.m. “Mmfine,” he says thickly around the massive mouthful of bread he had just stuffed in his mouth. Swallowing, he says. “Give me an hour?”
“Fine, fine,” Wen Qing says distractedly. “Just don’t be later than that because I need to get some work done and go out later.”
After a shower, Wei Wuxian changes into a pair of black skinny jeans and a black T-shirt, layering an oversized burgundy jacket over it. It’s a clear, sunny day and he’s feeling himself. He takes a couple of mirror selfies in the lift on his way downstairs and posts them to his blog.
When he reaches Wen Qing’s house only eleven minutes later than he had promised, A-Yuan is first to reach the door. He can tell by the sound of small feet running up to the door and the click of the latch turning a few times. Then a second pair of feet approaches, and the door opens.
“Oh, thank god,” she says. She immediately bends, scoops up A-Yuan, and deposits him in Wei Wuxian’s arms.
A-Yuan isn’t crying anymore, reaching out instead to play with a lock of Wei Wuxian’s errant hair that has stuck out on the side. Wei Wuxian follows Wen Qing into her study.
“You look decent,” she says, giving him a quick glance before turning back to her laptop.
“Don’t look so surprised.”
“Okay, listen. The thing that set A-Yuan off was something he saw on TV this morning. He really, really wants to go and I think he specifically wants you to take him.”
“Gege take A-Yuan,” the boy agrees, giving Wei Wuxian’s hair an experimental tug.
“You’re free to say no, though,” Wen Qing says. “Honestly, his obsession with football is getting out of control.”
Wei Wuxian turns around to face her so quickly it almost gives him whiplash. “What football thing?”
“Some surprise charity match,” she says. “I actually bought tickets already since they were going to sell out in minutes. You can imagine what kind of star power we’re talking since they were so confident they’d sell out they announced ticket sales literally on the morning of the match.”
She beckons him closer, and opens a page on the browser.
The first thing Wei Wuxian does when the page loads is to set A-Yuan down. He starts to run around Wei Wuxian, pretending to kick a ball. Wei Wuxian rests an elbow on the back of Wen Qing’s chair casually, as if he isn’t actually worried he may topple over at any moment.
Splattered across the screen is Lan Wangji’s face. It’s a UNICEF initiative, pitting current captains of top international clubs against their retired counterparts.
“But as I was saying,” Wen Qing continues, “I can always sell the tickets online and even make money off it, so if you don’t feel like going you can just distract him with some cartoons and put him down for his nap.”
A-Yuan stops running and looks up at Wei Wuxian, lower lip wobbling dangerously.
Wei Wuxian considers the possibilities. Lan Wangji looks into the distance on the laptop screen, utterly unmoved. He finds himself irrationally annoyed by it. He could totally go to one of his football matches. Of course he could. Lan Wangji, who? Zero emotional impact whatsoever. Plus, his outfit today was cute and it made no sense to waste it.
It was a perfectly reasonable idea. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
The stadium where the charity football match is scheduled to be played is at the other end of the city. Wen Qing emails him the tickets, gives A-Yuan a quick cuddle and sets off for work.
“Gege, don’t be late,” A-Yuan chides.
Wei Wuxian pouts, halfway through styling his hair with some fancy product in Wen Qing’s bathroom.
“Sure, mama,” he calls out. He can hear A-Yuan dribbling the ball around the house.
He gives himself a last critical look in the mirror: he’s tied his hair into a high ponytail with a red scrunchie, leaving a few locks artfully arranged around his face. He notices a few errant strands already breaking free, and sighs. If he adds any more product he’ll spend the next week looking like he’d been electrocuted.
When he opens the bathroom door, A-Yuan is standing sternly in front, arms crossed in a terrifying impression of Wen Qing.
“Gege, you make us late.”
“Really?” Wei Wuxian says, bending to pick up him up and hoisting him over his shoulder. He runs up to the front door, holding him up like a plane and making engine noises. “This fast enough for you, young man?”
A-Yuan giggles as he is set down and they both put on their shoes in their silence.
“Ready?” says Wei Wuxian.
“Yeah!” says A-Yuan and takes his hand.
They walk to the subway station. The hotel on the main road still has crowds lying in wait in front, and Wei Wuxian feels slightly sorry for whoever they’re waiting for. Only slightly though, because they couldn’t be doing too bad if they were staying in a place like that.
As they walk down the main road, A-Yuan points suddenly at a billboard right in the middle of the bustling square. “Look.”
Years of studiously avoiding all kinds of advertisements on television or on billboards in case Lan Wangji was on them has made him pretty good at getting through the city without ever really noticing them. But when A-Yuan points up, and Wei Wuxian follows his finger, all that painstakingly acquired skill unravels in an instant.
Larger than life, Lan Wangji stares down at him from the billboard. It’s an advert for the game today, announcing ticket sale timings with some information on how the proceeds would be going towards children in need. He glances around tentatively for more.
Behind him, one full length billboard has him modelling Stella McCartney x Adidas. (Of course the only fashion he’d be openly endorsing would be sustainable. Vegan, at that. Wei Wuxian shudders. Could he actually be vegan now?) Another has him as the face of an ethical non-profit animal shelter. (He’s holding a rabbit in his arms. Wei Wuxian absolutely does not want to reel over at how adorable it is.) A third has him advertising a children’s life insurance plan.
They’re all so Lan Zhan that Wei Wuxian’s heart clenches.
“Gege, gege, hurry.” A-Yuan’s insistent tug on his sleeve brings him to the present. Wei Wuxian lifts him up. It’ll be easier to navigate the crowds like that.
The subway station seems extra crowded today, which is saying something. Wei Wuxian perches A-Yuan on his shoulders with strict instructions how to hold onto him so he wouldn’t mess up his hair. His hair ends up getting messed up anyway, of course.
They enter the train and Wei Wuxian squeezes between sweaty bodies to find a place near the opposite door. “You okay?” he asks A-Yuan.
“Yeah!” says A-Yuan, tugging at Wei Wuxian’s ears.
He leans against the cool glass door, idly watching the stations go by. Then a snippet of a conversation reaches him.
“—playing charity matches a week before the Champions League final, what a legend.”
“Can you believe we’ll be seeing him face off against Iker Casillas? Still feels like a crazy dream.”
“Did you know he’s staying at the super fancy hotel near the Bei Heng motorway? People were camping outside all night.”
Wait, was that—?
Wei Wuxian’s heart stops. It was the hotel he’d passed on the way from his flat to the subway station. The one with all those fans and reporters crowded around.
“Did you see the fansite previews of him on his way back from an evening walk or something? He had sunglasses and a mask on, but he still looked so handsome. Of course, he ended up on Weibo hot searches as usual.”
“It was probably his bedtime, you know how he says in his interviews about pre-match routines that he’s always in bed by nine.”
It’s an odd feeling, hearing other people talk about Lan Wangji. He used to thrive in it, and find ways to bring him up in any conversation with anyone, anywhere. Any moment people weren’t talking about Lan Wangji was to him a moment they should be talking about Lan Wangji. Now, though, after years of not knowing every single detail of his day, it only makes an uncomfortable knot settles in Wei Wuxian’s stomach.
He opens his phone, angling it so no one around would see. Then he opens his Baidu app and types Lan Wangji.
Immediately, 350 million articles open up.
350 million. Wei Wuxian swallows, and thinks of the throngs of people waiting for a glimpse of him outside his hotel all night.
He remembers being thirteen years old, waving brightly at the new kid in his class who walked into the cafeteria at lunchtime with his shoulders perfectly rigid and no expression on his face. He had been with his older brother, the captain of the football team back then, who had waved back and nudged Lan Wangji in his direction but to no avail.
“Oi, Lan Zhan!” he had shouted loudly for half the school to hear. Lan Wangji had ignored him still, sitting down with his tray next to his brother.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Wei Wuxian had looked around his table and grabbed a strawberry from Nie Huaisang’s lunch tray. Ignoring his friend’s squeak of protest, he had taken careful aim and lobbed it towards Lan Wangji.
Perfect shot. The strawberry had landed with a soft splat bang on top of Lan Wangji’s bowl of congee. The tables nearby had erupted in soft giggles. Then Lan Wangji had risen to his feet, shoulders shaking in silent rage.
He had turned around and strode up to Wei Wuxian’s table with the battered strawberry in his fingers. His face twisted in anger, he had hissed, “Shameless. Throwing food around.”
All Wei Wuxian could think in that instant was that he liked having those golden brown eyes on him, even narrowed in fury. It was funny to see stoic, icy Lan Zhan lose his cool like that, wasn’t it? He had known even then he’d like to see just how many others ways he could get a reaction out of him.
“Gege,” says A-Yuan, shaping two locks of hair on Wei Wuxian’s head upwards into something like horns. Wei Wuxian comes back to the present, looks at him in the reflection of the train door and makes a scary face. Giggling, A-Yuan bangs him lightly on the top of his head as if he’s playing the drums.
The crowd in the train have pressed him closer and closer against the door, and all of them seem to be heading in the exact same direction. All of these people—millions, all over the world—must want Lan Wangji’s eyes on them the way he did. They probably know him just as well as he did by now. They’ve followed his career so much better than him. Supported him through his meteoric rise like he deserved.
To Lan Wangji, he’s probably one in a million now, just one face in a crowd of screaming fans.
Outside the venue, rows and rows of stalls have been set up to sell merchandise. It’s a riot of sound and colour. There are people thronging the shops, browsing through the selection of football shirts, banners, posters, air horns and stickers, haggling with vendors and heading towards the venue in full regalia to support their favourite players.
“Gege, want!” A-Yuan tugs at Wei Wuxian’s sleeve.
He shouldn’t indulge the kid. He really shouldn’t. He needs to set a proper precedent. But Wei Wuxian has always been weak for him, and he finds himself being pulled along to one of the shops.
A-Yuan wants a tiny Lan Wangji number 10 shirt, an air horn, and a banner with Lan Wangji’s face on it that the shopkeeper lets him imprint his hands on with paint. Wei Wuxian pays, and tugs the shirt over A-Yuan’s head. He takes his hand then, ready to leave.
A-Yuan doesn’t seem to agree they’re done, though. He stands his ground, pointing at the other wall of the store. It is lined with adult-sized football shirts.
“For gege,” A-Yuan says magnanimously, running forward to point directly at the section with Lan Wangji’s name on them.
Wei Wuxian’s face grows hot. Him? Wearing Lan Zhan’s shirt?
“A-Yuan, that’s enough now. We’ll be late for the game.”
“But gege has to!” A-Yuan says, mouth starting to tremble again, pointing down at his shirt. “We match.”
That’s how Wei Wuxian finds himself wearing a Lan Wangji shirt over his carefully curated outfit. He tucks the shirt into the front of his jeans in an attempt to make it look slightly cuter, then scoops A-Yuan into his arms and hurries out of the shop before he spots something worse, like one of the capes on display.
Their seats are pretty good, on the lower levels of the side stands near the retired team’s goal. Wei Wuxian sets A-Yuan down and opens one of the packets of snacks he had brought along. They share the rice crackers, taking in the scene around them. The crowds start to chant even before the players come out.
It isn’t his first time at a football game. That had happened seven years ago, and fifteen-year-old Lan Wangji had been standing next to him.
“This is amazing, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian had said, bumping shoulders with him. He still wasn’t sure how it had happened.
This was Lan Wangji, captain of the football team. Lan Wangji, who hated him and didn’t mind showing it, glaring at him whenever he showed up for his games to take photographs. Lan Wangji, who had barely spoken five words to him at one go, and that only after they were made chemistry lab partners.
When he had finished packing his bag at the end of class to find Lan Wangji the only other person in the room, his first thought was to wonder if he was about to be murdered. Was this why he hadn’t immediately requested to change lab partners like Wei Wuxian had expected right after their names were announced?
So when Lan Wangji had shoved a ticket to a football game at his chest like it was causing him great personal affront, he had frozen in place. “Have an extra ticket,” Lan Wangji had muttered, looking like he would rather have been anywhere but here. “Since my brother had. Other plans.” He had looked furious at the fact.
So Wei Wuxian had ended up at his first football game with Lan Wangji, sharing spring rolls with him. He had seen his first live goal too, screaming in delight, eyes glimmering as he had turned to Lan Wangji to find him staring at him with a funny expression on his face.
“Lan Zhan, you’re not about to tell me off for screaming, are you? It’s a football game!” he had said, turning away with a pout. But Lan Wangji hadn’t looked like that at all. Instead, his eyes were strangely soft and the tips of ears were red and suddenly Wei Wuxian’s heart had started to thump painfully in his chest and his face grown hot.
(Maybe the spring rolls had given them both indigestion?)
The crowd starts to chant a different song, and Wei Wuxian returns to the present with a jolt. A-Yuan bobs up and down in his seat in time to the chant. Wei Wuxian can’t hold back the grin that spreads over his face as tiny goosebumps appear on his arms. God, he really missed this sport.
Then the players file out onto the field, and the crowd goes wild.
Lan Wangji walks out at the front of the line with his back straight and shoulders squared. He doesn’t jog like many of the other players, taking long, steady strides as he walks across the field instead. Wei Wuxian’s heart catches in his throat.
“Gege, look!” A-Yuan shouts as Lan Wangji’s face comes up on the giant screen. Wei Wuxian freezes in place as he looks at him. At his golden eyes. The determined set of his mouth. Long hair tied into a neat bun. His hands, crossed at the back.
As the crowd erupts in deafening roars of his name, Wei Wuxian has never felt further away from him.
The captain of both teams move forward for the toss. Then the game kicks off. All the while, Wei Wuxian can’t tear his eyes away from the figure in his white number 10 shirt and blue shorts.
It really is Lan Wangji. He’s real. He’s really here.
It takes minutes for him to realise that Lan Wangji is brilliant. He is lightning fast on his feet but calculated, moving in for tackles as lethal and effortless as a knife stroke. He knows where every other player on the field is at any moment, easily angling the ball right to his teammates’ feet without even looking in their direction.
Winding his way through a wall of defenders with the ball, he takes a powerful shot on goal that Iker Casillas has to leap up to deflect and the stands break out into claps and cheers. Wei Wuxian’s heart clenches with fierce pride that he doesn’t deserve to feel for him.
—oof, that was almost like his goal in last year’s match against AC Milan—
—go on Heung-min, pass it high so Wangji can go for one of his trademark headers—
His heart sinks as people talk about things he doesn’t know anymore. Seventeen-year-old Wei Wuxian knew Lan Wangji’s every move by heart, could predict with almost frightening accuracy what shot he would take next as he watched him play. Now, though? He doesn’t know any of his famous goals, doesn’t know what his favourite plays look like, doesn’t even know how many trophies he’s lifted over these years.
While he’s been selfish, avoiding him because of his own childish feelings instead of supporting him like he should have, Lan Zhan has slipped so very, very far out of reach.
“Gege, blow?” a small, uncertain voice comes from somewhere to his left. A-Yuan is looking up at him in concern, offering him his air horn.
Wei Wuxian gives himself a shake. A-Yuan deserves to be having the time of his life right now, not watch him drift away to deal with his imaginary issues.
He takes the air horn and puts it to his lips, blowing loudly. A-Yuan grins and claps his hands, and Wei Wuxian can’t help but smile.
The game progresses, and Lan Wangji bears down closer and closer towards a goal. He takes another brilliant shot curving in from the side that strikes the bar, and Wei Wuxian lets out a gasp before he realises what he’s doing. His hands ache dully, and he looks down and notices he’s been clenching his fists so hard they’ve turned red.
Soon, they’re into injury time. Son Heung-min gets possession of the ball and barrels down the right wing. Lan Wangji is waiting for the ball that flies in at him. With what looks like an inhuman leap, he heads the ball straight over Casillas’s shoulder before he can even flinch.
He realises mid-air that he’s jumped up, pumping his fist high.
“Lan... Zhan?” says A-Yuan, nose scrunched in confusion.
Wei Wuxian picks him up and props him on his shoulders. He can’t stop smiling. “Yeah... that’s Lan Zhan,” he says softly amidst the deafening screams, almost to himself.
The players head off for half-time, and a string of live music performances begin. Wei Wuxian had taken a few photos of the empty field before the match began, and he posts them to his blog. He is dancing with A-Yuan to the music when his phone buzzes.
To his surprise, hanguang-jun has commented. It’s mid-afternoon, which is a time when he never usually replies.
hanguang-jun (16:05): Do you like football?
weiyingphoto (16:06) yeah! brought a-yuan to see a game today! it’s so much fun seeing a game again („• ֊ •„)
hanguang-jun (16:06) Do you go often?
Wei Wuxian bites his lip. not really, haven’t gone in years. feels nice to be back, though.
Half-time ends soon, and the players run back onto the field. Wei Wuxian follows the one figure he’s been looking at all afternoon. He’s not sure if anyone notices, but Lan Wangji looks... distracted.
Leo Bonucci strikes a ball in his direction but he slows down all of a sudden, glancing up at the stands. It reaches someone else on their team, so not even the commentators notice. Later, when he gets possession of the ball not far from the penalty area and could very easily barrel through the three defenders between him and the goal, he chooses instead to quickly pass it to the winger. He turns around then, looking up around the stands again.
“Sir, for you and the little man,” a girl says suddenly from behind him and he tears his face away. She is smiling, a large cloth banner held out in her hand. She seems to have a whole bundle of them, handing them out one by one.
“Um, thanks,” Wei Wuxian answers dumbly, taking it from her. A-Yuan gleefully grabs it with both hands and looks beadily up at him.
“What?” Wei Wuxian asks warily.
“Up,” says A-Yuan, and it sounds ominous.
When he lifts him up onto his shoulders, A-Yuan twirls the banner around like a cape till they’re both enveloped in it.
“A-Yuan,” he laughs, wrestling half-heartedly with the boy. He barely has time to flush with embarrassment at being wrapped in a piece of cloth with Lan Wangji’s face emblazoned on it larger than life, when the cameras take notice.
To his unbridled horror, he sees his face up on the giant screen in real time for the entire stadium to see. Still laughing as his face takes a moment to catch up with the sheer mortification he’s feeling, A-Yuan perched on his shoulders as the Lan Wangji cape drapes over them.
There’s also commentary.
“—scenes from the stands here, this dad and his son making for an adorable twosome all decked out in support for local hero Lan Wangji—”
“—Speaking of, our man seems to have taken a little tumble—”
Wei Wuxian finds Lan Wangji on the field. The ball is nowhere near him but he seems to have fallen inexplicably on his behind, sitting on the grass as he looks up at the giant screen.
Right up at the footage of him.
There’s not a lot of things that can embarrass Wei Wuxian. He’s shamelessly walked into enough morning lectures at college fifteen minutes before they were due to end. Now, though? He can’t wait for the ground to open up and swallow him whole.
Then the footage switches. Lan Wangji gets up, and the game goes on.
Wei Wuxian remains in a slight daze for the rest of the match. He can’t look at Lan Wangji without being reminded of how he knew he was there. He saw him, wearing his shirt, enveloped in a giant banner with his face over it.
At some point, someone scores for the retired captains’ team. Wei Wuxian hardly takes notice. After that, the players seem to give up as well. They tackle each other good-naturedly, rolling the ball along and taking theatrical shots on goal for the audience’s enjoyment, without really intending to score.
Lan Wangji stays near the retired team’s penalty area, not participating much.
The crowd rises for a standing ovation as the players walk off, and that’s when Wei Wuxian realises the game has ended. He clutches A-Yuan’s hand tightly as the crowd begins to disperse. He wishes he brought a bag other than his camera case: with at least one hand constantly occupied by a child, he is swiftly aware just how difficult it is to carry all the merchandise they’ve bought without a tote to dump things into.
Another thing to add to his Taobao search history, then: mum appropriate tote bags.
He wears the camera bag crossbody, folds the poster they’d bought outside and squeezes it next to his camera along with the air horn. Then he ties the Lan Wangji banner around his waist, too tired to care what people thought anymore. There were enough people with paint smeared over their cheeks and bare chests anyway, his get-up was tame in comparison.
They shuffle towards the exit with the streams of people excitedly discussing the match.
“Lan Wangji was so good, as expected...”
“Can’t wait to see him at the Champion’s League final... he’ll be the youngest captain ever to lift the cup in case they win!”
“He’s so professional even for a charity match, but did you see the way he fell on his butt when he saw the dad holding the kid up with the banner over their heads like a veil? I guess you need to achieve that level of cuteness to get his attention, hah...”
“Gege?” A-Yuan has stopped, tugging gently at his hand.
“Keep moving, A-Yuan,” Wei Wuxian says, worried he’ll get swept away in the throng if he stops in the middle.
Wei Wuxian picks A-Yuan up in his arms and winds through the crowd, calling out apologies as he squeezes past people. “Sorry, sorry, this child needs to pee!”
Somehow, several up close and personal encounters with sweaty bodies later, he finds the exit. He can’t find a signpost leading to a bathroom anywhere, and no one seems to know. All anyone cares about right now is getting on the daunting subway ride home.
He walks past several doors, car parks, half-constructed areas with loose rubble lying around but to no avail. He steps out finally into a partially walled-off area with a couple of black SUVs parked to the side.
“A-Yuan, why does this look like a scene out of a gang movie?” he says, reaching up to hold the child’s hand. It feels limp. Panicking, he tries to pull him down but his legs tangle around his neck and the camera bag slung across his body make things even more complicated.
As he struggles, he doesn’t notice the footsteps approach till warm hands extricate A-Yuan from his shoulders.
“What the—!” He whirls around, ready to swing his bag around at the assailant.
His ankles twist as he spins, and falls. For the second time in the last twenty four hours, he awaits contact with the hard granite floor.
Again, it doesn’t come.
His first coherent thought when he opens his eyes is: You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
There’s a warm palm splayed flat across his back (again), a firm chest pressed against his own (again), and wide golden brown eyes centimetres away from his (new).
It’s Lan Wangji, firm and solid and real. Six years older than he last saw him. Face still devoid of emotion to the untrained eye that wouldn’t quite catch the infinitesimally small parting of his lips, the widened eyes and the rapid rise and fall of his chest again his own.
“Lan Zhan,” he whispers, soft and careful so he doesn’t wake up from the dream.
“Lan Zhan,” a voice echoes.
He whips his head to the side. A-Yuan is balanced on Lan Wangji’s hip, staring between them with mild interest. He looks like he just woke up. Wei Wuxian goes boneless in Lan Wangji’s arms as a wave of relief washes over him. He closes his eyes and sighs.
Lan Wangji doesn’t move, oddly enough. Doesn’t he have press conferences and photoshoots to get to? Wei Wuxian wants to be selfish again. Just this once. Wants to know that he can still affect Lan Wangji’s day even if it’s just a tiny five minute delay in reaching whatever high profile event he has waiting for him.
It’s A-Yuan who makes the first move. He starts to squirm in Lan Wangji’s arms, and Wei Wuxian opens his eyes to see him place A-Yuan gently on the ground next to him. His eyes don’t leave Wei Wuxian even once.
Then A-Yuan wraps his whole body around Lan Wangji’s leg like a seal, and Wei Wuxian steps back in surprise.
“Lan Zhan!” he gasps. “Ah, A-Yuan, what are you...” He scratches the back of his neck sheepishly.
Lan Wangji looks stricken. The look of sheer shock on his face is enough to set the wheels turning in Wei Wuxian’s head again.
“My, my, A-Yuan,” he says, grinning. “You’ve really taken to Lan Zhan, haven’t you?” He looks at Lan Wangji. “My son doesn’t usually do this, you know. Get so close to new people. You must be really special. Lan Zhan, please take care of us!”
“Gege,” A-Yuan says contentedly into Lan Wangji’s leg, and he is struck into silence for a moment. Then A-Yuan tugs Wei Wuxian’s trouser leg. “Gege,” he says again.
“Unbelievable,” Lan Wangji sighs. “You must have a really progressive family dynamic for your son to call you gege.”
But his eyes go soft when he looks down at A-Yuan, who’s staring adoringly up at him. He crouches to pat his head.
It’s so achingly sweet that Wei Wuxian doesn’t think he can be here even a moment longer.
“Pee-pee!” he blurts out. Lan Wangji looks up at him, eyebrows raised. “A-Yuan, you wanted to pee-pee, didn’t you?”
A-Yuan frowns, seeming to weigh his need to go to the toilet against being petted by Lan Wangji. Then he nods, shy and regretful.
“There’s a bathroom in the locker room,” Lan Wangji says. “Come on.” He straightens up, starting to walk towards a building beyond the parked cars.
A-Yuan jumps up, only too eager to follow his beloved Lan Wangji.
“Wait!” Wei Wuxian shouts. When Lan Wangji and A-Yuan both turn to look at him, Wei Wuxian lets out a nervous chuckle. “Won’t your teammates be there? Don’t you have interviewers waiting for you?”
Lan Wangji gives him a curious look before turning around and starting to walk again. A-Yuan skips ahead on his tails, and Wei Wuxian has to jog over to keep up. “I don’t usually give these interviews,” he says.
“Really?” Wei Wuxian asks in surprise, before he can stop himself.
There it is. Lan Wangji knows now how selfish he’s been, how little he’s kept up with his career—
“Did you think I do?”
“Um, yeah?” he answers, slightly annoyed. Just who did Lan Zhan think he was again? He really thought that he had any sway whatsoever over his life from millions of miles away, six years after they last met— “I’ve actually not been keeping up very much. Real life and all.”
“Your outfit speaks differently,” Lan Wangji answers.
Wei Wuxian flushes, looking down at the shirt and the banner he had forgotten he’d tied around his waist. “A-Yuan wanted it!” he cries out, pouting.
They walk the rest of the distance in silence, Wei Wuxian marvelling the utter ridiculousness of the situation. Just days back, he hadn’t seen Lan Wangji’s face in six years.
“Nice goal today,” he says, because he can’t keep his mouth shut apparently. “Saw you fumbled a couple of chances in the second half, though.”
The tips of Lan Wangji’s ears go pink. It’s yet another thing that hasn’t changed. With an ache in his chest that surprises him with how fierce it is, he wonders if any of the 350 million people talking about him on Baidu know about that.
Then Lan Wangji opens what is evidently a back door to the locker room, and the thought dies a swift death in Wei Wuxian’s head.
The locker room is massive. Easily ten times as large as the one they had in school. He wasn’t supposed to be inside since he hadn’t been actually on the team, but that hadn’t been able to stop him.
“Lan Zhan, look here!” he had cried out in that locker room, years ago. He had his camera pointed at him. Lan Wangji had been shirtless, only wearing gym shorts as he looked around for his school uniform. If Wei Wuxian had hidden behind a locker, watching him take off his shirt for a few minutes before calling out to him, he didn’t have to know.
It was insurance for his future, all right? Those photos would sell for millions when Lan Wangji became famous.
When he’d turned around, Wei Wuxian had pressed his cheeks against the camera viewfinder. It had felt cool against his skin. Belatedly, he’d realises his cheeks were burning. They really needed to fix the air conditioning around here.
“What are you doing here?” Lan Wangji had asked, glaring at him for a moment before whipping around to resume his search for his shirt.
“Taking photos of future World Cup winner Lan Zhan of course!” Click, click, his camera had gone—and if he had zoomed in to focus on the muscles of his back, that broad V tapering down to disappear beneath the waistband of blue shorts, well, Lan Wangji didn’t have to know that either.
“Get out,” Lan Wangji had hissed, darting behind a locker—and that just wouldn’t do, of course
“Rude, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian had pouted, chasing him. “You really want me to die hungry? You do know this is how I’m getting rich when we’re older and I can sell your photos for 50 million yuan a piece?”
They had wound their way between the lockers, Wei Wuxian hot on Lan Wangji’s tail. Till he cornered him at the end of the room, between the last locker and the wall. “Pose for me, Lan Zhan,” he’d teased, “Your future fangirls and fanboys are going to make me very rich one day.”
The words had scarcely left his lips before Lan Wangji had gripped him by the shoulder, spun him around and slammed him against the wall. “What did you do to my shirt?”
Wei Wuxian had stared at him as he pressed against him close, feeling his breath on his lips as his brain had grown foggier by the second. There was a drop of sweat tracing the curve of his upper lip, and inexplicably, he had wondered what it would feel like to lean over and taste it.
That air conditioning situation really had got to him.
Seven years later, Wei Wuxian finds his fingers have come up to touch his lips as he stand in the doorway of the ten-times-too-large locker room. Lan Wangji gives him an odd look, then chooses to ignore him. He takes A-Yuan by the hand, gentler than he’s ever seen him, and shows him to the bathroom.
Wei Wuxian looks around the room. He crosses several lockers and benches with bags strewn around all over, clothes and other items spilling out of them. Then he stops and smiles at what he knows is Lan Wangji’s corner.
There’s a blue monogrammed Goyard duffel bag sitting on a bench, zipped close. The surrounding benches and lockers are immaculate, not a single item out of place. Wei Wuxian steps closer and notices with delight the bunny sticker on the canvas surface of the bag.
Wei Wuxian winces. No one has called him that in so many, many years. It makes his heart clench so hard he feels like he may need to reel over.
When he turns around, Lan Wangji is only a few short strides away from him. For the first time in six years, Wei Wuxian really looks at him.
He’s still a few inches taller than him, and significantly broader than he used to be. Years of rigorous training have made him lean and muscled. He’s wearing his team’s grey hoodie and blue shorts. Everything else—from the flecks of gold in his irises, the straight line of his nose, the pale, soft-looking mouth— is achingly familiar.
“Lan Zhan,” replies Wei Wuxian. He can’t get over the way the name rolls of his tongue, six years after he’d spoken it last. “How have you been?”
Lan Wangji looks at him as though to make sure he’s really, genuinely asking. A flash of hurt crosses his face. “I reached here yesterday,” he says, and then frowns as if he’d been meaning to say something else.
“Yeah, as the whole world knew, apparently.” Except me.
Wei Wuxian can’t look him in the eye. He can’t possibly tell him that he has no idea what teams he’s played for these past years, how his last tournament ended, or how he prefers taking his penalties.
“Oh, you know,” he says. “Just been busy. Some of us don’t get to play their favourite sport for a living.”
Lan Wangji gives him a look before quickly averting his eyes. A lonely, sad, awful look. As if Wei Wuxian still had the power to affect him just by telling him he hadn’t paid attention to every step in his career. Not only to affect—but actually crush him.
Wei Wuxian has waited for this moment, to know he could still affect Lan Wangji somehow, in some way, even six years later. But the real thing leaves him feeling prickly under his skin. Could he be messing with him? He had interviewers clamouring for a single word from him right now, fans camping out on the streets all night just for a glimpse of him, three hundred and fifty million people talking about him on the internet. Did he really think Wei Wuxian should have followed his career through his internet articles like the rest of them? Did the fact that he hadn’t have any sort of effect on him at all?
“How about your photography?”
“Ah, that...” His balled-up fists relax. “I have a professional website for people to see my work and schedule bookings for events. It’s, uh. You know. It’s going okay.” He suppresses a grimace. “I also have a blog I post my pictures on, although I don’t think anyone actually reads it besides jiejie and occasionally Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang. Oh, and one random user who is probably an internet creep.”
Lan Wangji coughs suddenly, then turns around to open his bag and scramble for something inside. He emerges with a bottle of water, which he downs all at once. Wei Wuxian leans back against a locker, watching him as he moves to sit on the bench.
“Who is the child?” he asks.
“I told you, he’s our son!” Wei Wuxian says, petulant. “How could you forget us, we’re your mouths to feed now!”
“Wei Ying, be serious.”
“He’s my friend’s nephew,” Wei Wuxian sighs. “His parents died last year, so he stays with her for now. I babysit him sometimes, and used to offer my electronics-repairing services at his school. That is until I, uh, had differences with the establishment.”
“Electronics...?” Lan Wangji glances away, lowering his eyes. He has that regretful look on his face again, and it only annoys Wei Wuxian further. “What do you... Where did you—”
“I decided to study engineering, after all.”
Lan Wangji nods. He looks like he wants to say something more, but holds back.
“Anyway, my work life is boring in comparison to yours, huh?” Wei Wuxian says, smiling. “So tell me—”
“Do you have any other jobs?” Lan Wangji cuts in.
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “Quit them all.”
“What... What jobs were you—”
“Lan Zhan, it’s fine,” Wei Wuxian says with a rueful smile. “You don’t have to keep asking about me.”
Lan Wangji freezes. “That’s not—”
“Really, Lan Zhan, you’re sweet but that’s unnecessary. Your life, though. Now that’s—”
Lan Wangji’s phone rings out then, and Wei Wuxian jumps. There is a frown on Lan Wangji’s face as he keeps looking at him, almost defiantly. He lets the phone keep ringing.
“Lan Zhan, pick up! It must be important, right? Some member of royalty wanting to meet you? Mafia boss wanting to book you for a private game at his den? Hollywood movie deal?”
“I play football,” Lan Wangji deadpans.
The bathroom door opens, and A-Yuan pads over to them. “Answer phone?” he says, latching himself onto Lan Wangji’s leg again.
Lan Wangji takes his phone and presses a button that makes it go silent.
Wei Wuxian gasps in mock-horror. “Teaching our child bad manners already!”
Lan Wangji pats A-Yuan’s head. “Have you eaten?” he asks him, lowering his head.
“Mm!” he says. “A-Yuan eat spring rolls with gege.”
“Ate,” Lan Wangji corrects him. Then he looks up at Wei Wuxian disapprovingly. “That’s extremely unhealthy. He’s a growing child.”
Wei Wuxian clicks his tongue. “Don’t be so boring, Lan Zhan. A few spring rolls here and there won’t hurt him. He’s grown so tall since he met me, haven’t you, A-Yuan?”
Sighing, Lan Wangji reaches into his bag and retrieves an apple in a clear bag. Biodegradable, Wei Wuxian is sure. He takes it out and gives it to A-Yuan.
“Of course you carry healthy snacks in your bag at all times,” Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. “Next you’ll whip out your flask of green tea.”
Lan Wangji puts a hand into his bag again and actually draws out a baby blue flask. He holds it out for Wei Wuxian.
“Lan Zhan, you know if there isn’t booze in there you shouldn’t even think about it,” Wei Wuxian says sweetly.
“No slang in front of the child,” Lan Wangji says sternly, just as A-Yuan gleefully exclaims, “Booze!”
“A-Yuan, let’s leave boring Lan Zhan and get some ice-cream on the way home!” Lan Wangji’s phone is buzzing again but he doesn’t pick up, as if Wei Wuxian being here is more important than whatever Very Important Business he should be attending to.
It makes Wei Wuxian want to get out of here as fast as he can.
He puts his hand in his pocket, but doesn’t find his subway card in it. He searches his camera bag, but can’t find anything in there either. Increasingly panicked, Wei Wuxian pats himself down.
“Did I really lose my fucking subway card?” he mutters to himself. Maybe it fell down somewhere in the crowd.
Lan Wangji is suddenly in his space again, and he takes him by the wrist. “Don’t swear in front of A-Yuan.” Wei Wuxian forgets everything for a moment, marvelling at how sweet it sounded when he said his name. Silent for a few seconds, Lan Wangji goes on to quietly ask, “Do you really need to go now?”
He sounds upset about something, and Wei Wuxian tears himself away from his grip. Lan Zhan doesn’t get to sound like that. Like he wants him to stay. Not after the way he just left—
Wei Wuxian doesn’t deserve to hear that either, not after the years he’s spent avoiding him.
“Yeah,” he answers quickly. “Wen Qing asked me to get him home by dinner time, which means six o’ clock. I’m fucked.” The subway queues will be ridiculous right now.
“Let me drop you,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian stares at him, almost to make sure he’s not joking. Then again, this is Lan Wangji. “What the hell, Lan Zhan?” he scoffs. “You must have after parties to get to. What will your managers say?”
“I don’t mind,” Lan Wangji says, soft. “Don’t mind dropping Wei Ying home.”
“A-Yuan!” comes a small voice, affronted.
“A-Yuan too, of course,” Lan Wangji says, putting his hand on his head.
A-Yuan looks mollified, proceeding to hold his arms up towards Lan Wangji. Bending slightly, Lan Wangji takes him into his arms. Wei Wuxian watches defeatedly as A-Yuan starts to play with Lan Wangji’s hair.
“Are you coming?” Lan Wangji asks, turning to Wei Wuxian. A-Yuan perched against his hip, he’s silhouetted against the golden evening light coming in through the doorway and Wei Wuxian can’t breathe for a moment.
Then he nods, and follows him outside.
The SUV waiting for Lan Wangji is as big as a small sized room inside, and A-Yuan takes full advantage. Lan Wangji’s driver, a tall European man who doesn’t speak much, brings him a ball out of somewhere which he dribbles around in circles from one end of the seat to the other. A screen separates them from the driver. On the seat opposite, Lan Wangji turns to Wei Wuxian.
“Where do you stay now?” he asks.
“Just a small flat in Minhang,” he shrugs. They’re sitting on opposite ends of the seat, but it still feels too close. The traffic is endless. How long is it going to take them again?
“How about you?” he asks Lan Wangji. Anything to distract him from the pinpricks under his skin, crawling steadily up his arm. “Fifty acre villa in southern Italy?”
“Turin isn’t in the south,” Lan Wangji replies.
“Details, details,” Wei Wuxian says, leaning back in the seat. “Fifty acre villa in Turin, then?”
“I rent a flat.”
“Rent? The great Lan Wangji?”
Lan Wangji exhales, long-suffering. “Because it’s temporary. Clearly.”
“Really?” says Wei Wuxian. He scratches his chin. “You’re not happy at Juventus?”
“It’s not home,” he answers firmly.
“Where, then?” Wei Wuxian asks. Then he smirks. “Met a girl you would like to settle down with in a faraway city? Ooh, Lan Zhan!”
Lan Wangji doesn’t deign that with a response. He gives him a pitying look, and turns to A-Yuan.
“You’ll get dizzy,” he tells him. “Sit down while the car is moving.”
To Wei Wuxian’s surprise, A-Yuan sits down at once. He tosses the ball at Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji tosses it back at him.
“Wow,” says Wei Wuxian, as A-Yuan lobs the ball back at Lan Wangji and claps as he reaches out to catch it easily with one hand. “A-Yuan, you aren’t going to abandon poor old me for rich and famous gege, are you?”
A sudden force knocks the wind out of his stomach. He gasps, looking down to find the ball on his lap.
Eyes narrowed, he throws the ball right back at Lan Wangji with as much as force as he can muster. In turn, Lan Wangji’s forehead furrows in irritation as he slams the ball right back.
This goes on for a while. Wei Wuxian finds himself channelling as much of the annoyance and frustration that has been bubbling under the surface for the last few days as he can into his tosses, and Lan Wangji matches him.
When A-Yuan quietly mumbles, “Gege, me too,” Wei Wuxian freezes mid-throw, both hands holding up the ball over his shoulder as he prepares to slam it into Lan Wangji’s chest. He realises he’s breathing heavily, face red. He glances at Lan Wangji, noticing with some satisfaction that he’s not faring much better.
He tosses the ball gently at A-Yuan, and the game progresses in a circle now. Lan Wangji doesn’t look at Wei Wuxian as he throws him the ball, and Wei Wuxian doesn’t look at him as he catches it.
They reach Wen Qing’s house, and A-Yuan clings tightly to Lan Wangji when Wei Wuxian gently tells him he’s home. His lower lip trembles, fat tears starting to spill out onto his cheeks. Wei Wuxian waits in front of the open car door, helpless.
It’s Lan Wangji who finally gets him out of the car, picking him up gently and placing him down. He’s put on sunglasses and a mask before leaving the car. “I’ll see you at my next practice session,” he tells A-Yuan once they’re outside. He points at Wei Wuxian. “I will tell Wei Ying how to bring you there.”
“Great, set me up to be the bad guy,” Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. He beckons to A-Yuan, who clutches Lan Wangji’s leg one last time with teary eyes in farewell before trotting over.
“Thank you,” Wei Wuxian says quietly, half-glancing around at Lan Wangji as he hitches A-Yuan over his shoulder. The child continues to wave at Lan Wangji till they’re inside.
After Wei Wuxian has deposited A-Yuan with Wen Qing, he goes downstairs. He scrolls his DiDi app half-heartedly and books a cab, mostly resigned to the fact that it’ll probably cancel and he’ll have to wait in the queue at the nearest subway station anyway.
Once he is out on the street, he finds Lan Wangji’s SUV waiting just the way he left it. The door swings open as he stares blankly at it.
He walks over and peers inside. “Hey, what are you still doing here? Stalking me?”
“I’m dropping you home, Wei Ying.”
“Unnecessary!” says Wei Wuxian, beginning to walk down the footpath.
Lan Wangji mutters something into the microphone fitted next to the seat and the car starts to rolls slowly parallel with Wei Wuxian, door still open.
Wei Wuxian continues to walk, increasing his pace as if he’ll be able to outrun the car. Then he notices a lamppost approaching.
“Shut your door, Lan Zhan!” he cries out in a panic. Nothing happens. The car keeps rolling towards the inevitable collision, Lan Wangji sitting calmly by the window.
Wei Wuxian sighs. “Stop, stop! Fuck,” he says as the car comes to a stop and he clambers inside, shutting the door. “You’re crazy!” he says, rounding on Lan Wangji.
“Told you I’ll be dropping you home,” Lan Wangji says, calm as ever.
Wei Wuxian flushes, staring resolutely out through the window. That feeling of something crawling under his skin is back, magnified several times now that they’re alone. He wants to see Lan Wangji react the way he was earlier, slamming the ball at his chest and knocking the wind out of him.
“I can’t believe you have so much time on your hands,” he tells him. “Dropping a random old acquaintance home right after winning a game. You’re giving superstar footballers everywhere a bad rep! Don’t let this get out, kids all over the world will see their dreams collapse right in front of their eyes if they find out your life is so boring.”
“Wei Ying...” Lan Wangji says, frowning. “You’re not—You’re never a random acquaintance.”
Wei Wuxian looks out of the window again. The niggling irritation is back, now making him want to grab Lan Wangji’s collar and scream at him for insinuating that they’re any more than that now.
“Why did you quit your job?”
Wei Wuxian pauses. “Jobs. Three,” he replies. Lan Wangji looks steadily at him. “They were boring.”
“What would you like to do?”
Wei Wuxian laughs, short and bitter. “Lan Zhan, not all of us get the chance to do whatever we like in life.”
“But you should. You are incredibly intelligent and talented at everything you do,” Lan Wangji says simply, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world. Wei Wuxian’s cheeks burn.
“I—I, uh.” The only reason he starts to talk is because he needs something to fill the silence between them because Lan Wangji is just making him feel too many things all at once and he needs a distraction. “Something photography-related, I guess. Not just taking photos. I have a blog for that, but I also want to create an app for photographers. I had sketched it all out. It’d be a comprehensive tool for photographers including a light meter, a way to store the lighting setups you commonly use and calculate hyperfocal distances. Oh, also a tool to calculate potential exposure length.”
He scratches the back of his head sheepishly, realising he’d been rambling. But Lan Wangji seems to be listening to him closely.
Wei Wuxian grimaces. It’s not a pleasant memory. “I had planned to pitch it at an Innovator’s Expo last year. It was all ready. Then this other developer—Wen Chao, a rich asshole with massive connections who basically owned all the investors already—sabotaged my presentation. I stood there on stage and this random cartoon started to play. People saw it as a big insult, thought I was being unprofessional.”
Lan Wangji inhales sharply.
“It’s fine,” Wei Wuxian says, quietly. “I’ll just have to come up with a new idea.”
If he wasn’t banned from most similar events in China for life, that is.
“Is being a professional footballer everything you’d hoped it would be?” he asks suddenly, curious.
Lan Wangji looks pensive. “It is what I had always dreamed of, maybe even more. However, there is always more to life.”
“Oh, look at you being all philosophical. Did you come all the way home to do some soul-searching? Dare I say... Find yourself?” He winks.
Lan Wangji stares outside the window, a flush rising up the back of his neck
Wei Wuxian looks away, the sudden rush of fondness in his chest taking him by surprise.
“See you, Lan Zhan,” he says before he gets out of the car. He knows he probably never will again. He tries to ignore the way it makes his heart sink.
Wei Wuxian steps out and waves before shutting the door behind him. He stays there, watching the car go off into the distance and for a long moment after that.
The first thing he does when he goes upstairs is to turn on his computer. Grabbing a beer and exchanging his jeans for soft wool joggers, he sits at his desk, cross-legged on his chair.
He takes a long swig of his beer. Then another one. Then he opens up Baidu on his browser, and starts to type. Lan Wangji.
He opens the first page that comes up, and starts to read.
Intelligent. Lightning fast. Focused. Dedicated. Terrifyingly accurate.
The words jump out from each page Wei Wuxian clicks through, pretty much all describing him in a similar vein. They almost sound like the sports pages on their high school magazines that used to describe him pretty much the same way. When you’re in a league of your own, there are only so many superlatives you get to choose from.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan!” he had called out to him one morning before class, years ago. He had run over to Lan Wangji as he stood taking his books out of his locker, flapping the new issue of the school magazine in his hand.
“Did you see the article about your win at Regionals?” he had asked, leaning back against the locker next to Lan Wangji’s as he interrogated him.
“No,” Lan Wangji had said shortly.
“Don’t you want to?”
“Lan Zhan!” he had pouted. “Your loss—guess you’ll never see the amazing photos I took of you.”
He had spun around, ready to walk away. Then Lan Wangji’s arm had darted out to grip his own.
Smirking for a moment with his back to him, Wei Wuxian had turned around and plastered an innocent expression on his face.
“I’m sorry,” he had asked, “Is there something you would like to see?”
Lan Wangji had easily gripped both his wrists together in one hand and extricated the magazine with the other. (Just how strong was he and how big were his hands, what the fuck—)
He had flipped the pages to the sports section. Wei Wuxian had looked at his face, hopeful for a reaction.
He hadn’t really prepared himself for experiencing it in real life, though.
Lan Wangji’s eyes had grown wide, lips parting as he looked at the pictures Wei Wuxian had taken. He hadn’t admitted it to anyone, but he had actually been pretty nervous finally sending in pictures to the admin email address after months of stalking the football team with his camera.
They had selected three of his photos to go with the article: one of the field during the game, another of the cheering kids in the stands and a third of Lan Wangji, the faintest flush of excitement on his cheeks after scoring a goal.
His eyes had lingered on the photo of himself, just like Wei Wuxian’s had as he sat for hours in front of his computer, choosing the best ones out of the thousands he had captured.
“You...” Lan Wangji had coughed, looking very much like he was going to regret what he was about to say. “You are very talented. The photos are nice.”
It had been what Wei Wuxian had subconsciously been hoping for, for years now. The reason he followed him to football practice every day without fail. Look at me.
Now that it had actually happened, he had spluttered, staring at Lan Wangji as his cheeks burned.
(Why did the air conditioning always seem to malfunction when Lan Wangji was around?)
And now, 350 million articles later, he’s still just the same Lan Zhan.
Every sports analyst he can find on the internet calls his play calculated, footwork sublime. He favours his left leg for his long shots. His header is already the stuff of legends. He is widely regarded as one of the cleanest players in the game, with a record low number of fouls in his entire career. There are endless articles analysing his style of play but no one can seem to be able to compare him to past football heroes which is usual in articles like this. Wei Wuxian feels a warm rush of pride at that.
He’s scored more than 400 goals in his international career already, won 13 trophies and countless other individual honours including, most recently, a Ballon D’Or last winter.
His goal celebrations are the stuff of memes on the internet. Wei Wuxian laughs as he goes through an endless collection of pictures and gifs of Lan Wangji running off after scoring, face completely blank save for the occasional nod to his teammates. They’re all captioned along the lines of #likeaboss, animated sunglasses coming down to fit his face.
Lan Wangji doesn’t do interviews. Wei Wuxian finds about five in the whole six year span of his career. Most of these are short, succinct, in the print and restricted to core questions about football alone. If anyone has dared to ask him questions about his personal life before, they haven’t documented the experience.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to admit it even to himself but while all the love for him on the internet delights him, a selfish part of him is glad he’s still the one who knows the little things about Lan Wangji.
That the way his preferred kind of food is weak and insipid.
That the fact that one drink is enough to knock him out for the entire night.
That he gets adorably hyperactive when he’s drunk, taking on strange missions with great sincerity. Like the one time he had slept over at Wei Wuxian’s house and mistakenly swapped his tea for Wei Wuxian’s alcohol. He had broken into the neighbours’ house and stolen all eight of their kittens, making four trips to and from Wei Wuxian’s bedroom window and not stopping till all of them were acquired.
Wei Wuxian is combing through as many videos as he can find on Weibo—goal compilations, celebrations, fan videos—when he comes across an interview from a year earlier. As far as he can tell, it’s the only video interview he’s ever done.
It seems to be from an episode of a variety show. A group of children are sitting cross-legged on the stage opposite Lan Wangji and his brother, Lan Xichen, who after an early retirement due to a knee injury is the current Chinese national team’s coach. Lan Wangji is wearing a cream turtleneck and round thin-framed glasses. He looks good.
Lan Xichen answers most of the questions the children ask, a warm smile on his face.
“Gege, gege,” a small girl in pigtails suddenly says directly to Lan Wangji, “Will you be my boyfriend?”
“Your boyfriend should be someone your own age,” Lan Wangji answers.
Wei Wuxian suppresses a laugh at the stiff way he says it. God, he’s such a boomer.
The girl looks wide-eyed, like she’s just had a revelation. “Does gege have a boyfriend his own age?”
Lan Xichen has a sudden coughing fit behind his hand, and Lan Wangji’s ears go pink. “No,” he says.
“Has gege ever been in love?” another girl asks in a theatrical whisper.
“How do you even know you’re in love?” a plump little boy asks, sounding thoroughly suspicious of the whole thing.
Lan Wangji opens his mouth to speak and Wei Wuxian jolts, sick to his stomach, hurriedly shifting his cursor to close the window.
“Real love makes itself known to you, even in the most unexpected places. They should make you want to go to any length for them and consume your every thought. You shouldn’t have to look for it.” He stops dead, eyebrows furrowed, probably realising how much he’d said.
Lan Xichen gives him a mildly worried look, and the girl in pigtails asks, “Did gege not have to look for it?”
With a sinking feeling, Wei Wuxian watches the tips of Lan Wangji’s ears turn even redder as he says, “Next question, please.”
He clicks out of his browser window. This was a pointless exercise from the start. He’d met Lan Wangji once, it was over, and now he could go back to forgetting all about him again.
He can’t wait to feel normal again.
He tells himself nothing has changed, but it’s almost dawn by the time he finally crawls to his bed. He is excruciatingly tired, but it’s the kind where there’s nervous energy thrumming under his skin that makes him want to do pretty much anything that won’t help him fall asleep.
He flops onto his stomach on his bed, and opens his blog on his phone. He nearly sits back bolt upright.
hanguang-jun has posted a picture. For the first time in the six years since he made this blog. He doesn’t remember when or why he’d start following him back, since he never posted on his own blog, but there it is on his timeline. He hurries to open it.
It’s a picture of the night sky, similar to the one he’d posted in the comments last night. Wei Wuxian looks outside the window of his bedroom at the tiniest patch of the night sky between the skyscrapers of downtown Shanghai.
It’s calming, somehow, after the roller coaster the day has been.
He is smiling as he types a comment. wow hanguang-jun! you finally did post a picture, took you long enough!
The reply comes in seconds. Isn’t it late where you are?
weiyingphoto (03:51): can’t sleep (╥_╥)
hanguang-jun (03:51): Is there anything wrong?
weiyingphoto (03:53): no just met someone i knew... no that’s not right, he’s someone i know. haven’t met him in years. it was strange. and my head has been feeling weird idk i’m probably just really tired
weiyingphoto (03:53): what time is it where u are? looks like it’s late there too?
hanguang-jun (03:54): It is late.
weiyingphoto (03:54): can’t sleep either? :o
hanguang-jun (03:55): No.
weiyingphoto (03:55): ohh, why? (｡•́︿•̀｡)
hanguang-jun (03:56): I’ll be alright. Go to sleep, Wei Ying.
Somehow, lulled to sleep as he reads over the conversation again, he does.
Next morning, he’s halfway through stuffing an entire piece of toast in his mouth when his phone buzzes with a notification.
There is an email in his inbox from an unknown sender. He opens it and reads the message. Then he reads it again. And again.
Hi, got your contact from a friend. Was told you offer photography services for events? This is for my son’s birthday party. Sorry this is such short notice but could you possibly come over tomorrow evening? He’s turning three, and we really want it to be special. We’ve attached our contact info, please do get back at the earliest if you’re available.
Wei Wuxian stares at the message. Reads it a few more times. Then he looks at the email, trying to gauge if it could be a scammer. It looks innocuous enough.
He opens his photography website. His homepage has pictures of himself at varying ages, pointing to click-through links to view his about page, his portfolio, schedule a booking or message him. When he opens his stats page, he sees there’s still only one hit in the last twenty four hours.
It’s odd. But he has nothing to lose either way, right? He keys in the phone number attached with the email and calls.
A woman answers.
Swallowing, Wei Wuxian says, “Hello, this is Wei Wuxian.”
The woman pauses for a moment. Then: “Oh, oh!” She seems to move away from the microphone, voice muffled as she shouts, “Hey, the photographer called!” Her next words are clear again. “Sorry, was just telling my husband. Wasn’t expecting you to call back since it’s such short notice. Was sure you’d be booked already.”
“Um,” Wei Wuxian pauses, still unsure if he was being lured into a serial killer’s trap. “No. No, I’m available.”
You’re my first actual event, he wants to scream internally.
“Oh wow,” she says, breathless. “We’re so lucky. Wow, wow, wow. I’ll text you the address! The party is Spongebob themed, in case you needed to know that. So, um... You’ll really be there? 4:30pm?”
“Sure,” Wei Wuxian says, still numb.
“Oh, great, great,” the woman answers. “Also, if you could let me know how much you’ll charge for a party lasting around 4 hours?”
“Five thousand yuan,” Wei Wuxian answers. It’s a joke to get a reaction out of her, so he’ll know it’s a bluff.
To his utter horror, she says: “Great,” proceeding to thank him profusely and end the call before Wei Wuxian can even react.
The text with the address comes in, and Wei Wuxian stares at it, dazed.
It doesn’t stop there. Later that morning, an unknown number calls his phone.
“Is this Wei Wuxian?” a woman asks.
“I’m Zhang Linyao,” the woman says. “Assistant editor of Jiazazhi magazine. Do you have a moment to talk?”
Wei Wuxian sinks to his chair. Jiazazhi? One of his favourite photography magazines growing up?
He nods absently, then remembers she can’t see him. “Yeah,” he says.
“Your name has come highly recommended to us. We are deeply interested in seeing your work. We would love it if you could send us a selection of photos you may be interested in showcasing in our magazine.”
This one had to be a joke.
He tells her as much. “You’re joking, right?”
The woman pauses. “No, I assure you I’m not. If you’re not interested in featuring your art on our magazine, we understand and apologise deeply for—”
“Wait, no,” Wei Wuxian bites out. “Just give me your contact information.”
The third call comes later that evening.
“Hello, am I speaking to Wei Wuxian?”
“The one and only,” he answers.
“Good evening. I’m on the marketing team at 33tuan, an e-commerce website for loungewear. I’m calling to request a schedule for a photoshoot.”
“A what now?”
“Our client prefers to remain anonymous. He is endorsing our product, but he is, um. He refuses to take part in the photoshoot with our regular team photographers. He has specifically requested for you, and will only endorse our product if you photograph him.”
“Um.” Wei Wuxian draws a blank. He quickly opens up his website on his laptop, and finds no more hits on his blog than there were that morning. How on earth were you supposed to respond to something like that?
“Sorry, I’d like to know if you’ll be available? Does 11 a.m. day after tomorrow work for you?”
Wei Wuxian blinks. “Sure,” he says finally. “Just text me the venue details.”
By nine in the evening the next day, Wei Wuxian is still alive and he’s finished his first event, which is already much more than he could have asked for. It’s obvious they were an extremely wealthy and influential couple from the house and the guest list. Investment bankers, from what he could glean from snippets of conversation he’d overheard. He tells the parents he had made a mistake with the pricing, slashing it down with great difficulty to one thousand yuan since they were somehow convinced they should be paying more and would probably end up making him accept the money at gunpoint if he tried to reduce his charges any further.
When he comes home, he remembers he needs to send Jiazazhi magazine his portfolio.
He sits down at his desktop and opens his photo gallery. He browses through the images he’s taken over the years. There are a fair few he’s proud of. Hipster coffee shops, scenes at the park that could trick you into thinking they were taken in the countryside, the cityscape, food. His favourite by far, though, are the people.
He starts to add his favourite photos to a new album as he goes back in time through his gallery. 2018, 2016, 2014... 2013...
His heart catches in his throat. These are the photos he’s been trying his hardest not to look at for years now.
Swallowing, he scrolls all the way to the bottom. 2009. The year he turned thirteen years old and Jiang Cheng and Yanli had pooled their pocket money together to buy him his first camera for his birthday. It starts with generic pictures around the house, the streets nearby and his siblings and friends. Then he’d discovered that the uppity new kid in their class had joined the football team.
He smiles as he scrolls through the endless photos of Lan Wangji’s scowling face he’d taken that year. Many of them were taken moments after he would yell out his name from the stands during practice, asking him to look his way.
“I’m starting to regret getting you this camera,” Jiang Cheng had said one day as Wei Wuxian was loudly regaling their lunch table with stories of the practice match last night and how Lan Wangji had scored with blinding accuracy from his own half.
“You should’ve seen Lan Zhan’s face when I called his name! It was the absolute funniest, the way he’d just scored the most amazing goal and he still looked so annoyed at me. Look, I even captured it here.”
“I don’t know how you deal with him looking at you like that,” Nie Huaisang had said with a shudder as they huddled together to see the pictures Wei Wuxian was proudly displaying on his camera. “He’s so scary.”
“Just in case he gets a restraining order against you, I never knew you,” Jiang Cheng had said.
“Lan Zhan wouldn’t do that! We’re almost friends,” he had said, pouting. He had been the only one who could get a rise out of him so far, and it was thrilling somehow. He didn’t know why it had made him secretly so pleased that he could make boring, icy Lan Wangji react so spectacularly even after he’d scored. He was supposed to be pumping his fist in the air—well in Lan Wangji’s case, at least looking less blank than he usually was. Instead, he’d whipped around to look furiously at Wei Wuxian in the stands the moment he called out his name.
“Friends? The guy hates you with a blinding passion!” Jiang Cheng had said, looking at Wei Wuxian like he had just said he wanted to adopt a pet dog.
This had devolved into a squabble between them, as Nie Huaisang had helplessly tried to make peace between them.
Smiling, Wei Wuxian scrolls onward to the next year.
Lan Wangji had grown increasingly frustrated with him after the summer, as the chronology of his photos with progressively deepening scowls bore evidence to. The first time they had met at the beginning of term, Wei Wuxian hadn’t noticed him at first as he walked down the corridor with Jiang Cheng towards their first class.
Spotting them from a distance, Nie Huaisang had run up to them. He was very tanned after a trip to Hawaii. They hadn’t seen him in weeks.
“Wait, Wei Wuxian?” he’d said, eyes going wide as saucers as he had skidded to a stop in front of them. He’d looked him up and down. “What happened to you?”
Wei Wuxian had grinned, scratching the back of his neck. He’d grown two whole inches that summer, and long afternoons spent swimming in the lake a few minutes from their house had made him lose most of his baby fat too.
“Don’t flatter him anymore,” Jiang Cheng had said, rolling his eyes. “Some girl asked him out the other day and he’s been insufferable.”
Crash. They had turned around and seen Lan Wangji standing in front of his locker, a pile of books strewn around at his feet. In a flash, Wei Wuxian had reached his side.
“Ah, Lan Zhan, this is why you need coffee in your life,” he had said, bending to pick up his books next to him. “Look how sprightly am I today even at 7:30 in the morning! Could your green tea do that for you?”
Lan Wangji hadn’t replied to that, so he had looked up. Crouching next to him, their knees almost touching, Lan Wangji had frozen. He had been staring at him, and his face wasn’t pinched in irritation.
Something about Lan Wangji’s heavy gaze had felt too much, and in that instant he had wanted nothing more than to run away from it. His stupid sandalwood aftershave or whatever it was had been fogging his mind even more. Who used that kind of a fuddy-duddy scent anyway? Why couldn’t he use Axe body spray like everyone else in their class?
When they had straightened up after all his books were off the floor, Lan Wangji had glanced him up and down. Somehow, unlike the way Nie Huaisang had looked him over, this had made him feel unbearably hot all over all of a sudden. Then he noticed it—the red tint at the tips of his ears. He couldn’t be sure if he had imagined it because in a split second Lan Wangji had slammed his locker door shut, turned on his heel and walked away.
Later, he had captured a string of pictures where he’d caught Lan Wangji looking at him with his ears pink after he’d teasingly called out to him from the stands. As he had sat in the dark in his bedroom later, scrolling those pictures over and over again under the covers of his bed, it had made him think maybe he hadn’t imagined it.
Ten years later, Wei Wuxian takes another swig of his beer. Then he rolls his cursor upwards.
When they were fifteen, Lan Wangji had been made captain of their school football team. For someone in only his first year of high school, this was almost unheard of.
“Congratulations, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian had said to him after the day’s practice had ended. It was dark, as it often was by the time they finished. The team had been achieving unprecedented success lately, and Lan Wangji as a captain was focused and diligent.
Lan Wangji had paused for a moment midway between stuffing his water bottle in his bag. There was nothing else to indicate he’d heard him as Wei Wuxian had bounded over next to him.
“Lan Zhan, don’t be so boring just for one day!” he had said. “Come on, let me give you a present.”
Lan Wangji had straightened up, hitched his bag up on his shoulders and given him a look. Then he’d turned around and started to walk.
“Lan Zhan ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian had said sweetly, skipping along behind him. “Isn’t there anything you want from me? All you have do to is ask—hey, wait up, Lan Zhan—!”
Next day, he had shoved two tickets for Wei Wuxian’s first live football game at his chest after chemistry lab.
Wei Wuxian bites his lip at the memory. Then he keeps scrolling.
When they were sixteen, Lan Wangji had taken his team to Nationals. Wei Wuxian had been inordinately excited for the semifinals in Beijing, talking Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang’s ears off it constantly. He’d been taking photos incessantly: of practice, of the team on the bus, Lan Wangji sleeping on the bus, Lan Wangji banging a vending machine in frustration when it wouldn’t give him his iced green tea and Lan Wangji glaring at him when he had realised he was being photographed.
Right until the day before the game.
He had travelled with the team, pretty much the unofficial designated photographer by then since no one else was nearly as dedicated. He had had to room with a boy on the team who insisted on having the air conditioning too high all night, and by morning Wei Wuxian was too congested to get out of bed at all.
He’d scrolled through his WeChat groups miserably in bed, watching people post pictures and videos of the game. Lan Wangji had scored twice and Wei Wuxian found himself replaying the videos over and over again. They were brilliant as always but afterwards, Lan Wangji had glanced up at the stands and frowned as he searched for something in the crowds.
Wei Wuxian was asleep when his roommate had returned. He had woken to a clipped conversation.
“—is the air conditioning on?”
“It’s hot,” Su She had answered.
“Can’t you see Wei Ying is sick?”
Weakly, Wei Wuxian had tried to crane his head to see. Even through the constant dull throbbing in his head he had realised it was Lan Wangji’s voice. He sounded angry.
“It’s not that cold.”
There was a pause. Then: “Come outside.”
“Come outside. Wei Ying shouldn’t wake up.”
Moments later the door had clicked shut, the room had gone silent and Wei Wuxian drifted back into sleep.
It was a fitful sleep, and sometime later he’d woken to find Su She packing his bags looking vaguely terrified for his life.
“What’s up?” Wei Wuxian had mumbled sleepily.
“Huh? Oh, I... My room got changed. Um, sorry about the air conditioning.”
Wei Wuxian had fallen back asleep midway between that, only to wake up when the sun was already down. His first thought was that it was night time since the room was dark, but there was a figure on the next bed silhouetted against the window.
“Hey, who’s there?” he had croaked. His mouth had felt incredibly dry.
“Wei Ying? Are you okay?”
“Lan Zhan?” He had propped himself up on his elbows, sitting up. His body felt stiff, but his nose felt dry and his brain didn’t feel as bogged down as it had earlier that day. “What are you—”
Abruptly, he had realised that Lan Wangji had seemingly flown to his side at lightning speed and pressed the back of his hand against his forehead. When he was convinced he wasn’t running a fever, he had asked, “Are you okay?”
The mountain of used tissues was gone. There was a wet towel that had slipped off his forehead onto his pillow at some point. There was an extra blanket on top of him.
Face flushing as he had realised what Lan Wangji must have done, he’d looked away and nodded. “Congratulations on the match,” he had said, to change the conversation.
“Could you be a little more enthusiastic when you say that?”
Lan Wangji had risen to his feet then, walking to the counter to make an elaborate attempt to pour a glass of water for him. “The photos... They won’t be as good,” he had said, back still to Wei Wuxian.
“What are you talking about? Mianmian really stepped up! The previews she posted on the WeChat group are great!”
“They’re not—” Lan Wangji had gritted out, still with his back to him and looking like he was waging a great war within himself, “Not... Wei Ying’s.”
He had turned around, strode up to Wei Wuxian, pressed the glass of water in his hands and retreated into the bathroom. The tips of his ears had been bright pink.
A warm feeling settling in his stomach at the memory, Wei Wuxian scrolls to the next year in his photo gallery, with a series of stunning aerial shots of their football field during a game.
In their second year of high school, Lan Wangji had led his team to win Nationals the second year in a row. Everyone had been buzzing about the scouts from prominent European clubs who had come to watch him, but when the game ended Lan Wangji had looked over the stands, right past the admiring eyes and frowned.
He had found Wei Wuxian at last on the rooftop of the school building where they had lunch together most days. They had become friends—or whatever name you could give Lan Wangji’s grudging tolerance to Wei Wuxian’s arm around his shoulders as he talked his ear off after class, during lunch and on the way home from school.
“My knight in shining armour,” Wei Wuxian had sighed with an exaggerated flutter of his eyelashes when he’d arrived. His ankle had swollen to three times its normal size, and even attempting to move it caused him excruciating pain.
“Idiot,” Lan Wangji had muttered.
“Eh? I martyred myself for the job! You’ll see when you look at the aerial shots I took—I knew climbing the water tank would be worth i—”
He’d stopped dead in the middle of his speech, because at that moment Lan Wangji had bent down and wordlessly lifted him into his arms, bridal style.
“Lan Zhan!” he’d squawked. “What the hell are you—” He’d thrown his arms around his neck to stabilise himself, and it had suddenly brought his face too close to Lan Wangji’s.
Lan Zhan’s eyelashes were long, he’d thought dizzily. Pretty, like a girl’s. His lips looked really soft.
“You’re giving me motion sickness!” he had cried out, because that was clearly where that last thought had come from.
Seven years later, Wei Wuxian isn’t faring much better. His fingers hover over the next year—their last year of school, and he freezes. He clicks the exit button quickly, before he can make a decision he’ll probably regret.
Wei Wuxian sends ten of the photos he had selected to the email address that the Jiazazhi staff had provided. He ends up with ten photos of Lan Wangji first of all, then decides that he should probably replace a few with pictures of other things.
Next morning, he prepares for his mystery photoshoot. After a shower, he dresses in a short-sleeved oversized satin-effect red shirt tucked into black skinny jeans with rips at the knees. He frowns critically at himself in the mirror. Then he untucks the shirt and undoes the last few buttons, tying the ends into a knot around his waist. It makes the shirt look cropped, ending just above his jeans and highlighting his ass, always a plus.
Slinging his camera bag across his chest, he walks downstairs. He’s about to head in the direction of the subway station when a man steps in front of him.
Wei Wuxian stops dead. “Yeah?”
The man is middle-aged, dressed in a dark suit. “Hi, are you ready to leave for the photoshoot?”
“Um, yeah?” he answers. “Was just on my way to the subway station.”
The man gives him a politely exasperated look. “Your client has sent us to pick you up.”
“Sure,” Wei Wuxian replies blankly. There is a black SUV waiting a short distance away. “In your car?”
“Yes,” the man says patiently. “Please go ahead.”
Wei Wuxian enters the car. It’s very nice inside, with plush seats and plenty of legroom. When the car starts to move, he realises belatedly there is a fair chance he is on his way to being kidnapped.
He’ll just have to cross that bridge when it comes to it, he thinks, stretching his legs and playing around with the music system for a while till some soft synth-pop starts to play.
The car brings him to a building, relatively unscathed. He follows the man he’d met outside his home inside, and up thirteen floors in a glass lift. Then they exit, and immediately find themselves in the thick of a bustling studio.
Wei Wuxian stares as people rush past him with clipboards, makeup brushes and props. The man he was following guides him through a few rooms towards a pair of closed doors.
He knocks, and the door swings wide open. Wei Wuxian feels the wind knocked out of his chest.
Seated on a chair in front of a mirror as hair stylists and makeup artists fuss over him, is Lan Wangji.
“Oh, Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, the makeup artist silently cringing as the stroke of wholly unnecessary contour powder she’s applying on his cheekbone goes awry. “You’re here.”
He says it like he is commenting on the weather, not greeting the person he basically kidnapped into working for him.
“What is this, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian demands, crossing his arms. “I’ve been set up.”
“You knew the stipulations,” Lan Wangji replies. “You were free to decline.”
“That’s not the point!” Wei Wuxian cries, petulant. “I wouldn’t have declined unless I knew it was you.”
It’s not even an exaggeration. He is probably coming down with something because ever since he entered this room his heart has been thundering in his chest, insides growing warm all the way down to his toes. It’s sickening how good Lan Wangji looks like in what is basically loungewear. It should be illegal to look this good in a baggy sweatshirt and loose joggers, long hair in an intricately styled high ponytail.
“Then this photoshoot wouldn’t have happened,” Lan Wangji says. “We can still cancel if you are unwilling.” He looks pointedly at the makeup artist who has given up trying to contour him, and an intern who is flying around with several files in her arms.
“Now you’re just guilt-tripping me!” Wei Wuxian wails. “Everyone’s been working so hard on this!”
“I was only stating the obvious,” Lan Wangji says calmly. “I only want Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian blanks out. He turns on his heels, walks to the door, exits the room and closes the door behind him. What on earth just happened?
Too soon, Lan Wangji opens the door and peers at him. Wei Wuxian’s face is aflame, heart hammering against his ribs. It’s been six years. He was supposed to be the one getting under Lan Wangji’s skin. Lan Wangji had obviously only meant he wanted him to photograph him, why the fuck did it make him react that way? It’s laughable, isn’t it: the concept of Lan Wangji wanting him or him wanting Lan Wangji, complete and utter comedy—
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, voice soft with concern. “Are you okay?”
Wei Wuxian nods, averting his face. “I’ll do it,” he says hurriedly, keen for anything to make Lan Wangji stop looking at him like that. “Who do I need to speak to?”
A few people sit with Wei Wuxian as they discuss the concept for the shoot, including a member from the marketing team of the company, one of Lan Wangji’s agents and people from their legal teams. Even here, he isn’t completely free of Lan Wangji’s presence. He doesn’t participate in the discussion but he sits in a corner of the room, listening quietly. They discuss a lot of intricacies, but all Wei Wuxian’s half-distracted, half-full head with too many racing thoughts can remember at the end of it is a single sentence which an intern used to summarise it.
“Make it like you’re looking at him through the eyes of a lover on a slow, lazy Sunday morning.”
Lan Wangji had glanced up from his phone to meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes the moment she had said that. There had been an odd, unreadable look in his eyes that Wei Wuxian had immediately turned away from.
They go to the room that the rest of the staff has prepared for the shoot. A green screen is set up on the wall opposite, with a chair in front of it for the required poses.
Once they’re inside, everyone looks at Wei Wuxian.
“Um,” he says, and coughs. He is so out of his depth with all these seasoned professionals who probably do twenty photoshoots a week staring at him, it’s not even funny. “You can—” he gestures to Lan Wangji vaguely, “You can go and sit there.”
It sounds facetious even to himself. Swallowing, he sets up his camera on his tripod and takes a deep breath. He opens the viewfinder and leans forwards so he can see Lan Wangji through it. Finally, he feels a sense of calm wash over him. This he knows. This he can do.
“Everyone, please leave the room. I think Wei Ying will be more comfortable if he’s not being watched.”
Wei Wuxian watches the others file outside, escalating terror building up inside him. He is not in the right headspace to be alone with Lan Wangji now. Or ever.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, quietly. “You are okay, aren’t you?”
Wei Wuxian looks at him. He looks soft even in his Balenciaga loungewear and Dior x Nike Air Jordans, stretched out on the chair in front of the green screen.
Wei Wuxian flashes him a thumbs-up and cheeky grin. “Get ready, Lan Zhan! Show me what you got!”
For someone who has been in the spotlight for at least four years now and superstar territory in one, Lan Wangji is stiff as a board in front of the camera. Wei Wuxian chalks it up to the fact that he is so selective with his endorsement deals. Either way, it is still very much his Lan Zhan.
“Stretch your legs out,” he directs from behind the viewfinder, grateful that it is there to hide the way his face burns. Both at the way his brain called him his Lan Zhan, and, well. The way Lan Wangji looks stretched out on the chair, long limbs and lean frame accentuated even more with his pose and the fit of the oversized clothing on him.
Wei Wuxian guides him through the poses, and they get some decent shots. His expressions still need some work, though.
“Lean forward and put your elbows on your knees,” he says. “Touch your hair. Wait, wait—” he sighs in exasperation, and runs over to him without thinking. He takes his hand and puts it on his head, artfully sliding them through his hair. Then his eyes make contact with Lan Wangji’s, and he freezes.
Lan Wangji is looking up at him with so much focus that his mouth turns dry. Wei Wuxian runs his gaze over his figure—long, lean and firm, and for one wild moment wonders what would happen if he accidentally slipped and fell onto his lap.
The thought is so ludicrous that he turns on his heels immediately and retreats to safety behind his camera. He takes a few photos of him in that pose, trying his hardest to think of anything other than that one mental picture of him sitting in his lap that he had conjured in his head in what was clearly a moment of madness.
He scrolls through the photos he had taken so far critically, and frowns. The poses are good, but the expressions could still be better.
Through the eyes of a lover on a slow, lazy Sunday morning.
“Okay, look at me like you’re looking at someone you like,” he says patiently. “Oh, like Mianmian!” He grins, proud at himself for remembering her name. She had been the manager of their school football team, and a pretty cute one too.
A familiar glare is back on Lan Wangji’s face as he looks at him, eyebrows furrowed in irritation.
“Lan Zhan ah, Lan Zhan,” says Wei Wuxian, “You’re meant to look like you’re in love, not constipated!” He cocks his head to his side to regard him, and then grins.
“Look,” he continues, “Just pretend I’m Mianmian, okay?”
Shifting next to the camera so that he is in Lan Wangji’s direct view, he angles his body slightly to the right and bends slightly at the hip, enough to accentuate the curve of his ass. Lan Wangji’s eyes go wide. Proud that his plan seems to be working, Wei Wuxian places a finger on his chin, puts on his best coy face with dreamy eyes and pouts his lips.
The reaction is immediate. Lan Wangji leans forward ever so slightly, lips parted, eyes going dark with focus. His gaze travels slow and heavy down Wei Wuxian’s form, right down to his ass where it lingers for moments that seem to drag an eternity. Wei Wuxian swallows. Fingers fumbling, he reaches for the camera and snaps a few pictures.
Then he straightens up, coughing. Lan Wangji gets to his feet, too. He looks supremely uncomfortable. “Are we done here?”
“Uh—um, yeah, I think so.”
In a flash, he crosses to the door with a few long strides and exits.
When Wei Wuxian finishes transferring the photos he’s taken to the 33tuan staff, he packs up his camera equipment and heads towards the exit.
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji suddenly from behind him, seemingly materialising out of nowhere. “Are you ready to leave?”
“Leave?” Wei Wuxian asks. “Where to?”
“Put your coat on and come with me.”
Curious, Wei Wuxian follows him out of the room and down the thirteen floors in the lift. When they reach the ground floor, he stops dead.
There are people waiting outside. Through the ceiling-to-floor windows opening out on onto the street, he can see the footpath teeming with what must be hundreds of people outside with cameras at the ready. Suddenly, Lan Wangji grabs his hand and tugs him behind the lift and into a narrow corridor.
“This will take us to the car,” Lan Wangji stops and turns around to tell him. “I’m taking you to dinner. Don’t worry, they won’t see you.”
He starts to run. Wei Wuxian follows him down dimly lit passages and around corners till they finally reach a car park. A black SUV is waiting for them right in front of them.
The driver comes out and opens the door for Wei Wuxian as Lan Wangji crosses over to the other side and gets inside. Once they’re inside, the car starts to move.
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, voice serious. He is looking at Wei Wuxian in concern. “Was this okay?”
Wei Wuxian takes a moment to remember what he was talking about. The screaming fans, the reporters, the cameras. They had faded quite far into the back of his thoughts when Lan Wangji had taken his hand and pulled him into the corridor.
He gives Lan Zhan a bright smile. “No,” he answers honestly. “It was actually fun, you know.” Lan Wangji is sitting closer to him than he was the last time they were alone in the car together. “Almost like we were in a spy movie running from the bad guys with sensitive government information!”
Lan Wangji looks startled, clearly not expecting the response.
“Your driver makes for a cool getaway ride!”
Lan Wangji huffs a sigh, eyes falling close for a moment. His shoulders seem to sag. When he opens his eyes, he looks back at Wei Wuxian. Then, miraculously, his lips curve into a tiny smile.
Wei Wuxian can’t hold back the wide smile that threatens to crack his face open at that. Even when the smile dies out Lan Wangji’s face looks soft and happy. Suddenly, he feels a selfish stab of satisfaction that no one else gets to see that. Not the people waiting with cameras outside the building, not the magazine staff going through the photos he’d given them, not the 350 million people talking about him on the internet.
“What about you, Lan Zhan?” he asks.
Lan Wangji stares at him like he hadn’t been expecting the question. Then his eyes go soft again. Wei Wuxian wonders if anyone had ever asked him that question before. “It is fine. I am used to it, I know how to avoid them.”
“Really?” Wei Wuxian asks. “Ooh, what are the best ways? You should write a book, something about how to handle being catapulted into sudden fame and still manage to go to dinner occasionally with your cute childhood friend unscathed!”
Lan Wangji turns to the window, his ears slightly pink again. The inside of the car is slightly warm. He wonders if he should ask the driver to turn up the air conditioning.
“Knowing the secret exits,” he says at last. “Keeping your phone always charged so you can contact your staff. Having good managers always helps.” He looks slightly pained when he says his next words. “Arriving slightly late at airports.”
“Lan Zhan, reaching late?” Wei Wuxian gasps, laying a hand on his chest. “Never thought I’d see the day!”
“It is necessary sometimes,” Lan Wangji says, sounding clearly disgruntled at the fact.
“Did you have some kind of experience with that?” Wei Wuxian asks, curious.
The answer comes easily, but it shakes Wei Wuxian to the core. He didn’t know. How many things did Lan Zhan have to go through that he didn’t know about? “What happened?” he asks quietly.
Lan Wangji looks outside the window again. “It was years ago,” he answers eventually. “The year after I left home. A fan caught me alone outside an airport bathroom once and pretended to have lost her phone. I was naive, and offered her mine. She stole some... sensitive personal content. Luckily, my mangers did a great job of covering it up.”
“You must have been scared,” Wei Wuxian says softly, almost to himself. He thinks of nineteen year old Lan Wangji, terrified of having personal secrets come out into the world. His promising career ending before it even began.
He wonders briefly what sensitive personal content he could have had on his phone, but doesn’t pry.
“They were pictures I had,” Lan Wangji says then, looking like it it is a struggle to get the words out. “Innocent in themselves, but if misinterpreted... Anyway. It was a long time ago.”
Wei Wuxian thinks of Lan Wangji arriving in Europe all alone, having to stay with people he could barely converse with. His heart clenches painfully.
“Did you—did you have anyone to talk to?” His voice sounds strained. Lan Wangji looks at him in concern.
“Yes, well... I spoke to my brother sometimes, when he was available.” Lan Xichen was probably at the peak of his career then, and there was no way he would have had much time even for his beloved little brother. “My managers helped too.”
Hot tears prick at the corners of Wei Wuxian’s eyes. When did that happen? He balls his fists, turning away to look outside the window. “I should’ve...” he bites out. His voice sounds broken. “I should’ve been there.”
Before he realises what’s happening, Lan Wangji has shifted over to his side. He places a hand on his chin and turns his face towards him. It’s hard to look at him, when the wetness in his eyes is so close to spilling over. It’s even harder when he takes both his wrists with his other hand and looks at him with unbearable softness.
“Wei Ying, it’s okay,” he says. Wei Wuxian’s body feels strung up high, enough to feel like he is about to spark electricity at every point Lan Wangji is touching him. “You were going to college. You had your friends. Your whole life was here.”
Wei Wuxian thinks of their graduation day, sitting by a lakeside on that warm afternoon.
“And I was fine,” Lan Wangji says, gentle. Did he move even closer to him? This near, Wei Wuxian could probably count the gold flecks in his iris. If his brain wasn’t too cloudy to formulate a single coherent thought, that is.
Lan Wangji’s hand shifts slowly, warm against his skin, to cup his cheek. Unconsciously, Wei Wuxian leans into it. Lan Wangji’s lips look plush and pink. He wonders dazedly if he had ever kissed anyone.
What would it feel like to be that person? The one who... got to kiss Lan Wangji?
The car comes to a halt, then. Springing apart from each other, they turn to their respective doors.
Lan Wangji puts on his mask and sunglasses before he gets down. When they’re outside in what look like another car park, he nods at Wei Wuxian to follow him.
They walk through a set of doors and corridors till finally, they reach a pair of sleek wooden doors that open into a wide room. It’s a sushi restaurant. What looks to be an incredibly fancy one at that.
Immediately, two waiters greet them with deep bows and usher them upstairs. They lead them to a private table right in the corner, surrounding by screens all around.
Wei Wuxian sits on the tatami mat opposite Lan Wangji. They look at the menus in silence, the words glazing over before Wei Wuxian’s eyes.
“Are you ready to order?” Lan Wangji asks him after a few minutes during which all Wei Wuxian has done is flip the pages absently.
Wei Wuxian shrugs. Lan Wangji presses a bell, and the waiter comes to take their order.
Once they are done and the waiter leaves—Wei Wuxian chooses whatever dish his fingers fall on—they continue to sit in silence for a long moment.
Then Lan Wangji says, “Oh, before I forget. We have a practice session tomorrow afternoon. Please bring A-Yuan.”
“What?” Wei Wuxian says. The cloud in his head evaporates at last. “Me, bring A-Yuan?”
“Yes,” says Lan Wangji, frowning slightly. “I told both of you the other day, didn’t I?”
“Yes, but... I—I didn’t think you would...”
He knows that’s wrong, of course. Lan Wangji would rather throw his collection of bunny slippers from childhood in a fire than treat his words lightly.
“I wouldn’t tell A-Yuan that if I wasn’t sure I would be able to,” he says. He sounds earnest, and Wei Wuxian’s chest aches with how sweet it sounds. “He will be expecting me. And... he is important to Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian really needs to get himself checked up because his heart seems to be beating in overdrive too often lately, face growing hot.
“That’s... Thanks,” he mumbles. The food couldn’t arrive soon enough. He thinks it’ll be slightly easier with plates of food separating them. Right now, with just the two of them facing each other over an empty private table, it’s all too much.
“I will text you the venue and time when it’s decided,” Lan Wangji tells him.
“Oh.” Wei Wuxian realises he doesn’t even have Lan Wangji’s number. “I’ll need... your number.”
“Oh, but I already have—” Lan Wangji stops, and the tips of his ears go red again. “I have your number,” he admits. “It is on your website. I needed it to ask my manager to contact you.”
“You looked me up on the internet!” he says.
“I had to,” Lan Wangji stays, stubborn. He folds his arms. “And you are lucky I noticed. Your website is rather inadequate in its design. I will refer you a good web designer to sort it out.”
Unbelievable. “What?” Wei Wuxian splutters. “Did you just call my website inadequate?”
“You barely have any of your actual work on it. You have more photos of yourself at varying stages in your life. I would not be surprised if you get very little traffic.”
“Excuse me?” Wei Wuxian cries out. His website looks just fine, thank you very much. He had designed it himself six years ago. It may be slightly tacky and—oh, six years overdue for an update. And Lan Wangji is definitely accurate about the traffic, but he doesn’t need to know. “It’s my website! And of course I should keep photos of myself on it. I’m adorable.”
Lan Wangji closes his eyes. When he opens them, he’s glaring. “They shouldn’t be looking at you. Only your photography. No wonder you don’t get enough traffic.”
“Hey, I never said I don’t get enough traffic!”
“No shouting in the restaurant. Now give me your phone, I need to give you my number.”
“I don’t want it,” says Wei Wuxian childishly.
“Wei Ying, don’t be a child. Give it to me.”
Lan Wangji reaches across the table. Darting his hand away, Wei Wuxian clutches the phone against his chest. Frowning, Lan Wangji kneels on the mat to extend his reach. Wei Wuxian scrambles to his hands and knees and moves to a corner of his mat. Lan Wangji sighs. Then as Wei Wuxian watches with wide eyes, he gets to his hands and knees and proceeds to crawl around the table to get to him.
In the moment it takes his brain to catch up, Lan Wangji has almost caught hold of him. Springing into action, Wei Wuxian starts to scramble away around the opposite side of the table. Lan Wangji follows him. Finally, rolling his eyes in a long-suffering way, he launches his whole body forward and pins Wei Wuxian down on the side of the tatami mat where he had been sitting.
Oh. The first thing Wei Wuxian realises is that Lan Wangji is strong. So this is what it feels like to be pinned down by a world class football player, he thinks. Even with one arm he holds Wei Wuxian down at the shoulder so firmly that all his squirming comes to no avail.
The second thing he realises is that he has dropped his phone somewhere to the side and neither of them has taken notice.
The third thing he notices is that Lan Wangji is staring directly at his lips.
“I—” he croaks, but he has no idea what he is actually planning on saying. His head feels like cotton wool again.
Then the screen behind them shifts and suddenly, two waiters holding platters of sushi are staring at Lan Wangji lying on top of him on a tatami mat in a very expensive restaurant.
The first waiter flushes and drops the screen immediately. Swiftly slipping off Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji opens the screen and beckons them back inside. Wei Wuxian scrambles to his side of the table as they lay out the food, faces still red.
They eat the rest of the meal in silence. The food is great—Wei Wuxian has his fill of chūtoro and donburi bowls, humming in pleasure around his chopsticks. It’s a comfortable silence between them, but what is new is the light sheen of tension it’s fraught with now, just edging the surface as they exchange glances from time to time over the meal.
Or maybe that was just Wei Wuxian imagining all of this. He really, really cannot wait to get home.
When they finish, one of the waiters brings him a tablet on which Lan Wangji signs. It seems to handle the bill, because the next moment he is getting to his feet and putting his mask and sunglasses back on. Wei Wuxian follows him as he heads towards the exit.
In the car, Wei Wuxian turns to him. “Lan Zhan,” he says quietly. “Why did you come to China?”
He can’t tell how Lan Wangji reacts, with his face shrouded in darkness. The car starts to move, endless rows of streetlights and car headlights flashing past them.
“The charity game,” Lan Wangji answers, a few moments later. “Some promotional shoots for some of our sponsors.”
“But what are you doing now?” Wei Wuxian presses. “Right now. The restaurant. With me. Then tomorrow again. A-Yuan.”
“The rest of the team is landing tonight for photoshoots with our club’s China-based sponsors. They have arranged for a practice session tomorrow to utilise our time since the Champions League final is two weeks away. Wei Ying, I don’t—”
“You should be practising right now!” Wei Wuxian cries out. “It’s two weeks till your game. I know the kind of focus you need. You should be on the field, in the gym... Not wasting your time with me and A-Yuan.”
“I’m not wasting my time,” Lan Wangji says, and it surprises Wei Wuxian now sternly he says it. “With Wei Ying, it’s never...”
Wei Wuxian is struck silent, breath catching in his throat as he waits for Lan Wangji to continue.
“When I saw you...” Lan Wangji says quietly, and in the dim street lights Wei Wuxian catches a glimpse of how intently he’s looking at him. Then he averts his eyes before he goes on. “When I saw you with A-Yuan, I—I thought he was precious. I... Yes. I felt fond of him and that’s why I wanted to grant him whatever wish it is in my power to give.”
He looks shifty, like he hasn’t said everything he meant to say. But he doesn’t seem keen to say any more. Wei Wuxian finds himself smiling.
“Ah, A-Yuan has that effect, doesn’t he?” he says, voice going soft as he thinks of the child. “He clung on to my leg once, and I was done for. Speaking of, he did that to you as well so fast,” he sighs, petulant. “It was supposed to be our thing! He did it to you so fast too, I’m jealous.”
Lan Wangji’s lips twitch. He turns to the window, and Wei Wuxian points a shaking finger at him. “You!” he cries accusingly. “Smiling because of A-Yuan already! Ah, that boy is breaking hearts already. Can’t believe a three year old has more game than me.”
He flops back on the seat, staring at the ceiling. “Lan Zhan, do you know what I search for most on private browsing?” He huffs a laugh. “Porn? Furries? Turns out it’s adoption.”
Lan Wangji inhales sharply.
“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian says, smiling sardonically as he turns to face him. “Adoption. Ridiculous, right? Wen Qing is his legal guardian out of her sense of duty after his parents died, but she never wanted to be a mother. Good for him, she’s responsible and intelligent. And me? I’m twenty four and I can barely remember to drink four glasses of water a day and do my taxes.”
“Wei Ying... I’ve seen you with A-Yuan. You would make a great father.”
Lan Wangji has that stupidly sweet, earnest look on his face again, and Wei Wuxian’s chest aches. But he gives Lan Wangji a rueful smile. “Wen Qing has been selected for a prestigious fellowship in Japan. Do you know what that means? She’ll have to legally adopt A-Yuan, and she’ll take him with her.”
The car rolls to a halt. Wei Wuxian opens the door and disembarks, turning only to bump into Lan Wangji. How had he come around from his side so fast?
In the moment it takes him to get his bearings, Lan Wangji has neatly drawn his phone out of his hand.
He lifts it up and turns it around so that it recognises Wei Wuxian’s face, and unlocks. Then he proceeds to open his Contacts app and key in his phone number.
“Was this necessary?” Wei Wuxian mutters, mutinous. The thought of having Lan Wangji’s number in his phone again makes him want to lie down and press his face into his pillow.
“Very,” Lan Wangji says shortly. When he’s done, he takes out a card from his wallet. Then he takes Wei Wuxian’s hand and, turning it palm upward, lays his phone and the card on it before walking away back towards his car.
Back at his flat, Wei Wuxian draws himself a bath and soaks in it till his feet go pruney. He has several emails in his inbox from potential clients which he’s cursorily glanced over on his phone, but he decides he’ll deal with them in the morning. Not now, when his brain just feels like mush.
Twice. He’d found himself almost kissing Lan Wangji twice. Kissing Lan Wangji. The horror of imagining someone as boring as Lan Zhan in a romantic scenario makes him shudder.
Maybe with a spike of arousal, too. But those were just details.
He tilts his head back onto the tiles and groans. He’d missed his friend. Felt betrayed, angry, and annoyed at himself for being angry. And now he’s back, and his stupid body just has to mistake all these conflicting feelings for attraction.
This whole ordeal couldn’t end soon enough.
Next morning, Wen Qing drops A-Yuan at his flat before breakfast. Wei Wuxian wakes on time, miraculously, but he hasn’t been sleeping well anyway. He had tossed and turned in bed most of the night, too many thoughts swirling in his head, and given up on trying by the crack of dawn.
Wei Wuxian sets him at the coffee table in the living room with crayons and paper and starts to make breakfast for them. Starting his coffee machine up, he pours a glass of milk for A-Yuan and heats up some congee.
“A-Yuan!” he calls out, when the food is ready. “Oi, A-Yuan, get here. Breakfast!”
Over breakfast, Lan Wangji texts him an address, followed by: A car will pick you up at 3pm.
Ready this time with a large tote bag he had ordered on Taobao (search string: diaper bag for mums, but he’s taking that secret with him to the grave), he packs a bag of snacks, toys and a change of clothes and shoes for A-Yuan. After a shower, he wraps himself in a towel and stands in front of his open wardrobe in his bedroom.
He wants to look good. It’s nothing new. He hasn’t often been able to manage while juggling three jobs, but he has the time today. A-Yuan is all dressed already and watching cartoons on his iPad, ready to leave if he just puts on his shoes. That’s all there is to it.
So he tries on outfits. Two turn to five turn to fifteen. He loses count as the mountain of clothes rises on his bed and A-Yuan goes in and out of the room dribbling his football at least three times.
Finally, he settles on a sleeveless boxy black tee that ends just above the waistband of a pair of wide-legged black joggers with a red stripe running down the outer side of each leg. Pulling a cropped khaki jacket over his shoulders, he turns around, inspects his ass and deems it satisfactory. He turns to find A-Yuan watching him with great interest.
“Hey, don’t look at me like that!” he says, reaching into an upper shelf for his camera equipment. “It’s okay to want to look cute!”
Wei Wuxian takes his hand and they put on their shoes, making their way downstairs. Lan Wangji’s car is waiting.
The car takes them to a large walled off complex in Hongkou district. They get patted down by security, and Wei Wuxian swipes the keycard against a reader to gain entry. They walk up a flight of stairs and emerge through a doorway into a massive football field.
There is a game in progress. Wei Wuxian’s eyes find Lan Wangji immediately.
“Lan Zhan!” he shouts. His voice dies abruptly in his throat as he remembers how strongly it reminds him of their school days, shouting out his name from the stands and hoping he’ll look up at him.
Fifty feet away, Lan Wangji also stops dead in his tracks when he catches sight of them. One of his teammates had just passed a ball to him. It hits his chest with a thud that Wei Wuxian can hear even from the sidelines, and bounces off. Lan Wangji seems to startle awake, eyes absently following the ball as it rolls away from him.
Wei Wuxian giggles. Lan Wangji looks around at him again for a long moment, ears going very pink. He gestures towards his teammates and heads towards where Wei Wuxian is holding tightly onto A-Yuan’s hand, in case he runs onto the field and gets knocked over in the action.
“We won’t keep you, Lan Zhan!” he says when Lan Wangji nears them. “I’ve got enough snacks and toys for A-Yuan, I’ll keep him busy here while you guys practice.”
When he’s close enough, A-Yuan snakes an arm and a leg around Lan Wangji’s knee whilst still holding Wei Wuxian’s hand. Looking down at the way A-Yuan was holding on to them both, Wei Wuxian flushes.
“Hello A-Yuan,” says Lan Wangji, and pats him on the head. “This game is about to end. A-Yuan can join us after that.”
“Eh?” says Wei Wuxian. “Ah... really, it’s no trouble, Lan Zhan.”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji’s hand is on his forearm. Wei Wuxian stares down at it. If it slipped only a little lower they would be holding hands. “Leave it to me.”
Lan Wangji gives A-Yuan one last ruffle of the hair before jogging off to join the game. Wei Wuxian watches him go, trying to ignore the way his skin seemed to be on fire at the places Lan Wangji had touched him.
Wei Wuxian starts to take pictures once A-Yuan is settled after some orange juice, kicking his football up and down the sidelines. He is examining an image he’s just taken of Lan Wangji mid-header, sweaty hair flopping across his forehead as he jumps three feet in the air, when a voice calls out to him
“No photos please!” It’s middle-aged man in a tracksuit, waving at him from some distance away.
Wei Wuxian glances nervously in Lan Wangji’s direction, wondering how he should respond. He belatedly realises that he probably should have asked someone before photographing the players. The last time he did something like this, it was taken for granted that he’d be there on the sidelines with his camera, photographing the school football team with a disproportionately extensive section dedicated to Lan Wangji.
The moment he lands on his feet Lan Wangji turns around to look at him. The ball has struck the net, but he doesn’t even realise he’s scored a goal because he’s frowning as he tries to assess what’s going on. When he does, he walks up to Wei Wuxian in a few long strides.
“It’s okay, Sven,” he calls out to the man in English and gestures between himself and Wei Wuxian. “He is with me.”
The man named Sven nods, waving in apology and retreats.
“Are you okay, Wei Ying?”
Wei Wuxian nods. “Nice goal,” he says.
Lan Wangji raises his eyebrows and turns around to the scoreboard on the side that has added a goal for his team. Ears going pink when he realises he hadn’t even noticed he’d scored, he runs off to join the game.
The practice match ends in a few minutes, and the players disperse to dry off and drink water. Lan Wangji walks straight to Wei Wuxian. Noticing him approach, A-Yuan bounds over in delight.
“Would you like to play with us?” Lan Wangji asks him.
A-Yuan is too excited to even answer, eyes shining as he jumps up and down.
“Settle down,” Lan Wangji tells, and the effect is immediate. A-Yuan stops jumping, the picture of obedience. “Let my teammates rest, then you can join our next game.”
He walks over to Wei Wuxian then. Wei Wuxian has laid out a blanket over the grass, setting his camera equipment to the side. As Lan Wangji walks up to him he opens up his large tote bag and takes out of a bottle of water and hands it out to him. A staff member is hovering around with water and towels, but Lan Wangji gestures to her that he’s fine. He sits next to Wei Wuxian on the grass and takes the bottle from him.
Wei Wuxian watches him tilt his head back and drink his fill, then fishes out an apple from his bag. When he holds it out for him, waiting for him to finish drinking the water, it strikes him suddenly how domestic the scene is. They could be on a picnic in the park, sharing food. He starts to draw back his hand, but Lan Wangji catches him, linking their fingers for an instant before taking the apple.
“Is this for A-Yuan?” he asks.
“No,” Wei Wuxian admits, flushing. “I brought... extra.”
Lan Wangji gives him a funny look, not breaking eye contact as he brings the apple to his lips and takes a bite.
“Thank you for doing this,” Wei Wuxian says hurriedly. Anything to distract him from what just happened, and the mental picture that had appeared fleetingly in his head. “Really means a lot to A-Yuan.” To me too, he doesn’t say.
“It is nothing,” Lan Wangji says.
“It is, though.” Wei Wuxian draws his knees up to his chest. “Lan Zhan, I know it’s a crucial time for you. I was the one who brought you those magazines where we’d read about our favourite players’ gruelling pre-match training schedules.”
Wei Wuxian would accost him in the library with a stack of magazines in his arms, draping himself all over his table while he studied.
“Lan Zhan,” he had whispered, “Look, they’ve interviewed last season’s top strikers about their pre-game training schedules. Pointers for when you’re one of them.” He had waggled his eyebrows.
The memory fades as Lan Wangji’s voice brings him back to the present.
“I thought you didn’t remember anything about football anymore,” he answers, quietly.
It makes Wei Wuxian’s stomach drop to the floor. Forget about football? When every day they had spent together talking about it, every time he had watched him play, teased him, been glared at by him had replayed in his mind excruciating detail till he had to physically stop himself from thinking about it ever again? He looks at Lan Wangji, trying to convey even a fraction of what the truth was through his eyes because he wasn’t sure if he could ever put it into words.
“I remember all of it, Lan Zhan,” he says. “I remember it so well that I needed to shut it away in my memories to move on. Because you did.”
Then one of his teammates calls out his name, and he tears his face away. “I have to go,” he murmurs, getting to his feet. He beckons A-Yuan over to him and they walk hand in hand to the field.
A-Yuan is in heaven. Lan Wangji’s teammates warm up to him immediately—it’s really, really hard not to. Wei Wuxian knows from experience. They start with pretending to choose teams: Lan Wangji as captain of one team and a substitute striker as the captain of the other. They pretend to argue over who got A-Yuan in their team—it ends swiftly, when A-Yuan makes the decision for them by grabbing on tightly to Lan Wangji’s leg and not letting go.
They start to play after that. ‘Play’ being code word for all the team members cooing over and cheering A-Yuan as he runs his heart out on the field. They dribble the ball to him, pretend to fail tackles and stumble and fall over as they let him run right into the goal.
He also runs the ball into the other team’s net, which is a source of great amusement to both teams.
Wei Wuxian watches nearly the whole thing through the viewfinder of his camera, smiling. He can only imagine what it’ll feel like to look back on these pictures when he’s older. To see himself as a baby being doted on by one of the best sides in club football the world had ever seen. If there’s ever a child who deserved this, it’s A-Yuan.
His phone starts to ring suddenly. It’s Wen Qing.
“Hi, Wei Wuxian,” she says. “I’m done with work. Need to take A-Yuan to visit A-Ning, he’s home from college. Could you send me the location where you’re at?”
“Oh, I can come with you too and we can all catch up!”
“Sure,” she says. “See you in a bit!”
Wei Wuxian looks over at Lan Wangji, who is currently giving a piggy back ride to A-Yuan around the field. This was good. The sooner this would end, the better.
Wen Qing texts him half an hour later that she’s outside. The team all take selfies with A-Yuan, asking Wei Wuxian to take photos of them, then calling him over at A-Yuan’s request to give one of the managers his camera and join the photo. He joins the team huddle next to Lan Wangji, very aware of his arm around his ribcage.
Wei Wuxian brings A-Yuan over to the entrance, where Wen Qing is waiting for them in her hospital scrubs.
“Shit,” he says suddenly. “Left my bag on the field.”
“Cool, we’ll wait here,” Wen Qing replies.
“Um,” Wei Wuxian says. “Actually, you guys go on ahead. I’ll join you another day. Wen Ning is here a whole week, right? I’m just really tired right now.”
“Sure?” Wen Qing asks, eyebrows knitted in concern. “Should I drop you home?”
“No, no, it’ll be too much of a detour for you. I’ll be fine, promise.”
Wen Qing doesn’t look wholly satisfied, but she nods. Wei Wuxian waves at them, watching them go. Then he starts to walk back to the field where he’d left his things.
It’s dark now, and the floodlights are on. Most of the players have gone already, including Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian starts to pack his things inside his big tote. When he’s done, he realises the last few players remaining on the field have left. There’s no one else.
God, he’s such an idiot.
He knows the general direction of the locker rooms, because he’s seen players coming to and from them during practice. Feeling more and more pathetic by the second, he walks towards it. Then suddenly, without warning, the sprinklers come on.
“Fuck!” Wei Wuxian exclaims in horror, his instinctive reaction being to protect his camera. He crouches over, whipping off his jacket and covers his camera bag with it. Then he starts to run straight ahead.
Eyes closed as the jets of water come at it him from every direction, he runs and runs—until he bumps head first into someone. Someone with a familiar sandalwood scent, now edged with sweat. Someone who puts a jacket over his head, and tugs him along by the hand.
It’s Lan Wangji.
In moments, they are off the field. Wei Wuxian drops his camera bag to the ground, wiping his hands on the dry inside of his jacket and gingerly open the bag so as not to drip all over it. Running his fingers over it, he ascertains that it’s dry. With a soft sigh of relief, he slumps back on his knees.
“Wei Ying, come inside.” Lan Wangji is on his feet, holding back his now completely soaked team jacket. He’s drenched completely, and Wei Wuxian doesn’t feel like he fares much better. Getting to his feet, he follows Lan Wangji towards the single storey building at the side of the field.
They walk into a room with rows of lockers, similar to the one at the stadium.
Lan Wangji brings him to a corner where his duffel bag is neatly placed on a bench. He opens one of the lockers behind it and hands Wei Wuxian a towel and a change of clothes. “The showers are at the back,” he says. Wei Wuxian reaches out for it but Lan Wangji doesn’t let go. They stand there for a second too long, both holding the set of clothes. Lan Wangji’s gaze is hot and heavy on him as he looks lazily over his form, seeming to set ablaze every point his gaze falls on.
Then the moment ends, and Lan Wangji lets go of the towel and the clothes. He takes another set of clothes from his bag and enters one of the shower stalls at the back of the room.
Wei Wuxian takes the towel and dries his hair first, then makes his way to the shower stalls. He can hear Lan Wangji move around, and the rustle of fabric as he takes his clothes off. He enters the stall next to his, unable to do much else than listen to the sounds of Lan Wangji get undressed just beyond the thin walls.
It’s crazy, how just the sounds of him taking his shirt off turns him on. Wei Wuxian feels a spike of arousal run down his spine as he hears a flutter of clothing being thrown off, landing somewhere with a dull thump.
He’s dealt with this. He has an old friend back. He’s mistaking the emotion that comes in it for attraction. That’s all there is to it.
Giving himself a small shake, he swiftly takes off his wet shirt and joggers. Glancing around then to look for the clothes Lan Wangji had given him, he realises then in his distraction he’s forgotten to even bring them. There are still rustling noises coming from the stall next to him, so Lan Wangji must still be inside. Maybe if he’s quick, he can run out as he is in his underwear and get the clothes from the bench.
He quietly opens the lock, and steps outside. He looks to the side at Lan Wangji’s stall, and sees his blue team shirt hanging on the doorknob outside. He must have dropped it outside through the opening at the top of the door.
Wei Wuxian stops dead. If the shirt is outside, he must be shirtless. His brain nearly blows a fuse just at the thought. He’s seen Lan Wangji shirtless before, but now, older and after all these years of rigorous, world class training, what must he look like under his clothes?
He’s just standing there, blanking out, when the noises inside stop. Then the doorknob shifts.
Panicking, Wei Wuxian grabs Lan Wangji’s wet, sweaty shirt from the doorknob and jams it over his head as he races to hide behind the lockers.
The door opens, and Lan Wangji comes outside. Barely breathing, Wei Wuxian watches his feet move from under the lockers. Till he comes into view. Wearing only his football shorts.
Wei Wuxian stands there in only Lan Wangji’s football shirt, large enough to threaten to slip off his collarbones and skim the edge of his underwear, but only just. It’s so hot his head starts to spin. Even the way the fabric of the shirt grazes his suddenly sensitive nipples feels too much.
Lan Wangji blinks for a few times, as if he can’t believe he’s seeing right. His chest rises and falls, harder than it had all day even as he ran all over the field for hours. He looks Wei Wuxian up and down, eyes growing wide. The next thing Wei Wuxian knows, he’s been shoved against the locker behind him and Lan Wangji’s mouth is on his.
Wei Wuxian’s lips have parted in surprise, and Lan Wangji makes full use of that, tilting his head and deepening the kiss. Dizzy with the feeling, Wei Wuxian lets out a low moan at the back of his throat.
The noise seems to break whatever daze Lan Wangji was in, and he darts back, eyes wide in horror.
Subconsciously, Wei Wuxian extends his head forward, chasing the kiss with a frown on his forehead and a soft moan. His fingers have found their way to curl around Lan Wangji’s neck.
He must look a sight: face flushed, lips bruised red and eyes glazed over with want. Lan Wangji freezes for a moment, taking it in. Then with a low growl—an honest to god growl—at the back of his throat, he lunges in to kiss Wei Wuxian again.
Wei Wuxian moans, but this time it’s out of relief and blinding pleasure to have Lan Wangji’s lips on his again. Lan Wangji shoves him against the locker so hard he rides up an inch or two, pinning both his wrists above his head with one hand. But it’s still not close enough for Wei Wuxian, who lifts one leg up to wind around Lan Wangji’s thigh and draws him in tight and lets him furiously fuck his mouth with his tongue.
When Lan Wangji draws back, he takes in Wei Wuxian’s face again. He’s gripping a fistful of the shirt Wei Wuxian has on—his own shirt—and as he looks down at it his eyes grow darker. His eyes linger on Wei Wuxian’s collarbones, fully exposed because of how much larger the shirt is for him. Still gripping Wei Wuxian’s wrists above his head with one hand, he pulls him by the hair to expose his neck and press his mouth onto the soft skin there.
Wei Wuxian bucks, powerless to hold back a whine that would probably have embarrassed him if he were actually capable of a single coherent thought. As it were, he digs his fingers deeper into Lan Wangji’s back, hyper aware of the way the firm muscles shift gloriously as he holds Wei Wuxian up against the lockers.
Lan Wangji kisses his neck as thoroughly as he does everything else in his life, lips wet and hot on his skin. It’s unbearably hot. It’s not the first time Wei Wuxian has been kissed there before but he’s never even realised he could be this sensitive.
“Nnn... Lan Zhan...” Lan Wangji tugs his too-large shirt lower to slip off his shoulders. Wei Wuxian bucks forward with tiny little thrusts, feeling like he could come untouched just from the sound of Lan Wangji sucking a relentless trail across his collarbones and shoulders.
Lan Wangji lets go of Wei Wuxian’s hands then, in favour of roaming them over his body. He palms Wei Wuxian’s ribcage, his chest and stomach, then rucks up his shirt under his arms to expose his torso. Bending, he presses his mouth onto Wei Wuxian’s nipples.
If someone had told Wei Wuxian this morning that he’d end up later pressed up against a locker with Lan Wangji sucking his nipples, he’d have told them they were joking. But this was happening, and this was very, very real.
Wei Wuxian gasps, immediately pressing the back of his hand against his mouth to stifle a scream. He had no idea his nipples could be so sensitive, either. Every slide of Lan Wangji’s tongue against the now painfully firm nubs, every graze with his teeth and every pull of his lips over it goes to straight to his cock.
“Lan Zhan,” he gasps again, voice sounding wrecked. He’s so aroused now it hurts, and his hips stutter forwards, desperate for any kind of friction.
Lan Wangji straightens up at last. His hair is tousled, eyes dark and he’s breathing heavily and Wei Wuxian thinks with a jolt of pride—I did that to him. Then Lan Wangji whispers a broken “Wei Ying,” and kisses him on the mouth again.
Wei Wuxian puts both his arms around his neck, wrapping his leg tighter around him to pull him closer. Low at the back of his throat, he lets out a surprised gasp when he realises Lan Wangji is just as hard as he is. It makes his whole body arch off the lockers, rolling his hips against Lan Wangji’s. With a shuddering exhale, Lan Wangji slips his hands lower to grip him under the thighs, and hitches him against his body.
Suspending in mid-air, trapped between Lan Wangji’s body and the locker, Wei Wuxian wraps both his legs around his waist. The kiss turns sloppier and wetter as they both start to rock against each other, incrementally.
Then suddenly, there’s a noise outside. Voices approaching. They spring apart, freezing in place to stare at each other for a moment as Wei Wuxian comes to the mortifying realisation that there’s literally drool dribbling down the corner of his mouth and Lan Wangji swallows several times in a few seconds and looks at him like he could eat him up whole.
Then Lan Wangji picks up his shirt that he’d left on the bench and disappears into his shower stall, followed quickly by Wei Wuxian who takes the set Lan Wangji had left for him into the stall next to his.
The voices grow louder and disappear, never entering the locker room. They sound like they could be staff of the training grounds, making sure the field was ready for the next day. Wei Wuxian changes at lightning speed, slipping quietly out of the stall, collecting his bags and running out as fast as his legs would carry him.
He’s not sure why he stuffs Lan Wangji’s shirt into his bag at the last minute.
Later, Wei Wuxian would never remember how exactly he made it back home. He vaguely remembers sinking into a subway seat—it’s unusual to get a place to sit during early evening rush hour, but maybe someone thought he was ill and took pity on him. His legs did feel like they could give way at any moment and his head felt like it was full of cotton wool.
He makes it home, somehow. He must have showered at some point and changed his clothes because he wakes up next morning in his pyjamas. Nothing much else has changed.
He lies in bed for two whole hours, just letting his brain stew idly as he stares unseeingly up at the ceiling. His phone has been buzzing on his nightstand intermittently all night, and it’s quiet now only because the battery probably died. When he gets up from bed, it’s past noon. He heats some instant noodles and makes himself some coffee, sitting blankly in front of the dark screen of his television.
He must have nodded off on the couch because he jolts awake to the unpleasant sensation of lukewarm coffee dripping onto his pyjama bottoms. Wincing in disgust, he gets to his feet at last. He’s been immobile so long it takes some effort. He makes his way to his bedroom.
The bags he’d taken with him yesterday are on the floor by his desk exactly the way he’d left them when he’d returned. Unzipping his larger tote, he reaches inside. What comes out in his hand makes him feel sick to the stomach.
It’s Lan Wangji’s damp, sweaty shirt.
Before he can stop himself, he leans forward and presses his nose into the fabric and inhales deeply.
For the first time since Lan Wangji had shoved him against the lockers last evening, his memory of last night burst into sharp relief through the buzz of static that had occupied it all night and morning. He thinks of the shirt on him, slipping off his shoulders because it was too large on him, being surrounded by the smell of Lan Wangji’s sandalwood scent mixed with sweat that should have been disgusting but had made his nipples erect even from just wearing it.
As the first stirrings of arousal pool low in his belly, he tears his face away. God, this was ridiculous.
They kissed. It was hot, fierce, desperate. They hadn’t seen each other in six years and the intense memories of their childhood friendship had made them confuse it for lust.
The kind of lust that made you go absolutely mindless, feral, mad with desperation. That made him want to claw his fingers into Lan Wangji’s back and arch against him over and over again and pull him closer, closer, closer—
It was fine. It happened. That was all that it had been.
He shucks off his coffee-stained pyjamas after that, and steps into the shower. Freshly washed and shampooed and changed into new clothes, he plugs in his phone to charge. Moments later, it wakes up.
The buzz of his phone as it turns on doesn’t stop. Lying on the table, it vibrates against it for a whole minute as countless messages roll in on his notification screen.
Lan Zhan: Wei Ying.
Lan Zhan: Wei Ying, please respond.
(5 missed calls from Lan Zhan)
Lan Zhan: Let’s talk, please.
(4 missed calls from Lan Zhan)
Lan Zhan: Did you reach home yet?
Lan Zhan: Wei Ying, please call me back when you see these.
(7 missed calls from Lan Zhan)
Lan Zhan: Wei Ying please
Wei Wuxian squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, then opens them. Fingers fumbling, he scrolls past his conversation thread with Lan Wangji.
There are more messages from potential clients. A couple of family event photoshoots, more magazine requests and an invitation to showcase his work at an indie art gallery in Jingan district. There is also a message from the parents of the three year old whose birthday he’d photographed, asking him if he’d received the payment and thanking him again. One from Nie Huaisang, asking him for the tea on his experience sitting in at Lan Wangji’s team practice. One from Yanli, asking him if he’d remembered to throw away the remaining pineapple buns that she’d found in his fridge the last time she’d visited, teetering at the expiry date point. (He hadn’t.)
The most recent one is from Wen Qing, Hi, so sorry about this but I’ve got some visa work to do later today. Could I drop A-Yuan at your place?
Sure, Wei Wuxian answers without thinking.
He takes a deep breath after that. He’s fine. Everything’s fine. He sits down at his desk and opens up the first client email.
He throws himself into his work headfirst, combing through his emails and responding to each of them. For the first time in his life, he finds himself having to make use of the Calendars app. It takes two rings of his doorbell to even register that Wen Qing has arrived with A-Yuan.
“He’s had lunch already and his post-lunch nap,” Wen Qing tells him when he opens the door, giving him a quick once-over that probably tells her that he’s unlikely to be aware what time it is right now. “I’ve packed his football and some toys, so he should be okay. Oh, and he didn’t get TV time yesterday, so you can give him a half hour or so today if you want.”
She presses a kiss to the top of A-Yuan’s head before he runs forward to hug Wei Wuxian’s leg. Then she looks at him again, face full of worry. “Hey, you are okay, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian answers, a little too quickly. If Wen Qing is still doubtful, she doesn’t express it. “Let’s go, mister!” He waves at Wen Qing, and closes the door behind them.
Wei Wuxian settles A-Yuan down in the living room with his toys and some colouring books, and goes back to work. He’s tuned pretty well into the background noise of A-Yuan playing as he gets into work mode. So when the noise suddenly changes, he notices immediately. He comes out to the living room and finds A-Yuan fiddling with the remote control.
The television is on. Lan Wangji is on his screen.
It seems to be some kind of talk show. Lan Wangji is wearing a white cable-knit turtleneck and glasses, hair styled into soft curls. Wei Wuxian’s hand comes up involuntarily to curl in his shirt over his heart. The pang of longing he’s been trying to explain away hits him now like it’s a palpable, physical, inescapable thing.
He knows this feeling. It’s an old feeling. Maybe it’s even been around right from the start. Maybe it’s no different from the way he longed for Lan Wangji to just look around him when he shouted his name from the football stands at school. But after their kiss last night, he can’t explain it away anymore like he has been trying to for years.
He takes a few weak steps forward and sits on the couch. A-Yuan is looking at him, half-nervous at being caught red-handed watching television, half-curious at the look on his gege’s face.
The screen shifts to the interviewer, and Wei Wuxian’s eyes go wide when he realises he knows him. It’s Jin Guangyao, an infamous talk show host known for his way of sweet-talking and wheedling out information from celebrities. He was also a childhood friend of Lan Xichen’s, so maybe it was a favour for his brother.
“—fantastic display at the charity match on Sunday.”
Lan Wangji looks mildly irritated, like he would rather be doing anything else in the world than sit here and talk to him, but he nods curtly. “Thank you.”
“Your teammates arrived here too recently—yesterday, was it?”
“Day before that.”
“Excellent, and what team activities do you have planned? Anything we should be looking forward to?”
“Just some promotional photoshoots for our China-based sponsors.”
“Lovely, lovely.” Licking his lips, Jin Guangyao leans forward. “So, when is the team returning to Italy?”
“They are leaving tonight.”
Jin Guangyao looks around at the screen with a dimpled smile. “Oh? And how about Lan Wangji? Any special business keeping him here?”
There must be something on Lan Wangji’s face that makes him realise this was a bad idea, because the very next moment he says, “Find out this and more, after a short break!” and an advertisement starts to play,
Wei Wuxian looks down at his hands. He thinks of nineteen year old Lan Wangji, terrified his secrets would come out. He thinks of Lan Wangji on this interview right now, eyebrows furrowed as Jin Guangyao asks him things he had no business knowing. Then he remembers the voices from last night and how their owners had nearly walked in on international superstar Lan Wangji kissing a boy in the locker room.
A part of him thinks maybe he knew. Maybe he knew what he wanted to do when he made his way across the empty field towards the locker rooms. Maybe he had left his shower stall in his underwear and worn Lan Wangji’s shirt because he had wanted him to see him like that along. Wanted to get a rise out of him, like he always had.
Maybe, just maybe, he had nearly sabotaged Lan Wangji’s entire career all because he wanted him too much.
He clenches his fists on his lap, leaning forward as the reality of what had nearly happened hits him. One tiny shift in the way the events had transpired and Lan Wangji could be without sponsorships, without his club, without a career by now. And he would have been to blame, with his selfishness and his shitty, shitty timing.
Wei Wuxian unlocks his phone and hands it over to A-Yuan without really looking. He never told Wen Qing, but he sometimes gave him his phone to play games with for a short while at a time. It improved hand-eye coordination, he’d argue if asked.
A few moments pass, and suddenly he notices A-Yuan has the phone to his ear.
“A-Yuan?” he asks. “Who are you calling?”
A-Yuan puts a finger on his lips to shush him, face very serious.
Wei Wuxian laughs shortly, reaching out for the phone. “You should’ve told me you were missing your jiejie,” he says. “Wen Qing is busy, we’ll call her later.”
Then A-Yuan says into the phone, shy but determined, “Hello.”
A split second later, a voice on the television screen echoes, “Hello.”
Wei Wuxian feels like the world just tipped over on its head. Whipping around in horror, he sees that the advertisements have ended and Lan Wangji’s face is back again and there’s a bar at the bottom of the screen. It has a phone number, followed by: Call this number on your mobile phone to chat live with Lan Wangji!
Wei Wuxian wants to be buried alive.
He sits rooted to the spot, unable to move or react or say a word. He watches as Jin Guangyao smiles his stupid smile and says brightly, “Oh, we have a young viewer with us! What’s your name, kid?”
“I’m A-Yuan,” he answers, the voice coming at Wei Wuxian from the television and right next to him, simultaneously. “I’m four.”
“Oh, are you now?” Jin Guangyao says, right at the moment Lan Wangji inhakes sharply, “A-Yuan?”
Jin Guangyao turns around to look at Lan Wangji so quickly it must give him some degree of whiplash. His eyes narrow, an unnerving glint in them as he studies Lan Wangji’s wide-eyed, disbelieving reaction closely.
Immediately, Wei Wuxian leaps into action. “A-Yuan!” he cries, lunging towards him to grab back his phone. “A-Yuan, no!”
But A-Yuan is determined and slippery, and he slides off the couch and runs out of the room with his stubby little legs. Wei Wuxian jumps to his feet, ready to chase him, when Lan Wangji starts to speak on the television. Freezing mid-chase, he looks around at the screen.
His brows are furrowed with worry. For one wild moment, Wei Wuxian wants to lean in through the television screen and smooth over his brow with his fingers. “What is it, A-Yuan?” Lan Wangji asks, as Jin Guangyao watches the proceedings with great interest.
“Gege is sad,” A-Yuan says accusingly. “You make him sad, gege won’t say but—”
Unfreezing himself, trying to forget the way Lan Wangji’s eyes had filled with some powerful, unreadable emotion at the words, Wei Wuxian leaps over to A-Yuan and grabs the phone from him. “Sorry,” he says without thinking into the phone, turning around just in time to see Lan Wangji’s eyes to go wide again—hopeful, Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to think, but it does—
Then Wei Wuxian ends the call, and that emotion dies with it in Lan Wangji’s eyes.
A-Yuan won’t stop crying, and Wei Wuxian has to make him a whole bowl of congee, open a tin of snow cookies and arrange all of his toys in a semi-circle on the table like he’s about to perform some kind of cult ritual.
“Are you angry?” A-Yuan asks, fat tears running in streams down his plump cheeks, and Wei Wuxian bends to his level, looks straight in the eye and tells him, “No,” with a smile.
After the call had ended, the camera had panned immediately to Jin Guangyao’s face. He looked discomfited, glancing shiftily to his side where Lan Wangji should be sitting as he announces a commercial break. When the break ends, he’s alone on the stage and Lan Wangji’s chair is empty.
“Well, there was a funny coincidence there, looks like one of Lan Wangji’s younger relatives was missing him so much he wanted to chat with him on live TV! Lan Wangji had to leave us so that’s all we have of him tonight, ladies and gentlemen, but stick around! Our next guest is one of the most popular—”
Wei Wuxian switches off the TV.
He isn’t angry at A-Yuan. Of course he isn’t. His chest swells with fondness as A-Yuan chews the congee, still sniffling a little. But the warm feeling doesn’t last long. The guilt that’s been swirling around inside him all these while—for Lan Wangji making him stupid again, for making little A-Yuan worry—rises soon to the surface.
Giving himself a shake, he brings his laptop to the dining table and sets to work as A-Yuan eats. He’s been so productive all afternoon, right till Lan Wangji had to come on his TV screen and ruin everything.
He very resolutely does not think about the way the light went out in Lan Wangji’s eyes when he ended the call.
Wen Qing calls him later and asks him if he can bring A-Yuan over and have dinner with them. Wei Wuxian doesn’t particularly feel like talking but he welcomes the opportunity to go outside and clear his head, and agrees.
He takes A-Yuan to Wen Qing’s home and they have dinner together, Wen Ning included. Wei Wuxian tries to participate but it’s hard, so he ends up mostly fiddling with the food and listening to A-Yuan squabble with Wen Ning over the potatoes. The siblings must notice how uncharacteristically quiet he is but they don’t pry, and Wei Wuxian is grateful for that too.
He says his goodbyes and catches the subway back home. On the way back, he can see fans and photographers still waiting outside Lan Wangji’s hotel. It had been days, hadn’t it?
He turns the corner past the hotel and into the dark street. He’s reminded suddenly of the day he’d bumped into Lan Wangji right about here, though he didn’t know it at the time. He didn’t know a lot of things at the time, like how days later he would have kissed Lan Wangji and realised he’s probably been a little bit in love with him since they were teenagers.
Enunciating it even in his head makes him want to bang his head against the nearest tree.
The moon is brighter than it was the other night, and for some reason it makes Wei Wuxian thinks of hanguang-jun. He hasn’t heard from him in a while.
He’s reaches his apartment complex and turns to the gate—only to be accosted by someone who grabs his hand and manhandles him into the dark alley separating his building from the next.
This time, Wei Wuxian doesn’t mistake the long fingers clasping easily around his wrist and that sandalwood laced scent he knows now all too well. It’s Lan Wangji.
“Are you kidnapping me for real this time, at least?” he asks. “You can’t just tease every time and not follow through at least once. It’s a matter of reputation.”
Lan Wangji crowds into him. Too close. Unbearably close. He hasn’t let go of his hand. “Wei Ying,” he says. “I called you.”
“I noticed,” Wei Wuxian answers. “Seventy three times.”
“After that, it just said your phone was switched off. I... I was worried.”
Wei Wuxian feels a twinge of guilt. He hadn’t paused to think for a moment how Lan Wangji would have been feeling. But he can’t stop his mouth from running off again.
“Worried about what?” he asks, tilting his chin up.
Lan Wangji lets go of Wei Wuxian’s hand. “That I... may have scared you. May have come on too strong.”
Wei Wuxian barks a laugh at that. “You?” he says. “You scared me? Lan Zhan, you really have some nerve, coming into my perfectly sorted, peaceful life, making me act in ways I would never had otherwise—”
It’s a lie, of course. His life has never been peaceful, much less sorted. But Lan Wangji draws back the smallest amount, steady gaze faltering slightly. He looks sad. Horribly, horribly sad.
Wei Wuxian can’t stand it. It makes him want to—
He grabs Lan Wangji’s hand before he can do or say anything stupid, and tugs him towards the back entrance. It’s barely eight in the evening, but it’s quiet enough but that he’d almost forgotten they were out in the open. He’s been an idiot again. And all thanks to Lan Wangji.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” he hisses to him, once he’s dragged him into the lift and pressed the button for his floor. “I was shouting your name outside! Anyone could’ve seen us! You see what I mean? You make me do the strangest things, Lan Zhan, fuck.”
“I am sorry,” Lan Wangji says, his eyes averted.
“Look at me,” Wei Wuxian says at once. The moment Lan Wangji’s gaze shifts from him, he needs him to look back at him again. Then he smiles ruefully. “Ah. I always wanted you to look at me, you know. Right from the first time I saw you. You always made me do the stupidest things, just to make you see me.”
He realises he’s still holding Lan Wangji’s arm, and lets go. Lan Wangji stares down at his arm dropping from his grip.
“Wei Ying...” Lan Wangji exhales. His voice sounds soft and tired.
The doors open onto his floor and Wei Wuxian takes his arm again, and pulls him quickly in the direction of his flat. Once they’re inside, he switches on the light and shuts the door behind them before rounding on Lan Wangji again.
“I avoided you,” he whispers. “All these years. Had you blacklisted on my social media. Cancelled subscriptions to every sports channel I used to watch. Couldn’t play FIFA because I couldn’t bear to see your name.”
Lan Wangji looks stricken for a moment, then his face shifts into that awful, despondent, resigned expression again. But Wei Wuxian can’t stop talking, even if he knows he’s responsible for that terrible look in his eyes. “Then you came here after all this time and you made me feel like I was fucking sixteen and you had never left and Lan Zhan, you—this... why now?”
“I did not plan this,” Lan Wangji says quietly, looking at Wei Wuxian at last. His eyes are so intense that Wei Wuxian almost cannot bear it. “I only selfishly thought I could see you without my feelings getting in the way. It is my fault for acting on them.”
Selfish. Feelings. Wei Wuxian’s head spins. He leans forward, curls his fingers in the front of Lan Wangji’s soft knit sweater. “How long...” he bites out, “Lan Zhan... how long?”
Lan Wangji sighs. For a long moment, he stares at something over Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. Far, far away.
“Years,” he answers.
Wei Wuxian squeezes his eyes shut. “Six years ago,” he murmurs, tightening his fingers in Lan Wangji’s sweater. “After graduation. The day before you flew to Europe. When we sat by the lake that afternoon... You—You fucking asked me if I would come to Europe with you, with no other explanation...”
“It was too hard,” Lan Wangji answers. “The thought of you being in a different continent. I was just being childish. Selfish. But of course you had everything here. I remembered that, so I left. Wei Ying, if I could go back in time—”
Wei Wuxian never gets to hear what he would do if he went back in time because he lunges forward, pulling Lan Wangji down by the front of his sweater to crush his lips against his.
“You fucking idiot,” he whispers against Lan Wangji’s lips, pulling away bare centimetres. “You would go back in time to what? Not tell me how you really felt again? Make me live all these years making all this effort and still failing badly to move the fuck on from you all over again?”
“Wei Ying, you don’t have to,” Lan Wangji says. It sounds like it costs him superhuman effort to say the words. “I know my life comes with its complexities, I can’t ask you to—”
Wei Wuxian also doesn’t get to hear what he can’t ask him to do, because he takes one step closer, gets on his tiptoes and grabs Lan Wangji’s chin down to kiss him again.
“Lan Zhan ah, Lan Zhan.” He leans back just enough to say the words. Eyes closed, he can feel Lan Wangji exhale against his lips. “Who told you you could just decide on your own what I wanted?”
For a long moment, Lan Wangji doesn’t move at all. Then his hands come up to hold Wei Wuxian’s face like it’s the most precious thing he’s ever held and he tips his head up to meet his lips again.
The kiss is soft and tentative, Lan Wangji slipping one hand behind his neck to touch his hair and taking his time as if only to learn the shape of his lips and how they fit together (perfectly). Wei Wuxian has never been kissed like this. It makes him feel adored. Terrifyingly so. The touch of Lan Wangji’s fingers against his nape makes his legs weak, the thought of how many other places Lan Wangji could make him discover he’s sensitive at sets his heart skittering in his chest.
He draws away from the kiss to tell Lan Wangji, “Would you like to sit down?”
He takes Lan Wangji’s hand and brings him into the living room. They sit on the couch side by side and reach for each other at the same time, arms knocking into each other in the process. Huffing a laugh, Wei Wuxian gets to his knees on the couch, and hitches himself onto Lan Wangji’s lap. Straddling him, he leans in to kiss him again.
It’s different this time, the mere seconds’ delay in getting into each other’s arms lacing the kiss with an edge of desperation. Lips parting to deepen the kiss, they tilt their heads to slot closer together. Lan Wangji touches the base of Wei Wuxian’s back and turns out he’s sensitive there too.
Maybe he’s just sensitive to Lan Wangji in general, he thinks through the haze of arousal beginning to cloud his brain, his body destined to spark fire anywhere he ever touched him.
Then Lan Wangji spreads both his broad hands over the small of his back, and any trace of coherent thought is erased from his head immediately.
He arches his back, eager to feel more of Lan Wangji’s hands on him. More of him everywhere. Impatient, he licks Lan Wangji’s lips. Quick and kitten-like. Lan Wangji stiffens under him.
He winds his arms around Lan Wangji’s neck, lapping at his mouth, arousal spreading low in his belly. Lan Wangji’s thighs shift under him and it sends a thrill of pleasure down his spine to wonder how firm his muscles must be there, how powerful. He can’t hold back a series of embarrassing whines as he thinks about how it’d be like to be manhandled by him. When it hits him what he’s done he darts back immediately with wide eyes and a hand flying up to his mouth.
Lan Wangji frowns at him.
“Ah, Lan Zhan, do your hands really need to be so big...” he laughs awkwardly, only to be stopped dead mid-sentence by Lan Wangji flipping them over easily so that Wei Wuxian is lying on top of him on the couch. Wei Wuxian stares down at Lan Wangji, embarrassingly aroused at how he’d manhandled him so effortlessly.
Lan Wangji spreads one hand over his back, moving all the way up his skin to grip the back of Wei Wuxian’s neck. He holds him in place to kiss him long and deep and dirty for a few minutes and Wei Wuxian think he could pass out just from the way Lan Wangji’s hand curves around his neck and grips him light but firm.
They kiss lazily for several long minutes, Wei Wuxian taking full advantage of his position to run his hands up and down Lan Wangji’s firm chest. Lan Wangji’s hands come around to encircle his waist and Wei Wuxian has another moment of shameful self-discovery when he realises he’s absolutely ruined by the fact that Lan Wangji’s hands are big enough to close almost completely around him.
He arches against Lan Wangji’s hand, his pelvis rocking into his in the process and he feels his length against his own. He’s almost unbearably hot now, and he sits up on his ankles to take his shirt off. When he’s done, he finds Lan Wangji looking him up and down like he’s starved for him. He bends down, only to be stopped by a hand on his hip.
When he looks up questioningly, Lan Wangji slips his fingers into the narrow space between the waistband of his jeans and the small of his back and tugs.
“Fine, fine,” Wei Wuxian says, sitting up again. When he’s taken off his jeans, he says—with great effort, because Lan Wangji has started to stroke his bare thighs—“Hey, I’m not going to be the only naked person in the room! Off,” he says, pulling at Lan Wangji’s sweater.
Lan Wangji sits up and takes his sweater off and throws it into the rapidly growing pile of clothes on the floor. In the process, their foreheads bump together. Wei Wuxian laughs, and when he looks at Lan Wangji he has one of his rare soft, tiny smiles at his lips. He leans forward, kisses Wei Wuxian on the forehead. “Wei Ying,” he says, not adding any more to it, like he just wanted to say his name.
It’s ridiculous how something as simple as that could make Wei Wuxian’s heart actually flutter.
“Stop looking at me like that,” he says, petulant. Lan Wangji is still staring at him with a soft look on his face. “Like I’m a fuzzy bunny or something. I was about to suck your dick!”
The words have barely died in his throat when Lan Wangji reaches out to grab the back of his neck, pulling him forward to kiss him again. Hard, wet and devastatingly hot.
Wei Wuxian draws back, certain he looks wrecked with swollen lips and messy hair and his chest rising and falling like he’d just run a marathon. “If you say so,” he says with a smirk and crawls down Lan Wangji’s body.
They lie on the couch for a while, Wei Wuxian slumping over boneless in Lan Wangji’s hand after he had stroked him till release. He feels sticky and hot, but Lan Wangji’s chest is just broad enough and firm enough for it to be the most comfortable place to lie on. He thinks he could get extremely used to it.
He’s half-asleep when he notices he’s been lifted gently up in the air. Lan Wangji is carrying him in his arms bridal-style, padding ever so softly towards the bedroom.
“I woke you,” Lan Wangji says apologetically, when he realises Wei Wuxian’s eyes are open.
“Bedroom’s that way,” he murmurs sleepily as he presses his face into Lan Wangji’s bare chest. He forgets to actually point the way.
He wakes up at some point in the middle of the night, to find he’s dry and clean. Lan Wangji is asleep next to him. Wei Wuxian watches him, fond: he looks like an Egyptian mummy, flat on his back with his arms folded on his chest. His face looks soft and relaxed.
Of the 350 million people in the world talking about Lan Wangji, he is the only one who gets to see him like this.
He wakes to the morning sun on his face, and when he opens his eyes Lan Wangji is sitting up in bed next to him. He’s reading a magazine Wei Wuxian had left on the nightstand.
Wei Wuxian watches him for a moment, the way he’s reading some article about converters for mirrorless cameras. It makes Wei Wuxian’s heart do a backflip. Lan Wangji has never understood the first thing about photography.
He shuffles over, and buries his face in his lap.
Lan Wangji is startled for a moment, then lays his hand on Wei Wuxian’s hair. “Good morning, Wei Ying.”
“What are you reading?” Wei Wuxian asks, flipping over so he’s lying on Lan Wangji’s lap and looking up at him.
“An article you were reading about,” he reads off the title, “Easy to use, main-powered studio lighting with TTL auto exposure control.”
Wei Wuxian tries to remember the article. He pulls the magazine down to peer over the top of it. “Oh, this one. Didn’t know this was your preferred kind of casual early morning read?”
“You highlighted some sections here. Are you interested in this item?”
“If it were about one-tenth of what it actually costs, sure!”
“Mn.” Lan Wangji continues reading, holding the magazine up in front his face. Wei Wuxian pushes the magazine away. Now that he has him here, he doesn’t want to spend an extra second not looking at his face.
Lan Wangji has a tiny smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
“Hey, what are you smiling about?” he demands.
Lan Wangji cards his fingers through his hair. Then he says, “Knowing about the things you like.”
Wei Wuxian sits bolt upright, flushing. “Y-You can’t just say that!” he cries.
Lan Wangji looks at him, curious. “I made the mistake of letting you go six years ago. I don’t intend to waste another moment by not learning more about you.”
Wei Wuxian lets out a wounded groan, crawling to sit in his lap and press his burning face into his neck.
Wei Wuxian can smell pancakes again when he finishes showering. Lan Wangji’s earlier attempt had failed pretty spectacularly, not that Wei Wuxian feels even the slightest bit guilty about it.
He’d gone into the kitchen wearing Lan Wangji’s white football shirt that he’d brought home with him and nothing else. Standing on his tiptoes to make sure the shirt rode up his ass, he’d called Lan Wangji for help reaching one of the shelves overhead.
He had a theory based on their encounter in the locker room where he had been wearing Lan Wangji’s wet, sweaty football shirt, and he just wanted to test it.
He’d barely heard the sound of the spatula dropping from Lan Wangji’s hand before he had come behind him, dropping to his knees and burying his face in his ass, licking his way inside till his brain had blown several fuses.
Then when he couldn’t stand anymore, Lan Wangji had got to his feet, lined his body against his to hold him upright and teased him with his fingers, ending up fucking him furiously with three fingers inside him knuckle deep, stimulating places he didn’t even know existed. He’d come with just a single stroke to his length after that, Lan Wangji rutting against his hip till he came all over the back of his thighs, minutes later.
The pancakes had burnt to a crisp.
Walking out into the living room after he’s changed, Wei Wuxian finally checks his phone, finding more and more emails from clients. There’s also a notification from his Calendars app: he has an appointment at 5:30 with a new organic toothpaste company to discuss a promotional photoshoot.
“Lan Zhan, when’s your flight tonight?” He has tried his hardest not to think about it since last night, but it has to come up at some point.
Lan Wangji looks up at him from the cabinet below his television, in front of which he’s crouching to examine Wei Wuxian’s Nintendo Switch.
“Seven in the evening,” he answers.
“Ah, organic toothpaste company has to go, then,” he says with a shrug, finger travelling to the delete icon on his Calendar app.
“What?” Lan Wangji asks sharply.
“Just this appointment for a promotional photoshoot I was supposed to have at 5:30 today. It’s fine, I’m cancelling.”
“Why? We only have hours together and I want to be with you as much as time as possible, isn’t that obvious?”
Lan Wangji’s face had shuttered off suddenly, reminding Wei Wuxian of the way he had looked yesterday. Guilty. Regretful. I was selfish. Suddenly, he feels a stab of annoyance. “It’s fine,” he continues, “I’m emailing him to reschedule so it’s not like it’s a missed opportunity.”
He brings his laptop then to sit on the couch, going through the rest of his emails. He’s just started to select photos for another magazine that’s reached out for him—one focused on cityscapes and visual storytelling—when he notices Lan Wangji hovering behind him.
He tips his head back on the top of his couch to look at Lan Wangji upside-down. His irritation melts the moment he sees Lan Wangji trying to surreptitiously look at the photos on his screen.
“Lan Zhan, you’re too far away,” he says. It should scare him a little how constantly and intensely he craves him now that he has him in the way he’s tried to deny he’s wanted for so many years. He pats on the seat of the couch next to him.
Lan Wangji comes and sits next to him. Immediately, Wei Wuxian shuffles closer. It’s not nearly close enough, so he scrambles into his lap with his laptop.
“Perfect,” he says, settling comfortably with his back against Lan Wangji’s chest, as his arms come to wind around his waist. The time displayed at the corner of his laptop screen seems to pulsate into stark relief as a reminder of how little time they had. He shouldn’t get used to this, but he thinks he is already starting to.
He goes through his photos, editing them occasionally and adding them to his album with the shortlisted works and providing commentary.
“—and the weather kept changing so much that day that this picture was taken with an ISO of 100 and this with 400, and the difference is obvious, isn’t it?”
Wei Wuxian smiles, hopelessly endeared by how Lan Wangji closely listens to him rambling on about his photos, camera equipment and lighting techniques. He scrolls lower to reach the photos he’d taken on a trip to Japan in his first year of college.
“Japan was where I really peaked,” he sighs. Some of his best work was from that trip, and it was only five days long.
A photo of Mount Fuji at night comes up, bathed in moonlight in the backdrop of a sky dotted with stars. Wei Wuxian bites his lip and opens it.
“You’re the only person who’s ever seen this,” he confesses. “Maybe because it was slightly illegal? Lan Zhan, hear me out! It was taken at a mountainside hotel with an onsen, where photography was obviously banned, but I went at eleven in the night and there was no one else there so—”
His words are cut off but Lan Wangji pressing a soft kiss into his shoulder. “It is beautiful,” he says. “You are amazing, Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian flushes—god, who knew Lan Zhan could be so embarrassing—and turns back to the laptop, absently scrolling down his gallery. The pictures from Japan have made him wish suddenly they could travel together but he kills that thought swiftly before it can fester any longer in his head.
He starts to select more photos for another magazine that has invited him to send in some of his work, describing each one that comes up in great technical detail. Lan Wangji listens and listens, till he suddenly shifts under him.
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji has his hands on his arms.
Wei Wuxian makes a questioning noise, busily typing.
“I should go. I have to pack.”
Wei Wuxian shifts in his lap to look at him sideways. “What, Lan Zhan left the packing for last minute?”
“Wei Ying distracted me the whole time,” Lan Wangji says. “Haven’t been able to think of anything else.”
Wei Wuxian flushes furiously, turning around to pretend to type again. “Hah, guess all our teachers were right then: I am a bad influence.”
Lan Wangji takes his chin in his hands and turns his face around to kiss him. He kisses him slow and thorough till Wei Wuxian is breathless and realises abruptly that he’s been lifted clean off Lan Wangji’s lap and into the air bridal style.
It doesn’t last long, though. Lan Wangji breaks the kiss and drops him gently to the ground.
“I’ll come with you to your hotel,” Wei Wuxian sighs into his chest. “Please, just smuggle me in inside your coat.”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji’s voice is edged with despair. “I’ll be back soon, once I’ve packed.”
“Lan Zhan ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian sighs, following him as he walks towards the doorway. “I’m going to miss you till then. What am I going to do when you’re in a different continent?”
Lan Wangji kisses him again, quick and firm and devastatingly affectionate. “I will see you soon, Wei Ying,” he tells him, before he puts on his shoes and leaves through the doorway, leaving Wei Wuxian’s flat feeling far too large and far too cold all at once.
Wei Wuxian plays around on his phone, makes himself a cup of coffee, runs ten kilometres on his treadmill, eats a whole pack of rice crackers and makes himself another cup of coffee. Then it turns three in the afternoon.
Lan Wangji hasn’t arrived yet.
He tosses and turns on his bed with his phone, scrolling down to his phone number, finger hovering over it only to lock his phone and press his face into the mattress in frustration. To him he was his Lan Zhan, but to the rest of the world he was Lan Wangji, superstar footballer.
He could be selfless. This was Lan Zhan, after all. He’d promised he’d be back.
He was only running a little late.
Two more hours go by. Wei Wuxian calls him finally, unable to settle the uneasy feeling in his stomach. It goes to voicemail.
Arriving slightly late at airports. That was his thing, right? Rush hour traffic still hadn’t begun. He’d be able to make it to the airport in less than an hour, so he probably was just waiting it out.
He waits. When it’s five thirty, he calls again. There’s no reply.
His fingers fumble to the Weibo app, clicking through to the Lan Wangji supertopic. The first few posts are fansite previews of him in his mask and sunglasses, enough to tell him he’s already reached the airport.
He goes to his bathroom and throws up all the rice crackers and coffee he’d had before.
The next thing he knows, he’s waking up in his bed. The curtains are drawn. His sister is sitting next to him.
His bed still smells of Lan Zhan. Did he come over to study with him last night?
“Jiejie, am I late for school?” he says. His voice sounds rough and cracked, like he hasn’t used it in a long time.
Yanli just strokes his hair gently.
There must be something in his face that switches the moment he gets his bearings, because Yanli bends over to look at him properly. “A-xian.”
“Jiejie, what are... what are you doing here?”
“A-Cheng couldn’t reach you for hours. You had scheduled gaming night with him and Nie Huaisang, hadn’t you?”
Wei Wuxian groans. He can smell his own breath, and it reeks of alcohol. With a grimace, he sits up slowly.
Yanli puts a hand on his back to steady him. “How are you feeling?” she asks.
“Like shit,” he answers, too spent to sugarcoat it.
Yanli hands him a glass of water. “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?”
Wei Wuxian finishes the water and presses the cool glass against his forehead. “I met Lan Zhan,” he says.
“Wangji?” she says in surprise. “Your Wangji—I mean, your classmate, the footballer?”
He nods. Then he says, “I kissed him.”
Yanli inhales sharply, but she lets him talk.
“We kissed and we slept together and he told me he’d be back after packing and he never did and I think I like him, jiejie, I like him so much.”
Yanli tightens her grip on his arms. Her face twists in pain. “Oh, A-xian...” she whispers.
She stays with him, long after he’s blubbered out everything that had happened the past week. He falls asleep again on her lap at some point. When he wakes up, she’s still carding her fingers through his hair.
He brings a hand to his chest, curling his fist over the places where it still hurts so excruciatingly it makes him want to reel over. He doesn’t say anything, but his sister’s fingers pause in their motions.
“You’re my strong A-xian,” she says. She bends to kiss him on the forehead. “Would you like some noodles?”
She gives him a dimpled smile and nods. “A-Cheng bought the groceries. He’s outside, cleaning up your living room. Would you like to meet him?”
He nods, and slowly sits up.
Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang stay the night with him after Yanli leaves, doing their awkward best to keep him occupied. They seem to have made a list of activities beforehand, not letting Wei Wuxian’s mind wander even for a moment as they start something new the moment the last one ends.
They play Animal Crossing, go for a run around the park nearby, watch three movies and break his PlayStation controller, breathing down his neck as he fixes it. They’re about to drag him for some post-dinner Minecraft when Wei Wuxian has to protest.
“Guys, can I just go to bed please? I’m tired!”
Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang exchange nervous glances. Clearly, they hadn’t planned this far ahead.
“You want to sleep?” Jiang Cheng asks carefully.
“In your bed,” Nie Huaisang says, the cogs in his brain seeming to creak into motion.
“Yeah, like people usually do.”
“Cool,” Jiang Cheng says gruffly. “Sure, I guess you can... go ahead.”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t miss the shadow in his doorway that stands there for a long time as he lies awake. Or the dip in his bed as someone quietly comes to lie down on the other side.
He smiles, and eventually falls into a restless sleep.
He wakes up at five the next morning. Jiang Cheng is drooling all over the pillow next to him. Shaking his head, he gets to his feet and pads to the living room.
Two hours later, Nie Huaisang stumbles blearily from the guest bedroom in search of coffee, and finds him furiously typing at his computer. He looks like he wants to tell him something, but Jiang Cheng comes up behind him, and puts his arm on his shoulder to stay him. He nods at Wei Wuxian, who gives him a thumbs-up back.
They leave after breakfast, giving him several reminders to call or text—please, for the love of god—if he needed anything. Wei Wuxian immerses himself in his work, replying to messages and setting up appointments on his Calendar.
Later in the day as he’s waiting for a reply to an email, his fingers freeze when he notices where he’s landed whilst scrolling distractedly. The year he’s dreaded looking back at most of all.
He scrolls past pictures of their graduation ceremony. There’s Jiang Cheng, Yanli and Jin Zixuan posing—a moment he’s captured with Jiang Cheng looking disgruntled, Yanli looking between them and laughing, and Jin Zixuan looking extremely stuffy in a suit and glancing at Yanli as if to remind himself why he endured this. There are pictures of other classmates. There is even a picture he’d taken of his foster parents sitting a few rows ahead of him, smiling gently as Jiang Cheng had gone up on stage.
Then, there is a picture of the lakeside near the house Wei Wuxian had grown up with the Jiangs. Two pairs of feet on the grassy bank rolling into the still waters.
“Lan Zhan, you have to send me pictures of all the fancy European food you eat.” Their graduation ceremony was still underway when Wei Wuxian had roped Lan Wangji into sneaking away to the lake near his house. He’d eaten a whole packet of rice rollers already, and that was probably why his stomach felt queasy. “Oh, oh, and when you get a hot girlfriend, I have to be the first to know!”
Wei Wuxian had been so focused on shaking off the dark, ugly emotion that had risen in him at the thought that he’d almost missed what Lan Wangji said to him.
“Wei Ying. Come to Europe with me.”
Wei Wuxian had turned around, spluttering. “What?”
Lan Wangji had frowned at him, a stubborn expression on his face. “I asked you to come to Europe with me.”
“Lan Zhan,” he laughs. “What the fuck?”
“My manager will arrange everything if I tell him. The tickets, the Visa application—”
“Are you okay, Lan Zhan? You do realise I’m starting college in three months? Lan Zhan, why the fuck—”
Lan Wangji’s eyes had gone wide. An array of emotions had crossed his face then: brows furrowing in irritation as if Wei Wuxian was being dense on purpose, a flush of embarrassment at the tips of his ears, and finally, a realisation that cut the light right out of his eyes.
He looked like Wei Wuxian had just crushed his heart, but he’d only reminded him he was starting college in three months?
He’d closed his eyes, opening them a moment later with a horribly resigned look on his face. This was the day before he’d set off towards a glorious career, living the dream of every child kicking a football down the street in China. They had less than a day left together before he left for Amsterdam to play for fucking Ajax and here he was being strange, and Wei Wuxian found himself getting more annoyed by the second.
Finally, Lan Wangji had spoken. “Would you like to go swimming?”
Most people wouldn’t have noticed, but Wei Wuxian had still thought he’d looked like he wasn’t being completely honest. It was a deeply unnatural look on his face, so unnerving that Wei Wuxian had been grateful for any opportunity to distract them.
He’d nodded, getting to his feet. Stripping off his clothes to stand in his shorts, he’d asked, “You coming?”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji had nodded. “You go on, I’ll join soon.”
“Don’t take too long, we’ll race twenty laps today!”
He had run towards the edge of the lake and dived in. The water was just cold enough for his brain to shut down for a moment, and he’d enjoyed it. These days he would take any way he could find to calm the too-fast, too-many thoughts that were constantly swirling in his brain ever since Lan Wangji had told him he’d been recruited by Ajax.
He was just inordinately happy for him. That’s all there was to it.
He had finished one lap, returning to where they’d been sitting when he had looked up for Lan Wangji. He wasn’t there.
“Lan Zhan?” he’d shouted. They often swam together here and while Lan Wangji was more embarrassed about them undressing in front of each other, Wei Wuxian couldn’t actually see him anywhere even amidst the trees. There was no answer.
He’d come out of the water, shivering and dripping all over the grass as he had run up to where he’d left his phone. “Lan Zhan!” he’d kept calling, but there had been no reply. He called him from his phone, but the automated voice told him it was switched off.
He didn’t answer when he went to his house in the other district either, ringing his doorbell till the neighbours shouted at him to stop, he clearly wasn’t home. He didn’t hear from him till three days later he’d read in the papers: Teenaged brother of footballer Lan Xichen signs with Ajax FC.
He’d really just disappeared, and Wei Wuxian would never see him again.
When the memory fades, Wei Wuxian’s first thought is: “I will see you, Wei Ying.”
Those were Lan Wangji’s last words to him this time. And the strangest thing is, in some deep, hidden corner of his brain, Wei Wuxian believes him. Despite everything else telling him he’s being naïve, he still can’t shake the feeling that somehow, in some way, it’s all going to be okay.
So he plunges himself head first into his work. Emails from interested clients keep pouring in, and he schedules meetings with them from morning to night.
He’s afraid to stop, because it’s the only way he can keep thoughts of Lan Wangji at bay.
He still sees news headlines sometimes, about the impending Champion’s League final on Sunday. He still thinks of Lan Wangji all the time, like when he’s brushing his teeth, eating, or before he falls asleep. It still doesn’t hurt any less. But he waits—for what, he isn’t sure yet.
On Friday, he gets a call from an international number. He frowns, wondering if it could be a scammer.
These days he feels like he has nothing much to lose, so he answers it.
“Is this Wei Wuxian?” someone asks, in heavily accented English.
“I’m a representative of Settore Q. Are you aware of this company?”
“Yes, of course,” Wei Wuxian answers, in careful, broken English. They’re one of the largest investment groups and startup fundraisers in Europe. What was this about again?
“We have received the draft for the project you had presented at the Innovator’s Summit in Shanghai, one year ago. We are excited by the concept, and would like to discuss it with you. Would you be available this weekend?”
Wei Wuxian is silent. “This weekend?” he repeats blankly.
“Yes. We will arrange your arrival at Munich on Sunday morning, if that is to your convenience?”
Munich. The Champions League final. This Sunday. Lan Zhan.
“Um, okay?” he answers reflexively. This was quite an elaborate joke for someone to play, it may be amusing to see what the punch line is.
“That is, day after tomorrow,” the man stresses.
“Your flight will be booked for tomorrow morning, then.”
“Do you understand me, Mr. Wei?”
“Great. Please find the tickets attached in an email that will be sent to your inbox in the next fifteen minutes. We look forward to seeing you.”
The call ends and all Wei Wuxian can think as he sinks into the nearest chair is: What the fuck just happened?
Fourteen minutes later, his phone dings with an email.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Subject: SHA/MUC 13.2.2020.
There are real tickets attached. It’s real. Wei Wuxian slides off his chair to fall onto the ground with a thud.
He texts his siblings, Nie Huaisang and Wen Qing that he’s going to Beijing for a promotional photoshoot. He knows they’ll probably keep him under house arrest if he told them he was travelling to a different continent based on a phone call with a suspicious proposition.
He definitely doesn’t tell anyone that he searches ticket resale websites for the Champions League final, but ends up with nothing. Obviously.
Swiftly packing some essentials and spending a sleepless night in his bed, he arrives at the airport next afternoon. He sleeps through most of the flight because for some unimaginable reason they’ve decided to fly him business class. If this all turns out to be a horrible mistake, at least he’ll have travelled business class once in his life.
He’s wide awake when he steps down at Munich early on Sunday morning. He takes a deep inhale. Somewhere, Lan Wangji is breathing the same air.
A man is standing outside the arrivals area with a placard with his name, and he follows him into a car. He’s driven to an extremely nice hotel in what seems to be a central part of town. Another man in a dark suit meets him there and shakes his hand and checks him in, showing him up to his room.
He stretches out his legs on the bed, fighting the urge to search for the stadium tonight’s game would be held at on Google maps. To occupy his idle brain, he takes out his laptop and starts to make a presentation for the meeting tomorrow.
He works till the sun goes down, only noticing when it’s too dark to work without a light. He gets up to turn on the light, stretches his limbs and orders room service. When he gets back to the bed, there’s a notification on his phone.
hanguang-jun just posted a photo.
He hurries to open it. It’s been so long since he’s heard from him, he’s smiling even before the page loads.
It’s a picture of an empty football field.
weiyingphoto (16:45): hanguang-jun! you like football ;0
He peers closer at the photo and gasps when he notices the blue patch on the grass. UEFA Champion’s League 2020.
weiyingphoto (16:46): are you in Munich for the Champions League final? Σ(°ロ°)
hanguang-jun (16:46): Yes.
weiyingphoto (16:47): that’s crazy wtf i’m in Munich too for work? He replies without thinking. As much as he trusts hanguang-jun, giving away his location to a stranger on the internet while he’s in a foreign country probably isn’t the best idea. It’s just hard to think of hanguang-jun as a stranger, if he’s being honest.
hanguang-jun (16:47): I know this is sudden, but I’d like to ask you something
hanguang-jun (16:47): Would you like to meet?
Wei Wuxian’s heart stops. He stares at the message for a long moment.
He’s thought about it. Of course he has. The primary reason it’s never been a viable possibility is that they live in a different time zone, of course. The other reason—and maybe the more potent one—is that he’s afraid meeting this person would ruin the way he saw him in his head.
But this is hanguang-jun. What could go wrong?
weiyingphoto (16:49): of course!!
There’s no way he could have said no.
hanguang-jun (16:50): There is a place near the stadium. I will send you the exact location once I’m there. Be there at nine thirty. The game will be over then.
weiyingphoto (16:51): cool!! see ya tonight wow can’t believe this is really happening! ｡･ﾟﾟ*(>д<)*ﾟﾟ･｡
hanguang-jun (16:51): See you, Wei Ying.
Eight thirty comes around, and Wei Wuxian changes into a pair of black wide legged trousers and a fitted red checkered hoodie, jamming a black cap over his head. The stadium is not far but the crowds are likely to be endless. He books a cab and sets on his way.
The game is just past halftime when he leaves, and he catches his first glimpse of it when the car passes television stores. He squints through the window, trying to catch the game through the storefronts. By what he can tell, it’s still goalless by the team the cab drops him.
He’s dropped quite a distance away, since cars are allowed only up to a certain point. He’s grateful for the opportunity to walk, suddenly too antsy to sit in a car. Lan Wangji is somewhere just inside the massive walls of the Allianz arena rising to the sky some distance in front of him.
And so, miraculously enough, is hanguang-jun.
It all feels strangely dream-like. Thirty six hours ago, he was in his pyjamas eating cereal from the box and thinking about Lan Wangji kissing him against that very kitchen counter.
There’s still at least thirty minutes to go for the game, so he stops in front of a massive screen displaying the game just outside the stadium. There are people teeming around, screaming and jostling each other, so he chooses a spot further away in a corner. He can still see the game from there, so he’s okay.
The teams are well-matched and there are attempts on goal every few minutes from both side and equally tight defences holding them back. The first time Lan Wangji shows up on screen, sweating, brows knitted in concentration and utterly, magnificently beautiful, Wei Wuxian feels like his lungs just gave out.
Someone tackles him brutally seventy eight minutes into the game, and Wei Wuxian screams: “Red card!” without thinking, realising belatedly he’d dug his nails so deep into his palms that there are little half-moons imprinted on his skin. But he isn’t awarded one, and Wei Wuxian hisses in frustration.
After the tackle, Lan Wangji starts to move slightly slower. The cameras focus on the coach, frowning and discussing something with an assistant and the commentator’s next words make Wei Wuxian’s heart drop to his knees.
“—coach discussing the possibility of a substitution, maybe? May well be what they need at this stage to avoid extra time, but it remains to be seen—Oh, but would you look at that...”
The camera focuses on Lan Wangji. With bated breath, Wei Wuxian watches him abruptly shoot like an arrow right down the centre of the field as the defence that had stopped marking him once he’d slowed down scrambles to get to him again. Balling his hands into fists, Wei Wuxian rocks on his heels, heart racing as Lan Wangji passes two defenders, a third, then a fourth, leaving them to stare around helplessly as he flashes past them, into the penalty area, braced for a shot—
—and sends the ball hammering into the net right past the goalkeeper’s ears.
The screams are deafening, but Wei Wuxian’s “Lan Zhan!” still rings out loud and clear over it all. He realises much later, when his throat is scratchy and the balls of his feet ache from jumping so hard, that there’s wetness pricking at the corners of his eyes.
The game ends with a single goal, and Lan Wangji lifts the cup with his team. Wei Wuxian watches, feeling achingly happy for him, achingly proud and achingly empty all at the same time.
He starts to glance at his phone then, waiting for hanguang-jun to contact him. The crowds inside must be never-ending and he knows it will probably end up taking them a while to exit the venue. So he waits, idly watching the photo sessions being streamed on screen, players racing around the edges to celebrate with fans at every corner of the stadium and bringing their children out onto the field.
Lan Wangji takes one lap around the field with his medal. His face is impassive but he claps for the fans screaming his name as he runs, looking directly up at them.
The celebrations end eventually, and a discussion show analysing the game begins. Lan Wangji must be with his teammates now as they continue their celebrations in the locker room.
Then his phone buzzes with a notification from hanguang-jun. It’s a location. I’m here, he says.
It’s around seven minute away on foot, his phone tells him. Nervous energy bubbling in his chest, Wei Wuxian follows the path around the side of the stadium, past several parked trucks, over a half-broken fence, and inside a forested area adjoining the stadium. He has almost reached his destination when he dimly realises this is how serial killer movies usually began.
“I’ve reached,” he types in reply to hanguang-jun’s last comment, as he steps over some low bushes into a clearing.
The moment he sends it, a figure moves into the clearing and walks towards him.
It’s Lan Wangji.
For a moment, Wei Wuxian is struck speechless. It’s not easy putting him at a loss for words, but the way Lan Wangji makes him feel and act has never exactly been ordinary.
“Lan Zhan,” he says. “What the actual fuck are you doing here?”
“I came for a walk,” he answers. He’s still wearing his sweaty shirt from the game.
“Because taking a walk into a nearby forest is exactly what you do right after you’ve won the Champions League,” Wei Wuxian says, shaking his head. He glances down at his phone because looking at Lan Wangji is already making his chest ache abruptly with a longing he’s been trying to ignore. He scrolls through his comment thread with hanguang-jun again to distract himself but there is no new reply.
When he looks up, Lan Wangji has somehow entered right into his personal space. He grabs his chin in his hand and holds him in place. “What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for someone,” he answers, hating how red he turns.
“Who?” Lan Wangji asks, watching him closely.
“S-Someone who reads my blog,” Wei Wuxian answers. “They’ve left comments on each one of my posts for the past six years.” He doesn’t know if he’s flushing from saying that out loud or from the way Lan Wangji is holding him, but he does.
“How do you feel about that?”
Wei Wuxian thinks for a moment. His lips curve into the tiniest smile. “Nice,” he says, flushing harder than ever. “It’s nice. They’re... nice.” Where are they?
Lan Wangji is staring at him with a hungry sort of look in his eyes. Wei Wuxian can’t look at him anymore, not when he’s looking at him with that awful, yearning expression on his face, so he whispers, “Lan Zhan...” and pushes his hand away.
Lan Wangji reaches out again and grabs his wrist, and doesn’t let go.
Surprised, Wei Wuxian looks at him. He has no other choice, held so firmly by the arm. Standing there before him, looking into his eyes, something slots into place.
“No,” he whispers.
“No,” he says again, struggling to break free of Lan Wangji’s hold. “No.”
“You’re not... You can’t be.”
“Wei Ying, please.”
“... You’re not hanguang-jun.”
Lan Wangji lets go of his hand. Wei Wuxian makes a sound like he’s dying, and grips the front of his shirt. “Tell me you’re not hanguang-jun,” he whispers. “Tell me you haven’t been stalking my stupid blog for six fucking years.”
“Wei Ying, I can explain.”
Wei Wuxian’s head is spinning, and his blood seems to be roaring in his ears. Good shot. Nice picture. Beautiful. That steadfast, almost comforting presence that had stayed with him all these years from who knew which corner of the world. Letting him ramble at him about his day. That unwavering attention to his posts which should have felt creepy and worrisome but never did, not even for a moment. It was all him, all this time.
He lets out a soft gasp. Of course it was him.
“Why?” he asks, voice cracking at the edges. “Lan Zhan, why?”
Lan Wangji lowers his eyes. “Just wanted to keep up with your life. How you spent your days. Your photography. You had seemed to move on from... from football so completely.”
“You idiot,” Wei Wuxian exhales. “If you only knew the elaborate precautions I had to take because I couldn’t move on. Guess we just have different coping mechanisms, huh.”
“Wei Ying. That day by the lake,” says Lan Wangji. He looks full of regret, and Wei Wuxian wants to wipe that look clean off his face. He blames himself just as Wei Wuxian blames himself, and he thinks they’ve both had enough of that for a lifetime. “I should have told you how I felt, that afternoon—”
“You called my fingers beautiful,” Wei Wuxian says accusingly, cutting him off. He’s been struck with a realisation as he remembers a comment to a picture he’d posted of him holding up a matcha ice cream cone.
Lan Wangji is quiet for a while, seemingly lost in thought. Then he says, “Thought you wouldn’t realise. Always wanted to tell you that, but didn’t want to scare you by commenting on pictures of your face.”
Wei Wuxian flushes. It’s too much. Unbearably, impossibly much.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Wangji, Hanguang-jun,” he says, “This is all wrong, I’m supposed to be the one embarrassing you.”
“I am sorry,” Lan Wangji presses. “Wei Ying, I did not want my feelings to overwhelm you. After we spent the night together, I—I could not say goodbye to you. I knew I would end up asking you to come to Europe with me again like I did six years ago.”
“I wanted you to,” Wei Wuxian sighs, taking a step closer, “I want you to so badly.”
Lan Wangji places a hand on his cheek, tilting his face up to look at him.
“Then it’s a good thing you will have to, very soon.”
“What?” Wei Wuxian asks. It’s hard to think with Lan Wangji so close to him, solid and real and so, so beautiful.
“Settore Q has its principal offices in Italy. I arranged for them to meet you here, but you’ll need to stay in Italy at least till your project is developed. If—If you accept their offer, that is.
Wei Wuxian feels his heart come to a shuddering stop. Then he closes his eyes, and shakes his head. “Tell me,” he whispers, as more things start to make sense, “Tell me you didn’t refer my name to all those clients, all those magazines... Settore Q, too.”
“Wei Ying, I—I know I overstepped,” Lan Wangji answers hastily. “It was not my place to use my influence to further your career. I wished merely for people to recognise your talent and see you for the brilliant person I do. I only referred you to those three clients at the start, people I’d worked with. Then word of your talent spread, like I knew it would.”
Wei Ying stares at him for the longest moment. This ridiculous, wonderful, perfect man he’s in love with. Then he lunges forward, fingers curled in Lan Wangji’s shirt and kisses him desperately on the mouth. It’s fierce, inelegant and dizzyingly perfect, and when they part Wei Wuxian feels like he’s forgotten how to breathe
“Lan Zhan, you really are awful...” he gasps into his chest. It’s almost too much to bear, hearing him say these things. “Making me think you’d just left me behind again, when you were really out here being the gigantic sap that you are.”
It’s impossible to wrap his head around it, to have someone orchestrate so much all for him. The way Lan Wangji holds him like he’s the most precious thing he’s ever touched makes him feel maybe he even deserves it.
“I wanted you to choose to come here,” Lan Wangji says. “I know your work is important to you. Wanted you to be happy here.”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t think he could ever possibly string the words together to appropriately respond to that, so he stands on his tiptoes and kisses him instead. Lan Wangji draws him closer with an arm around his waist and another in his hair. Suddenly, he feels his hair spill over his shoulders and breaks the kiss to find Lan Wangji holding his red scrunchie in his hand.
“Lan Zhan, what—?”
Lan Wangji takes off his white wristband and reaches behind Wei Wuxian’s neck. Gathering his unruly hair up into a ponytail, he secured it with his wristband.
Wei Wuxian’s face burns. “You... You really put your sweaty—”
“Please, for a little while,” Lan Wangji says, and he looks at him with a satisfied expression on his face. Wei Wuxian remembers the way he’d reacted to him wearing his shirt. Twice. Three times, if you counted the time they were fifteen and Wei Wuxian had made him fall over on his ass while practising tai chi.
Then Lan Wangji kisses him again, and Wei Wuxian loses that track of thought very abruptly.
The kiss is more frantic this time, messy and wet. Lan Wangji drags his mouth down his neck all the way to his collarbones, leaving searing kisses along the way. He is relentless, marking every inch of skin he can access without actually stripping him here, out in the open. Wei Wuxian holds on tightly to his shoulders, feeling his knees about to give way.
It’s this reminder that they’re in an open space, minutes away from the stadium where thousands of people are still celebrating the Champion’s League win, that finally makes Wei Wuxian push him off. It turns out that Lan Wangji is the kind of person who gets even more stubborn when he’s turned on, so it’s a struggle.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, settling into his arms after they catch their breath, “You have a lot of stamina for someone who types like a grandpa on the internet.”
Lan Wangji looks down at him, frowning. “Your website looks like it could have been designed by A-Yuan,” he returns.
Wei Wuxian huffs in protest. “It’s perfectly fine! Using a few cute emojis and animations sometimes won’t kill you, Lan Zhan.”
“I already told you, it’s inadequate,” says Lan Wangji sternly. “You have more photographs of yourself than your photography on your homepage. A website targeted at potential clients should showcase your work, not baby photos of yourself.”
“But I’m cute,” says Wei Wuxian, with an air of finality. The wheels in his head start to turn, and he teases, “Tell me, what did Hanguang-jun really think when I posted pictures of myself on my blog? You never commented on them. Did I make you blush with my cuteness? Did you get distracted thinking of me in the middle of practice? Did you print them out and tuck them in your wallet and carry me with you everywhere?”
“I—” Wei Wuxian is surprised he responds, “I had them on my phone. That time when the girl took my phone at the airport and threatened to expose me, I—”
“Wait, what?” Cheeks heating up, Wei Wuxian tries to pull apart to see Lan Wangji’s face but he holds him in place, face pressed into his shoulder. But when he shifts his head ever so slightly, he notes with delight that Lan Wangji’s ears and the back of his neck are bright pink too.
He smiles into Lan Wangji’s sweaty shirt and inhales. His Champions League goal-scoring, trophy-lifting sweaty shirt.
“I never congratulated you, by the way,” he says suddenly, voice muffled against Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “On the game.”
“Wei Ying being here is enough,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian extricates himself from his arms, blinking innocently. “So, just to be clear—” he says, “You would be okay with not fucking me into my hotel room mattress tonight?”
Lan Wangji stares at him for a whole ten seconds in unbridled shock before grabbing his face and kissing him so hard he stumbles backwards.
“…I’ll take that as a no, then.”
Lan Wangji returns to their team locker to acquire lube and condoms from one of his teammates, a fact which amuses Wei Wuxian endlessly. They get into one of the black SUVs that always seem to be at Lan Wangji’s disposal, and promptly jump into each other’s arms.
When Wei Wuxian is panting on Lan Wangji’s lap as they cool themselves off so that the night doesn’t end before they even reach his hotel room, Lan Wangji asks, “Are you really okay with this, Wei Ying?”
“What?” Wei Wuxian asks.
“This... The secrecy. All the eyes on me. Hiding from fans and paparazzi.” He exhales softly. “I know it is a lot to ask.”
“I told you already: it can be fun. Your getaway cars have great legroom, plus they’re ideal for making out. Lots of role play potential, too.” He presses his nose into Lan Wangji’s neck. “Also Lan Zhan is worth the effort, I guess.”
Reaching Wei Wuxian’s hotel room is a struggle. Lan Wangji seems keen to avoid wasting a single second without kissing him and touching him everywhere. In the corridors, the lift and outside his room, as Wei Wuxian fumbles with the key.
“There are cameras here!” he hisses, unable to wrap his head around the fact that he of all people has to play the part of responsible adult between them when Lan Wangji is horny.
“I have my cap on,” Lan Wangji says stubbornly, snaking his arms up Wei Wuxian’s shirt to pinch his nipples.
When they’re inside, Wei Wuxian has barely shut the door behind him when Lan Wangji is on him, tearing open his clothes and kissing him everywhere he can reach. They end up on the bed in a tangle of limbs.
Lan Wangji crawls on top of Wei Wuxian, licking over the budding marks he’d left all over his neck and collarbones earlier with a hum of satisfaction. His fingers roam Wei Wuxian’s bare torso and he moves lower to mouth at his chest, spending long tortuous minutes sucking his nipples into his mouth and lapping at them with his tongue. Wei Wuxian is dazed with arousal by the time Lan Wangji sits up on his knees, pulling his shirt over his head. His mouth goes dry and he pulls Lan Wangji in for a kiss as soon as his shirt is off.
Lan Wangji helps him get rid of his trousers and then props himself on one elbow as he takes out the lube and condoms from his pockets and then kicks his shorts off his legs in one smooth motion. Wei Wuxian stares at his firm, muscled thighs, imagines them pistoning forwards powerfully as he fucks him, and promptly blanks out.
That is, till a wet finger traces his entrance.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, feeling oddly vulnerable as he presses his palms into Lan Wangji’s shoulders, “I-I’ve never actually done this before.”
Lan Wangji puts his hand on his cheek, infinitely gentle, and kisses him. Wei Wuxian kisses him back, hoping he’ll be able to get through to him just how glad he is that he is the one he gets to do this with.
“Me neither,” Lan Wangji says, and touches him again.
It’s uncomfortable at first, edging on the surface of pain. Then suddenly, there’s pleasure. Blinding, nearly excruciating pleasure. Lan Wangji works him open thoroughly, kissing him through it till his mouth falls slack and his toes curl and his body arches off the bed.
He takes so long to work out how to put the condom on, Wei Wuxian starts to slide his fingers inside himself experimentally, desperate to feel that place Lan Wangji’s fingers had reached earlier.
“Lan Zhan, please,” he gasps, as his fingers fall short, “Need you.”
One look at Wei Wuxian’s slack-jawed face as he plays with himself makes Lan Wangji’s eyes go dark. Fumbling to roll the condom over his length at last, he pins both Wei Wuxian’s arms down overhead and enters him face to face.
Lan Wangji pauses, his length halfway inside him. Wei Wuxian wraps his legs around his back, dizzy with want, to pull him deeper inside till he bucks up off the bed with a broken cry and digs his fingers into Lan Wangji’s back. With a sharp inhale, Lan Wangji pulls back and fucks into him so hard he moves three inches up the bed. It takes minutes of quick, deep, increasingly irregular thrusts before Wei Wuxian is coming over his stomach in Lan Wangji’s hand, followed by Lan Wangji letting out a exhale as he climaxes inside him.
Wei Wuxian is babbling breathlessly as he comes down from his high, “Lan Zhan, I can’t believe you... Can’t believe how much I like you, I whatever—Lan Zhan, I love you, I love you so much.”
He rolls to the side to put his arms around Lan Wangji, burying his neck into his shoulder to hide his flushed face.
Lan Wangji is silent for a long time.
Then he says, hesitant, “Wei Ying, there’s something I wanted to ask you.” He pulls Wei Wuxian gently off him to look at him.
He sounds achingly earnest. Wei Wuxian takes his hand and nods, looking at the way their fingers slot together.
“I’ve been reading some books,” Lan Wangji says. “And forums online. It is a complicated process, but it is possible.”
“What are you trying to say?”
Lan Wangji coughs softly. A faint flush has started to spread from his ears to cover his whole face. “If you’d like...” he says, “I would like to help you talk to your friend. To make arrangements. To maybe... Maybe, bring A-Yuan here to stay with us. If that is what you wish.”
Heart racing, convinced he just imagined it, Wei Wuxian props himself up on his elbows to look at him in disbelief. A picture of A-Yuan swinging from their hands between them bursts into his head. His eyes go blurry.
Did Lan Wangji just—?
“Lan Zhan,” he gasps, pressing his face into Lan Wangji’s chest, “You cheeky bastard, is this you skipping the ‘I love you too’ and straight up proposing to m—mmff?
As Lan Wangji shuts him up with a kiss, Wei Wuxian’s last coherent thought before his brain turns to cotton wool again is that he’s absolutely okay with it.