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you go your way (i'll go your way, too)

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“Sir.”

 

“Hey, w-would you hurry up, please?”

 

“Almost, almost! You know true perfection takes that last bit of—”

 

“Sir!”

 

“Okay, okay, shoot! Is the wing of the plane coming into view? The name of the airline?”

 

“If I get arrested for this, y-you’re paying bail.”

 

Sir!

 

Nie Huaisang bolts. Camera tucked in the crook of his arm, backpack clunking noisily as he makes a beeline for the plane.

 

Wei Ying slides off his luggage and turns to give the flight attendant his most dazzling smile.

 

“Photography isn’t permitted here,” she says, unamused.

 

Wei Ying furrows his eyebrows and taps at his chin. “You say that now,” he says. “But wait till you see the photos once they’re up. Remember this face!” He beams at her, grabbing the handle of his luggage and starting to run backwards as she takes a step towards him with balled fists. “And follow me! I’m yilinglaozu on all my social media, don’t forget it!”

 

Then he turns on his heels, and races towards the steps leading up to the aircraft.

 

 

He finds Nie Huaisang in premium economy, in the process of stowing his bag in the overhead bin. He squawks in surprise when Wei Ying pokes him in the ribs, then repeats it with more feeling when he realises who it is.

 

“You!” says Nie Huaisang, pointing a shaking finger at him. “I’m not going to be your human tripod anymore. I quit. I’m too pretty to go to jail.”

 

Wei Ying holds his palms out for his camera. Nie Huaisang looks at him for a moment like he is seriously considering holding it ransom, then grudgingly hands it over. Wei Ying opens out the viewfinder and scrolls through the photos, sticking out the tip of his tongue as he concentrates.

 

Half a minute later, he hums in satisfaction. Nie Huaisang is a pro, and Wei Ying would bail him out in a heartbeat if he had to. The photos of him sitting on his suitcase in front of the aircraft are not bad at all, despite the dying evening light.

 

“These are passable,” he declares finally. “I guess. I really wish we’d come an hour earlier, though. The lighting would’ve been unreal then.”

 

“And whose fault is that?”

 

“A small price to pay for perfection,” Wei Ying brushes off airily, like he hadn’t decided at the last minute he needed a very specific pair of Doc Martens and gone on a shopping trip to the nearest thrift store four hours before their flight. “And anyway, it’s nothing a couple of minutes of tweaking on the Meitu app won’t fix,” he says cheerfully.

 

“Really?” Nie Huaisang demurs. “And the trauma I experienced having to race through security with no time to take a single airport selfie for my stories?”

 

Wei Ying pats his arm. “It’s okay. I’ll help you vlog the bullet train ride to Kyoto tomorrow, as a treat.”

 

“Do you even know what time your train is?” says a voice behind him. It’s Jiang Cheng, wearing massive headphones around his neck and a frown on his face. Pretty on par for the course.

 

“Such little faith you all have in me,” Wei Ying says sulkily.

 

“You didn’t answer me,” Jiang Cheng says, completely unmoved. He lifts his luggage to stow it overhead.

 

“Um,” Wei Ying scratches his chin thoughtfully. “Seven twenty three?”

 

Jiang Cheng huffs. “Idiot. At least check what time the first train to Kyoto starts before making shit up. It’s at eight fifteen.”

 

“That’s just what Wen International tells their influencers so that they get enough beauty sleep,” says Wei Ying sagely. “Although,” he says, eyeing Jiang Cheng, “Not sure why they’d tell you that, since your whole USP as a gaming streamer is screaming and making ugly faces on camera.”

 

“I’m not their influencer,” Jiang Cheng says darkly. “First of all, don’t ever call me an influencer? More importantly, Wen International doesn’t own me.”

 

“Denial isn’t cute after the first fifty times you say it,” says Nie Huaisang matter-of-factly. “They’ve literally acquired each and every one of the companies you partner with and they’re the reason you’re even on this plane, so yes. They do own you. And me. And everyone on this flight probably. Besides you, I guess.” He glances at Wei Ying as he finishes.

 

Jiang Cheng tosses Nie Huaisang a dirty look as he squeezes past him to take his seat next to him. But he can’t argue with that. The Wens have been unstoppable over the last few years, acquiring businesses in every direction and the best legal counsel money could buy them. And with the Wens, it was always a lot of money.

 

Wei Ying leans against the back of a seat, looking around the cabin. He looks decidedly unimpressed. “All that money and the Wens still couldn’t get you business class seats. Imagine the photo opportunities.”

 

“At least we’re not being sponsored by some company run out of a basement, flying their influencers in economy,” a voice says behind him. “Can’t say the same for you, can we?”

 

Wei Ying whips around. Irritation simmers under his skin as he sees Wen Chao right in front of him, smiling his greasy smile. Infamous TikTok star and heir to Wen International.

 

“Don’t fucking try it,” says Jiang Cheng.

 

“Hey, hey, let’s not forget you work for us now,” Wen Chao says in amusement, as Jiang Cheng balls his fists. Nie Huaisang fidgets behind him, indignation and his natural propensity to stay out of things waging a silent war inside him. “You too,” Wen Chao assures him.

 

“Don’t push it, or he’s walking away,” says Jiang Cheng. “You know what that means, right? That’s the man who inspired Gucci’s whole line of hand fans last season with one viral post, right out the door with the million yuan he brings you every year.”

 

“That’s sweet, thinking he’ll even make a dent,” says Wen Chao. “And you’re naive if you still think this industry is sentimental, or that it’ll give two shits about you once you’re over. At least you agree with me, don’t you?” He turns to Wei Ying, smiling widely at him.

 

You’re naive if you think I’m relying on sentiment to help me out,” says Wei Ying, grinning as he crosses his arms. “If you were threatened by fifteen year old me making cute DIY videos, you’re in for a treat when people discover yilinglaozu.”

 

“Maybe we could take you more seriously if you managed to pay your rent without selling your whole wardrobe.” He pointedly gives Wei Ying’s entirely thrifted outfit a once-over. “Job at the corner store not paying you enough?”

 

“Keep moving, cousin.” Looking up, Wei Ying sees another familiar face over Wen Chao’s shoulder. He feels a rush of fondness as Wen Qing advances, pushing past Wen Chao and stopping in front of Wei Ying.

 

“Hey, you,” he says, grinning. He swallows down the bitter taste that had come into his mouth at Wen Chao’s words as he walks past him with a last disparaging smirk. “Didn’t know you were going to Fashion Week, too.”

 

She shrugs. “I’m sure they’re not too happy about it, but for the kind of work Ximon Lee needed for his fall/winter looks this year, I was the only one.” She smiles sardonically.

 

Wei Ying raises his fingers to his head in a salute.

 

He means it. Despite the rumours surrounding her spread by jealous peers, there’s no doubt that Wen Qing is quite possibly the only makeup artist in the world right now who could do justice to Ximon Lee’s avant-garde aesthetic.

 

“What about the rest of the events this week?” he asks. Taking advantage of the influx of influencers flying in for fashion week, several companies had scheduled promotional events in the nearby cities over the next couple of days.

 

“You know cheesing for selfies while sneaking in some product placement isn’t my scene,” Wen Qing grimaces. “Are you going, though?”

 

Wei Ying shrugs. “Yeah, this magazine reached out to me. Baixue. Run by a couple living with their daughter in Tianzifang. Straight up told me they didn’t have a lot of money to book me the best hotels or flight tickets or even get me into the more elite events, but they believed in what I had to offer. Or something.”

 

“That’s really good,” says Wen Qing, voice unexpectedly gentle. “I’m happy for you.”

 

Wei Ying nods. “They have an online blog they want me to do a takeover for after I return. It’s pretty old-fashioned, I guess. They want an actual written think piece about how the trip inspired me?”

 

“Cute, but in this influencer economy?” says Wen Qing, raising her brows.

 

“That’s what I thought!” says Wei Ying. “Not sure if they’re super idealistic or just naïve.”

 

“Stop being ungrateful, will you? It’s not like you were swimming in opportunities,” Jiang Cheng shoots back from his seat.

 

Which is fair, Wei Ying supposes.

 

“Well, yilinglaozu will keep all his bases covered. Vlogs, douyins, selfies, you name it. Speaking of, tell me they gave you a business class seat?” he says, giving Wen Qing his best puppy eyes. “I need photos to post for my next story!”

 

But Wen Qing isn’t his sister, and she rolls her eyes. “You think they’d do that? Apparently, last time a fashion house flew me business class I did cocaine and hooked up with a flight attendant in the bathroom.”

 

“Who’s to say you wouldn’t do cocaine and hook up with a flight attendant in the bathroom from premium economy?” Wei Ying says, scratching his chin thoughtfully.

 

“I know. Amateurs.”

 

A couple of passengers come up behind them, and Wen Qing slides into her seat just behind Nie Huaisang to let them pass.

 

The group passes through and the path between the seats on either side opens up. Wei Ying catches the flutter of curtains leading into the business class cabin ahead. The wheels start to turn in his head.

 

“Catch you later, guys,” he says.

 

Grabbing his luggage by the handle, he starts to walk towards the curtains.

 

“Hey, what are you doing?” Jiang Cheng barks from behind. “Your seat is in the other—”

 

Wei Ying lifts a hand in a wave, and parts the curtains into business class.

 

 

Taking a few steps inside, Wei Ying stops to look around him.

 

On either side of the cabin runs a row of cosy window seats which could be extended into beds, with pull-out desks and even ottomans to relax on if you felt bored of your seat. Down the centre runs a row of similar seats in pairs which could be closed to make an enclosed cabin for two persons by bringing down the sliding doors on either side with the push of a button.

 

The honeymoon seats, if you will.

 

Wei Ying squares his shoulders and schools his face into a blank expression. He takes a deep breath, channelling his best impression of I travel business class every week, this is fine, no big deal energy. Then he saunters down between the seats, closely taking in each seat on both sides through the corners of his eyes all the while.

 

His energy fades as he goes further and further and none of the seats appear to be unoccupied. Then he stops dead.

 

To his right, a pair of honeymoon seats lie empty.

 

He glances around him. The flight attendants are busy elsewhere, and everyone around him seems to have settled in already with headphones and eye masks on. Heart thumping, he slips inside and sinks onto the seat.

 

He looks around, wondering if he should pinch himself. It couldn’t be this easy, could it? There had to be a catch, right?

 

He gives himself ten seconds. When nothing happens, he stifles a whoop of triumph. He’ll be quick, all he needs is a single post-worthy selfie to do the job. He bites his lip, rummaging around to see what he is working with.

 

Plush brown leather seats that feel like butter, moulding perfectly around his body. A large wooden side table. An LCD television screen. A vanity area. A space to store his shoes. Reading lights, a coat hook, magazines, long slim legs clothed in cream tailored slacks—

 

—Wait, what?

 

He freezes. Then his eyes start to travel upward very slowly, with escalating dread. Up long legs and a lean torso clad in a light blue buttoned cardigan over what looks to be a white button-down shirt. And finally at the face of the man standing on the other side of the twin seats, staring directly at him through narrowed eyes.

 

Wei Ying’s breath catches in his throat.

 

The man is beautiful. He is tall, pale-skinned with golden-brown eyes behind thin-framed round glasses and long black hair gathered with a clip to fall straight till the middle of his back. He stares at Wei Ying with wide eyes for a long moment, as if he cannot wrap his head around what he is seeing.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

He’s also perhaps a bit furious.

 

“Hey,” Wei Ying says, very soft and slow as if not to spook him. “Let’s be rational about this.”

 

The man’s frowns. It’s a pity, Wei Ying finds himself thinking. The man is still beautiful, but he itches to reach over and smooth his forehead with his fingers.

 

“Is everything okay?” A flight attendant has appeared next to the beautiful man.

 

(Wei Ying’s brain really needs to stop calling him beautiful.)

 

“Hi, do you need assistance?” she says with a polite smile.

 

The man is still frozen in place, glaring at Wei Ying.

 

“It’s okay!” Wei Ying blurts out. “My husband is just, uh. He sometimes just blanks out looking at me because he’s so in love. We’re on our honeymoon, and we can’t believe this is really happening sometimes? Isn’t that right, baby?” He looks adoringly up at the man who is currently staring at him like his very life goal is to obliterate him with the force of his glare

 

The next step isn’t necessary. It really isn’t. The flight attendant gives them a smile, already beginning to walk past.

 

For some reason, Wei Ying lunges forward, grabs the man’s hand and tugs him into the seat next to him.

 

The flight attendant stops dead to look around in concern as the man tumbles onto the seat with a dull thump, long limbs flying in every direction.

 

Wei Ying immediately leaps over to get on his knees in front of the man. Looking up at him, he can see just how long and thick the man’s eyelashes are. His ears are flushed, and his eyes even wider than before.

 

“Baby, I’m sorry,” Wei Ying says loudly, starting to massage the man’s legs. It’s hard not to notice how firm and muscular they feel under his hands. He looks around at the flight attendant, and gives her a sheepish smile. “Don’t worry,” he tells her, mid-massage. “He’ll be fine—we’re usually a lot rougher than this.”

 

The flight attendant takes a step backwards, face going red. “Oh,” she says. “Um. You know you can pull down these sliding doors if you’d like some privacy?”

 

“Of course,” Wei Ying assures her.

 

She nods, seeming relieved that her work here is done, and hurries on ahead.

 

Wei Ying relaxes. That had gone significantly better than he’d expected. He’s almost smiling as he turns back and happens to glance at his hands—

 

—Which have travelled higher and higher up his leg at some point to nestle between the man’s thighs, inches away from his crotch.

 

Eyes widening in horror, he looks up at the man. He looks a sight: ears pink, lips parted, chest rising and falling heavily with every breath and golden brown eyes gaping in poorly disguised panic. The fine fabric of the clothes he’s wearing that were immaculate half a minute ago are now creased and rumpled.

 

“H-Hi,” Wei Ying says, because he’s an idiot with no brain-to-mouth filter.

 

“Get your hands off me,” the man bites out.

 

Wei Ying jumps and pulls back his hand. “Sorry, sorry,” he says quickly, trying to ignore the way the man’s thigh muscles had tightened and shifted under his fingers as he’d started to straighten up. “There’s a good reason for this, I promise. Don’t worry, I’ll explain everything to your—uh, wife, when she gets here?”

 

He finds himself wondering briefly what kind of person would have struck this man’s fancy enough to get married to them. Book honeymoon seats, too. He’s barely spoken at all this whole time and everything about his permanent glare, the tight line of his mouth when he’d first seen Wei Ying and his fuddy-duddy outfit screams boring and uptight.

 

It makes the panic in his eyes and the flush in his face all the more fascinating, somehow.

 

The man grips the armrest with one hand and reaches up with the other to stroke his temple. He looks frazzled. “This is not. I don’t—”

 

Wei Ying cocks his head to the side.

 

The man turns his head sideways against his palm. “Get up,” he orders, but he can’t look at Wei Ying as he says it.

 

Wei Ying balks. He only just realises the kind of position he’s been in, kneeling between the man’s spread legs. He springs up, cheeks burning as he scrambles back into the seat next to the man.

 

The man takes a few moments, probably to realign his qi. Then he rounds on Wei Ying, eyes narrowed in cold fury again. “This is my seat,” he says, brows furrowed.

 

“Oh, would you liked to exchange with me?” Wei Ying asks, realisation dawning on him.

 

The man glances heavenwards for a moment, then says, “These are both my seats. Move.”

 

Wei Ying wonders for a moment if he should put his carefully honed puppy eye skills to the test. It doesn’t seem likely to work. “Just let me be here till your partner arrives?” he pleads, eyes going round and lips forming into a pout just in case. “If I starve to death next month, I hope you’ll be happy knowing you’re responsible.”

 

“You will starve to death if you move from a seat I booked?” the man asks, fixing his glare on him again.

 

“Yes,” says Wei Ying with a dramatic sigh. “Social media engagement is so complex these days. In-flight photos just aren’t the same if they’re not taken in business class.”

 

“Social media engagement,” the man repeats, still looking at him bug-eyed.

 

Wei Ying nods. “I’m yilinglaozu on all my social media accounts, by the way!” He holds out a hand. “You can call me Wei... Wei Ying.”

 

He isn’t sure why he doesn’t introduce himself as Wei Wuxian. His old username had blown up so much that even his close friends and family had started to call him by it, and what had started as a joke had stuck. In any case, it’s not like this man will Baidu search him and discover his seedy past as a disgraced fashion blogger. It’s not like he’ll care, either.

 

The man is looking straight ahead and doesn’t say a word. He ignores his hand entirely. Wei Ying scratches the back of his neck.

 

“This is where you tell me your name,” he says patiently. What he doesn’t add is: So I can stop referring to you as Beautiful Man in my head.

 

To his surprise, the man mutters something under his breath.

 

“Did you say something?”

 

“Lan... Zhan,” the man mutters, slightly louder but still not making eye contact.

 

“Lan Zhan,” says Wei Ying experimentally. It sounds nice, rolling off his tongue.  “Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, your partner seems to be late.”

 

The pilot has started to announce imminent take-off, and the flight attendants are closing the overhead bins one by one.

 

“There is... no partner,” says Lan Zhan stiffly, looking like he very much regrets having told Wei Ying his name.

 

“But you booked two seats?” Wei Ying says, curiously.

 

“My company did,” Lan Zhan says shortly.

 

Wei Ying taps his chin, trying to wrap his head around it. “Sorry, but that’s ridiculous,” he says before he can help himself. “Your company books a pair of honeymoon seats for a single passenger? What company do you work for?”

 

Lan Zhan stares at him, but his expression has changed. He looks genuinely surprised for a moment. Then his eyes bore deep into Wei Ying’s, as though trying to assess him. “A... construction company.”

 

Of course, Wei Ying thinks. Definitely something that suits someone as stuffy and boring as him.

 

“Do they give honeymoon seats to all their employees, or are you just special?”

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t respond, choosing to take his laptop out of its case instead. The flight has started to taxi.

 

“It’s still ridiculous,” Wei Ying continues, crossing his arms. He probably shouldn’t be saying this to the man literally holding his ticket to business class photo ops and better social media engagement, but it annoys him irrationally. “I’m sure they don’t pay the lower rung employees enough to be able to justify that.”

 

Lan Zhan freezes midway between setting up his workspace, and looks around at Wei Ying.

 

For some reason, the look on his face makes Wei Ying’s heart skid to a halt. He looks curious and intrigued, like he wants to ask him something. He doesn’t, though. Instead he gives him a slow, deliberate once-over that makes Wei Ying’s mouth go dry and his stomach drop to his knees.

 

It coincides with the plane taking off, so that’s probably what that was all about.

 

Then Lan Zhan turns around, tapping at his keyboard to unlock his laptop. “You are a social media influencer. You buy clothes for a living, and your clothing looks like it’s from a fast fashion house. Should you really be making comments on responsible consumption?”

 

Wei Ying flushes. He lowers his eyes, and plays with the hem of his hoodie. “This... All my clothes are thrifted,” he says quietly. “I can’t afford to buy from actual sustainable designers, so this is the best I can do. I donate everything I don’t use anymore.” He looks up at Lan Zhan, chin turned up in defiance. Inside, his heart is racing, inexplicably hoping for him to understand.

 

Lan Zhan stops dead again. He turns around quickly to look at Wei Ying, and the look in his eyes is different from anything Wei Ying has seen so far. Wide with surprise and softened around the edges, filled with what looks almost like an apology.

 

“Wei Ying,” he says, soft and careful, and there is something in the way he says his name that makes Wei Ying’s face grow warm.

 

Then a flight attendant comes up next to Wei Ying, and asks, “Sir, can I see your ticket?”

 

The moment ends, and Wei Ying tears his face away.

 

He hands the flight attendant his ticket. She looks down at it, and frowns. “Sir,” she begins.

 

“Sorry,” Wei Ying says quickly. He reaches for his bag and stands up, turning to leave. This whole exercise was silly and desperate, and it had gone on too long.

 

Then all at once, there’s a hand on his arm. Wei Ying turns around, losing his entire train of thought as he is pulled back onto his seat with a graceless thump.

 

“He’s with me,” says Lan Zhan.

 

The flight attendant nods and walks over to the next seat. Lan Zhan settles back in his chair without another word, but Wei Ying can feel the ghost of his fingers on his skin for a long time after that.

 

 

Soon after they’re in the air, a flight attendant approaches Wei Ying from the seat behind him. He pulls up a drinks trolley next to him.

 

“What would you like, sir?” he asks.

 

Suppressing the urge to clap his hands in glee, Wei Ying leans closer to peruse the collection.

 

Once he’s acquired his bottle of baijiu and settled back in his chair to take a long, blissful swig of his drink, he notices that the regular clicking sounds of Lan Zhan’s fingers on the keyboard from the seat next to him have stopped. He looks around at him, nearly spluttering the drink everywhere at the look on Lan Zhan’s face.

 

He is looking at Wei Ying disapprovingly, eyes trained on the bottle in his hand.

 

He’s also taken off his blue cardigan at some point, revealing the white collarless button down shirt he’s wearing underneath, sleeves rolled up till his elbows.

 

Not that that had anything to do with the way Wei Ying’s mouth had suddenly gone dry, of course. Alcohol was known to cause dehydration, right?

 

“Oops,” Wei Ying says, tipping the bottle at him. “Technically it’s your company paying for this drink, not you, and I have no problem leeching off big corporations. Especially for alcohol. Unless you wanted something else?”

 

“Frivolous,” Lan Zhan mutters, returning to his keyboard.

 

“Is it the alcohol you have a problem with?” Wei Ying asks in dismay. He leans over to peer at his face. “Or are you just generally stiff and uptight about everything?”

 

At that moment, another flight attendant rolls a drinks trolley over next to Lan Zhan’s seat.

 

“Sir, what would you like?” she asks.

 

“Nothi—” Lan Zhan begins, just as something slots into place in Wei Ying’s head and he puts a hand over his mouth and says, “Glass of rosé, please!”

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whispers, leaning closer, “If you don’t want anything please let me get a glass of wine to pose with, baijiu just won’t fit my feed aesthetic!”

 

Lan Zhan lifts his hand suddenly to grip Wei Ying’s wrist very firmly, pushes it off his mouth and holds it midway between them for a long moment as he fixes the full force of his glare on him. Wei Ying finds himself flushing.

 

Then the flight attendant holds out the glass for Wei Ying and Lan Zhan abruptly lets go and returns to typing at his keyboard like nothing had happened.

 

 

Wei Ying is going through one of the articles he has saved on his phone with tips on how to take a flatlay photo, when dinner arrives. Lan Zhan closes his laptop and places it on the table next to him, gracing Wei Ying with a single withering glance as he puts away the numerous objects strewn around his table as props.

 

“What are you gawking at me for?” Wei Ying pouts, shaking his bottle of vitamins and the glass of wine at him. “When this gets posted on Weibo and I start getting sponsorship deals with famous wine brands, then you all will realise.”

 

“Are you not defeating the purpose of the vitamins with the wine?” says Lan Zhan.

 

“Hey, who suddenly made you an authority?” cries Wei Ying in affront. “And it’s fine if you space the posts appropriately. How else do you think influencers promote vegan minimalist lifestyles while posting airport outfits every other week?”

 

A soft exhale. “How old are those vitamins?”

 

Wei Ying checks the label. “A year,” he answers cheerfully. He rattles the bottle. “Still full, too, in case I ever need to take pictures of the actual pills.”

 

“Could they not be harmful?” asks Lan Zhan. His eyes have widened a fraction. “If consumed accidentally.”

 

“Ugh, these?” says Wei Ying, gagging. “No one actually eats these, Lan Zhan. Even accidentally. You’re so pure.”

 

Later, as he is digging into the meal, he notices Lan Zhan poke delicately at the shrimp dish with his chopsticks.

 

“What’s wrong?” he says thickly around his mouthful of potatoes.

 

“No talking with your mouth full,” Lan Zhan says stiffly. He continues to prod the dish.

 

“Don’t like shrimp?” Wei Ying presses.

 

“It is,” Lan Zhan says, the words seeming to cause him great physical pain, “Spicy.”

 

Wei Ying laughs, suddenly charmed. “Lan Zhan!” he says in delight. “Can you not handle spicy food?”

 

Lan Zhan stares mutinously at his shrimp.

 

Wei Ying feels something flutter in his stomach. Cheeks puffed out ever so slightly, Lan Zhan looks almost cute.

 

He glances down at his meal. “Is the pork okay for you?” he asks.

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t answer, but Wei Ying can see he’s eaten all of it. He takes the bowl of pork and leans over to place it on Lan Zhan’s tray, lifting the bowl of shrimp away from his chopsticks.

 

He watches him out of the corner of his eye as he attacks the rest of his meal again. Lan Zhan doesn’t look back at him but he lifts the bowl of pork he’d given him, and starts to eat.

 

After they finish and their trays are taken away, the cabin lights dim and most of the passengers start to prepare for bed. Wei Ying extends his seat to draw out the bed, pulls the blanket over him and turns around to face Lan Zhan.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he says. “Lan Zhan,” he repeats, when he doesn’t respond.

 

“Please go to sleep, Wei Ying.”

 

“But I’m not sleepy yet,” he says. “When I drink I usually feel buzzed for a while.”

 

“Then that is entirely your fault.”

 

Wei Ying had walked right into that. “Lan Zhan, don’t be mean. You should really work on being more neighbourly.”

 

“You are a trespasser, not a neighbour.”

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying sticks his tongue out childishly. “You should be nicer to the person who’s soon going to be writing seminal cover stories on the intersection of fashion and artificial intelligence in the best fashion magazines in China.”

 

“Is that what you want to do?” Lan Zhan asks suddenly.

 

Wei Ying flushes, not realising he’d let that slip.

 

“Well, a few thousand followers and a partnership deal may help first,” he says lightly with a shrug.

 

Lan Zhan sighs and takes off his spectacles. Wei Ying feels the wind knocked out of his chest. Without the glasses in the way, he looks even more beautiful. He seems resigned to his fate of not being able to work any longer as he takes off his shoes, puts them in the cabinet and rolls out his bed from under his seat.

 

“So, where are you headed for after we land?” Wei Ying asks, watching him stretch out and spread his blanket over his body.

 

“Work,” Lan Zhan replies unhelpfully.

 

Wei Ying frowns, about to hit him with a rejoinder when to his surprise Lan Zhan mutters, voice almost muffled from under his blanket, “And you?”

 

“Well, this online indie fashion magazine called Baixue sponsored me for this trip.” He bites his lip, suddenly self-conscious. He decides to just go ahead and say it anyway. “They want me to do a couple of posts on their blog about how the trip inspired me after I return. It’s called a blog takeover.”

 

To his surprise, Lan Zhan is listening closely. So he continues.

 

“It’s Tokyo Fashion Week, so a lot of influencers will be flying over to the city. There’ll be a bunch of events surrounding that, and Baixue is sponsoring me for some of them. Gets me decent PR. It’s still not enough for the kind of engagement and visibility I need, though. Which is why I plan to take full advantage of the events I go to and—” He lifts his phone and mimics taking a selfie, pouting and making an exaggerated V with his fingers.

 

At this last statement, a frown begins to crease Lan Zhan’s forehead. “That seems unnecessary,” he says. “It has nothing to do with the intersection of fashion and technology that you say you are interested in.”

 

Wei Ying rolls over to lie on his back, looking up at the row of buttons above him. He’s only too eager to drive the conversation away from his slip-up earlier. “Well, we’ve all got to do our thing somehow,” he says. “Talking about clothes is mine. Even if my actual degree is in computer engineering.” His lips twist wryly.

 

“There must be different ways to go about it,” says Lan Zhan. “And you don’t seem very good at this one.”

 

“Excuse me?” Wei Ying squawks.

 

“You have not taken a single photo of yourself in this cabin yet, after all the effort you took to get here. You have been trying to find the right combination of items for your table photography for half of the journey,” Lan Zhan replies calmly.

 

“It’s a process, getting the product placement right,” Wei Ying huffs. “And the table photography is called a flatlay!”

 

There’s a pause before Lan Zhan speaks next. “Should you not be focusing on what you are—” he says carefully, eyes studiously trained at his feet, “—actually talented at and enjoy?”

 

“It’s not that simple.” Alarm bells start to ring in Wei Ying’s head, urging him to steer the conversation away from the direction Lan Zhan was taking it. At the same time, a tiny voice in his head is wondering if it would be so bad if he just tells Lan Zhan everything. He is a stranger. He doesn’t care. Somehow, the thought doesn’t seem as daunting as it should.

 

“It should be,” says Lan Zhan, suddenly firm. Then he coughs softly. “If you... indeed are as talented at it as you say.”

 

Inexplicably, Wei Ying’s heart starts to race. It should be. He had said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

 

“Oh, stop being preachy and do something productive,” Wei Ying says loudly, over the thump-thump-thump of his heart. He hands over his phone towards him.

 

Lan Zhan shifts to look at him, the movement causing his bare toes to slip out from under his blanket. He wiggles them till they catch the end of the blanket and pull it back to cover them again.

 

Wei Ying’s heart does a backflip. Did they just go through turbulence?

 

“Take a picture of me?” he asks, after his heart rate calms down a little.

 

Lan Zhan looks at him through narrowed eyes, but to Wei Ying’s surprise he takes the phone.

 

Wei Ying gets himself into the position he wants to recreate from some popular influencers’ photos he had saved for reference. He stretches out his legs, puts a neck pillow under him, wears an eye mask and holds the wine glass which he’s been saving for more photos.

 

“Ready,” he says.

 

He doesn’t hear anything for a while, so he pulls down the eye mask. He sees Lan Zhan staring at his phone with an unreadable expression on his face.

 

“Hey, did you take some?” he asks.

 

Lan Zhan seems to start. Then he holds out the phone for Wei Ying.

 

“Lan Zhan!” he says, face falling as he looks at the pictures. “Why did you zoom in?”

 

Lan Zhan looks confused. “To show as much of you as possible in the frame,” he says.

 

“But it’s not about me,” Wei Ying wails. “It’s about me being in a business class cabin, which you can’t even tell here!”

 

“That is absurd,” Lan Zhan says.

 

“Also, photos look terrible when they’re zoomed in! It’s common sense,” Wei Ying says.

 

“The photos are not terrible,” Lan Zhan says firmly. Then his eyes widen a fraction, and he suddenly pulls his blanket over his head.

 

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks, thoroughly surprised. When there is no movement under the blanket, he leans over and pokes it. Then he gently pulls the blanket off Lan Zhan’s face.

 

He’s fast asleep, face soft and relaxed.

 

Who goes to sleep when it’s just turned nine? Rolling his eyes, Wei Ying sits back in his seat and prepares to take a few selfies of his own.

 

 

Someone is tugging at his arm.

 

“Jiejie, not now,” he mumbles.

 

They don’t stop.

 

“Jiejie,” he whines in his best baby voice. “Five more minutes.”

 

The hand doesn’t let go.

 

Wei Ying frowns. This isn’t right. His baby voice always worked on his sister. He cracks an eye open.

 

“Lan Zhan?” he croaks.

 

Lan Zhan abruptly lets go.

 

“We are landing soon,” he says stiffly. Wei Ying blinks several times and looks around through narrowed eyes as he gets used to the light surrounding him.

 

He notices that the sliding door on his side is closed, and the one on Lan Zhan’s side is open just a sliver to let some light in.

 

As if to shut down the question in Wei Ying’s head, Lan Zhan turns on the light.

 

Wei Ying groans, rubbing his eyes.

 

“You shouldn’t rub your eyes that hard,” Lan Zhan tells him sternly.

 

“Why did you turn on the light?”

 

“You have slept enough already,” Lan Zhan says. “It was only a four hour flight.”

 

“Hey, I decide when I’ve got enough sleep, okay?” He yawns. Realising how dry his mouth is, he reaches out for the bell to alert the flight attendant. He can’t quite reach it from the position he’s lying in but he doesn’t feel like getting up either, so he absently dances his fingers around in the air as he lets himself wake up.

 

Suddenly, he spots Lan Zhan move forward and press the bell above his seat. He blinks some more, wondering just how groggy he must be.

 

Minutes later, Lan Zhan is pressing a glass of water into his hand.

 

Wei Ying takes it and sips slowly. He watches Lan Zhan start to put his things away over the top of the glass. Then the pilot announces they’re about to land soon and for some incomprehensible reason, Wei Ying finds himself wishing they weren’t.

 

 

After they land, Wei Ying gets to his feet to collect all his things. He is leaning over to grab his shoes in the far corner of his side of the suite when he stumbles. He tips over, crashing right onto a row of buttons on a raised area between his and Lan Zhan’s seat.

 

To his surprise, a door slides down from above to separate his seat from Lan Zhan’s. He watches it slide down all the way, his head filling with too many questions at once.

 

Reaching out to experimentally press the buttons he’d fallen over, he presses one that cause the door to slide up again.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he says in disbelief. “Did you know you could do that?”

 

Lan Zhan travelled business class all the time, right? He must have known they had this option to separate their seats, right? But then—and here Wei Ying finds himself at a loss, and he’s never at a loss, always ready with an answer at the tip of his tongue—why didn’t he use it all this time since Wei Ying clearly irked him so much?

 

He turns to Lan Zhan. He has his blue cardigan draped over his arm and one hand on the handle of his luggage. His face has shuttered off and he looks supremely uncomfortable.

 

“You!”

 

Wei Ying tears his face away to find Nie Huaisang behind him, staring at him with eyes about to pop out of his skull.

 

“How did you get here?” he asks, sounding awed.

 

Wei Ying grins widely. People start moving ahead of his seat, so he finds himself swept along with Nie Huaisang next to him. “So, I may have made a friend,” he says. He turns around, but he has moved too far away from their seat and Lan Zhan is nowhere in sight.

 

Belatedly, he realises he hadn’t said goodbye to him

 

 

After they collect their checked in luggage, Nie Huaisang turns to Wei Ying near the exit. “I still can’t believe you sat in business class the entire time and didn’t end up with a single post-worthy picture.”

 

Wei Ying frowns, midway between going through the photos he’d taken. Thirteen? Four hours in a business class seat and he only has thirteen photos to show for it?

 

Not to mention most of them are Lan Zhan’s awful, blurry, zoomed-in shots. Wei Ying gives himself a small knock on his forehead.

 

“What did you even do all this time?” Jiang Cheng asks as he joins them.

 

Wei Ying tries to think. What did he do? Besides kneel between Lan Zhan’s spread legs, massage his thighs, share food with him, put his hand over his mouth, have some version of awkward pillow talk with him, only to find out that all this while they could have had a screen between them but Lan Zhan hadn’t—?

 

He blinks. Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang are looking at him closely.

 

“Eh? Uh, the guy I sat with was just the worst person to have along on a plane ride. No concept of photo composition, aesthetic, angle—”

 

“Didn’t you say you made a friend?” Nie Huaisang asks.

 

Wei Ying chuckles. “You know me,” he says, scratching the back of his neck. “Me and my hyperbole.”

 

Jiang Cheng glances over Wei Ying’s shoulder to scan the photos from the flight. “That big stupid grin on your face doesn’t look like hyperbole to me,” he says doubtfully.

 

Wei Ying looks at the picture he’s eyeing. He is stretched out on the pull-out bed, laughing for some reason as he positions himself for the photo. Lan Zhan has managed to capture the smile on his face at just the right moment. Full and bright and carefree, if slightly blurry.

 

“He was practically a boomer,” Wei Ying protests. “I was probably laughing at something embarrassing he’d said. Maybe it was when he tried to throw the phone at me when I asked him to shoot a boomerang?”

 

“Sure,” say the others together.

 

Wei Ying is eager to change the subject. The conversation has started to drift into uncomfortable territory. Because they’re right—for some wild, unfathomable reason, he looks happier in that photo than he has any right to look while talking to someone he’s known for two hours.

 

“Anyway,” he says quickly. “What time did you say you were going to tonight’s event again?”

 

It is an event hosted by Jacquemus for the launch of their newest line of micro-mini purses. It’s at Ginza, and every elite influencer worth their salt would be attending. Baixue hadn’t managed to get Wei Ying an invite.

 

“Four.” Nie Huaisang hesitates, glancing around at Jiang Cheng. Then he sighs, looking back at Wei Ying with concern. “Hey, you’re sure about this, aren’t you?”

 

“Sure,” Wei Ying replies. It’s a pretty low level to stoop to, relying on your friends to get you into elite events you’re not invited to. It’s a good thing embarrassment isn’t something Wei Ying experiences very often. “Just don’t make me stand out on the street waiting, will you?”

 

Nie Huaisang sighs, and nods.

 

 

Wei Ying steps out from the subway station into the busy streets of downtown Tokyo. Finding his way with his maps app, he arrives at the hostel he had booked a room at.

 

After checking in at the front desk he walks up the narrow stairs and down the corridor leading to his room. It’s tiny. There is a small single bed against the wall, a desk squeezed next to it and a bathroom which you could probably get into directly from the bed with a single jump. It’s clean and functional with a lot of hidden storage space, hooks and drawers but Wei Ying starts to feel stifled within minutes of being there.

 

He scrolls through his phone as he sits on the toilet, absently going through his social media, messages and email. There’s one message from his sister asking if he’d reached safely. He pointedly ignores the credit card bill sitting in his email inbox. Besides that? Nothing.

 

He video calls his sister.

 

“Hey,” he says when her face comes in on his screen.

 

She’s smiling at him, hair up in a bun and dark circles under her eyes. “A-Xian,” she says, a lot more energetic than she looks. “Are you on a toilet?” she says, giggling.

 

“Don’t worry, I’m just sitting here. No shitting, I swear.”

 

“I believe you,” laughs Jiang Yanli.

 

Steam fogs up her side of the screen and she seems to move her phone around to place it somewhere a little further away. From here, he can see her poking something with a spatula.

 

“Are you cooking?” he says, already salivating at the thought.

 

“Yes,” she says. She takes a spoonful of the curry and lifts it close to the screen.

 

“Jiejie, cruel!” Wei Ying wails.

 

She laughs, and puts it away. “Did you reach safely?”

 

“Yeah,” he says. “I met a guy on the plane.” He’s not sure why he says it.

 

“Oh?”

 

“He seemed kind of a massive ass at first, but then turned out to be slightly less so. Anyway,” he presses, because that information isn’t relevant to anything at all, “How was your day?”

 

“Good, good,” she says. “Final days of practice before the school foundation day play.”

 

“Are the brats still messing up the chorus?”

 

“Don’t call them that!” she laughs. “They’re great.”

 

“How about the outfits?”

 

“Almost done,” she says, eyes sparkling for a moment so brief Wei Ying barely catches it.

 

“Jiejie,” he says quietly. “You know you deserve to be here more than I do. More than most people here, actually.”

 

There’s a pause. “A-Xian, you know that life isn’t for me. I’m happy doing this.”

 

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. “Yeah.”

 

“Oh, there goes the oven. We’ll talk later, okay? Take care, A-Xian.”

 

“You too, jiejie.”

 

Hanging up the call, he thumbs idly through his apps till he ends up on his Weibo page. He stares at the measly forty three followers he has currently. Even that number is really only made up of friends, family and bots. His last notification was from three days ago when he’d posted a photo of himself eating ramen which only his sister had liked.

 

He has changed his email for his new accounts, but his old one is still synced with his mailbox. Tentatively, he opens it. After one cursory look at it he heaves a sigh of relief. It’s just as empty as it has been for the past three years, besides automated emails on his birthday.

 

That is, of course, not to mention his one follower who still shows up in his inbox every few weeks.

 

bunny130809 (27 days ago): I hope you are well. Good luck on your current endeavours.

 

bunny130809 (58 days ago): Hello. Will you be posting a video soon?

 

bunny130809 (81 days ago): Looking forward to your next post.

 

And so it goes.

 

At least he doesn’t leave comments the way he used to. Wei Ying shakes off the memory, and places his phone by the washbasin.

 

After a quick shower, he puts on a secondhand black Balmain t-shirt he’d acquired for a steal at the local thrift store because it has a large reddish stain down the back. Tomato juice? Blood? Who knew. He pairs it with distressed black jeans and puts on a burgundy faux leather jacket and a red beret over his head to complete the look.

 

He takes the subway to the location of the event. As he approaches from a distance, he can see photographers at the ready, erupting in a flurry of activity as soon as someone famous arrives. He recognises a few famous influencers as they sashay into the building, posing every few seconds for a photo.

 

He pulls his jacket closer over his chest, suddenly very conscious of the fact that his shirt is secondhand. And is that a loose thread coming off the zipper? He turns around abruptly to power walk away, finding a corner to tug the thread off. Then he takes his phone out to call Nie Huaisang.

 

He doesn’t pick up.

 

Antsy and irritated, Wei Ying enters a by-lane and starts to pace up and down. Where is Nie Huaisang? It’s almost four already, he’d said he would be here by now, arranging for Wei Ying to get in—

 

He shakes himself and squares his shoulders. He doesn’t need help to get in. He’s yilinglaozu. He’s got this.

 

He walks out onto the main road and takes stock of the scene around him. His eyes zero in on a photographer with his ID card between his teeth as he does something with his camera. Maybe he could sneak up on him, catch him by surprise?

 

Then everyone around him seems to stir suddenly, murmuring, turning to look and Wei Ying follows their gaze. Every single thought in his head comes to a screeching halt.

 

A man has emerged from a car in front of the mall and is walking towards the entrance with long strides. Tall, long-haired and devastatingly beautiful, wearing a light blue blazer over a white waistcoat and slacks and a matching blue tie.

 

“Lan Zhan?” he gasps under his breath. In the moment it takes him to get over the initial shock, the gears in his brain have already started to turn.

 

They slot into place, and Wei Ying smirks to himself. Oh, this was going to be good.

 

“Lan Zhan!” he yells, and he starts to run. Down the pavement, past photographers, models, designers and bloggers. His target freezes in place at his voice, then slowly turns in his direction.

 

“Lan Zhan!” he cries as he closes in. He launches himself the final few inches at Lan Zhan and wraps his arms around his bicep.

 

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan says, looking stricken.

 

Pressed close against him, Wei Ying looks adoringly up at him. Then he says, “Darling!”

 

Lan Zhan looks at him like he is minutes away from popping an aneurysm or two.

 

“I’m his plus one,” Wei Ying informs the guard in front of them, matter-of-factly. “Baby, sorry I’m late. I was at the spa. You know it’s really your fault you keep wearing me out and I keep having to book these appointments!”

 

The guards glance between the two of them very uncertainly, then usher them in. Wei Ying tugs Lan Zhan towards the entrance, and he finally seems to snap back to the present.

 

Shaking Wei Ying off from his side, he grabs him by the arm instead and hauls him inside with him. Wei Ying crows internally in triumph as he is dragged in through the doorway of the mall, down a corridor on the left and into a deserted bathroom.

 

“Wei Ying!” Lan Zhan exhales. “What is all this?”

 

“Don’t worry, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says breezily, holding up his arms in a placating gesture. “This is Fashion Week. Anything goes here. Unfortunately, in a matter of minutes no one will remember the cute, well-dressed guy you came in with.” He sighs delicately.

 

Lan Zhan rubs his temple.

 

“Well, maybe till Jacquemus sponsors my next vlog,” Wei Ying says, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “If thirsty gossip forums then start to dig up yilinglaozu’s sordid past, well. There may be a tiny problem.”

 

Lan Zhan closes his eyes. He opens them a moment later and says, “Shameless.”

 

Wei Ying twists his mouth into an angry pout. “You won’t be saying that when Taobao offers to gift me home supplies in exchange for a house tour video.”

 

Lan Zhan gives him another pitying look, then turns towards the door.

 

“Hey, where are you going?” Wei Ying says. He leaps over to him and grabs him by the arm again. “Ah.”

 

Lan Zhan’s eyes are on him again, like he is a particularly persistent mosquito. Wei Ying huffs a nervous laugh.

 

“Look at it this way, Lan Zhan. You’re apparently some sort of god-like figure here already. I bet you get unwanted female attention all the time? Just now when you were coming in, you wouldn’t believe the number of people commenting on your ass in these slacks.” He clicks his tongue, shaking his head. Then he smiles sweetly up at Lan Zhan again. “If I hang around with you, it’ll show them your ass is no longer free real estate, damn it.”

 

“You seem very concerned,” Lan Zhan says blandly.

 

“Of course!” says Wei Ying, sounding scandalised. “You think I could just sit back and watch all that disrespect? I’m doing you a favour, you know.”

 

Lan Zhan shakes his head. Then he starts to walk towards the door.

 

“Eh?” Wei Ying balks. He hadn’t thought this far ahead yet.

 

(If only the muscles of Lan Zhan’s arm and the mild scent of sandalwood surrounding him would stop making his brain feel like it was made of play dough and let him form a single coherent thought.)

 

Lan Zhan raises a perfectly shaped brow at him. “What?” he says. “I thought you wanted to come.”

 

“Sure,” he says. This is fine. He is fine. He takes a deep breath and smooths down his hair. A futile exercise, but at least he tried. “Well then, Lan Zhan, lead the way!”

 

 

Wei Ying plucks a cherry from a bowl. The room is only just starting to fill up, and he’s already bored.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he says, tugging at his sleeve. “You still haven’t told me what exactly brought you here.”

 

They are sitting at one of the tables towards the back of the room.

 

“I told you,” Lan Zhan answers. “Business.”

 

“Huh,” Wei Ying says. “Who would’ve thought? Lan Zhan hangs out with hot social media models for work.”

 

“Attending these events is a requirement for me, merely as a formality,” says Lan Zhan.

 

“Formality?” repeats Wei Ying.

 

Chin on his hand, he regards the group of stunning, long-legged girls at the table right in front of them. Complete with Hermés bags in the crook of their arms and eyelash extensions worth at least a few thousand yuan apiece.

 

He can feel Lan Zhan’s disapproving gaze on him, and he glances around to find just that.

 

“Why are you looking at me like that?” he grumbles. “You’re the one complaining about hanging around at parties like this and calling it business.”

 

“Just observing how you do not seem very interested in the proceedings either.”

 

“Wh-What?” says Wei Ying. He laughs. “I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks!”

 

It’s true, but only to an extent. Wei Ying loves fashion. He truly does. There are few things that excite him more than a particularly flattering silhouette, or a clash of textures or prints or colours that unexpectedly works. There are a lot of things he’s willing to do to spend his life surrounding himself in it.

 

And if that means he has to sit through an event full of influencers who plan outfits ticking off current trends from the Harper’s Bazaar rundown that comes out at the start of every season? It’s worth it, for what he loves.

 

Even when they think it’s a good idea to pair minuscule sunglasses with cycling shorts and square toed heels. Or don’t know their Chanel 18B raspberry from their 19B burgundy. Or wax lyrical about that ubiquitous Bottega Veneta pouch gifted to them by the brand, when it’s essentially a drawstring bag worth eighteen thousand yuan. Wei Ying rubs his head, feeling a headache coming on.

 

It will be worth it, he tells himself.

 

He glances around to find Lan Zhan looking at him. But he doesn’t say anything, as if waiting instead for him to continue.

 

Wei Ying swallows. He’s not sure what makes him start to speak.

 

“So, in a perfect world I’d be a designer. Unfortunately, I’m too clumsy for that. Unlike my sister.” His smile softens as he thinks about her. “She taught me the little I know about sewing.”

 

“It is not a little.” Wei Ying looks around at him in surprise. Lan Zhan’s eyes have widened as he seems to realise what he’s said, and he reaches out for the glass of water in front of him and drinks it all in one go. “Dry. The weather is more than a little dry.”

 

Wei Ying isn’t sure how to respond to that, so he laughs lightly. Lan Zhan looking so discomfited is not something he’d expected to see, although he doesn’t understand what made him this way.

 

Wei Ying likes the look of it.

 

“When I was younger, I sometimes used to alter clothes to make new outfits out of them and tack on little pieces and embellishments to change them up. For fun,” Wei Ying says. He shrugs, as if he didn’t spend entire summer vacations doing just that from morning to night. “But I’m not a real designer. And that’s fine, honestly. I’m too lazy for that. Plus, I’m better at other things.”

 

Lan Zhan is still giving him his undivided attention. For some reason, it makes his cheeks warm.

 

“Anyway, the point of this is: I’m willing to do a lot of things to keep working in this industry and eventually find my place in it! If I have to see yet another ugly designer bag go viral because the brand paid a bunch of influencers to wear them? Small price to pay. And—just putting this out into the universe—but if someone chooses to pay me to wear an ugly designer bag? Bring it on.”

 

Lan Zhan sighs. “You are truly shameless,” he says.

 

“Sure,” agrees Wei Ying, with a shrug. He grins cheekily. “But also practical and career-oriented. I thought you’d appreciate that, of all people.”

 

Lan Zhan shakes his head.

 

Wei Ying grins wider. “Admit it,” he says, nudging Lan Zhan. “Deep down, you’re marvelling inside at my genius, completely blown away—”

 

“Excuse me, sir?”

 

Wei Ying freezes. Then he slowly turns around. As he does so, he catches Wen Chao leaning against the wall in a corner, watching him closely.

 

This cannot be good. The unpleasant knot coiling in his stomach at the sight puts into stark relief how unreasonably warm and light he was feeling just moments ago, talking to Lan Zhan.

 

When he turns to see who had spoken, he finds the two security guards they’d crossed at the gate step in front of him. “Sorry, sir,” one of them says. “But we’ve been notified that you’re not on the guest list. In fact, you’ve been barred from the event for breaching the brand’s code of conduct in the past.”

 

“What?” says Wei Ying.

 

“Your name is Wei Wuxian, isn’t it? Sorry, but you have to come with us.”

 

Stomach dropping, Wei Ying can’t help his eyes from shifting to the rest of the room. Everyone seems to have gone silent as they watch the drama unfold. He looks helplessly at Lan Zhan, but his eyes are lowered to his lap.

 

Of course, he thinks. Why would anyone step in to help him? Much less someone with as much to lose, someone as successful, respectable and good as Lan Zhan.

 

Wei Ying gets to his feet, and leaves the room without a word.

 

 

He isn’t sure where he’s going. But he’s walking very fast, and before he knows it he’s so far away from the venue that the crowd of bloggers and photographers on the street have thinned significantly.

 

He looks around, trying to take stock of where he is.

 

In doing so, he catches someone walking very fast down the road towards him.

 

“Lan Zhan?” he says to himself.

 

He does the next thing that seems logical. He turns in the direction opposite from him and starts to walk really fast.

 

Damn Lan Zhan and his long legs, because in a few minutes he feels a hand grip his arm and pull him short.

 

Wei Ying looks around. His irritation deepens when he notices Lan Zhan hasn’t even broken a sweat.

 

“What do you want?” he sighs. “If I give you the gossip on how this shameless aspiring influencer actually got barred from associating with a brand, will you leave me alone?”

 

“Wei Ying,” begins Lan Zhan.

 

“I’ll tell you!” Wei Ying interrupts. “It all started when I was a famous Bilibili star named Wei Wuxian, making silly DIY fashion hacks and styling videos. Then someone leaked private messages about me talking shit about the brands I was working with. They called me out on it, my career died. The end.”

 

Lan Zhan lets go of his hand. “That is not true,” he says.

 

Wei Ying could make a run of it, but he’s too intrigued by Lan Zhan’s response. “What?” he says blankly.

 

Lan Zhan looks at him for a while, the expression on his face unreadable. “Even you are not that stupid,” he says finally. “Shameless, but practical and career-oriented. You said it yourself.”

 

Wei Ying’s heart rate skyrockets. “Wait,” he says. Lan Zhan must be trusting for his own good, and he needs to amend that. “I told you I’m a disreputable former blogger. Brands ban me from their events!”

 

“They must be naive.”

 

Wei Ying’s chest aches abruptly, so much that it makes him want to bend over double. What is happening to him? Why does this man he met less than a day ago seem to trust him unconditionally? Why does it make warmth bloom in Wei Ying’s stomach, spreading to his toes and fingers and wanting to crawl out as hot tears from his eyes?

 

“Lan Zhan, enough,” he says. He’s tired, and suddenly his narrow bed in his tiny room feels very inviting.

 

Lan Zhan turns around, all of a sudden. His forehead is creased over. He looks irritated. “Follow me,” he says.

 

“What?”

 

“You still need your... social media engagement, don’t you?” he says stiffly. “Come with me, I will help you get into the Comme Des Garçons event at Shangri-La hotel.”

 

“You’ll help me?” Wei Ying asks, frowning. “How?”

 

Lan Zhan squares his jaw. “I know people.”

 

“Really?” says Wei Ying breathlessly. The show at Shangri-La hotel for the cutting-edge Japanese label was supposed to be strictly A-list only. Possibly the one event happening in this city right now with a guest list even more exclusive than the Jacquemus one. There were even rumours Jamie Chua would be attending.

 

Immediately, Wei Ying is bouncing delightedly on the balls of his feet. “You know people. Of course you do. Lan Zhan, that’s so—”

 

Lan Zhan turns to give him a glare. Shut up, before I start to regret this.

 

Wei Ying jogs up to him, smiling as he realises how easily he’s able to translate his different glares already. He can appreciate the effort Lan Zhan puts into trying to be intimidating, but really? It’s easy as day to read him, and Wei Ying’s heart skips unexpectedly in his chest with the anticipation of being able to spend this little bit of time with him to study him some more.

 

Lan Zhan makes a call on his phone, giving the person at the other end their location. Soon, a car comes to a stop next to them. Lan Zhan walks around to the passenger door on the other, saying something to the driver Wei Ying can’t quite catch and motions for him to get in as well.

 

They get inside, and the car drives off.

 

Wei Ying peers through the window as the buildings fly by. The models, bloggers and photographers on the street dwindle in numbers till they disappear altogether. The car continues to go straight ahead.

 

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying says. “Where are we going? Pretty sure we’re leaving the event behind?”

 

“Don’t worry,” Lan Zhan says quickly after one look at Wei Ying’s face. “You are not being kidnapped.”

 

“That’s supposed to make me feel reassured?” Wei Ying shouts.

 

“You wanted photo opportunities, correct?”

 

“Well, yes, but—”

 

“There are better places in Tokyo to fit your purpose.”

 

Wei Ying lets out a laugh.

 

“Better than a Jacquemus event hosted by Aimee Song and Chriselle Lim? A Commes Des Garçons event with Jamie Chua?”

 

“I changed my mind. I think,” Lan Zhan says, frowning. “Wei Ying, you should be more... You should not limit—You are worth—I think you should see these places,” he finishes, looking to the side. Oddly enough, the tip of his ears are pink.

 

“Places?” says Wei Ying curiously.

 

Lan Zhan stares out of the window, and Wei Ying notices the back of his ears are bright pink. “Places you may find suitable to your photography needs.”

 

“So... let me—I just... You are...” Wei Ying splutters as it truly hits him, swallows several times and tries to hear himself think over the sudden rush of blood in his ears, “You are taking me sightseeing around Tokyo for photos?”

 

“Not sightseeing, it should be a productive exercise for you,” Lan Zhan says. “And I was planning to leave soon to work in a coffee shop anyway. Some change of scenery may not be bad.”

 

With that he takes out his laptop from his briefcase, sets it on his knees and begins to work, leaving Wei Ying to wonder what the hell had just happened.

 

 

Before Wei Ying can recover enough to panic and demand to be taken back to the parties he’s missing, the car comes to a stop at a crossing. Lan Zhan slides his laptop back into his briefcase and steps outside. Wei Ying follows, too curious to pass this up now that they’re already here. He takes in the towering buildings, the sky-high billboards and all the people teeming around.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he says, staring all around. “Is this Shibuya crossing?”

 

Lan Zhan nods and Wei Ying turns around, taking in the energy of the place. It’s exhilarating. The music playing, voices from the billboards and the sounds of all the people around him all come together in a steady hum against his eardrums that makes his blood race. “I’ve seen this in movies,” he says, turning around slowly in a circle with his face turned to the pale evening sky, awestruck.

 

He looks at Lan Zhan, and finds him staring at him with an unreadable expression on his face.

 

Then a traffic signal flashes red, and suddenly a whole tsunami wave of people start to cross the street towards where they’re standing.

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying cries, running up to him and pressing his phone into his hand. “Quick, take pictures of me!”

 

He runs a short distance away to stand in front of the rapidly approaching crowds, turning to pose for Lan Zhan.

 

He starts with a generic pose that he’s seen on several influencers’ photos with likes in the millions. He puts his hands in his pockets and looks sideways. Then he tilts his body backwards and puts his hand on his beret.

 

Was it normal for your jaws to hurt while trying to look moody and brooding? That, and the rush of standing here in the heart of this incredible city, with an energy that makes you thing could do pretty much anything, has him thinking a split second later: Fuck it.

 

He gives a cheeky grin at the camera. Crosses his eyes and sticks out his tongue. Lifts the beret up towards the sky and looks up at it. Then he takes it between his teeth and looks at Lan Zhan through hooded eyes.

 

By this time he can hear the voices of the people behind him crossing the street closing in on him, so he runs up to Lan Zhan.

 

“Let me see!” he says, skidding to a stop next to Lan Zhan and pressing up against his shoulder to look at the photos with him. He presses the gallery icon and starts to scroll the photos. His breath catches when he realises he’s taken twenty seven photos in the space of maybe the eight seconds he had to pose.

 

The first few are surprisingly decent.

 

“Hey, you’re learning fast,” he says approvingly.

 

The next photos aren’t as good. He’s zoomed in again so the photo is almost entirely consumed by his frame. A couple of them are even zeroed in on his face when he’s grinning, and later looking up at his beret with a soft smile playing at his lips. The last couple of photos of him biting his beret are blurry. Wei Ying squints at them, flushing as he realises how unintentionally sultry the expression on his face was.

 

“Uh, I guess we can work with these,” he says. He moves to take the phone from his hand, right at the same moment he turns to look at Lan Zhan.

 

Their fingers meet over the phone, and Wei Ying finds his face right next to Lan Zhan’s. This close, he can see just how thick and long Lan Zhan’s eyelashes are, the light sheen of moisture on his lips and the flecks of gold in his irises. Suddenly, he forgets entirely what he was going to say next.

 

Then a pedestrian hurries past them, and they both spring apart.

 

Wei Ying coughs, using the opportunity to lift his hands to his face till it stopped feeling so infuriatingly warm.

 

“Are they adequate?”

 

Wei Ying’s heart clenches abruptly. Why does Lan Zhan care so much? It annoys him as much as it endears him hopelessly.

 

It makes him wonder in turn why he cares so much either. Inexplicably, he finds old memories resurfacing. Memories of staring numbly at his computer screen at one hate comment after the next, till something unexpected had appeared in his inbox.

 

Do you like it? I hope it makes you feel better. You inspired me to write it.

 

Shaking away the feelings that rise within him at the memory, he gives Lan Zhan a quick nod. The thought of thanking him with words suddenly sounds so intimate that his palms grow sweaty and his heart thumps harder.

 

“Still needs practice,” he says loudly, and his voice still sounds slightly hollow even to himself. “But we’re getting there. May just make you into a good Instagram husband for your future wife yet!”

 

Lan Zhan moves away from him, a mildly annoyed expression on his face.

 

“Hey, where are we going next—?” Wei Ying says, skipping over to him.

 

“To the car,” Lan Zhan says infuriatingly, and leads him back to where they had left it.

 

 

In the car, Wei Ying looks around at Lan Zhan working. He looks so calm and diligent that it makes him want to rile him up a little.

 

“Hey, Lan Zhan,” he says.

 

Lan Zhan pauses for a second before continuing to type, the only indication he’d heard him speak.

 

“Who are your favourite influencers? I know you must follow at least some of them. It’s part of your job, apparently.”

 

Lan Zhan stops typing and glances up at him again. “My uncle’s company has nothing to do with that aspect of the industry. My presence at the events is merely a formality.”

 

“Oh, so you have an uncle!” Wei Ying says delightedly, glad for the newest piece of information to tuck into the new, ever-expanding corner in his head labelled Lan Zhan. “What’s he like?”

 

Lan Zhan’s lips twitch in annoyance.

 

“Well anyway, even if it’s not for work, you should have some Internet personalities on your radar, right? I know we’re inescapable.”

 

“We?” says Lan Zhan. “How many followers do you have currently?”

 

“Forty three, but hey! I’m only just starting out. It’s been, uh, three months. Anyway, ask me again after I post one of those shots of me lazing around in business class!”

 

“Why are you so keen on trying something you clearly do not have your heart in?”

 

Whatever Wei Ying was planning on saying dies immediately at his lips. After a pause he says, “What do you mean?”

 

“You do not enjoy this,” says Lan Zhan. “Why do you keep trying so hard?”

 

“Um.” Wei Ying scratches his head, chuckling softly. “That’s a bit rude, Lan Zhan, even for you!”

 

“Do you enjoy it?” Lan Zhan demands.

 

Wei Ying stares at him. Once again, long-buried memories start to resurge. More memories that were never supposed to leave the comments page of his now-private videos from forever ago.

 

Ignore the rumours. Please keep doing what you love. No one should take that away from you.

 

“Stop it, Lan Zhan,” he says without thinking, more sharply than he’d meant to. He looks at Lan Zhan, at the kicked expression on his face. “I have to do this, okay? It’s... It’s not a choice.”

 

“It is always a choice,” Lan Zhan says, carefully. “You—You can build yourself any way you want, whenever you want to.”

 

Something floods Wei Ying’s chest at that, sudden and acutely painful. It rises to clog his throat and prick at the corners of his eyes.

 

“There you go,” he says swiftly, before he does or says something he’ll regret. “There you go lecturing me again!”

 

“Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan’s eyes are soft and filled with something that makes looking at him even a moment longer unbearable.

 

So Wei Ying turns away and continues, “Stop changing the subject. Weren’t you about to tell me how many influencers you follow?”

 

There is a soft sigh. Then Lan Zhan says, “Not many.”

 

“How many, though?” Wei Ying presses.

 

“A small number.”

 

“What does that mean?” Wei Ying cries out in dismay. “Ten? No, seven? Five?” he amends, at the look on Lan Zhan’s face.

 

Strangely enough Lan Zhan’s ears have started to go pink again. His eyes widen very slightly, eyebrows rising an inch, almost... panicked?

 

Wei Ying can’t really tell why he is reacting this way but it makes him want to keep at it to see just how much he can make Lan Zhan panic.

 

“Three? One?”

 

Lan Zhan turns his face. He is scarlet at the back of his neck, and Wei Ying soaks in the sight of it.

 

“Lan Zhan, did you perhaps make an exception? A cute Internet blogger you crushed on? Stalked their posts and smashed hearts on their videos till your fingers went numb—?”

 

The car rolls to a stop.

 

“This isn’t over!” Wei Ying crows as Lan Zhan clicks open the door immediately and steps outside.

 

He emerges from the car to find himself at the side of a street lined with storefronts. A short distance ahead the road leads onto a bridge, with a small path running down to the side.

 

“We will go that way,” Lan Zhan says.

 

Wei Ying puts his hand on his stomach and feels it give a soft rumble. “Lan Zhan, snacks?” he says, twisting his mouth into a pout.

 

Lan Zhan’s lips twitch for a moment so brief Wei Ying almost thinks he imagined it.

 

Then he nods. Wei Ying grins, hurrying over past a few shops to a convenience store. Lan Zhan follows him inside.

 

Wei Ying winds his way through the store, stocking up the basket to his heart’s content. They start to play one of his favourite tracks and he abruptly breaks into a small dance, shaking his hips as he chooses sandwiches.

 

He turns to find Lan Zhan staring at him with a constipated expression on his face.

 

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” he says, stopping to frown at him. “I know—no dancing in public, right? That’s what you’re thinking?”

 

Lan Zhan seems to pop out of a mild daze, and blinks.

 

“Fine, fine, I stopped. You think you’re all strong and silent and mysterious, but that doesn’t work on me.” He waggles a melon pan at him. “You’re getting predictable, sir.”

 

He tosses the melon pan in with the rest of the pile in his trolley, and wheels it to the next aisle.

 

“You will eat all of this?” Lan Zhan says at last with a hint of incredulity, looking at the basket as he follows him. Wei Ying has made an eclectic selection of egg and chicken sandwiches, melon bread, chicken skewers, buns and dango.

 

Wei Ying nods. “True genius can’t work on an empty stomach,” he says sagely.

 

“Mn.”

 

Wei Ying tosses in a final few packets of chocolate eclairs, then turns the trolley towards the cashier. He starts to hand over the items one by one. His face falls when he sees a few cans of green tea come up in his hand.

 

“Hey, did I put this in by mistake?” he says out loud, wondering.

 

“It is fine, hurry up,” says Lan Zhan, drawing the items out of his hand and handing them to the cashier.

 

“I definitely didn’t go with ten feet of this,” says Wei Ying, staring at a salad that had also found its way into the trolley. “Lan Zhan, did you—”

 

“Maybe you should put away some of the other snacks,” says Lan Zhan. “You will have to carry this yourself since the car has been parked some distance away. Closing hour is soon.”

 

“But that means putting back the fun stuff! Anyway, Lan Zhan will hold my grocery bag for me while I pose, won’t he?” Wei Ying says sweetly, holding his arm and giving him a dove-eyed look.

 

Mistake. Lan Zhan’s arm is firm and muscled and for one wild moment Wei Ying finds himself wondering what it would feel like to be pinned down by it.

 

“I thought these were items you meant to pose with,” Lan Zhan says, face unmoved. “So that your pictures would feel more... organic.”

 

Wei Ying stares at him. Then he lets out a burst of laughter, bending over as giggles racks his body. It’s the worst kind of dad joke and the way he’d said it in such a deadpan way has Wei Ying in splits. “Lan Zhan, oh my god, warn me next time?” he says, rubbing his eyes. “You’re only funny when you’re roasting me, huh?”

 

Lan Zhan looks at him suddenly, eyes widening a fraction. “You think I am... funny?” he says slowly.

 

Wei Ying only laughs harder, gripping onto his shoulder to steady himself. Then the cashier coughs pointedly, and he slowly compose himself.

 

He finds Lan Zhan staring at him, like he’s just realised something about himself. Then he turns away, the look on his face dying out as quickly as it had appeared.

 

They end up buying everything and exit the store with two big bags that Wei Ying has to carry, despite the very deliberate sighs and whines he directs at Lan Zhan. They make their way down the path leading off away from the bridge, to some steps heading downwards. The sound of a bubbling river drowns out the noise of the city the further they descend. As the swathe of the trees and the canopy overhead thickens, the temperature dips as well.

 

“Lan Zhan, this is gorgeous,” Wei Ying breathes, inhaling deeply.

 

A signpost to the side reads Todoroki Ravine. The winding path soon brings them next to the rapids. There is a curtain of foliage on the other side of the path and arching overhead, with the last rays of the setting sun filtering through.

 

Wei Ying turns to Lan Zhan. “Where did you find out about this place?”

 

Lan Zhan turns to look at the water. “I... read about it.”

 

“Really?” Wei Ying asks curiously. “Where? On a travel blog? But you said you were coming here for work.”

 

“Please stop talking, this is meant to be a place of calm.”

 

Wei Ying takes a bite of an egg sandwich which he draws out from one of the bags. “Fine, don’t share,” he says, sticking out his bottom lip petulantly. “I won’t, either.”

 

He goes quiet for a few seconds, but it doesn’t last. Taking a glance out of the corner of his eye, he notices Lan Zhan’s eyes on him just before he quickly averts them.

 

“No talking with your mouth full,” Lan Zhan answers finally.

 

Wei Ying stops in his tracks, frowning in disbelief as Lan Zhan calmly continues to walk ahead. Then he runs over and offers him a slice of cucumber from the salad they’d bought. Lan Zhan looks at it curiously, and takes it. When he takes a bite of it, Wei Ying grins and presses himself against his back, putting his hands on his ribcage and starting to tickle him from behind.

 

A gasp escapes Lan Zhan, and he freezes for a moment. Wei Ying smirks, grocery bags at his feet as his hands roam further in search of more of a reaction from him.

 

No talking with your mouth full? This’ll show him.

 

Then Lan Zhan puts his one free hand on Wei Ying’s wrist at his side, and somehow manages to pull him around till they’re face to face.

 

(It’s not like Wei Ying hadn’t put up enough of a struggle. It’s really not. That? That is an utterly ridiculous thought.)

 

And yet—

 

Abort mission. Minutes ago Wei Ying had wondered briefly what it’d feel like to be pinned down under him. Now? He has a fair idea and he immediately regrets knowing it.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he says. Dimly, he realises he’s probably strong enough himself to extricate himself quite easily. For some wild reason he finds he doesn’t really want to. They stare at each other for a long moment, all thought in Wei Ying’s head replaced by white noise.

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be taking pictures instead of making a nuisance of yourself in public?”

 

Wei Ying flushes. He’d forgotten entirely about the pictures he’d come here to take.

 

At that moment there’s a crunch of gravel behind them as someone approaches, and Lan Zhan lets go.

 

Wei Ying watches his arm drop to his side, noticing he’s holding his briefcase with his other hand.

 

“Would you—Would you like to sit and work?” he says, throat suddenly dry. It’s the first thing that comes to his lips and he doesn’t care as long as he says something to break the moment between them. “You need to work, don’t you?”

 

They find a bench nearby, and Lan Zhan sits down. Wei Ying places the bags next to him and walks by the water, idly taking a few photos. He captures a few shots of the dying rays of sun glancing off the water, the trees and the stone-lined path leading further ahead.

 

It’s oddly calming. Wei Ying hasn’t felt like this in a really long time.

 

Unbidden, a memory springs to his head. He had come swimming with his brother and sister to the lake behind their house one day at the end of summer, and the shimmering blue-green water and the auburn leaves overhead had made something click into place in his head.

 

Scrambling to the shore while Jiang Cheng cried out to ask what he was doing, he had grabbed his sketch pad from his bag and started to pencil in rough lines. Rough lines that soon gave way to outfit silhouettes. Blurred by the drops of water dripping from his skin, but still enough to capture the picture in his head. Filled in with the crayons he carried with him everywhere, reflecting the colours around him.

 

He glances around at Lan Zhan working on his laptop, face stern and focused. Smiling to himself, he takes a couple of photos of him.

 

It should almost be scary how this man was making him feel all these things when he’d known him a single day. How could he have known bringing him here would bring up feelings he’d tried so very hard to forget all these years?

 

Of course, he’s never really had it in him to design clothes like he’d fancied briefly when he was young. But his love for clothes has endured. He’s always felt there is just something about the endless possibilities, the permutations of shape, colour and texture, the opportunity to tell a story and wear your history on your body, and the simple joy a good outfit can bring you.

 

With age, his love has developed layers. He supposes it was inevitable. A growing frustration at the wasteful, irresponsible ways of the retail industry, a conviction that he could use something he was actually talented at to solve it, the unexplored intersection of fashion and technology—

 

He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. He isn’t that kid anymore. He will never again be that kid who would watch Ghibli movies with his sketchbook perched on his knees, staring at the characters on screen and picturing them walking the streets of modern Shanghai in the latest season’s trends.

 

It’s silly. All of this is. He shouldn’t be here with Lan Zhan, who by all accounts is a good, successful, well-adjusted person. Someone who shouldn’t be wasting his afternoon this way. Definitely not with him.

 

He has quietly slipped away almost upto the signpost at the entry point, when a hand falls on his arm.

 

“Lan Zhan?” He doesn’t look around.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

Wei Ying smiles at his feet. “Lan Zhan, this is silly. What are you doing?” he asks softly. “You don’t even know me.”

 

Lan Zhan lets go of his hand. “Wei Ying, what—”

 

Wei Ying turns to look at him. “Thank you, Lan Zhan. You’re a good person. I know you’re trying to make me feel better. But I don’t know what we’re doing here? We only met yesterday and you know nothing about me, you shouldn’t be—”

 

“I don’t mind,” Lan Zhan says quickly. “And I—It is not that I don’t...” The tip of his ears have turned pink, for some reason. He stares at Wei Ying as though wanting to convey something to him wordlessly. Then with a soft exhale, he says, “I merely thought I could help.”

 

Wei Ying’s heart squeezes painfully in his chest. He knows objectively that this is absurd. They’ve barely known each other a day, but there’s something drawing him inexplicably to Lan Zhan.

 

This can’t be happening, can it? He has enough friends. He isn’t lonely. He isn’t craving companionship. He should leave. Right now. So why does the thought of never seeing Lan Zhan again make him feel like his throat is about to close up?

 

His phone buzzes in his hand, and he glances down at it reflexively. It’s from Nie Huaisang. Scrolling above, he finds twenty missed calls and texts from him and Jiang Cheng over the past hour.

 

He’d forgotten all about the event.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he says, huffing a laugh. “You really made me forget all about the event I’ve been wanting to go to for six months.” He passes a hand over his face, groaning.

 

He hears a sharp inhale, and peeks through his fingers. Lan Zhan looks crestfallen.

 

“Hey, Lan Zhan—”

 

“I am sorry,” he says stiffly, eyes downcast. “I thought... I did not know Wei Ying was looking forward to it that much. If we leave now, I can take you back there in twenty—”

 

Wei Ying puts a hand on his arm. “Lan Zhan,” he says. He starts to giggle, first trying to stifle it behind his hand, then hunching over as more laughs bubble through his throat and wrack his whole body. “Sorry. I’m just—hah, I’m just trying to put into perspective how ridiculous this is?”

 

He finds Lan Zhan still staring at him, eyes wide and ears pink again for some reason.

 

“I didn’t go to the Jacquemus event,” Wei Ying says almost to himself, his words punctuated by short huffs of laughter. “I didn’t try to sneak away free samples to do a haul video for my next douyin post. I didn’t get a selfie with Aimee Song!”

 

I’m roaming around Tokyo with a guy I met yesterday instead. And it’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

 

“You... I told you,” Lan Zhan says tightly, “I can take you back—”

 

“What?” Wei Ying says, eyes innocently round. “You mean it’s over? Your grand photo tour of Tokyo?”

 

Lan Zhan frowns.

 

Wei Ying takes the opportunity to cling onto his arm and press up against his side. He notices a couple cosying up on one of the benches to the side, and another one walking ahead pressed to each other’s sides under a shared umbrella.

 

“Hey, Lan Zhan,” he says. “Did you find this place on one of your earlier visits here while searching for romantic spots to bring someone you like?”

 

Lan Zhan whips around to stare at him, face stricken.

 

“What?” Wei Ying says. “Maybe it didn’t work out with the girl you brought here, but we can’t let all that research go to waste, can we?”

 

He tugs Lan Zhan back down the path they’d come by, unable for some incomprehensible reason to stop smiling.

 

 

 

They stay there till it grows darker and the mosquitoes start to come out. Wei Ying finds a tea shop nearby while taking photos and comes back to the bench to drag Lan Zhan there for a surprise.

 

“I knew it!” he says, noting with glee the sparkle that appears in Lan Zhan’s eyes when he sees the stall. “Of course you are a green tea guy.”

 

He insists he doesn’t want anything, but when Lan Zhan’s tea arrives he takes one look at the sweet mochi served with it and pops it in his mouth. He makes a noise of pleasure as he swallows it.

 

“This is almost as good as the one my sister makes. That’s an unbelievable compliment, you know.”

 

Lan Zhan watches him over his cup of tea.

 

“As much as it pains me to share her cooking, I just want people to know how good she is. You know? She’s the coolest. She has an actual degree in fashion history, and she’s so skilled at sewing. But she always says the industry isn’t for her, so she gave it all up. She’s happy at the elementary school she teaches, but I just...”

 

“Have you thought of working with her while she stays away from the spotlight?”

 

Wei Ying jumps. He hadn’t been expecting Lan Zhan to actually respond to his monologue. And with such a ludicrous suggestion, too.

 

“Me?” He laughs. “No, I’m too chaotic for her. Besides, I don’t want to drag her into my...”

 

He falls silent. Lan Zhan looks at him for a while like he wants to say more, but finally seems to decide against it.

 

Some minutes later, he gets up to place his order for a second round, and this time the number of mochi that arrives with the serving has mysteriously doubled. Wei Ying doesn’t question it, only too happy to stuff his face with all them.

 

When they’re done they retrace their steps back to the street and into the car.

 

“Lan Zhan, what are you working on?” Wei Ying asks once they’re inside. Lan Zhan has his laptop perched on his knees again.

 

“... Work,” he answers shortly, not looking up from his keyboard.

 

“You could tell me more about yourself than single words,” he says. He says it lightly, but he’s been hoping for a while to learn some more about him.

 

Lan Zhan feels surprisingly open and easy to read now, but in terms of concrete facts about him he still haven’t given Wei Ying much. But for some reason he can’t quite explain, Wei Ying wants to know those too.

 

“Fine, if you’re just going to be stubborn, I’ll begin. I’m Wei Ying! I’m twenty four years old. I’ve lived in Shanghai all my life. My parents died when I was a baby. I grew up with my foster parents and their two kids. I already told you about jiejie’s sewing and cooking skills, but you can hear it again. You haven’t lived till you try her lotus root soup!”

 

He smiles and smacks his lips at the memory.

 

Then he continues, “Jiang Cheng is my brother. He’s always mad about something but he’s also a gaming streamer, so it works out perfectly for him. What else? Uh, I studied computer engineering in college. My favourite contemporary designer is Renata Wang. Bottega Veneta really needs to stop pandering to Instagram stars.”

 

All this while Lan Zhan hasn’t moved at all and is listening closely to him. Wei Ying stops, chin raised at him in challenge.

 

Lan Zhan looks out of the window. Then he says, “I am also twenty four years old. I have also lived in Shanghai all my life. Both my parents died several years ago and I have been raised by my uncle and my older brother. They... They work for the same company as I do. I studied business in college. I—” he halts abruptly. “That is all. I am not very interesting.”

 

“That’s all?” Wei Ying scoffs, leaning closer to him. “Can’t believe I can do a better job than that. Let’s see. You can’t handle spicy food. You skip the wagashi which they serve with your matcha. Criminal, if you ask me. You have a bunny sticker on your laptop! Do you perhaps... like bunnies?”

 

As he says it, Wei Ying can’t shake the feeling that objectively, none of that was what you’d call interesting. Why is it different for Lan Zhan, though? Each of these discoveries has filled him with a sort of thrill and delight that doesn’t make sense when he remembers he’s only know this man for a day.

 

If he’s being honest, on paper Lan Zhan may really be a boring person after all. But in all the time he’s spent with him so far he hasn’t felt bored even once.

 

Lan Zhan’s eyes have widened a fraction. He seems frozen in place for a long moment.

 

Then he says, “I do not dislike wagashi.”

 

“Eh? You didn’t have a single one at the tea shop! You even ordered more the second time but didn’t have any of it. Good for me, it was delicious.”

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t answer, turning his face to look out through the window. Oddly enough, the back of his neck is pink.

 

The car comes to a stop at another bustling crossing. Wei Ying steps out, takes one look at the neon lights spelling out the names of the stores all around them and turns to grin at Lan Zhan. “Full marks,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to come here.”

 

It’s Akihabara, unmistakeable even if he’s never been here before. Lan Zhan’s face is glowing in the lights, and for a long moment Wei Ying can’t tear his eyes away from him.

 

“Shall I take a picture of you?” Lan Zhan asks.

 

“Right.” Wei Ying nods, flushing as he realises he had forgotten the real reason he’d come here again.

 

He poses in front of the glittering neon signs as Lan Zhan points his phone camera at him. This time, he runs back to him impatiently after barely a minute and says, “Come on, let’s go inside the stores!”

 

“Do you not want to see the pictures?”

 

“You can’t just come to Akihabara and not sample the arcades! And the pictures are probably bad anyway, since the lighting sucks,” says Wei Ying. To be honest, it’s the least of his concerns. He feels vaguely like this is an out-of-body experience, because on any other day he’d have killed for a decent photo with the iconic backdrop of the Ahikabara storefronts.

 

“I think they are still good,” Lan Zhan says quietly. But Wei Ying isn’t really listening. He grabs him by the hand without thinking, pulling him in the direction of the nearest store with SEGA written over the front in bold red letters.

 

As he’s running, the words which he’d just heard register belatedly in his head. With it, a deeply buried memory.

 

Your videos are still good. It is enough if you are just being yourself. I hope you can see yourself the way your viewers see you.

 

Wei Ying slows down. Too much has happened today, and it’s messing with his head.

 

Focus, he thinks.

 

He makes his way through the store, wondering which game to try his hand at first. He finds a rhythm game that looks promising.

 

“Lan Zhan, will you play with me?”

 

Lan Zhan shifts on his feet. “No.”

 

“Fine, make yourself useful and take a few good pictures of me, then?” He winks, heading to the controls to set up the game and get ready to play.

 

He works up quite a sweat, playing one choreography after the other. Lan Zhan has seated himself to the side, taking his laptop out and somehow managing to work through all the noise and the bright neon lights. He looks up from time to time and nods sedately every time Wei Ying finishes a game and whips around to give him a whoop of triumph.

 

The periods when he’s looking at Wei Ying play grow longer and longer, and after a while the laptop just sits forgotten at his knees.

 

When Wei Ying finishes a particularly difficult AKB48 choreography, he steps off and catches his breath.

 

“Lan Zhan, wasn’t I good?” he says.

 

Lan Zhan is staring at him. He blinks, and gives a quick nod.

 

“Hey, did you take photos of me?”

 

Lan Zhan seems to start and shakes his head.

 

Wei Ying feels an odd sense of victory. So far, he’s been the one forgetting what he really came here to do. It makes him prickle with the need to coax out more reactions from him.

 

“You’re getting old,” he says sweetly. “Come on, I’ll have to play something else for photos now, thanks to you.” He glances at Lan Zhan with an exaggerated flutter of his eyelashes, as if he isn’t secretly thrilled about it.

 

He realises in some faraway corner of his head that he should probably be more annoyed at all these missed photo opportunities. Somehow, the prospect of spending more time with Lan Zhan seems to outweigh that.

 

Lan Zhan gets to his feet with his briefcase and Wei Ying loops an arm around his shoulders, looking for potential games to play. They walk to the second level and Wei Ying peers around with interest at all the crane games.

 

“Hey, which one do you think—?”

 

He turns to find Lan Zhan staring behind them at something with his eyes round and his lips parted into a tiny o. He follows his gaze, and his face breaks into a wide grin.

 

“I knew it!” he crows triumphantly and Lan Zhan jumps, the tips of his ears pink again. “You do like rabbits. Here, let me get you some!”

 

He runs up to the machine with the glass box filled with fluffy rabbit plushies in different colours. Lan Zhan slips some coins into the slot and the controls light up.

 

“Eager, are we?” he says, a warm feeling settling in his stomach at the soft look on Lan Zhan’s face as he looks at the rabbits.

 

He bends to grip the controls, bracing himself and starting.

 

It’s laughably easy. Sticking his tongue out through his teeth, he navigates the crane to a fluffy white rabbit and neatly extricates it from the pile.

 

“Here!” he says proudly, pressing it into Lan Zhan’s hands.

 

Lan Zhan looks at it. His lips twitch and—oh. Wei Ying feels his heart start to race impossibly hard.

 

At Lan Zhan’s lips is a tiny but unmistakeable, impossibly soft smile.

 

Wei Ying turns around abruptly and starts to walk. He makes it only three whole seconds before—

 

Crash. He slams head first into a pillar.

 

“Wei Ying?” says a voice in concern.

 

Wei Ying squeaks in panic as Lan Zhan lays a hand on his arm. “I’m okay! I’m okay!” He turns around stiffly, and begins to power walk towards the stairs.

 

This wasn’t supposed to happen, Wei Ying thinks. Whatever this is. He is the one who makes people blush and panic and walk into pillars when he flirts shamelessly with them. (At least, he tries to be.) Not the other way around. Never, ever the other way around.

 

And the most maddening part of all is Lan Zhan hadn’t even tried. Nothing like the elaborate efforts he would make to flirt with people, focused and relentless, almost always motivated by something he would be getting out of them.

 

Okay. Wei Ying swallows. So maybe he has a tiny crush. That is fine, isn’t it? He has had crushes before.

 

He ignores the voice telling him that’s a straight up lie. Slamming bodily into pillars simply because someone smiled a little? That, as crushes go, is in a whole new league.

 

“Wei Ying.”

 

The voice brings him back to his surroundings that at some point have transformed from bright flashing arcade lights to the busy street outside the store.

 

“Are you okay?” Lan Zhan sounds concerned.

 

“Um,” Wei Ying croaks, wanting nothing more than to put more distance between them even as Lan Zhan presses closer and closer.

 

Lan Zhan reaches into his briefcase in which Wei Ying had slid two cans before they had left the car. One can of Asahi beer, the other of iced green tea.

 

“Have this,” he offers, holding one can out for him.

 

Wei Ying takes it, absently opening it and lifting it to his lips for a drink. Setting his briefcase against a lamppost near them, Lan Zhan opens the other can and takes a sip from it.

 

As the cold liquid touches the back of Wei Ying’s throat, light and grassy instead of the mild burn he’s expecting, he brings his gaze straight back to Lan Zhan.

 

“Um, Lan Zhan?” he says carefully.

 

Lan Zhan blinks a few times, staring at the can in his hand. He licks his lips. “This is not tea,” he announces.

 

“No,” Wei Ying laughs. “Wait—don’t tell me you’ve never tasted alcohol before?”

 

Lan Zhan’s face drains of colour. “This...” he says, staring down at the can with increasing panic, “This is alcohol?”

 

“Oh my god,” Wei Ying crows. “You have really never... Oh.”

 

He feels the slightest bit of guilt. This changes rapidly to confusion as Lan Zhan fidgets for a few minutes. It looks extremely out of place on him. Then he steps over to where he had left his briefcase and bends to pick it up.

 

“Lan Zhan?”

 

He starts to walk. Wei Ying hurries over to him and puts a hand on his shoulder.

 

There is a small frown on Lan Zhan’s face, and he looks very focused. He pauses when Wei Ying touches him, searches his face for a brief moment and then starts to walk again.

 

“Hey, Lan Zhan, wait—!”

 

He follows Lan Zhan back inside the SEGA store, upstairs to the second floor and towards the crane games. He stops at one of them.

 

Chickens. The glass box is full of chicken plushies. Lan Zhan opens his wallet, fiddles around with the coins for a long moment and finally finds one that he pushes into the slot.

 

Wei Ying watches in bemusement as Lan Zhan bends over the controllers. He blinks confusedly as the crane moves in every which way but he is nothing if not determined. He keeps at it, bristling as Wei Ying gently says, “Hey, do you want to let me try?” Then he shuffles away from Wei Ying, trying to shield what he’s doing from Wei Ying’s line of vision as if it is a big secret.

 

Finally—after several tortuous minutes, Lan Zhan plucks a chicken off the pile. He takes it and offers it to Wei Ying. “For Wei Ying,” he says.

 

Wei Ying’s heart skips a beat. As if Lan Zhan getting drunk out of his mind with a single sip of Baijiu isn’t enough, he looks so very earnest and his nose is so red that Wei Ying’s stomach clenches.

 

Green tea never did suit him, did it?

 

As he stares at the plushie in his hands, Lan Zhan has returned to action. He turns around, puts more money in the slot and starts to play all over again.

 

“Hey, Lan Zhan?” says Wei Ying gently. “This is really nice, but you don’t need to get me another.”

 

Lan Zhan turns at him, giving him an irritated look. “Must give Wei Ying all of it,” he replies very seriously, and continues to play.

 

This goes on.

 

And on.

 

And on.

 

Till Wei Ying finds himself with a mountain of plushies in his arms, so high that you couldn’t see the top of his head over it.

 

“Lan Zhan!” he wails. “Would you stop, please? Let me go downstairs and get a bag for all of these. I’m going to fall over.”

 

Lan Zhan seems to stop at that, as far as Wei Ying can tell through the tiny windows between the plushies he’s holding. Then slowly, one plushie leaves the pile. Then another, and another, till all of them are lying on a crate on the floor.

 

“Wei Ying can bring a bag now,” he says, before turning back to the game.

 

“Lan Zhan, I’m going to leave you here if you stop being so annoying!” Wei Ying grumbles. He makes his way to the staircase and goes downstairs.

 

Once a large bag is acquired from the store assistants at the main desk, he climbs back upstairs. He crosses the room over to where he’d left Lan Zhan, and abruptly wants to disappear into the ground.

 

The arcade is almost empty now, it being so near closing time. Lan Zhan is the only person remaining on this floor, and he is kneeling in front of the machine where Wei Ying had left him. His hair is loose, flowing down his back and his pretty silver hair clip is in his hand.

 

In his hand, as he prods at the lock to the inside of the glass box with it.

 

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying stifles his name before it comes out as a scream. “What are you doing?”

 

Lan Zhan continues to poke at it diligently, alternating it with screwing motions.

 

Wei Ying drops the bag to the ground, sprints up to him and tugs his arm. “Lan Zhan!” he hisses, tugging him by the arm. “Fuck... I swear to god—if you don’t—”

 

“Must get them all,” he says. “For Wei Ying.”

 

“What?” Wei Ying says, heat rising to his cheeks.

 

Lan Zhan looks around slowly at him. “I should have defended Wei Ying. At the event. Should have said he was with me.” He looks down at his hands, loosened hair slipping past his shoulders to frame his face. It makes him look unbearably soft. “I am sorry.”

 

He leans over to fiddle with the lock again.

 

Wei Ying freezes, heart pounding. The words shake him to his core and for a long moment he just watches Lan Zhan attempt to break into the box.

 

He hears a voice from downstairs, and that is what finally snaps him out of it.

 

He wrestles with him for a while but drunk Lan Zhan doesn’t seem to have any issues whatsoever with his upper body strength, sheer determination even helping him go over and above. Wei Ying brings his hand to cover Lan Zhan’s as he attempts to drive his clip into the lock. But Lan Zhan’s grip is as strong as iron, and there is no way he’ll budge.

 

Unless.

 

Wei Ying lunges forward, seizes Lan Zhan’s free hand and lifts it to his face. Then he licks a long, slow, deliberate stripe across his wrist, eyes never leaving Lan Zhan’s face.

 

Lan Zhan stops. So does Wei Ying’s brain.

 

Suddenly, Lan Zhan’s face seems unacceptably near. He turns to look at Wei Ying. His face is flushed and his lips have parted a fraction. It makes Wei Ying want to see just how much further he can take this. Linking his fingers with Lan Zhan’s, he presses a kiss onto his wrist. Then another, still watching Lan Zhan closely through his lashes.

 

Lan Zhan’s fingers go limp in his hand, and suddenly he turns his head towards his head towards the glass cage with the plushies next to them.

 

And he bangs his head against it.

 

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying gasps, reaching for his head to feel for any bumps. There don’t seem to be any, and he seems in a similar state of coherence as he had been all this while. He gently pulls him up to his feet, letting go for a moment to hurriedly pack all the plushies Lan Zhan had won for him into the bag. Then he takes his hand and leads him downstairs before Lan Zhan can get distracted by another game.

 

When they’re outside, Wei Ying realises he has no idea where they’d left the car. He doesn’t have the driver’s number either. He glances at Lan Zhan.

 

He pulls him towards a narrow lane leading off the main road and finds a 7-eleven. The girl at the cash register glances up from a book with a bored expression on her face as they enter. Wei Ying brings Lan Zhan to a table against the glass pane overlooking the street. He sits Lan Zhan on one of the seats, reaches into his pocket and extricates his phone. He turns it towards Lan Zhan’s face so it opens with facial recognition.

 

He really doesn’t mean to. Lan Zhan hadn’t even exited the browser before locking his phone so it’s the first thing he sees.

 

Top 10 Instagrammable Places in Japan

 

Planning a trip to Japan? Find out the ten must-visit places for that perfect Instagram shot! #instaperfect

 

  1. Shibuya crossing
  2. Todoroki ravine
  3. Akihabara
  4. Tsukiji fish market

 

... And so it goes.

 

Wei Ying swallows, reading the list over and over as he tries to process it. Lan Zhan really searched for this? His knees feel weak all of a sudden, and he sinks next to him. He looks at Lan Zhan, who is still dopily trying to understand what is going on around him. His eyes fall on his phone in Wei Ying’s hand.

 

“Oh,” he says softly. “It’s nine p.m.”

 

Then he shuffles closer to Wei Ying, tilts sideways till his head drops onto Wei Ying’s shoulder and immediately falls asleep.

 

Wei Ying looks down at him, stunned. What on earth just happened?

 

He glances behind him. The girl at the cash register doesn’t seem in the slightest bit bothered by their presence in the corner, now flossing her teeth as she reads her book. He looks out at the streetlights dimly illuminating the street before them.

 

Somewhere out there is Lan Zhan’s chauffeur, just a phone call away on his phone. His narrow bed, too, in his tiny room in the hostel.

 

There is also this seat right here, with Lan Zhan sleeping on his shoulder.

 

Lan Zhan, who had seemingly Baidu searched the top ten instagrammable places in Tokyo for him to make him feel better after his humiliation at the Jacquemus event.

 

Lan Zhan, who had barely known him a day and had spent the whole day with him taking him to all these places for some unfathomable reason.

 

Lan Zhan, who had earnestly pressed thirteen chicken plushies into his arms and nearly broken into the glass crate for the rest.

 

Lan Zhan, who blushes with his ears and makes Wei Ying’s chest fill with some overbearing warmth that makes him want to run away while simultaneously craving more of it with an enthusiasm that he can’t begin to explain.

 

(He’s always been able to explain everything. He can’t, and it only makes him crave more. He isn’t sure what, exactly, just that he wants more.)

 

There really is no competition.

 

 

He wakes up with his face smushed against something firm and warm. He doesn’t really want to move away from it, but there is an awful crick in his neck and it’s starting to hurt. There is also an unfamiliar but inviting warmth over his shoulders.

 

One that starts to slip off him as he straightens up. He reaches behind him to catch it, eyes still closed. It feels soft and smooth to the touch.

 

With a soft groan, he sits up straight. He blinks a few times to get his bearings. Then he looks down at the soft and smooth item in his hand.

 

It’s a blue blazer. Wei Ying turns to find Lan Zhan sitting at his side, looking down at him.

 

Ridden of his blazer and waistcoat, he’s only in a crisp white button down shirt which he’s rolled up to his elbows. Arms should absolutely not be so attractive, should they? Unable to help it, he flushes. He notices a small wet patch on the shoulder of Lan Zhan’s expensive white shirt where he’d drooled on at some point, and flushes harder.

 

“Hi,” he says softly. It comes out as a dry croak. As more things around him start to make sense, he notices they’re still in the 7-eleven where he’d brought Lan Zhan. It’s still mostly dark in the street outside.

 

He stretches his neck from side to side.

 

“Are you all right?” Lan Zhan asks.

 

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. “Sorry about... that.” He points at the patch of drool on Lan Zhan’s shirt.

 

Lan Zhan watches him for a moment, then gets to his feet. He walks over to the cashier. Wei Ying brings his arms over his head and stretches properly. Suddenly, he remembers that the last thing Lan Zhan had done before he fell asleep was to attempt to break into a crane game at the arcade. He turns around, suddenly worried, only to find Lan Zhan approaching him with a glass of water in his hand.

 

He presses it into Wei Ying’s hand and Wei Ying drinks it. “Thank you,” he says. “But hey, are you okay?”

 

Lan Zhan nods. His ears are tinged pink again. “Last night,” he says stiffly, “What did I... did I do—?”

 

Wei Ying giggles. Lan Zhan’s eyes go wide, increasingly panicked.

 

Wei Ying points at the giant bag full of chicken plushies at his feet. He thinks it’s better to spare him from the knowledge he’d tried to break into the machine for a while.

 

Lan Zhan coughs as he looks at it, ears growing redder.

 

“You were so cute,” he sighs. “You went on till closing time. Lan Zhan, I didn’t know you were such a fan of crane games!”

 

“I’m not... I never—”

 

“Never? You never played these games before?” Wei Ying’s chest clenches, unexpectedly painful. Lan Zhan, with his perfectly pressed clothes and outwardly cold expression, had probably never let go like this before.

 

And he deserves to. This strange, wonderful boy he’s only known for a little more than a day deserves to experience everything, and Wei Ying hasn’t been more certain of anything else in his life before.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he says, grabbing his hand. “Would you like breakfast?”

 

“It is four in the morning,” Lan Zhan says. Wei Ying is taken back for a moment at how they’d spent seven whole hours in the corner of this store, sleeping on each other’s shoulders. “You will only get food at supermarkets at this time.” He draws out his wallet from his pocket. “What would you like?”

 

“Someone’s not been doing their research properly,” Wei Ying says cheerfully. “Early morning sushi at Tsukiji fish market, of course!”

 

 

Wei Ying is halfway through his plate at the fourth stall they end up at when he realises he hasn’t taken a single photo yet again. All of the noise, colours, and authentic Japanese food experience around him and all he’d wanted to do was to tug Lan Zhan into whatever store struck his fancy and share takoyaki with him.

 

God, they really needed to invent a worst influencer award just so they could give it to him.

 

But the thing is, he still could run over to the opposite storefront and pose in front of it and ask Lan Zhan to take a picture. If he really wanted to.

 

Alternatively, he could continue this very fascinating conversation they’re having and see how much pinker he could make Lan Zhan’s ears turn.

 

“So, that was the one and only time you skipped school? Ever? To go play with rabbits at an amusement park?”

 

Lan Zhan puts an absurdly large piece of dumpling in his mouth.

 

“That can’t be right, Lan Zhan!” It’s a lie. It sounds completely like something he would do, but isn’t it hilarious that Wei Ying could read him so easily within thirty six hours of knowing him? “Surely,” he goes on, “Surely you went to the movies later to make out with the friend who went with you—what was her name, again?”

 

“Mianmian.”

 

“Right. Yeah, Mianmian.” Wei Ying swallows, suddenly reeling with an unfamiliar emotion. Ugly and dark and coiling in his stomach as he thinks about teenaged Lan Zhan leaning over to kiss a faceless girl in a movie theatre.

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t deign that with an answer, opting instead to just give him another look through narrowed eyes. The blush on his ears has faded, and suddenly this isn’t fun anymore.

 

Wei Ying is feeling jealous over a man he barely knows. This is ridiculous and he needs to go to his room and finally lie down on a flat, unmoving surface for a very long time.

 

“Hey,” he says, looking down at his phone. The sun is well in the sky, and the crowds of 3 a.m. risers have given way to 6 a.m. risers. Wei Ying’s train to Kyoto is three hours from now. “We should probably head back. I’ve taken too much of Lan Zhan’s time already.”

 

Lan Zhan nods. He looks for a moment like he really wants to say something, and Wei Ying’s heart starts to race, inexplicably. Then his face shutters down again and he gets to his feet.

 

They make it to the car which had been parked some distance away near an abandoned park. Wei Ying wonders briefly what the driver must think they’d been up to all night.

 

The drive passes too quickly, Wei Ying trying to fill the silence with occasional half-hearted small talk. Lan Zhan asks him where he’s headed next, and he tells him his train to Kyoto is in three hours.

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t say much after that. Wei Ying’s jokes and teasing soon start to fall flat even to his own ears, and he gives up altogether.

 

When they reach Wei Ying’s hotel, they both step outside of the car. Wei Ying starts to walk towards the gate. He knows Lan Zhan must be following him out of courtesy so they could say goodbye, but he wants to delay that as long as he can. He feels a twinge of guilt at wasting two more minutes of Lan Zhan’s time but it’s not nearly enough to let him go any earlier.

 

Inevitably, they reach the entrance. Wei Ying turns to Lan Zhan, tall and beautiful in his white button-down and slacks from yesterday against the morning sun.

 

All the time he’d spent with him since yesterday plays through his head like a movie reel fast forwarded.

 

A walk among the trees. Games at the arcade. Sharing food. The soft skin of Lan Zhan’s wrist that he wouldn’t have minded kissing for hours. Forgetting everything else around them including the whole reason they were going to all these places.

 

It was almost like it had been a date.

 

A date that had taken them from the evening before until the morning in an unfamiliar city. Wei Ying’s heart begins to race so hard it’s almost hard to stay upright.

 

Of course, Lan Zhan wouldn’t have seen it that way. He was obviously just being nice to him. But that couldn’t stop Wei Ying from pretending, could it?

 

“See you, Lan Zhan,” he says quietly. Lan Zhan lives in Shanghai. He could probably track him down somehow when he gets home.

 

“Wei Ying—” Again, Lan Zhan sounds like he wants to tell him something. Again, he doesn’t end up saying it. “Goodbye.”

 

He turns around, and begins to walk away.

 

Wei Ying watches him go. His stomach swirls unpleasantly. This is all wrong. This is horrible, terrible, unbelievably selfish. And yet—

 

“Lan Zhan!”

 

He isn’t ready for this date to end.

 

Lan Zhan turns around so fast, Wei Ying is sure he must get some degree of whiplash. He begins to walk towards him and Wei Ying’s heart thumps so fast it couldn’t be healthy, but he’s beautiful and wonderful and he’s not going away and shit, if Wei Ying’s brain could just get a grip for a second and formulate a single coherent excuse—

 

“My data pack expired.”

 

Lan Zhan stops in front of him and raises a single eyebrow.

 

Shit. Wei Ying is an idiot. Data pack? He really couldn’t think of a stupider excuse? All this, and Lan Zhan is just going to offer to help him renew his pack on his phone and be off again—

 

“Well, I am going to Kyoto today too.”

 

“Wait, really?”

 

Inside, Wei Ying is screaming. What the fuck?

 

Lan Zhan whips out his phone. Suddenly his fingers are flying over it, so fast they’re almost a blur. “Yes,” he answers.

 

“Um. You didn’t mention this earlier. Uh, when is your train?”

 

“I am checking that precisely,” Lan Zhan answers, fingers still zooming across his keypad.

 

“Oh.”

 

Dimly, Wei Ying knows you need exactly four clicks to find that out. Mail app, select inbox, open relevant email and open the attached PDF with the ticket details. Lan Zhan is probably closer to four hundred clicks by now, just half a minute later.

 

“Twelve fifteen,” says Lan Zhan finally.

 

Wei Ying swallows. There’s only one train around that time. My train is three hours from now, he’d told Lan Zhan in the car.

 

“I see,” he says. “Look, if it’s okay with you I’ll...”

 

I’d like to hang out with you more? Would like to find out everything about you? Would like to keep feeling these things you’ve been making me feel since yesterday as much longer as I can?

 

“You can meet me there. I will be waiting in the line for coach number seven.”

 

“Sure,” Wei Ying says. “Lan Zhan... Thank you.”

 

Lan Zhan nods. “See you, Wei Ying.”

 

He turns to leave. This time, Wei Ying turns back towards his hotel entrance and bites his lip and finally lets his face crack into the giant grin he was trying so hard to suppress.

 

He’s selfish and a fraud and a straight up liar, but he’s also going to Kyoto with Lan Zhan, so who’s really winning here?

 

 

Wei Ying packs up the few items he’d taken out of his luggage yesterday, preparing to check out. Just as he picks up his phone to leave, it lights up with a notification.

 

xiaoxingchen@qq.com: Hi, hope you reached safely and that the hotel was comfortable for you. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need anything.

 

Wei Ying feels a twinge of guilt as he realises how much he’d got caught up in his adventures with Lan Zhan yesterday. The actual reason he was here couldn’t be further from his mind. He barely has a single photo to post to his stories.

 

At least Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan expected an inspired think piece, not hourly selfies or Tiktoks. And his evening Lan Zhan had filled his head with too many thoughts, so it could count still as working too, couldn’t it?

 

Wei Ying locks his phone and squares his shoulders. Of course it could.

 

 

Sure enough, two and a half hours later, Wei Ying finds Lan Zhan waiting at Tokyo station, in front of coach number seven. He is wearing a long off-white cardigan that reaches his knees over a light blue turtleneck and white trousers.

 

“Hi,” Wei Ying says breathlessly when he walks up to him.

 

“You are late,” Lan Zhan tells him.

 

“What? The train is thirteen minutes away!”

 

“You should have reached earlier.”

 

“You should have given me a reminder call, then.” He isn’t expecting the words to actually leave his lips. He flushes at the implication, not daring to think of how he’d respond if Lan Zhan picked up on it.

 

He doesn’t have to wait long to find his answer. Lan Zhan replies, “You should have given me your number if that is what you wanted.”

 

And, well. Wei Ying is struck speechless again. It’s infuriating, the number of times this has happened in the day and a half since he met Lan Zhan. It would probably exceed the number of times he’s been robbed of a witty reply in his entire life before that.

 

It’s a good thing the Shinkansen shoots past them at that moment, sending Wei Ying’s hair in every direction and Lan Zhan’s in a smooth, graceful flutter behind him.

 

They get ready to embark, Wei Ying taking the moment alone with his thoughts to make sense of what is happening. Lan Zhan couldn’t be flirting with him, could he? He’s not sure if he’s relieved at that thought or disappointed. Lan Zhan looks absolutely undeterred, as if he didn’t even realise what he’d done to Wei Ying. It is either extremely endearing if he’s genuinely being naive, or completely maddening. Wei Ying isn’t in the right headspace to figure that out yet.

 

They get onto the train and take seats side by side. Wei Ying probably doesn’t need to press his shoulder into Lan Zhan’s as he unpacks the sandwiches he’d bought on the way, but Lan Zhan doesn’t move away either. They eat for a while in silence, Wei Ying hyperaware of every point their bodies are in contact.

 

“So, what are you up to in Kyoto?” Wei Ying asks. “Are you... going to the Coffee Arabica event?”

 

“Yes, that one,” Lan Zhan answers, perhaps a beat too quickly.

 

Wei Ying nods. The train starts to roll out from the station. Lan Zhan sets his laptop on his knees, and begins to work.

 

Wei Ying idly takes a few boomerangs and burst photos through the window of the scenery passing them by. None of them are good enough to post, and his heart hasn’t been in it anyway.

 

Putting his phone away, he leans his head against the cool glass of the window and watches the suburbs fly past, giving way to the countryside. Soon they’re passing quaint villages with tiny cottages dotting the lush, vibrant grass and rice fields rolling up towards the blue, blue sky. Wei Ying smiles, taking it all in.

 

Nine years ago, he’d have been grateful for the inspiration. Nine years ago, when he was penning outfits for his Ghibli character inspired modern DIY looks, trying to find ways he could recreate them by refurbishing and sewing together basic clothing pieces most kids would already have in their wardrobes or be able to buy easily at affordable prices.

 

It was his first video to really go viral, and he still remembers the thrill he’d felt when he’d woken up to seven hundred and thirty three comments in his inbox. He’d gone through every single one greedily.

 

He had also been searching for one specific commenter. And he’d found him soon enough.

 

bunny130809 (six hours ago): Very creative video. You are inspiring.

 

He’d flushed with happiness, reading and rereading his most meticulous follower’s comment. It hadn’t taken Wei Ying long to figure out that 130809 was probably the date they’d made their account—the default add-on to the username you ended up with if the one you chose was already taken. It was also a week after the day he’d posted his first video to get more than fifty views.

 

He wouldn’t have made the connection otherwise, but bunny130809 had been commenting on each of his videos since his username was xianxiannyan and he had just started to make 240p videos on his Sony digicam at the age of thirteen. Including the really embarrassing ones that he’d made private long ago, where he filmed himself playing table tennis with Jiang Cheng in their backyard.

 

Your brother seems quite annoying. But you look like you are having fun.

 

The video had mostly been of the two of them screaming at each other.

 

He thinks back to the other comments he’d left on his videos over the years.

 

Interesting idea. On a blog post where he’d given step by step pictorial instructions on how to make rings out of damaged vinyl records.

 

I made this. It is very nice. On a video where his sister had guest-starred, showing him how to make her signature lotus root soup.

 

Bunnies. On a video where Wei Ying had asked for suggestions for animals he should use as inspiration for his next themed outfit video.

 

“Would you like anything?” On—Wait.

 

He turns, and finds Lan Zhan staring at him. He has to blink a few times. The fact that Lan Zhan’s voice and the voice of his follower from all those years ago had blended together so seamlessly in his head puts into perspective just how tired he is.

 

The lady with a trolley of food smiles at him. Wei Ying shakes his head, suddenly feeling sleep overcome him. Before she even pushes the trolley past their seats, he’s fallen asleep with his head against the window.

 

 

“Wei Ying.”

 

Wei Ying stretches, and slowly opens his eyes. When he gets used to the bright light outside, he turns to Lan Zhan.

 

“Hey,” he mumbles sleepily.

 

Lan Zhan’s cheek has wrinkles on it, as if he’d just been sleeping as well. Eyes a little wide and hazy, cardigan off so he’s just wearing his fuzzy blue turtleneck, he looks soft. Wei Ying’s fingers suddenly physically ache with the need to touch his cheeks and smooth them down.

 

“We have reached,” Lan Zhan tells him, voice low and sleep-rough.

 

“Where will you be staying?” Wei Ying asks.

 

Lan Zhan straightens up, a faraway look suddenly appearing in his eyes. “My company booked a hotel,” he says. He gets to his feet, and brings his briefcase down from the shelf overhead.

 

Wei Ying blinks and sits up.

 

Lan Zhan takes his phone and begins to key in something. Then he offers it to Wei Ying. “Log into your account and renew your data pack.”

 

Wei Ying feels like someone just dropped a bucket of cold water all over him.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he says. Of course. This was stupid. The date he was pretending they’d been on, what he chose to see as flirting, and the way he’d thought for the briefest time that Lan Zhan had bought these tickets to Kyoto at the last minute when he asked him for help.

 

(Four hundred taps at his keyboard to find when his train was scheduled, though.)

 

But this Lan Zhan, the one standing in front of him now, is letting him go. Offering to help him like the decent person that he is, and letting him be on his way.

 

So why does Wei Ying feel like he just got kicked in the stomach?

 

He takes the phone numbly, logs in and pretends to recharge his data. Lan Zhan brings down his luggage, and places it as his feet.

 

Wei Ying inhales sharply. It helps to snap him out of it, though.

 

He’s being dramatic. He’s known this guy for less than two days, and he’s sleep deprived. Some time away from him would be good.

 

Well, until they see each other at the Arabica event tomorrow morning, anyway.

 

 

 

Wei Ying takes a bus to his hotel, checks in and makes his way to his room. Tossing his luggage to the floor the moment he’s inside, he flops face-first on the bed. He doesn’t even look around the room, falling instead into the first sleep he’s had on an actual bed for the first time since he left Shanghai two days ago.

 

When he wakes up, it’s dark. He grapples for his phone blearily, the light illuminating the whole room. More messages from Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng, a couple more from his sister and at last one from an unknown number.

 

[unknown number] (17:33) Found your number on the app you used to login to your network. Here is confirmation that your data has been renewed.

 

[unknown number] (17:37) You should be more careful with your personal information.

 

Wei Ying reads it over and over, warmth pooling in his stomach and chest and rising to flush his cheeks as he realises how unnecessary the message was. Of course his data would be renewed, he’d paid for it and his internet would start working again the moment it was activated. But he’d still chosen to send the message.

 

Granted, Lan Zhan definitely would not have been aware of the implications of that. But it still makes his toes curl and makes him want to press his face into his pillow to stifle a scream.

 

It’s ridiculous, the way he’s acting more like a middle schooler than he ever did when he was in middle school himself, and all thanks to Lan Zhan.

 

He calls Jiang Cheng then, before thinking about Lan Zhan can drive him any crazier.

 

“Where the hell are you?” Jiang Cheng barks, a single ring later.

 

“Stop yelling, I just woke up,” Wei Ying says. “I’m at my hotel.”

 

“Which city? Which country? What the fuck, man?”

 

“Kyoto. Where else would I be?”

 

“I don’t know, you tell me! You disappeared after fucking Wen Chao’s little—display yesterday, you were MIA the rest of the night and all of today too. Where were you?”

 

Roaming around an unfamiliar city with a guy I just met, Wei Ying thinks automatically. He gives himself a shake before his thoughts can wander again.

 

“Went on a walk.”

 

“You? Went on a walk by yourself?”

 

“Wasn’t alone.” Wei Ying cringes at how much that makes him flush.

 

“What?” Jiang Cheng screeches. “Hey, what the fuck?”

 

“The guy from the plane.” Maybe this is good. Maybe talking about it will help him put things into perspective.

 

There is a long pause. Wei Ying can almost see Jiang Cheng’s face grow redder and redder, steam starting to pour out of his ears.

 

“Come to tonight’s event.”

 

Wei Ying groans. The Wens had arranged for another promotional event for their influencers that evening, this time at a tea house. Baixue had not—for good reason, because it sounded tedious as hell. Tea never sat well with him anyway.

 

“You’re coming, or I’m calling jiejie and she’ll start panicking about you being defiled by a stranger in a foreign country and how she doesn’t have enough time to plan a proper wedding.”

 

“That’s just low, involving her!” Wei Ying wails. He tries hard not to think about being defiled by Lan Zhan, the word alone sending a shudder of arousal through his treacherous body.

 

Jiang Cheng doesn’t answer, merely breathing heavily on the other end of the call.

 

Wei Ying sighs, sitting up and toeing open his suitcase on the floor. The carefully chosen outfits he’d packed spill out at once.

 

If he is going to be drinking tea for the rest of the evening, he might as well get some photos out of it.

 

 

Wei Ying arrives at Ippodo tea house an hour later. There is a small crowd outside, and Jiang Cheng is standing in front of it, arms crossed and eyebrows furrowed in annoyance.

 

“Really?” is the first thing he says. “You had to bring a whole backpack for a couple of pictures at a tea shop?”

 

“I brought backup clothes,” he says. “Enough of them. Aren’t you proud?”

 

Jiang Cheng huffs, leading him towards the entrance. He flashes an ID card at the guard as he walks in, Wei Ying close on his heels.

 

The shop is done up in traditional Japanese style, with beautiful wood lining every surface. The front of the store is lined with shelves full of every kind of tea you could possibly fancy on display, and it leads into a room with low tables with tatami mats around them. The larger tables further inside the shop are enclosed within wooden screens for privacy.

 

“Hey!” Nie Huaisang runs over to him. He’s wearing a dark green blazer over a cream shirt and brown cycling shorts, somehow pulling off a look that would’ve been ridiculous on literally anyone else. He stops in front of him, and pats down his shirt. “You wore the vintage Fendi!”

 

Vintage being, of course, a kind way to describe a shirt that he’d thrifted for a ridiculously low price thanks to the massive rip down the back of it. But Wei Ying had sewn it up till it was hard to tell there was anything there, and made sure to always layer something over it just in case.

 

“Nice look,” he tells Nie Huaisang. “Very post-breakup Lady Diana.”

 

“Jiang Cheng, take some pictures of us?”

 

He loops an arm around his shoulders as they pose for Jiang Cheng, then take a few selfies all together.

 

Later, they pore over the phone and scrutinise the pictures.

 

“This seems post-worthy, right?” Wei Ying says, pointing at one where he felt they both looked good.

 

“Hmm. No.” Nie Huaisang’s brows are furrowed in a frown.

 

“What? Why?”

 

“You can’t see the license plate detail on my saddle bag.” Wei Ying follows his fingers as he points out the stylised license plate on his vintage Christian Dior saddle bag, labelled CHRIS 1947, for the year the bag was made. “That’s one of the focal points of this post. This bag is pretty much impossible to get your hands on now—understandable, since it’s more than seventy years old. Also you need to touch up the concealer under your right eye, it’s not symmetrical.”

 

Wei Ying gawks, impressed. He’d never have been able to notice that. Nie Huaisang is a natural.

 

They retake the shots till Nie Huaisang gives the green light for one of the pictures. Then Wei Ying picks his backpack up again. “I’m going to change outfits for the next photos,” he says. “Give me a minute, yeah?”

 

Don’t do anything embarrassing,” Jiang Cheng warns.

 

“Now, now. Have some tea. All that screaming can’t be good for your blood pressure, you know. Nice of your brand partners to invite you here, even they must think you needed it!”

 

He darts away to the back of the store before Jiang Cheng can react. He tries the bathroom door, but it seems to be occupied. He waits in front of it.

 

And waits.

 

And waits.

 

He ends up standing there so long he’s nearly certain there is no one inside and the bathroom is out of service. He looks around him, and finds a corner behind the screens surrounding the last private table. You wouldn’t be able to see anything happening there unless you came all the way to the back of the shop. In the five minutes he’s been waiting here, no one has.

 

So he swiftly slips into the corner, opens his backpack and draws out the alternate outfit he’d brought. It’s an oversized black cable-knit sweater and skinny red and black checkered trousers. Basic, but still something that looked unfailingly good.

 

He pulls off his jeans and swiftly gets the trousers on. Next, he hurriedly pulls off his Fendi shirt, grabs the black sweater and jams it over his head.

 

In his haste, he forgets there’s a lining inside the sweater. His head gets stuck between the layers and for a moment he flaps around helplessly, arms halfway through the sleeves.

 

Then he hears footsteps. Closing in by the second. Squirming harder and equally in vain to get the sweater over his head, he manages to get himself tangled even more in it. Then the footsteps come to a stop.

 

“Wei Ying?”

 

No.

 

Hell no.

 

Wei Ying stops dead, sweater entangled around his head, torso completely bare in the corner of a tea shop. Right in front of Lan Zhan, apparently.

 

For what feels like forever, neither of them move. Then Lan Zhan coughs, and there’s a soft shuffle of feet. Wei Ying finally lifts the shirt just enough to peek out underneath and spot a pair of feet, turned away from him.

 

Warmth blooming in his chest, he finally lifts the sweater completely off him. He sees Lan Zhan standing in front of him, turned away from him as though guarding him. He doesn’t miss how pink the back of his ears are.

 

As Wei Ying puts the black sweater on again, he can’t stop thinking how it’d feel like to fold himself against his back, put his arms around his chest, press his mouth against that neck to see if he could make it go red too—

 

Once the sweater is on, he gets to his feet and waits just a few seconds for the heat that had risen on his own cheeks at the thought to dissipate.

 

Then he says, “Lan Zhan?”

 

Lan Zhan angles his face ever so slightly towards him but he still doesn’t turn around completely.

 

Wei Ying walks closer, then moves around him to stand in front of him. Even his nose is tinged pink, he notices with delight.

 

“Lan Zhan, what are you doing here?”

 

Lan Zhan looks somewhere over Wei Ying’s shoulder. “I came,” he says, voice still very taut, “For tea.”

 

“What are the odds?” Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan is wearing his round glasses, a white shirt-sleeved polo necked shirt and tan trousers, looking preppy and perfect and Wei Ying’s fingers itch again with the impulse to mess it all up.

 

“Did—Did your internet start working?”

 

“Yes,” says Wei Ying.

 

A beat passes. Then another.

 

“So—”

 

“Why—”

 

“You go first,” says Wei Ying. He even sounds breathless. It’s mortifying.

 

“Why... Why are you changing here,” Lan Zhan says stiffly. “In the middle of a tea shop?”

 

“Whoever was in the toilet was talking too long!”

 

“There is a sign outside that said it is out of service. And pointing the way to another one.”

 

“Oh.” Wei Ying taps his chin.

 

“Shameless,” Lan Zhan adds.

 

“Hey, I didn’t do it on purpose!” he protests. “Thanks to you, I barely got any pictures yesterday. So I’m making up for it today, with multiple outfits. If you want proof, my half-brother and my friend are waiting for me just over there.”

 

He doesn’t wait for Lan Zhan’s reply, taking him by the arm and pulling him towards where he’d left Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang. Lan Zhan follows him easily.

 

He starts to talk then, mostly to distract himself from the way his heart feels ready to burst with inordinate, delirious happiness at seeing Lan Zhan again. The realisation that he’d missed him—missed someone he’d known for a day and a half, within hours of seeing him last.

 

“So Nie Huaisang is my childhood friend. He’s a famous influencer, you may have heard of him? Of course, his dad’s business was recently acquired by Wen International so he has to promote all of their companies—”

 

Lan Zhan comes to an abrupt halt. Wei Ying turns, frowning. “Hey, what—?”

 

Lan Zhan looks in the direction Wei Ying is taking him towards, then somewhere behind him. He seems to make a decision. “Wait, I am here with my brother as well,” he says. “Would you like to meet him first?”

 

“Ooh,” he says, thinking back to what Lan Zhan had mentioned about him. Three years older than him, working for the same company Lan Zhan worked for. “Sure!”

 

The promise of meeting Lan Zhan’s brother and possibly extricating more information about Lan Zhan from him makes the choice an easy one. He follows as Lan Zhan takes the lead now, bringing him to one of the private tables at the back of the shop.

 

A dark-haired man is sitting on the tatami mat, a cup of tea in his hands. He looks strikingly like Lan Zhan, but with a more relaxed, gentle look on his face.

 

He looks up when Lan Zhan enters. “Oh, wh—”

 

“This is Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says loudly.

 

His brother looks startled, as though Lan Zhan has never cut him off before. Or raised his voice, maybe. Then he spots Wei Ying, next to Lan Zhan, and his eyes grow wider.

 

“Hey,” says Wei Ying.

 

“Hello,” says the man carefully. He smiles, but he looks swiftly between his brother and Wei Ying as though trying to assess the situation. “I’m... his brother. My name is Lan Huan, And you, you know my brother through—”

 

“Lan Zhan and I met on the flight here!” Wei Ying looks fondly around at Lan Zhan. “I kind of usurped one of his business class seats—still can’t believe you guys get two seats for a single person! Oh, and then we met a—a couple of times.” There is no way to say they spent the whole night together roaming an unfamiliar city with someone they’d met a day before without feeling like he’s about to die of embarrassment.

 

Meanwhile, Lan Huan’s eyebrows have risen so high they’ve disappeared under his hairline. He looks at Lan Zhan, then at Wei Ying, then at Lan Zhan again, and repeats the cycle. This goes on a few times.

 

“See you, brother,” Lan Zhan says stiffly, taking Wei Ying’s arm and hauling him out past the screen.

 

“Wait, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying cries. “I want to talk to your brother more!” He remembers the way Lan Zhan had reacted when he’d mentioned meeting Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang. He’s not sure why he wants so much to avoid them, but at least he could use this information to his advantage. “I mean, unless you want to meet my brother and my f—”

 

Lan Zhan freezes. Again, he looks like he’s waging a great war within himself. Then he lets go of Wei Ying, striding back into the private area and sitting down opposite his brother.

 

Grinning to himself, Wei Ying follows him inside and sits down next to him. Lan Huan pours two cups of tea for Lan Zhan and himself, and places them in front of them.

 

“Well,” he says. He’s looking at Lan Zhan, a twinkle in his eye. “You look like you’ve been having fun... A-Zhan.”

 

A-Zhan. Wei Ying has to fight the urge to coo at the name, even more when Lan Zhan’s ears turn pink again. “Don’t worry, he worked too! I made sure of it.”

 

“Did you?” Lan Huan says, sounding more amused by the second.

 

“Yeah, I was impressed he was able to work even in the arcade, right in the middle of the games!”

 

Lan Huan inhales sharply. “Arcade?” he repeats blankly.

 

“Yeah, we went to Akihabara.”

 

“Akihabara,” Lan Huan repeats faintly.

 

“What?” Wei Ying says. “You mentioned you’ve been to Tokyo before for work, hadn’t you? Never been to Akihabara before this?”

 

Lan Zhan looks extremely uncomfortable. Then suddenly, Wei Ying’s ringtone starts to play.

 

Two things happen at this moment: Lan Zhan whips around, eyes wide in shock, and Lan Huan develops a coughing fit behind his cup of tea.

 

“What?” Wei Ying asks absently, taking out his phone to see Jiang Cheng’s name flashing on the screen.

 

“Your ringtone,” Lan Huan asks. He looks mildly amused, and his eyes are trained on Lan Zhan’s face.

 

Wei Ying feels his cheeks heat up. “Ah, this,” he says softly.

 

He thinks back to the video bunny130809 had sent him three years ago, of his fingers plucking at the strings of his guzheng. The beautiful, haunting melody that he’d never grown tired of.

 

(Do you like it? I hope it makes you feel better. You inspired me to write it.)

 

“A friend sent it to me,” he says finally, flushing harder.

 

“A friend,” Lan Huan repeats, still looking at Lan Zhan for some reason.

 

Lan Zhan’s jaw tightens. “You should go back to your brother and your friend,” he says firmly. “They must be waiting for you.”

 

“Lan Zhan should come too,” Wei Ying says, getting to his feet.

 

Lan Zhan’s eyes are on his brother. “His friend is an influencer, promoting the company hosting the event in this shop. His name is Nie Huaisang.”

 

It seems like an unnecessary statement to make at this point in the conversation, but he says it very deliberately. Lan Huan raises his eyebrows as he meets his brother’s eyes. A wordless exchange seems to pass between them.

 

“Oh. Oh, we have to discuss the results of the last meeting,” Lan Huan says finally. “Sorry, but maybe he’ll join you later? A-Zhan, did you take his number?” He fixes his gaze on his brother again, smiling so widely his eyes become half-moons.

 

“Yes,” Lan Zhan mutters, looking like he is absolutely reevaluating his whole life.

 

“Bye!” Wei Ying tells Lan Huan, who smiles and waves back at him. “Bye, Lan Zhan,” he says, gaze lingering on him a few seconds before he leaves.

 

 

Jiang Cheng looks like he has half a mind to kidnap Wei Ying when he returns to them, if only for the peace of mind that would come with the knowledge that he wasn’t making a nuisance of himself somewhere. Nie Huaisang tries to diffuse the situation by draping himself over him, tugging at his cheeks and forehead to smoothen his face. He relents eventually, if only to get Nie Huaisang off his back.

 

Sometime later, Nie Huaisang is called to take some more promotional photos with the more famous influencers. Wei Ying stands to the side, watching him thrive in his element.

 

His mind wanders again to the day before. All the places he’d seen have filled him with a sudden itch to do something. An itch that he’d almost forgotten he could feel. An itch to create something, like he hasn’t for years now.

 

The bright neon lights and the steady chimes, bleeps and whirs at the arcades had reminded him instantly of Kunihiko Morinaga’s pixellated patterns for fall/winter 2011. It could be very possible to DIY something inspired by them with patches and sequins sewn onto a base fabric, Wei Ying wonders.

 

Also: date outfits for every kind of date you could think of. Colleagues taking a lunch break in the midst of a bustling city. Elderly neighbours meeting in a park on their morning walk. College kids meeting at an arcade through a common group of friends, casual rivalry over Dance Dance Revolution setting into motion something they were never expecting.

 

Outfits inspired by a series of dates that weren’t really dates, of course. But if he only sought inspiration from the way they’d made him feel, maybe it wasn’t so bad?

 

“Earth to Wei Ying.”

 

Jiang Cheng is staring at him. “You’ve been especially weird lately,” he says. “Is it the guy? What is it with him, anyway?”

 

“Nothing,” Wei Ying lies. “Just thinking about the places I saw yesterday.”

 

“With him,” Jiang Cheng presses. “Look, I don’t know if you think you like this guy or whatever, but he sounds more like a sleaze looking for a distraction on a business trip.”

 

“Yeah.” Lan Zhan isn’t anything like that, of course. It surprises Wei Ying how confident he is about this. Even Jiang Cheng’s insinuation cannot make him feel the slightest bit suspicious of his intentions.

 

There’s also the fact that there is nothing between them whatsoever since Lan Zhan definitely doesn’t want him that way. But that’s a different matter altogether.

 

Nie Huaisang finishes, and walks over to them.

 

“You know you could go over and take pictures too, you know?” he tells Wei Ying. There is a queue at the front of the shop where he was being photographed, with influencers waiting for their turn to get their product placement photos.

 

“I could also sit in for the meet and greet, but I think my forty three followers and I will be fine.”

 

Nie Huaisang glances at Jiang Cheng. Then he decides to go for it. “You realise you’re not even trying, don’t you? I know some of this—” he points at the queue in front of the store, “—may seem pretty sad and desperate, but it’s a rite of passage, you know? I did it too!”

 

“Yeah, for a whole three days after making your account. Till you butt-posted a picture Jiang Cheng took of you at your brother’s party, drunk and shirtless with your mum’s vintage Dior saddle purse slung around your neck and went viral. You literally made Dior repurpose and bring that ugly thing back to their stores in two weeks.”

 

“And I regret it every day,” Nie Huaisang sighs. “That purse should never have come back. The only reason I brought it to parties like that was because it had too many unknown fluid stains for it to be socially acceptable to carry it anywhere else.”

 

After a while, Nie Huaisang is called again for the fanmeet, and Jiang Cheng disappears for some promotional pictures with the other gamers who’d been invited.

 

Wei Ying hovers around awkwardly, wondering if he should try checking if Lan Zhan is still around. A voice on the microphone catches him by surprise.

 

“This is an announcement for yilinglaozu, who has a fan waiting for them. We don’t have your name registered for our fan meet, but in case you are available kindly report at the desk immediately.”

 

What?

 

Sheer surprise carries Wei Ying past the crowd, towards the registration desk.

 

“I’m yilinglaozu,” he tells a woman behind it.

 

“Oh, it’s you,” she says, regarding him for a moment. “You can take that chair from over there and sit at that end of the table where all the bloggers are seated. I’ll send the kid over in a second.”

 

The kid?

 

Wei Ying spares himself the humiliation of lugging the chair over himself, choosing instead to walk straight over to one end of the long table and perch himself on top of it.

 

A young boy walks over to him slowly. He’s probably around eight or nine. He’s carrying a big bag full of what looks like matcha-flavoured sweets and pastries.

 

“Are you yilinglaozu?” the boy asks, eyes wide and round.

 

Wei Ying nods. “What’s your name?”

 

“Ouyang Zizhen,” says the boy. “Your hoodie is cool.”

 

“Well, thank you for that,” says Wei Ying, more and more surprised by the second.

 

“Do you watch your old videos? You should. You should make more videos again. They’re really cool, and you’re really interesting, uh, and the videos are pretty.” The boy rattles this off all in one breath.

 

“What?”

 

“Oh, sorry. You’re pretty… And the videos are interesting?”

 

“Uh, kid, what—”

 

“Sorry, I can’t remember the last bit right!” the boy wails, clutching the bag of sweets tighter. “Just tell him I told you what I was supposed to say. I’m not giving the sweets back!”

 

“What?” says Wei Ying. “Tell who?”

 

“The scary man who gave me the sweets,” the boy says, face starting to scrunch up.

 

“Wait—” Wei Ying cries, but the boy has already begun to race away through the crowd as fast his legs would carry him.

 

 

After dinner with Nie Huaisang at a shabu-shabu place next door, Jiang Cheng accompanies Wei Ying to the bus stop and waits to make sure he gets inside.

 

“Arashiyama tomorrow at eight thirty!” he barks in reminder through the bus window. “If you’re late, I’m hunting down every fancy prick who came to Japan in business class two days ago and interrogating them all.”

 

Wei Ying sticks his tongue out at him before settling back on his seat in the front, right next to the driver. He waits till the bus is a safe distance away from before biting his lip and smiling. He catches his reflection in the side view mirror: flushed, bright-eyed and smiling stupidly, and promptly smacks himself on the cheek.

 

What the hell? At the mere thought of Lan Zhan, too.

 

“Don’t judge me,” he tells the driver, who is raising an eyebrow at him from the front seat as they wait in traffic.

 

He opens his phone and scrolls to the message Lan Zhan had sent him. Before he can stop himself, he starts to type.

 

Wei Ying (20:13): nice to see u today!!! ur brother too.

 

His phone buzzes seconds later.

 

Lan Zhan (20:13): Nice to meet you too, Wei Ying.

 

Wei Ying (20:14): ur brother is so smiley!!! he’s like a smilier version of u. it’s so jarring hahaha

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t reply for a while after that, so Wei Ying messages him again.

 

Wei Ying (20:18): lan zhan, are u back at ur hotel? what are u doing now?

 

Lan Zhan (20:19): Yes. I am working.

 

Wei Ying (20:20): wrong answer!!! ur texting a cute, soon to be famous, social media influencer (≧◡≦)

 

Lan Zhan (20:21): ...

 

Wei Ying stifles a laugh. He can just picture Lan Zhan rubbing his temple.

 

Wei Ying (20:21): ok ok i’ll let u get back to work!!! but you are coming to arashiyama tomorrow morning, aren’t you?

 

Lan Zhan (20:21): Yes.

 

Wei Ying (20:22): the event starts at 8:30...

 

Lan Zhan (20:22): Yes.

 

Wei Ying (20:23): we’ll probably have to be up early

 

Lan Zhan (20:23): Yes.

 

Wei Ying (20:24): like 7... damn

 

Lan Zhan (20:25): 6.

 

Wei Ying (20:25): what why tho...

 

Wei Ying (20:25): omg fine

 

Wei Ying (20:26): that’s really early tho hahah

 

Lan Zhan (20:26): Wei Ying.

 

Wei Ying (20:27): yeah?

 

Lan Zhan (20:27): Do you want me to wake you?

 

Wei Ying (20:28): omg lan zhan... you’d really do that (╥﹏╥)

Lan Zhan (20:29): Okay.

 

Wei Ying (20:29): aaaa lan zhan my herooo (⁄ ⁄>⁄ ▽ ⁄<⁄ ⁄)

 

There is a cough from somewhere next to him. Startled, Wei Ying looks to the side to find the bus driver looking pointedly at him.

 

He whips around, and notices it’s his stop.

 

“Oh,” he says, laughing awkwardly as he gets up to disembark. “I knew we were here! Absolutely was not distracted. Not in the slightest.”

 

When he’’s stepped off the bus and started to walk to his hotel he takes out his phone again.

 

Lan Zhan (20:30): Wei Ying?

 

Lan Zhan (20:32): Wei Ying, did you reach home?

 

Wei Ying smiles, fingers flying across the keyboard as he types.

 

Wei Ying (20:34): just got off the bus. what, missing me already?

 

He bites his lips. It’s a little more openly flirty than he’d intended, but it has been getting harder and harder to hold back.

 

Lan Zhan (20:35): Please don’t text message while walking on the road.

 

Wei Ying (20:36): who says i’m on the road?

 

Lan Zhan (20:36): Send me a picture of your surroundings.

 

Wei Ying huffs. Such a Lan Zhan thing to say.

 

He thinks for a moment. Pictures Lan Zhan bending over his laptop, cross-legged on his bed with his phone held in his big hands. Maybe a couple of his top buttons undone.

 

Then he turns on his front camera, holds it in front of him and takes a selfie. He ends up taking several, ensuring the one he uses is cute enough.

 

The one he finally chooses has him winking with his fingers raised in a V, tongue peeking out through his lips. He’s tugged his collar a little lower, exposing his collarbones. His cheeks are embarrassingly red from the thought of sending what is essentially a thirst trap to Lan Zhan, but he presses send before he can think too much about it.

 

Wei Ying (20:38): [1 new attachment]

 

Lan Zhan (20:39): hfrmmgj

 

Wei Ying (20:40): lan zhan, what?

 

For a long time, there is no answer.

 

Lan Zhan (20:42): Apologies for the above message, my phone happened to fall on the ground.

 

Wei Ying (20:42): did u get it?

 

Wei Ying (20:42): lan zhan?

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t reply till he’s inside his hotel, making his way to his room in the lift.

 

Lan Zhan (20:46): Yes.

 

Wei Ying feels a thrill travel down his spine as he pictures Lan Zhan looking at his selfie.

 

He passes a hand over his face. There obviously was no reaction involved and Lan Zhan had much more important things to do than open his attachments seconds after he’d sent them. Clearly, Wei Ying is still sleep-deprived.

 

He tosses his bag to the side as he enters his room, pulls off his sweater and trousers and crawls under the covers in his underwear. Before he drifts off to sleep he opens his chat with Lan Zhan one last time.

 

Wei Ying (20:55): goodnight, lan zhan. see u tomorrow!

 

Lan Zhan (20:55): See you tomorrow , Wei Ying.

 

 

There’s something ringing, far, far away. Wei Ying waits for it to stop, but it doesn’t. He cracks open an eye and blindly scrambles around with one hand to find the source of it.

 

Of course. His fingers find his phone, vibrating far too enthusiastically for this early in the day.

 

Eager for it to stop, he swipes it open and brings it to his ear.

 

“Wei Ying.”

 

His second eye opens. “Lan Zhan,” he croaks blearily.

 

“Wei Ying, I am in the lobby of your hotel.”

 

“What?”

 

Wait, what?

 

Wei Ying sits up too fast, head spinning at the suddenness of the movement for a few moments. 

 

“Came to pick you up. Was that not what we had agreed on?”

 

Wei Ying doesn’t think it was, actually. He’d only asked for a wake-up call. But is he complaining about it? About Lan Zhan being downstairs, waiting for him?

 

Hell no, obviously.

 

He realises then that he’s in his underwear, eyes sticky from sleep and hair a mess, not even in a cute way. “Give me ten minutes, will you?”

 

“Mn.”

 

“See you soon.” Wei Ying tosses the phone to the other side of the bed and passes his hand through his hair. It’s everything he can do not to actually scream.

 

He gets into the bathroom and takes a quick shower. Once he’s outside, he stares at the suitcase full of clothes spilling out in front of him. He goes through a quick run-through of everything he’s brought, holding them up in front of him and critically looking at himself in the mirror.

 

He’s definitely overthinking it. The most annoying part being that it’s not even about photos, or social media engagement, or any of the other things he should be thinking about. The only thing he can think about as he tries to choose an outfit is how he’s minutes away from Lan Zhan looking at him in it.

 

He settles on a black sleeveless turtleneck and black joggers, over which he layers a black oversized cardigan with red trims that he’d tacked on himself to make it look like a halfway decent Gucci dupe. He wears a pair of red converse with it and throws his bag over his shoulder before making his way downstairs.

 

He feels the wind knocked out of his chest for a moment. Lan Zhan is on his phone, looking soft and fuzzy in a long powder blue coat, a white button-down shirt and tan slacks. He looks up as Wei Ying approaches him, staring at him till he comes up right in front of him.

 

“Morning, Lan Zhan,” says Wei Ying, voice still a little dry. His black cardigan keeps slipping off his shoulders because of how oversized it is, and he catches Lan Zhan’s eyes lingering on the narrow sliver of his bare shoulder as it’s exposed.

 

Then Lan Zhan presses a brown paper bag into his hand and turns abruptly. Wei Ying stares inside it as he follows him, finding a cup of coffee, sandwiches and melon bread in it. He pulls out the coffee and takes a grateful sip. Then he runs forward, links his arms with Lan Zhan’s and presses his face into the soft fabric of his coat before he can stop himself. Lan Zhan stops dead in his tracks.

 

“Thank you for this,” Wei Ying says.

 

He knows immediately this is a mistake.

 

For a brief moment he’d hoped that this intimate contact would take the edge off a bit, make him crave Lan Zhan a little less. He’s so wrong. Now that he’s felt the warmth of Lan Zhan’s body against his own, he doesn’t think he’s likely to ever get enough of it.

 

He has to physically push himself off him as they walk by side by side out of the hotel onto the street outside.

 

He bites into one of the sandwiches in silence, taking sips of his coffee from time to time. It should almost be worrying how much Lan Zhan’s mere presence next to him consumes him. It makes him wish they weren’t alone right now walking down these empty streets of Kyoto at fifteen past six in the morning.

 

Lan Zhan has his eyes on the map as they wind down several lanes, quaint and pretty with small houses on either side with sloping roofs, bicycles parked outside the gates and tangles of wires overhead. It all seems dreamlike to Wei Ying, and he finds himself relaxing the further they go. That prickle under his skin turns into a steady, pleasant thrum in his bloodstream. It still has him aware of Lan Zhan next to him constantly but in a way that is softer now around the edges.

 

They walk for what seems like forever—not that Wei Ying is complaining. He’s almost annoyed when they find themselves at a dead end and have to stop.

 

Lan Zhan looks around them, a small frown marring his perfect forehead.

 

“Where are we?” Wei Ying asks. “What does the map say?” He leans closer, trying to look at Lan Zhan’s phone.

 

“I—I have come the wrong way,” Lan Zhan says. His ears have turned pink again. “I was not paying attention. I apologise.”

 

Wei Ying thinks that’s perfectly fine with him, as long as it keeps making him blush like that.

 

Lan Zhan leads him back down the path they’d come by, taking a turn into a new lane. A few paces ahead, a shop seems to have opened and a few people have gathered in front of it.

 

It’s a bicycle rental.

 

Sleep dissipating immediately, Wei Ying clutches Lan Zhan’s arm. “Lan Zhan,” he says.

 

Lan Zhan follows his gaze. “You want to rent a bicycle?”

 

Wei Ying nods eagerly, tugging him towards the shop.

 

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan. “We are already twenty three minutes behind schedule.”

 

“You are responsible for at least six of those minutes, so you don’t have veto powers anymore,” Wei Ying says cheerfully. “Come on now, choose your fighter!”

 

 

This is how Wei Ying finds himself cycling down the streets of Kyoto as the city wakes up, Lan Zhan trailing him. The shop owner had given them a map of the best cycling route to Arashiyama, and told them it should take them less than an hour.

 

He looks up at the sky as the cool morning air rushes past his ears. It’s turning out to be a lovely day, clear and bright as the crisp morning sun rises higher and higher.

 

“Look at the road ahead,” comes a voice from his right.

 

Wei Ying snaps around to find Lan Zhan cycling right next to him. He had seen him take off his coat before they started, folding into the basket attached to the handlebars and rolling the sleeves of his white button-down up to his elbows. Seeing him like this, his lean frame bent over the cycle with his muscled thighs flexing in his slim fitting slacks, knocks the wind out of him every time.

 

They stare at each other for a long moment as they cycle side by side. That is, till Wei Ying notices they’re fast approaching a crossing.

 

“Lan Zhan, watch out!” cries Wei Ying. Finally, Lan Zhan seems to snap out of it, eyes growing wide as he presses the brakes and skids to an ungainly stop just in time.

 

“Someone’s not following their own advice,” Wei Ying says, once the scare has passed. He breaks into soft laughs, watching Lan Zhan flush as he straightens himself back to his usual graceful posture.

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t meet his eyes for a long time after that and cycles ahead of him. Wei Ying watches him, unable to stop thinking of how he’d made Lan Zhan nearly cycle into traffic.

 

 

After several minutes of cycling down the streets of Kyoto as the city wakes up and people start to leave for work, they make it to the outskirts. The roads grow wider and emptier, sloping up and down as the terrain changes. Wei Ying cycles up next to Lan Zhan. He passes him and looks back at him.

 

“Hey, Lan Zhan! Don’t fall behind!” he crows, glancing back at Lan Zhan once before speeding off.

 

Seconds later, he can hear the wheels of Lan Zhan’s cycle speed up, closing in on him. They race for a few minutes, neck and neck, catching up just as the other speeds past.

 

The scenery around them changes as they cycle past bridges, over small streams, further into the countryside. Then they break into open spaces, green fields rolling towards the horizon on either side of their narrow cycling track.

 

It’s idyllic.

 

Wei Ying slows down to a stop. Lan Zhan stops as well, right next to him.

 

“I win,” Wei Ying gives Lan Zhan a shit-eating grin as the wheels of his cycle come to a halt just inches behind his own.

 

Lan Zhan kicks the stop into place and dismounts. He walks around to Wei Ying’s other side. Then he lightly nudges the back of Wei Ying’s calf with his knee. Flushing, Wei Ying looks down at his foot which is currently on the grass. Well outside the cycling track, just like the front wheel of his bicycle.

 

“You are disqualified.”

 

Lan Zhan has the nerve to walk right back to his cycle the next second, as if nothing at all had happened. He gets on the cycle, and starts to ride away.

 

Mouth twisting petulantly, Wei Ying stands his ground. He reaches into the basket in front of his cycle for the melon bread and unwraps it. He takes a bite, glaring over the top of it at Lan Zhan’s retreating back. This lasts for all of ten seconds when Lan Zhan turns around and abruptly stops when he notices Wei Ying isn’t following him, nearly hurtling over the handlebar with the momentum.

 

He turns around. His shoulders seem to relax when he sees Wei Ying is still there. After a moment when he seems to be waging a war within himself, he dismounts and starts to wheel his cycle towards Wei Ying.

 

Wei Ying watches him approach. When he’s in front of him, he says, “We are late. The event starts in fifteen minutes.”

 

Wei Ying brushes him away airily and holds out the melon bread. “Eat up, Lan Zhan. It’s too nice here, you’re not allowed to be grouchy.”

 

Lan Zhan sighs, but he takes the melon bread and bites into it. Wei Ying beams at him

 

When Lan Zhan hands him back the bread, Wei Ying continues, “Besides, perks of being me: I can just take pretty photos and say I’m working. Take a picture of me?”

 

He hands his phone to Lan Zhan, winks and sticks his tongue out as he holds the melon pan up in front of him. Lan Zhan sighs, and takes a few shots.

 

“Hey,” says Wei Ying. The brilliant sun reflects off Lan Zhan’s golden eyes and makes him glow softly. He never wants to forget this moment. “Let’s take a selfie!”

 

He bounds over next to Lan Zhan, presses up against him and holds the melon bread between them. The almost impossibly blue skies and the vibrant green fields behind them set their faces into sharp relief. Wei Ying holds up his phone and takes a few selfies.

 

He looks at them afterwards closely. The blinding smile on his face against the soft, relaxed expression on Lan Zhan’s.

 

It’s almost easy to pretend for a moment that this means more. That this isn’t a fleeting infatuation with a man he’ll forget as soon as the journey ends.

 

They walk their cycles along after that. They’re late, but it’s so beautiful here Wei Ying couldn’t bring himself to care. Lan Zhan seems resigned to his fate, and doesn’t protest too much.

 

Wei Ying looks around him, eyes bright and hungry as everything around him sets off pictures in his head. Ideas he hasn’t dared to let himself think over the past years.

 

The bright colours. The fanciful, dreamlike atmosphere that makes him feel like he’s walking a literal Ghibli movie, that if he just turns the corner he could run into a giant talking animal. He can almost see the scenery form in his head into shapes and patterns and textures and colour blocks.

 

They walk past cottages that look straight out of storybooks, low and quaint with gables and slanting roofs. None of it seems real. Certainly not the concept of time. They walk in step with each other, taking in the scenes around them.

 

They find a shop among the houses on one side of the road. It looks old but well cared for, a signpost at the top reading Kaneko Tailoring, est. 1952.

 

Wei Ying looks at the store in fascination. Then he turns to Lan Zhan and says, “I want to go there.”

 

He’s surprised at how readily Lan Zhan nods. They walk their cycles up to the store, park them outside and step inside, the chime above the door tinkling as they open it.

 

“Welcome,” a man says in Japanese from somewhere at the back of the store.

 

“Hello,” Wei Ying answers.

 

He looks around in fascination at the pieces on display. It’s clearly a small, family-owned business with limited production, but it’s easy to see the care that has gone into each item. Wei Ying thumbs through the collection, quietly admiring the crisp, clean cuts.

 

“These are great,” he says, in stilted Japanese. He walks over to where the man’s voice had come from. He can hear Lan Zhan follow him. “And your location! What’s it like, coming to work here every day?”

 

He looks outside through the window. He wonders what it must feel like to come to work every day to a place like this and be able to do what made your heart sing. To look outside every now and then through the window and see those blue skies. Maybe go for a walk through those rolling fields when you felt like, hand in hand with someone you loved.

 

The man nods. He is standing at a large desk, with a ruler and scissors laid out over an expanse of fabric. “We are fortunate. Our family had settled here in the early nineteen hundreds.”

 

“So, how many of you work here?” Wei Ying looks around, but there seems to be no one else in the shop.

 

“Working here, at this store? Just myself and my sister. She’s out to buy some supplies.”

 

“What?” Wei Ying exclaims. He’s staggered.

 

The man smiles. “Not many people care about what is most important to us,” he says.

 

“And what’s that?”

 

There is a pause. Then the man lowers his head to start measuring something with his ruler again. “My family has passed the skill of bespoke tailoring and kimono making for generations. We have always spoken out about how the straight cuts and techniques used for centuries to make our traditional clothing should be a concept utilised in modern fashion as well. When my grandfather ran the store, we flourished. People came from far and wide to learn from him, even from Europe.” He falls silent for a moment.

 

“What happened then?”

 

The man glances up at him with a wry smile. “What do you think?”

 

“I assume the straight cuts reduced wastage or fabric,” says Wei Ying. “But they’d also need to be customised really specifically for different body types or they’d look out of shape. That means skill, effort and time.”

 

He glances at Lan Zhan, and finds him listening closely.

 

“And obviously,” he continues, encouraged, “With the kind of demand nowadays and the race to produce more, it’s a lot more convenient to manufacture clothes in limited sizes. Readymade cuts, which waste fabric a lot more.”

 

“Significantly.” the man answers. “This is something we as a culture have known for centuries, but somehow chosen to forget in recent years.”

 

“But,” Wei Ying says, hesitating. “It’s also slow and time-consuming? You’re lucky your name was already established by your grandparents. No offence! Many new businesses can’t afford to take that risk.”

 

He’s surprised but grateful Lan Zhan doesn’t tell him off for being rude.

 

The man’s eyes go wide, but he eventually gives him a rueful smile. He motions to the collection at the front of the store. “That is the whole body of work we have done in the last year. But I know we are fortunate enough to afford to sell even this much and live comfortably. My sister and I are always grateful that it gives us the opportunity to adhere to what we believe—”

 

“It must also be reproducible,” Wei Ying says, almost to himself. “It has to be. It’s almost algorithmic.”

 

“What?” the man asks, curious.

 

“The process of customising the fit to a body frame. Input, match, output. If you could just teach a program to—”

 

Wei Ying grips Lan Zhan’s hand to steady himself. He’s reeling from what has just come to him. It takes him a moment before he can answer.

 

“Could you give me your contact info?” he says suddenly to the shop owner.

 

“Certainly,” the man answers. “But...”

 

“Just in case,” Wei Ying says quietly. “In case I ever need it.”

 

The man looks startled, but he hands him his card.

 

They leave the store, wheeling their cycles down the track again. Wei Ying’s head is full of thoughts. If he could somehow combine the concept behind traditional, less wasteful sewing techniques and easy, customised, ethical modes of production with simple machine learning—

 

His phone beeps just then.

 

WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU. The event is about to start.

 

Jiang Cheng, of course. It’s his way of showing concern, but it also brings Wei Ying rudely back to the present.

 

Just reaching, he types back.

 

He looks around at Lan Zhan. He knows of course that none of this is his fault, but it’s almost enough to make Wei Ying feel annoyed. Who is he to make him feel all these feelings, think all these outlandish ideas, this man he met less than three days ago? Who is he to assume he understands him and know what he needs?

 

He gets back on his cycle and starts to race towards his destination, Lan Zhan following him.

 

 

There are photographers already in front of Coffee Arabica when they reach, taking pictures of bloggers as they pose with their coffee against the backdrop of the storefront. Wei Ying spots Nie Huaisang in a corner. He runs over to him, waving enthusiastically.

 

“Hi, hi, sorry I’m late!” He skids to a stop next to him. “Also, look who I came w—”

 

He turns around with a grin, ready to introduce Lan Zhan to them.

 

There’s no one behind him.

 

He scans the whole crowd and runs back up the path they’d come by, but he’s nowhere to be seen.

 

 

The rest of the morning passes in a blur. Wei Ying is distracted, his head a confused jumble of Lan Zhan and all the new ideas these last couple of days had brought to him.

 

After too many photoshoots, group selfies with coffee and vlog recordings to gush about the experience, Wei Ying gets on a bus to Gion district in the late afternoon with Nie Huaisang. This evening’s event is one hosted by a chain of luxury hotels, to promote their newest location. They reach the hotel just before sunset and are ushered into the lobby past a pair of wooden swinging doors.

 

“Yukatas,” says Wei Ying resignedly, looking at the banners on display. Trust an influencer press trip to go through the full gamut of overplayed, gimmicky tourist cliches.

 

“Don’t be so high maintenance, maybe? You can’t afford to be right now, you need all the engagement you can get,” Nie Huaisang pleads from behind him.

 

Wei Ying shrugs. He can’t really argue with that.

 

They sign up at the front desk, and are bundled off to hotel rooms which they’ve been allotted with one other person on the trip. Wei Ying makes his way up the stairs to the room he’s been given a keycard to.

 

It’s fairly small, which makes sense since they’ll only be using it to change. Wei Ying isn’t sure if this is by default or design, but as he walks further into the room he realises half the space has gone into a sizeable changing room outside the bathroom. There is a table on the side with a mirror tacked on the wall in front of it and an ornate rack to hang clothes on the opposite side of the room.

 

Wei Ying hurriedly strips off his clothing and opens the wardrobe where they’d been told they’d find their outfits for the night. He takes out a small pile of yukatas in different fabrics and colourways, and finally settles on one which is black with red trims down the lapels and a red tie for the waist.

 

Wei Ying pulls it around his body, tightening the sash around his waist. It looks good on him, he has to admit. It accentuates the smallness of his waist and allows for just the slightest sliver of his upper chest to show through.

 

His face flushes and a spike of arousal travels down his body when he thinks of Lan Zhan possibly seeing him in this.

 

But Lan Zhan isn’t even here, is probably busy with things much more important than him, and he’s just being ridiculous.

 

Shaking his head, he grabs his phone and heads out the door. He walks down the corridor where a few bloggers have gathered already, taking outfit of the day photos on the plush carpeted floors. Wei Ying reaches the lifts and presses the button for the one going downstairs.

 

One of the lifts heading upstairs stops first. There is a ding, and the doors slide open.

 

Wei Ying has to blink several times to make sure he’s seeing right.

 

It’s Lan Zhan.

 

Lan Zhan looks up from his phone, and freezes in place. For a long moment, he just stares at Wei Ying while Wei Ying stares right back at him. Then two things happen simultaneously: Lan Zhan’s phone falls from his hand and the elevator door starts to close.

 

Wei Ying watches as Lan Zhan lurches forward to press the button to keep the doors open. Then he bends to pick up his phone. All the while, he doesn’t take his eyes off Wei Ying even once.

 

He steps out of the lift and towards Wei Ying. He keeps moving. Closer and closer. Right until he’s close enough for Wei Ying to touch him if he just reaches forward a few inches.

 

Dimly, he wonders if Lan Zhan could hear the beat of his heart from where he’s standing. It sure sounds loud enough to him.

 

Then Lan Zhan’s hands come up to touch the fabric of his yukata over his chest, and his heart stops altogether.

 

Lan Zhan’s eyes are on him, flitting between his eyes and his neck and his chest. His fingertips extend, then relax, then extend again, as if he isn’t sure what to do with them. Then they curl around the lapels of Wei Ying’s yukata, skimming his skin.

 

Wei Ying moves his hands up to grip the underside of Lan Zhan’s arms as his knees buckle, threatening to give way simply from the touch of Lan Zhan’s fingers on his chest.

 

“You should cover up,” says Lan Zhan. His voice is lower than Wei Ying has ever heard it, cracking around the edges.

 

Then Lan Zhan’s fingers start to move, but they don’t pull the yukata tighter. Instead, they tease it open, centimetre by maddening centimetre.

 

Glancing down at his chest as it’s laid bare excruciatingly slow, Wei Ying’s breath hitches and he lets out a soft moan before he can help it. He’s so turned on his nipples feel sensitive and if Lan Zhan’s fingers move just a little further, he’ll actually see, and maybe touch

 

Footsteps. Just around the corner.

 

Lan Zhan’s eyes go wide and panicked as he seems to come back to earth and really see what he’s doing. Fingers fumbling, he pulls Wei Ying’s yukata tight over his chest, stumbles backwards and then walks away down the corridor without a word.

 

 

Wei Ying squeezes into the lift with the five other people who had almost walked in on them. They’re also here for the party, and Wei Ying is grateful he’s with them and not alone because it’s easier for his body to calm down this way.

 

But also: fuck.

 

A surge of arousal wracks his whole body just at the thought of it. Lan Zhan’s heavy gaze roaming the expanse of his chest like he couldn’t get enough of it. His fingers moving greedily to lay him open for himself to see.

 

He may be more turned on than he has ever been in his entire life and he hasn’t even properly touched him.

 

He takes a deep breath, trying to think of the most unsexy things he can think of.

 

Wen Chao’s disgusting mukbang videos of him chewing loudly and spitting everywhere as he talked.

 

That one Chanel tweed jacket that he’d once found selling for 10 yuan at the local thrift store but even he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger because it literally smelled of pee.

 

Su She’s home tour video where he’d shown his pile of used underwear in the corner by mistake.

 

It gets easier once they’re in the hotel lobby, where a crowd of influencers have gathered in their outfits. Nie Huaisang waves him over. Wei Ying grins at him, but he’s sure it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

 

“You okay? You seem a bit... off.”

 

Understatement of the century, Wei Ying thinks.

 

He watches the event unfold around him as if he’s in a sort of out-of-body experience. Photographers go click-click-click, vloggers go around the place as they talk at their cameras, others making the rounds with their selfie sticks. At some point, Nie Huaisang is whisked away by his famous influencer friends. He mouths an apology to Wei Ying as he leaves, but he barely notices.

 

He’s wandering around the room aimlessly and sampling the cocktails, when a girl grabs onto him. She’s clearly drunk, and she says gleefully to her friend, “Oh, look how cute he is!”

 

The friend asks Wei Ying, “Would you like to take a few pictures with us?”

 

Wei Ying shrugs, not really interested either way but saying yes seems less effort than getting them to back away.

 

They drape all over him on either side, taking selfies with him. Then one of the girls pushes her kimono off her shoulders, exposing her shoulders and chest just enough to skim the borders of public indecency. The other girl giggles loudly and follows suit, and they both look pointedly at Wei Ying.

 

Wei Ying considers it for a moment. He isn’t drunk enough to be completely immune to the fact that they’re in a crowded room and he’s about to take a thirst trap with two girls he doesn’t even know. His baseline shamelessness makes up for the rest of it, comfortably.

 

He shrugs the yukata off his shoulders, and the girls laugh uncontrollably. Pressing their cheeks against his, they start to take more pictures together. Then—

 

Crash.

 

Wei Ying follows the sound to a corner of the room, where a man is staring at him.

 

Lan Zhan?

 

There’s also a broken glass at his feet with a drink spilt all over the plush carpeted floor, and he’s looking down at his hand.

 

Gently pushing the girls off him and arranging his yukata, he walks over to Lan Zhan. How long had he been watching him? Why would the glass break in his hand, when this is Lan Zhan, the most graceful, elegant, precise—?

 

All thoughts in his head cease when he stops before Lan Zhan and he looks up at him. There’s a helpless, apologetic look in his eyes before he turns away.

 

Wei Ying reaches out for his hands. It’s unmarred, warm and rough in his own.

 

“I think there’s a small scratch,” he says, thumbing the inside of his palm. There isn’t.

 

“Mn.” Lan Zhan shifts his weight from one foot to the other, still not looking him in the eye.

 

Wei Ying then says, “Would you like to come to my room? I think they have a first aid kit in there somewhere.”

 

As he takes his hand and leads him towards the lift, there’s no doubt in his mind what he wants. Maybe he’s being selfish, maybe Jiang Cheng was right and despite everything, Lan Zhan is only looking for a distraction. But the thing that’s consuming his entire brain right now, leaving no room for even a single other thought, is that he wants.

 

He can think about the details later.

 

It’s pretty surreal, walking to your room holding hands with a guy you’ve met three days back and want more than anything you’ve ever wanted in your entire life before. It’s a good thing Wei Ying is too turned on to think too much about it.

 

He opens the door to his room and enters. Still holding Lan Zhan’s hand, he brings him to the changing room.

 

He walks up to the table, makes a show of searching the drawer and comes up with nothing just as he expected. Then he turns, leaning back against the table, and says, “I don’t think we have it. Come over, let me have another look at it.”

 

Lan Zhan hesitates for a bare second before walking up to Wei Ying with his eyes still on his feet.

 

When he’s close enough, Wei Ying takes his hand and lightly strokes the inside of it.

 

“You broke a glass,” he says.

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t respond.

 

“You were looking at me.”

 

Still silence.

 

“There is no scratch on your hand.”

 

Lan Zhan looks up at that, and the look in his eyes is desperate and wild. He seems like he’s struggling, holding himself back with superhuman effort. Wei Ying is only too eager to accept a challenge.

 

He takes Lan Zhan’s big, broad hands and places them on his shoulders. Then he moves them to the sides over the fabric of his yukata, pushing them off his shoulders to slip down to his elbows.

 

Your move.

 

Lan Zhan stares at him, eyes roving the expanse of Wei Ying’s neck and shoulders and chest. His eyebrows are furrowed, palms clenching into fists again Wei Ying’s shoulders. With a shuddering exhale, he opens his fists and roams Wei Ying’s skin with his palms. His arms, his shoulders, his collarbones and chest.

 

Wei Ying arches up against his palms, so turned on it’s almost painful and making him feel like he could come untouched if Lan Zhan just keeps looking at him like this. Every nerve ending of his body feels like it’s on fire, right down to his toes. Slowly and tortuously, Lan Zhan’s hands start to move up. Past the sides of his neck to grip his face in his hands.

 

Then finally, finally, he lunges forward and crushes their lips together.

 

The kiss is bruising and messy at first as Lan Zhan clumsily shoves their closed mouths together, fingernails reaching the base of his neck to scrape against the short hairs there. Wei Ying’s head tips back with the force of the kiss and he scrambles to curl his fingers in the front of his shirt.

 

He runs his hands over Lan Zhan’s firm chest, face flushing from the kiss as well as the feel of his lean, muscled body crowding over him. But it’s still not nearly enough for what he wants. He tries to shove Lan Zhan’s coat off his shoulders, moving his fingers to undo the top button of his shirt, then the second.

 

Abruptly, Lan Zhan forces both his hands behind his back and pins them over his head with a single hand. He shrugs off his coat and it falls to the floor in a heap. Then he pushes Wei Ying flat on the table, and when his lips part in surprise he licks his way inside to deepen this kiss.

 

Lying on his back with his wrists caught in Lan Zhan’s iron grip, being kissed deep and wet and dirty, Wei Ying feels like he’s been transported to a different plane of existence. As much as he’d felt he had a good read on Lan Zhan by now, he hadn’t expected for him to be quite this... intense in this context.

 

Lan Zhan is still full of surprises, it seems like. It’s driving Wei Ying out of his mind with want, and he can’t get enough.

 

Lan Zhan breaks the kiss suddenly to straighten up and look down at his chest. It is laid completely bare, flushed red as the yukata pools around his elbows. He reaches out to touch a nipple, almost curiously. Taken by surprise at just how sensitive he is there, Wei Ying lets out a drawn out moan.

 

Fascinated, Lan Zhan teases it between his fingers as he bends over him again and presses his mouth to his neck. Wei Ying bucks as he sucks deep, bruising kisses across his neck and collarbones, trailing over to lick at his shoulders and back over the path he’d traced.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying gasps as his legs fly awkwardly into the air at the onslaught. He wraps them both around his waist for purchase, rocking their hips together.

 

Lan Zhan then kisses down his chest to press his mouth against his nipple and Wei Ying’s whole body arches off the table. Lan Zhan grips him around his waist, his large hands almost closing around him to hold him down as he sucks at the firm nubs and licks over them.

 

Then suddenly Lan Zhan is off him, standing between his spread legs as he looks down at Wei Ying’s torso, flushed bright red and wrecked with what will surely become marks overnight. Then before Wei Ying can tell what he’s about to do, he slides the yukata off to expose his thighs and leans to press a kiss to the inside of it.

 

“Lan Zhan, no—”

 

It’s too much, and Wei Ying is suddenly so close to coming in his pants he sits up in a panic. He grips Lan Zhan by the collar to pull him in for a kiss. Dizzy with arousal, he leaves kitten licks over his lips till he parts them and then draws his tongue out of his mouth to suck it at lewdly.

 

He isn’t prepared for the way Lan Zhan groans at that, low at the base of his throat. Gripping both his hands, he pins them at Wei Ying’s back and shoves him onto the table again, taking control of the kiss.

 

This time, their hips rock together enough for Wei Ying to feel his length against his own. Unmistakeably long and thick even through the fabric of his slacks, and Wei Ying feels like he’s about to die, he’s so aroused, and he—

 

The door clicks open.

 

They spring apart. Lan Zhan looks wrecked. Breathing heavily, hair askew, the top three buttons of his shirt undone to reveal a flushed chest. His eyes dark enough to make Wei Ying shiver as he drinks in the sight of him spread over the table.

 

Then he steps forward, bends to pick his coat and pull it over Wei Ying’s shoulders before wordlessly leaving the room in a few long strides.

 

 

The guy he’s sharing the room with is stretched out over his bed, but Wei Ying doesn’t have it in him to even acknowledge his presence. He changes into his own clothes, pulls Lan Zhan’s coat over his shoulders and manages to get a bus back to the hotel.

 

He doesn’t do much on the way besides unlocking his phone aimlessly and locking it again. Over and over. Music feels too distracting since his head feels full anyway. Too full of mush, without a trace of real lucid thought.

 

He reaches his hotel and goes through the motions. Drinks water, unpacks his suitcase, goes into the bathroom. As he strips off his clothes, he notices the marks begin to form all over his neck and torso. He turns to the mirror and stares at himself.

 

God, he looks a sight.

 

He wonders briefly if he should contact Lan Zhan. What would he say, anyway?

 

Nice making out. You left me with the most painful case of blue balls ever, but it was worth it. Repeat tomorrow?

 

He stops midway between squeezing toothpaste onto his brush. The thought had made his insides coil unpleasantly.

 

It doesn’t make sense. He is attracted to Lan Zhan. And Lan Zhan—well, as the marks all over his body bear testament too, seems for some unfathomable reason to be attracted to him too. So why does the thought of sleeping with him make his stomach drop to his knees?

 

He gives himself a shake. He’s being ridiculous. He needs to sleep with Lan Zhan before the trip ends, get it out of his system and forget all about it once he returns home.

 

It’ll be easy.

 

 

Wei Ying can’t sleep.

 

He tosses and turns in his narrow hotel bed, hoping to find something to distract himself with. Anything to stop thinking about Lan Zhan’s hot, relentless mouth all over him and the way he’d looked at him with open desperation in his eyes.

 

Maybe he could start working on the pieces he’d be writing for Baixue. He lies back on his pillow, trying to think about everything he’d seen over the last few days.

 

His mind flits to the little boy at Ippodo tea house.

 

Do you ever watch your own older videos? You should.

 

Obviously, he doesn’t. Wei Ying is not a sentimental person. He definitely isn’t. He doesn’t believe in looking behind him. So what would be the point of watching videos his embarrassing fifteen year old self had made?

 

Well. Now that he’s thought about it, he may as well have a look. Not that it’d have any sort of effect on him, either way. He opens up his login page, and absently keys in his password to his old account.

 

A lump in his throat rises immediately as his old profile theme comes up on the page. He bites his lip.

 

He. Isn’t. Sentimental.

 

He clicks one at random.

 

W⁵--What Would Wei Wuxian Wear?

 

He’d ask his followers to send in questions for him on how he’d style himself in different situations. They’d range from the generic post-breakup revenge outfit, to the self-conscious bad mental health day outfit, to the downright wacky ones like what to wear to meet your sugar daddy for the first time.

 

It’s a fairly basic concept by today’s standards, of course. Back then, though? He had blown a whole generation of kids’ minds.

 

Wei Ying watches it till the end, surprising even himself with how unexpected some of his choices were. He clicks through to the next video, smiling without even realising it.

 

Canvas to Catwalk: Art-Inspired Capsule Wardrobe 

 

He’s even younger in this video, styling himself in outfits inspired by the colours, textures and patterns of art pieces he’d asked his followers to challenge him with.

 

But what Wei Ying really ends up watching is himself. His fifteen year old self, with a spark in his eyes and easy laughter on his lips as he sticks his tongue between his teeth, reading off the messages from his phone and talking through his outfit ideas inspired by Jackson Pollock, Pan Xi and Kazimir Malevich. He looks happier than he’s been in years. Happier than he had remembered it’s possible to be.

 

He’s lost in thought for a moment as the video ends, and the next one in the playlist begins.

 

Styling My Siblings For First Date Looks!

 

Wei Ying grins as he watches his sixteen year old self put flowers in his sister’s hair and bicker with Jiang Cheng. He’s laughing particularly hard at Jiang Cheng’s scowl as he places a violet beanie over his head and suddenly tugs it over his eyes, when his fingers slip. The next moment, he realises he’s scrolled down to the comments.

 

His smile fades. He’d forgotten making your videos private didn’t get rid of the comments.

 

Fake fake fake.

 

You act like you invented all these ideas but you’re just a fraud after all

 

Made everyone think you’re the only blogger out there coming up w/ organic and authentic content but all the while you were the biggest faker of them all LMAO

 

Just get the fuck off the internet.

 

And then, just as he’s scrabbling for the exit button—

 

bunny130809: You seem very close to them. It is nice.

 

Wei Ying had replied to that. He’d eventually started to get too many comments to reply to all of them, so he used to choose a few every video at random. Except for one, who wasn’t quite so random.

 

Okay, maybe he was a little sentimental. But for all the support bunny130809 had given him right from the 240p content he’d shoot from his backyard, he could do this much, couldn’t he?

 

Wei Wuxian ✔: i am! sorry about jiang cheng being a little shit here, but he’s just being himself tbh and we’re used to it. do u have any siblings?

 

bunny130809: I do. An older brother.

 

It makes him smile as he closes the video, and decide to open another.

 

Last Minute Holiday Gift Guide!

 

His heart squeezes suddenly. He watches himself from six years ago, sitting cross-legged on their living room floor as he tacks faux fur onto pencil boxes and pastes stickers on them to make them into purses. Next, he starts to make flower-shaped hair clips out of felt.

 

Leaning over his bed, he reaches for his backpack. He puts his hand in one of the pockets and reaches around for a moment before emerging with a small pouch. Inside, he has all the accessories he uses for his outfits. An array of red scrunchies, clips and ribbons, black studs for his ears and rings in black, silver and red.

 

But at the very bottom, there is a pair of clips. White and red. Of soft felt, frayed and discoloured over the years.

 

Message from bunny130809: I hope you received the package I sent you to the address you have on your profile. I was sent a notification that it has been delivered.

 

Wei Wuxian ✔: that was you?!?!?!?!? it’s so cute oh my god!!!!!! i’m crying tbh i didn’t expect anyone to actually use these videos to make something

 

bunny130809: Your videos inspire and bring happiness to many people. You should believe in yourself more.

 

Happiness flushing his cheeks as he reads over the conversation thread, he switches windows to his inbox and types in a search string.

 

He finds the video he’s looking for attached to a message he’d been sent in his inbox, and presses play.

 

bunny130809: Do you like it? I hope it makes you feel better. I wrote it for you.

 

The heart-aching notes of the familiar song that’s been his ringtone for the past three years begins to fill the small room. Wei Ying places his chin on his hand, a warm feeling filling his chest as he listens. He’d sent it at a time when Wen Chao had just dropped his callout post for Wei Ying, complete with faked messages of him mocking the brands he worked with. All through, bunny130809 had been the only person sending him messages of support and replying defensively to the negative comments he was receiving.

 

Then they’d sent this video of a beautiful song played on the guzheng, and it had been the first thing to make him smile in days.

 

He’s been on edge ever since Lan Zhan kissed him, and that’s why the long fingers skilfully plucking the strings of the guzheng in the video now abruptly make his body jolt with arousal. It’s not hard to picture those fingers as Lan Zhan’s—they look much the same, long and slim and skimming over his bare chest—

 

Dangerously close to a more physical response to the memory, he quickly clicks the next video at random.

 

And the next.

 

And the next.

 

 

He wakes up blearily in the middle of the night to find his phone still playing videos on the pillow next to his face. Craning his neck, he looks at it.

 

Coming Out.

 

Oh.

 

He’d never thought he would end up making a video like that, if he was being honest. It wasn’t something he had ever hid from his family or friends. He had doodles of boys kissing on his headboard, for god’s sake. He’d just never spoken about it on his channel because there had been no reason to. But as his followers had grown and bunny130809 kept telling him how he could inspire people, he’d wondered if maybe it was the kind of the thing some of his young viewers needed to see.

 

So he’d posted it, heart rate accelerating only the slightest at the thought of laying it all out in the open for his two million followers to see.

 

He doesn’t look at the comments on this one. He knows what he’ll find.

 

Fake.

 

are u even gay or was this just a publicity stunt?

 

Should be ashamed of yourself, posting fake coming out videos for clout.

 

But he also knows one comment that’ll still be there, somewhere in the mess. One that had come in hours after he’d posted it.

 

bunny130809: Thank you.

 

 

When he wakes up to the morning sun, his phone is still playing videos. After completing Wei Ying’s entire playlist it’s now moved on to videos similar to them. He needs to launch an official complaint against the site and their selection algorithm, because one of Wen Chao’s videos is currently on.

 

At least that awareness is enough to snap him out of sleep and close the app. Two seconds into switching windows to check his messages, he’s already done with the day.

 

Date usage alert: Hello, you have consumed 90% of the data limit on your number—

 

He checks the timestamp. This was two hours ago? He must probably be a good 99% through by now. Chinese apps wouldn’t work on the WiFi here, so even that’s not an option. Groaning, he realises he’s even made it through the recharge he’d done on Lan Zhan’s phone.

 

Lan Zhan.

 

Memories of the evening before flood his brain and before he knows it he’s smiling into the pillow, toes curling. God, he’s embarrassing.

 

He thinks of the way Lan Zhan kissed him, wrecked his body with his mouth and pinned his wrists overhead. Heat rises in his cheeks and before he knows it, he’s aroused.

 

Well, this is inconvenient.

 

Swiftly, he opens up the next video on his playlist. Anything to distract himself.

 

Wei Ying cringes immediately when he realises what he’s looking at. It’s from Su She.

 

Su She is a part of Wen Chao’s circle of friends these days, but a little known fact about him is that he used to follow Wei Ying when he was in his prime. He’d spam the comment section of his videos for attention, with things along the lines of:

 

“Any small vlogger channels want to support each other?”

 

“Love Wei Wuxian’s videos! Check out my channel for my newest video game haul (:”

 

Of course, he’d also been one of the most vocal when Wei Ying’s scandal had come out.

 

Su She is partnering with Wen Chao for this video, making it doubly effective to dissipate any shred of arousal from Wei Ying’s brain. They’re talking about a scholarship Su She had received to study fashion marketing abroad. Su She has a photo of himself held in his hand, smugly talking about how he’d been a shoo-in at the university.

 

Wei Ying is almost ready to exit, when something strikes him about the photo Su She’s holding. So he replays the last 10 seconds. Then he replays it again.

 

Well. There’s definitely something up,

 

He takes a screenshot. As he zooms in, his eyes grow wide.

 

There are some perks that come with being Nie Huaisang’s best friend since you were in diapers, and being able to spot Photoshop fails from a mile away is one of them.

 

And this? This stares him in the face harder than the garden-variety celebrity disasters with walls and doors curving in parallel with their bums.

 

The photo is of Su She seemingly playing tennis. He’s got his racket raised in the air, ready to take a shot. It’s a sunny day, and his shadow extends over the grass behind him.

 

Except the shadow has a ponytail, which Su She in the photo does not.

 

Immediately sitting up, Wei Ying pores over his phone, studying the photo again. Over and over till he’s satisfied he’s reading this right.

 

He needs more proof, though. He opens Weibo, and types in Su She’s name. Promptly cringing at the incoming assault against his eyes that would be Su She’s face, he waits for the page to load.

 

And waits.

 

And waits.

 

Except, what comes is a message.

 

Date usage alert: Hello, you have consumed 100% of the data limit on your number—

 

Wei Ying groans. Really?

 

He leans over to the telephone and picks up the receiver. Then looks at the contacts page on his phone. Scrolls down the names. Jiang Cheng? That’d just give him another excuse to lecture him. Nie Huaisang? Didn’t he say he had a Laneige event to go to?

 

(No, Wei Ying didn’t think he did.)

 

Just to be safe though, he thinks, scrolling all the way down, there’s always Lan Zhan. He bites his lip to steady his suddenly skittering heart, and keys in his number.

 

“Hello.”

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying hopes it’s not obvious at the other end how hard he’s smiling, because that would be really, really embarrassing.

 

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan’s voice is immediately worried. “Are you okay?”

 

Wei Ying twists the cord between his fingers, suddenly unsure what he should say. There are a billion other things he could be doing right now to get his internet working again. Use the WiFi and Google it, like everyone else in the country. Ask the front desk for help. In fact, he’d probably already be online if he had done any of those things.

 

“Uh, I... used up all my data again?”

 

There is a pause at Lan Zhan’s end. Then he says, “Where are you?”

 

“In my hotel.” He rattles off the address at once, because if Lan Zhan is on his way here—

 

 “Will you not be travelling today?”

 

Wei Ying winces. Of course. He has a train at noon to Fujikawaguchiko, the final stop for the trip.

 

“Yeah, at 12.”

 

“I see. Actually, I—” Lan Zhan says cautiously, “I am taking the same train, as it happens. To... To—”

 

“Fujikawaguchiko?” says Wei Ying, soft and breathless.

 

“Yes.” There is a pause. “Yes.”

 

“That’s good, then,” says Wei Ying. His heart is beating against his ribcage hard enough to hurt. “I’ll see you at the platform, then?”

 

“Yes. Coach number seven?”

 

“Coach number seven.”

 

 

Lan Zhan is there at twenty minutes to twelve in front of coach number seven, tall and beautiful and blinding in a light blue short-sleeved buttoned shirt and crisp white slacks. Wei Ying stands for a moment at the foot of the steps to the platform, just grinning stupidly at him with his luggage at his feet.

 

A woman behind him clears her throat pointedly as she winds around him. Wei Ying runs up to Lan Zhan, rolling his luggage behind him.

 

Lan Zhan stretches his arms out in surprise as he approaches, and Wei Ying gladly steps into them. Gripping his arms as if to steady him, Lan Zhan says, “Do not run on the platform.”

 

Lan Zhan’s firm grip brings with it a very specific memory from last night, and he flushes. “At least I’m on time today,” he says petulantly, after a pause.

 

“Mn. You could have been five minutes earlier.” But Lan Zhan isn’t frowning, and he hasn’t let go of Wei Ying’s arms.

 

“And miss the opportunity of running on the platform only to be stopped by your big, strong arms? Where’s the fun in that?”

 

“Shameless.” Lan Zhan’s ears turn pink, just as the bullet train whooshes onto the platform. He lets go of Wei Ying and takes the handle of his luggage.

 

Wei Ying is all too aware of Lan Zhan’s presence behind him as he enters the train. He wonders for a brief moment if they should talk about what happened yesterday. Then he immediately amends himself. They’re strangers hooking up on a trip to a foreign country, what on earth could they have to talk about?

 

When they’re seated inside, Lan Zhan glances sideways at him. “How did you finish all your data again?”

 

Wei Ying gasps as he turns to Lan Zhan, startling him as well. In the rush of seeing Lan Zhan again, he’d forgotten all about his discovery.

 

“Lan Zhan!” he says in a theatrical whisper, gripping his arm. “You’re never going to believe this.”

 

“Is the tone of your voice meant to serve any purpose? You sound as loud as ever.”

 

Wei Ying settles back in his seat, ignoring him. Switching to his regular voice, he says, “Okay, so I may have unlocked the juiciest piece of gossip ever.”

 

Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow at him.

 

“Okay, so.” He pauses. He hadn’t realised how he’d convey the gravity of the information he’d just acquired without telling Lan Zhan some more about his past. He bites his lip, considering his options.

 

What could happen, really? He thinks about what he’s learnt about Lan Zhan in these last few days. It’s possibly very foolish, and naive, and ridiculous of him, but in one corner of his brain that is clearly losing it, he thinks he may just understand.

 

In the very worst case, it won’t make a difference to him. Wei Ying means nothing to him, so neither will this information.

 

“So... You remember the messages that were leaked about me talking shit about the brands I was working with? The ones that ended my career? They were faked, because the Wens thought I was a threat to their business.”

 

Lan Zhan’s eyes go wide, and a flash of anger passes through them. Immediately, Wei Ying cowers.

 

Shit, he thinks. I’ve fucked this up, haven’t I?

 

“Wei Ying.” When he glances back at him, Lan Zhan’s eyes are soft and concerned.

 

Wei Ying licks his suddenly dry lips, and continues. “I was a lot more popular than the CEO’s son, for starters. And I often spoke my mind on things, and refused to promote their businesses if I felt there was something off about them. Well, anyway, the rumours spread and basically killed my career. It’s all petty drama, really, and you’ll probably think it’s stupid, hah...” He scratches his head, feeling extremely self-conscious.

 

“It must have meant a lot to you,” says Lan Zhan, firmly. “And to the people who followed you.”

 

The people who followed me? More like that single person. His chest fills with warmth as he thinks abruptly of bunny130809 and his bunny icon and his earnest, awkward, heartachingly sweet words.

 

“Well, anyway,” Wei Ying says, eager to move on from the subject. It’s making him dizzy, the way Lan Zhan’s voice keeps bleeding into bunny130809’s typed words. He’s probably just projecting, and that must say something about him, right? Had there been only two persons in all this time who’d been patient enough to really listen to him, for them to mesh together so seamlessly in his head?

 

So he continues, “Anyway, I think I found something about this guy who started rumours about me. Show me your phone?”

 

 

They spend the entire train journey with their heads bent together as they pore over screen caps, old conversations on Su She and his friends’ pages, and Chinese laws relating to bribery of academic institutions. Wei Ying isn’t sure why Lan Zhan is so interested but he listens in rapt attention, even offering his own inputs.

 

It gives Wei Ying an excuse to press close against him and inhale the scent of his sandalwood-scent skin, so he isn’t complaining.

 

“So, it says here the university he mentioned has a scholarship for tennis players who have represented at least their city in a recognised tournament. You also need a recruiting service to vouch for you, which shouldn’t have been a problem for them.”

 

“Mn.” Lan Zhan scrolls down the page.

 

“Although, I don’t know how he’d manage once he was already in the course? How do you fake being on an actual team? More money?”

 

“Mn. Likely.” Lan Zhan scrolls up the page and looks closely at the original screenshot of Su She’s video with Wen Chao. After a few moments, he says, “Do you think we should look for things in a similar vein in Wen Chao’s past?”

 

Wei Ying nods, half stunned at the fact that Lan Zhan is suggesting it himself, half overjoyed for the opportunity to spend more time amateur sleuthing with him.

 

 

That’s how they end up finding themselves deeper into the cesspool than Wei Ying ever expected to be when he woke up that morning. They find donations made to the institute in the name of a charity, but once they Baidu the name of that charity they can’t actually find it.

 

Wei Ying turns to Lan Zhan and says, “Fuck.”

 

Lan Zhan is still looking at the page, forehead creased. He says, “There must be more.”

 

They find a video of Wen Chao bragging about his rank in the entrance exam, but when they find a rank wise list of accepted candidates, his name isn’t on it. Digging even deeper, they find suspicious goings on with even more members of their circle. This includes archived screenshots of a post on an anonymous thread talking about how they’d seen someone else take Jin Zixun’s seat for an entrance exam they were taking.

 

It seemed like they were trying to cover their tracks, but there was so much going on that some had slipped through the cracks.

 

They reach Fujikawaguchiko and board a bus taking them to Wei Ying’s hotel in Yamanakako. Wei Ying doesn’t ask where Lan Zhan is staying, but he doesn’t mention a different location when they choose the bus either. Maybe he’s staying at the same hotel, and Wei Ying for one is not about to complain.

 

When they reach the hotel, Wei Ying checks in first. He stands to the side, waiting for Lan Zhan.

 

“You can go on to your room,” Lan Zhan says. His ears are pink again.

 

“No, it’s fine,” says Wei Ying. “Why don’t you check in, we’ll go up together?”

 

Lan Zhan hesitates. Then he approaches the concierge. “I,” he says, and glances around at Wei Ying. Then he exhales and says, “I need to book a room for tonight. Do you have any available?”

 

Wei Ying claps a hand to his mouth, and he can almost see Lan Zhan’s soul leave his body.

 

“Lan Zhan!” he says, slow and loud and very deliberately, “Did you forget to book your hotel for tonight?”

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t reply, but his jaw clenches as he looks straight ahead at the concierge and hands over his passport. Wei Ying grins, leaning against a pillar and watching him.

 

A fanciful part of him briefly entertains the thought: Could Lan Zhan be booking a room here now because he wants to stay near Wei Ying? It ends just as swiftly as the thought that he’d booked his tickets to Kyoto and then to Fujikawaguchiko after Wei Ying told him he was travelling there. In fact, he’s embarrassed at the thought. Embarrassed at hoping like an idiot that Lan Zhan would actually want to follow him anywhere, change his plans for him, that his existence could even make a dent in his—

 

“Wei Ying?”

 

Wei Ying startles. Lan Zhan is standing in front of him, his keycard in his hand.

 

“Yeah,” he says. “Let’s go, Lan Zhan.”

 

 

They leave their luggage in their respective rooms and Lan Zhan comes to Wei Ying’s door to pick him up. There is one wild moment where Wei Ying wants nothing more than to haul Lan Zhan into the room with him and push him onto the bed, but he quickly steps out before he can do something he’ll regret.

 

He thinks he sees Lan Zhan glance inside the room at his bed as Wei Ying steps over next to him, but he has to be imagining it, right?

 

They walk outside, down the slope leading into the town. There is no one else in sight as they wind down the hill, no sound to be heard besides the rustle of the wind in the trees and the flowering shrubs lining the path. It’s cool and pleasant and Wei Ying wraps his arms around himself.

 

He should probably take photos. Vlog the experience. Anything. But with Lan Zhan walking in step with him like this, down this quiet path where it’s easy to pretend they’re the only ones there and that they won’t be parting in a day’s time?

 

It’s staggering, how there’s nothing else in the universe he’d rather be doing. And he doesn’t think he’s been as certain about anything in his life before.

 

They walk the entire way in silence, and Wei Ying is surprised when they end up in front of the lake. He doesn’t think he’s spent so much time in silence ever before. Even stranger is the fact that he hadn’t even noticed.

 

He glances around at Lan Zhan, as invisible fingers seem to grip his heart unbearably tight. This can’t be real, can it? This man he met just days ago couldn’t be making him feel real feelings, could he? Even as he thinks it, his heart starts to race so fast he feels like he’s about to throw up.

 

He thinks about the way Lan Zhan had stood by him at the Jacquemus event, where Wen Chao had called him out.

 

The way he’d Baidu searched the top instagrammable locations of Tokyo, forfeiting whatever Important Business-y Things he needed to be doing in favour of taking a guy he’d just met around an unfamiliar city.

 

The way Wei Ying had felt as he cycled down the path to Arashiyama with him, like he was flying.

 

The way he couldn’t even tell anymore which were his words and which were comments that bunny130809 had left him.

 

And that is what astonishes him most of all. That three days of a handsome man tolerating him was enough for him to crawl into the space in Wei Ying’s heart that that nameless, faceless fan of his had burrowed into after all those years. It almost feels like cheating.

 

Maybe it all started with the words he’d said to him within hours of them meeting. Things he didn’t even know he had been waiting to hear forever. Who would’ve thought it would happen like this?

 

It isn’t that simple.

 

It should be.

 

Fuck, he thinks. Lan Zhan’s face is glowing, soft and darling in the light of the setting sun across the lake, and Wei Ying is absolutely screwed.

 

 

They walk up and down the lakeside, discussing what they’d found on the train. They end up at a quaint udon restaurant which seems to be popular with the locals. They step inside, toeing off their shoes at the front and seat themselves on a pair of tatami mats at a table in a corner.

 

Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan, illuminated by the early evening light filtering in through the sliding glass doors. As soft string music plays in the background, it’s easy to pretend they’ve been transported to a different lifetime. Just the two of them.

 

“You did not take a picture of your meal?” Lan Zhan asks, as Wei Ying digs into his bowl as soon as the waiter leaves.

 

Wei Ying pauses mid-slurp. “You waited till I’d started eating just to remind me, didn’t you?” he wails.

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t reply, but the corners of his mouth twitch.

 

Wei Ying purses his lips. Then he shoots an arm out to grab Lan Zhan’s hand just as he lifts up his chopsticks. “For that crime, you must suffer.”

 

He neatly extricates Lan Zhan’s chopsticks and places them away from his reach. Then he takes out his phone and kneels over the table to take several elaborate photos.

 

Truthfully, he doesn’t even care. But it gives him the opportunity to pretty much crawl into Lan Zhan’s lap (for a better angle, of course), so he’s okay with dragging it out a little.

 

After the meal they walk up to the lakeside again, watching children throw food at the swans. They talk more. Wei Ying tells him, cautious and vague and skirting the scandal involving him as much as he could, about the context involving Wen Chao’s circle.

 

“They’re just bullies, you know? I guess if you have that much money, you can pretty much buy your whole way through life.”

 

“Mn.” Wei Ying has learnt by now that Lan Zhan can convey a whole array of emotions with his “Mn.” This one is angry.

 

“They—They spread a lot of rumours. About a lot of people, to shut down anyone that could hurt them.”

 

“About you, too,” says Lan Zhan, taking Wei Ying by surprise. His eyes are steady, almost stern as he looks at Wei Ying.

 

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, voice coming out more like a croak. “So, uh. I don’t know what to do with this information now, I guess?”

 

“What do you mean?” says Lan Zhan, sharply.

 

Wei Ying lets out a laugh. “Just that my name is pretty much mud in the industry?” He feels tired of hiding it, and honestly, what does he even have to lose? Lan Zhan won’t care. He’s sweet and thoughtful and patient, but it’s not like Wei Ying is a name he’ll remember once all this ends and they go home. “So, no one’s going to believe me anyway.”

 

“I believe you.”

 

And just like that, Wei Ying feels the ever-expanding corner Lan Zhan has grown to occupy in his heart swell and burst into little flutters that spread to his stomach and all the way to his toes.

 

“I mean, I—I,” Lan Zhan falters, and by now Wei Ying would wager anything that he’s never, ever faltered with his words before in his life. “I think I can help you.”

 

“What?” Wei Ying says, confused.

 

“I... I have some contacts,” he says. “Pretty powerful ones, including some in the media. I may be able to use this information, if you would allow it.”

 

“Allow? Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying breathes, “Why would you do that?”

 

Lan Zhan frowns, like he doesn’t understand the question.

 

“You—You don’t know the Wens,” says Wei Ying. “Believe me when I say they’re rich and influential. Scarily so.”

 

“But they... Wei Ying—”

 

“They’ll find a way to ruin you, Lan Zhan,” he says softly. “Let it go.”

 

Lan Zhan looks steadily at him. “I will not,” he says. Like there is nothing that can make him change his mind.

 

As for Wei Ying, he breaks.

 

He takes a step forward, closer to Lan Zhan. Then another, till their toes touch. Bringing up his hands, he twists them in the front of Lan Zhan’s shirt. “Lan Zhan, slow down.”

 

Lan Zhan lifts an eyebrow in question, looking down at him.

 

“You’re just... I can’t—It’s only been three days.”

 

“Wei Ying, what—?”

 

“You can’t make me feel so many things,” Wei Ying says, eyebrows furrowed and voice quiet and a little broken. “You’re not allowed to. It’s only been three days.”

 

Lan Zhan’s chest rises and falls beneath his hands, and he shifts them till he can feel the drum of his heartbeat. It quickens under his hand.

 

“Wei Ying,” he says, and lifts his chin up till he’s looking directly up at him. It is a question written clearly in his gorgeous golden eyes. What do you want?

 

“I—”

 

It’s absurd, it’s impossible, but I think you’ve made me feel more things in the last three days than I have in years. You’re beautiful and you make me feel warm and good and whatever this is, I just know I don’t want this to stop.

 

But he doesn’t say any of those things. Instead, he says, “Should we head back to the hotel?”

 

 

They part ways in the corridor, and go to their respective rooms. Wei Ying walks inside and checks his phone.

 

Wen Qing: i’d better be seeing you backstage tomorrow. don’t be late.

 

He smiles. It’s going to be her magnum opus, being lead makeup artist for Ximon Lee’s fall/winter collection at the unveiling party of Wen International’s newest luxury cruise.

 

Wei Ying: ofc!!! go break a leg omg

 

Nie Huaisang has texted him asking if he’s coming to the Bottega Veneta show tonight. It must already be underway at the hotel in Kawaguchiko where it’s scheduled. A week ago he’d have jumped at the opportunity. Now, though? It seems tedious.

 

nah just staying in tonight, pretty tired, he replies.

 

Finally, Jiang Cheng demands to know his whereabouts, and that if he doesn’t reply within the hour he’s about to launch a manhunt. He send him a mirror selfie of himself, middle finger raised in the air.

 

Once he’s done he walks up to the table to get a glass of water. As he’s pouring it, he happens to check the flier which he’d gone through distractedly earlier in the day.

 

One of the onsens in the hotel is on the second floor. He’d seen on the hotel website before that it was open-air, and gave you a stunning view of Mount Fuji. Wei Ying stares at the picture for a long moment.

 

Changing into the loose robes the hotel provided for this purpose in the wardrobe and putting on slippers, Wei Ying exits his room with his keycard and his phone. He makes his way down the corridor and into the changing room adjoining the onsen. It’s past ten by now, and it’s completely empty. Wei Ying strips off his clothing and steps inside.

 

He shivers lightly. It’s definitely cold, but the steam rising from the bubbling water of the onsen looks inviting. He gingerly tiptoes towards the edge and dips his toes in.

 

Of course, phones aren’t allowed inside. But there’s no one here and the view is stunning, so it’d really be a crime to pass it up.

 

He slips lower into the water till he’s completely submerged, holding his phone overhead. Wading over to the opposite edge, he places his elbows on the tiles and stares out at the sky. Towering over him stands Mount Fuji, crowned by the full moon and so close he feels like he could touch it if he just stretches out his hand.

 

It’s like nothing Wei Ying has seen before, close to a religious experience.

 

He unlocks his phone.

 

He takes a few pictures first. Then he bites his lip. Before he can stop himself, he finds his fingers moving on their own to open WeChat, selecting his conversation thread with Lan Zhan, and beginning to type.

 

hey, can you come to the second floor onsen? can’t find the robes i came in, i think someone stole it ( ╥ω╥ )

 

He locks his phone, looks out at the spectacle before him, and waits.

 

... For an absurdly short length of time, it turns out.

 

In less than five minutes, the door behind opens. Flooding the bath with warm yellow light from the changing room for a moment, Lan Zhan steps outside.

 

“Wei Ying?” he says in concern.

 

So, Wei Ying may have fucked up. His original plan had been to tease him. He’d had all kinds of flirtatious welcomes ready for when Lan Zhan would come in after reading his message, worried he’d slipped and broken a limb. He’d even put on his best sexy pose to rattle him, maybe.

 

He hadn’t thought this far ahead.

 

Lan Zhan is naked. He’s so naked. Overbearingly, overwhelming naked. As naked as no one has ever been naked before.

 

Wei Ying passes a shaking hand over his face. Do normal people have this much skin? Because there’s so much skin. Too much. Smooth and pale over his broad shoulders, his lean, muscled torso and thick, obviously strong thighs. Of course, it’s only natural for Wei Ying’s gaze to shift between them.

 

Wei Ying doesn’t pass out at the sight, but he comes pretty close.

 

The water of the onsen seems boiling now. Did someone change the temperature? Was the hotel actively trying to murder their guests? Was this pay back for the fact that he’d brought his phone? He’d do anything, anything to escape this cruel and unusual torture.

 

“So, ah, Lan Zhan,” he says, scrambling in his head for one of the witty greetings he’d thought up. “I messaged you. With my phone. It isn’t allowed, you know. Aren’t you going to tell me off?”

 

He lifts his hand and waves his phone at him.

 

Lan Zhan exhales. Wei Ying watches his pectorals shift as he does it and immediately, he’s parched. Then he starts to walk towards him and Wei Ying is all too aware of how he’s way, way in over his head.

 

He steps into the water. Wei Ying summons every ounce of willpower he has to hold his phone away, taking a step back from him. Lan Zhan takes another step forward, only for Wei Ying to dart further away.

 

He frowns in annoyance, and Wei Ying feels arousal shoot down his spine.

 

Then in one swift motion, Lan Zhan moves right into his space. Wei Ying freezes at the sudden proximity to a glistening chest and defined abdominals, and Lan Zhan takes the opportunity to easily pin both his wrists behind him with a single hand and extricate his phone.

 

He tosses the phone a short distance away on the tiles. Wei Ying tries to crane his neck around to see where it’s gone. But Lan Zhan has slipped a hand down to grab his face and keep his eyes trained on him, gripping both his wrists in his other hand.

 

“Lan Zhan, wh—”

 

He never ends up finding out what he was going to say, because at that very moment Lan Zhan surges forward to kiss him.

 

He kisses him so hard that Wei Ying’s whole body is pushed backwards, against the edge of the onsen. Holding him against it, Lan Zhan sucks at his lips, slow and unbearably lewd. Then he licks his way inside his mouth and kisses him deeper and wetter than he’d ever been kissed before.

 

Wei Ying had never known kissing could be so excruciatingly hot. That he could feel close to coming just from the way Lan Zhan kisses down his neck, hands running up and down his ribcage as he hitches Wei Ying higher against the tiles to work his way down his chest.

 

Wei Ying grabs onto Lan Zhan’s hair for purchase, utterly wrecked from his insistent mouth and the acute  awareness that he’s being held up bodily by a single arm around his hips, his wrists caught together behind him.

 

“Lan Zhan!” he gasps. “Stop, or I’ll—”

 

He bucks his hips wildly against him, his almost fully hard length brushing past Lan Zhan. And fuck—if the sight of him as he’d walked in had made him feel dizzy, the feel of it now, thick and long and curving against his abdomen, makes him feel his brain literally blew a fuse.

 

But Lan Zhan stops, and Wei Ying immediately regrets saying it. “No, wait, go back,” he babbles incoherently, “Don’t stop, fuck, you can’t—”

 

Then there’s an arm under his thighs, and Lan Zhan lifts him into his arms. He straightens up with Wei Ying in his arms bridal-style, and wades through the water. Foggy with want, Wei Ying throws his arms around his neck and kisses him all the way till he can’t breathe anymore.

 

Then he’s laid down on the tiles next to the water, and Lan Zhan bends over him. The full moon bathes him in a soft glow, the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji seeming to tower directly over them.

 

They kiss, and Lan Zhan’s hands roam down his body to languidly stroke him as Wei Ying digs his nails into his shoulders. Then he suddenly lifts himself just enough to manhandle Wei Ying till he’s lying on his front. Laying himself against his back, he kisses his shoulder.

 

Then he says in his ear, “Wei Ying. Have you ever... fingered yourself?”

 

Wei Ying’s whole body tenses with arousal. He thinks he has enough jerk off material to last him the rest of his life just from the way Lan Zhan says fingered. “Yes,” he says, breathlessly.

 

“May I...?”

 

“Yes... fuck, Lan Zhan, please—”

 

The rest of it is a haze. Lan Zhan works him open thoroughly with long, wet, diligent fingers, till Wei Ying is mindless with arousal, thrashing against the ground, bucking wildly against his fingers and screaming his name.

 

“Lan Zhan, please, I—I want you.”

 

He’s never had a man inside him before, but one vision of being impaled on that massive length has Wei Ying nearly in tears. Dimly, he knows this is not the right time or the place to be doing it. They don’t even have lube or condoms and considering Lan Zhan’s size—

 

The sensation of Lan Zhan’s length against him and the thought of that inside him makes him scrabble for purchase on the slippery tiles. His nails scrape against it as Lan Zhan’s fingers tease the spot that makes Wei Ying arch off the floor over and over and over again.

 

“Please—fuck, god, you’ve got to put it in me, I think I’m going to die—”

 

Lan Zhan groans. It’s the hottest thing Wei Ying has heard in his life, hotter than any of the dirtiest fantasies he’s ever had. He slips dangerously close to where Wei Ying wants him, hips stuttering forward as he grinds against him. Then he comes to a stop.

 

“Wei Ying—” he says, voice sounding broken.

 

Wei Ying turns his head back just enough to be able to see Lan Zhan’s face contorted in frustration as he shifts himself off him. Wei Ying could just about cry. Then he feels his body lifted up just enough to reach around for his erection, fingers still moving relentlessly inside him as he starts to rock himself against the side of Wei Ying’s hip.

 

“Later,” Lan Zhan says into his ear, voice hoarse and ragged.

 

The promise is enough for Wei Ying to come all over Lan Zhan’s hand, followed within seconds by Lan Zhan releasing all over his hips and thighs.

 

 

Afterwards, Wei Ying is so utterly spent that he lies by the side of the onsen, staring at the ceiling as Lan Zhan cleans up and towels him dry and dresses him in the robes he’d worn from his hotel room here. He takes him in his arms again and carries him outside.

 

Wei Ying stares dopily at him the entire way, arms looped around his neck. He cranes his neck forward and kisses Lan Zhan messily around the corner of his mouth.

 

“Lan Zhan, you’re really strong,” he sighs.

 

Lan Zhan turns the corner, bends to somehow swipe his keycard and kicks it open.

 

“So manly, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying coos. The thought of him doing that just so that he wouldn’t have to let go of Wei Ying makes his heart skip a beat.

 

Lan Zhan lays him on the bed and brings him a glass of water. Wei Ying watches him get into the bed next to him as he sips it.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he says. His voice has changed, and Lan Zhan turns towards him. “I like you.”

 

He watches Lan Zhan, heart beating sickeningly fast. He is too bright and beautiful, too much to be in the same room as him. Suddenly, Wei Ying is all too aware that he does have something to lose. A lot, if he’s being honest.

 

It’s probably the post-orgasmic daze, or the thrill of a fling at the cusp of summer far away from home. But he’s beginning to think he may even be a little bit in love with him, and he’s certainly not ready to hear the inevitable rejection.

 

So he does the best thing he does. He runs for his life.

 

“I mean,” he amends quickly. “I like this—this was great. Except the marks you left all over me. Thanks to you, I won’t be able to wear the low cut shirt I was planning on wearing tomorrow!”

 

Lan Zhan’s eyes shutter down, and he angles his face away.

 

“Anyway, we only have one more day,” Wei Ying presses recklessly. He needs to end this before Lan Zhan does. Once and for all, because he doesn’t think he can handle hearing the words from Lan Zhan’s lips. “Don’t you think we should make the most of it?”

 

Lan Zhan nods.

 

“I mean, I’m not invited to the party hosted by Wen International to unveil their newest luxury cruise hotel tomorrow, but my friend said he’ll get me in so maybe we —”

 

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan, slow and soft. “Would you like to go with me? I am invited anyway. And it is... only for one more day, as you said.”

 

Wei Ying nods. “Okay,” he says.

 

This is fine. This is good. He’s on the same page as Lan Zhan.

 

One more day.

 

 

Wei Ying doesn’t sleep well. He lies on his side, turned away from Lan Zhan who sleeps flat on his back with his arm over his chest.

 

He’s never thought it was possible to feel so far away from a person while sleeping in the same bed as them.

 

And honestly, he reasons: there was never going to be another way, was there? Right from the moment crisp white slacks had appeared in his line of view in the business class cabin of his flight, giving way to the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. There was no way anything between them would ever have lasted beyond a casual fling over the few days they’d be in this country together.

 

Proximity and convenience. That’s all there was to it, and he should be grateful that he’d even had the chance to spend this night with him.

 

And he is. He knows all of this.

 

So why does he feel like his heart just broke a little bit?

 

 

Wei Ying gets out of bed at an ungodly hour. Five forty, he sees the clock on the table say. He slips out of the bed, grabs his phone and keycard and leaves the room to return to his own.

 

He wears distressed jeans and a black and red striped Vivienne Westwood turtleneck that he’d been lucky enough to find at an outlet store with a much lower price tag attached mistakenly to it. The cashier hadn’t noticed either, to his delight. He pulls a black leather jacket over it, takes his things and heads out

 

He ends up being the first guest in the entire hotel to reach the dining room for breakfast. He’s grateful for the quiet, texting Lan Zhan his plans for the morning before he leaves.

 

Today’s brunch with Shimizu is the event he was secretly looking forward to most of all this entire trip, even if it’s the least glamorous. The young, experimental brand is not even on the Wens’ radar, which is why Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng aren’t attending.

 

He arrives miraculously before time, drinking in the scenes around him as he approaches the venue. It’s unlike any event he’s been to. Here, fashion bloggers in tiny futuristic sunglasses and fresh, exciting outfit silhouettes mingle with people in suits and pencil skirts who look like they belong more at Shenzhen stock exchange than on the front row at a runway show.

 

The theme of the event is the intersection of fashion and technology, and Wei Ying’s blood races as he catches people talking about the things he’d researched extensively on the internet. It had always been like a distant dream to him, especially since no company in China would give him the time of day anymore after the Wens’s vendetta against him. Here, listening to the things he’s fantasised about for years spoken about aloud at every corner, makes it all feel suddenly very tangible.

 

He makes his way around the room, ears pricked to catch snippets of conversation.

 

The use of machine learning to bolster data analytics, identifying the hottest product styles so that stores could be stocked more efficiently.

 

Intelligent garment tags with sensors to tell how often they’d been handled, tried on and put back on the racks to understand how products were being received.

 

Devices that could use a smartphone camera to scan your foot, giving you accurate information on the right shoe sizes and styles for you.

 

Then, the lead designer for Shimizu comes on stage to thunderous applause.

 

“Artificial intelligence has been integrated into the fashion ecosystem longer than you’d think,” he says. “In retail, in improving inventory management, personalisation of shopping experiences, enhancing product discovery and communication with customers. But is that all? As endless possibilities open up, shouldn’t we thinking of a time when this process extends into the actual design process?”

 

He looks around the room, as a hum of interest starts up at his words. “We’re not there yet, but maybe it is not as far away as it seems. For now, please enjoy our fall/winter collection for the year!”

 

 

Wei Ying’s brain is buzzing as he leaves the event. Lan Zhan had asked him to text half an hour before he finished, and he had. He waits outside the hotel for minutes before a car stops in front of him.

 

Wei Ying turns to Lan Zhan when he’s inside. Lan Zhan presses a button, and a screen goes up to separate them from the driver’s seat. Wei Ying looks his fill at him, at his soft mouth, his long fingers clenched over his knees and his warm eyes as they search his face. He’s wearing a white dress shirt with blue frills down the lapels and light blue trousers.

 

He isn’t sure who makes the first move but they ended up lunging towards each other, kissing breathlessly. They kiss till Wei Ying’s lips are sore and they kiss some more, slow and languid like they have all the time in the world.

 

(One more day.)

 

Afterwards, Wei Ying settles against his side. Their chests rise and fall in unison and Wei Ying takes Lan Zhan’s hand and tucks his head under his chin.

 

It’s definitely a mistake. But this the last day they’ll ever see each other, and what could possibly go wrong?

 

“Did you have a good time at the event you went to?”

 

“Yes,” Wei Ying says. He turns Lan Zhan’s hand over and over in his own. “I... I heard some interesting things.”

 

“Mn?”

 

“I—I... The thing I told you about. The application of AI in the design process. People seem to think it’s not as distant of a dream as we think right now.”

 

“Wei Ying already thought of it years ago,” Lan Zhan says, calmly stroking the base of Wei Ying’s scalp.

 

“Well...” The way he’d said it with such confidence makes Wei Ying’s cheeks feel warm, but he goes on. “I know my ideas are right. I told you, I even designed a blueprint for the program. Needs some tweaking and actual conceptualisation, but that’s not the limiting factor here. There’s no point to any of this if no one will actually work with me.” He laughs.

 

It’s pathetic, and it’s not what he should be saying to him on their last day together. Not the way he wants Lan Zhan to remember him. But Lan Zhan won’t remember him after today anyway, so why worry?

 

Lan Zhan inhales. His fingers stop in Wei Ying’s hair.

 

“But I’ll be fine!” he says cheerfully. “I’m going to the hottest party of the year, with the hottest date ever! The engagement I get out of the photos I take there will make up for anything.”

 

He tries to sit up. He’s been lying smushed up against Lan Zhan too long and he must be uncomfortable. But Lan Zhan wordlessly keeps his arm around him and Wei Ying settles back, trying to memorise the way his body feels against his own.

 

 

Wei Ying had changed at the hotel after the Shimizu event into a dark red zipped sweatshirt with a high collar and a pair of wide-legged leather trousers. But he still feels horribly underdressed as celebrities and famous bloggers strut up the red carpet into the majestic white cruise ship waiting at the harbour at Lake Ashi.

 

“Wei Ying?” says Lan Zhan. He’s held out his arm. Wei Ying looks at it, briefly wondering if he should just run. Lan Zhan deserves so much better on his arm at an event like this.

 

But it’s only for one more day. He can be selfish just this once.

 

He takes it, and they walk in through the flash and whirr of cameras around them.

 

 

“Lan Zhan, I’ll meet you back here in an hour. Need to cheer my friend on before her show!”

 

Lan Zhan nods. Wei Ying looks him at for a long moment, then tears his eyes away.

 

The cruise is massive enough to get lost in, he thinks. Rising above an open lobby in the centre, it has special recreational areas on every level including auditoriums for performances, tennis courts and swimming pools. There seems to be a definite hint of blue and white to the decor, including the curtains and tapestries.

 

Wei Ying heads backstage and finds Wen Qing putting last minute touches on one of the models.

 

“You came,” she says. “And you’re not even that late.”

 

Wei Ying makes a noise of protest. “Hey—”

 

“Haven’t seen your brother or Nie Huaisang here yet, did they let you in?”

 

“You’ve outdone yourself today. You’ll blow everyone’s mind,” says Wei Ying, looking around at the models waiting in their opening outfits for the show to start. Then he clears his throat. “And, um... I came with someone.”

 

Wen Qing turns to him.

 

“What?”

 

“It’s nothing serious.” Of course it isn’t. He’s an idiot. As if spring vacation flings were ever serious? “Just a guy I met on the flight here.”

 

“Does he work in this industry?”

 

“No,” says Wei Ying. It hits him how little he really knows about him, as much as he’d fancied he had begun to learn to understand and read him with unfailing accuracy. “He’s in... business.”

 

“That’s very specific,” Wen Qing laughs. “You’re done,” she says to the model. She gets to her feet, and Wen Qing swivels her chair around to look at Wei Ying. “He has to be a pretty big name in business to be invited here. What else do you know about him?”

 

“His name is Lan Zhan. He’s from Shanghai—”

 

“Wait, he’s a Lan?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Wen Qing looks at him incredulously. “The Lan family,” she says.

 

Wei Ying blinks and shakes his head.

 

Wen Qing sighs. “Really? They’re one of the elite business families in China,” she says. “They’re builders. Originally shipbuilders, but they’ve expanded in all directions these days. Hotels, malls, you name it. If he’s really a Lan, you’re standing on a ship this guy’s family built.”

 

Wei Ying feels the colour drain from his face.

 

“Wait,” he says, “Wait.” He passes a hand over his face. Then he breathes in. “If that’s the case, do-do they have anything to do with the Wens?”

 

Wen Qing stares at him, eyes wide and concerned. “Hey, are you okay?”

 

“Answer me, please?”

 

“The Lans... Their business was acquired by the Wens six months ago.”

 

Wei Ying claps a hand to his face.

 

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing,” says Wei Ying. He has too many questions making his head throb, but he can’t burden Wen Qing with them now. Not on her big day, not when he shouldn’t be this affected by all of this in the first place. He smiles widely, but he’s sure it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Your show must be about to start, right? Good luck! I—I should go take my seat.”

 

“Are you sure you’re—?”

 

“See you at the after party!” Wei Ying waves at her as he turns on his heels and out of the room, trying hard not to throw up all over the plush carpeted floor.

 

 

“Can I ask you something?” he says when he finds Nie Huaisang downstairs where he’d left Lan Zhan. He’d looked around the room before he’d come down the stairs, making sure Lan Zhan was nowhere to be seen.

 

“You!” says Nie Huaisang. “How’d you get in? I was calling you!”

 

“He must have used up the data on his foreign SIM already,” grunts Jiang Cheng.

 

Wei Ying would have had a lot to say in response to that, but he can’t bring himself to care right now. He looks at them both. “What do you know about the Lans?”

 

Nie Huaisang frowns. “The Lans? Wait,” he says. “You mean your—?”

 

He looks at Jiang Cheng for backup.

 

Jiang Cheng, who is bright red in the face and would definitely have steam gushing out of his ears right now if he were a cartoon character. “Are you—” he says stiffly, as if it’s taking him all the patience in the world not to scream into the high heavens. “Are you telling me... That this man you’ve been gallivanting around Japan with... is a Lan?”

 

“A Lan Lan?” Nie Huaisang squeaks, as if that didn’t do justice to the sentiment.

 

“Well,” Wei Ying hesitates. “I was telling Wen Qing about him, and how he works for a business and that he was invited here—”

 

“Hold up,” says Jiang Cheng. “Hold the fuck up, are you saying you came here with him? You’re still meeting him?”

 

“Would you fucking listen to me?” Wei Ying shouts, and it’s Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang’s turn to cower. Wei Ying has had enough. He’s desperate, he’s weak, he’s an idiot who has probably fallen a little bit in love with a man he had a holiday romp with in a foreign country in the space of five days and he just needs to know.

 

Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang fall silent, and nod.

 

“Do you know if they have a Lan Zhan in their family? He has a brother, too, a few years older than him. His name is Lan Huan?”

 

Two things happen simultaneously.

 

Nie Huaisang catches sight of something over Wei Ying’s shoulder and his eyes go comically wide.

 

Then Jiang Cheng says, “You’ve got to be fucking joking.”

 

Wei Ying turns. Something tells him not to, but he can’t stop himself. Not until he’s craned his neck around to follow Nie Huaisang’s line of vision and find a group of men in conversation.

 

One of them is Wen Chao. The second is an older man with long hair and a beard. The third and fourth are Lan Huan and Lan Zhan.

 

Wei Ying has never really understood what it means to feel the ground shift beneath your feet. Not until now.

 

He grabs Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng by the arms and drags them away into the adjoining smoking room.

 

“Do we have to be here?” Nie Huaisang says, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

 

“Who were those people?” says Wei Ying. “The ones with Wen Chao?”

 

Nie Huaisang glances out at them. “The old one is his dad,” he says with a light shudder. “Wen Ruohan.”

 

“And the others?” Wei Ying presses, heart beating so hard he can hardly hear himself speak.

 

Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang glance at each other. Then Jiang Cheng says, “They’re the Lan brothers. Heirs to Lan Corporation. Currently just two faces in the crowd of Wen Ruohan’s army of puppets, but still vaguely important or something.”

 

“It’s because they’re so good looking,” adds Nie Huaisang. “And the general air of mystery surrounding them.” He motions vaguely with his hands.

 

Wei Ying shakes his head. “No,” he says. “No, that’s Lan Zhan.”

 

“Look, everyone knows them. You only need to open up the first business magazine you can get your hands on. They’ve both been in Forbes China 30 under 30 every year since they started working,” says Jiang Cheng quietly.

 

“But he—he’s Lan Zhan,” says Wei Ying, and his voice finally breaks.

 

He’s Lan Zhan, who tried to break into a crane game at the arcades to give him all the chicken plushies he could find. Lan Zhan, who waited for him at the line for couch number seven on the platform. Lan Zhan, who listened to him and indulged him as he tried to play detective and kissed him like he’d never been kissed before.

 

Except maybe he only did it because the Wens wanted dirt on him, and all of this was an elaborate ploy to kill his second attempt at a career in this industry.

 

It’s a good thing he doesn’t have much of a career to lose anyway.

 

So he runs.

 

 

 

He doesn’t remember much of the journey home. His flight is scheduled the next morning at six, and he camps out overnight at the airport. He goes through the motions, stares unseeingly at the seat in front of him for the next four hours, disembarks and takes the subway back home.

 

He wakes up sprawled on his front on his bed. It’s dark. Blinking, he checks his phone. It’s eight thirty in the evening.

 

Even as he watches, notifications keep rolling in.

 

Jiang Cheng: WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE TO THAT ARROGANT FUCKER HE JUST COLLARED ME??? WAIT TILL I GET BACK HOME I SWEAR TO GOD. also where the fuck are you?

 

Nie Huaisang: the younger lan just accosted me and jiang cheng and demanded to know where you’d gone. i told u i wasn’t getting involved in ur shit anymore! still too pretty for jail

 

Nie Huaisang: what actually happened b/w you guys tho like... he was scary. wasn’t sure if he was about to hit jiang cheng or cry, but there was A Lot going on

 

Jiang Cheng: I know your plane landed. How could you be so fucking irresponsible, huh? Jiejie’s freaking out.

 

Jiang Cheng: We’re all freaking out

 

Jiejie: A-Cheng told me you ran away from the last party. Where are you? Did you reach safe? It’s okay if you’re sleeping, please just text whenever you wake up.

 

Wen Qing: quit wallowing in whatever self-pity you’re stewing in rn and have the decency to text back the people who care about you? they’re actually worried.

 

Nie Huaisang: you can’t ghost me now like please you’ve got to tell me if junior lan’s dick is big. oh my god, i just know his dick is big.

 

Lan Zhan: Wei Ying, please answer.

 

Lan Zhan: Wei Ying, please let me explain

 

Lan Zhan: Wei Ying please

 

I’m fine, back home, just tired, Wei Ying texts back to the group chat with his friends. Then he tosses his phone to the side and falls back asleep.

 

 

Next morning, he gets up at noon. He sits in front of his dark television with coffee in hand till it goes cold and the daylight starts to dim.

 

His phone keeps lighting up as the room goes dark, flashing harshly in his peripheral version. He picks it up, intending to turn it off.

 

He pauses as the first message he sees on his notification screen.

 

[unknown number] (11:55): https://medium.com/techbuzz/how-artifical-intelligence-is-changing-fashion

 

He frowns at it for a long moment. He isn’t sure what he was expecting to see, but this isn’t it.

 

He scrolls down to see more messages from the same unknown sender. More links, all seemingly to articles and blog posts on this very specific subject.

 

Lan Zhan?

 

His heart clenches again as he thinks about him, finally engulfing him with a sensation other than complete and utter numbness for the first time in more than a day. He’s the only person he’s mentioned this to lately. But he’d blocked him last night without even reading the hundreds of messages left unread in his conversation thread with him. So it couldn’t be him, of course.

 

(Could it?)

 

He shakes his head. He’s imagining things. But he opens the links and starts to read.

 

 

It’s half past one in the night when Wei Ying realises he’s gone so deep down this rabbit hole that he’d forgotten to make dinner. He heats up some leftover fried rice that had been lying in his fridge since before he left, hoping he won’t wake up with food poisoning. Sitting back again on his couch, he eats it as he continues to look at his phone.

 

You know how you sometimes feel like you had a passing thought and suddenly all the ads on every site you visit are all about that specific thing? This anonymous number had probably done exactly that, Wei Ying reasons.

 

(Except Wei Ying knows exactly how data analytics and targeted advertising work, and he hadn’t actually engaged with anything of that sort online of late, so why would that be the case?)

 

In any case, he doesn’t dwell on it too much. His head is buzzing with ideas from all the new information and he’s itching to process them all.

 

 

He sits bolt upright in bed three hours later, and his first thought is jiejie.

 

He grabs his phone, finds her contact info and presses call.

 

“A-Xian?” Her voice cracks, heavy with sleep.

 

“Jiejie, listen to me,” says Wei Ying. “I went to Japan and saw this show and heard all these people talk about it, and now I’m seeing more and more articles about it, and I think it could really work!”

 

“What are you—”

 

“You and me!” says Wei Ying, laughing uncontrollably. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it before!”

 

(“Have you thought of working with her while she stays away from the spotlight?”

 

Except someone had, even when he wasn’t ready to believe it.)

 

“A-Xian, it’s five in the morning.”

 

“Hear me out, okay! You may have forgotten about it after all these years teaching kindergarten brats, but you have a degree in fashion history. And you taught me everything I know about sewing. I code. It’s perfect. You and I, we’re going to start Lotus Roots!

 

“Wh—”

 

“What is that, you ask?” says Wei Ying, without catching a breath. “It’s going to be a garment manufacturing company based on reusing discarded fabrics! In silhouettes inspired by traditional Chinese clothing, with the clean, straight lines of the robes women used to wear. I don’t remember which specific dynasties, hah—sorry, I wasn’t paying that much attention, but I do remember you told me some of them really reduced the fabric wastage, and of course this is where you and your degree come in! Oh my god, we’re going to use digital fabrication AI to make bespoke outfits based on individual customers’ body shapes and fit preferences instead of mass factory production, jiejie, can you believe it—feeding designs into the program and establishing neural networks—”

 

“A-Xian,” she pleads, “Can we please talk about this in a few hours? I’ve been up till three a.m. marking papers.”

 

Wei Ying huffs, but he says, “... Fine.”

 

He jumps out of bed and crosses over to his desk, opens his computer and begins to write.

 

 

Hi,

 

Received your email with the draft of your article. It’s incredible. Haven’t seen anything like it before. Exactly the kind of thing we were hoping for, but somehow even better. Let’s meet to discuss this further? Does 11 a.m. on Saturday at our office work for you?

 

Xiao Xingchen

 

 

“I hope your trip was comfortable,” says Xiao Xingchen, drawing out a chair for Wei Ying across from himself and his husband.

 

“Yeah, thanks,” says Wei Ying. He still has some residual guilt over how he’d spent most of the trip they’d paid for falling for Lan Zhan, but at least he has something to show for it. The couple faces him across the table. Xiao Xingchen places a steaming mug of coffee in front of him.

 

“So,” says Song Lan, “We’re pretty curious to know how this came about. It’s not what we were expecting at all.”

 

“The Shimizu event you’d got me into was an eye-opener,” Wei Ying says.

 

They don’t reply, as if waiting for more.

 

Wei Ying pauses for a moment. Then he says, “I’m going to be honest with you.”

 

Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan glance at each other, and nod. They both look curious.

 

Wei Ying takes a deep breath. “I met someone on the trip,” he says. “They told me some things that I think I’d needed to hear for a long time. That was what really inspired me to create again.”

 

“We noticed you’d been inactive on social media a while,” says Xiao Xingchen. “This person,” he says delicately, “Are you still in contact with them?”

 

Wei Ying shakes his head. “It wouldn’t have mattered as much to him,” he says. “He’s wonderful, but I’m probably just one of the many lives he touches on the daily.”

 

“You don’t think much of yourself, do you?”

 

Wei Ying looks up, surprised.

 

Xiao Xingchen sighs. “Look, I’m not sure how to say this, but when we received the email recommending you a potential writer for our magazine, our first thought was that you had sent it yourself. Of course, now we know that can’t be true.”

 

“What?” says Wei Ying. “Recommending me?”

 

Xiao Xingchen nods. He glances at his husband, who starts pulling something up on his phone.

 

“The email waxed so lyrical about you, we thought you were sending it out yourself because you were out of work. And the sender’s email address was also—well. As it turns out, we did like your old content which they’d attached—even if it isn’t available online anymore. It was also easy to find out about your... history with a simple Baidu search, but we are a small company in need of writers, so we decided to risk it.”

 

Wei Ying blinks, trying to process the information. In hindsight, it’s obvious. As kind as the couple seemed, they wouldn’t have sought him out unless someone had really convinced them.

 

Song Lan leans over the table and hands him the phone. Wei Ying reads the m ail, heart racing.

 

Words and phrases jump out at him. Talented. Creative. Unique. Brilliant. Deserves the opportunity. You will not regret it.

 

And finally, the email address that had sent it

 

bunny130809@qq.com

 

Wei Ying’s heart comes to a screeching halt.

 

 

The knowledge that his loyal follower from all those years had been the one to suggest his name to the editors of Baixue fills him with even more fire than before to make his project a reality. If someone believed in him so much, if his sister was sacrificing her career for this, he is going to make it work.

 

He sets up a studio in his sister’s basement. They start with a desk, a computer and a sewing machine. Wei Ying teaches himself a lot of the process involved in feeding data to the program he’s building and perfecting the digital fabrication AI that would help them perfect and customise the manufacturing process.

 

His sister sits opposite him, iPad and sketchbook open in front of her as she studies texts, reproducing the designs and incorporating changes to make them look fresh and modern.

 

A month later, Jiang Yanli faces him in the first piece they’ve created using her frame—a knee-length tunic dress in violet and white, flattering her figure perfectly. She smiles at him, radiant with the rush of success.

 

Wei Ying doesn’t cry all over the dress as he hugs her, but it’s only because he couldn’t bear to ruin their first finished design.

 

 

That evening, he stares at the picture of Lan Zhan on the Lan website a little longer than usual.

 

His finger pauses over the exit button. One month since he ran away from him on the cruise at Lake Ashi, it’s still as much of a struggle to close it. Maybe incrementally more each time. Even in the stuffy work clothes he’s wearing for his photo on the Lan Corporation website, Lan Zhan’s face makes his heart ache.

 

He’d come to terms eventually with the fact that Lan Zhan probably hadn’t been secretly feeding information to the Wens about him. His life has continued unchanged, blessedly off their radar.

 

Once he’d accepted it, the first thing he feels is guilt. Guilt at even thinking Lan Zhan was capable of what he was dreading, after all the time he’d been kind and patient with him. But he’d never properly thanked Lan Zhan face to face for opening his mind to all the things he never thought he could do, and now he thinks he needs to.

 

Hours later, he finally unblocks his number to text him:

 

thank you for everything. i’m sorry

 

It’s four thirty in the morning, so he isn’t expecting the “...” that appears seconds after he’d sent it.

 

But he’s a coward, and Lan Zhan deserves more than the kind of mess he seems to carry with him everywhere. So he presses his thumb on the block button again hard enough to hurt and throws his phone halfway across the bed.

 

He’s been looking at pictures of him every day, waiting and waiting for the feeling to fade. But why does it only keep getting stronger?

 

 

Xiao Xingchen emails him the preview for Baixue’s next cover story a week later.

 

That same night, Wei Ying jolts awake at some unknown hour and grapples for his phone.

 

He unblocks Lan Zhan, attaches a screenshot of the preview and sends it. He waits for the “...” that appears inevitably in seconds to tell him he’s seen it, then blocks him again and goes back to sleep.

 

 

“A-Xian.”

 

Wei Ying starts. His arms ache dully from the weight of his head on them, a pool of drool on his skin. He wonders how long he’d been asleep.

 

Jiang Yanli offers him a bowl of soup. Her eyes are lined with dark circles, and she looks pale.

 

Guilt grips Wei Ying’s insides. She’d quit her job at her beloved kindergarten for this. In the month since they’d started, they’d come up with enough designs and detailed PowerPoint slides on their proposed workflow to start to meet potential investors. At every agency they tried, everyone in the room would hum in admiration when they unveiled their designs and described their vision, and they’d come home filled with hope.

 

Then within the next two days or however long it took to do a cursory image check of Wei Ying online, it would come like clockwork. The inevitable phone call.

 

Sorry, we must decline.

 

Wei Ying tries to smile for her as he takes the bowl of soup, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep it up.

 

 

Wei Ying clicks on it entirely by mistake. The lack of sleep lately must really be messing with his fine motor coordination.

 

He’d only meant to check his email. He blinks when he realises he’s opened his old account by mistake.

 

He really should go back, but the twenty three unread mails with notifications for his Bilibili account makes him pause. He’s to curious to let it pass, so he opens them one by one.

 

bunny130809: You should make videos again.

 

bunny130809: You will probably not see this, but I must try in any way I can.

 

bunny130809: Your videos are missed.

 

bunny130809: I miss your videos

 

bunny130809: I miss you

 

bunny130809: Good luck with everything

 

Wei Ying wonders when hot tears started to prick at the corner of his eyes. He looks up and down the messages again over and over, his heart squeezing painfully a little more each time.

 

He gets up several minutes later. He walks to his room and bends to crawl under his bed. There’s a big cardboard box inside and he pores into it. All his camera equipment is right there. Several years in need of an upgrade but still there, just the way he slid them there three years ago.

 

Was he really allowed to do this anymore?

 

He thinks of bunny130809 and, inexplicably, of Lan Zhan.

 

It’s not that simple.

 

It should be.

 

He could just film it. As long as he didn’t let it out into the void of the internet, it was okay, wasn’t it?

 

 

Wei Ying stares at the twenty minute long video on his editing app, broken into smaller clips. It’s pretty much edited to perfection already. Opening it to stare at it during breaks while working on Lotus Roots has become pretty much a daily routine.

 

Now what?

 

He passes a hand through his hair, switching windows to his email. It’s empty, just as he expected. He makes his way through the different websites he’d sent their resumé to for Lotus Roots, his empty, unused social media profiles and finally hovers over the last tab on his browser.

 

It’s the Lan website.

 

Wei Ying has accepted by now that this feeling isn’t going to fade any time soon. But there’s no harm in looking at photos and news updates of him every day, hoping it has died down a little from the day before, is there?

 

He hasn’t been able to find Lan Zhan on any social media, but by now he’s subscribed to every business magazine and newspaper he can find. The Lan website doesn’t give him updates nearly as frequently, but at least it has a picture of him. He’s in his crisp white work shirt, arms crossed and face impassive, beautiful, perfect, and Wei Ying can’t stop looking at him as the memories of those five days with him race through in his head in technicolor.

 

 

His phone won’t stop buzzing, and Wei Ying had left it all the way on his desk. It seems an unreasonable distance away. He’d finally fallen asleep at six in the morning after a whole night making tweaks to his software, and it’s been less than an hour since then.

 

The noise won’t allow him to sleep anyway, so he eventually decides it’s in his own interest to get up and turn it off. He walks up to his phone. Jiang Cheng is calling him.

 

He ends the call, about to switch his phone off, when he sees the first text notification on his screen, from Jiang Cheng again.

 

Jiang Cheng: DUDE WAKE THE FUCK UP. OPEN THIS LINK https://m.weibo.cn/status/745747516848267432

 

Jiang Cheng: FUCKING HELL HOW MUCH WILL YOU SLEEP

 

Wei Ying clicks the link. It opens a video.

 

Jin Zixuan?

 

He’s heard of him, of course. He’s a hypebeast with ten million subscribers on Weibo, posting fifty thousand yuan luxury hauls every other month. The worst kind of influencer to happen to fashion in Wei Ying’s opinion, albeit harmless and unproblematic. Which he supposes is more than you could say for most influencers in this economy.

 

Then he notices the title of the video, and goggles at it.

 

#SuSheIsOverParty

 

He presses play, fast forwarding the intro. Then a screenshot comes up on the corner of the screen and he resumes play.

 

“—on his latest video, holding up this photo,” says Jin Zixuan smugly, pointing to the top right corner of the screen. “Okay, I’m going to enlarge it. I’m going to give you ten seconds to look at it. If you see it, comment down below what’s wrong here.”

 

Wei Ying’s hand flies to his mouth. It’s the screenshot he’d shown Lan Zhan, of Su She playing tennis. Heart thudding, he exits the video. Then he opens Baidu and searches Su She’s name.

 

Drama Alert: Popular Bilibili star Jin Zixuan exposes influencer Su She

 

Su She in Admissions Fraud Controversy

 

#SuSheIsOverParty: All the Influencer Tea You Need With Your Sunday Breakfast!

 

Wei Ying crawls back into bed, still staring at his phone. What the hell was he seeing?

 

 

This couldn’t possibly be traced back to him, he reasons. His initial anxiety has died down a little. He hadn’t told anyone besides Lan Zhan about what he’d found, and it wasn’t like it was impossible for others to notice. In fact, it was so plain to see that Wei Ying was surprised no one had noticed it before.

 

A small, petty part of him is annoyed Jin Zixuan picked up on it, but he isn’t really complaining.

 

As every social media site erupts in flames, online sleuths soon uncovering Wen Chao and Jin Zixun’s faux pas as well, Wei Ying closes all of his tabs except one. His old Bilibili account.

 

Will anyone even notice if he posted? People must be too caught up in the drama to care about anything else. He’s only doing only for bunny130809, anyway. He’s even lost all his old subscribers besides a round fifty that are probably bots. It works out perfectly.

 

Ghibli Inspired Lookbook: A Remake

 

eight years ago, i made a video with Ghibli inspired outfits. it’s one that is really important to me! but i’m older now, and i’ve recently found something that inspired me to create again. it combines my love for fashion and styling with technology, and i’m really excited to talk about it at more length soon! anyway, please enjoy this video created with outfits i made using this new project of mine.

 

He pauses, fingers hovering over the keyboard.

 

to the trip i made to japan recently where i met someone who told me things i didn’t know i had been waiting to hear: this wouldn’t have been possible without you. thank you. to the messages from the one person that never stopped flooding my inbox all these years, thank you too.

 

He hits post.

 

 

His phone is dead when he wakes up. It’s odd, because for once it had been fully charged before he went to sleep.

 

He plugs it in, yawning. He goes to the bathroom, brushes his teeth and comes back to his desk to look at his phone.

 

He blinks.

 

And blinks again.

 

Even as he watches, notifications roll in on his screen. They keep coming in so fast that they blur together, impossible to read.

 

He unlocks it. Cold dread grips his heart as he opens the first notification he can get his fingers on.

 

Comment on Ghibli Inspired Lookbook: A Remake: love it

 

That isn’t so bad. He goes to his Bilibili account and opens his video. His mouth falls open.

 

2.1 million views, 156,000 likes, 101,232 comments

 

He goes numb all the way to his toes. Then he starts to scroll.

 

The first comment has 12,563 upvotes.

 

Nie Huaisang : king shit

 

Despite everything, it makes Wei Ying smile. Then he scrolls down to the next one. It has 11,956 upvotes.

 

xxChanBaekLuvrxx: I think we as a community owe you an apology. This is why call-out culture needs to die. We now know the leaked messages were fake and that the Wens were responsible. So from the bottom of my heart: I’m sorry.

 

Wei Ying scrolls down the comments one by one: the appreciation, the apologies, the love, and finally lets himself sink onto the bed, slump over and burst into tears.

 

 

The doorbell rings, and he finally wipes the snot off his face. He grimaces when he realises it’s been so long it has already dried on his face. He pads over to the door.

 

When he opens it, three people burst into the room. The first person launches herself at him, burying her face in his neck.

 

“A-Xian,” she says wetly. “I’m so happy.”

 

“It was cool, I guess,” Jiang Cheng says gruffly, arms crossed over his chest. “I have questions about your description section, but we can probably discuss it tomorrow.”

 

Nie Huaisang peers out over his shoulder, holding a beer. “Only after you shower,” he says.

 

Suddenly, Wei Ying laughs. “Soon,” he nods, and burrows deeper into his sister’s arms.

 

 

“Did you notice Jin Zixuan liked a couple of your videos?” says Nie Huaisang.

 

“What?” Wei Ying says. Normally, he would have injected that question with more venom, but he’s too pleasantly buzzed for that.

 

“Yeah, the ones where jiejie teach you to cook. And the ones where she gives you sewing lessons.” Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes.

 

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Jiang Yanli says hurriedly, face reddening.

 

“It had better not,” adds Wei Ying.

 

“You have to admit what he did was cool, though,” muses Nie Huaisang. “Even if he’s famous on the internet, he’s nothing compared to the Wens. He’s literally responsible for Wen Ruohan getting arrested. That is pretty cool, guerrilla warfare style.”

 

Wei Ying sits up. His eyes go wide. Then he gets to his feet, walks up to Nie Huaisang and kisses the top of his head.

 

“What—”

 

“Get out before I start kissing your face,” Wei Ying breathes, gripping his face in his hands. He turns to his sister. “I’ve got it. What Lotus Roots needs.”

 

The others stare at him.

 

Wei Ying pauses for dramatic effect. Then he says, “A guerrilla fashion show.”

 

 

While preparing for the show, Jiang Yanli gently suggests that they should probably take permission of whichever designer’s show they were planning to usurp. It isn’t the way Wei Ying normally operates, but he remembers how she had given up her beloved students for this. He can’t risk messing up again. At least for her sake.

 

He reaches out to Wen Qing, who tells him she’ll pull some strings. In the meantime, they ask around their friend circle to look for potential models. They end up unexpectedly overwhelmed with the response. They don’t have any actual criteria for selecting them, pleased with the variety of body frames they could test their designs on. So they end up recruiting their target number in a few short days, spending the next week furiously perfecting their designs.

 

It keeps them so busy that Wei Ying’s only recreational activity ends up being his daily Lan Zhan stalking schedule. With more and more scams and irregularities in their dealings begin to surface, the Wen family is in shambles. As the Lans accrue enough support from other shareholders and Lan Qiren chooses to reduce his role in favour of preparing for retirement, the board takes a vote. Not long after, they announce their new CEO, Lan Huan.

 

There is a press conference after this, and Lan Zhan sits by his brother’s side. He barely says a few words through the whole thing, but Wei Ying hangs on to each of them. He watches it at every chance he gets, till each millisecond of it is seared indelibly into his brain.

 

Six months ago, the sun had soothed their sore muscles on the cycling path in Arashiyama.

 

 

 bunny130809 likes his new video, but he hasn’t commented on it.

 

Wei Ying is almost annoyed. All these years he’d kept clamouring for more, and now that he was posting again and everyone else was appreciating them, he decided he was too good to comment on them anymore?

 

He pauses over the message box on bunny130809’s profile, staring at the blinking cursor at the end of what he’d typed as if it holds all the answers to the universe.

 

Wei Wuxian : hey, did u watch my latest video? :)

 

Ugh, he thinks. He slams the enter button before he can think too much more about it, and snaps his laptop shut.

 

 

bunny130809: Yes.

 

Really? Wei Ying frowns. One word answers now?

 

Wei Wuxian : what did u think about it? u were waiting so long for it haha

 

bunny130809: It was wonderful.

 

Wei Ying re-reads the three words over and over, slightly appeased. Warmth pools in his stomach.

 

Wei Wuxian : i have some more planned for the coming weeks. may take a while though!

 

Before bunny130809 can reply any more, Wei Ying’s fingers fly over the keyboard before he presses send a second time.

 

Wei Wuxian : so uh this is top secret, but just in case u were interested we’re doing a guerrilla fashion show for my new project during TFW

 

Five seconds later, Wei Ying is about to tear his hair out when his inbox lights up.

 

bunny130809: Where will it be?

 

Wei Ying bends over his keyboard again.

 

Wei Wuxian : 17th october, shangri-la hotel, ginza, post ximon lee’s show at 5:30.

 

Then he slams his laptop shut again, and runs into the bathroom for a shower.

 

 

Wei Ying feels a hand slip into his own. He turns to find Jiang Yanli giving him a reassuring smile. He smiles back with some effort. It doesn’t completely settle the knot in his stomach that’s making him feel nauseous, but it helps.

 

It’s still early in the afternoon and Ximon Lee’s show is yet to start. Wei Ying and Jiang Yanli wait hand in hand to the side of the room with invites that Wen Qing had obtained for them. Then a man walks on stage and the next event begins.

 

“Good afternoon, everyone, this is Wen Zhuliu.”

 

People around erupt in murmurs. Wei Ying blinks. What the fuck?

 

“As we wait for the next show to start, we want to extend our gratitude to someone who paved the way for everyone else in the room. On behalf of Wen International, we’d like to talk about one young influencer who’s done so much for the community, with the numerous charities...”

 

A pity party? To undoubtedly spin tales about what a harmless, misunderstood child Wen Chao is and to garner public sympathy for the person who’s currently out on a five million yuan bail? Wei Ying can’t believe what he’s seeing. His fists clench so tightly it’s painful. But he barely notices. He tugs his sister further into the corner and says, “Get the models ready. Stat.”

 

“A-Xian, what—?”

 

“Trust me, just do it,” he says and turns on his heels, off to find the back room with access to the speakers and the giant projector screen at the front of the hall.

 

He finds it in minutes, down a corridor leading to a small back room. Pushing past the door, he enters.

 

“Hey,” he tells the bored girl sitting in front of the computer, “I was sent by Wen Zhuliu to make some last minute changes to the soundtrack.”

 

“Sure,” she says, almost gratefully. She gets to her feet, pushing back her chair. “Do whatever you want, but make it last at least fifteen minutes, I’m going to get a coffee.”

 

Wei Ying takes out the pendrive with the slide show they’d prepared, slides it into the port and presses play.

 

 

The lights dim in the hall. Wen Chao stops in the middle of the stage as he walks over to collect his award, looking around him suspiciously.

 

Then, heavy bass notes begin to blare from the speakers. The doors swing wide open and a swarm of people pour in.

 

Wei Ying watches from the back room, through the CCTV camera focusing all around the room as the models walk in, stripping off the garbage bags they’re wearing to reveal the outfits underneath. Wei Ying bites his lip, flushed with pride as he sees the audience gasp in surprise.

 

And then: admiration. This only escalates when the video playing on the projection screen flashes the concept behind their line, interspersed with more footage of the models.

 

He trains his eyes on the crowd again, as the models get up on the tables and throw fliers around. People catch them, and look at them in interest. Wei Ying grips his chest unconsciously as his eyes roam around the room.

 

They land on someone in passing, and his heart immediately comes to a stop.

 

It can’t be.

 

He’s seeing things.

 

He’s looked at the few available pictures of him online so much in the last few months that he’s projecting.

 

Slowly, stomach coiling, he turns his gaze back to where he’d seen him.

 

Lan Zhan?

 

He claps his hand on his mouth, too many thoughts coming to him in a rush as he sees that beautiful, familiar form in the corner of the room. Lan Zhan watches the goings on closely, and when a flier falls to the ground in front of him he picks it up and looks at it for a long moment.

 

All at once, Wei Ying’s knees feel like jelly. He sinks to the chair.

 

Lan Zhan stares at the flier in his hand for an inordinate length of time, thumbing his fingers over it. It’s only three lines, why is he looking at it for so long? Then he turns on his heels and moves out of view of the camera.

 

Wei Ying jumps to his feet. His legs still feel like lead, but all he knows is he has to do something. Go somewhere. So he runs.

 

He runs, out through the door of the room, hurtling down the stretch of corridor to the main hall. Music is still blaring from inside along with cheers, but the only thing he can really hear is the blood rushing in his ears as a voice in his head screams Lan Zhan’s name.

 

He skids to a stop in front of the entrance, only to topple—

 

Straight into a person. A person who holds him close with arms around his waist, and steadies him.

 

Everything in the universe shrinks till all that remains is Wei Ying and the person in front of him.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he whispers. He doesn’t need to look up to know it’s him.

 

“Wei Ying.”

 

Wei Ying leans back, and pushes himself off him. It is excruciatingly hard, but he manages it.

 

“Hi,” he says, finally looking up at the face he’s thought about every waking hour these past six months.

 

Lan Zhan doesn’t respond. His eyes are searching Wei Ying’s face, as if committing every inch of it to memory.

 

“What—What are you doing?”

 

It’s an inane question that Wei Ying immediately wants to kick himself for asking. Lan Zhan is even more important than he was when they met. He probably has a dozen responsibilities and Wei Ying must be wasting his time, so he takes a step backward, ready to disappear back down the corridor he’d come from—

 

“I was told there was going to be something important here.”

 

“What?” Wei Ying asks. Ximon Lee’s fashion show? Any other show? Not... the award ceremony for Wen Chao?

 

Lan Zhan exhales. Then he says, “17th October, Shangri-La Hotel, Ginza, post Ximon Lee’s show at 5:30.”

 

Any trace of coherent thoughts in Wei Ying’s brain evaporates immediately. He continues to stare at Lan Zhan for a moment. Then he turns on his heels and starts to power walk away.

 

His feet carry him back a familiar path. The one he’d just traced from the back room to here.

 

He walks into the room, strides straight up to the chair in front of the computer and holds out an arm to clutch the back of it. His knees actually buckle, but he doesn’t have it in him to be embarrassed.

 

Soft footsteps stop behind him. “Wei Ying.”

 

Wei Ying reels over the back of his chair, the sheer weight of everything running through his head making it difficult to stay upright. His hands are white as a sheet against the plush red of the chair.

 

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan. “Look at me.”

 

“You...” says Wei Ying, voice cracking around the edges, “You’re here... because—You saw.... You’re—”

 

“I wanted to tell you.” Lan Zhan says quietly. “I was scared you’d think I was stalking you.”

 

Heat rises in Wei Ying’s cheeks. He has to turn around at that, because that’s just too ludicrous a statement. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I’d think you were stalking me?”

 

A flush spreads from Lan Zhan’s ears to colour his cheekbones. He looks soft and vulnerable. Lowering his eyes, he says, “I did send you all those messages.”

 

He did.

 

Wei Ying swallows, watching his face. He really had sent him all those messages. Mailed him hair clips he’d made based on his videos, in matching colours. Believed him, supported him, defended him, tried to encourage him for all those years to start making videos again.

 

And not just that, but—

 

“You recommended my name to Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan,” he breathes. He blinks. His eyelashes come away damp.

 

Lan Zhan flushes deeper, not meeting his eye. “They were looking for writers, and I thought you deserved—”

 

“You tipped Jin Zixuan off,” he says. Of course. He’d always known Jin Zixuan was too dense to come up with it on his own, but he’d always thought that was just him being petty. Now that he allows himself to think it, he knows it screams of Lan Zhan. Instinctively. As certain as he is of anything in the world.

 

Maybe he’d always known it a little, but he couldn’t bring himself to accept it.

 

A beat.

 

Then Lan Zhan nods. “His father is an old family friend.”

 

“Your words kept... bleeding into the way they—you typed the comments,” Wei Ying breathes. “I thought I was going insane.”

 

“I am sorry,” Lan Zhan says. “I should have told you. I—I just wanted to be selfish. I... I hoped, and wanted, but it was only five days, I did not think—”

 

“Only five days!” says Wei Ying. “Lan Zhan, if you knew the way you had me feeling in just five days, like I was a badly written rom com lead... And then, when I saw you at the Wen’s party, I thought—”

 

“Your brother and your friend told me,” says Lan Zhan quickly. “I tried to explain—”

 

“Somewhere in the three hundred and ninety seven messages that I deleted,” says Wei Ying ruefully. “And then blocked you, and proceeded to stare at pictures of you online every day to convince myself I’d forgotten about you. It seems I can finally self-diagnose myself as idiot.”

 

“Finally?” says Lan Zhan.

 

Wei Ying punches him lightly in the chest. God, he’s so in love he feels giddy with it.

 

“You messaged me all those years without sending me a thirst trap or two,” says Wei Ying. “Who’s the idiot now?”

 

“You were so... And I was only—” The colour deepens in Lan Zhan’s cheeks. “You inspired me and made me happy,” he says finally. “I did not hope for more.”

 

 Wei Ying flushes, unable to comprehend that Lan Zhan hadn’t just had feelings for him for years before they’d even met, he also thought Wei Ying was too good for him, that he could possibly think he wasn’t interesting or funny or inspiring enough—

 

“Did you know who I was?” he asks. “When you saw me on your seat on the flight.”

 

“Yes.” Lan Zhan pauses, then sighs. “You were more annoying than I expected. However.” He hesitates, as if he really wishes he didn’t have to put it into words. But he goes on, “As time passed. It grew… bearable.”

 

“Bearable,” Wei Ying repeats.

 

Lan Zhan sighs. “I tried not to be selfish. Tried to let you go several times. But I wanted Wei Ying too much, and then I heard your ringtone, and thought—”

 

“That song,” Wei Ying breathes. The most beautiful, stirring, aching song he’d ever heard.

 

Lan Zhan glances at his feet. “Wrote it for you. Hoped it would help you understand how you made me feel.”

 

He looks up, and his face is earnest and beautiful and Wei Ying’s whole body immediately starts to ache right down to his bones with the need to touch him.

 

He takes a step forward. Then another. When he’s close enough, Lan Zhan gathers him into his arms and crushes him against his chest.

 

“I tried so hard to stop thinking about you,” Wei Ying says weakly, as Lan Zhan’s heartbeat thunders against his own. Wei Ying has never known it’s possible to feel this way about another person, and he’s equal parts terrified and desperate to learn more.

 

“I felt this way about you even across a computer screen,” says Lan Zhan into his hair.

 

Wei Ying’s heart hammers against his chest.

 

“Show-off,” he grumbles, peeking up at him. “I still can’t believe you are responsible for both the inspirations I cited in my Ghibli video description. Over-achiever.”

 

“Wei Ying has been inspiring me for years,” says Lan Zhan calmly, like saying it isn’t the most embarrassing thing in the world.

 

“God—you really... Well, fine, if you want to keep flexing on me, I fell for your comments too, even if it was too embarrassing to admit it to myself because I didn’t know who you were, what you looked like, even with your stupid username—bunny130809, really?—so we’re even and you can stop—”

 

He’s shut up with a kiss, and Wei Ying is glad for once he can never stop talking because if this is how he’s going to be shut up from now on, he’s very okay with it.

 

Lan Zhan kisses him breathless, curling his fingers in his hair, parting only to press kisses down his neck as Wei Ying scrabbles to hold on to him with his knees feeling progressively weaker.

 

Somewhere behind them, the door swings open and the girl from earlier says, “Sorry, my coffee break got a little longer than exp—”

 

Wei Ying throws a middle finger at her behind Lan Zhan’s back, and the doors slam shut again.

 

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan as he breaks apart, several minutes later. He holds Wei Ying at arm’s length, carefully avoiding looking at him. “When we return to China, I will court you like you deserve. Will take you on all the dates you—”

 

“That’s great, Lan Zhan,” says Wei Ying. He’s still dizzy from the kisses, but not enough to let Lan Zhan get away with this. “Sign me up. But right now? Listen, I haven’t jerked off in six months because every time I tried I couldn’t think of anything besides you, then felt too guilty to follow through and ended up taking a cold shower. Take some fucking responsibility.”

 

Lan Zhan stares at him, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. Then he nods stiffly.

 

“I will... contact my driver,” he says.

 

 

They make a stop at a convenience store for lube and condoms. Wei Ying is momentarily distracted by the snacks, but Lan Zhan’s firm grip on his arm as he hauls him out of the store snaps him out of it soon enough.

 

They’re both strung so high they lunge into each other’s arms when they are finally through the door to Lan Zhan’s suite, tearing their clothes off till they’re naked and Lan Zhan is pressing him into his mattress. He works Wei Ying open till he’s screaming for him, pulls on the condom over his length and takes him face to face.

 

They’ve been so close to the edge for so long that it takes minutes before Wei Ying is thrashing wildly, heels digging into Lan Zhan’s back as he comes all over his stomach, and Lan Zhan exhales against his ear and releases inside him.

 

Afterwards, when Wei Ying is curled up against Lan Zhan’s broad chest like a satisfied cat, he remembers something.

 

 “Lan Zhan,” he says, “Will you get me my phone?”

 

It’s on the side table next to Wei Ying’s side of the bed, but since he’s the one who just got fucked senseless he thinks it’s only fair. Lan Zhan doesn’t question it, stretching dutifully over him to bring it to him. Wei Ying’s heart flutters.

 

He turns to lie on his front, supporting himself on his elbows as he begins to tap at the phone. Lan Zhan curls against him, laying his chin on his shoulder.

 

Wei Ying shivers at the contact, but presses on. He opens up Bilibili, to his Ghibli remake video. He finds his video description and clicks edit.

 

to the trip i made to japan recently where i met someone who told me things i didn’t know i had been waiting to hear. that someone who never stopped flooding my inbox all these years, supporting me, believing me and inspiring me. thank you. i’ve only been with you in person for five days so far, but i think i’m in love with you alread—

 

He flushes as he realises what he’s typed, and hurries to backspace the last sentence. But Lan Zhan has seen it over his shoulder already, and he turns his face towards him to kiss him till he can’t remember his name.

 

 

one year later

 

“Lan Zhan!”

 

Lan Zhan turns towards him and Wei Ying nearly stops dead in his tracks mid-run. He clutches A-Yuan closer to his chest in case he topples over from the momentum.

 

A year ago, he may have been embarrassed at the way the mere sight of his boyfriend’s face could make his heart stop every single time. He’s pretty much embraced it by now.

 

“Look who I found!” he says, walking up to Lan Zhan.

 

He’d designed this outfit for Lan Zhan. Changed with him in their bedroom back home. And when he wasn’t crying over how beautiful his sister looked, he’d spent most of his time trying to get hold of the microphone so he could sing ‘80s love ballads on the microphone for Lan Zhan. Still, every time he sees him in his light blue suit with his white button-down under it makes him want to scream from the rooftops something cheesy like just how lucky he is.

 

He takes A-Yuan’s tiny hand and waves it at Lan Zhan. “Look, that’s Zhanzhan gege.”

 

Lan Zhan hasn’t said a word, so Wei Ying looks up at him.

 

He’s staring at A-Yuan. Then he shifts his gaze to Wei Ying and back at A-Yuan. Finally, he looks at Wei Ying as if he’s just realised something earth-shattering.

 

“Lan Zhan?”

 

Lan Zhan blinks.

 

“This is A-Yuan! He’s Wen Qing’s nephew. He’s two years old and we met five minutes ago and I think we’re best friends? Aren’t we, A-Yuan?”

 

But A-Yuan has his eyes on Lan Zhan and he starts to squirm in Wei Ying’s arms. “Down!” he demands solemnly.

 

Wei Ying places him on the ground. He waddles over to Lan Zhan and immediately wraps his whole tiny body around his legs.

 

“Excuse me?” Wei Ying squawks in protest. “A-Yuan, I thought we had something special!”

 

Then A-Yuan grabs Lan Zhan’s arm, tugs him over to Wei Ying and latches on to his arm as well. He starts to swing between them. Both Wei Ying and Lan Zhan have to bend almost double to reach his level, and this brings their faces very close together.

 

Lan Zhan is still looking at him with a mildly dazed expression on his face. It makes Wei Ying flush. His sister and Jin Zixuan’s sappy wedding vows earlier had already made it very difficult not to tug his boyfriend into the nearest corner and kiss him breathless.

 

A-Yuan gurgles happily between them.

 

“Poor child, his parents died recently,” Wei Ying murmurs into Lan Zhan’s ear. “Wen Qing has brought him to stay with her for now since the rest of their family is—well, the Wens.”

 

Lan Zhan furrows his brows, eyes softening further as he looks at A-Yuan swinging from their arms, blissfully unaware of the tragedy that had just changed his life. Wei Ying watches his boyfriend, a fresh flutter erupting in his stomach.

 

“There you are.”

 

They turn to find Wen Qing standing behind them, smiling at the sight.

 

She bites her lip as she looks at the three of them and finally fixes an amused smile at Wei Ying. Wei Ying widens his eyes at her, hoping she won’t spill what he knows is on her mind.

 

He’d started to talk to his friends weeks ago about maybe, possibly, potentially proposing to Lan Zhan at some point. They’ve been living together for months, Lan Zhan has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer of Lan Industries and his brother’s right hand man, and Lotus Roots has just expanded to Beijing with a new store on Wangfujing Street. Wei Ying had even reached out to Kaneko Tailoring, sharing their technology with them. Things are good, and Lan Zhan misses no opportunity to make him feel like maybe it’s going to stay this way.

 

It may not have made sense to anyone else to even think of marriage so early, but Wei Ying has stopped trying to make sense of their story a long time ago.

 

All he knows is it feels right.

 

“I’ll take A-Yuan off your hands,” Wen Qing says. She’s smiling wider by the second.

 

They promise a teary A-Yuan that they’ll be with him soon to join him on the dance floor, and wave goodbye. Wei Ying takes Lan Zhan’s hand and turns down the garden path away from the music, dancing and the sound of a drunk Lan Qiren loudly singing a Teresa Teng ballad.

 

“I feel like I haven’t had you to myself in ages,” says Wei Ying, squeezing Lan Zhan’s hand and pressing close against his side. “I missed you.”

 

It’s been less than fifteen minutes since he’d fed him half his plate at the noodles counter.

 

“Hey,” he says, locating what seems to be a security room that appears unoccupied. “Want to...”

 

“Wei Ying, we should be married.”

 

“... make out in—What?” he screeches.

 

Lan Zhan turns to him, face soft and earnest. “We should be married, Wei Ying.

 

Wei Ying gasps, heart thundering in his chest. “You—what?”

 

Lan Zhan thumbs his temple.

 

“No!” Wei Ying cries. “I was supposed to propose first? I even prepared a speech! I wrote it down! Did you write it down? Listen: Lan Zhan, sweetheart, my bunny130809: I love you, worship you, won’t ever want anyone else the way I want you, want to travel everywhere with you, pose for embarrassing influencer photos with you everywhere, win bunny toys for you at every arcade in the world, kiss you, ride you every day, suck your big—”

 

“Wei Ying...”

 

“Yes, Lan Zhan. Yes, I will marry the fuck out of you.”

 

Lan Zhan pulls him into his arms and kisses him like he always does. With his whole body, till he can’t feel his legs anymore.

 

“I had not prepared a speech,” he admits. “Wei Ying, Wei Wuxian, yilinglaozu: I love you, worship you, will never want anyone else but you, wish to travel the world with you, take pictures of you everywhere, win chicken toys for you at every arcade, kiss you, make love every day...”

 

He colours as he trails off and pulls Wei Ying against his chest with a hand on his hair, pressing his face into his neck.

 

“G-Good thing one of us planned ahead,” says Wei Ying as he catches his breath against his shoulder. For a moment he marvels at how this love has changed them both, how impulsive it has made Lan Zhan and how diligent himself.

 

“So, all of this happened because you saw A-Yuan and he just set off all of the dad feelings, didn’t he?” says Wei Ying, eyeing his now-fiancé. (Fiancé!) “Lan Zhan, you’re not transparent at all! I’m jealous! A-Yuan getting done in under a minute what I’ve been trying to do for—”

 

Lan Zhan kisses him again, and Wei Ying smiles against his lips.

 

 

epilogue

 

“... just wanted you guys to know it’s okay to mix it up a little? Go wild! It may seem scary to experiment on a first date, but it’s better than being predictable, you know? Don’t be afraid to stand out a bit. Sure worked for me.”

 

Wei Ying winks cheekily, retracing his steps to undo the top button of Lan Zhan’s shirt and artfully skew the collar a little.

 

“If it’s your five hundredth date,” he continues, “Even better! Always good to keep your partner on your toes.”

 

He sticks his tongue out of his mouth as he smooths down the red and white strips of felt on Lan Zhan’s hair clip.

 

“If you want to make it a really special date, though,” he says, and lowers his voice. His heart races even though he knows what he’s going to say. As does Lan Zhan, who he’s already engaged to. “Your outfit isn’t complete without... this.”

 

He slips a ring onto Lan Zhan’s finger.

 

“Yes,” says Lan Zhan.

 

”Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying wails. “Not again!”

 

Lan Zhan blinks at him. Wei Ying jabs his finger at the camera set up in front of them, filming the fifth take of Styling_My_Boyfriend_For_Date_Night.mov.

 

“Wei Ying, this is pointless. I cannot pretend so many times to accept your proposal when we are already engaged to be married next month.”

 

“We already discussed this, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, lips forming into a pout. “It’s the cutest idea to break the news to my followers.”

 

“Anything Wei Ying does will be cute.”

 

“You... You stop! That’s unfair,” Wei Ying says, clapping a hand to his mouth as his cheeks grow warm and his heart skips in his chest.

 

God, he never, ever wants to stop feeling this way. It’s a good thing Lan Zhan seems set on making sure he won’t.

 

When he’s calmed himself down, he says, “Maybe we could have done this in a single take if you just waited for me to ask you to marry me before saying yes. Maybe we could be doing something very different by now.” He licks his lips, looking pointedly at Lan Zhan’s crotch.

 

“Cannot wait to be married to Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan simply. “To start a family with Wei Ying.”

 

And there he goes again. They’d spoken about it already, both abruptly admitting to each other how attached they’d grown to A-Yuan after babysitting him for the last few weeks. Wei Ying still flushes helplessly, powerless to say a word as Lan Zhan tugs him onto his lap to kiss him.

 

He considers pushing Lan Zhan off to reach over and turn off the record button. He really does. But Lan Zhan gives his ass a particularly firm squeeze, and his brain starts to grow foggier by the second.

 

It can wait.