It begins with Lan Wangji falling in love with the music.
The first time he hears it, it’s no more than a faint sound drifting through his open window, caught between two of his own compositions. Faint, but special enough to be noticed.
The second time, it accompanies him to the dinner table in his living room, and makes him feel like, perhaps, he’s not so lonely.
The third time, it’s a joyful tune right under his window and, looking down, Lan Wangji only sees a dot of red below, a fixed point in the swarm of locals passing by, strategically placed between the bus stop and the nearby grocery store.
The music seems to move across the street from week to week. The day is never the same, and when he’s not at rehearsals with the Gusu Lan Orchestra, Lan Wangji soon finds himself hoping, waiting for it. The busker plays skillfully, and the songs he plays range from slow, calm pieces to cheerier ones. The latter he likes and embraces the most; they bring an energy to him that he doesn’t find anywhere else in his daily life, and he often finds himself humming along.
Lan Wangji never stays outside for longer than he has to. He likes the orchestra, and practicing in the familiarity of his home. Sometimes, he’ll take a walk in the park across the street, or visit the library. But, that’s it.
Lan Wangji likes his routine, his habits—the way his life, much like his music, is carefully composed.
Yet, one day as the busker’s flute sings from under his window, Lan Wangji pauses his recital practice, takes his keys, his notebook, and leaves his apartment.
When he walks out of the building, the music is right next to his ear, steps away from the door. Still, he keeps walking; he crosses the street, and sits on the bench under the weeping willow. He opens his notebook, slides the pen off. Only then does he glance up.
The busker is a young man about his age, sporting a mess of shoulder-length black hair. Around his neck hang several necklaces. He wears a red shirt with a black, open waistcoat, and tight black pants full of holes. Combat boots adorn his feet. Somehow both messy and classy. Each time someone leaves him some money, he brings the music to a slow halt to smile in a way that is so radiant Lan Wangji feels blinded.
He’s as beautiful as the music he plays.
Throughout the afternoon his notebook remains mostly untouched, the pen inadvertently tracing a slow, random line across the page as Lan Wangji looks, and listens, and forgets himself.
From then on, whenever the busker comes back to the spot under his window, Lan Wangji leaves the comfort of his home, and sits on the bench under the weeping willow.
As the weeks pass into months, the busker starts to abandon the rest of the street in favor of visiting this same spot. Lan Wangji isn’t sure why; he assumes passers-by are more generous here. Not that he would know.
Lan Wangji never gets to share a glance with him, but eventually, he falls in love with the busker from across the street.
And that, without even knowing his name.
The busker isn’t as happy as his music makes it sound, Lan Wangji quickly comes to realize.
He often stays until the man with the flute and the blinding smile leaves. Once passers-by pay no more attention to him, and his flute is safely tucked away in its case, Lan Wangji catches the distinct moment his smile fades slightly, and his eyes lose some of their light.
He cleans up his spot and counts what little money he’s earned for the day. When he used to look so lively, with the setting of the sun the darkness seems to claw at him, and he reeks of loneliness.
Lan Wangji’s hands clench over his knees. His thumb rubs at his skin under the fabric of his white pants. I understand, he wants to tell him, shout at him. I think I’ve forgotten what not being alone is like—if I’ve ever known what it’s like at all.
Whenever the busker struggles with putting his rolled up leather jacket or the flute’s case inside the mess that is his bag—which is every time—Lan Wangji leaves a generous tip. Always, he disappears inside the nearby grocery shop or into his building before the busker has the chance to realize.
Lan Wangji is sitting on his bench—now a place as familiar as the orchestra or his home, an essential part of his life—being transported by the music when there’s suddenly an angry voice, a shout, and then the abrupt stop of the melody that had, until now, done wonders to his peace of mind.
Lan Wangji’s eyes blink open. Flute still in hand, the busker is dripping in coffee, cursing loudly at the assailant’s retreating back, but not actually making any move to stop them.
This time, the busker’s smile is entirely gone. Lan Wangji stands up. Notebook under his arm, he beelines for the busker before he allows himself any time to think his actions through—skipping that step makes his heart hammer violently inside his chest.
He produces a handkerchief from his pocket, and hands it over.
An unique shade of grey meets Lan Wangji’s own golden eyes as the busker looks up. His cheerful, happy-go-lucky demeanor returns the moment he notices Lan Wangji. He seems surprised.
“You can use the bathroom, if you’d like,” Lan Wangji says, impassive. His voice sounds strained, like he hasn’t talked in weeks. Which is, actually, not that far from the truth. “I live above. Third floor.”
The man’s face lights up with a smile (having it directed at him makes Lan Wangji a little weak at the knees), and he laughs, “Aw, that just sounds like I’ve been serenading you!”
Lan Wangji feels the top of his ears grow hot. It’s the first time he’s heard the busker’s voice clearly; it matches his face perfectly, makes Lan Wangji wish he could hear it sing.
“I can lend you a shirt as well.”
The laughter is replaced with a thankful smile. “That’d be very kind of you, uhm. . .?”
“Lan Zhan.” His birth name slips from his mouth. This ‘act before you think’ thing isn’t going well for him. Lan Wangji squares himself, but his reaction doesn’t seem to have escaped the busker’s attention. His wide eyes perceive him with shameless curiosity.
“Oh, is that your birth name?” His smile widens. “Then call me Wei Ying.”
“Very well,” Lan Wangji replies. He barely resists the urge to test that name out, see what it feels like to say it. “Follow me.”
Wei Ying follows him inside happily. It looks suspiciously like the coffee incident has already been forgotten, and Lan Wangji is glad, if only because Wei Ying’s eyes are carefree and bright again.
Lan Wangji lets him in first, then wastes no time guiding him to the bathroom. He retrieves a shirt from his room, and hands it over through the crack in the door.
“Thanks!” Wei Ying says.
“Would you like some tea?”
Lan Wangji nods, and leaves to the kitchen. As he heats up the water, he pauses. The busker from down the street whom he’s been listening to for the past six months, the man he’s fallen in love with, is stripping into one of his shirts, in his bathroom.
He’s not sure how to process that information. He’s not sure how to do anything. Perhaps, his best option is to remain in full control of himself, and treat his guest like any other. They are, after all, strangers. He must not do anything untoward.
Still, he smiles to himself as he thinks, His name is Wei Ying.
A moment later, Wei Ying’s voice rings with delight from behind him.
“Oh, is that a guqin?”
Taking in a deep breath, Lan Wangji turns around. Here is Wei Ying, standing by the window, bent over to look at Lan Wangji’s guqin more closely. The borrowed shirt is a bit too big on him, but it has an undeniable charm and, more than that, looks so domestic that it squeezes a silent gasp out of Lan Wangji.
His control, however, is complete as he brings over two cups of tea.
“It’s a hobby,” he says, then nods to another instrument. “I play the cello.”
“Wow, cool! That’s nice,” Wei Ying says, and the sudden hint of wariness in his voice doesn’t escape Lan Wangji’s sharp ears. He takes the tea, blows on it gently. “Thank you.”
“You have talent,” Lan Wangji says as Wei Ying runs his fingers over the strings with his free hand, fascinated. “I play in the local orchestra. I could introduce you.”
Wei Ying lets out a small laugh. “Oh no, I’m just a busker,” he says, waving his hand dismissively. It quickly, briefly comes back to rest at his side, clenched tightly, before finding the guqin again. “I’m happy this way.”
That’s not true.
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says.
He sits on the couch, and they fall into silence. Lan Wangji wants to tell Wei Ying everything. That he first heard him six months ago, and that a few weeks after that he decided to listen more. . . closely. That each week for the past four months, no matter how many times Wei Ying came, no matter the weather, he’s sat on the bench under the weeping willow, just to listen to him.
But, Lan Wangji says nothing. Instead, he marvels at Wei Ying’s presence. He favours admiring the guqin over the cello, asking questions he answers himself a second later. Sipping his tea, he lets his fingertips trail over the polished wood, the notes on the music sheets, like he’s unable to sit still. Sometimes he spares Lan Wangji a glance, before quickly averting his eyes.
He shines in the light of the setting sun filtering through the park’s trees, and oh, how his mere existence makes Lan Wangji’s home feel alive! He’s like a candle in the night, and Lan Wangji feels inexplicably drawn to him. He wishes Wei Ying would sit right next to him, and perhaps, if he extended his hand. . .
“I should go.”
Oh. Lan Wangji’s disappointment may not show on his face, but it weighs heavy within his heart. He hoped Wei Ying would stay a little longer; he doesn’t want to face the silence without him.
“I don’t want to impose!” Wei Ying adds. “But I—”
“You’re not,” Lan Wangji interrupts. He’s glad when it doesn’t sound as desperate as it did in his head. “At least finish your tea.”
At last, Wei Ying sits on the other end of the couch, and Lan Wangji’s hands clench briefly. Closer than he’s ever been, yet so far. Is his skin warm? Is it soft? What would it feel to hold his hand? Ridiculous. Lan Wangji shakes the thoughts out of his head.
Wei Ying’s blinding smile almost makes Lan Wangji forget Wei Ying’s hesitation to stay from a moment before. There’s so much he wants to ask about him: where does he live, where does he come from; does he have brothers, sisters; what does he like to do when he gets home?
It’s Wei Ying who begins talking instead. He talks about everything, and Lan Wangji is mesmerized. “Isn’t the sky beautiful tonight? Maybe we’ll see a shooting star. Have you tasted the custard steamed buns down the street? They’re cheap, and very tasty! Did you know there’s a cat living in the park, and it likes belly scratches the most?”
Lan Wangji never wants him to stop talking. His voice is as wonderful as the music he plays; Lan Wangji would leave the safety of his routine, just to hear it. In his excitement, the more Wei Ying talks, the closer he gets, and he doesn’t seem to realize it. Soon enough, their shoulders are almost touching.
“Ah, I’m sorry,” Wei Ying eventually says, when he’s finally run out of words and Lan Wangji hasn’t spoken even once. “I haven’t had anyone to talk to in a while. You’re a good listener, you know?”
I haven’t, either, but I’ve been told that.
Lan Wangji doesn’t know if that’s what he should say, but he feels like he must say something.
“Why did that man throw coffee at you?” Not that, he scolds himself, but it’s too late.
Wei Ying’s eyes flick back to him, searching for something he doesn’t find. He shrugs. “I guess he can’t appreciate the nice things in life,” Wei Ying suggests. “Or maybe he was just an asshole.”
Wei Ying moves closer again, and Lan Wangji is painfully aware of how near their fingers are from brushing.
“I should really go,” Wei Ying says, and now he sounds perhaps as disappointed as Lan Wangji felt when he’d first asked. “Thanks for listening to me talk. And for lending me your bathroom, and the shirt.”
“Anytime,” Lan Wangji says softly, earnestly, and something—something shifts on Wei Ying’s face; a flicker of shocked appreciation.
The room is almost dark, no light having been turned on, but when Wei Ying smiles, it might as well have been the sun awakening in the middle of the living room.
Lan Wangji closes his notebook abruptly before glancing up, and—it is indeed Wei Ying, grinning down at him. He’s spinning his flute in his hand, and his bag is swung over his shoulder.
Two weeks since the coffee incident, Wei Ying has shown up on the spot outside Lan Wangji’s apartment complex twice more than usual. Today, he hasn’t stopped stealing glances at Lan Wangji, and now that Lan Wangji knows he’s been noticed, he’s focused on his notes more thoroughly. For the first time, he didn’t even realize Wei Ying had stopped playing.
“Hello,” he says.
“You’ve been sitting there all day. All week.”
“Only the days you were here,” Lan Wangji counters, before he realizes correcting Wei Ying makes it sound worse.
Wei Ying’s smile grows into something almost mischievous, but Lan Wangji swears he’s a bit flustered, too.
“You can’t like my music that much.”
Of course; but I like you, too.
“Mn,” he says. “I do.”
“Ahh, Lan Zhan, you can’t say things like that!”
Lan Wangji’s eyebrow briefly twitches in confusion. “But it’s the truth.”
“Usually, one would say something like that over - say - coffee. Or dinner.”
Lan Wangji blinks slowly at him. Is that so?
“Would you. . . like to?”
Wei Ying grins. Wolfish and teasing. “It’s a date!”
Here it is; Lan Wangji knows it’s a joke, but his ears are hot again. His fingers clench over the notebook and he briefly looks down before meeting Wei Ying’s eyes again.
“Not a date,” he says, though it is the exact opposite of what he’s thinking. Do not flirt if you don’t mean anything by it. It is only because Wei Ying is looking at him expectantly, flute somehow spinning faster, that he adds, “When?”
Like a dream, Wei Ying is back in his apartment. With him comes that feeling; that feeling that his home isn’t so bland, so empty. The sharp reds of Wei Ying’s clothes make for a strong contrast with the whites of the walls, the light blues and soft beiges of the furniture. His voice, his laughter resonates pleasantly. A sound that, after his departure last time, had still sung in Lan Wangji’s ears, and was dearly missed when it at last faded, leaving only the silence he resents so much.
Quiet and silence are not the same, Lan Wangji finds. Quiet is soothing, something shared and sought out, while silence is heavy; the painful product of his loneliness.
As they sit with tea on the couch, there’s a silence filling the spaces between Wei Ying’s ramblings again; a good, comfortable silence. Not one that crushes Lan Wangji, but one that envelops him in a reassuring embrace. The kind he’s only felt with his brother so far, but—Wei Ying’s isn’t quite the same. It’s raw and fragile. Unknown territory to be explored and tested.
And oh, how Wei Ying likes testing it.
Wei Ying’s fingertips move inches from Lan Wangji’s, sometimes making the briefest of contacts. It looks unintentional, but Lan Wangji recognizes it, for he longs for the same thing, too.
He wishes Wei Ying would take it. Take his hand, and hold it, because Lan Wangji cannot bring himself to do it first. Let him feel his skin, the blood pulsing through his veins should he grasp his wrist.
But, Wei Ying only talks, and that’s fine too. Lan Wangji loves listening to him. Even when he says how much he hates dogs, and there’s no one to protect him from them, “not that I need protecting, but.”
I’d protect you from them, if you would let me.
“Mn,” is all Lan Wangji says.
Suddenly there’s a pause. His breath gets stuck in his throat; at last, Wei Ying’s hand has found his own, and not strayed away. It's warm, and soft. Precisely like Lan Wangji imagined it.
“Hey, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whispers. “How would you feel about kissing me?”
Initially, it makes him feel like all air is knocked out of his lungs. Lan Wangji chokes on his tea, and he can practically hear his uncle’s scolding all the way from the family home, Improper. Shameless. Maybe if Lan Wangji didn’t hold Wei Ying so highly in his heart already, he would’ve thought the same.
Lan Wangji turns his head. He finds Wei Ying, unbearably close, watching him with big, inquisitive eyes. They’re sparkling with mirth, but he seems honest. He doesn’t look like he’s joking.
“I would not mind it.”
“Can I kiss you, then?”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says. He’s scared of how fast he agrees to it. Surely, this is all but a dream, and he’ll wake up before Wei Ying’s lips even caress his own, aching with need.
It isn’t a dream.
Wei Ying kisses him; it’s a hungry thing of a kiss, but there’s an hesitation to it, and none of that hunger is reflected in Wei Ying’s eyes.
Lan Wangji remains still, his whole body unsure how to respond, Wei Ying’s touch rendering it frozen. It’s a good kiss; it’s an amazing kiss, even, given he’s never allowed himself to believe he would be granted one. But, it’s not the kind of kiss he’d hoped for.
Still, he can’t help grasping for what he can get; any part of Wei Ying that Wei Ying is willing to offer to him, Lan Wangji will take. He kisses back, just as fiercely. Wei Ying’s right hand closes over his own, clasping it where it lies flat on the couch, and the other cups his face. Both touches burn him, in the sweetest way, and he gasps.
The kiss deepens, leaving them both out of breath.
In a flash, Wei Ying is in his lap. The proximity is so overwhelming Lan Wangji’s first instinct is to shy from it, and when the ministrations stop he catches a flash of concern across Wei Ying’s face. Lan Wangji stills again, taking a moment to close his eyes and feel him; his weight over his legs, grounding; the lingering feeling of his hands through his short hair, gentle; the heaving of his chest so close to his own, alive; the breath coming from his lips, waiting to be stolen by another kiss.
And that warmth Lan Wangji doesn’t recognize—he’s afraid of it, dazed by it, but. . . it’s good. He wants it, craves it. Perhaps he should take it, now that it’s given so freely to him. Even if he cannot understand why.
His turn, to kiss Wei Ying. The concern fades from Wei Ying’s face, that mischievous light making a grand return with his hands on Lan Wangji.
Certainly, his entire body must be ablaze.
“How do you feel. . .” Wei Ying says between two kisses; one to Lan Wangji’s lips again, the other to his neck. “About having some fun?”
That’s blunt, to say the least.
Years upon years of family’s teachings play on loop in Lan Wangji’s head. Show restraint. Do not make rash decisions. Do not be selfish. Do not, do not, do not—
But, one look at Wei Ying, and the knot that has begun tying itself around his throat dissolves into a honeyed sigh.
Lan Wangji isn’t sure he feels all that much about Wei Ying that way yet, but. . . if that’s what Wei Ying wants, if that’s the way he can have him, then—
“I’d be happy to.”
“So polite, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying cooes. He unties his messy bun, sliding the red hair tie around his wrist. “What do you want to do?”
“Anything you want.”
Wei Ying laughs, “Anything I want? Are you sure? I’m nonrefundable!”
“Alright then.” Wei Ying smiles as he begins to unbutton Lan Zhan’s shirt. Right away, he leaves a bruising kiss on his collarbone. The feeling shoots through Lan Wangji’s whole body, and he makes the smallest of sounds, foreign in his mouth. It makes Wei Ying hum in appreciation, sharp eyes focusing on where he’s just kissed Lan Wangji, like he’s taking notes. Wei Ying tugs at his collar, visibly frustrated at Lan Wangji’s unnecessary layers of clothing. “Let’s take all this off first.”
In the beginning, Wei Ying laughs all the time. He doesn’t mock Lan Wangji’s inexperience—their inexperience—but rather finds joy and amusement in it. It’s like a game, like he’s having the fun he promised. When they find their footing though, he grows somewhat more solemn. Wei Ying’s touch is scalding hot, rendering Lan Wangji more pliant than he’s ever been. It clings to him, almost desperate to have something, or someone to hold. Scared to let go. It mirrors the way Lan Wangji’s hands never leave the contact of Wei Ying’s skin if he can help it.
It’s quick and messy, but good enough. Good enough that later, Lan Wangji finds himself taking Wei Ying by the wrist and pushing him onto his bed for more.
It's nothing like Lan Wangji wanted it to be, nothing he wanted to start with.
But, it's something.
At five sharp, Lan Wangji wakes up more relaxed than he’s felt in years.
They’d fallen into bed last night, after it all, and Lan Wangji had hoped he could listen to Wei Ying talk some more; in the end, he isn’t sure which one of them had fallen asleep first.
Lan Wangji rolls onto his back. He already knows, but still, he takes some time before looking to the other side of the bed. He glances across the rumpled bed sheets and, as expected, it’s empty. Lan Wangji lays his hand where Wei Ying was lying next to him, just a few hours earlier. It’s cold. He must have left hours ago.
Lan Wangji listens. The apartment is silent; that silence that eats at his soul.
He takes a breath. Sighing, Lan Wangji gets out of bed. Surely, Wei Ying wouldn’t leave like this, without saying anything?
But after all, as much as he would like to, as much as he’s learned from the time they spent together, Lan Wangji doesn’t know him.
He dreads finding the emptiness and silence of the living room again, but—
Lan Wangji’s heart launches to his throat when he catches a hint of color in the kitchen. Forgetting all decorum—who is it for, anyway?—Lan Wangji runs to it.
Wei Ying’s gone, but not without a word. He’s stamped one of Lan Wangji’s bunny-shaped post-its on the fridge. His fingers hover over it, deciding against taking off this remnant of Wei Ying’s presence. On it, Lan Wangji reads, “Thank you for last night. If you want, let’s try to last longer next time? ;p” and a WeChat ID. Lan Wangji rereads the message several times, ears flushing, blinking at it slowly.
Even though he’s the one standing at Lan Wangji’s door, Wei Ying looks surprised to see him.
“Wow, Lan Zhan,” he says, the corners of his mouth turned up into a grin. “Honestly, I didn’t think you’d call back.” Wei Ying shamelessly wiggles his eyebrows. “Was it really that good?”
Even if it hadn’t been, how could I not? Just hearing your voice would be enough.
“Since you invited me over again, I’m gonna assume that it was at least decent—that, or you’re really desperate,” Wei Ying jokes. He produces a glittery pack of what Lan Wangji assumes are condoms, and a fancy bottle from his bag. “Are you gonna let me in?”
Horror creeping up his spine, Lan Wangji grabs Wei Ying by the collar and drags him inside. “Wei Ying!” He sweeps a frantic look around the hallway, but thankfully, no one’s there.
As he closes the door and heaves out a quiet sigh, Wei Ying readjusts his shirt and displays the fakest sheepish smile Lan Wangji has ever seen. “Haha, my bad.”
It’s been only five days since they last saw each other, but—sometimes Lan Wangji swears he can still feel what Wei Ying’s touch had felt like. The press of his own fingers on Wei Ying’s skin, the warmth, the whispers. He’s missed it, missed all of him. After having a taste of Wei Ying, Lan Wangji finds his loneliness unbearable; he needs noise, needs Wei Ying to create the silence in between.
This time, Lan Wangji kisses him first. He makes it soft, because that’s what he wants, what he craves. But as his hands move up to feel Wei Ying’s physical presence, Wei Ying’s tongue brushes his lips, and he lets go of any restraint, allowing himself to be lost to it.
“Lan Zhan, if you’re horny you need to tell me. You can’t just sit there and stare.”
“First, it’s weird. Second, you’re hot. Yes, it’s distracting. How can I notice you’re horny if I’m too busy thinking about how pretty you are? Third, I won’t always pick up on it.” Wei Ying laughs. “I just won’t! You need to look at me in the eye and say, ‘Wei Ying, let’s fuck.’”
He says it in his best Lan Wangji impression. It’s the most unsettling thing Lan Wangji has ever heard, and he barely retains a grimace. “Wei Ying, let’s fuck,” might be the kind of thing Wei Ying would say, but he would not.
“Would Wei Ying like to ‘have some fun’?” he says instead, repeating Wei Ying’s own words. He slides off from the couch until he’s sitting crossed legged on the floor in front of Wei Ying. Their knees brush and, placing his hands on the heat of Wei Ying’s neck, Lan Wangji leans in to kiss him, not entirely giving him everything.
Wei Ying’s flustered reply is only a breath, “You’re terrible at this, but, yes.”
“How come some birds can poop while flying and others don't?”
Lan Wangji’s fingers still over where they’ve been hovering above Wei Ying’s arm.
Lan Wangji doesn’t reply. Certainly his confusion makes for an evident “I don’t know?” answer.
Wei Ying sighs, dissatisfied. He excerpts himself from Lan Wangji’s arm to straddle his hips.
“Since you can’t answer this very important question, round two? I’m bored.”
Barely retaining a fond roll of his eyes, Lan Wangji answers with a light roll of his hips.
Wei Ying gasps, his hand flying to his chest in mock offense. “Lan Zhan! And you’re the one who called me shameless?”
“Who would’ve known you to be like this?” Wei Ying shakes his head, feigning disappointment until—Lan Wangji barely hears his next words over the buzz of pleasure shooting through him when Wei Ying retaliates with a perfectly calculated roll of his own hips. “Do it again, and maybe I’ll kiss you. Not that I want a reason, but.”
They switch things around, this time.
After, Wei Ying lies on the bed besides him, making wide gestures with his hands as he talks and talks and talks, sometimes picking up Lan Wangji’s bunny plush (Wei Ying hadn’t laughed at it, and for that Lan Wangji had felt his love for him only grow) and throwing it up, catching it back.
When it falls off the bed, Wei Ying stands up and leaves the room, coming back with a wet cloth that he uses to clean Lan Wangji up. It’s impossibly slow, and tender, and between Wei Ying casually making conversation to him—he’s talking about how food isn’t real food if there’s no spice in it, “just like life”—and touching him that way, Lan Wangji finds himself enthralled. The sex was good—turns out, it always is, and gets better each time as they learn about themselves and each other—but right now, pampered as he is under Wei Ying’s hands, he thinks this might be his favourite part.
“All done,” Wei Ying says, softer than one might have expected after his rambling, and then his eyes widen with delight. “Lan Zhan, you smiled!” he exclaims.
Lan Zhan realizes that he is; it’s still a small thing, but certainly, it’s bigger than Wei Ying has seen so far. Though the appalling feeling of being known makes the smile fade slightly, his expression remains gentle.
Wei Ying has that teasing smile of his again. One of those Lan Wangji loves the most. “Do you like it, when I take care of you?”
I love it. If we only did this, that would be just fine.
“I think I’d like it too. It’s really too bad I always fall asleep,” Wei Ying admits, and Lan Wangji’s eyes fly up at him. Part of him wished Wei Ying stayed awake, too. The other was glad he hadn’t seen how Lan Wangji took his time, let his touch linger just a tad longer, just to make the skin-to-skin contact last. “You gotta keep me awake next time, alright?”
“Wait, so you mean, you’ve never flirted with anyone before?”
“No,” Lan Wangji replies with a brief shake of his head.
“That’s wild.” Wei Ying whistles. “But people must have flirted with you, right?”
Wei Ying crawls into his space on the bed, trying but failing to look innocent.
“If they did, I didn’t pay attention.”
He leans in closer. “Really? No one?”
Lan Wangji puts his hand on Wei Ying’s chest, and gently pushes him back before he can fall forward and crash on him.
“Well, either they were stupid not to,” Wei Ying says, then sighs as he dramatically falls back onto his back, “Or you’re blind.”
Lan Wangji walks down the stairs of his building with two cups in one hand; one of tea, one of coffee. He doesn’t normally keep coffee, but he picked some up especially at the store the other day.
As soon as he takes a step outside, the chilly bite of late autumn stings his cheeks, and he huddles deeper in his scarf.
Wei Ying’s eyes sparkle when they flick up and see him. He’s playing, so he doesn’t reply, but his smile is enough.
Lan Wangji lets both the hot cups and the music soothe his body and mind.
“This piece was beautiful,” Lan Wangji says when Wei Ying’s done. A passer-by who was also listening leaves a tip, and Wei Ying thanks them profusely. “Perfectly conducted.”
Wei Ying actually looks flushed at the praise, but he waves his flute in acknowledgement, all smiles and appreciative gaze.
“My offer to join the orchestra still stands. I could talk to my brother.”
Again, that flick of a shadow. Perhaps Lan Wangji should stop offering, but he feels like he has to. He wants—he wants to make Wei Ying believe he’s got a place somewhere. Though, really, he doesn’t want Wei Ying to ever leave, either.
“It’s really fine,” Wei Ying says, then ‘ooohs’ when he notices Lan Wangji isn’t holding one, but two cups. He eagerly takes the one handed to him, warming his hands on it. “Lan Zhan! You didn’t have to. But thanks, it’s fucking freezing out here.”
A tone rings, stopping Lan Wangji before he can trick himself into thinking he’s got enough courage to tell Wei Ying that a week between seeing each other was too long. Wei Ying takes his phone out of his pocket to answer the call. Lan Wangji doesn’t like the way his face loses all of its previous contentment as he reads the name on the screen.
“Huh. Sorry, Lan Zhan, I need to take this.”
Whoever’s on the other end talks more than Wei Ying does, which is already strange in itself. Wei Ying seems smaller, paler. Lan Wangji’s stomach twists unpleasantly.
The call is short, but it feels like it lasts a lifetime, in which Lan Wangji sees the world shift around him, unable to move. He wishes there was anything he could do, to make it stop.
“Wei Ying,” he says when Wei Ying hangs up with a long sigh. He puts a hand on Wei Ying’s wrist before he can think more on it. “Are you alright?”
Wei Ying gives him a smile. It’s forced, and if Lan Wangji hadn’t seen him smile so much over the past weeks, he might not have noticed how it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Yes,” he lies, Lan Wangji knows deep down that he does. “It’s fine. Just a job I applied to a while back. I didn’t think they’d ever call, really.”
“Didn’t get it?” Wei Ying interrupts. “Yeah. It’s fine. It was too far anyway.” To Lan Wangji’s relief, some of the light comes back to his smile as he brings the coffee Lan Wangji brought him to his lips. “I’d rather be here.”
“Holy shit. . . I need an asexual one,” Wei Ying whispers as he bends down over one of the plants sitting near the windows, bathed in the sunlight. “Lan Zhan, where did you get this?”
Lan Wangji glances over Wei Ying’s shoulder. He’s pointing to a tiny bunny figurine holding a rainbow flag, hidden between the leaves. It’d been so long that Lan Wangji had all but forgotten it was even there. It’s somewhat discolored from the sun.
“I don’t know,” he replies. “My brother gave it to me.”
“Aw.” Wei Ying sounds genuinely sad. “Sucks, it’s cute.”
“It’s been a few years.” At least ten. “But I could ask him, if you wish.”
“Nah, it’s fine.” Wei Ying shrugs, already onto something else (Lan Wangji’s impressive collection of music sheets.) “I have too much junk at home anyway. Why do you think I can’t let you come over? My place’s a mess. Trust me, you don’t want to see it.”
Oh. Lan Wangji pauses briefly in putting away the now clean cups. Is this why Wei Ying has never offered to switch places? Turning around, Wei Ying notices his pause and slightly furrowed brows.
“What, did you think I lived in the streets?” he laughs, misinterpreting Lan Wangji’s expression. “It’s cramped, nothing like your place. Unworthy of you, really.”
How could it be unworthy of me, if you’re there?
Lan Wangji pictures Wei Ying, with his lively personality and inability to remain in one place, living in such a home; it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s no wonder he spends so much of his time outside, busking around the city.
Lan Wangji lets out a small sigh. If they were closer, he’d offer Wei Ying to stay here with him, for as long as he wishes. But he knows Wei Ying wouldn’t want that.
Wei Ying is babbling again, going through the music sheets and everything else that passes through his mind, like he’s running out of time; time until they fall into bed and, in a blink, he’ll be gone by morning.
“Lan Zhan, do you know what day it is?”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, looking up from his guqin. “Thursday?”
“I do not know.”
Wei Ying grins, clapping his hands together. “It’s my birthday!” Lan Wangji is about to wish him a happy birthday, ask him why he’s spending it here with him and not his family, but Wei Ying puts a finger on his lips. “Do you know what that means?”
“It means. . .” Oh, here’s Wei Ying’s mischievous look. He’s in trouble. “You have to do one thing for me. Anything I want.”
Lan Wangji doesn’t think twice. It doesn’t matter what kind of thing Wei Ying wants. Whatever he’ll ask for, he’ll get. “Alright,” he says, and the joy on Wei Ying’s face both heals and cracks his heart. “What do you want me to do?”
Lan Wangji never could have expected that the first time he would fully realize the extent of his falling in love with Wei Ying would be when asked to bake a cake with him—red velvet, the kind that takes hours.
He isn’t surprised however, when later that evening Wei Ying brings some of it to the bedroom.
Wei Ying sits with him on the bench under the weeping willow.
Having just come back from repetitions for an upcoming concert and seeing that Wei Ying was still playing in front of his building, Lan Wangji had decided to sit and listen for a little while. Though he was exhausted and eager to eat his prepped meal before diving into bed earlier than usual, he’s glad when Wei Ying joins him after packing up.
Wei Ying bites into a sandwich that looks like it’s seen better days.
“Have you not eaten yet?”
“Nah,” Wei Ying says between two mouthfuls. “Forgot you were working, waited for you, took a walk in the park, fell asleep for a while, forgot to eat. But now you’re here! So, I can eat.”
“You fell asleep?” It’s November. It’s chilly today; he could have caught a cold.
“Uh-huh,” Wei Ying says, as if falling asleep on a bench at the doors of winter is a perfectly normal thing to do.
“Do you want to come up for tea?” Lan Wangji asks. Tell me more about your day, and I’ll tell you about mine.
“Yeah!” Wei Ying bumps his shoulder and winks. “And anything else you might want to do.”
Lan Wangji gives a small smile, though his heart sinks a bit.
“Lan Zhan, you need to explain this to me. Sexual attraction is fucking weird. Romantic attraction, believe me, I get it so much it’s gonna kill me. But sexual? I just don’t understand how it works. I really don’t.”
“Wei Ying, you’re—”
“Literally sitting on your dick? I know.”
Lan Wangji has his lips on Wei Ying’s stomach when he’s asked, “Have you been with many people before?”
He frowns, stopping briefly. “Why do you ask? Is this not good?”
“Oh no, no! It’s great, you keep doing—” He waves his hand vaguely. “Whatever you’re doing.”
Wei Ying’s clear disinterest would have wounded his ego if he didn’t understand how Wei Ying sometimes considers sex; how it’s about the feeling he gets from it, and the person he’s sharing that feeling with. Lan Wangji knows it isn't against him, and there can be times when Wei Ying's numerous thoughts make quick work of distracting him. Between two kisses, Lan Wangji replies, “I have not.”
You were my first. My first everything.
“Huh. I kind of guessed so.”
Lan Wangji stills. Is he supposed to take this as an offense, or—
Wei Ying seems to notice his reaction, and hurriedly adds, “Which is fine! I haven’t been either, there’s no shame in it! Like, who cares? I was just wondering.”
Returning to his ministrations, Lan Wangji goes a bit lower, right under the belly button. Wei Ying shivers, and a small noise escapes his mouth.
“Hey, Lan Zhan. What’s your favourite animal?”
Perhaps someone else would have sent Wei Ying a look that says, “Do you really want to talk about this now?” Lan Wangji, however, fully stops. He straightens up, sitting between Wei Ying’s legs.
Wei Ying whines at the loss of Lan Wangji’s mouth on him, but doesn’t ask him to keep going. He smiles, and his eyes shine with delight when Lan Wangji tucks a lock of his own hair behind his ear, and gives a tiny smile back.
“Rabbits,” he says.
Wei Ying glances to the lonely white rabbit plushie at the other end of the bed. “Would never have guessed,” he laughs.
Lan Wangji feels he should ask something back. He’s not used to this sort of talk. “What are yours?”
“I think donkeys are funny.”
Lan Wangji raises an eyebrow, to which Wei Ying shrugs. Seeing Lan Wangji still staring at him impassively, he begins to laugh. He extends his arm as far as it can go, and pokes Lan Wangji in the shoulder.
“Okay. What’s the drunkest you’ve ever been?”
“I’ve never been drunk before.”
Wei Ying gasps. “Holy shit, Lan Zhan! That can’t be right. Next time, remind me to bring something. We’ll get drunk together!”
“What the fuck. Should I go right now? The shop’s still open. I’ve got to see this. Lan Zhan, get off, important matters are at hand—did you just roll your eyes at me?”
Lan Wangji shuts him up with a kiss, right where he left off.
They’re having their usual tea and coffee when Wei Ying’s phone rings. The voice in the speaker is so loud that Wei Ying has to put the phone away from his ear. Lan Wangji can hear almost everything the caller is saying. Something about jiě jie wanting to see him more. Wei Ying looks impossibly sad all of a sudden.
“—do you want [...] her cry again? Get your ass [...] back to Yunmeng, Wei [...]”
“Maybe next month. I’ve—got some things to do.”
“You [...] come six months ago already, you asshole!”
The conversation follows a similar road for a while.
When two long minutes have already passed, Wei Ying smiles at Lan Wangji awkwardly. It’s a pause too long for the person on the other side.
“Are you with that friend of yours again?” the voice says, even louder. “If you want to fuck, I don’t care, just don’t do it because you feel you have to? And fucking use a condom.”
The impossible happens: Wei Ying turns a brand new shade of red, matching Lan Wangji’s perfectly.
Wei Ying laughs nervously. “AlrightthatsenoughbyeJiangCheng.”
He hangs up, and gives Lan Wangji an apologetic look.
“Sorry, that was my brother. I told you about him, right?”
Yes, Lan Wangji recalls. Wei Ying always sounds sad when he mentions his brother.
“Don't mind him. We're both ace, but I love the idea of sex—haha, Lan Zhan! I can’t believe you didn’t notice—while Jiang Cheng. . . let’s say that even if his childhood crush asked him to, he still wouldn’t be up for it. He gets that we’re different on that point, but I’d never sought it out before, so he. . . what the hell, worries, I guess?” Lan Wangji gives him a questioning look. “That I'm forcing myself, or whatever.”
Wei Ying swirls the spoon in his cup. He looks thoughtful, perhaps a little lost, a little confused. “I didn't think he’d care,” he says, so quietly Lan Wangji barely hears him.
“What? No!” Wei Ying laughs. He reaches for Lan Zhan’s hands across the kitchen island. The pull to squeeze back, satisfy the mere need to press his own touch into him is strong, but Lan Wangji resists it. “Am I not the one who sought you out? I want this, Lan Zhan. I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t.”
The dread that had slowly been building up in Lan Wangji’s throat fades. “Mn.”
“Don’t take it the wrong way, I’m really just having sex with you because you’re the one I want to do it with; not because I find you hot.”
Wei Ying sounds a little sheepish. Lan Wangji blinks slowly at him. “I understand.”
Wei Ying’s brows furrow. “You do?”
Wei Ying is still staring. His fingers tap a random rhythm on Lan Wangji’s hand, waiting.
“I didn’t feel that way about you, either.” Wei Ying’s mouth forms an ‘Oh’ shape, but no sound comes out. Until I fell in love with you. Until I got to truly know you. “Until later.”
Wei Ying’s mouth returns to its usual smile. His eyes are crinkled at the corners, but Lan Wangji likes to believe he knows him well enough by now to tell this innocence is no more than an act; sure enough, his eyes narrow naughtily, retaining that childish edge of playfulness.
“You are very hot though.”
Lan Wangji’s ears burn.
“Wei Ying is handsome, too.”
“I’m really just having sex with you because you’re the one I want to do it with.”
Lan Wangji repeats Wei Ying’s words in his head. Because you’re the one I want to do it with. With him, not anyone else. I’ve never sought it out before. As he looks at Wei Ying playing his flute, notebook open in his lap and pen hovering over the pages, Lan Wangji wonders why.
Perhaps, it all comes down to why they fell into each other’s arms in the first place; in Wei Ying, he’s always seen the mirror of his own loneliness.
Lan Wangji fears that when Wei Ying won’t feel lonely anymore, or grow tired of him, he’ll leave.
When he’s noticed from across the street, Wei Ying smiles radiantly at him. Lan Wangji pushes that fear away. He’ll let it tear him apart when it comes.
Lan Wangji notices something's off the moment Wei Ying steps inside his apartment. There's a weariness about him that Lan Wangji usually only catches glimpses of under the shimmering surface of his smile. He looks more disheveled that usual; his hair is an untied mess and his shirt is inside out.
“Wei Ying?” he asks, warily.
Wei Ying looks like he wants to say something, swaying on his feet at the threshold. In the end, he seems to change his mind; he shakes his head, pushes Lan Wangji against the wall, and kisses him without a word instead. There’s a hopelessness to it that isn’t quite the same as what Lan Wangji is used to. What can he do but surrender to it, if it eases whatever burdens his Wei Ying?
That day, Lan Wangji fucks him slowly.
Wei Ying's eyes are brimming with tears. Lan Wangji pauses instantly, cold sweat running up his back. He hates this, doesn’t want to do it this way. He loves it when Wei Ying smiles and laughs, when he makes all this fun; when he makes sense of this new form of attraction that Lan Wangji is still trying to figure out.
“Wei Ying, are you alright? Am I—” Worry twists his gut, and his voice with it. “Am I hurting you? I can stop, do you—”
The way Wei Ying grabs his arm and hip almost hurts. “No! No, you're not, don't stop, Lan Zhan, don't mind me—”
Don't mind you? How could Lan Wangji ever not mind him? Not mind his desperate hold on him, not mind his tears, not mind the way his smile looks so fake?
He wants to do more. He wants to be by Wei Ying’s side in so many more ways than this. But, that’s not something he’s allowed to do.
“Please, Lan Zhan, keep going.”
Lan Wangji gulps, follows Wei Ying’s wishes until Wei Ying finds his release, but his heart never quite leaves his throat. When he collapses too, and Wei Ying thanks him in a multitude of murmurs, clinging to him like he’s afraid to disappear, Lan Wangji hides his own tears in his pillow, clinging back just as tightly. He’s afraid if he were to let go, not only would he disappear, but Wei Ying would, too.
Still, he eventually leaves the warmth of the bed to draw a bath, in which he coaxes Wei Ying gently. He sits naked next to it, listening to Wei Ying try to fill that heavy silence with his usual chattering. But he never finishes his thoughts, never meets Lan Wangji’s eyes.
Lan Wangji wants to touch and soothe him, but he doesn’t allow himself to, squeezing his hands together until they hurt.
Cleaned up and back in bed, Wei Ying smiles drowsily. He cracks a joke, and though it isn’t one of his best, the mere fact that he’s now enough in a mood to make one appeases Lan Wangji somewhat, and he gives a small smile back. He helped—that’s all that matters.
But, as usual, Wei Ying is gone the next morning.
When Lan Wangji texts him asking if he’s alright, if he wants to talk, no response comes through.
February, 17th to 21st
Worry twists Lan Wangji from the inside out, but not for the sex they had last night. Wei Ying had wanted it, and he’d wanted to help him.
He’s worried for Wei Ying.
Lan Wangji sends Wei Ying two messages a day; one in the morning, one in the evening. If it wasn’t for his self-control, he would send more, as many as are needed for Wei Ying to say something. However, it’s clear Wei Ying needs time. His phone had run out of battery that night, and he hadn’t bothered to charge it. Perhaps, he still hadn’t.
Thus, the next few days are agony. Lan Wangji is so worried he misses the start of his solo at the orchestra, earning him a gentle, concerned scolding from his uncle, and an attempt to get him to share his thoughts. How could he, though? What would he tell Uncle? I’ve been looking at the busker down the street from the bench under the weeping willow—I’m in love with him, but he doesn’t love me back, so I’ve been fucking him for the past six months? I’ve broken every rule you’ve taught us?
He would talk to Xichen, if he was here. Maybe he would understand.
When Lan Wangji’s phone lights up with a message, he loses his perfectly coiled self-restraint and all but runs to where he’s left it to charge on the kitchen island.
A terrifying mix of relief and apprehension fills him when he reads that the text is indeed from Wei Ying. He opens it with trembling fingers.
From: Wei Ying
Lan Zhan! I’m sorry, I’ve been busy. You up for some fun soon?
Lan Wangji exhales.
He isn’t, actually. He doesn’t care about fun. There’s only one thing he wants, and it’s knowing whether Wei Ying’s alright. But, Wei Ying won’t be honest over the phone. He won’t be face to face either, but at least—at least when he sees him, Lan Wangji likes to think that he can read him well enough by now to tell.
To: Wei Ying
A quiet gasp escapes Lan Wangji’s mouth when he opens his eyes. He feels instantly that someone is wrapped around him, snoring lightly. His breath catches in his throat. Wei Ying’s not gone. He’s lying there, in a deep sleep, drooling a bit on Lan Wangji’s chest.
The sun hits him just right, highlighting his hair, the curve of his nose. He’s so warm. So close. Lan Wangji can hear, feel his own heart beating. It goes perhaps a little too fast. Tentatively, he swipes a lock of Wei Ying’s hair away from his face.
Lan Wangji spends a good quarter of an hour watching him, not daring to close his arms around him. Feeling the rise and fall of his chest against his side, he listens to the little sounds Wei Ying makes in his sleep, caressing his arm, afraid that feeling him too much will wake him.
They didn't talk as much as Lan Wangji would have liked last night. If nothing else, Wei Ying is stubborn. Whatever burdens him, he prefers to hide it behind a smile. What had happened the other night. . . Lan Wangji is sure it will not happen again.
This morning, Wei Ying looks—a little bit of a mess, but more than anything, at peace.
Lan Wangji wants it to last.
He excerpts himself from the bed slowly; Wei Ying is so deeply asleep that he doesn’t notice, but lets out a small whine.
Lan Wangji sets the table, something he only ever does for himself, then proceeds to make breakfast, humming as he tries to quiet down his happiness at Wei Ying’s mere presence. He allows himself to hope—to hope that Wei Ying made the choice to stay.
Soon enough, there’s a muffled curse from the bedroom, and the panicky sounds of someone stumbling out of bed.
Lan Wangji slides the first run of scallion pancakes on the plates.
Not two minutes later, Wei Ying walks in already dressed, looking a little disheveled. “I'm sorry, Lan Zhan, I forgot to set my alarm,” he jabbers. “I'm going now, I'm—”
His eyes fall on the two plates on the table. Disbelief paints itself across his face, and he stammers in his steps.
“Lan Zhan. . . what’s this?”
Lan Wangji looks at him, and he makes the effort to quirk an eyebrow humorously. “Breakfast.”
Oh, indeed. Lan Wangji hides his hurt behind a nod towards the empty chair, and turns away to flip the pancakes. He shouldn’t have hoped. He knows, of course. He knows Wei Ying wants nothing more than what they already have. He doesn’t feel the same way.
But, Lan Wangji wants him to feel like he’s got a place to go, and for something else than just a mindless fuck. He realizes, of course, that there’s a scenario in which this scares Wei Ying away but—
He has to try.
Wei Ying sits at the table. He looks at the food hungrily; the scallion pancakes, loquats from the market that Lan Wangji’s brother had brought, breakfast tea. Not Wei Ying’s typical breakfast; which is easy since, as Lan Wangji one day learned, he doesn’t have anything besides a black coffee that he hates. Lan Wangji thought Wei Ying might enjoy something different.
“Why did you do this?”
Because I love you, I want to help you, I want to be there for you. You can talk to me, tell me anything, and I will listen.
“You didn’t eat last night.”
Wei Ying’s stomach growls to confirm it. “It’s really fine—” He laughs as Lan Wangji pushes the plate closer towards him.
Wei Ying stares from the plate to Lan Wangji’s resolute face.
“You’re right.” He sighs, and the fragility of his smile might very well break Lan Wangji’s heart. “I’m hungry.”
“Lan Zhan. . .” Wei Ying hesitates, which isn’t like him. He usually speaks before he thinks, and apologizes later. Not that he ever has to apologize to Lan Wangji. “Have you heard of Wei Wuxian?”
Lan Wangji sets down his chopsticks, indulging in the break from Wei Ying’s usual choice of spicy dishes. Usually, he’d say, No talking while you eat, but. For this, he has to make an exception. It’s all he ever really does with Wei Ying.
Wei Ying is looking at him tentatively, but there’s a clear determination in his eyes.
Lan Wangji had often wondered when this would come up, if it ever would. He never pressed the issue for Wei Ying’s sake, and though he knows how meaningful it is for Wei Ying to breach the subject, Lan Wangji cannot help feeling moved over this act of trust. No more secrets, then.
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Ying drops his chopsticks. In any other circumstance, the splash of shock on his face would’ve been funny. Lan Wangji, however, has never been more serious.
“What? What do you mean, yes?” To Lan Wangji’s horror, Wei Ying is climbing the chair, feet on the seat, leaning towards him over their food with sharp eyes. “Lan Zhan, are you fucking with me?”
Lan Wangji shakes his head. With the tip of his fingers, he pushes Wei Ying back on his chair, and to his relief, Wei Ying returns to a proper sitting position.
“All this time, you’ve known who I am?” he asks, flabbergasted.
Lan Wangji shakes his head again. “Not all this time.”
“Since when, then?”
“After the phone call.”
“Ah, the phone call.”
Lan Wangji had his suspicions from the moment Wei Ying told him his name; the coincidence with the infamous flutist Wei Wuxian from Yunmeng was too big to ignore, but he hadn’t wanted to make assumptions.
When Wei Ying was rejected from a job across the country so rudely, Lan Wangji had received a confirmation he would rather have avoided, if only to spare Wei Ying more pain.
Wei Ying gapes at him. Impassive as ever, Lan Wangji counts in his head; three. . . two. . . one.
“But, wait a second! You’ve known, and you didn’t say anything? You still—offered to mention me to Gusu Lan? If you know, it means they know who I am, too. Why would you do that? Wait. I can’t believe you! Lan Zhan, you little—why didn’t you tell me?”
Lan Wangji extends his hand over the table to put his fingers over Wei Ying’s lips, stopping his ramblings.
“I think what happened shouldn’t have impacted your career,” Lan Wangji explains calmly. “I believe if you want to join the Gusu Lan Orchestra, you should be given the chance.”
Lan Wangji pauses, taking his hand away, but still reaching out.
“I didn’t tell you, because you didn’t want me to know. You wanted me to know Wei Ying.”
It seems he’s truly rendered Wei Ying speechless. Wei Ying stares at him with wide eyes. Eventually, he closes Lan Wangji’s hand into a fist with his own, and rests his forehead against them, face hidden away.
But, when Wei Ying says his name, Lan Wangji hears the smile in his voice.
“Fuck, Lan Zhan.”
Wei Ying collapses on top of him. A moment later, he tucks his head under Lan Wangji’s chin with a soft, content sigh. The all-too familiar knot rises up to Lan Wangji’s throat, lodging itself there. Wei Ying’s skin is scalding hot, a burn so sweet that Lan Wangji never wants to stop feeling it.
He’s scared if he continues, he’ll drown.
I can’t do this, Lan Wangji thinks, I can’t do just this anymore.
Lan Wangji leaves for a month. His orchestra has concerts scheduled from Lanling to Qinghe. He thinks that, perhaps, going away for a little while is for the best.
He doesn't last a week before he misses Wei Ying. He aches for him, expects to see him at the hotel's door, hear his music from the window calling him down. But he's never there.
Lan Wangji is—and he hates to admit it—miserable.
“Wangji,” his brother asks gently one evening, as they walk the streets of Qinghe under the starlit sky. “Who do you miss so much? Even when you played tonight, you looked so sad.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, and Lan Xichen leans towards him, eyebrows high in curiosity, asking a silent question.
The most talented man I've ever met. The one I left my heart with, back home.
“The busker down the street.”
“Oh,” Lan Xichen says, gazing at him so knowingly Lan Wangji has to avert his eyes. “Well, perhaps you would miss this Wei Ying less, if you told me about him?”
It won’t make him miss Wei Ying less, but it might shift the weight of his absence into something lighter. It's ridiculous to feel like this, Lan Wangji thinks, when Wei Ying is on the other side of his phone, messaging him nonsense all through the day, uncaring of whether or not he replies.
Lan Wangji spills it all out.
Their instruments merge together beautifully.
It’s surprising, really, that they haven’t played together before. It comes unexpectedly; Lan Wangji returns home from his trip, cello on his back, to Wei Ying waiting for him by the building’s entrance. He’s crouched on the ground, playing a tune on his flute to a child with drying tears on their face while a supervisor and several other kids look on.
Lan Wangji exhales a shaking breath. He's missed him. He's missed him more than anything. Over the past few days, no amount of talking about Wei Ying to his brother compares to the feeling of seeing him again, hearing the familiar sound of his flute drifting to his ears.
When Wei Ying notices him approaching, he pauses and makes grand gestures, inviting him forward. He's glowing with happiness, vibrating like he’s about to jump to his feet and run to him, but the music and curious children keep him in place. They all turn and see Lan Wangji, their round eyes immediately latching onto the large case on his back.
Lan Wangji takes a few steps towards them. Getting close enough, he reads under the crying child’s name tag: Wen Yuan, Qishan Orphanage.
Not only the children, but also Wei Ying, have stars in their eyes as he takes off his case and carefully sets down his cello.
Wei Ying starts a popular tune, and Lan Wangji follows.
He feels alive.
“Did you see that kid’s face!” Wei Ying exclaims as they walk up the stairs to Lan Wangji’s apartment.
“Mn.” He did. It felt better, more satisfying, than playing for hundreds of individuals in costumes and fancy dresses.
Lan Wangji slows down a bit, watching Wei Ying’s back advance in the stairwell.
“Wei Ying,” he says suddenly, those words that have been eating at him for a whole month tumbling out. “I missed you.”
Wei Ying freezes on the steps. “I missed you, too,” he replies, glancing over his shoulder. Lan Wangji grasps at the softness with which he says it, and holds it close to his heart.
Up the steps Wei Ying goes again, leaving the moment behind him. Lan Wangji follows suit, eyes cast down.
“I can’t believe that was the first time I heard you play,” Wei Ying continues. “You play so wonderfully, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji’s always known he’s talented, but the compliment coming from Wei Ying, an equally talented musician, makes it all the more special. “Thank you, Wei Ying,” he replies softly.
As they enter, Wei Ying makes a beeline for the guqin by the window.
“So, when do I get to hear you play this?”
“You never asked.”
Wei Ying grins, fingertips strumming a fast, light rhythm on the instrument. “Well I’m asking, now.”
As he sets down his cello in its usual place, Lan Wangji gazes at the guqin, then at Wei Ying, then at his notebook left on the low table.
He’s still filled with the exhilaration of playing with Wei Ying, the echoes of Wei Ying’s laughter, and soon the uncertainty that will come with revealing his feelings.
Will there ever be a better time?
Lan Wangji reaches for the notebook. Though he doesn’t need it, he opens it.
The contents of his heart are spilled onto the pages, months upon months of work, sitting under the weeping willow, listening to Wei Ying play.
Lan Wangji’s vision clears. Wei Ying is right in his face.
He takes the guqin and sits at the low table.
In a flash and a clap, Wei Ying is sitting before him, elbows on the table and head cupped between his hands.
Distracting. Lan Wangji resolutely looks down at the strings and, steadying himself, begins to play.
He could play the melody blind. He’s composed it, tweaked it, tested it, again and again over the past several months. It never feels perfect enough, but—perhaps, this is the closest to perfect it can be for now. Until, he hopes, Wei Ying’s flute joins it.
“What’s this piece?” Wei Ying asks in a soft voice. He seems. . . relaxed, like the music is soothing him, and he doesn’t dare speak too loud.
“You wrote it?”
Then, Wei Ying falls silent again, his silence; the one Lan Wangji loves so much. He moves his head slowly along with the song, even closes his eyes to listen better. Lan Wangji watches him freely, feels that urge to touch him, feel him, learn the lines of his face in a way taking him to bed doesn’t.
At the same time, he wants that, too. His needs are numerous: the need to hold; to listen; to caress; to kiss; to hear his name spilled again and again from Wei Ying’s lips as he makes love to him. He wants all of it. All of Wei Ying, all that Wei Ying would ask him to do, all that Wei Ying is willing to give him.
More than that, he wants it all done with Wei Ying’s hand on his chest—I love you’s spelled out to him through the heartbeats.
What he wants should be simple, but it feels unattainable. Lan Wangji knows Wei Ying’s hands like his own, and he might as well be crushed under the weight of how much he wants to bring them together.
But his fingers remain glued to the strings; the song isn’t over yet.
As it reaches its end, Wei Ying’s eyes open slowly, crinkled at the corners with a smile that Lan Wangji wants to carry with him wherever he goes. He holds his breath.
“It’s really good, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying says earnestly, then taps his nose. “It sounds special. What inspired you?”
“I wrote it for the person I love.”
“Oh.” Wei Ying’s smile dims almost imperceptibly, and he twists his own fingers as he looks down at the guqin. “You must really love them.”
It’s you, Lan Wangji wants to say, to scream. I wrote it for you.
It takes too long for him to say what’s in his heart; Wei Ying has already moved on, standing up quickly before their eyes can meet again.
Sighing, Lan Wangji plays another song, faintly enough that he can still hear Wei Ying’s babbling over the music.
“Did you know, you were my first in everything?” Wei Ying says with a small laugh. “Except kissing. I did kiss a few people. Played a lot of spin-the-bottle in school.”
Lan Wangji’s fingers pause, the music cut short.
Wei Ying had mentioned it offhandedly before, but he’s being serious now, and the acknowledgement makes Lan Wangji look up attentively.
He doesn’t waver as he says, “You were mine, too.”
Wei Ying blinks. “Was I? Ah, Lan Zhan, look at us! It’s so cute! Though, it kind of explains why the first times kinda sucked. What, it’s true! I don’t mean it in a bad way. Surely, you’ve noticed how much better we are at it now. But—I’m flattered to be your first.” A wiggle of his eyebrows. He smiles, brings a glass of water to his lips. “I hope I lived up to the expectation.”
“It couldn’t have been anyone but you.”
Wei Ying chokes on the water. “Lan Zhan! Don’t say things like that. Who knows what I might let you do to me?”
Kiss you, hold you, tell you I love you.
“Anything you want,” Lan Wangji says.
“What about everything I’d want to do to you?”
Kiss me, hold me, tell me you love me.
Wei Ying’s tone is playful. So is the way he straddles Lan Wangji’s lap and takes off his clothes. Lan Wangji can tell, however, that much like his own, his heart isn’t entirely in it. Like a routine. Is he growing tired? Does he think Lan Wangji is growing tired?
He knows he should say something. Perhaps even put an end to this, but; one more time, he tells himself, like he did a month ago, and the day before, and the day before that, let us have this one more time.
This: Wei Ying’s warmth, his mere presence, reminding Lan Wangji of his own. That, perhaps he’s not just a ghost trying to reach for the sun; reaching for something he isn’t supposed to touch.
After, Wei Ying tucks him into bed. Lan Wangji is too out of it to claw his way out of sleep’s embrace, but he swears that, as Wei Ying departs, he leaves his heart at the door.
Wei Ying doesn’t show up down the street for the next two weeks.
He replies to Lan Wangji’s texts like nothing’s wrong, but doesn’t ask once to come over. He says he’s busy somewhere else, that he doesn’t want to impinge on Lan Wangji’s time when he’s just returned home from concerts.
Lan Wangji doesn’t know how to tell Wei Ying that, without him around to light up the room, his home doesn’t feel like one.
Along with his heartache, Lan Wangji is like a man in the desert, out of water. His skin feels cold without Wei Ying’s touch, and the silence has never been heavier. It needs Wei Ying’s voice and music to make it quiet.
It’s that scene again.
Wei Ying stands at the threshold. This time, his eyes are already red. He looks vulnerable in ways Lan Wangji knows he doesn’t usually allow others to see.
He knows what Wei Ying’s here for. He’s known since he received his text. He said yes, only to see him. He braces himself for it, for the moment Wei Ying takes a step in to kiss him, and take him to bed. The moment when, for the first time, Lan Wangji doesn’t want to fuck him like it doesn’t mean anything and will tell Wei Ying, “no.”
This isn’t, however, the Wei Ying Lan Wangji had expected to see.
He seems. . . almost apprehensive. Dread settles tightly in Lan Wangji’s stomach. Has someone hurt him? Why does he look so scared?
“Wei Ying, you—”
“Can you just hold me tonight?” Wei Ying says, blurts out in a breath. He levels with Lan Wangji’s eyes. He tries to keep his head high and, oh. Lan Wangji recognizes it; it’s the face of one who expects rejection, and prepares to accept it, as best they can. But Wei Ying doesn’t look like he can accept it at all. “Can you, Lan Zhan? Just hold me?”
Lan Wangji is frozen; his blood thumps in his ears. If Wei Ying needs comfort, why not fuck until he forgets it all, like they’ve done before? Isn’t Lan Wangji nothing more to him than the man who makes love to him?
“It’s alright, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying’s voice suddenly rings. It’s hurt, and far away. “You don’t have to say anything. I’ll go.”
Lan Wangji grabs his wrist as he makes to turn. His eyes are somehow redder; he looks on the verge of fresh tears.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, choking on his name. He tries—he tries so hard to keep his composure, but enough of it crumbles that he knows how he sounds; relieved, happy, desperate, all at once.
Lan Wangji gently pulls a wide-eyed Wei Ying inside. He closes the door and, in an instant, wraps his arms around him. Lan Wangji hears him heave out a long, shaky breath. His knees seem to shake, unstable against Lan Wangji’s legs.
Lan Wangji doesn’t think twice; he’s strong, so he picks Wei Ying up.
Wei Ying yelps, and then as he realizes what Lan Wangji is doing, carrying him across the apartment to the bedroom, begins to laugh. Lan Wangji sits him down onto the sheets gently and helps him out of his coat, discarding it to the side. He doesn’t bother with more. He sits, embraces Wei Ying, and then lays the both of them down onto the mattress.
Lan Wangji simply holds him, like Wei Ying asked. He caresses his hair, peppers the top of his head with the lightest of kisses.
His song escapes him, a low, soothing hum over the sound of Wei Ying’s breathing.
For once, Wei Ying doesn’t say anything, but eventually his silent tears subdue to a smile, embedded against Lan Wangji’s skin.
Wei Ying snores. It's no more than a quiet rumble, but as Lan Wangji wakes and recognizes where the sound is coming from, he smiles.
His arms are full of Wei Ying. His face is pressed against his chest, and Wei Ying's breath blows gently over his skin.
It's still deep into the night. The alarm clock on the bedside table reads three in the morning, and the moon is still high in the clear night sky. Its rays fall onto the bed through the window, a blanket of white light.
There's something off, Lan Wangji realizes, but not something that makes him tense. It's quiet. No noise comes from the street below, and Lan Wangji holds his breath. Then—Wei Ying snores again, and Lan Wangji exhales.
Like he's felt it, Wei Ying somehow manages to edge closer, making small, incoherent noises.
Lan Wangji’s hand finds the back of Wei Ying's head, and as he adjusts him into a more comfortable position to better support him, Wei Ying lets out another noise.
“Lan Zhan. . .” he mumbles in protest, and a moment later, he's stubbornly pressed to Lan Wangji once more, not a inch of space left between them, even in sleep.
Lan Wangji fears that, should he give in to his emotions, he would wake Wei Ying fully.
Lan Wangji wipes at his eyes. He doesn't often wake up at this hour, but he usually dreads it when he does. Each time, the complete and suffocating silence of the night would make him choke on a sob.
But tonight, his tears aren't a product of the weight of his loneliness.
This isn’t the silence that crushes his heart; this is the quiet that soothes his soul.
Wei Ying snores lightly again; it might be the most beautiful, most comforting sound Lan Wangji has ever heard.
When Lan Wangji wakes properly, it’s past five, and Wei Ying is still there.
He’s got his head on the other pillow, facing him. His eyes are closed, and his chest heaves in a slow, peaceful rhythm. Between them, their hands are joined, clinging to each other in the loose grip of sleep.
There’s no hesitation this time, no changing his mind; Lan Wangji edges closer, wraps an arm around Wei Ying, and holds him tight.
Wei Ying mumbles something in his sleep, but doesn’t quite wake. Still, he nudges his head under Lan Wangji’s neck. Lan Wangji feels it—his own heartbeat through the gentle pressure of Wei Ying’s forehead against his skin. Steady and, strangely, reassuring. For the longest time, it used to scare him.
Lan Wangji knows Wei Ying is awake when he feels a slight hitch in his breath, then a tender kiss that almost makes Lan Wangji shiver in delight.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying’s sleepy voice says. He squeezes Lan Wangji’s hand. “Thank you.”
Anything, anytime. I would do it again, though I wish I wouldn’t have to.
Wei Ying parts them, just enough that he can meet Lan Wangji’s eyes. Wei Ying’s are so bright, his smile so wide, Lan Wangji is lost in them, like he’s seeing them for the first time. He wants to tell him. He wants. . . he wants—
Lan Wangji leans forward for a kiss. Wei Ying finds him halfway.
They have shared many kisses over the months, but this one Lan Wangji makes it the most loving he’s ever given. Delicate, like Wei Ying’s lips are made of glass, and oh, if he knows that isn’t true. Still, he kisses him slowly, and when Wei Ying welcomes it, his heart sings.
“The song you said you’ve written for the person you love. . .” Wei Ying says. “He must be very lucky.”
Lan Wangji reaches out, tucks Wei Ying’s stranded hair behind his ear. “Very lucky.”
Wei Ying’s eyes search his, disbelieving but—how joyful is that disbelief. Then, he chuckles, a bright, stunned thing.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. . .” he sighs, and it’s only warmth. “Since when?”
“Since. . .” Lan Wangji pauses. His heart thumps harshly against his ribs. “Since before.”
“Since I heard your music through my window.”
Wei Ying laughs. He sits up, holding his stomach as he looks down at Lan Wangji. Of course, it’s silly, anyone would think so.
“I can’t believe it!” Believe what? That I could love you? “We’re so dumb, Lan Zhan!”
We? Lan Wangji’s lost. “What do you mean?”
“Why do you think I approached you?” Wei Ying pokes a finger on Lan Wangji’s chest. “You think I didn’t notice you, sitting on that bench each week? Why do you think I came back to that specific spot all the time? That spot sucks, Lan Zhan.”
“You noticed me?” Lan Wangji repeats. You came back for me?
“Of course!” Wei Ying sounds more and more excited. If he stood up and started hopping on the bed, Lan Wangji wouldn’t have been surprised. “Of course I did! Lan Zhan, how could I not? I was so curious. A mysterious, handsome man, coming to listen to me all day? Anyone would notice.”
Either people don’t notice me, or they do but don’t like me. Too cold, too quiet. I push them away without meaning to. How could I think someone like you would notice someone like me?
“Not anyone,” Lan Wangji counters earnestly.
Wei Ying’s expression softens. “Alright, maybe not anyone.” He plays absentmindedly with Lan Wangji’s hand, like he’s looking for lost memories there. “But listen, that’s not the point. After a while, it felt like I knew you without knowing you, you know?”
Oh, I know.
“After we first talked, I wanted to be closer to you; touch you, spend time with you—but love you in my head, where I thought it’d be safe.” He pauses, and the gaze he lays on Lan Wangji is unwavering. “I thought it would be enough, but Lan Zhan, I was so wrong.”
Through the burn of his eyes, Lan Wangji closes his fingers on their already joined hands. The mere touch is, as always, exhilarating. He hopes it says enough.
Wei Ying replies with the most radiant of smiles.
“Mn,” he says, teasing, and then, it’s Lan Wangji’s turn to smile.
They wait together on the bench under the weeping willow.
Their knees brushing, shoulders pressed together, sunlight filters through the flowing branches overhead. Wei Ying chatters away, while Lan Wangji listens, an imperceptible yet ever-present smile playing at the edge of his lips as he writes in a brand new notebook. Tucked under it lies a map of Yunmeng.
By their side, one big travel bag each.
On Lan Wangji’s back, his guqin and, in his hand, the soft, warm touch of Wei Ying’s fingers.