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The cultivation gym takes up three floors in a “multi-use live/work/event space” in Elmhurst that stands on the site of what used to be a JC Penney. Its interior is big and open, semi-industrial, with lots of that black rubbery gym floor material, touches of glass and steel, and mirrors. So many mirrors.

Regardless of how Wei Ying feels about the cultivation gym as a whole, he’ll admit that its facilities kick ass. It’s got the normal gym stuff: studios with mirrored walls and gleaming wood floors for yoga and dance classes and some kind of barre, a vast two-level section with state-of-the art cardio machines (including ellipticals that never make that chonk-chonk-chonk noise that you have to pretend you don’t notice when you use older ones), a gauntlet of weight machines that Wei Ying doesn’t understand how to use, an area with those resistance band things that look like swing sets, and a gleaming saltwater pool. It even has one of those stupid VR mirror setups, which Wei Ying has never seen anyone use. And it has a smoothie bar, with cold-pressed something-or-other. The works. 

Then there’s the cultivation-specific stuff: little practice spaces for independent sword work, a big arena for sword work classes, a couple of sealed-off talisman dueling spaces, a long, narrow archery range, and meditation classes that focus on spiritual energy. 

The cultivation facilities are useful. Wei Ying thinks that they kind of justify the ungodly cost of membership. Like, he’s not into it personally, but he understands why people join up. Cultivators want to improve their cultivation, and non-cultivators want to feel badass about working out around cultivators. Same principle as an MMA gym.

Wei Ying’s brother, a strong cultivator in his own right, doesn’t belong to the cultivation gym for its cultivation facilities. No, Jiang Cheng shells out an obscene amount of money to this place on a monthly basis for its basketball courts.

“I’m yearly,” Jiang Cheng corrects absently as they walk through the gym doors. 

“They suckered you in for a year-long contract?” Wei Ying asks.

“It’s much cheaper,” Jiang Cheng sniffs. 

“Can’t be as cheap as paying month-to-month for basketball season and cancelling after,” Wei Ying says. “Not nearly as cheap as the parkour gym.” Ah, the parkour gym. He thinks loving thoughts about it while Jiang Cheng scoffs. Wei Ying loves parkour for the same reason he likes playing soccer with his four-year-old cousins: no rules, just right. He’s going to try to head to the parkour gym after practice. He should probably eat dinner, too, but he can slap peanut butter on bread and call it a sandwich if he gets home late. 

As they near the basketball courts - there are two of them in one giant room, side by side - the tell-tale sneaker squeaks make themselves known. 

Jiang Cheng mutters to himself about reserved practice space and charges forward. Wei Ying doesn’t exactly drag his feet, but he follows at a leisurely pace. 

He’s not here for the cultivation facilities. He’s not here for the non-cultivator facilities, either. He’s here because he loves his brother, he reminds himself, and his brother loves this gym’s stupid basketball rec league more than anything else on earth.

Jiang Cheng is their team’s captain this year. The self-appointed team captain. As well as the team’s self-appointed general manager. He approaches his role in the team and this no-stakes rec league as a whole with single-minded intensity. 

He bullied Wei Ying into joining last year. It was fine. He lost his Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons for several months, but at least he was spending them with Jiang Cheng. Wei Ying participates out of brotherly love. Not enthusiasm. Like, basketball is whatever, it’s fine. It’s not fun like the parkour gym is. He gets to do crazy controlled falls and wall-walks and general anarchy there. Here at the cultivation gym, he… throws an orange rubber ball. Or waits for it to be thrown to him. While kind of jogging. 

Eh, basketball’s not so bad, though. Wei Ying makes it fun for himself. For instance, this year, Jiang Cheng graciously allowed everyone to pick two songs to add to the team’s practice playlist; Wei Ying chose Red Velvet’s Ladies Night and Get’cha Head In The Game from High School Musical. 

They go through quick intros and warm-ups. Su She is gone this year, thank heavens. (Wei Ying got into a hot argument with him last year about why this no-stakes rec league shouldn’t be co-ed; in the end, all the guy could come up with was basically “girls shorter,” which is hilarious because first, even Wei Ying knows that height isn’t the end-all be-all in basketball these days, and second, Su She is five foot seven. The twerp thought he was a point guard, but he wouldn’t pass. He’d try to put up a three and everyone knew to watch him for it. Jiang Cheng ousted him last year after the tenth humiliating turnover - when Jiang Cheng was wide open - in a single game. Which, incidentally, was how Jiang Cheng became the team’s point guard. And also how Jiang Cheng figured out that he could just start acting like team captain until he became team captain.) So now it’s just Jiang Cheng, Wei Ying, and eight straight guys who are slightly less antagonistic than Su She. 


Jiang Cheng, a beacon in all purple, gathers them into a circle. As befits a Jiang Sect cultivator, he’s wearing shiny eggplant-purple shorts and a plum-colored t-shirt. He talks about teamwork and being the best players they can be and beating the other guys.

Everyone else just says their own name and their position. Jiang Cheng already hammered out who plays what and got everyone on the same page. There was a spreadsheet.

At least four of their teammates are familiar faces. Lots of Jiang sect guys. Last year, Jiang Cheng tried to motivate everyone with an unhinged metaphor about treating basketball like a war. He made them all call each other first shidi, second shidi, etc. for a day. Nothing else about the war metaphor stuck, but the nicknames did. 

“Whatever builds camaraderie,” is all Jiang Cheng has to say about this. Wei Ying thinks he likes having an inside joke with the team.

The only two new guys who really stick out for Wei Ying are Jin Zixuan and Ouyang Zizhen. They’re standing right next to one another in the circle. Ouyang Zizhen, the team’s new center, is wearing a maroon t-shirt and maroon shorts. The t-shirt has BALING HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR VARSITY BASKETBALL printed on the front. He looks like an adult, if barely - he still has some of that tall growth spurt gangliness - and seems unselfconscious about wearing his high school basketball gear. “Let’s go, team,” he says happily after introducing himself.

Wei Ying isn’t sure if the outfit of the guy next to Ouyang Zizhen makes Ouyang Zizhen’s lack of self-consciousness more impressive or less. On the one hand, he might feel outclassed, but on the other hand, this guy looks so patently ridiculous that Ouyang Zizhen's shirt is barely a blip on the radar.

Which is to say that Jin Zixuan, as he introduces himself, is wearing Gucci: a light yellow polo shirt with dark yellow trim that has the Gucci logo on it and black shorts with the same trim down the sides. Oh, and the kicker is the kicks: chunky ones that are so artfully ugly that they come back around to just looking utilitarian, except for the Gucci logo emblazoned along the outstep. 

Jin Zixuan seems a little more self-conscious than Ouyang Zizhen, but not about his clothes in particular; it looks like he’s just that way as a person. Like he wants them to think he had to cross the East River to get here. “I play wing. Last year, my team went to semi-semi finals,” he announces proudly in a very American accent. Wei Ying is giving him fifty-fifty odds on being from Manhattan or Flushing. 

Then it’s Wei Ying’s turn. For his part, he’s in black basketball shorts with red trim - Adidas, natch - and a plain black t-shirt, plus some black-and-red basketball-specific Adidas he got just for this season. The same colors he wears for parkour. While he’s technically a member of the Jiang Sect, he feels a little weird about wearing Jiang colors. “I’m Wei Ying. I’ll be your small forward this season. Let’s, uh, have fun,” he says. 

When they break the circle to actually play, Wei Ying notices with great delight that the back of Ouyang Zizhen's shirt reads BALING HIGH: WE BAL OUT. 

Like last year, they start practice with a short five-on-five game. Jiang Cheng has plans, Wei Ying knows. He tracks players’ strengths and weaknesses in a little notebook. “Accuracy,” he mumbles to himself during a water break. “Power.”

Their other teammates, generally, are not as insane as Jiang Cheng, but they love playing no-stakes competitive basketball just as much, so Wei Ying resolves not to downplay his skills too much this year. Because, here’s the thing: Wei Ying is actually kind of good at basketball. His aim is better than Jiang Cheng’s, and his parkour stuff gives him a lot of explosive power. He tries not to be one of the best players on the team, though. He’s doing his job as long as he’s guarding someone. Experience has taught him that if he shows up Jiang Cheng, he risks setting off a jealous tantrum. He’d rather avoid that if he can. Keep everything on an even keel. Story of his life, pretty much. 

Anyway, it’s all worth it for Get’cha Head In The Game. When it plays for the first time, he really thinks that Jiang Cheng is going to try to throttle him. 

“What? It’s a basketball movie,” he calls from across the court. 

“It is not,” Jiang Cheng screeches, but then something basketball-y happens across the way and he doesn’t get a chance to tell Wei Ying off. Excellent.

“We’re looking all right,” Jiang Cheng says after practice, and after his post-practice talk with the team about their chances this year. Having a post-practice talk in itself is ridiculous. More ridiculous is the fact that the team seemed to dig what Jiang Cheng was saying about power forwards or whatever. 

“Yeah,” Wei Ying agrees. He’s glad Jiang Cheng is finally finding an outlet for all of his leadership (read: control freak) instincts. Good for him. He actually is kind of good at it.

“You still hate the cultivation gym?” Jiang Cheng asks slyly. 

“I don’t hate it,” Wei Ying sniffs. “It’s just elitist.”

They’ve had this argument before. “It costs more because it has to offer a different kind of equipment,” Jiang Cheng says. “Because cultivators are a different kind of athlete. If I play here, I won’t accidentally put a hole the floor or snap the hoop if I come down too hard.”

Ignoring Jiang Cheng’s apparently very active fantasy life, Wei Ying whines, “But why does it have to be so fancy?”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. “We don’t have to live like paupers to stay true to the calling,” he grouses. He’s still bitter about Wei Ying living with five other people in a two bedroom apartment instead of taking on loans in college.

“I don’t,” Wei Ying protests. “Now, anyway.”

“You go to that sketchy-ass gym,” Jiang Cheng retorts.

“It’s a parkour gym,” Wei Ying says once again. “It’s great for cultivation training. And anyway, it’s in Long Island City, not the depths of hell.”

“It’s sketchy as fuck and taking classes with like, preteens who failed out of gymnastics is also sketchy as fuck,” Jiang Cheng retorts. 

“I don’t - ugh,” Wei Ying says. “Whatever, how’s our defense looking?”

“Defense,” Jiang Cheng says in a dark tone, taking the question as the peace offering it is.

Initially, Lan Zhan joined the cultivation gym with Lan Huan simply because Lan Huan asked him to. He was clearly trying to drum up support for his friend Nie Mingjue’s new business, and Lan Zhan did not mind helping in this small way. The gym is only fifteen minutes away from his apartment. If he hated it, he was not required to actually use his membership. 

He does use it, though. It has something for everyone. This was Nie Minjue’s philosophy: that cultivators from all traditions would benefit from - and flock to - a space suited to their needs. He was not wrong: New York has a lot of cultivators, and the gym is always full.

Lan Zhan is not necessarily in favor of spending time in such environments - that is, ones full of people - but he appreciates that the meditation and yoga classes are kept to a reasonable size, and that they focus on material so relevant to Lan practices. He assumes that this is one of Nie Mingjue’s many unheard mating calls to Lan Huan.

Lan Zhan and his brother attend yoga at the cultivation gym on Tuesdays and Sundays. The classes are gratifyingly challenging. Typically, they are two hours long and fit in several lengthy pose holds. The poses themselves are often more athletic than one might find in non-cultivator yoga classes. 

Lan Zhan and his brother are usually up to the task, given their extensive training in that manner of movement. Occasionally, the instructor calls Lan Huan up to the front of the studio to demonstrate, say, a headstand lotus. Lan Zhan is never called up, for which he is fervently glad.

The next week, Wei Ying notices that their team’s practice slot coincides with one of the scary-intense yoga classes. 

Wei Ying’s not really into the whole basketball thing, but he could get enthusiastic about that. “That” being the wildly beautiful guy who walks past the basketball courts on his way to a studio class that happens at roughly the same time as practice happens. Wei Ying figures it’s a yoga class, if the amount of flexible-looking, leggings-clad people (mostly women) streaming to it are any indication.

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is with a similar-looking guy. They could be brothers. Maybe twins. 

Twin of Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is smiling gently. Serenely. Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man himself looks stern. Cold. 

Because Wei Ying is kind of warped, his eyes are glued to the one who looks harder to win over.

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man floats up the stairs to an upper-level studio that’s across from Wei Ying’s team’s practice court. The guy settles into the far end of the classroom. Wei Ying can see him in there… kind of… if he strains. 

He got a good look when the man took the stairs, anyway. His hair is up in a bun. He’s wearing expensive-looking yoga gear. Lululemon or Alo or something. Wei Ying hopes it’s not actually Lululemon. Capitalism is evil overall and stuff, but the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man looks too pristine and - dare Wei Ying think it - severe to set the whole racist name thing aside.

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s navy blue leggings are paired with a slightly longer-than-normal white t-shirt. The shirt has a scoop neck that makes it look elegant instead of schlubby. His collarbones are so elegant. Wei Ying curses the length of the shirt, which obstructs his view of the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s thighs. 

Lan Huan’s little brother can be an awkward fellow. He has all of the right pieces: intellect, morals, work ethic, empathy. But it seems like he can’t quite put them together the way that Lan Huan does. Or maybe he doesn’t want to. Lan Huan is adept at a certain kind of gladhanding; his brother abhors it.

In any case, Lan Huan looks out for his brother - and his brother’s social life - because his brother isn’t really doing it for himself. So obviously, when they head into their usual Tuesday afternoon yoga class and he spots the Basketball Man, he points him out to A-Zhan. 

The Basketball Man is wearing a black t-shirt and black basketball shorts. He is presumably part of the cultivation gym’s hyperintense recreational basketball league. 

After yoga wraps up, he brings A-Zhan to the glass wall facing the inside of the gym and the basketball courts. “See the - no, don’t just look, heavens - the one in all black? Near the right side of the room? Uh, court - thing?”

“Yes,” A-Zhan says. 

“He was checking you out,” Lan Huan announces proudly. Proud of his little brother, for being so desirable, and of himself, for helping out. 

“Mn,” A-Zhan says skeptically. 

“He was! He was figuratively drooling, A-Zhan.”

“Mn,” A-Zhan says again, in a more neutral tone. 

It happens again, two weeks in a row: they walk past the basketball courts on the way to their class, and the Basketball Man stares. More to the point, he stares at A-Zhan specifically. When the two of them are together, Lan Huan tends to attract more attention than his brother. It’s nice to see someone noticing A-Zhan, and not as a potential, “Oh, you have a brother?” consolation prize. A-Zhan may be relieved that Lan Huan gets noticed more, but Lan Huan still feels a bit bad about it.

Lan Zhan’s brother has gotten an idea into his head about a certain man at the gym who plays basketball. This adds a new, complicated dimension to Lan Zhan’s time spent at the cultivation gym. 

“He’s looking at you again,” Lan Huan says the next week. “You should go talk to him.”

“Talk to him?” Lan Zhan asks, turning to face Lan Huan fully.

“Yeah,” Lan Huan says. 

“Just... go walk in there and talk to him?” Lan Zhan asks again, trying to get Lan Huan to hear the absurdity of this suggestion. “Where people are playing team sports?”

“When his game is over, why not?”

Lan Zhan’s eyes widen just the slightest bit. “Ridiculous,” he says. 

“He checks you out every week,” Lan Huan says. 

Lan Huan, Lan Zhan knows, worries about Lan Zhan’s love life. His concern is appreciated, but misguided. The crux of the matter is that he is straight, and not as skilled at interpreting modern gay life as he would like to believe. See: Lan Huan’s unawareness of the ongoing, one-sided romantic tension between himself and Nie Mingjue. Also see: Lan Huan’s failure to notice his friend Meng Yao admirably putting in the arduous work to redirect Nie Mingjue’s attention onto himself. 

Lan Zhan goes on the occasional date. Lan Huan, knowing this, believes that he is seeking a relationship. Lan Zhan has no graceful way to inform his own brother that he is mostly seeking sex. He picks someone up every couple of months when the mood strikes. If a romance happens, he will let it, but he feels no drive to pursue one. Dating - as in, actively seeking a relationship - can be... tiresome. 

This means that he is not as absolutely hard-up as Lan Huan thinks he is, and he does not need to accost a man at the gym. Who meets people in person, anyway?

Especially at the cultivation gym, full of colleagues and family friends. Really. It is utterly unnecessary. So Lan Zhan does his best to dismiss thoughts of the man whom Lan Huan pointed out. 

He does not entirely succeed. The man looks lively and talkative, and Lan Zhan will admit - begrudgingly, and only to himself - that his body appears, from quite a distance, to hold some appeal. 

Wei Ying doesn’t typically use gym locker rooms. He often goes straight from the cultivation gym to the parkour gym, wearing the same gear to both. But now that he’s seen the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man headed in that direction, he’d be stupid not to just… slide in. Wash his hands or something. Wei Ying isn’t one hundred percent a creep, exactly, but he totally times it so that he can head into the locker room when the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is headed out. They brush past one another. The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man doesn’t smell like anything. His shoulders are broad. His shirt looks even more expensive and eccentric-gay up close. 

Fuck, he’s so hot. Oh, no. 

The Basketball Man stares at Lan Huan’s little brother for a third week in a row. 

When yoga finishes up, Lan Huan - to his great delight - catches A-Zhan looking back. Not, of course, at the same time that the Basketball Man is looking at him. His brother is rather shy. But he is looking. With actual interest. Perhaps curiosity. This is the most interest Lan Huan has seen his brother express in someone who is not a professional soccer player or Lewis Tan. 

Because Lan Huan is a very good brother, he calls Nie Mingjue up that evening and strongly suggests that he get involved in his own gym’s recreational basketball league. 

“Yeah, I could do that. How come?” Nie Mingjue asks. 

“So that A-Zhan and I will have a plausible reason to attend the six p.m. practice sessions of another team.”

“...” Nie Mingjue says. 

Lan Huan sighs and says, “I am trying to get A-Zhan laid.”

“Oh,” Nie Mingjue says. “In that case. I can sign my guys up.” 

“Ah,” Lan Huan says. “Thank you, Mingjue.” Nie Mingjue is such a good friend. Maybe Lan Huan should find someone to set him up with in thanks for helping A-Zhan. It’s such a shame that Nie Mingjue is essentially Lan Huan’s second brother; otherwise, he could have cut out the middleman and set him up with A-Zhan. Maybe he can ask Meng Yao if he knows anyone for Nie Mingjue.

“No problem,” he says. “You know we only play in the park league because it’s easy for me to get sucked into work shit when I’m at the gym. Most of my team should be up for it. We’re, uh, probably a little above that league’s level, but it’s fun to be a big fish.”

Wei Ying brings a bag to the gym now. Call it a lifestyle change. A thirst-driven lifestyle change that gives him an excuse to slide in and out of the locker room at well-timed intervals. Today, when he gets in, the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is slipping on his shirt. He’s facing away from Wei Ying, so he ogles his back as much as he can. He has muscles like a swimmer, or someone who fights with a heavy sword. And strong legs. Like... a frog? Something. 

The guy is so stupid hot that Wei Ying doesn’t turn away in time. He can’t be absolutely sure, but he thinks the guy sees him sort of turned towards him. Not as bad as being caught outright staring at someone on the subway, except that it’s actually probably worse, because it’s the gym locker room. 

As he walks out of the room, Wei Ying steals another glance; the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s shoulders roll impressively as he shoulders his yoga mat. Looks like it’s made of cork? Classy.

When Lan Zhan leaves yoga, he notes that the man Lan Huan always points out has become notably sweaty during his time at the gym today. The angry purple man who seems to sheepdog that group is making them jog laps around the room. When he shouts at them to move faster, the man Lan Huan always points out breaks out into a run, lapping him. This angers the purple man further, which makes the man Lan Huan always points out grin brightly. He seems to talk constantly. His hair is a mess, falling out of his ponytail. The sleeves of his shirt look to have been haphazardly cut off. He looks happy to be exerting himself. 

Lan Zhan, to his chagrin, wants to see him exert himself in other ways. 

For their next two practices, Wei Ying is fairly focused on getting glimpses of the unfriendly, Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man. He worries that the distraction will affect his play (he’s fine being mediocre at basketball in front of Jiang Cheng, but not the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man), so he ups his game a bit. Jiang Cheng seems pleased with the results.

Wei Ying also ups his wardrobe. When the weather turns hotter, he usually wears black basketball shorts and a black t-shirt with the sleeves cut off to practice. He has several of those. All Adidas, as usual.

His most conservative cut-up t-shirt usually wins out for this crowd. He’s the token queer, and he refuses to stop painting his nails all gothy. He’d rather not make it weirder for no reason. 

But the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is a reason. A great one. So he breaks out his gayer, sluttier shirts. The ones with the deeper sleeve cuts. He’s not expecting to ever come into contact with the guy, but he’s going to give a good show just in case. Starting with a tank with the arms cut down to the end of his ribcage. 

The man whom Lan Huan always points out is… shameless. He prances about the practice space, flaunting his various assets. Either he is trying to get attention, or he is not and this is just his natural state; either way, such behavior is shameless. 

Plenty of people work out at this gym in minimal clothing, but no one does it quite like he does. He is joyful in his lack of a proper shirt, which displays his wiry upper body to full effect. He looks as though he would be perfectly comfortable walking around the city like this, as though he is pleased to be noticed. 

When Lan Huan suggested that they watch Nie Mingjue’s team practice, Lan Zhan had immediately understood his intent. He should have declined. He only has himself to blame for the situation he now finds himself in. 

He and his brother are sitting in the stands situated between two basketball… courts, he supposes? Two basketball-playing arenas. They should be sitting closer to Nie Mingjue’s team’s practice area, and yet, they are at its far end. Which happens to get them rather close to the team that usually plays in this space. The team of the man Lan Huan always points out. 

Said man is very visible. He has loud body language and sparkling eyes and nice hair. He also has a rather scant shirt. 

Lan Zhan reserves cardio for running outdoors, preferring to focus on building up strength and flexibility over stamina when at the cultivation gym. But he supposes that some do not. The man Lan Huan always points out seems to view the recreational basketball league as a heart rate-raising workout necessitating minimal clothing. 

For all Lan Zhan knows, the man is not actually a cultivator at all. That would explain why he finds the game of basketball so taxing as to warrant such wardrobe choices. (Being a cultivator is not a requirement for belonging to this gym. Lan Zhan knows this because he carefully read the contracts when he signed up. Nie Mingjue is a family friend, but that is no reason to indiscriminately endorse a legally binding agreement.) 

All of this is to say that the man Lan Huan points out so often is wearing a shirt that surely must be considered indecent by some dining establishments. Lan Zhan can see the side of his waist plainly. 

The man whom Lan Huan always points out - oh, why not call him the Basketball Man, since Lan Huan always does - has a gothic edge to him. He keeps his hair long, in the traditional style of a cultivator. It is in a ponytail. He has black fingernails. And tattoos.

The tattoos are of particular concern to Lan Zhan. He can only make out the very beginning of a script tattoo that presumably runs along his defined lower stomach. It disappears into his shirt, so there is no telling what it says. This is frustrating.

Suddenly, something completely incomprehensible happens, and the purple man screams at the Basketball Man. Lan Zhan inhales, readies to do something - cultivation has given him, perhaps, an outsized sense of the danger posed by an angry but living person - but then the purple man seems to redirect his anger towards himself, or perhaps towards thin air. The Basketball Man bends over in hysterics, as do several of his compatriots. 

His laughter rings out across the court, quieter than the purple man’s screaming but carrying just as far. His eyes gleam when he laughs.

Lan Zhan stares at him, and lusts, and vows to take revenge on Lan Huan, somehow, some day.

That week, Wei Ying opts for an even sluttier tank top, with arms cut just as far down and deeper in. It shows off a tattoo or three, including the very beginning of the one along his iliac crest, which is obviously his sexiest tattoo. (The shirt still hides his two serious scars. He doesn’t know if that’s a positive or a negative. Depends on Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s taste, he guesses.) He also crams all of his ear piercings full of black titanium, which looks very dark-sexy. 

None of this prepared Wei Ying for actually being in the same room as the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man for more than the time it takes to slip in and out of the locker room. That. That was not supposed to happen. At all. 

The guy who owns the cultivation gym has his own team in the rec league this year. Wei Ying doesn’t recognize him; Jiang Cheng points him out. Dude is ripped, and cute as fuck. Wei Ying would be all about him if it weren’t for the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man. 

The gym owner’s team’s practice slot, as of the third week of the season, is at the same time as their team’s practice slot. Jiang Cheng is furious. 

Wei Ying doesn’t care, even though it is hilarious to see Jiang Cheng cringe and steal a glance at the other team whenever Get’cha Head in the Game comes on. 

He’s much more concerned with the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man. Him and his lesser, smiling twin, both sitting in the stands and watching the gym owner’s team play. 

Wei Ying pokes his brother in the arm and makes a save me panic face. Jiang Cheng either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care. He shrugs Wei Ying off. How unhelpful. After all Wei Ying does for him.

Of course, now that the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is there, within reasonable enough proximity to witness and judge Wei Ying’s play, Wei Ying can’t even dribble to save his life. 

It sucks, but then. But then. After Wei Ying’s third fumble of the afternoon, something incredible happens.

They’re doing a passing drill when Wei Ying just, like, epically fumbles the ball. Jiang Cheng whirls on him dramatically - so most of their team notices and turns, too - and screeches at Wei Ying, “Get your head in the game!”

Wei Ying sees the realization happen in real time, or slo-mo, even. Ouyang Zizhen's eyes light up immediately. Wei Ying catches it just a split second later, as do most of their teammates within hearing distance. There’s a moment of breathless, thrilled silence.

It takes another beat for Jiang Cheng to realize just exactly where he got “get your head in the game” from. His nostrils flare about as widely as Wei Ying has ever seen them go, which is never a good sign, but sort of a majestic one. 

Jiang Cheng turns his entire body to the side, bends into the start of a crouch, brings his arms up over his head, and yells - at top volume, for everyone in both courts to hear - “Fuck!”

Wei Ying is speechlessly thrilled for an instant before he doubles over with hysterical laughter. 

His teammates, all around him, also fall to laughter. There’s a lot of giggling and guffawing all around. 

“Very funny,” Jiang Cheng growls. 

“We gonna fake right and break left?” Ouyang Zizhen calls.

Third shidi goes, “Watch out for the pick!”

Jiang Cheng’s upper lip curls. He snarls, “I hate every single one of you.”

It’s worth it, just for how Wei Ying doesn’t care about looking silly in front of the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man anymore.

Lan Huan, being a very good older brother, has asked A-Zhan several times about his dating preferences, his type. 

A-Zhan is always remarkably unhelpful in his response. For the most part, he staunchly will not answer - simply will not speak! - until Lan Huan introduces a new topic of conversation. 

There was one single time wherein Lan Huan got an answer. His brother was exhausted from a very long week at work, which is about as close to inebriated as A-Zhan can get while still being verbal. 

“What is your type? That’s all you have to say. Just so I know who to keep an eye out for,” Lan Huan had wheedled.

A-Zhan had turned a killer flat stare on him and said, deadpan, “Men.”

Ah. Hm. So - not boys, but men. Interesting. Lan Huan had heard of… silver foxes? If anyone had license to have, ah, parent issues, daddy issues, it would have been himself and A-Zhan, probably.

He met A-Zhan’s qin mentor once, from college. A tremendously boring man of age sixty or so. It seemed like a perfectly amiable, largely professional situation. But he had to wonder, following this revelation about men, if perhaps A-Zhan and his mentor had been a thing. Stranger couplings had happened in the Lan family, certainly. 

He was relieved, a year or so later, to notice A-Zhan’s interest in soccer, and likely in soccer players. Lan Huan’s rolodex of gay men in their fifties and up was limited, to say the least. If professional soccer players qualified as men, not boys by his brother’s standards, then Lan Huan could probably still find someone for him.

Wei Ying gets to practice too early next week and kills some time pestering Wen Ning at the cultivation gym’s fancy smoothie bar. 

Wei Ying loves the smoothie bar, because Wen Ning will make him whatever he wants with no judgement. Usually, when he lopes over to the counter, Wen Ning is already packing cayenne and lotus root powder into a blender. 

Today, Wen Ning is puzzling over something. “Summer menu,” he says. “I have to set out samples for customers.”

“Anything good?” Wei Ying asks.

“There’s one with cantaloupe,” Wen Ning offers. 

“Cantaloupe? Hit me,” Wei Ying says, brandishing his reusable straw. One advantage of being a gym bag person now is that he can carry stuff. Who knew?

While Wen Ning makes the smoothie - and pours some into a regular-sized cup for Wei Ying, with an added half teaspoon of cayenne - they talk over his physical therapy classes. He has to start practicum soon, meaning less time for shifts at the smoothie bar, tragically. 

Then, Wen Ning asks, “What’s with the shirt?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Wei Ying sniffs.

“The very small shirt,” Wen Ning says, brow raised. 

“I - okay, fuck, there’s this guy,” Wei Ying says, and spills the whole thing about Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man and how he wants to have his babies. Kind of. He didn’t know he did until he said it out loud, but he does.

“And you haven’t asked him out because...” Wen Ning prompts.

“Well, then I could get shut down. Right now, I at least get to know that, you know, he has to see me for a few hours every week. Maybe constant exposure will wear him down until he asks me out,” he explains. 

Wen Ning nods sagely. “A very wise plan,” he says. 

“Thank you,” Wei Ying says. 

“I was being sarcastic,” Wen Ning says, sounding genuinely disappointed that it didn’t come off that way. 

To get back at him, Wei Ying buries his sorrows in three more smoothie samples.

“You’re not getting back at me,” Wen Ning says. “They’re for customers to take. You can have more. Will that make you feel better? Wait, when is your practice?”

“Stop being chill,” Wei Ying moans, and flounces off dramatically to go play some basketball.

The following Tuesday, Lan Zhan sees the Basketball Man speaking with the smoothie boy. The smoothie boy is a gothic character, but cheery. It follows that he would attract someone like Basketball Man, who is wearing black as usual and currently - what, is he pointing to the menu board and making inane comments to the smoothie boy? While he teeths at a straw. A metal straw? Did he bring his own?

No, Lan Zhan tells himself. He cannot be attracted to a man just because he displays basic environmental awareness. He is better than that. 

The Basketball Man must be flirting. No one thinks smoothies are that interesting. 

That… tease. Flirting with the smoothie boy. How shameless.

Wei Ying hasn’t been exactly quiet about the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man during practice. And he definitely mentions him again when Jiang Cheng’s basketball team goes out to get drinks and talk shit about their new practice space rivals. He couldn’t talk about him during practice that time, since he was there, so obviously he had to talk about him afterwards.

Mostly, the team gives back a lot of eye rolling. But Su She would have tried to pull other guys on the team aside to talk obliquely around how gross Wei Ying is, so he’s not too upset that no one will listen to him wax poetic about how strong the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s thighs probably are.

“That’s him,” he hissed once to Jin Zixuan as the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man walked in. 

“Oh, he looks nice,” he’d said.

“No, not that one,” Wei Ying had said. “The -” he flaps a hand at his own face “- mean-looking one.”

“Huh,” Jin Zixuan had said skeptically as the two walked past them from a court away. “That’s - is that what gay dudes like?”

“Well, I’m bi, and I like that overall, he looks like a very beautiful girl,” Wei Ying says. “A very beautiful, very mean girl.”

“Oh, yeah, mean girls are great,” Jin Zixuan says, staring off into the middle distance. 

Wei Ying makes a mental note to give Jiang Yanli his info if they can make it through the basketball gauntlet without Jin Zixuan revealing anything terrible about himself. She’s a saint, but she’s got an edge.

When Lan Huan drags him to Nie Mingjue’s practice again the next week, Lan Zhan watches the Basketball Man’s crotch with reluctant interest. There is some movement. Not very much, but enough for the eye to detect as he runs around, doing... basketball things. It doesn’t look like his cock is remarkable, but Lan Zhan doesn’t want that, anyway. He enjoys taking it from someone of a comfortable size. Considers it a marathon, not a sprint. For this, the Basketball Man makes an excellent candidate. 

From across the room, the Basketball Man appears to look up to Lan Zhan in the stands. He smiles and shakes his head, then turns his attention to the man who wears Gucci sneakers to practice, as though those are at all sensible footwear for the situation. Even Lan Zhan could hazard a guess at better basketball footwear. The Basketball Man leans back with his upper body, hips forward - cum gutters on display, thanks to his absurdly revealing tank top - and stretches. 

Ah. Lan Zhan can definitely see an outline now. Yes, he decides. The Basketball Man is certainly a promising candidate. 

Halfway through practice the next week, Wei Ying’s pain is finally recognized. 

He’s actually trying to be engaged in the game, which makes the whole thing either a punishment or a reward from the heavens, he’s not sure. 

They’re taking a five-minute breather. Jin Zixuan and third shidi are tossing gummy bears to one another, trying to catch them in their mouths. 

All he knows is that there’s some noise from the next court over. He glances in that direction. Something weird is going on. 

The noise is the big dude who Jiang Cheng says owns the gym, laughing uproariously at something in the stands. 

The something in the stands is the littlest guy from the gym owner’s team, the sneaky-fast one (okay, so Wei Ying has done a little bit of surreptitious watching their rivals, he doesn’t want Jiang Cheng to lose, sue him), standing over the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man and his twin, holding a cup sideways and looking chagrined.

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s pristine white shirt is covered in what looks like matcha. He’s staring up at the sneaky-fast little guy with a beautiful, pointed glare. Wei Ying grew up with Jiang Cheng, not to mention Madam Yu; he knows pointed glares. This one is incredible. The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man could burn someone to the ground with that glare.

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s twin is speaking in a conciliatory fashion that Wei Ying recognizes from Jiang Yanli’s best efforts with his adoptive parents. The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man himself is - oh, he’s taking off his shirt. 

Wei Ying would swear that the room grinds to a screeching halt. It definitely, actually goes quieter for a moment, which is rare in an echo chamber. 

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man has… abs. Oh, boy, does he ever.

In front of Wei Ying, Jin Zixuan gets hit in the eye with a gummy bear. He barely even flinches. For a split second, it seems like everyone’s attention is focused on the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man. And his body. Fuck.

Into the relative silence, Wei Ying whimpers. 

He thinks it’s soft enough not to carry directly to the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s ears. He hopes.

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s twin pulls a windbreaker out of his bag and hands it to the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man, who shrugs it on and zips it all the way up. 

Time speeds up again as Jin Zixuan lobs a gummy bear back into third shidi’s face.

Ouyang Zizhen claps Wei Ying on the shoulder. “That’s rough, little buddy,” he says. His height aside, Wei Ying is pretty sure that Ouyang Zizhen is about nineteen, but the sentiment feels correct.

“Yeah, tough break,” Jin Zixuan says.

“Uh-huh,” Wei Ying says weakly. “Okay, let’s, um, play?”

“Fuck yeah,” Jiang Cheng says. 

That night, Wei Ying touches himself in the shower thinking about the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man. 

All cut and flexible and stuff. 

At one with the world. 

Oh, shit. What if the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man isn’t into the whole power play thing? What if he’s one of those people who wants to switch? Like, a fifty-fifty split? 

Yoga’s all about like, finding balance in the universe, right? Something... like that. Wei Ying’s never actually done it, but that seems correct. 

Jacking himself, Wei Ying reflects that he really isn’t up to that challenge. He could try, but he knows himself; at some point he’d end up taking the dude’s face in his hands and demanding that he just tell him what to do. 

No, wait, fuck. Reframe. He leans back against the cold tile and sides a spit-slick finger into himself. This is his fantasy, here. They can do whatever he wants. He imagines the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man naked. Those abs. He’d like to see them jump. Actually, maybe that’s it - they could have a mostly blowjob-based sex life. It still probably wouldn’t work out in the long term, but he’d give it his best shot. 

Especially if the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man deigned to finger him during. That’s kind of non-optional if they’re going to hook up more than twice. He’s an adult; he’s not going to waste his own time on mediocre orgasms. Even if the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man looks like that. If he got to put his cock in the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s mouth, he’d probably expire on the spot, but yeah, in the long term - fingers. And no bullshit, either; three fingers deep will have to be the minimum norm. Plenty of people have enjoyed fingering Wei Ying. Maybe he can sell it to the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man as a weird tantric thing. 

He hasn’t gotten a good look at his hands, but they’re probably perfect. Like the rest of him. Strong and firm. Not hesitant at all. He’d keep his mouth loose, knowing that the fingering is the real action for Wei Ying. Just like, jabbing him, harsh and sure, kind of mean, until Wei Ying’s knees are bent up to his shoulders and he’s - he’s - 

Wei Ying comes all over the shower curtain. 

Yeah, he thinks. Okay. He could probably make that work.

As though unexpected public nakedness on a work night were not enough to cope with, Lan Zhan sees the Basketball Man again on Sunday. The wrong day for the Basketball Man to be at the cultivation gym. He is on the archery range with the gothic smoothie boy.

He seems to be demonstrating for the smoothie boy, more than he is competing with him. From a distance, Lan Zhan watches him hit three targets dead-on - naturally, he would be a good archer, because if he were bad, Lan Zhan would have a reason to stop watching - and then correct the smoothie boy’s form. 

In Lan Zhan’s opinion, the Basketball Man corrects the smoothie boy’s form excessively. A crime against Lan Zhan’s gay sanity, carried out on the archery range by the Basketball Man, via a repositioning of the Smoothie Boy’s hips. Lan Zhan takes some small comfort in the fact that the Basketball Man is wearing a shirt today.

Someone clears their throat beside him. 

He turns and sees, ah, Lan Huan. 

“Ready to go?” his brother asks, with a shit-eating placid smile.

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, and resolutely says nothing about Basketball Men or smoothie boys at all.

Wei Ying rounds the corner in the locker room and is stymied by the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man, whose shirt is off, abs on display from the side. It’s Sunday! This isn’t their usual day! How dare he be here! Wei Ying specifically bullied Wen Ning into doing some archery practice on Sunday so that he could regain little of his footing here before having to see the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man again. 

Wei Ying cranes too much to look at him, and the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man totally sees, but he doesn’t say a word. He just looks back. Heated, lingering. And then he leaves. Shit.

The Basketball Man makes eye contact with Lan Zhan in the locker room after yoga. 

Lan Zhan suspects that the Basketball Man does not know what he is asking for. That he does not realize that Lan Zhan has very concrete desires, rather than general curious interest. He wants to grope the Basketball Man from behind, both of them standing, and pull his hair until his neck falls backwards onto Lan Zhan’s shoulder. He wants to scrape his teeth over his throat. 

Wei Ying recollects his wits by the following Tuesday. 

It’s not a competition, obviously, but Wei Ying prides himself on giving as good as he gets. So he goes for the big guns (his own!) (no, okay, they’re not that big, but they are well-defined) and begs Jiang Cheng to let them do shirts and skins. 

This does pit Wei Ying against the rest of his team in the competition for the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s attention, sort of, because half of them will be shirtless at any given time. But Wei Ying has three vital things on his side: tattoos, a nice iliac crest, and intent to flirt. Four things, if you include the burn scar from when Wen Chao and his frat cronies jumped him in college. Five if you count the scar over his lower dantian from high school, when he donated half of his golden core to Jiang Cheng after Wen Chao and his cronies jumped Jiang Cheng even worse. (Growing the rest of it back was a pain.) Wei Ying thinks they make him look rugged.

So yeah, running around shirtless in front of someone can totally be flirting. 

Jiang Cheng looks unamused, but he gives in. Likely to stop Wei Ying from whining. “You know this technically counts as cruising, probably,” he says with his trademarked little nose uptick. 

Wei Ying gasps and looks up at him with big Jiang Yanli eyes. “Jiang Cheng, who told you about cruising?” he asks in a Jiang Yanli voice.

“I know things!” Jiang Cheng insists. “People tell me things!”

“Of course they do, A-Cheng,” Wei Ying says, with a condescending pat on the shoulder. “Of course they do.”

Wei Ying knows his own assets. He knows how to move his body. He likes moving his body. And he’s flashy. Like a starling. He even has the glossy black hair, plus the added luster from all of his earrings. He has to hope that if he puts everything together in the right order, continuously, and shows off around the guy as much as possible, then the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man might see his appeal when Wei Ying finally makes a move.

If he ever makes a move, that is. For now, just running around feeling hot is pretty good.

Getting his little brother briefly shirtless for the crowd was absolutely worthwhile, Lan Huan notes with satisfaction, because the Basketball Man is missing even his (very small) shirt when they get to the gym the next week. 

“Do you truly not see the connection?” Lan Huan whispers to A-Zhan. “You were shirtless. Now he is shirtless.”

“Brother,” A-Zhan says, transitioning his headstand from two hands to one. “Might we discuss this later?”

“We will,” Lan Huan warned. 

When they get down to the court to watch the... playing, or whatever it’s called, they don’t actually talk about it. Lan Huan tries to, in a very low voice. “I think he’s interested,” he says. “Are you interested? He’s definitely, um…” not a boy, Lan Huan wants to say. He’s not fifty, but I can definitely tell that he’s an adult man. “He definitely looks at you.”

“Mn,” A-Zhan says, watching the court. It is the kind of mn that means he is not paying attention to Lan Huan at all. Lan Huan takes this as a positive sign. 

The following week, Lan Zhan switches out his usual gym leggings in favor of a two-in-one leggings and running shorts combination, as well as his usual tunic. (He was wise to purchase several of the tunic at one time, because the one he was wearing when Meng Yao spilled his gross iced matcha - which probably contained cow’s milk, ugh - all over Lan Zhan is absolutely stained.)

The leggings-and-shorts combination slightly limits his range of motion, but without switching to more layers, Lan Zhan fears that… things… will become obvious. 

It turns out to be a wise measure to take. 

For one thing, the Basketball Man commits to actual shirtlessness this week. He has several tattoos and possibly the odd scar or two. From this angle, it is impossible to tell. His nipples are… visible. Dark. Cute.

For another thing, the Basketball Man’s shorts fall lower on his hips than they have before, giving Lan Zhan a glimpse of his rather defined cum gutters. 

Sometimes, during what appear to be slow moments during the game - not that Lan Zhan understands or cares about the game - the Basketball Man dances a bit. Especially when one particularly bass-heavy track plays. This has trained Lan Zhan into a specific response. The more exposed the man’s hips are, the stronger Lan Zhan’s response to the dancing is. 

The worst part about this is that the Basketball Man genuinely seems unaware of what he is doing. Well, he is certainly aware of his assets, but the dancing specifically does not appear to be intended as enticement. It is simply an automatic response to music. 

When he stretches, he does so boldly and showily, with his back arched. His dancing, on the other hand, is unobtrusive in movement, unselfconscious, loose. It involves shoulder work and, occasionally, isolations. It is maddening.

On an unrelated note, Lan Zhan still has not identified the words of the Basketball Man’s script tattoo, as it follows the line of his cum gutters and disappears into his shorts. His very low shorts. Shameless.

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is in the locker room again. Wei Ying wants him. He wants him to use some of that yogaic flexibility to do stuff with him in improbable positions. He wants him to wine and dine Wei Ying - he looks classy, he looks like he could do that well - before taking him back to his place and just. Whatever. Whatever he wanted to do. Anything.

Lan Zhan has been seeing the Basketball Man in the locker room more often. He is never undressed. Well, never more undressed than he usually is. He seems to just use the locker room as a place to stow things, not actually change out. Lan Zhan watches his built ass move underneath his shiny basketball shorts. It looks like the Basketball Man is mostly muscle. Hence the cum gutters. 

Perhaps he plays a secondary sport. One that develops an excellent rear end. 

Lan Zhan would like to grab his ass from behind. Take it in a firm hold, far down enough to almost be between his legs. Show him what happens when he flaunts himself. 

For practice the next week, Wei Ying flips over the waistband of his shorts twice, like a private school kid trying to get away with something. 

It’s not that he’s obsessed with the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man or anything. He just thinks it’s fun to ogle someone like that and to vie for their attention from a safe distance, where he can be reasonably sure that nothing will come of it. Probably. 

He’s still playing, still engaged in the game and the team. He does well in practice and gets Ouyang Zizhen to coach fourth shidi and Jin Zixuan on crossovers, even. What could be more engaged than that?

The Basketball Man, flanked by two lesser basketball men - Tall Child and Gucci - enters the locker room just as Lan Zhan exits it. He makes eye contact with Lan Zhan again, darting and flirtatious. 

His shorts were obscenely low this week. If he is not careful, Lan Zhan will drag him into a shower stall and fuck his pretty mouth. Will sit on his face and pull his hair. Will not let up until his cum gutters are filled. 

Wei Ying mistimes his locker room visit, so he’s stuck heading there with Ouyang Zizhen and Jin Zixuan. He’s unexpectedly glad for this when he and the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man pass one another outside of the lockers. Maybe it makes Wei Ying look like someone with buddies.

Wei Ying checks him out, and the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man does it back. 

“Wow,” Ouyang Zizhen says when it’s over. “That was intense.” 

“Fuck off,” Wei Ying says. 

“No, I’m serious, I was scared for you,” Ouyang Zizhen tells him. 

“Yeah, it was kind of a lot,” Jin Zixuan says wanly.

“You guys,” Wei Ying says, grinning. “You’re embarrassing me.”

The next week, at the start of practice, Jiang Cheng makes noises about everyone following up with some strength training. Wei Ying feels kind of bad, because he knows that this game is a huge part of Jiang Cheng’s social circle. Still, he reminds Jiang Cheng that he’s headed to the parkour gym after practice. 

“I can’t believe you’re still going there,” Jiang Cheng says. 

“Why wouldn’t I?” Wei Ying asks.

Jiang Cheng says, “It’s a dangerously stupid life path.”

“Ah, I’m so good at it, though,” Wei Ying says.

“Of course you’re good at it. You’re a cultivator, you can basically already fly.”

“Well, sure, but my competitors are also -”

“Like, twelve?”

“Ah, funny,” Wei Ying says, rolling his eyes. “C’mon, don’t give me a hard time. What drills are we doing today?”

Jiang Cheng lights up. “Jumps,” he says.

Wei Ying says a silent apology to the team’s shins for the day.

In the locker room after practice, Wei Ying gets a bit distracted. The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is there, of course. Wei Ying is thinking about how he wants him to ghost his fingernails along Wei Ying’s tattoos, down to his iliac crest, when he realizes that the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is looking back at him. Oh, gods. All right. They’re making eye contact. That’s cool. Should Wei Ying go over there? The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s body language doesn’t really feel like an invitation. He’s just standing. Watching Wei Ying make eyes at him. 

Wow. He’s really so beautiful. 

This… isn’t their usual way of doing things. 

Wei Ying stands there, bound as if by a talisman - though he knows the ins and outs of such talismans, and none have been cast - as the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man moves his long t-shirt out of the way and - and sort of runs his hand along his crotch and adjusts himself. His bulge is big. So is his hand. He moves slowly. He’s not quite showing off, but he is absolutely making a statement to Wei Ying as he shifts his package to the left. Then he presses his palm down flat next to it, which gives Wei Ying a clearer view of its outline, sort of throwing it into relief. Fuck. Wei Ying can’t really see the head, but he can imagine.

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man looks at Wei Ying cooly the whole time. Every time Wei Ying flicks his eyes away from the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s package up to his face, he stares back impassively. He doesn’t break eye contact with Wei Ying once.

Then he lets his long tunic thing fall back into place and calmly leaves. Like he hasn’t just made Wei Ying want him to pull him into a shower stall so badly.

Lan Zhan is in the locker room. Again. The Basketball Man is looking at him. Again. Their lockers are on the same wall. About thirty feet apart. Not quite speaking distance. 

No one else is around.

The Basketball Man’s lips are slightly parted. He is shirtless, as per usual these days. Why should he be otherwise? Lan Zhan has even seen him leave the gym like this, flitting out of the doors with himself on full display. His eyes are wide, as though something about the situation he finds himself in is surprising. It should not be surprising. For all of his blatant staring, this cannot be the first time that someone has ever looked back. 

Lan Zhan reaches down and runs his thumb along one side of his cock through his leggings, down and up. Then he shifts it to one side. Not for comfort. His leggings are too high-quality to be uncomfortable. He does it to watch the Basketball Man’s eyes widen further. To watch him swallow. 

His eyes do widen and he does swallow. He has a pretty throat. Lan Zhan takes it one step further and presses his hand over his hip, next to his cock. Lets the Basketball Man see what he’s been teasing for weeks upon weeks. 

He is rewarded: the Basketball Man’s mouth drops open slightly, and Lan Zhan sees a quick flash of his tongue. Given the Basketball Man’s odd bashfulness, he decides that this is enough for the day. The last thing he wants to do is scare him off before he’s even started.

Wei Ying kills some time at the smoothie bar before practice next week, talking to Wen Ning. 

“Putting the fact that he’s Wen Qing’s little brother aside, of fucking course a smoothie guy would think you’re cool. That’s your target demographic,” Jiang Cheng says when he gets there and drags Wei Ying to the court. 

“Hey, Wen Ning is awesome,” Wei Ying says. “He goes to the parkour gym too, sometimes.”

“He’s great, but you’re a dork magnet. Case in point: he does parkour,” Jiang Cheng says. 

“You know you’re welcome to come to one of my meets any time,” Wei Ying says sunnily.

Jiang Cheng never comes to parkour meets. “I don’t go to them because parkour is stupid,” Jiang Cheng says, as he always does. 

“I think it’s great,” Wei Ying says. “I keep telling you, I’m really good at it.”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes.

Thoughtfully, Wei Ying says, “Maybe you’d care more if you knew what it was like to be really good at a sport.” 

“It’s not a sport, and it’s stupid,” Jiang Cheng says, and lobs a basketball at him.  

Wei Ying disagrees with both of these points, but he has to concede that some (wrong) people (i.e. Jiang Cheng, all the other Jiangs) think it’s dumb. 

While spectating the practice sessions of Nie Mingjue’s team, Lan Zhan is treated to the sight of the Basketball Man being a brat. 

As usual, he is shirtless, and wearing shorts that border on inappropriately low. The purple man shouts at him about something - a basketball-related something, presumably. The basketball man responds by sticking out his tongue and making a rude gesture at the purple man with both hands. He leans back and pushes his hips forward when he does so. The overall effect makes Lan Zhan want, for a breathtaking instant, to thread a hand through the Basketball Man’s hair and yank. To pull it until the Basketball man goes to his knees, and then to pull it just a bit more. So that the Basketball Man crawls. 

This thought stays with him as he rinses off before leaving the cultivation gym. (He does so because he and Lan Huan are headed to a new plant-based cafe in - shudder - East Williamsburg. Lan Zhan has banned Lan Huan from their usual Mexican place - the only definitively vegan-friendly Mexican restaurant within five miles - until such time as Lan Huan ceases to attempt overconfident use of his high school Spanish with the waitstaff.) Normally, he considers the discomfort of a slightly sweaty train ride well worth the wait in order to shower in his own home.) When he gets out, already half-dressed, the Basketball Man is - of course - in the locker room. Sitting on a bench. Looking at him. 

For all of the Basketball Man’s minx-like tendencies, his wide-eyed staring hits Lan Zhan hardest. He still wants to pull the Basketball Man’s hair. He also wants to tap his cock to the man’s lower lip until his mouth falls open. Until he looks at Lan Zhan with exactly the expression he has right now. 

Lan Zhan huffs to himself. Mentally, at least. He does not know how to huff in real life. The purple man could teach him. 

He dons the remainder of his clothing. He slips his bag out of his locker. He attempts not to look at the Basketball Man, lest he break and do something about the man’s blatant ogling. 

Of course, Lan Zhan could simply ask him out. Lan Huan would be beside himself with glee. But Lan Zhan enjoys this tension. The Basketball Man’s attention flatters him. Amuses him. And in a way, the Basketball Man seems shy - eager to look and to flaunt, but not bold enough to follow through. 

Lan Zhan does not mind matching the Basketball Man’s teasing pace. As long as he can escalate occasionally. 

He must pass the Basketball Man in order to exit the locker room. The man quits staring and fusses in his locker as Lan Zhan approaches. He is still shirtless. 

From a scant foot away, he sees a great many parts of the Basketball Man he would like to touch: his ass, his tattooed ribs, his hair. Instead, he slows his walk for just a moment and admonishes in a soft, low voice, “No misbehavior.”

A visible shiver runs through the man’s bare shoulders. He inhales sharply, but does not turn around. 

Ah, yes. This is the real advantage of an ascetic upbringing: Lan Zhan could live on that shiver alone for weeks. 

Holy shit, Wei Ying thinks. Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.

The following week, Lan Zhan attends Nie Mingjue’s practice with Lan Huan, goes home, and jerks off thinking about sitting on the Basketball Man’s face. In Lan Zhan’s experience, there is no such thing as a just-fine rim job, so either the Basketball Man would be good at it, or he would have no idea what he was doing. In the latter case, Lan Zhan could probably train him up. Touch the Basketball Man’s cock when he did well. Ignore it when he floundered. Listen to him whine and plead all the way through.

Yes. That would be - acceptable, Lan Zhan decides, seconds before spilling all over his fingers.

They lose their first game of the season. It’s against the gym owner’s team, so that’s not so surprising. Jiang Cheng’s not even mad, because they do actually kind of hold their own. On the upshot, it’s a Saturday, and the gym owner buys all of the players a round at the bar down the street afterwards. 

The fact that their game was against the gym owner’s team means that the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is in attendance. Also his maybe-twin brother, but whatever. The important thing is that the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man, in addition to watching Wei Ying lose a game of basketball, also comes along to the bar. It’s a group of twenty-five people, a little herd, but Wei Ying manages to witness the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s twin towing the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man along.

It’s a comfortable bar, not very hip. Their party takes up a few booths and a handful of tables. The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man sits at the outer end of a booth with his twin and the gym owner and some other people. 

Jin Zixuan is sitting in the next booth over, directly behind the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man. Wei Ying has a silent eyebrows-and-teeth-based argument with him until he scoots down, allowing Wei Ying to take the spot directly behind the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man. 

Because Wei Ying is so good - so, so good, so well-behaved - he doesn’t immediately accost the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man. He waits until everyone’s a few drinks in. It is possible that he gets slightly soused, as is necessary for approaching a strange man of indefinite sexuality (although - he regularly attends yoga classes wearing a tunic, so Wei Ying can make an educated guess) in the real world. Then, once properly buzzed, he pulls together all of the not-giving-a-fuck spirit he has, turns around, and leans over the separator. 

“Oh, crap,” he hears Ouyang Zizhen whisper behind him. 

“Hey,” he says, tapping the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man on the shoulder. His hair is bound up into a tight bun. As he turns around, Wei Ying gets to watch the tendons in his neck shift. 

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man is just as beautiful close up. Maybe more so. His eyes are light brown, sort of unusual, pretty. His nose - not a feature Wei Ying usually takes much note of - is absurdly perfect.  

Wei Ying is so excited to finally be within speaking distance of him. “Hey,” he says again. “I would let you do anything to me. Like. I would let you piss on me. What’s your name?”

So, correction: he is definitely slightly soused.

Off to the side, Jin Zixuan makes a faint, wordless noise.

After a pause, the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man says, “Shameless.”

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s twin-or-brother stares at Wei Ying with big, alarmed eyes. 

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man looks away from Wei Ying. He nods to his twin/brother and says, “I am leaving.”

“Really?” the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man’s twin says. He’s looking between the two of them. “I mean, you don’t want to stay just a little bit longer? Just to see if…” he trails off as the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man rises from the booth and shoulders his yoga mat. 

“See you, Nie Mingjue,” he says flatly.

“Yep,” Nie Mingjue says shortly, looking mostly at the table. The sneaky-fast little guy from his team watches everyone with a calm, bemused expression. 

“What the fuck,” Jiang Cheng starts to stage-hiss at Wei Ying. “How could you embarrass the team - this is basketball,” he says nonsensically. 

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man takes a step away from his booth. Two steps. 

Then, the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man pauses. He makes meaningful eye contact with Wei Ying. He wordlessly tilts his head towards the front of the bar in the universal sign for you coming?

Oh, shit. “Yes,” Wei Ying says to himself, breathlessly. 

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man starts walking again. 

Wei Ying grabs his bag. “Yes, yes, yes,” he chants. He’s out of the booth in a flash, trotting to catch up as the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man begins to make his way out. 

“What the fuck,” Jiang Cheng calls behind him. “That worked?” 

“He didn’t even say anything,” Ouyang Zizhen says, his high voice carrying. “Are they gonna go fuck?”

Quieter, Jin Zixuan asks, “Is that just what it’s like for gay dudes?” He sounds slightly impressed.

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man has a long stride. He reaches the door first and holds it open for Wei Ying. 

“Wei Ying,” Wei Ying says, sticking out his hand, taking the momentary pause as an opportunity to introduce himself. 

The Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man shakes it and says, “Lan Zhan.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, testing it out. 

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. 

They walk out together. 

Wei Ying, as the Basketball Man shall heretofore be referred (much to Lan Zhan’s relief), is wearing a shirt again. Initially, Lan Zhan took this as a sign that he is not so absolutely shameless as to enter a bar shirtless in the middle of the day. 

Given Wei Ying’s display just now, Lan Zhan must reconsider. It seems entirely possible that Wei Ying was simply cold. 

Lan Zhan is absolutely furious that that line worked on him. It was not even a line. It was a - a three-dimensional polygon. A blunt instrument. 

“Where are we going?” Wei Ying asks as they head out onto the sidewalk. 

“My place,” Lan Zhan decides. “It is fifteen minutes away by subway. Unless yours is closer.”

“Nope, that’s cool, I’m in Astoria,” Wei Ying says, eyes slightly wide. “Cool. Cool, cool.”

The station is right on the next block. They walk in silence, slightly hurried, but for a single exchange:

“You are single, yes?” Lan Zhan checks. 

“Oh, yeah, of course, I wouldn’t - you are too, right? Or an open thing or whatever?” Wei Ying asks, sounding surprised. 

“Right,” Lan Zhan says. “I am single.”

Wei Ying nods firmly. Smiles softly.

In the station, Lan Zhan swipes Wei Ying in. “Classy,” Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan can only hope that he is referring to Lan Zhan paying for him and not to the practice of paying the fare at all, as opposed to hopping the turnstiles.

“So, what do you do?” Wei Ying asks while they wait. Lan Zhan refuses to think of it as them awkwardly waiting, because if he thinks of this as awkward, then he will never stop. 

“Do you really care to know?” Lan Zhan asks. 

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, guileless. 

“Cultivation for the Lan sect.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, nodding in understanding. 

“And what do you do?” Lan Zhan asks, perfunctory. Wei Ying seems to expect it. 

“This and that,” Wei Ying says. “I’m a cultivator, but I just do it, like, pro bono, not as a career. Uh, I went to school for theater tech, so. I work for Sesame Street, which is cool as hell, and I teach a couple of classes at a parkour gym. I compete some, too.”

“There are parkour gyms?” Lan Zhan asks. 

“Yeah, I teach the twenty-and-up age group. Mostly wall-walks, arm hangs, that sort of thing.”

“Interesting,” Lan Zhan says. As someone who fails to have any desire to participate in team sports, he is pleased to hear that Wei Ying also partakes in fairly independent activities. And as someone who finds peace and joy in movement, he is pleased to hear that Wei Ying has to some degree made a living off of it. Even if this means that Wei Ying cheerfully participates in the gig economy. Lan Zhan takes no issue with participating in it in itself, but surely doing so with cheer is unnecessary.

“Yeah, it’s totally interesting,” Wei Ying says. “Or, at least, I think so. Oh, look, here’s the train.”

It’s a low-traffic hour, so the train is relatively empty, and their car especially so. Still, when they board, they stay standing. 

Lan Zhan stares at Wei Ying.  

“Are you not going to -” Wei Ying asks as they start moving. “Why are you holding your hand like that?” It’s shaped like Lan Zhan has it wrapped around the support pole, except instead it’s just hovering next to it. Not actually grabbing it.

“It is good for increasing stability and balance,” Lan Zhan says. 

“So you just… ride the train like that? All the time? Even when it’s not packed full?” Wei Ying asks. “How are you even doing that?”

“Stability and balance,” Lan Zhan repeats.

“Stability and balance,” Wei Ying repeats back at him. He looks at the ground and notices for the first time that Lan Zhan is wearing sandals. They look like sandals for rich people, with thick soles and straps that are probably made out of sustainable wool or recycled plastic bottles, but still. “So you keep your feet apart,” he muses, trying to mimic it.

“Too far,” Lan Zhan murmurs. “You cannot lock your knees.”

“So -” Wei Ying says, placing his feet about shoulder width apart. 

“Mn. Do not grip with your toes.”

Wei Ying tries it for another couple of minutes, shifting his heels minutely until something steadies out in his core. (Both abdominal and golden, heh.) “Cool,” he says, flashing a smile at Lan Zhan. 

Lan Zhan doesn’t precisely grin back, but he dips his head in a sort of you’ve done well acknowledgement, which is almost better. 

Then he looks at Wei Ying’s hand, which is no longer affixed to the support pole. “Black nail polish,” he mutters with a touch of - something. Derision.

Ouch. “Hey,” Wei Ying admonishes. “Don’t be rude.”

Lan Zhan looks down, contrite. Wei Ying thinks, anyway. He’s pretty stony-faced, but the body language for I was just unthinkingly mean to someone I’m trying to sleep with is pretty universally sheepish. “I am sorry. It is only… you are a lot to take in,” Lan Zhan says. “The nail polish... is good.”

“A lot, huh?” Wei Ying asks, trying to size him up. 

Lan Zhan gives him a warning look that makes Wei Ying feel all shivery.

“How am I a lot to take in?” Wei Ying asks, pushing for more. “Me? You have a secret eight-pack.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. “Is it a secret?” 

“Well, I didn’t know about it,” Wei Ying says. 

“A lack of advertising is not the same thing as concealment,” Lan Zhan says mildly.

Wei Ying sputters. “Well, look, they’re not black. My nails.”

“Your... nail polish... is black,” Lan Zhan says, confused. 

Wei Ying brandishes his free hand up at Lan Zhan and does a little spirit finger wiggle. “Excuse you, this is Lincoln Park After Dark. It’s red-black. Or, okay, it’s a dupe, Lincoln Park After Dark is OPI and this is Zoya’s Casey, because I feel like it’s sort of shitty to do animal testing just so I can have colorful nails -”

Lan Zhan swallows and, in a very low, polite, dangerous voice, says, “If you keep talking about cruelty-free products, I will ride you… hard.” 

Wei Ying’s mind goes blank for a second.

Ride has a lot of meanings. Like, figuratively riding someone’s ass. Doesn’t mean Lan Zhan is actually going to sit on his cock. 

Getting fucked is Wei Ying’s his favorite thing, really. It’s just that getting to fuck someone else is very exciting in addition to being sexy. Somehow, when he worried about having to do the dreaded fifty-fifty bottoming-topping split with Lan Zhan, he didn’t consider this. He doesn’t usually date women, because he likes to meet people in real life, and (weirdly enough) most of the women in theater tech and parkour are gay. Combine that with the fact that he’s really not into being in charge, and - yeah. He doesn’t get to put it in often. 

Every time that a guy does let him, Wei Ying goes fully out of his body. (“Every time” meaning “all two of them” here.) In a good way. He finishes in about three minutes flat. It’s disappointing to learn that they might not be compatible long-term, but he’s up for that, for sure. 

Whatever threat Lan Zhan was making there, Wei Ying wants him to see it through, so he says, “Um. Um, I only use Burt’s Bees lip balm? I think they’re owned by some big-ass evil corporation, but it’s hard to avoid that in the current economic -”

“Stop talking,” Lan Zhan says, evenly but darkly. There’s intent in his eyes. It’s a warning. Stop talking, or I will want to do something to you right here in this train car. 

Wei Ying shuts up, but just barely.

Lan Zhan leads Wei Ying up to his apartment.

Wei Ying talks. Quite a lot. About his job, and cultivation, and nail polish. He also gamely accepts it when Lan Zhan grabs him by the wrist and tows him past the elevator to the stairs. The elevator is terribly slow, and they are cultivators; they can make their way up four flights easily. 

At no point does Lan Zhan release Wei Ying’s wrist. At no point does Wei Ying tug his arm away.

They share a glance after they pass the second floor. “Two more,” Lan Zhan says, somewhat inanely. 

Wei Ying makes a face as though this is painful to him. 

“Be patient,” Lan Zhan says gently, reflexively. 

Wei Ying makes a soft sound.

Lan Zhan reminds himself to be patient, too. 

When they finally, finally get into Lan Zhan’s apartment, Wei Ying strikes Lan Zhan anew. Lan Zhan’s apartment is purposefully spare. White walls, blue curtains, little in the way of decor or art. In such surroundings, Wei Ying’s clothing and hair appear darker. His tattoos - asymmetrical, organic shapes - make him look very… of the flesh. 

“Shoes,” Lan Zhan says roughly, slipping his off and dropping his things. 

Wei Ying takes his shoes off, too. “So? What are you gonna do with me?” he asks, a sly grin on his face. 

“I intend to ride your cock, if you are up for that,” Lan Zhan says. 

Wei Ying’s face goes blank, surprised, and then he breaks into an excited smile, as though he has been offered a treat. “Uh huh,” he says breathily. His mouth hangs open a little bit. 

Hm. “Ride it very hard,” Lan Zhan decides aloud, testing him. 

Wei Ying nods eagerly, eyes wide. He is being good. Well, then. 

“Did you shower after your -” Lan Zhan waves a hand “- game?”

“No. Wait, do you not like basketball?” Wei Ying asks, suspicion of something completely impossible dawning on him. Somewhere deep in the back of his mind. The part that isn’t occupied with the words ride it very hard. 

“I - we go to support Nie Mingjue,” Lan Zhan says. 

“Is that the guy who owns the gym or the sneaky little one who spilled on you?”

Lan Zhan sighs, takes his wrist, and pulls him along. “The gym owner,” he says. 

They get to a bedroom. It must be his bedroom, but it looks practically unlived in. “Are you not in town a lot?” Wei Ying asks, heading toward the bed. Lan Zhan’s not moving fast enough. 

“Minimalism is easy,” Lan Zhan says. Then he tightens his grip on Wei Ying’s wrist and says, “Wait.”

“Are you gonna make me shower?” Wei Ying asks. Seems insane right now, but if that’s what it takes…

Ah, no. Lan Zhan is pulling him back to press him up against a wall. 

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, and tugs him down (he’s slumping, because feeling shorter feels sexy) for a kiss. 

They make out against the bare white wall. 

Wordlessly, Lan Zhan tugs Wei Ying’s shirt up and off of him. 

Wei Ying pouts and tugs Lan Zhan’s off, too. Then he gets boxed in again, and their chests press together, which is so exciting that he doesn’t mind being unable to stare at Lan Zhan’s body up close. 

“You are sticky,” Lan Zhan says against his mouth. 

Wei Ying grins. “You’re totally gonna make me shower, aren’t you?”

“Eventually,” Lan Zhan says, in a voice that certainly promises something. He presses closer, thigh brushing Wei Ying’s groin. “First, as I told you, I intend to ride your cock.”

“Cool,” Wei Ying says, and then feels like an idiot, but he’s gotten this far. Lan Zhan probably won’t kick him out. Yet.

“On the floor,” Lan Zhan clarifies. “You’re not getting into my bed like this.”

Even just hearing Lan Zhan, the Wildly Beautiful Yoga Man, say the words getting into my bed is a lot for Wei Ying. To say nothing of ride, which Lan Zhan has now said three entire times. The floor? Awesome, who cares. 

“Cool,” Wei Ying says. “Can we do it now?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. He grabs him by the wrist, pulls him to the center of the open space, and tugs his wrist once, sharply downward, before letting go. 

Wei Ying goes to his knees, kind of hoping there will be blowjobs. Blowjobs with fingers. He can’t quite make out Lan Zhan’s erection underneath his complicated, fancy athletic wear, but he assumes it’s there. His own interest is obvious in his slippery shorts and thin athletic boxer briefs. 

Lan Zhan first pulls a folded towel out of a closet and then heads to an elegant night stand and pulls out some lube and a couple of condoms. “This goes underneath you,” he says, tossing Wei Ying the towel. “Get on your back.” Wei Ying very willingly does. 

Lan Zhan looms over him for a moment, watching wordlessly as Wei Ying trails a hand along his shoulder, where he was checked during the game, across his chest and down to the waistband of his shorts. His gaze makes Wei Ying feel small, in a good way. 

“C’mon down,” Wei Ying says, beckoning with his other hand. 

Lan Zhan sheds his shorts and leggings in one go, not bothering to undo his tight bun.

“Remove your shorts, please,” he says. “Socks as well. I refuse to sleep with a man wearing tube socks.”

“Holy shit, okay,” Wei Ying says, laughter in his voice. He complies gratifyingly quickly and lies back down again immediately. 

Wei Ying’s ponytail is messy. Lan Zhan would like very much to see Wei Ying’s hair loose, but he’ll allow it to stay as is for now. 

They are both half hard. Wei Ying’s cock is on the small side of average size. Slender, perhaps. Perfect; Lan Zhan wants to take it for a long time. 

He joins Wei Ying on the floor and straddles him, and then regards him: inscrutable tattoos, mysterious scars, charming flush, and all. 

Lan Zhan trails a finger along Wei Ying’s hip piece. “This one,” he says. “I have been trying to read it for weeks.” He slicks up his fingers and begins working one inside of himself.

Wei Ying laughs. It is absolutely beautiful. “Chenqing,” he says. “Like ‘to give a full account.’ I used to get into a lot of trouble. They were always asking me to explain myself.”

Lan Zhan slips his finger inside of himself to the first knuckle, then the second. 

“It’s from Qu Yuan,” Wei Ying continues. Lan Zhan accidentally jabs himself. His cock jumps. Oh, no. Wei Ying cannot really -

“I wished to set forth my thoughts and explain my actions: I little dreamed that this would be held a crime,” Wei Ying quotes softly.

If Lan Zhan was angry that Wei Ying’s original line - I would let you piss on me - worked on him, then now he is furious. And aroused. 

He pulls his finger out of himself and replaces it with two. He would have an easier time from a different angle, but he likes this. The power of it. Sitting over Wei Ying, being in charge of the thing happening between them.

Wei Ying makes a soft, wanting sound and tilts his hips, jutting his cock forward. 

Lan Zhan says, “Basketball shorts do not conceal much.”

“You like what you see?” Wei Ying asks, biting his lip, smug again. 

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says. “And now you are reciting poetry to me and telling me about getting into trouble.”

He feels thankful for his hard-won balance and stability as he slicks his hand up for a second time, holding his weight off of Wei Ying’s thighs. Before he returns his fingers to himself, he wipes them over Wei Ying’s chest, his wrist brushing his cock - warm, fully hard now - in the process. Then he uses his drier hand to tease Wei Ying while he goes back to fingering himself open. 

“You - I noticed you at our second practice,” Wei Ying says. “You’re so - you’re just like that, look at you.”

Lan Zhan is too busy looking at Wei Ying. Wei Ying is splayed underneath him, ready to be taken. With his tattoos and his nail polish, he looks raffish. He is flushed with either alcohol consumption or sexual exertion. Perhaps both. His hair became notably tousled during his game, and he has not made a single attempt to fix it. He looks, in short, like he has already been used, and Lan Zhan will just be one more on the pile. He does not know why that thought is so enticing to him. 

He flicks one of the condoms onto Wei Ying’s chest. “Get going,” he says.

There’s a fraught, one-sided moment where Wei Ying rolls a condom onto himself and has to put a lot of energy into not making a very bad pun about hoops and shooting.

When Lan Zhan slides onto Wei Ying’s cock, Wei Ying’s dumb joke burns right out of his brain; all he can think is tight, wet, hot. 

He talks about it. Of course he talks about it. How could he not?

“Holy shit,” Wei Ying says. He’s pretty sure he’s said it ten times in the last half hour. “Holy shit, okay -” and then Lan Zhan starts to move, hips bouncing and undulating, and Wei Ying loses even that shred of coherency and just says, “Fuck.” 

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. It’s a deep, meditative sound. 

“Fuck,” Wei Ying repeats, raspier. 

His hands are on Lan Zhan’s hips. He doesn’t know when that happened. 

He tries to reach for Lan Zhan’s cock. Not even to jerk him off, necessarily, although he absolutely wants to. He just wants to touch it. It’s thick and firm and it bounces along with Lan Zhan. 

The instant his hand makes contact - all he registers is hot - Lan Zhan growls, opens his eyes, and grabs Wei Ying’s wrist. He grabs the other one, too, and then he brings them up above Wei Ying’s head and holds them there. 

With one hand. Like, pins them there, with one hand. Wei Ying struggles a little bit. Lan Zhan easily keeps them there on the floor. 

“Wow,” Wei Ying says. He can’t do anything - all he can do is lie there like a feast to be taken and give Lan Zhan whatever he wants. “Wow, thank you.”

“What for?” Lan Zhan asks. He gives another devastating roll of his hips. 

“This is just, like, the best day, this is - you’re so tight, shit.” Literally the only way it could improve is if Wei Ying got fucked, but this, yeah, he’ll take it. 

Lan Zhan’s hair is still in its perfect bun. His eyes are lowered to Wei Ying’s chest, his tattoos. “You are already a wreck,” he says, eyes narrowed. Intent. 

“Yeah?” Wei Ying asks. He’s usually happy, covered in sweat, but here in this very pristine man’s pristine apartment, he guesses that he’s kind of grubby. “Sorry,” he says, grinning because of endorphins and because being admonished feels sexy, sometimes. 

“Do not,” Lan Zhan orders. “I like it.” He uses his free hand to tweak one of Wei Ying’s nipples, which makes Wei Ying squeak and uselessly try to move his hips up into him. There’s no point; Lan Zhan is heavy and strong and he has Wei Ying totally pinned to the ground. 

“This is the best thing,” tumbles out of Wei Ying’s mouth. It’s followed by, “Holy shit, you’re so hot.”

Lan Zhan just smirks at him. “Do not come too soon,” he warns. 

Wei Ying wants so badly not to let him down, and also wants to know what will happen if he does. “Did I say you’re tight? You’re really tight. Also hot. Wow, thank you, did you know I wanted to fuck you?”

“It was pointed out,” Lan Zhan says wryly. 

“I did,” Wei Ying says. “Do. So bad. But I didn’t think you would actually do it. You’re so - hot -”

“And you,” Lan Zhan says, “are a tease.”

He probably doesn’t mean for that to have the completely outsized reaction on Wei Ying that it does. He moans. He thinks he sprains something in his hip from how hard he pushes up into Lan Zhan. His basketball season might be cut prematurely short, but what a way for it to end. Jiang Cheng will just have to deal. 

“A tease?” he asks when his brain comes slightly back online. “Who’s the one flashing his abs and showing up at my games?”

Lan Zhan growls softly. “You are shirtless whenever possible, and your shorts are so. Low.”

“Had to get your attention somehow, right?” Wei Ying asks breathlessly. 

“You had it,” Lan Zhan says. “The leering, the shirtlessness, the shorts that do not conceal your ass or your cock.”

“Wait, fuck, do those shorts really show my dick?” Wei Ying asks, momentarily pulled out of the situation. 

“If one looks for it,” Lan Zhan says. “I looked for it. Because I wanted to do this.”

“Wow,” Wei Ying says. “Cool.”

“Cool,” Lan Zhan echoes. It’s completely flat, but it’s absolutely mockery, and fuck if that doesn’t get Wei Ying a little hotter. 

Lan Zhan bends down, then, and closes his eyes again, and moves in a way that is clearly just for him. Mouth open, abs jumping with his breath. The rock of his hips is smooth, digging deep. Just taking what he wants. Wei Ying never wants him to stop. 

“You’re so hot,” he babbles again. “Thank you. Holy shit.”

“Mn. I want to come on just your cock, but if I bend over and jerk off onto you, it will slide here,” Lan Zhan says, tracing his nails in the dip of Wei Ying’s iliac crest. 

Wei Ying shivers - he’s close, he’s so close, Lan Zhan is so tight - and says, “You can definitely, absolutely, um, just go again later. I can go again, at least, and you can watch?”

“I can go again as well,” Lan Zhan says. He doesn’t roll his eyes, but Wei Ying feels like he did. “I will take you again tonight, if you are free,” Lan Zhan states. It’s not really a request. 

“Uh huh,” Wei Ying says. 

“Perhaps in the shower.”

“Shit,” Wei Ying says. “Okay, I think you really need to come soon, please, if this is how you want it, because I definitely, definitely only have a minute or two left in me.”

“Mn. We will have to work on that,” Lan Zhan says - fuck - but he takes him at his word and works his hips brutally, efficiently over Wei Ying’s cock. He doesn’t touch himself at all. He’s fucking unbelievable to look at.

When he comes his movements change, going more staccato, deeper. Greedier. He gets even tighter around him, so fucking tight and hot as he clenches around him over and over that it almost hurts. 

When he’s finished, he doesn’t stop moving his hips. He just leans forward, sinks a hand in Wei Ying’s hair, and says, in a low, dangerous voice, “Finish quickly.”

“Nngh,” Wei Ying responds, and definitely, absolutely finishes quickly.

“If you are staying for any length of time, you must shower first,” Lan Zhan tells Wei Ying. He himself will do so after Wei Ying is not liable to track sweat throughout his home. For now, he re-dons his gym attire; no sense in wearing fresh clothing while he himself is still unwashed. 

“Uh huh,” Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan is developing a dangerous fondness for the sound. “What can we do in there?”

Quite honestly, Lan Zhan says, “Nothing. I want you to actually shower. You are… sticky.”

Wei Ying scoffs. “I think you like it,” he says.

Lan Zhan considers this. “Then, if you are clean, I may mess you up again.”

Wei Ying clears his throat and says, “Cool. Yeah, where’s - where’s your shower? Can I go there right now?”

Lan Zhan pretends not to notice the moment of indignity Wei Ying suffers when he stands with the condom still on. “Do you have any allergies or restrictions?” he asks.

“What?” Wei Ying asks. “Like, latex?” He’s now holding the used condom with slightly more poise. “No. It’s a little late now, anyway.”

“Food,” Lan Zhan explains. “I eat dinner at six p.m.”

“No allergies. What, all the time?”

“Unless I have to be somewhere else.”

“That’s nuts,” Wei Ying says. “I completely forget about dinner at least twice a week.”

“Go,” Lan Zhan says. “The shower is through that door.” If he does not banish Wei Ying momentarily, Lan Zhan will drag him and all of his mess into his actual bed.

Lan Zhan’s bathroom is normal. All white, like the rest of his place so far. All of the fixtures are gleaming, as though they’re brand new, or he has extremely soft water, or he cleans them a lot, or tarnish just doesn’t dare to build up in his presence. Same with the grout between the tiles. It’s bright white.

It’s not wildly luxurious or anything - it’s a normal size bathtub/shower combo. It feels incredible, actually, to get rid of the dried sweat and to feel his muscles soften up.

He cleans himself out thoroughly. Doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Especially when you’re boning someone who, apparently, scares every trace of that orange mildew away from their tile grout.

Lan Zhan comes in midway through and places something on the counter. “Clothes,” he says. 

“Uh,” Wei Ying says, thanking the heavens for opaque shower curtains. “You don’t have to.”

“I do,” Lan Zhan says. “You sweat a lot.”

When he gets out of the shower and into some sleep pants of Lan Zhan’s that - well, talk about not hiding anything, they’re made of crepe or something, they’re super thin - he asks, “Did you just move here?”

“You are not wearing a shirt,” Lan Zhan says in front of his stove. He’s... actually cooking? He’s got to live in a busy delivery radius, this close to Roosvelt, but instead he’s making what looks like curry. 

“Yeah, is that a problem?” Wei Ying asks innocently. 

“No,” Lan Zhan says, blinking slowly. Then, with visible effort to refocus, he adds, “I have lived here for five years.” 

“In Queens?”

“In this apartment.”

“Then how is your bathroom so clean?” Wei Ying asks, amazed.

“I... clean it,” Lan Zhan says. 

“Oh, ouch,” Wei Ying says. “I clean my place, but it doesn’t look like that.”

Lan Zhan says nothing, turning back to the cast iron pan on the stove. 

“Whatcha making?” Wei Ying asks, propping himself up on the counter. 

“Green curry,” Lan Zhan says. “Tofu, mushrooms, assorted greens.”

“Spicy?” Wei Ying asks, perking up. 

“You can add chili flakes to yours,” Lan Zhan says. 

Wei Ying hums in acquiescence. 

Lan Zhan puts the burner on low. “This will take thirty minutes,” he says.

“Nice,” Wei Ying says. Because he would really like to go again, he adds, “Uh, you want to go again?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says readily, and then, “Are you just going to leave your hair like that?”

“It’s not like I have a brush with me,” Wei Ying says, as Lan Zhan begins pushing him towards the bedroom again. Wei Ying slows his pace a little bit just so that Lan Zhan will push him more. 

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. 

When they get into the bedroom, Lan Zhan pushes Wei Ying backwards onto his bed - evidently getting what Wei Ying was going for, and holy shit, this really is a great day for Wei Ying - and steps back. 

“What?” Wei Ying asks breathlessly. 

“I need to shower also,” Lan Zhan says. He strips off his shirt and kisses Wei Ying, which helps to soften the blow when he says, “You can get started without me, but do not come.”

“What,” Wei Ying says, a hot rush going through him. 

“Unless you think you can get it up again in time,” Lan Zhan says, shrugging cooly, stalking away in his fucking yogawear. 

And then Wei Ying is left alone in Lan Zhan’s bed. Which, wow, is really comfortable? His sheets (all white) feel kind of unreal. For all that his apartment looks sad and unloved, Lan Zhan clearly took care with the essentials. Even his cookware looks solid.

So. Okay. He can get started without Lan Zhan. 

No. Wei Ying is just going to lie here and be normal and chill. Maybe fuck around on his phone. He’s pretty sure it’s here. Somewhere. Oh, look. It’s on the floor. He could get out of the bed and pick it up. 

He could.


He palms himself through Lan Zhan’s pants and hears the shower start up. Ha. Lan Zhan, who is hot and wet and naked and a couple of walls away.

Wei Ying hopes that Lan Zhan is cool with switching even just a little bit, because if Lan Zhan ever puts a finger in him, he might fall in love. 

When Lan Zhan returns from his very hasty shower - unclothed, his wet hair parted down the middle and tied back into a tight braid - he is treated to quite a picture.

Wei Ying is sprawled out on his bed, one leg bent, touching himself through his now-very-obscene pants. Rays of sunlight stream in from the blinds, cross-cutting him, highlighting his chin, his collarbones, his elbows.

“Take these off,” Lan Zhan says, trailing a hand along his thigh.

Wei Ying hastens to comply. His cock is only semi-hard, but fairly wet. 

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, looking at it. It curves slightly. He wants to sit on it again. 

“We’re both cultivators,” Wei Ying says. “We could do it, like, a bunch of different ways.”

“You have something in mind?” Lan Zhan asks as he climbs on top of him. 

“No, I just wanted to say, for the record,” Wei Ying says, voice a little bit high. It sounds like he very much had something in mind. Lan Zhan will let it lie. 

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. “I’m going to take you again and watch my come drip down your stomach. And then we can talk athleticism.”

Wei Ying makes a sound. 

When he starts fingering himself open, Wei Ying pulls him down by the shoulders and kisses him. He draws Lan Zhan in with a hand and parts his own lips softly, waiting for Lan Zhan to take it further. Letting Lan Zhan take over.

“You’re so hot,” Wei Ying says. “Sorry, I really want to get in you again, but you’re so beautiful, this is just, it’s hard not to kiss you?”

“Thank you,” Lan Zhan says dryly. 

Wei Ying talks and talks and talks about how attracted he is to Lan Zhan, how much he likes his shoulders, his hands, how much he wants his ass. “It’s perfect, Lan Zhan, you have no idea, or, you’re so good at it, you must know, but it’s so tight and - people don’t do that unless it’s my birthday or something.”

“Absurd,” Lan Zhan grunts, unable to resist reaching out and jacking Wei Ying a couple of times. “Get a condom,” he says. Wei Ying does, putting it on eagerly, if such a thing is possible, and applying some of Lan Zhan’s lube, too. When he’s done, he bites his lower lip prettily and shifts his hips up, offering. 

Lan Zhan has no reason to say no, so he knee-walks up and positions himself. He takes Wei Ying’s slick cock easily, comfortably, as he did the first time. No burn. Just pressure and fullness, and a sweet, perfect curve that he can chase. 

“Fuck,” Wei Ying says. 

Lan Zhan knows the feeling. 

Wei Ying’s hair is wild. His stomach is sticky and shiny with drool from his own cock and Lan Zhan’s. He is wiry - all real strength, nothing for show other than his stupid cum gutters, and the architecture of his face is incredible. 

“You’re a mess,” Lan Zhan tells him. 

“Fuck, yes,” Wei Ying says. He tries to surge up into Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan holds him down. 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, sinking a hand into his hair. 

Wei Ying makes an extremely positive noise. He bites his lip and wordlessly encourages harder hair tugging. 

When Lan Zhan rolls his hips, he feels Wei Ying’s cock inside of him like a brand. Wei Ying gasps. “Like that,” he says. “That kind of - fuck, look at your abs, do you have insane core control, can I come watch you do yoga sometime, can you do yoga here?”

“After dinner, if you like,” Lan Zhan says, amused. “You want to see me bend for you?” If Wei Ying has delusions about being a top, Lan Zhan might not mind indulging them. Once.

“Oh, fuck, will you be like this?” Wei Ying asks. 

Lan Zhan rolls his hips again. “Like what?”

Wei Ying’s eyes roll back and slide shut. “Will you make me,” he asks, pleads, voice tight, breath shallow and excited. So no delusions, then. 

Lan Zhan tugs his hair again. Wei Ying arches into it, throat exposed. “Of course I will,” Lan Zhan says. “Did you think I would let you call the shots?”

Wei Ying shakes his head, as much as Lan Zhan’s hold on his hair allows. “Hm-mm,” he says. “No, it’s you, it’s - this is the best thing in the world.”

Lan Zhan settles into a comfortable, rolling rhythm and asks, “Wei Ying. What did you have in mind?”

“?” Wei Ying asks, with no particular sound. 

“When you spoke of outlandish dual cultivation, what did you have in mind?”

Wei Ying tries to shake his head and dismiss it, but Lan Zhan tightens his grip on his hair. 

Wei Ying gasps. “I - if you fingered me,” he says. “You have a big wingspan, I have faith, or maybe if I kind of reached, or -”

Lan Zhan slows the steady grind of his hips. “Spread your legs,” he says. 

Wei Ying does, quickly, easily, and then he stares up at Lan Zhan, blinking stupidly. 

Lan Zhan puts a hand behind himself, feeling for the spot where he and Wei Ying connect, collecting some slick. He trails his hand downward. Wei Ying spreads his legs more as he does so. 

Lan Zhan considers getting up to get more lube, or at least kneeling up a bit and running his hand over the slick mess covering Wei Ying’s cock. Then he thinks, quite distinctly, fuck it, we’re cultivators, and forces the barely-not-dry tip of his index finger into Wei Ying.  

Wei Ying inhales like it hurts. His hips stutter ridiculously underneath Lan Zhan, drawing him in. 

With interest, Lan Zhan watches Wei Ying’s face. He swallows. Opens his mouth. Closes it. Swallows again. 

“Holy shit,” Wei Ying says, still reflexively moving. Or trying to. He can’t effectively fuck up into Lan Zhan or down against his finger. Not with Lan Zhan pinning him down like this. 

Lan Zhan curls the single finger that he has inside of Wei Ying. Wei Ying keens. Tries, uselessly, reflexively, to move against him. 

The way Wei Ying’s throat works as he swallows - the way his lips keep parting - make Lan Zhan feel unbalanced, predatory. He picks up pace, shifts to something determined and slightly frenzied. 

Only a few minutes later, Wei Ying - sweating again, Lan Zhan is going to have to push him back into the shower - says, “Please. Please, I’m going to come, can I come?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, considering it. “It is up to you. I will not stop you. But I also will not stop.”

“Oh, fuck,” Wei Ying says, hips stuttering upward the same way they did last time, even though he has no leverage, nowhere to go. He can only have what Lan Zhan gives him. “Fuck, tight, how are your fingers so long, Wei Ying says, so evidently Lan Zhan is giving him enough. “Fuck, you feel so good in me.”

Lan Zhan keeps driving his hips over him at that pace and pressing his finger up flat until Wei Ying’s entire body is taut, tense. His jaw is clenched. He is slightly misty at his temples. Then Lan Zhan crooks his finger again. Wei Ying groans wordlessly, almost a tearless sob, and his upper body pulls forward, abs jumping, as he comes. 

Looking at Wei Ying as he falls backwards and slowly unwinds, Lan Zhan wishes he could feel Wei Ying’s come inside of him. Idly, he wonders what his chances are of finagling an exclusive thing out of Wei Ying. He seems like he wouldn’t mind getting boxed in. 

As a measure of courtesy, he has to slow his hips eventually. But he doesn’t stop moving entirely. 

Wei Ying’s breathing slows and lightens. He sighs. The tension in all of his muscles releases at once, turning him slack and loose. Easy. For a moment. 

As Lan Zhan keeps moving, Wei Ying’s lips alternately press together and fall open. “Please,” he whimpers. 

Lan Zhan does not want to have mercy. He wants to wring Wei Ying dry. 

When Wei Ying starts to go soft inside of him, Lan Zhan takes his finger out of him - eliciting a bereft moan - and begins jerking himself off. He does not want Wei Ying to have a chance to go soft. He wants to keep going until Wei Ying is hard again. Wants to make him come a second time, with hitched breaths and wet eyes.

He will not do it tonight, but he thinks Wei Ying might let him, one day, if they end up seeing one other again. 

In any case, this is the present, and Lan Zhan has not yet taken what is his. 

Wei Ying starts to shudder intermittently as sensitivity sets in. Lan Zhan holds him down, which makes Wei Ying gasp. 

“Should I stop?” Lan Zhan asks. He thinks he keeps the reluctance he feels out of his voice.

Wei Ying shakes his head frantically. He shudders again and breathes in slowly. Hands fisting in the sheets. “I’ll be good,” he says. 

“Are you sure?” Lan Zhan asks, circling his hips. 

Wei Ying is still fairly firm inside of him. He looks overwhelmed. “Fuck,” he says. The word cracks down the middle. “I keep saying, this is the best thing in the world, just - please keep going.” 

“If you insist,” Lan Zhan says, and does so. 

As it happens, Lan Zhan does not need to work Wei Ying back up to get his desired result. Even as Wei Ying softens in Lan Zhan - which takes a gratifyingly long time - his breathing hitches, his shoulders shudder, he tears up. 

“You’re sensitive,” Lan Zhan remarks.

“Yes, fuck, use me,” Wei Ying says fervently. 

There is a pleasantly sore twinge in Lan Zhan’s ass. Heat runs up and down his spine, radiating from Wei Ying’s perfectly sized cock.

What finishes Lan Zhan off is the fact that Wei Ying wants to be used. Wants to be held down. Lan Zhan can play at passivity if he must, if that is what it takes for him to get fucked well, but he much prefers taking what he wants. 

And Wei Ying clearly wants him to take it from him. Keeps angling his hips to hit Lan Zhan deeper, better, even as it makes him shake. Even as it must begin to pain him. Even when he appears, finally, to lose his endless speech and simply whines, hurt and eager.

When Lan Zhan comes, he does not bother to stifle the involuntary clench of his ass and the jolt of his hips. Wei Ying’s face, as Lan Zhan comes around him, is wanting, agonized. He tips his head back, exposing his throat again. Surely a simple physical response, but it creates the appearance of catharsis.

Lan Zhan rides Wei Ying through it. He keeps going even as Wei Ying whines in oversensitivity, and keeps going, as Wei Ying whines, “Fuck, too much, oh, no, don’t stop, don’t stop,” and all the while the mess on Wei Ying’s stomach drips to his cum gutters and down, down. 

“A mess,” Lan Zhan repeats when he returns to himself. 

He licks Wei Ying’s cum gutters clean afterwards while Wei Ying whines, oversensitive enough for that to get to him. His playful whines give way to real ones when Lan Zhan gets close to his groin or hums. He seems pleased to be bothered in this way. He still does not physically move Lan Zhan away at all. 

They make out for a few minutes, and then Lan Zhan’s dinner alarm goes off.

Wei Ying inhales shakily. “Can you bring it here?” he asks. “You ruined me.”

“Trust me,” Lan Zhan says, throwing Wei Ying’s borrowed pants back to him. “I did not.”

Wei Ying inhales, eyes wide, and puts Lan Zhan’s clothes on. 

“I can’t believe you made us dinner,” Wei Ying says when Lan Zhan has successfully directed him to a little bar-height dining table. “This is better than a lot of dates I’ve been on, you know.”

He emphasizes dates, not a lot. Comparing this to dates to show that he knows it isn’t one. Low pressure. So chill. Ha. He would do literally anything if Lan Zhan would do that again. What he just did. Is there a name for fingering someone while you ride them? The Lan Zhan Special?

“I think this can qualify as a date,” Lan Zhan says.  

Fuck, yeah. He waits, though, and plays it cool. “Kind of ass-backwards,” Wei Ying says. 

“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees. “Stay the night.” 

Yes, yes, yes. “Mmhm,” Wei Ying says, nodding casually. 

Lan Zhan’s curry is bland, even with the chili flakes, because he’s one of those people who doesn’t cook with soy sauce or salt or anything. But it’s food, which Wei Ying realizes he hasn’t had in about ten hours. Inedia works, but it’s not fun. 

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says disapprovingly when Wei Ying mentions this. He’s so hot and stern. And he can kind of cook. Not to mention the things he did to Wei Ying’s cock, and his ass, both of which are now a little sore in the best possible way. This is so great. 

Wei Ying asks about Lan Zhan’s work. Lan Zhan doesn’t have much to say about it. And Wei Ying gets the sense that he’s quiet in general. It’s kind of cute. But Lan Zhan clearly knows his stuff; he has really interesting insights on yaoguai - he dealt with a few of them last week, he says - that Wei Ying wants to mull over. 

“How come you’re in Jackson Heights?” Wei Ying asks. It’s a perfectly fine apartment, but the Lans are fairly well-off, like the Jiangs. Junior disciples of any sect often do time in less-desirable areas (not so much “tougher” neighborhoods, even, as more densely-populated areas overall - more people means more ghosts) while they wait for cushier assignments. Lan Zhan is older, established. Most of the older pro cultivators Wei Ying knows are based in quieter, statelier neighborhoods. 

“I like to be nearer to people who need my help,” Lan Zhan says after a moment of consideration. “And being near a station helps when I am called on emergency hunts. If I lived in a wealthier place, I would only be called to help out here when things got very bad. If I stay closer to chaos, I am much more accessible to people who need help more.”

Wei Ying blinks, processing the fact that Lan Zhan is like, a genuinely good guy. 

In turn, Lan Zhan asks what he does for Sesame Street, and Wei Ying gets to say the funniest, best thing: “Puppets! I make puppets. I’m a puppeteer.”

Lan Zhan’s expression is entirely neutral, which is great; some people are genuinely repulsed. That’s why he puts the puppet part up front now. He understands irrational fears; he’d hate to go on two dates with a veterinarian and then learn that they specialized in dogs. 

He continues, “Puppeting engineer, actually, is my official job title. I don’t usually voice them or move them around, I just design them. Their looks and how they move. I do a lot of the one-off characters? Hence, you know, it’s not a full-time thing. I’m a specialist.”

Lan Zhan lets him talk about Sesame Street until he runs out of stuff to say. Well, Wei Ying doesn’t actually run out, of course, but he keeps it to a fifteen-minute spiel about HBO and public television and the many wonders of microfelt and the complicated relationship between Sesame Street and the Muppets. (Here’s how restrained Wei Ying is: he doesn’t even bring up Fraggle Rock.)

Then, apparently determined to become Wei Ying’s best first date ever, Lan Zhan says - voluntarily! Apropos of nothing! - “Tell me about parkour.” 

“Ah,” Wei Ying says. This has never happened to him before. “Well, I teach it, and I compete. In the cultivator category.”

“Which do you like more?” Lan Zhan asks. 

“Cultivation or parkour? Apples and oranges,” Wei Ying says. “But the physical skills translate pretty well.”

“Do they?” Lan Zhan asks. 

“Totally,” Wei Ying says, nodding.

Lan Zhan looks at him silently. Patiently waiting for him to explain contemporary parkour as a sport and how it bolsters his cultivation. 

Wow, fuck, this is the best date Wei Ying has ever been on. He can’t believe he has to thank Jiang Cheng for bullying him into joining his stupid basketball team.

Two weeks later:

Wei Ying befriends Nie Mingjue one day and asks if the cultivation team even has a women’s rec league.

“No, this one is co-ed,” Nie Mingjue says. 

“What?” Jiang Cheng asks, jogging over from half a court away. “Did you just say it’s co-ed? This league is co-ed?”

“Yes,” Nie Mingjue says warily, clearly sliding into work mode. He probably thinks this is going to be some weird argument.

Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng exchange a look, thinking something very different. “Wen Qing,” Jiang Cheng breathes, like he’s seeing his basketball savior come down from the great big court in the sky. “Wen Qing. Wei Ying, Wen Qing, call Wen Qing right now, what are you still doing here?”

“Our teams for the season are -” Wei Ying starts. 

“Reserve her for next season or die,” Jiang Cheng hisses.

“Touchy,” Wei Ying says, but he does go grab his phone and head into the empty little corridor out the side door to call her. 

She agrees readily - she’s the best basketball player they know, and she loves it, and she’s been looking for an excuse to join the cultivation gym - but Wei Ying stays on the phone with her for an extra twenty minutes just chattering. It’s fun to talk with friends. It’s also fun to look through the door from time to time and see Jiang Cheng vibrate with nervous anticipation about possibly snagging a true star player.

Lan Zhan appears in the empty corridor shortly before they get off the phone. When they hang up, Lan Zhan crowds Wei Ying against the wall, out of view of the courts. They make out, hot and dirty, Wei Ying pressing his hips against Lan Zhan’s thigh, Lan Zhan’s fingers digging into the cleft of Wei Ying’s ass over his clothes. 

“Lan Zhan, I won’t be decent if you don’t let me go,” Wei Ying says, not actually protesting. Lan Zhan is kind of massaging his ass, and he’s not going anywhere until that stops. 

“Later,” Lan Zhan says, brushing his lips against Wei Ying’s. “Shower.”

It would be a nonsequitur if they hadn’t hooked up in the gym showers three times already. 

“Will you pretend not to know me?” Wei Ying asks. Once, Lan Zhan gave him a significant look in the locker room and headed to an out-of-the-way shower stall. When Wei Ying got there, Lan Zhan pushed him to his knees and hooked a leg over his shoulder. “Fingers first. Then blow me. I don’t need your name,” he’d said, crass and mean. 

Wei Ying feels all good and shivery just thinking about it. 

“If you like,” Lan Zhan says, pleasantly polite. 

Wei Ying has to kiss him a little bit more about that. 

When Wei Ying finally comes back and tells his brother that Wen Qing is all theirs for next season, Jiang Cheng actually sniffles. For just a moment. Then he screams, “Back to work. All of you! We need to shape up this season, because next season, we’re contenders.”

A bunch of their teammates cheer, which just goes to show that Jiang Cheng is really coming into his own as a leader.

“We’re gonna crush you guys next year,” Wei Ying tells Nie Mingjue. 

So he might have a little team spirit. Just sometimes. Sue him.

Two months later:

Lan Huan would like it on record that he did most of the leg work in getting A-Zhan his beau. He is totally in support of the beau. 

He is slightly less in favor of - or, that’s too strong, simply concerned about - the beau’s gym attire. From the get-go, it was clear that the beau dressed to attract A-Zhan. If he had thought about it at all, Lan Huan would have assumed that the beau’s attire would become more subdued after snagging his brother. Instead, Wei Ying seems to have doubled down in his efforts to snag A-Zhan’s attention. 

And Lan Huan’s brother is encouraging it. 

“That is... a shirt?” Lan Huan says one day, right before yoga starts. Previously, he’d worn no shirts. Somehow, the skimpy half shirt he is wearing now is much more provocative. 

“I got it for him,” A-Zhan says blandly. 

The next week, Wei Ying is wearing tight spandex shorts that land mid-thigh, with loose, short, thin mesh shorts over them that still expose a good amount of his spandex-covered rear. The week after that, he is wearing slightly longer shorts with no visible secondary layer. (A-Zhan unsubtly gropes Wei Ying’s ass in full view of everyone filing out of yoga class that day.) The week after that, it is a pair of relatively conservative joggers, comically low on the hips, no shirt whatsoever. 

When Lan Huan prods a bit, A-Zhan admits to giving all of it to him. 

Concerned that his brother might not understand the… impression the clothing gives - namely, that Wei Ying is his gym bunny boy toy - he attempts to revisit the conversation the following week after yoga. 

“Some people might consider such attire rather… attention-getting,” he says, delicately imparting a little brotherly wisdom. 

“Mn,” A-Zhan says, appearing to digest this. 

“Or even, perhaps, aggressively lascivious?” Lan Huan adds.

Stone-faced, A-Zhan says, “Mn. This does not concern me.”

“Well, of course you should not mind the opinions of others. But,” Lan Huan says, concerned that he will have to really spell things out if his next attempt falls through, “onlookers unfamiliar with both of you might get an impression of… mutual lewdness.”

“Brother. I understand perfectly,” A-Zhan says. “I know exactly the impression it gives. One might even call it the desired effect.”

Then he sweeps away, leaving Lan Huan gaping after him. 

Five months later:

Wei Ying finally attends yoga class with Lan Zhan and Lan Huan after his basketball season is over. They spend a great deal of time together. And Lan Zhan has made good on his promise to do yoga for Wei Ying. Several times. So Lan Zhan is rather pleased to share a class with him.

“It looks so boring,” Wei Ying whines when they settle into the room.

“Just one class,” Lan Zhan says. “If you truly need to leave, no one will stop you. Give this a try.”

“Where’s the action in this,” Wei Ying says, but he gamely squares himself up on his yoga mat (borrowed from Lan Zhan) with all the seriousness of a man going to war. 

Wei Ying giggles and whisper-chatters for the first fifteen minutes, but calms as the class becomes more strenuous. For the most part, he follows along with the class, visibly learning the poses as he goes, but nonetheless achieving each basic stance. After the third cat-cow, he ceases his attempts to make salacious eye contact with Lan Zhan. Midway through the first compass pose, he falls quiet. Lan Zhan glances over from time to time throughout the remainder of the class. Wei Ying looks thoughtful, or perhaps thoughtless. 

“Did you like it?” Lan Zhan asks him afterwards.

“Yeah, that was fun,” Wei Ying says. He sounds spacey.

“Mn. We will go home now,” he tells Lan Huan. 

“See you,” Lan Huan says, heading off to see (and, presumably, unknowingly sexually taunt) Nie Mingjue. 

Back at Lan Zhan’s, Wei Ying remains quiet. Calm. More still than usual. Lan Zhan kisses him carefully. He slides a hand under the waistband of Wei Ying’s leggings to thumb at his cum gutters. His other hand dips between Wei Ying’s legs from behind, making him gasp and spread them, and then moves up slightly. Lan Zhan takes one side of Wei Ying’s ass in a firm hold and bites Wei Ying’s lower lip.

Then he pushes him to the floor. 

Often, at the start of sex, Wei Ying will make an inane but amusing comment or two. (For instance - they both enjoy following up a workout with a good athletic fuck. The third or fourth time they did so, Lan Zhan made Wei Ying shower and left him on Lan Zhan’s bed to play with himself, as per usual, while Lan Zhan rinsed off. Upon Lan Zhan’s return, Wei Ying - lazily feeling up his own erection - asked him, “Anyone ever tell you you sex walk in time to the opening strains of Ginuwine’s Pony?”) Lan Zhan thinks that making such comments helps Wei Ying to alleviate some of his own pre-sex jitters. 

Today, however, he appears too relaxed to have any smart remarks; all Wei Ying says is, “Ah.” He reaches for Lan Zhan’s shirt. 

“Mn,” Lan Zhan murmurs. He pulls away and throws Wei Ying a towel. 

“Oh, wow, yeah,” Wei Ying says. He lays the towel out flat and lies down. They have a routine for this. He does not say anything more. 

“Yoga got to you?” Lan Zhan asks. 

Wei Ying hums. “Come here to me now,” he says. “Please.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees, but makes a stop by his nightstand to grab lube and one of the plugs they keep in rotation. 

Then he takes off his clothes and kneels next to Wei Ying. Wei Ying tries to follow suit but his leggings get caught at the ankle. Lan Zhan just tells him to leave it and starts fingering him open enough to take the plug. For the most part, he doesn’t ride Wei Ying’s cock without it, unless he’s fingering him. He likes how grateful Wei Ying is for it, keening and crying. 

Today, though, Wei Ying simply lies there when Lan Zhan slides it into him, still quiet and calm, blissed out. 

He rides Wei Ying with harsh, deep movements. He often holds Wei Ying down when they do this, but right now he does not need to. Wei Ying keeps his wrists crossed over his head. He does not try to move his hips. His eyes stay half-shut. 

“One day, I am going to put you in a cock ring,” Lan Zhan decides aloud. 

Where he would normally swear and plead or protest, Wei Ying just gasps loudly and nods about ten times. 

Hm. And after that, Lan Zhan may need to reward him with a new plug. Perhaps something with a more significant curve to it, to match the charming curve to his cock. 

Lan Zhan looks forward to picking it out. 

For their second date, months ago, Wei Ying took Lan Zhan to this adorable diner. A surefire winner. Breakfast food is a great equalizer. 

Or so he thought. All Lan Zhan could eat there was fruit and dry toast, because it turned out that he’s not a half-assed plant-based eater but a full-on capital-V vegan. 

Lan Zhan waved off Wei Ying’s worries (well, agonized apologies) and made him take him back to his place. 

Thankfully, Wei Ying had put in several hours of careful grout-scrubbing the weekend before, so Lan Zhan deemed the cleanliness of Wei Ying’s shower “acceptable.”

Lan Zhan didn’t just turn out to be a vegan on that date; he also turned out to be very exclusively a power bottom. Yeah, riding Wei Ying wasn’t a one-time sexy impulse punishment thing. 

“Fuck,” Wei Ying said, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. “I mean. I had a great time before - fucking phenomenal, really, bravo - but I’m really not into, uh, not taking it up the ass. Like. Gods, can you imagine? That can’t be my life.”

Lan Zhan nodded. “I thought that might be the case,” he said smoothly, and pulled a black box about the size of his hand out of the fancy gay waxed canvas Qiankun satchel he brought along. Fuck. Wei Ying couldn’t let this slip out of his grasp, could he? A partner he could foist his keys (and wallet, and phone, and sword) onto? That’s the dream.

But. He couldn’t date someone and not take it on the regular. He just couldn’t. 

“For you,” Lan Zhan prompted. 

Wei Ying took the box and opened it. 

He hadn’t messed around with sex toys too much, since his budget precludes fucking machines and honestly, in comparison, nothing else appealed. So he didn’t have a lot of context for it, but. Nestled in the box was definitely the most no-nonsense anal plug he’d ever seen. And probably the largest, too. It was definitely the heaviest one he’d held. Steel or something. Expensive-looking. It gleamed in a way that screamed no plating here, I’m solid all the way through. 

“I thought about getting you the medium, but -” Lan Zhan shrugged for effect - “why give you less, when I know I can make you take more?”

“Uh-huh,” Wei Ying breathed. He’ll try anything once, as long as there’s a bossy voice pushing him to do it. 

Lan Zhan slid the plug into him with no prep. Barely any lube. He just licked it while Wei Ying watched and then gave a dry, hard shove until the plug forced its way into him. (“I would suck on it, but these things are so solid. Feels strange on the teeth,” Lan Zhan said, musing, like there was no urgency at all, like Wei Ying had no choice but to wait for him. Fuck, it was so hot.)

It felt intense, this heavy, cold, foreign thing inside of him. Overwhelming and hard and strange and - 

Lan Zhan lowered himself onto Wei Ying’s cock without ceremony.

On instinct, Wei Ying angled his hips for him. 

The plug moved inside of Wei Ying. 

Wei Ying choked on his own tongue for what felt like half a minute. 

“Holy shit,” he croaked weakly when he finished gagging on absolutely nothing but the absolutely overwhelming press against him from inside and above. 

“It will do, then,” Lan Zhan said. Barely a question. He looked smug, with that half-smile Wei Ying was beginning to recognize. 

“Lan Zhan, you just made me your bitch,” Wei Ying moaned, and hung on for dear life while Lan Zhan rocked his world. 

And that’s the plug they use after Wei Ying tries yoga. 

It’s just. It’s so fucking solid. And with Lan Zhan using his cock - gods, sometimes it’s like all of the air goes out of the room. It’s almost invasive. Fuck, he loves it.

He usually tries to writhe and fight and make a sexy nuisance of himself when they fuck. But hell, yoga really did do something to him. He’s lost all of his fight. 

Lan Zhan doesn’t seem to mind. He drives himself down onto Wei Ying with abandon, pulling Wei Ying’s hair for flavor. Wei Ying just lies back and lets it happen. Lets him take what he wants. 

“You may finish whenever you need to,” Lan Zhan tells him. Abruptly, Wei Ying realizes that that’s really good, because - oh, fuck, yeah. Yeah. Everything goes hazier. White. He hears himself give up a soft, sweet moan as he comes. 

It quickly turns into an overstimulated whine, because Lan Zhan smirks and keeps going, brutally working himself to completion over Wei Ying’s sensitive cock. Wei Ying’s iliac crest is painted when Lan Zhan is done. 

“You will be keeping your membership to the cultivation gym, then?” Lan Zhan asks after they’re both satisfied.

“Uh huh,” Wei Ying says dreamily. Then, realizing he’s been tricked: “Ugh, am I going to have to go yearly?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, looking smug. Then he carts Wei Ying off to the shower. For entirely non-hygienic purposes.

One year later:

Towards the end of basketball practice, Wei Ying’s entirely unintentional cover gets blown.

Wen Qing has been fucking crushing it on their team. Carrying them on her shoulders, really. It’s got to be embarrassing for Nie Mingjue and that sneak Meng Yao to lose so badly. Even Wei Ying is kind of pumped. It helps that she brought her buddy A-Qing on board. She does these crazy fake-outs, and she never seems alert, but she’s actually tracking the ball all of the time, and it throws the competition way off. 

They’re past their practice slot. Jiang Cheng is just making them run these kind-of-helpful but very annoying wind sprints until they get kicked out. Lan Zhan’s yoga class is just ending - he tried to convince Jiang Cheng that he should be allowed to join that instead, but he wasn’t having it. 

From the other court, a voice calls out, “Holy shit, is that the Yiling Laozu?”

Wei Ying looks up automatically. 

There’s a kid jogging towards him, possibly a Lan by the looks of him. He’s in all blue and white. 

“Hey, man,” Wei Ying says, holding his hand out for a little high-five shake thing, because one glance at this kid - wearing blindingly white limited edition Nikes - makes it clear that he has style. 

“Lan Jingyi,” the kid says, returning the gesture. “I practice at Mo Xuanyu’s.”

“Yeah, I think I’ve seen you around,” Wei Ying says. “You do that kickflip -”

“Off the west wall! Yeah!” Lan Jingyi says. He’s beaming. “Wow, it’s so weird to see you out in the real world. Sorry, just, you’re like, a big deal.”

“No, hey,” Wei Ying says, waving a hand dismissively. “Always happy to talk about the sport, for real -”

“Wei Ying,” Jiang Cheng says. “What’s this?”

Wei Ying rolls his eyes. “This is Lan Jingyi. He also does parkour. We were just talking.”

“Endurance is very important,” Jiang Cheng says. 

“Totally,” Wei Ying agrees. 

Lan Jingyi asks, “Do you do another sport competitively here, or - is this part of your system?”

“Nah,” Wei Ying says.

“Yes, you do!” Jiang Cheng cries.

“Well, yeah, but not for, like, prizes,” Wei Ying says. “Lan Jingyi, this is my brother Jiang Cheng, who takes this gym’s basketball league way too seriously.”

Lan Jingyi nods earnestly. “It’s nice to meet you,” he says.

Several decades of ingrained etiquette lessons from Madam Yu hit Jiang Cheng all at once. Wei Ying can see it happen. His mouth opens robotically. He says, “Pleased to meet you as well.” Then he storms off to harass Jin Zixuan.

“Here, Lan Jingyi, you want my number?” Wei Ying offers. “Let me know when you’re headed to the gym and I’ll pop over. I can give you pointers or whatever and you can show me the kickflip.”

“Seriously?” Lan Jingyi asks, with a face like Christmas came early. 

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. 

“I mean, yeah,” Lan Jingyi says, holding out his phone. Wei Ying starts typing his number in. “But - not to be weird, but I could be a creep or something.”

“Not possible,” Wei Ying says. “I know a few Lans, they’re good people. And Xue Yang is the only creepy person at Mo Xuanyu’s. He, like, sucked all the creepiness out of it and into himself.”

Lan Jingyi snorts. “Yeah, but have you seen that thing where he wrenches his shoulder on purpose?”

“Oh, fuck, yeah, isn’t it cool?” Wei Ying asks guiltily. It is. It’s cool as hell. 

“You’re really giving me your number?” Lan Jingyi asks. 

Jiang Cheng comes back. “What’s the big deal? What’s more important than basketball?”

“Nothing in the world,” Wei Ying says, but too seriously. It doesn’t fly. 

“Good luck at the match next month, man,” Lan Jingyi says. “I’ll let you get back to your stuff. It’s so cool to talk to you.”

“For sure,” Wei Ying says. The kid’s earnest attention is very flattering, and a nice balm for Jiang Cheng’s burning glare. “Hey, want to see something I’m working on before you go?” Luckily, he wore some of his scuffed shoes today.

“Do you have to ask? Of course!” Lan Jingyi enthuses. 

Wei Ying sizes up the far wall. “Okay, yeah, so -”

“Wei Ying,” Jiang Cheng growls.

“Gods, give me like, two minutes, Jiang Cheng. Okay, Lan Jingyi, see, calf raises are boring, but if you start doing them when you’re just standing around, and really focus with moving meditation, then eventually -” he pops off into a light jog, and gains momentum, running towards the far wall of the court. Right before he gets up next to it, Jiang Cheng screeches wordlessly, which Wei Ying is glad he saw coming. Otherwise the ear-splitting noise might have made him stumble. As it is, he smoothly shifts the jog into a bounce, runs up the wall (with a little boost of spiritual energy to bypass gravity), and launches himself away from it, towards the back of the basketball hoop. He does a flex arm hang off of one of the struts suspending the basketball hoop from the ceiling and uses it to pull himself up. Then he crouches and pushes off from it with a backwards flip. Midair, he uses a quick flash of spiritual energy to make a golden pillar that rises from the floor halfway to the ceiling. He uses it to launch himself up to the ceiling, landing on it feet-first, and does another wall-walk against it until he’s roughly above his starting point. (In the parkour gym, he’d do a moonwalk, but he knows Jiang Cheng would give him shit for days.) He lets himself fall lightly back down to the floor with a neat little quad leap he’s been working on. When he lands, Lan Jingyi actually claps, looking delighted. Lans really are too good. 

He and Lan Jingyi high five again, and the kid goes back to his game of horse. 

Jiang Cheng is standing and seething. “Sorry,” Wei Ying says. “I promise I’ll focus.”

“What was that?” Jiang Cheng asks. 

Wei Ying has a sudden flashback to being fourteen and getting chewed out by Madam Yu. He’s so strongly expecting the how do you explain yourself that when it doesn’t come, he makes a go on motion to Jiang Cheng. 

“What was that?” Jiang Cheng asks again.

“Yeah, that was cool,” Jin Zixuan pipes up. 

Jiang Cheng makes a steam engine noise. “Wei Ying!” he says.

“Parkour?” Wei Ying asks blankly. 

“Parkour.” Jiang Cheng echoes. 

“Parkour,” Wei Ying says. He tries it with the French pronunciation to lighten the mood. It does not help. 

“That’s what you do in parkour?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. “It’s like free running?”

“I know... what parkour is,” Jiang Cheng says darkly. “Is that what you’re doing at your stupid gym?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. “It’s super fun.” Wary of Jiang Cheng’s energy, he tries to redirect. “Um, anyway, how’s -”

“I didn’t know you could do shit,” Jiang Cheng says. 

“Uh,” Wei Ying says. He sees Lan Zhan enter the court - yoga must’ve finished - and waves to him. Lan Zhan nods back, crossing the room.

“Like, stunts and shit,” Jiang Cheng says behind him.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. “I’m really good at it. I keep telling you.” 

“But I didn’t know you were good good!” Jiang Cheng says. 

“What - I’m ranked!” Wei Ying says. “I made a huge deal about it when it happened.”

“You can be ranked, like, three billionth. Having a rank doesn’t tell me anything.”

“It only goes up to a thousand,” Wei Ying says. 

“A thousand?” Jiang Cheng asks skeptically. “Do a thousand people go to your gym?”

“No?” Wei Ying asks, confused.

Jiang Cheng, looking more irate by the minute, says, “Are you - it’s not a gym ranking. Is it.”

“Oh, no, like, nationally,” Wei Ying says, nodding. 

Flatly, Jiang Cheng says, “You’re nationally ranked... in parkour.”

“Yeah!” Wei Ying says, chipper. He’s still proud of himself. “The cultivator division, obviously.”

“The cultivator - what’s your fucking rank, Wei Ying?” Jiang Cheng asks. “How many cultivators even do parkour?”

“Should we go?” Jin Zixuan asks, gesturing to the rest of the team. “We’re just gonna go, this is the end of our slot anyway.”

“Fine,” Jiang Cheng says, waving a hand impatiently. 

Lan Zhan appears at his side at that moment. Wei Ying grabs his upper arm; Lan Zhan pinches his side. “Lan Zhan, Jiang Cheng didn’t know I do parkour for real,” Wei Ying whines. He’s been conditioned to while when Lan Zhan pinches him. 

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. He looks Jiang Cheng in the eye. “Is that why you do not come to his matches?”

This is a point of contention between them. Wei Ying thinks it’s Jiang Cheng’s business what he does with his time, and if he hates parkour, he shouldn’t have to hang out while Wei Ying does it. Lan Zhan thinks that he should suck it up and go to one of Wei Ying’s meets. 

“I - what rank are you, Wei Ying?” Jiang Cheng asks, ignoring Lan Zhan’s passive-aggressive stare. 

Wei Ying hesitates. “National or world?” 

“You’re world ranked?” Jiang Cheng screeches. 

“Just in the cultivation rankings. It’s a relatively small group... Why did you think I spend so much time at the parkour gym?” Wei Ying asks. 

“Why did - what’s happening?” Jiang Cheng asks, fisting his own hair. 

“Come to my next match,” Wei Ying says, rolling his eyes. “It’s cool, it’s fun, I promise. Maybe you’ll even want to try it, who knows? Lan Zhan enjoys them.”

“Is he secretly a world-ranked ping pong player?” Jiang Cheng asks. 

“No secrets,” Wei Ying says, rolling his eyes. “C’mon, come to a match.”

“Fine,” Jiang Cheng says. “I cannot believe this.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. Wei Ying quirks an eyebrow at him. Lan Zhan is totally secretly pissed now that Jiang Cheng is actually coming. He comes to all of Wei Ying’s matches and a few of his practices, ostensibly just doing light leg routines and hanging out but actually mostly perving on Wei Ying, he’s pretty sure. They always have really aggressive sex afterwards. 

Jiang Cheng shakes himself. “Wait, Wei Ying, what the fuck is your rank?”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says. He worries at his lower lip. “Um, world, twenty-something.”

“Twenty fourth,” Lan Zhan murmurs to him. 

“Twenty four,” Wei Ying tells Jiang Cheng.

“And nationally?” Jiang Cheng asks, looking like he wants to strangle Wei Ying for drawing this out. Which is totally not his fault. He bragged a lot when he qualified. 

“Uh,” Wei Ying says. “Sixth.”

“Sixth,” Jiang Cheng screeches. Like a teakettle. “Sixth.” 

“Yep,” Wei Ying says. 

Lan Zhan rubs his back all proudly, which makes Wei Ying shiver.

“Wait, parkour is half of my job,” Wei Ying says. “It’s not like Sesame Street pays the big bucks. Jiang Cheng, what did you think I did for money?”

“I don’t know,” Jiang Cheng says, still sounding disgusted. “Just - maybe dad was sliding it under the table to you or something, how was I supposed to know?”

Wei Ying giggles. “You thought your mom would let that happen?” he asks. 

“I don’t know!” Jiang Cheng says. “Why do you think I asked if you wanted to move in with me last year? Why do you think I offered to pay for your membership here?”

“Aw, A-Cheng,” Wei Ying says. “That’s so sweet, but no, I’m doing okay.”

“How do you even make money off of parkour, of all things?” Jiang Cheng asks. “Are you sure you’re not a loveable deadbeat?”

Aw, loveable. That’s nice. “Well, there’s prize money,” Wei Ying says. “But the big money comes from sponsorships and endorsements. Like most sports.”

Jiang Cheng rubs the bridge of his nose like he has a headache. 

“You do endorsements,” he says flatly. “People buy shit on your recommendation. Like, protein supplement bullshit?”

“Well, endorsement, at this point, not endorsements. Agreements with bigger sportswear companies tend to be really exclusive.”

“What bigger companies,” Jiang Cheng says, rubbing his nose harder. 

“Oh!” Wei Ying says. “Adidas, yeah. That’s... why I only wear Adidas? I’m contractually obligated. This is so weird, didi, I really thought you knew.”

“How would I know?” Jiang Cheng asks, throwing up his hands. “You have to tell people!”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve told you,” Wei Ying says. “Anyway. I pack a lot of it away in savings, for when I get older, but as long as I don’t do something really stupid, I should be able to coach when I get too old to compete.”

“There are coaches?” Jiang Cheng asks. 

“Yeah, of course,” Wei Ying says. “I mean, I was kind of discovered, just free running on my own in the Burial Mounds, but most people get into competitive parkour intentionally these days. The sport has really legitimized and standardized over the last decade. There are actually some really interesting political aspects to it - I bet as a future Sect Leader you’d have a lot of opinions -”

Jiang Cheng makes his teakettle noise again. He’s turning a distinctly Madam Yu shade of purple.

“Ahaha,” Wei Ying says. “Okay, it seems like maybe you’ve received all of the information you need to receive today. Um, you really don’t - don’t bother coming to a match, it’s really not a huge deal, and anyway, Lan Zhan always sits in my section, so don’t feel like you have to come, you know? No big.”

“You have a section?” Jiang Cheng asks. 

“Yeah!” Wei Ying says. “Like a friends-and-family box? Um, I usually give most of my seats to fans, but Lan Zhan sits there now, and Wen Ning comes pretty often. Wen Qing’s been once or twice, too.”

“A box,” Jiang Cheng says darkly. “You have a friends and family box, and it is filled with strangers.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Wei Ying says. “Not strangers. Just. Friends, and… friends I haven’t met yet?” he tries. 

Jiang Cheng huffs at him with the scary super-wide nostrils that signal danger. “I am. Coming. To your next match, Wei Ying.”

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, appeasing. 

“When is it?” Jiang Cheng pulls out his phone, like he’s about to pen it in. 

“I don’t, um,” Wei Ying flounders. 

“Three Saturdays from now,” Lan Zhan says. “Seven p.m.”

“Wow,” Wei Ying says. “You’re great. Jiang Cheng, isn’t he great?”

“Shut up,” Jiang Cheng hisses. He brandishes his phone at Wei Ying. It displays a reminder setting and an event notice for Wei Ying’s next parkour meet: ADULT HOPSCOTCH COMPETITION.

“Cool,” Wei Ying says. “Great.”

“We will see you there,” Lan Zhan says to Jiang Cheng firmly. If Wei Ying didn’t know him better, he’d say there was a warning tone to his voice. 

“Yes,” Jiang Cheng says, crisp and polite in a way that doesn’t actually sound polite. “Would you like to carpool?” 

“I take the subway from 82nd Street,” Lan Zhan says. “You are welcome to join me.”

“I’ll do that, then,” Jiang Cheng says, shifting his gaze back to Wei Ying. “I’ll be there.”

“Great,” Wei Ying says. “Cool, great. No worries if you end up not being able to make it, though.”

“Wei Ying,” Jiang Cheng says. “I’ll be there. Shut the fuck up.”

“Okay, didi,” Wei Ying says, smiling helplessly. “All right.”

Jiang Cheng is, indeed, at Wei Ying’s next meet, sitting in the front row, four fans between him and Lan Zhan. Jiejie still isn’t there - Wei Ying honestly wouldn’t expect her to ever come, because her job keeps her fucking busy and there’s no way she and Jin Zixuan would spend a rare date night on this. 

Still, it’s kind of a date for him and Lan Zhan. It’s fun. 

He realizes, when he’s almost up, that Jiang Cheng coming here obligates Wei Ying to belong to Jiang Cheng’s stupid rec league team forever. He doesn’t even care if Jiang Cheng ever shows for another meet. It’s just nice that he made the effort for this one. Means a lot. 

He wonders, for an instant, if he should have chosen different walk-on music. 

No, he decides, imagining Lan Zhan’s wry expression and his brother’s look of confused suspicion when the opening shoe-squeaks and hand claps of Get'cha Head In the Game begin to play. This is it: fun parkour shit, annoying the shit out of his little brother, and then heading home to have weird, aggressive sex with his boyfriend. Perfect. Let’s go, team.