Wei Ying never wants to bother Lan Zhan. Most days, he makes it his sworn duty to be as little of an inconvenience to Lan Zhan as humanely possible—he owes Lan Zhan that much, for having faith in him when even his own brother didn’t. Asking Lan Zhan for help is almost physically painful.
But he can’t make sense of the latest batch of data he’s pulled. He’s been staring at it for so long that the numbers are blurring together, and he’s sick to his back teeth of all these ridiculous acronyms corporations use. Why is it so hard for them to just say what they mean? Why do they shorten everything into a jumble of letters?
He’s losing his mind. He doesn’t want to bug Lan Zhan with his work problems, but—it’s for the orangutans, so Lan Zhan will forgive him. And it’s better than slamming his head off the wall, right? After all, these are Lan Zhan’s walls.
“Lan Zhan. Ah. Do these numbers make any sense to you? I’ve been trying to work them out, but…. yeah. I’m not great at this.”
Lan Zhan’s eyes go a little wide, and Wei Ying’s stomach falls like an elevator in a slasher movie. He’s disappointed Lan Zhan. He’s shocked Lan Zhan right down to his beautiful, shining, golden core. Dear Lan Zhan was confident in Wei Ying’s hackivism skills, and now he’s realising the truth—that Wei Ying is terrible at everything.
He knew this day was coming. Honestly, he’s surprised it took this long. Now that it’s here, he feels panic rising fast, filling up his throat.
Surely Lan Zhan, with his perfect grades, can recognise a drop-out on sight? Surely they’re going to reach a point where Lan Zhan, Dr Lan Zhan with his brand new PHD in psychology, is going to realise just how far the gap between them stretches?
But Lan Zhan has never said a word. Never even asked. It feels so blatant to Wei Ying—he sees it in the sparse ‘Education’ section of his resume, tucked away behind his long and erratic work history. He looks in a mirror and knows he never belonged in a classroom. Even looking at his name written down, he feels a jolt of shame—there should be letters after it. Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli sailed through school as easily as they sailed the lakes back home. The gaps in his education feel like a stain he can’t wash out.
Lan Zhan is paging through the data when Wei Ying manages to speak, pushing through the thickness in his throat.
“We should talk,” he says.
Lan Zhan’s hands still above the keyboard, held at the perfect angle—palms and wrists up, not flat against the laptop like Wei Ying’s always are.
“It’s not—Lan Zhan, it’s nothing to worry about! You don’t have to stop! It’s not about… about us, or anything. It’s just. About me.”
Lan Zhan’s rigid shoulders relax a little. Wei Ying, without thinking, presses his palms against them—kneading his thumbs over the tension there. Lan Zhan hums and leans into it, his head tipping back to look him in the eyes.
“You need not tell me anything you’re uncomfortable with,” he says.
“I do, though. You’ve been so good to me, and I want to be honest with you.”
“There’s no need to make yourself uncomfortable for my sake. Things are good, Wei Ying. I am content as we are.”
Wei Ying lets his hands drop from Lan Zhan’s shoulder, feeling the heat of Lan Zhan’s body drift away from his fingertips. He wants to keep massaging, but his hands are shaking, and he has to drop them into his lap.
He wants this so badly. Lan Zhan’s affection. Lan Zhan’s respect. Lan Zhan to think of him as an equal, as someone worthy.
But that’s never been the truth. He’s always been the worst sort of person. Letting Lan Zhan have feelings for him without knowing what he’s really like is pure selfishness—the time they’ve had together so far is only borrowed. He’s known that. He’s always, always known that.
But he doesn’t want to give it up. Not ever.
“Give me a minute, Lan Zhan. I—I forgot to brush my teeth,” he says, ducking into the bathroom before Lan Zhan has a chance to look round.
Wei Ying: Hey. Are you about? I’m having a panic about things. much panicc. bigggg. paniiiiik.
[Missed call from Jiang Cheng]
Wei Ying: DON’T CALL ME!
Wei Ying: WHY WOULD I WANT TO TALK ON THE PHONE
Wei Ying: we! talk! here!
Jiang Cheng: ugh
Jiang Cheng: k
Jiang Cheng: what is it?
Wei Ying: ahhhhhhhhhh
Wei Ying: I think Lan Zhan noticed I’m an idiot
Jiang Cheng: took him long enough
Jiang Cheng: what tipped him off?
Wei Ying: Work stuff. There was a report and there were numbers and… bwargh.
Jiang Cheng: ????
Jiang Cheng: what sort of dumbassery is it you’ve done today?
Wei Ying: NOT HAVING AN EDUCATION, JIANG CHENG
Wei Ying: THE BIGGEST OF DUMBASSERIES
Jiang Cheng: oh that
Jiang Cheng: i thought it was something big
Jiang Cheng: it’s fine bro you’re both adults nobody cares about your education
Wei Ying: Lan Zhan is a DOCTOR now!!!!
Jiang Cheng: oh shit for real? Don’t let Nie Mingjue find out, he’ll try to adopt him and give you A-Sang instead
Wei Ying: not that kind of doctor! a doctorate in psychology!
Jiang Cheng: oh no
Jiang Cheng: poor Lan Wangji
Jiang Cheng: all that learning and yet he picked you
[Wei Ying sent a file: bunnyscreaming.jpg]
Jiang Cheng: ffs
Jiang Cheng: chill
Jiang Cheng: drama queen
Jiang Cheng: go talk to him he won’t care
Jiang Cheng: he took you in when you were a wanted man he clearly dgaf
Wei Ying stares at the last message from Jiang Chang, and at the basin of water in front of him, wondering if he could just stick his entire face into the water and scream for a while. Does water stop screaming? He has no idea. Mythbusters has taught him that water can stop bullets, but he'd definitely remember if they'd tried that test with screaming. He probably shouldn't be the one to test this.
He splashes his face with water, and doesn’t bother to pat dry. His skin is radiating heat, and there’s something nice about feeling the droplets roll down his cheeks, pooling at his collarbone.
His laptop is sitting on the bathroom counter, a very hastily made Powerpoint waiting on screen. He’s no stranger to making slideshows to help explain things—Lan Zhan seems to enjoy it, so Wei Ying has a template and a set of doodles he can pull from fast—but he’s struggling with this one.
He missed the days before he knew he was a failure. He used to think he fit in. He worked hard, had friends, he even wore the uniform like all the other kids. (Him! In uniform! Without even altering it to be more interesting!)
He’d thought he was… not super popular, but, popular-ish? He had friends. His grades were okay. But over the years he realised he wasn’t the popular kid—he was the class clown. And he stopped trying to be anything else.
But he had years of being yelled at for: doodling while he listened, fidgeting, talking too fast or too much, not thinking through his answers, not answering quickly enough, not staying on-topic, not thinking outside of the box, thinking too much outside of the box, asking stupid questions, being distracted, forgetting thing, and a hundred other things that had always been part of him.
That were part of him now, and made him run screaming from the whole idea of working a real job, with neurotypical boomers expecting him to care about timekeeping and routine admin work and to be happy doing time-wasting tasks because corporate IT meant looking busy more than being busy. He loved fixing things, building things, making things, solving problems, but every job that would let him do it also required a bunch of things that his brain screeched to a halt at like answering phones, or networking, or sitting there letting people yell at you.
Wei Ying had walked away. The education system that didn’t want him, and his brief dalliances in corporate IT had felt worlds apart from actual tech work, and so analog it was almost arcane. He was so full of ideas, so full of things he was going to learn and do, that he knew he didn’t need it.
If the system wasn’t willing to work with him, eh, it was their loss.
And all of that was fine, totally fine, except that he hasn’t told Lan Zhan any of it. Wei Ying has misled this beautiful man whose always does his homework early (not even on the day of the deadline! Earlier!), who graduated top of his class (as expected from his Lan Zhan), who’s been a star student all his life. Lan Zhan has likely never seen a drop-out in his life and doesn’t know one when it takes up residences in his impractically white-furnished home.
Poor Lan Zhan needs educated! By Wei Ying. He doesn’t miss the irony as he pats his face dry, grabs his laptop, and heads out of the bathroom, finding a pale-looking Lan Zhan hovering beside his fancy-pants electric kettle.
“Do you want tea?” Lan Zhan asks.
“Ah, no, I’m good. There’s still coffee in the pot.”
“Yeah, but I need to get this finished—for the rainforests, right? I want to make sure my boss has it in his inbox by morning. And you’ve seen how much I have to get through.”
“That will not take long. The file is large, but summarised, there’s not much to say—the conclusion is far more simple than it looks. I would suspect the sheer amount of data there is to discourage people from looking through it—most of the entries are unnecessary and repetitive. I’ll make you a decaffeinated coffee.”
“I’m fine, Lan Zhan. I’ll grab a drink now, but come sit with me,” Wei Ying says, dipping into the fridge and pouring the first bottle of wine he sees into a mug.
He sits beside Lan Zhan on the white couch, which Wei Ying belatedly realises means he can’t hold the wine in his hands to keep them busy. So he rests the unfortunate, untouched wine on the coffee table, and he ends up flapping as he explains like an electrocuted Muppet as soon as he opens the laptop and begins.
“Ah. This is a Powerpoint conversation,” Lan Zhan says. He grabs some books from the shelves, and props the laptop up on neat pile of them, almost at the height of his head. “Don’t crane your neck, Wei Ying. Stand tall.”
Wei Ying hunches more, in pure defiance, wrapping his arms around himself. He talks Lan Zhan through his history, skating around the darker edges—but Lan Zhan notices and steers him back, dropping firm “Wei Ying”s whenever Wei Ying makes a joke about how school made him want to yeet himself off a cliff.
Wei Ying tries to remember the Powerpoint, desperately trying to speak Lan Zhan’s language—but his Powerpoint is mostly Paint doodles of himself, and of the bunnies, and himself as a bunny. He’s thrown a lot of transitions in everywhere because he got bored typing words, but he forgets the Powerpoint half-way through.
Lan Zhan grabs the laptop off him and uses it to keep Wei Ying (vaguely) on topic. He is calm as ever, placidly clicking through each slide and pointing out typos. Wei Ying really wants to let his brain go full feline and just knock the laptop off the tower of books, because he’s freaking out and Lan Zhan is chill and that’s just making him freak out even more.
Lan Zhan’s eagle eyes never miss a moment of hesitation, never skip a tidbit of Wei Ying’s past that he’d really prefer not go into, honesty be damned. He doesn’t want Lan Zhan to know the truth of him. Because Lan Zhan is so good. So successful, with a bright career ahead of him. And he… isn’t.
But Lan Zhan does not pass a comment on any of his confession, which is agonising. The best Wei Ying gets is a murmured “Mn”, and the treasured gift of a hand squeezing his leg. Even that doesn’t last, because he can’t stay sitting, he has to get up and pace and gesture and burn his nerves out of his body while looking like every single dickhead teacher and guidance counsellor that watched him crash and burn.
Lan Zhan listens to every word as if it’s a revelation, and Wei Ying realises with a jolt that it is one, to him Of course it is. Lan Zhan cannot imagine a hacker having a passion for exposing bad science without knowing every detail of the science beforehand. Lan Zhan has never done anything that he hasn’t researched obsessively first. Wei Ying has seen his bunny-care binders.
In that moment, he’s filled with softness at just how endearingly oblivious Lan Zhan can be about some things. Days later, unable to sleep (as usual), he’ll come back to this moment—to Lan Zhan, not comprehending that you can just do things without knowing every step of the process. That you can just dive in and see what happens.
He stops mid-stride and says Lan Zhan’s name, flooding affection into every syllable because he doesn’t have the words, and saying his name is honestly the best he can do when this overwhelmed. “Lan Zhan!”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says softly. Wei Ying would be happy if that was all the rest of their night involved—just the pair of them lovingly repeating the other’s names like confused Pokemon. “It was not your fault.”
“It is. I left. I just… I just left in the middle of the term. I didn’t even finish off the year.”
“It sounds as if the school made no accomodations for your ADHD.”
“They couldn’t. It was a big class, and I didn’t have ADHD back then.”
“You weren’t diagnosed.”
“Yeah, but very few people were back then. Teachers didn’t know about it, especially in older kids and adults. K didn’t even know about it! I was a terrible student. The teachers hated me.”
“Wei Ying. You were not the problem. It is difficult to exist in a system that is not built for you.”
The words are so gentle, and they hit him with all of his defences down. Wei Ying sobs. Just, sobs, out of nowhere, because yeah it really, really, is. And he didn’t think Lan Zhan would get it, because Lan Zhan is Lan Zhan, perfect Lan Zhan, but then again….
He’s seen Lan Zhan’s quiet moods, where he curls deep into himself. He’s had a taste of the way Lan Zhan hides his feelings away—so many things still unspoken between them, so many moments where they had just vibed with each other without being able to say why. They’d been practically strangers when he’d disappeared, but Lan Zhan had known something wasn’t right, and had reached out to Jiang Cheng on nothing but a gut instinct.
Oh. Damn. Okay, now it’s less of one-off sob. He’s properly crying, remembering the way the rain soaked him through to the bone that night. He’d felt so alone, so unwanted, so much like a waste of potential and promise. He’d been certain he was going to die somewhere between the train stations, clubs and 24-hour fast food places that he kept dry in, flitting from warm place to warm place as security politely moved him on.
He hadn’t known Lan Zhan was lighting up A-Cheng’s phone trying to find him. He’d been focussing so hard on making it through to the morning when he could say bye to the bunnies and go somewhere, anywhere, except back home where the police were waiting to throw him into a cell.
(Lan Xichen had patiently explained to him that this was not-at-all how the police worked, but he hadn’t known that at the time.)
So he cries. And Lan Zhan holds him. Lan Zhan isn’t disappointed or disgusted in him—if anything, he’s angry that the system treated him this way, that it’s so weighted against neurodiverse brains.
Oh, Wei Ying thinks, realising how long it’s been since he last tried medicine or meditation or any of the hundred things he knew helped quiet his inner demons. Until Lan Zhan said it, he’d forgotten that he didn’t have to tough things out and pretend his head worked the same as everyone else’s.
Lan Zhan seems lost at what to do in the face of his tears, standing there looking absolutely horrified, before he snaps back to attention and grabs a handkerchief for Wei Ying. A fabric handkerchief, not a tissue, and at this point Wei Ying is convinced he’s a time traveller.
He dabs his face with the handkerchief, and then — since Lan Zhan’s hands are still there, empty now, he rests his chin in Lan Zhan’s open palm. After a moment, Lan Zhan takes his other hand and rests it on the other side of Wei Ying’s face.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says miserably. “I’m an idiot sandwich.”
Lan Zhan’s brow furrows. “You are not….an idiot sandwich. What is an idiot sandwich?”
“It’s what I am. Lan Zhan, you worked so hard to get your PHD! You’re so so smart! And I’m not! I don’t have any qualifications at all!”
“Education is not a measure of intelligence,” Lan Zhan says. His brow furrows even further. “Is this all you wanted to talk about? Did you think I’d be unhappy?”
“You’re a doctor now, Lan Zhan! A qualified psychologist! Lan Xichen is a lawyer! Your entire family are geniuses!”
“They are. But my boyfriend is a genius, too. My family knows that. I know that. I thought you knew that.” Lan Zhan pats Wei Ying’s cheek. “You really think so badly of yourself? In that case, I must take back what I said. You are an idiot sandwich. Sometimes.”
Lan Zhan holds him, and everything is better than he ever could have imagined.
That night, Wei Ying is still warm with the relief of crying and being held by Lan Zhan (by Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, the bunny dad who wears cashmere and plays a cello like some sort of manic pixie dream musician. Lan Zhan who’s like a C-Pop Idol stuck in the wrong universe). He’d hoped he would sleep like a log after his cry, but no—he’s buzzing with a fizzing sort of energy, unable to settle even with Lan Zhan beside him.
Because Lan Zhan knows the truth, and still likes him. And Lan Zhan has made him think that maybe, just maybe, he’s been overthinking the whole drop-out thing a bit.
It’s difficult to accept that Lan Zhan might be right, even though he knows Lan Zhan is always right. But he can feel the cogs grinding in his brain, years of doubt colliding with this rush of hope, a seismic shift just like in Lan Zhan’s nature documentaries, tectonic plates clashing to form whole new land.
Jiang Cheng: how did it go
Jiang Cheng: are you dead
Jiang Cheng: wait actually what if you’re not dead
Jiang Cheng: are you a doctor now
Jiang Cheng: did Lan Zhan teach you how to focus for more than five seconds
Wei Ying: it actually went really well
Jiang Cheng: good
Jiang Cheng: what happened
Jiang Cheng: hey
Jiang Cheng: are you still there
Jiang Cheng: ???????
Wei Ying: sorry got distracted
Wei Ying: took you more than 5 secs to reply so brain go whoosh
Jiang Cheng: it was a joke
Wei Ying: uh huh
Wei Ying: sure it was
[Missed call from Jiang Cheng]
[Missed call from Jiang Cheng]
[Missed call from Jiang Cheng]
Wei Ying: why
Wei Ying: stop
Wei Ying: no
Jiang Cheng: I want to talk properly
Wei Ying: Lan Zhan is sleeping! It’s quiet hours!
Jiang Cheng: it’ s not even midnight yet
Jiang Cheng: whatever
Jiang Cheng: I was only phoning to check you were okay. And to make sure you knew that I was joking, earlier, when I said you were a dumbass. And before that. I know I said a lot of things when you stopped going to school. Mom and Dad were both mad and they kept telling me to talk to you. Yanli says they were scared they’d lose custody if you dropped out.
Jiang Cheng: not that that’s an excuse
Jiang Cheng: I shouldn’t have done it
Jiang Cheng: you should have talked to us first
Jiang Cheng: we could have helped. Mentored you. Mom could have phoned up all the teachers and told them to stop picking on you when your grades were fine.
Wei Ying: no she wouldn’t
Jiang Cheng: u say that like she didn’t
Jiang Cheng: she raised hell bro
Jiang Cheng: of course she did
Jiang Cheng: mom and dad chewed up the entire school for failing to provide adequate care. that’s why they were allowed to keep custody until you hit legal age.
Jiang Cheng: anyway
Jiang Cheng: you’re not an idiot
Jiang Cheng: you’re really smart
Jiang Cheng: you do stupid things a lot but that doesn’t mean you’re not smart
Jiang Cheng: and you’re doing good lately, so, keep doing that
[Missed call from Wei Ying]
Jiang Chang: wtf
Jiang Chang: don’t call me
Jiang Chang: you made me type all that out why are you calling
Wei Ying: A-CHEEEEEEENNNNGGGGGGGG <3 <3 <3
Wei Ying: I LOVE YOU TOO
Jiang Chang: I am going to bed goodbye
Wei Ying blinks at his phone screen, blinking away tears. He’s going to be mega dehydrated tomorrow. Drinking the wine wasn’t his best idea.
He is warm and fuzzy on three fronts now: wine, Lan Zhan’s kindness, and Jiang Cheng’s…. Jiang-Cheng-i-ness. All this energy needs somewhere to go. He needs to spread it around.
He flicks through his phone, thumbing through the album of Lan Zhan’s post-its—saved there to remember in the least-creepy-way he could think of, since when he started the album he was just as a guy feeding the bunnies. He pauses on the note where he’d admitted to Lan Zhan that he’d noticed the composition written neatly on notepaper by his bedside table. He’d been so nervous writing that, so afraid that Lan Zhan would close up or kick him out for asking about his personal notes.
Lan-ge! I had to leave early again, but I fed the bunnies. are you writing me a song??? i’m so flattered! no one’s ever written me a song before
Lan Zhan insists he’s not a composer, which is absolutely ridiculous. But Lan Zhan doesn’t lie, so he believes it.
“It’s wonderful, Lan Zhan! You’re a genius, you should write more music!”
“It’s not... productive.” Lan Wangji had said, with one arm draped around his cello in a way that made Wei Ying feel more than a little jealous of the instrument. “I’m not going to school for music.”
“So? Do it because you like it!” Wei Wuxian says. “You should do things you like more often.”
Lan Zhan was so good at remembering the little things about him, about the ways Wei Ying’s head works—that he needs things written down where we can see them, that he forgets things, and how as soon as he thinks of a thing he blurts it out without stopping to think if he’s interrupting anyone, or even interrupting himself, and by the time he thinks to check he’s already forgotten what the conversation was originally about.
Wei Ying has not been so good at keeping up on the beautiful, unique workings of Lan Zhan’s mind—on areas like this where he’s practically begging for just a little jostle outside of his comfort zone.
Wei Ying can’t have that. He resolves to help Lan Zhan push away the walls of the box he’s put himself in.
One of the most surprising things Wei Ying learns is that Lan Zhan changed his major. Wei Ying never considered that Lan Zhan would be that uncertain about anything, especially his path in life—but Lan Zhan started out as a science major before pivoting into psychology.
Wei Ying only finds this out because, while browsing Lan Zhan’s bookshelves, he finds a whole trove of science books—non-fic books ranging anywhere from gorgeous hardback photo books, to friendly narratives by names even Wei Ying could vaguely recognise, to academic textbooks so full of footnotes and references Wei Ying’s eyes cross trying to get through a page. Right here on the shelf, next to handbooks on bunny care, is a shelf that speaks of a Lan Zhan that loves science. Who loves animals.
He thinks back to Lan Zhan’s bemusement in the face of his Powerpoint, and things click into place. It isn’t that Lan Zhan can’t imagine a hacker having a passion for exposing misleading science without knowing every detail of the science beforehand. It’s that science is such a deep, ingrained part of Lan Zhan that he didn’t even consider that Wei Ying might not be the same.
He’s a nerd. This sends a thrill up through Wei Ying’s heart. He knew Lan Zhan was a music nerd already, but that’s barely proper nerd stuff—musicians are cool, everyone knows that, and Lan Zhan playing his cello is a thing of beauty. But geeking out about science? That’s a level of nerdery that Wei Ying can relate with.
It’s also a level of nerd he doesn’t really understand. But, with Lan Zhan’s help, he can start learning.
It takes a lot of work to get Lan Zhan to open up—weeks of slowly, slowly wearing Lan Zhan down with careful questions and nature documentaries and casual slipping of the latest natural world news into conversations. But they’re watching Blue Planet, and a mother whale is grieving her calf, and suddenly it comes out.
“I thought I’d be a scientist,” he says.
“Mm. What happened, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying says, light and vaguely uninterested, because Lan Zhan is as easily spooked as the bunnies if he shows too much interest too fast.
“It was the right path. Science is a noble career choice. My family approved.”
Wei Ying doesn’t roll his eyes at that, but it’s a near thing. Lan Zhan’s whole family sound intense. Lan Xichen is a lawyer, surely that should be enough for anyone! But no, that grumpy old goat Lan Qiren is always pressuring Lan Zhan to match his older brother’s greatness.
“What kind of scientist?”
“A biologist specialising in endangered species. I wanted to look into things like genetic compatibility, cloning, artificial insemination… things that could keep a species going even when there weren’t enough left to mate.”
“What lead you to that?”
“There’s a whale that’s the last of its kind. He swims through the ocean, singing for a mate, but there’s none of his kind left to understand the song.”
Lan Zhan’s hands clench in his lap, and Wei Ying slides his fingers on top, squeezing them. He gives Lan Zhan a moment to elaborate, but he doesn’t—just stares at the whale on the screen.
And oh, Wei Ying’s heart is going to burst. Lan Zhan, lovely Lan Zhan, hearing the cry of a whale and deciding his whole career path from that moment alone.
He remembers meeting Mianmian at the house party they’d thrown to announce Lan Zhan officially living with someone. Lan Zhan had one drink and passed out, leaving Wei Ying plenty of time to talk with Mianmian, Lan Xichen, and Xichen’s two husbands—cute little A-Yao and scary-until-he-starts-talking-politics Nie Mingjue, who was eager to chew Wei Ying’s ear off about the unfairness of the educational system and how much it fails neurodiverse kids.
Between all of this, Mianmian had leaned against his side, and said softly: “He seemed really lonely, before you came along.”
“You think so?”
“I was really worried about him. He has so much on his shoulders, and he always just—just goes inside himself. I’m glad you’re here. He needs an outlet.”
He leaned into Mianmian, their shoulders pressing tight, heads resting together.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said, and meant it.
And now he’s watching Lan Zhan digging deep into his own feelings, talking about wanting to save whales with none of their kind even in existence anymore.
How long was Lan Zhan lonely for? How long had he been holding that ache inside of him? It seems like an unanswerable question, just a thought exercises in making himself miserable. But Wei Ying is lying asleep one night, trying to go to bed at Lan Zhan’s stupidly-early bedtime and failing miserable, when he realises he knows the answer.
Lan Zhan doesn’t talk about the divorce. Wei Ying learned about it from Lan Xichen, who’s forever patiently filling in gaps in his Lan knowledge like he’s helping a struggling student pass his exams. But he knew there was something in Lan Zhan’s past that he was avoiding saying—it was clear in the way he only ever mentioned his mother when he was tired, or drunk, or worrying about a minor ailment with the bunnies. He was always so soft, when he spoke about her. So soft and so horribly sad.
“Lan Zhan? Why are you playing your cello in here! The bunbuns need their sleep so they can get better!”
“My mother used to say that music was healing.”
“Ah! Well in that case, let me accompany you. The bunnies won’t be able to say how much they’re enjoying it, but I can watch and let you know what they think.”
Loneliness has lived within Lan Zhan for a long time. So long that Wei Ying would almost doubt it could change, except that Wei Ying has been changing every day he spends here. If he can change, he knows Lan Zhan can.
Wei Ying would give almost anything to have been here sooner. Not when Lan Zhan was a child—god, Lan Zhan would have hated baby Wei Wuxian—but he daydreams about bumping into Lan Zhan in the pet shop, or at the shelter. Just a little bit earlier. Just a few more weeks of knowing Lan Zhan.
But he has to be content with the here and now. He has all the time they’ve spent together, and all the time ahead, to enjoy. He can be happy with this moment, using every single day to ensure Lan Zhan never feels so lonely again.
Lan Xichen is the reason Wei Ying knows about the divorce. He’s also the reason Wei Ying isn’t in prison, the reason Wei Ying has a job, the reason Wei Ying has an actual spreadsheet now to track his finances, and the reason Wei Ying can do contracting work without running screaming from all the strange considerations involved in being his own boss.
Lan Xichen is the reason for a lot of the good things in Wei Ying’s life. Not the most important ones, of course—that’s all Lan Zhan—but between the two of them the Lan brothers have been completely turning his life around.
Lan Xichen gave Wei Ying several lectures about his hacking, but he was clever about it—they weren’t tellings off, more like exasperated comments about how he’s so talented, so why is he doing all this work for free? Does he not know that there are still some people out there who will pay him a wage and still let him fight for the truth? He already knows the self-employment process through his side hustles, so really, what’s he got to loose with freelancing in cyber security as well?
Wei Ying relents, because of course he does—he’s entirely weak to those Lans and their determination, whenever they see something that can be improved, to fix it. And he has a gut feeling that if he doesn’t do it, the pair will just end up applying for him. When they’ve decided something is the right path, they don’t let up.
With his super-secret haxx0r handle, Y1ling La0zu, now brushed up into a more respectable ‘Yiling Cyber Security Consultancy’, Wei Ying had gradually built his reputation and a contact book full of clients who’re happy to bring him back for repeat work. He’s relentless, and he’s cheap, so he soon had enough eager clients that he had to up his rates to a less self-sacrificing level.
These last few months, he’d even found a steady contract with an anti-palm-oil charity that looked like it could turn into a full-time role. They pay wasn’t bad—he didn’t bill too highly, he never did to charities, but it was better than pet-sitting. Still pennies compared to the corporations he was working to expose, but that didn’t matter when he was having this much fun.
It had been the palm oil org he’d needed Lan Zhan’s eyes on. And after Wei Ying had swallowed his pride and asked for help, the data kept coming in. It got easier, over time, to ask Lan Zhan’s thoughts. Lan Zhan seems to enjoying hearing about the work as much as Wei Ying enjoys doing it.
He’s under constant onslaught from the cyber security guys in big corporations—hackers of all stripes trying to chase him down, to find his weak point. They had the money to keep hounding him. They stay committed. But they can’t make up for Wei Ying’s levels of pure pettiness—even if the charity runs out of funding, he’s going to keep running circles around these overpaid amateurs just for kicks.
He doesn’t need to paid well. Like Lan Zhan, he can run almost entirely on righteous indignation.
It feels like being on the run again, being chased and wanted, except this time he’s on the right side of history. This time, he can defend himself and the charities against all this hostility with the bunnies sprawled out on the floor beside him and Lan Zhan bringing him cups of black tea with mango.
“No coffee,” Lan Zhan insists. “It’s late, and we will not allow these people the victory of stealing your sleep.”
Wei Ying allows it. He’s sleeping better these days than he ever has.
It’s tough to think straight when you’re constantly ducking and diving away from rival nerds, so it takes Wei Ying a while to notice the gap in the charity’s systems. Not a security gap—he’s relentless in keeping watch for those—but a people-shaped gap.
He works with a lot of nerds. Converted hacktivists like him, with wildly varying skills, because they dodn’t exactly offer accredited courses in hacking. It was a lot of code experts, and not one of them really understood the data they were liberating any deeper than their core desires to destroy capitalism before it destroyed the world.
So he looks to Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan helps balance out his manic nerdy energy, so he’ll have no trouble doing the same for a nerdy team. He’s detail-orientated and an excellent communicator—he’ll do great at reigning in a pack of chaotic scripters with a hatred of all authority.
Lan Zhan’s teaching music after graduating, but he likes the thought of a steady nine-to-five—his music is art, not business, and he always gets a little prickly when he’s relying on his music income. With his doctorate, he’s applied to a lot of jobs for psychologists and social works—but after every interview, whether it’s phone or video-call or in-person meeting, he’s been prickly.
It’s different when he interviews for the IT job Wei Ying recommends him for. Lan Zhan is unphased as usual going into it, and afterwards he seems… relieved.
“It sounds like it went well, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, “I’m just sorry it’s not what you want to be doing. But it’s a fun way to build experience while you continue job hunting, right?”
Lan Zhan is warming up on his cello, stretching out his shoulders and letting his arms go loose and flowing as he warms up his body, his bow, and the strings.
“I am not sure what I want to be doing,” he says.
He’s never admitted that to Wei Ying before, and Wei Ying wonders if he’s ever said it out loud to anyone.
He gets offered the job, and takes it. “It seems simple enough,” Lan Zhan says. “If Wei Ying thinks it will suit me, then I will try it out.”
It’s no surprise when Lan Zhan’s unshakable confidence leads him places fast—not only can the man decipher reports that have been partially destroyed or redacted, but he can explain them, making presentations and talks about their findings with the self-assuredness of a Lan Zhan who knows the data, and knows that it doesn’t lie.
It’s not that public speaking and presenting is easy for Lan Zhan—he’s terrified, at first—but once he realises he is good at it, he runs full speed into every opportunity he can get. Some things come naturally, it seems, just like bunnies and post-its and a life with Wei Ying in it.
Lan Zhan is needy when it comes to his family. He has a call with Lan Qiren every week, a weekly review where they grill each other on their progress and plans for the week ahead. And Lan Zhan has a call with Lan Xichen every night! Every night! Wei Ying has never seen the like.
During one of Lan Xichen’s in-person visits, before Wei Ying went full eco-warrior hacktivist, Wei Ying had vented to big brother Lan about his lack of career prospects. He’d had a lot of wine, enough to mix up Lan Big and Lan Little, so it had been a real shock when he got answers back instead of a hum of acknowledgement and nothing else.
Lan Zhan had a deep-seated opinion that illegal didn’t come in shades of grey. But there were growing cracks in that belief—some of which Wei Ying took credit for—and Lan Xichen seemed even hungrier to tear apart Lan Zhan’s misgivings than Wei Ying was.
Lan Xichen and Wei Ying would talk for hours over drinks about the million shades of morality, the inequality within the law, and so on.
Lan Xichen kept trying to pull Lan Zhan in, asking him about the complex morality of the human brain, forever trying to be the big bro getting his withdrawn little brother out of his shell. But most nights Lan Zhan just fell asleep, his head resting against Wei Ying’s leg, comfortable just listening .
And then the tables turned. As Lan Xichen’s work gots busier, he and Lan Zhan started having the longest evening phone calls Wei Ying has ever heard of. They were like a pair of gossipping aunties, on the phone for hours, pouring over topics thrilling to them and as dull as dishwater to the rest of the world. Lan Xichen would discuss his cases when he could (he finds creative ways around it when he can’t), and Lan Zhan would dive deep into the likely psychology of the people involved.
Wei Ying can’t say that he enjoys these evening conversations, but he enjoys the way Lan Zhan gets invested. He graduated with a psychology degree, but he hasn’t been looking for work in that field—Wei Ying isn’t entirely sure how to ask what’s up, so he’s kept out of it, but he’s glad that Lan Zhan at least has these calls with his brother to let loose that side of him.
And hey, maybe when he’s more comfortable, he can apply that degree to their activism work. Wei Ying would love to see Lan Zhan’s take on some of the oddballs on the team. He’d love to hear Lan Zhan’s take on him! No matter what Lan Zhan said, he’d probably explode from the attention!
But for now, he’s happy to just listen, and admire how happy Lan Zhan looks.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. I have a question! Are you happy working with science? Do you think you’ll stick with it, or will you end up going for a psychology job.”
Lan Zhan hums. “I am happy, working in the same industry as you. I enjoy the work. It is not the same as being a scientist, but… it feels like pursuing the same goal. I only regret that my studies aren’t being used to their full potential.”
“Ridiculous! Lan Zhan, you use your psychology knowledge every day dealing with all of us nerds! Who says you need to work in the field you studied? Surely it’s much more fun to try something new! And surely it’s more interesting to see what a psychology major brings to activism, and a science major to psychology, instead of being dull and following the same path everyone else is travelling?”
Lan Zhan… doesn’t look convinced. That uncertain face makes Wei Ying’s stomach pull tight. Lan Zhan heads in to check on the bunnies, and Wei Ying goes with him, settling down beside him on the floor as they take the bunnies out for cuddles and nail-clipping. Lan Zhan holds each bunny while Wei Ying clips them—he loves these brief moments, little bits of care and attention that busy owners often miss. Clipping nails, wiping eyes, and checking ears was always his favourite thing about pet-sitting anything.
That said, he learned proper nail-clipping technique when looking after two adorable little ferret girls. Rabbits are… more of a handful. He tried the ferret trick of smearing a tasty paste on their belly, but the bunnies’ anti-hairball paste doesn’t have the hypnotic power that malt paste did for ferrets. He’s glad to have Lan Zhan there, murmuring sweet nothings into the bunnies’ floppy ears as Wei Ying works.
“Hey, what about if we looked into science jobs?” Wei Ying says, picking up their earlier conversation as if no time has passed. Lan Zhan is used to it. “Do you think that would make your happy, going into science like you dreamed?”
“No,” Lan Zhan says.
Wei Ying nods, and continues clipping nails, giving each bun a heaping pile of praise and gentle petting once he’s done so they forgive him and don’t hold a grudge. Snowball a fluffy white pancaked his lap, fully sprawled out with his legs splayed, by the time Lan Zhan speaks again.
“When I was a child, science seemed like the perfect career,” he says. “I hung on to that for a long time. I took lab assistant jobs as soon as I was old enough, to build my resume ahead of getting the qualifications.”
Lan Zhan’s hand runs down Little Apple’s grey fur in a steady rhythm. Wei Ying bum-shuffles closer to him, resting his leg against Lan Zhan’s. Reminding him he’s there, and Lan Zhan isn’t alone with his thoughts.
“I know—I understand that there are things that must be done for a greater good. This is how the world is. For every good thing, it’s like there are a dozen bad things leading up to it. Even saving endangered species.”
“So many of the methods are still being tested. Some animals need fertility treatment or hormone injections. Some animals need to be kept in captivity. Some don’t have a hope unless we clone them. Testing is vital. It’s necessary. There is no other way, right now.”
“Lan Zhan. What kind of testing?”
“Testing on animals.”
Lan Zhan is very still as he says it. He doesn’t look at Little Apple when he says it, or at Snowball sprawled in Wei Ying’s lap. He so rarely takes his eyes off the bunnies, when he’s in the room, but he’s not even looking at them.
Wei Ying leans further against Lan Zhan, aligning the sides of their bodies together. With a mental apology to Snowball, he moves his hand to rest on top of Lan Zhan’s free one, stroking circles across the skin.
“I’m reminded of some of the stories I hear from my… coworkers,” Wei Ying says softly. “About their previous jobs. The ones they really enjoyed. Lan Zhan, I think there are many companies out there who will value your skills. I hear, in fact, that there’s a growing crowd of hacktivists working to dismantle the institution of animal testing. Not to stop the science, of course! But they are finding better ways. And when they can’t find better ways, they’re finding more efficient ones—reducing the numbers of animals needed. Improving on what happens to them after. I think it would be nice to do some work for them. Don’t you?”
“I would like that.”
“Then we’ll make that our goal. First we save the orangutans and rainforest. Then we save all the adorable lab animals. And then! Lan Zhan! Let’s see if we can save the lonely whale! With our music knowledge, I bet we can figure out a song to bring together all the lonely whales, and we’ll find a romance to defy the fates!”
“That would be immensely difficult. All of the odds would be against us,” Lan Zhan says. He lifts his other hand from Little Apple, placing it on top of Wei Ying’s. “Let’s do it.”
They sit together like that a lot after that, almost every night when spending time with the bunnies. Sometimes, if Lan Zhan doesn’t have much to discuss with his older brother, he’ll take the nightly call sitting there. They’ll inevitably end up finding far too much to talk about, but that’s alright—Wei Ying can’t pay attention to one-sided conversations, so it gives him the perfect excuse to fall asleep with his head in Lan Zhan’s lap. Instantly, he understands why Lan Zhan keeps flopping onto his lap after a single drink.
It’s. The. Best.
But other nights, tonight included, Lan Zhan likes to move. He paces the room, visualising whatever court case Lan Xichen is describing — often finding props, which shouldn’t be possible because it’s such a tidy apartment and Xichen’s court cases involve some weird stuff, but Lan Zhan still pulls out snow globes, baseball bats, a football, a glue gun—for almost every case, he finds something, and shifts it in his hands right through the call.
Today, it’s a large stuffed bunny toy, which is incredibly cute. Wei Ying wonders if Lan Zhan has ever slept cuddling it, since he can’t exactly take the real bunnies with him to bed. He nearly expires at the thought. Lan Zhan is full of endless, adorable, surprises!
He sits on the floor and doodles, with the buns in his lap as Lan Zhan paces with their stuffed likeness hugged to his chest. As Wei Ying sketches, he wonders how he got so lucky… and also, how can this be so cute and yet so boring, and will Lan Zhan mind if he listens to a podcast because one-sided phone calls are WEIRD and he can’t really focus on sketching when he’s trying to piece together half of a conversation.
He doesn’t want to be rude and look bored. He’s in the bun room, where phone calls happen, and he can’t exactly leave the bun room because that means leaving the buns and they are sleeping in his lap. Disturbing the bunnies, outside of the most dire of emergencies, is not allowed.
The living room isn’t bun-proofed right now because he made the mistake of building a server for a new project. Cables are everywhere, but he’s got a bunch of cable tidies coming in the post and he’s even been watching some cable management streamers to figure out what to do with them when they arrive. He’s going to make the tidiest cables of his life, ever!
Lan Zhan can’t play with the buns because if he’s not pacing with the phone in one hand then he’s at his desk, like he’s studying or running some big business conference call. So really, Wei Ying has no choice but to sit here, and smile, and turn his ballpoint pen doodles into watercolour blooms of galaxies and bunnies watching the sun rise over earth.
It takes a while to get used to the way the watercolours distort the pen beneath, but he’s fond of the way the ballpoint bleeds and mixes with the colours. It’s messy, and it feels like a suitable compromise since he’s at least using watercolour paper now and not post-it notes. He likes keeping a little chaos in there. A little wildness.
It’s bittersweet, reaching the end of his illustrated adventures of Snowball and Little Apple on the moon. But at the same time, he’s excited. He’s had a new idea for their next adventure—after all, they say space is an ocean, and we know more about space than we do about the deep sea. Snowball and Little Apple’s experience should serve them well as they go exploring under the waves.
Wei Ying is rarely ever happy with his art when he finishes it. It’s always so far from the image in his head, and no matter how much he practises the gap doesn’t shrink.
But when he puts the brush down and admires this drying piece, he feels content. It’s close enough to what he imagined. In a lot of ways, it’s even better, with the watercolour adding little touches that he never could have imagined.
He especially likes that the outline of the earth is a little frayed, a little imperfect, just like the dark edges of the black-furred bun leaning against adventure Snowball on the moon.