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Worship you till morning comes

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“Ah. He says he’ll be here in a minute, he had to meet with a parent,” said Lan Huan, looking up from his phone. “Sorry, A-Zhan, I know you like going straight home after work. This shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes.”

 

“It’s not an inconvenience,” said Lan Zhan. He was trying to remember if the kindergarten teacher they were waiting on was the same one Lan Huan had recently slept with. There were four kindergarten teachers, and Lan Huan, a first grade teacher, had slept with three of them. Until very recently, it had only been two. Lan Zhan’s older brother was perhaps the only person in the world who could sleep their way through a large portion of any given workplace without anyone ever filing an HR complaint. He had done this at multiple workplaces. He was currently doing it at a primary school.

 

Today, Lan Zhan had been recruited to film a short educational video for Lan Huan’s students. He had five lines. One of them was ‘Good afternoon.’ Nobody had any illusions about Lan Zhan’s acting skills.   

 

“Any second now,” said Lan Huan.

 

The classroom door burst open. “Sorry, sorry!” said the kindergarten teacher from somewhere behind a large wire cage. He staggered to the nearest desk and put the cage down, then straightened back up with a gasp of laughter. His hair was tied back in a messy braid. He was wearing a button-up with a loud sunflower pattern, accessorized with an apricot tie and a smudge of green paint across one cheekbone. He was grinning, gloriously, at Lan Huan. “As you can see, there’s been a slight change of plans.”

 

“It’s no problem. Is that little Baozi?” said Lan Huan.

 

“Yeah, he was supposed to go home with a parent this weekend, but—oh hi, you must be Lan-laoshi’s brother, I’m Wei Ying!”

 

Rabbit teeth. “Lan Zhan,” said Lan Zhan, a beat too late, and shook his hand.

 

Yes, this had to be the one Lan Huan had recently slept with. He and Lan Huan had a friendly rapport, which was often all it took—and he was handsome, with warm, pretty eyes and—and the sunflower shirt, and the rabbit teeth. Lan Huan liked handsome. Lan Huan liked everything, so far as Lan Zhan could tell.

 

“So you’re the inscrutable Character A,” said Wei Ying, as Lan Huan finished getting his iPhone set up on the tripod. “Do you have your lines memorized?”

 

Lan Zhan nodded. Then he couldn’t help but ask, “What kind of animal is... Baozi?”

 

“Oh! He’s our class hamster, you can say hi if you want. He’s very well-behaved. He’s actually a little too well-behaved, he mostly just sleeps all day long, my kids think he’s boring. Do you want to meet him?”

 

Lan Zhan couldn’t decide whether the chattiness was annoying or not. But he did want to meet the hamster, so he nodded again, and looked away when Wei Ying’s smile widened.

 

He only had enough time to get a glimpse of Baozi the hamster—a white puffball half buried under sawdust—before Lan Huan said, “Okay, are you two ready?”

 

“It’s time for our debut!” Wei Ying crowed. “Come on then, let’s leave poor Baozi to his fourteenth nap of the afternoon.”

 

“Mm,” said Lan Zhan, and followed him to the front of the classroom, ignoring a flutter of nerves. His acting was going to be dreadful. He’d known this going in—had warned Lan Huan about it, even—but they were filming a three-minute video about climate change for a bunch of first graders, who cared about the performance quality? It didn’t matter. Hadn’t mattered. Definitely hadn’t mattered, until it had become clear that Lan Zhan was going to be embarrassingly wooden in front of someone he could already tell was not wooden at all.

 

“First, let’s do a quick run-through,” said Lan Huan, adjusting the iPhone. “Everyone remembers their lines? Yes? Wonderful. A-Zhan, take a few steps back so you’re out of frame.... And... action!”

 

Lan Zhan stepped into the frame. The concept was that they were two friends running into each other. The script direction had said ‘Character A notices Character B,’ but Lan Zhan didn’t know how to act like he hadn’t been noticing Wei Ying, continually, ever since Wei Ying had blown in through the door. So he just stopped and said, “Good afternoon.”

 

“Hi there!” said Wei Ying. “Where are you headed off to?”

 

“I am walking to the store.”

 

“That’s very green of you! Walking is a great way to help reduce your carbon footprint.” He turned to look at the camera. “Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases created by your actions.”

 

“That is true. However,” said Lan Zhan, aware that he sounded desert-flat and stilted but unable to prevent it, “the concept of the individual carbon footprint was invented by big corporations, so regular people like you and me would not blame them for climate change.”

 

“You know,” said Wei Ying, “I did hear that only 100 corporations—such as the biiiig companies that sell the gas we put in our cars—are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gases. But...” Here, the script direction had called for a long, thoughtful pause, and Wei Ying nailed it. “...If big, evil corporations are responsible for most of the harmful greenhouse gases, what does that mean for me and my personal Green Goals?”

 

Behind the camera, Lan Huan mouthed along with ‘my personal Green Goals.’

 

“That is a good question,” said Lan Zhan. “Let’s learn more about it....”

 

“Together,” they said in unison. Wei Ying sounded fun, enthusiastic, and ready to learn. Lan Zhan sounded like a bomb defuser giving instructions over the phone. That is to say, he sounded tense.

 

Lan Huan started clapping. “Bravo!” he said. “That was perfect. We’ll just film it three times, if that’s okay, so I can edit the angles together.” He was taking this very seriously. “A-Zhan, you’re doing great—can you perhaps try to look at Wei Ying a tad more? So it feels more natural? He keeps looking at you and you’re never looking back.”

 

Lan Zhan nodded, though he felt a sting of betrayal. He had told Lan Huan he couldn’t act. Lan Huan, as his brother, should have inferred that that also meant he didn’t want to make prolonged eye contact with—smiley people. People who smiled a lot. People with nice smiles, in sunflower shirts. Lan Zhan’s ears were turning red. He could feel his ears turning red. This was a nightmare.

 

Wei Ying cleared his throat. “Okay, awesome! Let’s take it from the top.”

 

Lan Zhan moved back out of the frame. He met Wei Ying’s gaze and held it, waiting for his cue. Wei Ying’s easy smile faltered.

 

“Three, two, one... action!” said Lan Huan.

 

Lan Zhan stepped into the frame. “Good afternoon, Wei Ying,” he said, and tried not to flinch. He was not supposed to say Wei Ying’s name, and everyone knew it.

 

“Hi Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said warmly. “Where are you headed off to?”

 

They ran through the rest of the take. Lan Zhan managed to look at Wei Ying for what he felt was a reasonable amount of time.

 

“Great job, guys,” said Lan Huan. For some reason, it looked like he was holding back laughter. “That was great. I’ll just set up the next angle, one moment....”

 

“I’m surprised I never met you before,” said Wei Ying, pitched for Lan Zhan. “Lan-laoshi’s been here a whole year, and I’ve never seen you at drinks.”

 

Sometimes Lan Huan and the other teachers met up at a bar on Friday nights, spouses and friends and family invited. A casual, ongoing, whoever-shows-up sort of hangout, unstructured in a way Lan Zhan found difficult to navigate. His brother had extended the standing invitation, but Lan Zhan knew he hadn’t expected a yes, and indeed Lan Zhan had not taken him up on it.

 

I’ve never seen you at drinks. I’ve never seen you at drinks. They could have met a year ago. They could have met—at drinks, with Lan Huan, still with Lan Huan. It was a moot point. Lan Huan was quiet but charming, attracting everyone around him like cranes to a calm, sunlit pond, whereas Lan Zhan tended to come across as frosty and standoffish even when he didn’t mean to. He was not expressive, and people found it unnerving. Certainly someone like Wei Ying would find it unnerving.

 

“I don’t drink,” Lan Zhan said, instead of any of that. “I didn’t know....”

 

He had no idea how to finish that sentence. I didn’t know... you would be there? What the hell?

 

“I’m there almost every week,” Wei Ying said mercifully. “You should come along sometime! My brother does, but he’s no fun.” That made it sound like Wei Ying thought Lan Zhan would be fun, which was a baffling assumption. “And you don’t have to drink! Nobody puts up a fuss about it. Lan-laoshi sometimes doesn’t.”

 

“I see,” said Lan Zhan, too flustered for anything else. “Maybe... the next time I’m free.”

 

Wei Ying smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “I mean—great. Cool.”

 

“Ready?” said Lan Huan. The iPhone camera was now positioned to get a closer shot of Lan Zhan’s face from over Wei Ying’s shoulder. “Okay. Three, two, one... action!”

 

Lan Zhan stepped into the frame. “Good afternoon, Wei Ying,” he said, and Wei Ying’s grin was the open spread of an orchid, and Lan Zhan thought, very distinctly, Oh no.

 

 

They said goodbye to Wei Ying and Baozi a few minutes later. The classroom door closed behind them, and Lan Huan let the dust settle for about three seconds before saying, “So you and Wei-laoshi seemed to be getting on well.”

 

“Mm,” said Lan Zhan, gathering his bag. “Do you need help with the tripod?”

 

“No thank you, I’ve got it. He’s very nice, you know. Very bright. Slightly unorthodox, but the children adore him.”

 

Lan Zhan paused. Mildew in his lungs. “Are you looking for my... approval?” he asked quietly, keeping his voice blank.

 

“Pardon?” said Lan Huan.

 

“My approval. Of you and Wei—Wei-laoshi.”

 

Me and Wei-laoshi?” Lan Huan’s eyebrows flew upward. “Where on earth did you get that idea?”

 

He was not going to get his hopes up. He was not going to get his hopes up. “There was a kindergarten teacher,” he said. “You told me....”

 

“Oh. Oh. Oh, no no no. Heavens no,” said Lan Huan, laughing lightly. “No, it wasn’t Wei-laoshi.”

 

“I apologize for assuming,” said Lan Zhan, heart too big in his chest, almost suffocating.

 

Lan Huan fixed him with a terribly knowing look. “I’m glad we cleared that up,” he said, as they headed out of the classroom and into the empty hallway, all the kids home or at after-school programs. “Now, as I was saying—”

 

“Lan Zhan!”

 

Lan Zhan stopped in his tracks. He turned around to see Wei Ying hurrying toward them down the hallway.

 

“I will be waiting outside,” said Lan Huan, and abandoned him.

 

Wei Ying skidded to a stop in front of Lan Zhan. “Sorry if this is weird,” he said in a rush. “I just, I know I’d be so mad at myself later if I didn’t at least—um.” He thrust out a folded up scrap of pink construction paper. Lan Zhan stared at it, uncomprehending. “Sorry, it was the first paper I saw, hazards of the job, but yeah, that’s my wechat. If you want to add me. You don’t have to, I just—I think you’re really—it was really nice to meet you. I’m glad Lan-laoshi asked me to help him out today. Ah, so. Yeah.”

 

Stunned, Lan Zhan took the scrap of paper. Wei Ying had written his ID in blue crayon.

 

“Do people still do this?” Wei Ying was asking. “Maybe not. Sorry, I really didn’t mean to hold you up, that’s why I wrote it down in the first place. I thought—well, no worries.” He let out a short, breathy laugh, taking a step back in Lan Zhan’s periphery. Lan Zhan finally dragged his eyes off the paper. “Okay! I’m gonna go, you don’t have to do anything with that, it was nice meeting you—”

 

“Wei Ying,” said Lan Zhan. “How many ‘i’s is this?”

 

“Ah?”

 

“I don’t want to get it wrong,” Lan Zhan said, and took out his phone to open wechat. The ID was either wei_yiing1331 or weii_yiing1331, but it was hard to tell with the blue crayon. He glanced up at Wei Ying, expectant.

 

“Oh,” said Wei Ying. He was a little wide-eyed. “Oh. One ‘i’ in Wei, two in Ying.”

 

“Thank you.” Lan Zhan added him. He heard Wei Ying’s phone chirp in his pocket. “It was nice meeting you, as well.”

 

 

They agreed to meet the next Saturday afternoon at a cafe. It was a date. Lan Zhan knew it was a date, because Wei Ying had texted him, ‘So just to make absolutely sure I’m not misreading things, saturday is a date??’ And Lan Zhan had replied, ‘I would like it to be.’ And Wei Ying had said, ‘Ok it’s a date!!’ and sent a sticker of a gray kitten rolling from side to side with kicky feet.

 

It was a date, but a casual one, Lan Zhan assumed. Or rather, he knew not to assume otherwise. They were going to sit in a cafe for a couple hours and talk, and somehow he would have to be good at that even though he’d never been good at it before: talking, being interesting, keeping someone’s attention, making them laugh. He knew how to make Lan Huan laugh, or at least huff in amusement. All it took was a well-timed eyebrow raise or a moment of commiserating eye contact when their uncle turned away. The language of siblings. He didn’t know how to translate it for someone else.

 

The cafe was in an older neighborhood off the French Concession. Lan Zhan arrived ten minutes early and sat at a table by the window, in a fall of dusty sunlight, and thus got a view of Wei Ying when he showed up five minutes later. Wei Ying paused in front of the cafe to take what appeared to be a deep, steadying breath before pushing the door open. Tiny bells tinkled overhead as his eyes landed on Lan Zhan, a grin spilling across his face like afternoon light, catching in his eyes. His hair was pulled back in a half ponytail, falling loose around his shoulders. He was wearing a gray sweater and a black bomber jacket embroidered with sprays of flowers and birds.

 

There was a possibility Lan Zhan did not feel casual about this date.

 

“I think this is the first time I’ve ever been early to anywhere, and you still beat me,” Wei Ying announced, winding his way to the table. Lan Zhan stood up to greet him and they hovered awkwardly for a moment before Wei Ying laughed and darted in for a quick hug, pulling away before Lan Zhan had a chance to do anything but blink. He smelled like woodsy cologne, amber subtle and masculine, and he was smiling, and—sitting down. “Hi, Lan Zhan,” he said. “It’s really nice to see you again.”

 

Lan Zhan sat down across from him. “I’m glad you wanted to,” he said. Then, familiar ground, “Have you eaten?”

 

“Ah... no,” said Wei Ying, like he was just now realizing it. “I think I forgot to eat breakfast? I probably just need coffee, though.”

 

“Hmmm,” said Lan Zhan, and passed him a menu.

 

 

Ten minutes into the casual cafe date, Wei Ying leaned across the small table and met Lan Zhan’s eyes with such a sobering expression that Lan Zhan thought he was somehow already being turned down.

 

Then Wei Ying said, “Listen, I was gonna try to be cool about this, but the truth is I haven’t been on a date in literally almost five years and I’m kind of nervous because you’re like”—he gestured in despair at Lan Zhan’s everything—“and I'm gonna be honest, I really don’t do this a lot, or like ever, and I might be rusty? I spend most of my time talking to five-year-olds. I know a lot about dinosaurs and giant prehistoric bugs but not a whole lot about, you know, sophisticated adult dating.”

 

“Giant prehistoric bugs?” said Lan Zhan. There was a lot to unpack here.

 

Wei Ying waved a hand. “Oh, they’re all the rage in my classroom. We have this book with the most horrifically detailed illustrations, my kids are obsessed with it. I’ve probably read it aloud to them like, hm let’s see, one billion times. I’ve got all the facts.”

 

“I see,” said Lan Zhan. “May I hear a giant bug fact?”

 

“Dragonflies have existed on Earth for over 325 million years,” Wei Ying said without hesitation. “The first dragonflies had an average wingspan of 65 centimeters. That’s like, if you held your arm out to the side, that’s about the distance from your shoulder to the tip of your middle finger. That’s how big the dragonflies were.”

 

They blinked at each other.

 

“Okay so on a scale of one to ten, how sexy and attractive was that?” said Wei Ying. “Was it a ten? Are you feeling allured?”

 

“Ten,” agreed Lan Zhan. “This is going very well so far.”

 

Wei Ying snorted, then dissolved into laughter. “Great, great,” he wheezed, slumping over the table. “Whenever I get nervous I’ll just toss out another bug fact, how’s that?”

 

“I also don’t... do this,” Lan Zhan said, braver now that it was out in the open. Wei Ying’s laughter quieted. “I meant it, when I said I was glad. That you wanted to. That you asked.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yes. I wanted to see you again.”

 

“Oh,” said Wei Ying, straightening up. His smile had turned soft, surprised, cheeks pink as the inner blush of a conch shell. “Ahh, well—that’s—me too, you know. Okay. Okay. I think I’m less nervous now.”

 

“Would it help if you shared another bug fact?”

 

“No, I’ll save those for later,” said Wei Ying. “We’re about to eat and it’s a lot of cockroach information right off the top.”

 

“Prudent,” Lan Zhan replied, and Wei Ying cackled into the menu.

 

It went on from there.

 

After a couple hours the cafe started filling up, too loud for conversation. They left, squinting in the changing sunlight, and that might have been the end of it were it not for the tiny bookshop next door. Wei Ying noticed Lan Zhan looking and said, “No worries if you’re busy, but I was thinking about going in afterward anyway....”

 

So the cafe date turned into a bookshop date, the two of them practically stepping on each other’s toes in the cramped, narrow aisles. They ended up in the back between two overstuffed shelves dedicated to books on gardening.

 

“Okay, new game,” Wei Ying whispered, leaning into Lan Zhan’s side. He held out a book opened to a double-page spread of a Japanese tea garden. “Go through this and pick out your favorite garden. Like your ideal, dream garden, if money and time and location were no object. Let’s see if we’re garden compatible.”

 

Lan Zhan angled closer to him, flipping the page. He could smell Wei Ying’s hair, sweeter than his cologne. He wanted so badly to wrap an arm around Wei Ying’s back. It would make things more comfortable—one fewer arm trapped between their bodies. If they’d been together—together—and already familiar with each other, it would have been the most natural thing in the world. As it were, Lan Zhan couldn’t bring himself to move. His wanting felt like too much. Clunky, cumbersome, embarrassing. The enormity of his desire.

 

He picked out a garden with plum trees and a small, lilied pond.  

 

“Ahh, simple yet elegant,” Wei Ying said approvingly, smiling first at the book and then up at Lan Zhan, crinkly-eyed and teasing, their faces so close together. “Very peaceful, very classical, I like your style. I think a person’s favorite type of garden says a lot about them. I feel like I’m learning all sorts of things about you.”

 

“Such as?”

 

Wei Ying made a considering noise. “Let’s see... born in Shanghai, plays guqin, loves bunnies, drinks tea not coffee, secret sweet tooth.”

 

“All that from a garden.”

 

“I’m very perceptive, Lan Zhan.”

 

“Hm,” said Lan Zhan. “I don’t recall anything about a sweet tooth.” A lock of hair kept slipping out from behind Wei Ying’s ear, falling in front of his face as he leafed through the book of gardens. There was a freckle in the dip of his collarbone that Lan Zhan was putting significant effort into not thinking about.

 

“You liked that pastry I got,” Wei Ying said. “The melon. I could tell. I think you have a secret sweet tooth.”

 

Lan Zhan didn’t know how to respond. He was accustomed to observing. Not so to being observed.

 

“Your turn,” he said, instead of you were born in Hubei, you like charcoal illustration and ‘goofy esoteric coding projects’ and messing around with electronic music; you changed majors twice and almost went into law; you like spicy chicken and black sesame and black coffee and your students above all; you call them your kids, your ducklings. “Pick a garden. Let’s see if we’re compatible.”

 

“Garden compatible! Just garden compatible, Lan Zhan, otherwise it’s way too much pressure....

 

 

The bookshop turned into a walk along the river. Wei Ying’s hand brushed his so many times that Lan Zhan finally just took it, and Wei Ying went pink and laced their fingers together and launched into another story about his students. (“I’ve got three troublemakers this year, Jiang Cheng says it’s karma.”) Then somehow it was evening and all the trendy bars and restaurants were coming awake, neon signs blinking like sleepy cat eyes, doors opening to release great breaths of steam onto the sidewalk. Food carts shuffled into position in the side streets and corners, trays illuminated by hot orange lamps.

 

“I don’t suppose you have any dinner plans,” said Wei Ying, then followed it with, “But really Lan Zhan, it’s been hours, you shouldn’t let me take up all your time.”

 

Lan Zhan could not conceive of a better way to spend his time. It was an unfamiliar feeling. Generally his tolerance for social interaction was about twenty minutes, but this date was approaching hour seven and he still didn’t want it to be over. However, he recognized that Wei Ying might be looking for an out. “Do you need to get home?” he asked. “I can call you a Didi.”

 

“No no!” said Wei Ying. “No, I don’t have any plans. I can—you know, do whatever, if you don’t wanna call it a night yet.”  

 

Lan Zhan hummed. “Dinner, then?”

 

“Yeah,” said Wei Ying, and pressed into his side for a moment, a spot of heat like the flare of a lighter against the cool blue evening. “Dinner sounds good. I’m paying though! I can’t believe you were so sneaky at the cafe!”

 

“We’ll see.”

 

“Lan Zhan! Don’t even try it!” He swung their clasped hands between them. “I really want to pay, okay? We can take turns.”

 

“Okay,” Lan Zhan agreed. He liked the idea of getting a lot more turns. Maybe, in the future, he could finagle some sort of eighty-twenty situation.

 

 

Wei Ying did pay for dinner. Afterward, they lingered on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. It was almost eight. Lan Zhan knew this was the natural end to the night. They could get drinks—but he’d already mentioned that he didn’t drink, so it would be weird to suggest it.

 

Wei Ying tilted his head back to look up at the smoggy, brownish-pink sky. “It’s, ah, really nice out,” he said.

 

“Do you want to go for another walk?” asked Lan Zhan.

 

“Yeah,” said Wei Ying, loud with relief, and grabbed his hand again. “Oh my god, I was about to suggest dessert. I don’t even like dessert. Yeah, let’s go on a walk.”

 

The streets were lined with parasol trees, naked branches a mosaic overhead. They walked away from the busy areas into quieter, more residential streets capillaried with alleys. There were a lot of small parks in this area, pockets of green behind wrought-iron fences or low stone walls. The bony sprawl of outdoor fitness equipment, currently unused. Wei Ying led Lan Zhan into a park seemingly at random, a tiny space guarded by short, gnarled trees. It felt stiller here, hushed, even just a few paces away from the equally empty sidewalk.

 

There was a small bench. “Do you want to sit?” Lan Zhan started to ask, but Wei Ying was turning around, hands flying up to rest on either side of Lan Zhan’s face. He hesitated just long enough to meet Lan Zhan’s eyes, a glint in the dark. Then he pressed in and kissed him.

 

It was warm. Wei Ying's mouth, then his sigh, a puff of breath on Lan Zhan’s cheek. He leaned back, their lips separating with a soft, catching noise. His eyes darted over Lan Zhan’s expression, searching, two shiny black pearls. 

 

Lan Zhan felt himself smiling.

 

“Oh, come on,” said Wei Ying, grinning toothily at him, a slice of the moon. “How can you just look like that,” he said, and they were kissing again, Lan Zhan tugging him in by the hips, fingers in his belt loops, jacket rustling. Wei Ying’s mouth was hot and open, his tongue sliding briefly against Lan Zhan’s. 

 

His mouth, the ridge of his teeth, kissing him deeply. Learning how to kiss him deeply, lapping slowly at his tongue. In the cool, pooling dark, in a place that felt secret, and now sacred. Lan Zhan tangled his fingers in Wei Ying’s hair.

 

After some time, Wei Ying pulled back. “Hey.” It was quieter than a whisper. “Um. Do you want to come home with me?”

 

“Yes,” Lan Zhan said, finding his gaze. “Wei Ying. Yes.” 

 

Wei Ying let out a fractured breath and Lan Zhan kissed him again, never wanted to not be kissing him, drawing Wei Ying’s bottom lip into his mouth, soft as the skin of a peach and just as sweet, his pretty mouth. They kissed for another long moment, Wei Ying’s thumbs stroking the skin behind Lan Zhan’s ears, before Wei Ying murmured, “I’ll call a, a ride—”

 

“My turn to pay,” Lan Zhan reminded him, and took out his phone before Wei Ying could protest further. He called a Didi, relying on the current location—he had no idea where they were. In a small green pocket off Xietu Road, according to the app. Wei Ying typed out his address, huddled against Lan Zhan, his other hand sliding into the pocket of Lan Zhan’s coat. 

 

“Is this too much? Too fast?” Wei Ying asked as they waited for the car. “Or am I hopelessly old-fashioned for even asking that?”

 

Lan Zhan chose his words with care. “It’s not too much for me,” he said. “But if it is for you, at any point, we will stop, and I can leave. I won’t be upset, and I’ll still want to see you again.”

 

Wei Ying opened his mouth. Then closed it again. “Good lord,” he said.

 

“Hn?”

 

“Nothing. No, it’s not too much for me, at least not right now, but even if—I wouldn’t just throw you out, ai, Lan Zhan, what kind of a date do you think I am? It’s a Saturday. Stay over, no matter what.” He went a little rigid. “I mean—obviously if you’d rather just head out—”

 

“I’ll stay,” said Lan Zhan, cutting that line of thinking off at the quick. “Thank you, Wei Ying.”

 

“Of course. Yeah, of course. Hey, kiss me again.”

 

Lan Zhan obliged.

 

 

They sat in the backseat of the car, leaning into each other, hands intertwined on Wei Ying’s thigh. Wei Ying rested his head on Lan Zhan’s shoulder and was quieter than he’d been all day, but it felt like a good quiet. An anticipatory quiet. The car stereo was set to a pop station with the volume on low, synthy foreign music swirling in the dark like a gasoline rainbow. Lan Zhan alternated staring out the window and at his hand in Wei Ying’s, illuminated in slices as fan-blades of yellow street light swept through the car. He felt like a downed power line, helpless and electric, giving off sparks.

 

 

They kissed in the entry well of Wei Ying’s apartment for a long time.

 

“Nothing above the collar,” Wei Ying gasped, tilting his head back against the door as Lan Zhan trailed hot kisses down his throat. “The kids are a bunch of hawks, they’ll notice and I’ll have to tell them that I, I fell neck-first into a desk or something—”

 

Lan Zhan let out a sharp breath through his nose.

 

“Oh my god, are you laughing? Wait, come up here.”

 

Wei Ying had texted him in the car. While they were sitting right next to each other, thighs almost overlapping. Lan Zhan had watched him type the message, phone screen on low brightness but still a lighthouse in the dark, searing the backs of Lan Zhan’s eyes.

 

wei ying »
Forgot to mention earlier
My roommates not home tonight

 

Wei Ying’s roommate was in her first year of medical residency and often slept at the hospital between shifts. The greasy, bad-porno line had autocompleted in Lan Zhan’s head: No need to be quiet, then, spoken with a leer. Absolutely not.

 

wei ying »
Soo yeah haha

 

Then he’d started scrolling through the sticker options. Lan Zhan had tapped the back of his hand to make him select a sticker pack of a pink fox character, then nudged Wei Ying’s thumb out of the way to scroll through the stickers himself. He’d sent himself the pink fox curled up around a yellow duck.

 

“Do you want—mm—a cup of tea or anything?” Wei Ying said now, running his sock foot up and down the outside of Lan Zhan’s calf. He was constantly in motion, arching into Lan Zhan or slumping back against the door, hands everywhere, drawing Lan Zhan into kiss after dizzying kiss. “Oh—oh, orwater?”

 

“I’m alright, thank you,” said Lan Zhan, and slipped his hands under Wei Ying’s sweater to grip his bare waist. Wei Ying’s skin was hot and smooth and perfect, and Lan Zhan could feel the shift of his muscles when he twined his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck, pressing closer. He could feel the flex of Wei Ying’s ribs, a frantic bellows, as he exhaled shakily into the next kiss. The vibration of a moan in Wei Ying’s chest when Lan Zhan sucked luxuriously on his soft, clever tongue. Another kiss, and Lan Zhan asked, “Are you—are you alright?”

 

“Yeah,” Wei Ying sighed, and made a noise that was almost a laugh, muffled in Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “Do you wanna, bedroom?”

 

He led Lan Zhan by the hand through the dark apartment, past the looming shapes of furniture and kitchen counter, down a short hall to one of two doors.

 

“It’s probably more messy than you’d like,” he said, opening the door. “I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be, and it’s all organized mess, like I know where everything is, but I can already tell you’re a bit of a neat freak, it’s really cute—ohh, fuck,” when Lan Zhan wrapped both arms around him from behind and tugged Wei Ying back against his chest, nuzzling at his hair, the warm curve of his throat. Wei Ying hadn’t turned a light on, and Lan Zhan—wanted to see him, loved to see him, but something about the darkness....

 

Wei Ying’s hands settled over Lan Zhan’s. He guided them up under his sweater again, over planes of warm skin. “You can... yeah,” he whispered, and Lan Zhan ran his palms over Wei Ying’s belly, brushed his fingertips through the trail of fine hair and marveled at the way he shivered with his whole body. “Oh,” said Wei Ying, moving harder against him, fingernails digging into Lan Zhan’s forearms. “Oh, I don’t know, it just feels good....”

 

Lan Zhan’s skin beat like a second heart, exposed. He nipped Wei Ying’s earlobe, kissed any skin he could reach, smoothing his hands over Wei Ying’s chest. His thumb caught on a nipple and Wei Ying stiffened in his arms, then let out a sigh and pushed into the touch. His head lolled back on Lan Zhan’s shoulder.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he said, and grabbed Lan Zhan’s wrist, bringing his hand down to the waistband of Wei Ying’s jeans. “I—I really want you to touch me, I’ve been thinking about it all day—are you cool with the lights off? I want to see you, but I like this, I like just feeling you, I.... ” He turned his head to the side and mouthed at Lan Zhan’s jaw, strands of hair caught on his lips, as Lan Zhan flicked open the button of his jeans. The zipper was a slow rasp. “Yeah. Yeah. Oh, fuck.”

 

He was hot as blood and firm in Lan Zhan’s hand, a perfect, satisfying weight, made for the palm, the curl of fingers. Wei Ying made a high, wanting noise, rolling his hips, and Lan Zhan held him close with the arm around his chest, hand spread out over his heart.

 

“I like feeling you,” Lan Zhan murmured, and did just that, exploring the bare skin under his hands, drawing Wei Ying into a messy, slanted kiss, their bodies a surging wave in the dark. Wei Ying was wriggling in his arms, groping for Lan Zhan’s hands, bringing one of them up and sucking two of Lan Zhan’s fingers into his mouth, moaning low in his throat. “Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said, breathless, and Wei Ying released his fingers, shiny with spit, only to do the same to the other hand, and then it was—wet on skin, Lan Zhan’s fingers smearing over his nipples, Lan Zhan taking him in hand again, slick and sure. More wetness, adding to the spit.

 

Wei Ying came with Lan Zhan’s mouth at his throat, leaving a mark low enough to be hidden under a shirt collar. He shuddered, hips jerking, and gasped Lan Zhan’s name over and over again until the syllables melted together into a single drawn-out note, wavering in the air like a thread of spun sugar. Then his knees buckled. Lan Zhan scrambled to hold him upright, one arm tight around his middle.

 

“Oh, god,” said Wei Ying, and started laughing. He sounded a little shocked. He found his footing again immediately, but Lan Zhan could feel his legs trembling. “Oh—god. Wow. Okay.”

 

I like you I like you I like you, Lan Zhan thought. I like you, I like you, I like you.

 

Carefully, he withdrew his hand from Wei Ying’s jeans. It was too dark to see any sort of wet patch on the front of Wei Ying’s soft cotton boxers, but Lan Zhan could tell the boxers were a medium light color. There would be a wet patch. He wanted to press his face to it and breathe in. He was aware of his own hardness, an insistent pulse—Wei Ying had been grinding back into his cock, the blunt pressure of a simulated fuck, frantic in the moment, as if pleasure were a thing to be chased and caught. As if pleasure had not already been caught, and kissed.

 

Lan Zhan hooked his chin over Wei Ying’s shoulder. “Are you still alright?”

 

“Yes,” Wei Ying said. “Yeah. Technical difficulties, please stand by. Brain is—coming back online.”

 

It felt unwise, spiritually, in the grand scheme of things, to feel so incredibly smug about that. Lan Zhan allowed the smugness for a few seconds, then cast it away.

 

Wei Ying twisted around in the circle of Lan Zhan’s arms, resting his cheek on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “Give me... mm... ten more seconds,” he said muzzily. “Then you.”

 

All at once, Lan Zhan thought he would die if he didn’t see Wei Ying’s face. “May I turn on a light?” he asked.

 

“Yeah, ‘s over by the bed. Oh, my limbs are jelly.”

 

Lan Zhan guided him to sit on the edge of the bed. He covered Wei Ying’s eyes with one hand, ignoring his startled twitch, and turned on the bedside table lamp, washing the room with warm, fuzzy-edged light. He pulled his hand away from Wei Ying’s eyes a moment later, having given him a few more seconds to adjust instead of being blinded.

 

He sat down beside Wei Ying on the bed. Wei Ying was watching him, luminous.

 

It almost hurt to look back. Wei Ying was flushed down to his collarbones, his mouth so pink and messy it looked like he’d been eating strawberries. His hair had fallen out of the half ponytail and was framing his face like a halo of wild brush strokes, and his jeans were still undone and gaping open. There was the wet patch—his come. Lan Zhan had made him come.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said. “You are so....”

 

He waited.

 

“So Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying finished. “You are so very, very Lan Zhan. It’s wonderful.” His eyes were crescents, his smile a white ribbon, unfurling.

 

“Thank you, then,” said Lan Zhan. Such intense pleasure was as dangerous as a cherry pit. It caught in the throat. “And you... you are very Wei Ying.”

 

Wei Ying laughed. “Is that a good thing??”

 

“It is the highest compliment,” said Lan Zhan.

 

Wei Ying stared at him for a second. Then he swooped in and kissed Lan Zhan, and within moments they were feverish again, Wei Ying’s hands in Lan Zhan’s hair, on his shoulders, pushing him into the bedsheets and climbing on top. He shoved off his own jeans and kicked them to the floor, bare thighs spread around Lan Zhan’s hips. “I wanna touch you,” he said, teeth scraping over Lan Zhan’s pulse point, “fuck, I feel fucking possessed or something,” fingers scrabbling at Lan Zhan’s belt, “I’m not usually—oh god yeah, touch me,” as Lan Zhan slid his hands up Wei Ying’s thighs to get a firm grip on his ass, dragging their cocks together through layers of fabric, Wei Ying soft and oversensitive, shivering. “Fuck, yeah, just—take what you need, just take it, Lan Zhan —”

 

“I,” Lan Zhan managed, “I—Wei Ying,” and there was a hand around him, strong and spit-wet and not his own. They were still kissing—had never stopped kissing—Wei Ying’s nose dug into his cheekbone as their mouths knocked clumsily together, sharing breath. Lan Zhan was close, close. Ripples of pleasure built into a bright, frothing wave, and when it swept through him he was silent, his body a tremor, and then the short fall.

 

They clutched at each other. Lan Zhan remembered his body slowly, in segments.

 

Wei Ying tipped sideways, landing on the bed with a squeak of springs. Hazy, glowing, Lan Zhan turned toward him and draped an arm across his waist. Wei Ying burrowed closer immediately, tugging Lan Zhan’s arm more firmly around himself and throwing his own bare leg over Lan Zhan’s hip. He looked up and gave Lan Zhan a sweet, worn out grin.

 

“I wanna keep you,” he said. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me? But you’re great, you’re so good. I wanna keep you. I’m saying it out loud, even.”

 

“Yes,” said Lan Zhan, stroking Wei Ying’s thigh in a gentle circuit, knee to hip and back again. He wanted to be kept. He wanted to be folded up and tucked away, close to the heart. “Yes. Good.”

 

Wei Ying beamed. Lan Zhan had to kiss him for that, on his teeth and chin and all over the resulting sleepy laugh. They kissed, slow and uncoordinated with how tired they both were. Lan Zhan had no idea what time it was.

 

“We should....” Wei Ying made a floppy-armed gesture. “Clean up. So it doesn’t get... gross. But. Five minutes. Just wanna lay here for five minutes. ‘N cuddle you.”

 

“Yes.” The come in his underwear was already growing tacky as it cooled, which was disgusting. But Wei Ying was warm and perfect in his arms and Lan Zhan didn’t want to let go, now or ever, so he just kissed Wei Ying’s forehead and closed his eyes, settling further into the mattress. The pillow smelled clean and faintly sweet, like Wei Ying had after the scent of his woodsy cologne faded away. Apples. Apple blossoms.

 

“Fiiiive minutes,” Wei Ying mumbled one last time, and curled around each other, they slept.

 



END.