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Lan Zhan finally finds the entrance to the restaurant after his third full circle around the block, hidden in plain sight, just when he is about to give up. It’s a small red door, with a wooden arch above the entrance, where the restaurant’s name is neatly written and lit from above. At least he found it in reasonable time.

He hopes that his spontaneous decision to forego any recommended eatery in the area of his hotel and instead venture by metro to another part of the city, one he didn’t yet get a chance to explore, will prove to have been a good one. This particular tapas restaurant did come highly recommended by a friend who has excellent taste; and it is vegetarian, which is a rare enough occurrence in Barcelona and somewhat of a relief. The website did not allow Lan Zhan to book a table in advance — he made his decision late, and either the tables were all reserved already, or, as he hopes, the algorithm simply didn’t appreciate having so little notice.

Lan Zhan intends to try his luck, in any case. It’s his last night in the city. There’s a café by his hotel that’s open 24 hours — if it doesn’t work out he’ll return to his room, buy a sandwich on the way, do some reading, some packing, have an uneventful evening before the long flight that awaits him on the following day. No harm done.

The bartender flashes him a welcoming smile when he steps inside, and asks him in English if he wants a drink. "A table," Lan Zhan answers, feeling, as always, out of his depth when speaking in English for the first time in a while; having to shift the wording of his thoughts, remember that this is also him, that he has this dormant area in his brain that he was using just earlier that day.

"The hostess will be right with you," The bartender replies, his accent soft, pleasing to the ear. Everything in Barcelona is like that — despite the strong colors, the heat, the loudness, the people are warm, pleasant, musical. Lan Zhan will gladly visit it again one day.

The restaurant in particular looks soft and cozy, a place from another time. The walls are a mixture of exposed brick and paint, lit with spotlights that shed a gentle, golden glow over the tables. The tables themselves are crammed closely together — and full, Lan Zhan notes, at least in the small area that is visible from the door. Perhaps it was foolish of him, coming all this way. He’ll tell the hostess he doesn’t mind waiting — there’s a sign advertising their lemonade, he could sit by the bar and drink until a place becomes available. Some of the tables are even designated for one.

The hostess, when she appears from the back room, takes one look at him and says, in English as well, "Ah! Finally! Follow me, please." She turns around without waiting for him to respond.

Lan Zhan follows her, swept away in her decisiveness, but slowly rolling the words "I think there has been a mistake" around on his tongue.

"There you go!" She directs him to an empty seat at a table set for two, occupied by one other person who is looking down at his phone. "Didn’t I tell you that your date would arrive?" She directs this part to the man — she thinks Lan Zhan is his date? — who raises his head, the surprise evident on his face.

The expression of shock only intensifies when two familiar grey eyes look up to meet his.

Wei Ying.

*

Wei Ying had a simple, brilliant, foolproof plan.

Fine, it might not have been brilliant. But it was simple. And foolproof. It’s his last night in Spain, and his only night in Barcelona after a while away. He was going to check out that restaurant that Nie Huaisang had been singing praises of for ages, gorge himself on good food and wine, take himself and his single duffel bag to the nearest, cheapest hostel, and sleep it off until it was time for his flight.

Oh, and he was going to pretend that he was waiting for a date, so that when his date would not show up, the waiters would feel sorry for him and allow him to order the tasting menu, even though it specifically said '2 person min'. Don’t blame him — the website only allowed him to reserve a place for two, the tasting menu looked amazing, both in that the food looked varied and delicious and in the copious amount of wine that was provided, and Wei Ying just… he wanted to end this chapter in his life with some kind of a bang.

A low-key, vegetarian bang, since Wei Ying is no longer twenty-five, and the meals in Barcelona tend to be on the heavier side, and run late into the night. He does have a flight tomorrow. If he gets too bloated, it’ll take him a while to fall asleep, and then he’ll feel all out of sorts, and finally he’ll become wide awake and alert just as the flight takes off and he’s supposed to try and sleep again.

Also, the restaurant did seem really good.

Wei Ying did all the necessary preparations — he wore his best set of clothes, arrived on time(!), told the hostess how excited he was for his date, then the bartender, then the waiter. Then he sat, and waited, and made puppy eyes at his phone from time to time.

So far it’s been going great. Already they gave him lemonade on the house.

That is, it was going great until the hostess suddenly said, "Didn’t I tell you that your date would arrive?", and Wei Ying raised his head to see the most gorgeous man he has ever seen standing behind her — a gorgeous man who also happens to be a ten-years-older version of Lan Zhan.

His Lan Zhan.

*

"Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan’s feet feel stuck in place, paralyzed. It takes a monumental effort to open his mouth and voice the name. He had hoped, all those years, that they would reunite someday, but that did seem less and less likely as the years went by, with Wei Ying never spending more than a couple of weeks in China before flying off to his next destination. Lan Zhan had slowly resigned himself to the fact that it might just never happen again.

"Lan Zhan." Wei Ying’s voice is warm, as he remembered it, soft and rich even in his evident disbelief. "What —"

"I’ll let you two have some time!" The hostess announces. She places a menu by Lan Zhan’s seat — Lan Zhan sits down automatically when she proceeds to hold the chair out for him — and the she flits away, leaving Lan Zhan to face the man who has been the unrequited love of his life — first as a stranger, a bratty teenager, then as a close friend, then a close friend who was absent; then, sadly, nearly a stranger again — for thirteen years.

Lan Zhan arranges himself in his seat. Wei Ying looks at him, fingers tapping absentmindedly on the table, and then he laughs, sudden, delightful, loud.

"I can’t believe she thought you were my date just because we’re both Chinese." Wei Ying has switched languages for this last sentence, speaking confidently as if knowing that no one else will understand. Still, Lan Zhan looks around uneasily, trying to make sure that no one has heard. No one in the restaurant — all the other tables are full, Lan Zhan notes, and all the other patrons are white — seems to be paying them any mind. "Props for not saying anything about the gay thing, though." Wei Ying laughs again, but it sounds forced.

Wei Ying’s words slowly catch up with him, sinking into his stomach like a stone.

"You were waiting for a date?" Lan Zhan can feel the way his face stiffens, hadn’t even realized before how much tension he shed away at the mere sight of Wei Ying. "I am sorry. I will leave."

"No, Lan Zhan, don’t!" Wei Ying’s chair scrapes against the floor when he makes to rise in haste, causing the table to shake. The cutlery, previously laid out neatly on their napkins, slips from the force of the blow, knives and forks and spoons clanging together loudly.

Now everyone is looking at them.

Lan Zhan still sits frozen in his chair.

"Ah, sorry, sorry," Wei Ying says in English, waving his hand in apology and gracing the entire restaurant with his trademark charming smile. Lan Zhan feels breathless, momentarily. "Misunderstanding. All good now! Enjoy your food everyone!"

Lan Zhan wants the floor to open up and take him whole.

*

That was a close call, for a moment. Wei Ying can’t believe that after all those years, when he and Lan Zhan finally reunite — in Barcelona, of all places! On Wei Ying’s final night before leaving! — Lan Zhan was really about to up and leave like that.

"There’s no date," he says quickly, urgently, when he sits back down. Lan Zhan is studiously straightening his napkin and his cutlery, and isn’t looking at him. "I just wanted an excuse to order the tasting menu and eat and drink for cheap. Oh, and the website didn’t allow the option to book for one! That’s what gave me the idea, that’s on them, I didn’t — Lan Zhan, don’t leave."

He hopes it doesn’t sound too much like a plea.

"We can order the tasting menu, now that you’re here." He hastens to add, trying to fill the gap between them, the weight of the silence that hangs in the air. All the sounds around them — people chattering, the clinks and clanks of utensils and plates, the low music that plays in the background — everything is muted while he waits for Lan Zhan’s reaction, waits for him to lift his gaze and meet Wei Ying’s eyes.

"You want me to stay so you can order the tasting menu?" Each and every one of Lan Zhan’s words is measured. Scathing. A little like he used to act before they became friends, when the only two modes he had were menacing or completely expressionless.

"No, of course not!" Wei Ying reaches out for him over the table, a most awkward position to pat someone’s arm, but he’s already committed, so he powers through. Lan Zhan looks down to watch Wei Ying’s hand touching him as if it was a foreign thing, but he also doesn’t shy away from him. Wei Ying withdraws even though Lan Zhan is wearing short sleeves, and if he just lowered his hand further, he could — "Of course not." He repeats. Behave, Wei Ying. "I’ve missed you, Lan Zhan. It’s been years."

So many years. And Wei Ying has been in love with him — has stayed in love with him — all this time. How ridiculous of him.

Lan Zhan’s expression softens, like a mask removed from his face that no one but Wei Ying could even tell was there. It sends an unexpected thrill through him — it’s been years, but he can still notice the small shifts of Lan Zhan’s expression, and still remembers what they mean.

"It’s good to see you," Wei Ying adds. His voice sounds odd. He hopes Lan Zhan can’t tell.

"You too, Wei Ying." Lan Zhan hesitates, for a moment. "Are you sure that it’s alright?"

"Yes, yes! Please, Lan Zhan, please stay. Nothing would make me happier."

Lan Zhan’s eyes do that thing — that thing where it’s almost as if he is smiling.

Oh, Wei Ying is fucked.

*

A waiter comes for their order before neither of them is ready yet. They set aside the catching up temporarily while pondering over the menu together — Wei Ying’s coveted tasting menu includes two glasses of wine per person, and Wei Ying promises solemnly that he will take on Lan Zhan’s portion like a champ. There is one dish with Padrón peppers that Wei Ying claims he has to try, but he gives Lan Zhan free rein over the rest of the order, leaving him to choose their remaining six tapas dishes, and only making some encouraging comments along the way.

"You gave me the gift of cheap wine in abundance!" Wei Ying exclaims when Lan Zhan tries to protest. "And I’ve heard everything here is good anyway, so… Go wild! Let’s celebrate!"

Celebrate. Because Wei Ying is happy to be here, with him. Nothing would make me happier.

Lan Zhan can imagine a few things that would make him happier, but — they have only just met. Probably this is a one-time thing, a brief evening with a long-lost friend and unrequited love, the minutes already slipping away from them, one by one. Lan Zhan shouldn’t be greedy.

When the waiter returns Wei Ying rattles off their order in perfect Spanish before Lan Zhan can even begin to speak. Lan Zhan stares. Wei Ying winks at him, barely a moment after the waiter turns away, then switches seamlessly back to Chinese.

"Don’t look so surprised. I’ve been living here for a year."

"Oh." The last Lan Zhan had heard from him, Wei Ying had been in New York. Pennsylvania before that, which came after London, Paris — a semester’s visit, so before that he was in London as well — and before that… the list goes on. Which means that at some point their conversations became so infrequent that somehow, Lan Zhan managed to miss an entire year of Wei Ying’s life. They did send each other birthday wishes, he remembers — every year, they do that. But that was it for the past year, apparently.

It makes him feel cold.

"What have you been doing here?" He asks. It’s polite enough, the expected follow-up, and… Lan Zhan wants to know. He wants to know everything, now that all of a sudden he can.

"Oh, well." Wei Ying laughs, rubs the back of his neck in a gesture that is so familiar it hits Lan Zhan with a wave of yearning. He has missed him. "Officially it’s a post-doc position but most of what I did was teach. You pick up a language quickly when you’re surrounded by Spanish-speaking grad students five days a week."

The waiter arrives with a glass of wine for Wei Ying, and lemonade for Lan Zhan. There’s a straw in the lemonade glass and when Lan Zhan takes the first sip — it’s good, clearly homemade, mercilessly sour and incredibly refreshing — Wei Ying laughs, and takes out his phone to aim it at him.

"Can I take a picture of you, Lan Zhan, please? You can’t possibly know this but you make the most adorable image like this."

Lan Zhan obediently stays still with his lips around the straw until Wei Ying snaps a picture. His face feels hot, suddenly. He hopes his ears aren’t betraying him already.

"What did you teach?" He asks, once he swallows the mouthful of lemonade and reins his embarrassment in.

Wei Ying clicks his tongue. "This isn’t fair, Lan Zhan, I should also be allowed to ask questions."

Lan Zhan’s life is dull, compared to Wei Ying’s. His world is smaller. Narrower. Still, he answers, "By all means."

*

Wei Ying can’t believe he very nearly met his downfall by Lan Zhan drinking from a straw. All of his carefully constructed measures of keeping distance between them, ever since they parted ways after high school, so easily breaking down. He almost gave himself away, all because Lan Zhan sipping lemonade through a straw makes Wei Ying’s heart do funny things.

Stop that, He sternly tells his heart.

He asks Lan Zhan what brings him to Barcelona — a conference, obviously, something professional and formal and important — but when he proceeds to ask Lan Zhan what it is he does back home, Lan Zhan’s eyes glint at him. "No. My turn."

"Your turn?" Wei Ying makes wide, innocent eyes at him while he swirls the wine around in his glass. Did Lan Zhan become more playful, in the time they spent apart?

"Mn. I answered your question, now it is my turn to ask again."

Apparently so. Wei Ying is delighted. He takes a first sip from the wine — it’s better than he would’ve expected, with that price — and stares at Lan Zhan over the rim of the glass. "Of course, Lan Zhan. Shoot."

"What did you teach?"

Playful and stubborn. And still achingly, terribly hot.

"Well, math, obviously."

Lan Zhan quirks an eyebrow at him. Wei Ying bursts into laughter. He has to place his wine glass down before it sloshes wildly and ends up all over his nicest shirt.

"Are you sure you want to know?" He asks him. Lan Zhan is in musicology, which Wei Ying thinks is extremely cool, and he is well aware that most people don’t hold the same sentiment when it comes to mathematics. Which is a shame, because math is fascinating, and when they were in high school Lan Zhan used to agree with him about that, but… It’s been a while.

"I asked." Lan Zhan’s voice is too dry to not be deliberate.

"Okay, okay!" Wei Ying smiles wide at him. "Stop me whenever I become too much."

Lan Zhan nods, and takes another sip of lemonade. There’s the tiniest uplift to one corner of his lips, and Wei Ying drinks it in, feeling greedy all of a sudden. Parched.

"So I taught generalized geometry," he starts, saying the course name in English but with a Spanish accent, like his students, because even after a year he still thinks it sounds charming like that. Lan Zhan’s eyes twinkle at him when he speaks, so — that was definitely cute of him.

Should he be acting cute with Lan Zhan? Yeah, yeah, he totally should.

He takes another large sip of his wine before he continues.

*

Wei Ying is as animate as ever, passionate and enthusiastic, so much so that the unrestrained waving of his hand startles their waiter when he is coming over with their soup and Wei Ying’s second glass of wine. All liquids are heroically saved before they are spilt, and after the waiter describes the dish — a curried butternut squash soup that smells divine — Wei Ying asks the waiter a quick question in Spanish, clearly still flustered. The waiter nods and disappears. Lan Zhan quirks his eyebrow, curious.

"Nothing, nothing!" Wei Ying waves his hand in front of him, this time clearly cautious over the various glasses and bowls that now fill the table between them. "Just asked to switch for sangria, on the next glass, since I’m already sauced anyway."

Lan Zhan frowns at him. Back when they were in high school Wei Ying was already drinking — on weekends, sometimes, bragging about how he managed to sneak Emperor’s Smile into the house with his brother — and he used to claim his tolerance was unequaled.

"Kidding, kidding!" Wei Ying nearly falls over in his laughter, and Lan Zhan fears for the soup once again. "Lan Zhan, I’m messing with you. I’m not drunk. I just didn’t want him to think I was all excited over math, it’s embarrassing."

"It is not embarrassing to be passionate about the things you love." Lan Zhan says deliberately, before dipping his spoon into the soup and taking his first sip. It is delicious. Perfectly made, just like the lemonade. It was a good recommendation.

An excellent recommendation, he amends, as he watches Wei Ying take his first spoonful of soup and moan with pleasure. His eyelids lower and his chin tips up just so, baring his neck. Lan Zhan wants to bite — right — there.

"Lan Zhan." Wei Ying finally speaks after a couple minutes of quiet yet dedicated eating. "You shouldn’t say things like that if you don’t mean them."

"Why wouldn’t I mean them?" When Wei Ying spoke Lan Zhan had felt as if he could understand — as if he could practically see the world Wei Ying was sketching for him, strange rules and intricate structures and hidden symmetries.

"You’re too good, Lan Zhan." Wei Ying lowers his eyes down to his bowl, ears and cheeks and neck all flushed. He looks lovely under the restaurant’s golden light, eyelashes fluttering against ruddy cheeks. "I’m glad to see you haven’t changed."

"You, as well," Lan Zhan answers without thinking too much, then has to stop and swallow the lump in his throat when he considers the marks of the years — Wei Ying’s broadened shoulders, the sharper, more refined lines of his face. The glow in his eyes, brighter than ever, sparkling like stars. Lan Zhan feels compelled to add, "I mean, you’ve only changed for the better."

"You mean I only became more handsome." Wei Ying raises his head to wink at him.

"Mn." Lan Zhan keeps his expression neutral. Wei Ying chokes on his wine.

*

Okay. Okay, okay, okay. So that’s new, Lan Zhan flirting back, Lan Zhan not shying away from him. Wei Ying finishes his glass of wine, starts on that sangria, and has an excuse to refrain from talking when his peppers arrive. They’re not as hot as he’d hoped.

"They have this saying, you know." He finds himself talking again, after communicating his disappointment with the peppers to Lan Zhan. "Some are hot, some are not." He repeats it in Spanish and he would swear that Lan Zhan’s eyes drop to his lips when he speaks.

"Hm." Lan Zhan nibbles elegantly on their platter of dried tomatoes and cheese. The mushroom croquettes are still waiting in the middle of the table to see who will be the first to steal one to his plate. Lan Zhan takes a sip of lemonade. "Let me know if I can make it up to you."

That’s…

Wei Ying stuffs his face with more peppers.

*

Lan Zhan feels as if his tongue becomes looser the more alcohol that Wei Ying drinks. Which makes absolutely no sense, except — Wei Ying responds to him. Smiles at him. Urges him on. It’s an easy slide back into their old dynamics, Wei Ying laughing and talking and gesticulating wildly, Lan Zhan quiet and reserved but hopelessly infatuated nonetheless.

Except — Lan Zhan isn’t eighteen anymore. Neither is Wei Ying. There’s a sense of ease that wasn’t there before, both of them more comfortable in their bodies, in their personalities, in their identities.

Wei Ying might always be the love of Lan Zhan’s life. Or maybe one day he’ll become a bittersweet memory, the one that got away. But that does not mean he can’t be something more, something else, even if just for tonight.

Lan Zhan thinks he wants to find out.

When the next series of tapas arrives — a baked cauliflower with tahini and coriander sauce, a plate loaded with bruschetta, and an unimpressive dish of potatoes — Lan Zhan slides his leg under the table until his ankle touches Wei Ying’s.

*

Wei Ying nearly chokes on the final bite of cheese.

So that’s how he wants to play it. Alright.

"The potatoes look good," he says, although they don’t really, and he cuts one into pieces and spears one on his fork. "Open up, Lan Zhan, you should try them."

Lan Zhan opens his mouth — in shock, Wei Ying has no doubt — and Wei Ying takes advantage of it and shoves the fork into Lan Zhan’s mouth.

Lan Zhan’s lips close around his fork. He takes the potato into his mouth. He chews. He swallows.

He maintains a very intense eye contact with Wei Ying all the while.

Wei Ying shivers.

Then the effect is ruined when Lan Zhan’s expression shifts into genuine pleasure, and he says — after swallowing — "They really are good. You should try some as well."

What’s Wei Ying to do? He opens his mouth up wide.

*

Lan Zhan is no longer entirely certain that he and Wei Ying are thinking along the same lines. He’d thought — Wei Ying seemed serious, underneath all the flair. More mature. But maybe, like back then, he is just teasing for teasing’s sake.

Lan Zhan wills his hand to remain steady as he feeds Wei Ying a potato cube. Wei Ying’s eyes crinkle at the edges — his lips are so red, when they open up, and the image he makes with his mouth wide open and his shining gaze is so innocent that it cannot be anything but mischievous, calculated. Lan Zhan had thought that his fantasies were keeping Wei Ying’s memory alive and burning within him, but he was wrong, they were all pale, feeble imitations of the real thing.

For a moment he thought he might have the real thing. If only for tonight.

But maybe Wei Ying just wants to play.

"How is it?" He asks roughly once Wei Ying has swallowed. Wei Ying’s tongue darts out to lick his lips, pink and quick.

"Better than I would’ve expected." Wei Ying taps his nose thoughtfully, and it’s another one of those gestures that makes Lan Zhan feel seventeen all over again. "Also, objectively delicious. Well done, unimpressive looking potatoes."

This is more than Lan Zhan has ever expected to have with Wei Ying, he reminds himself. It is fine if this is all there is.

*

Wei Ying is on his second and final glass of sangria — those do go down fast, don’t they? — when Lan Zhan pulls his ankle away.

Wei Ying shamelessly chases after it. It’s cold, without Lan Zhan touching him.

(It’s not really cold. But he wants — How dare Lan Zhan stop touching him.)

"You know." He stares down into his sangria glass, pretending not to notice the way Lan Zhan’s lips shine when he bites into the last bruschetta, tomato juice and olive oil and Lan Zhan all mixed. Somehow he doesn’t spill. Wei Ying can’t imagine Lan Zhan ever being the kind to spill.

Lan Zhan chews and swallows politely before dabbing his mouth with the napkin — it shouldn’t be allowed, this kind of elegant motion, not with Lan Zhan’s forearms uncovered — before he responds, inquiringly, "Hm?"

The large gulp of sangria he takes burns his throat, makes the back of his jaw pucker with that tartness. Liquid courage. Wei Ying can do it. It’s for the noble cause of getting Lan Zhan to touch him again.

Or never ever speaks to him. But then, Wei Ying was sort of living his life expecting something like that.

Here goes.

"I used to have the biggest crush on you."

Wei Ying watches, hypnotized, as the tomatoes slide off Lan Zhan’s bruschetta and plop down on his plate. One drop of spatter even reaches as far as Lan Zhan’s shirt.

What has he done?

"Used to?" Lan Zhan very carefully places the bruschetta down. His voice sounds… his voice doesn’t sound like Lan Zhan.

"In high school." Wei Ying clarifies, feeling his face heat. In high school and still going strong. Should that be Lan Zhan’s business? Maybe, maybe. Depends how he reacts.

Lan Zhan’s throat bobs as he swallows even though Wei Ying knows fully well that he had no food in his mouth to swallow down.

"You can’t really be surprised." Wei Ying feels exposed, suddenly, naked despite being fully clothed, bared to the bone despite being away from home, speaking in a language no one around him understands. A language he himself has barely spoken, in the past ten years. He shouldn’t have said that. He should’ve kept his mouth shut.

He keeps on talking. "Come on, Lan Zhan, I flirted with you all the time. If you hadn’t pushed me away forcibly I would be glued to your side to this day."

"I thought you were only joking around, in high school." Lan Zhan doesn’t look at him. His mouth opens and closes, several times, so unlike him, until he finally says: "I… had felt the same."

*

Lan Zhan’s words hang between them, weighing down on the table, the nearly empty plates and bowls. Any minute now they’ll take on shape, Lan Zhan thinks. A fog between them, maybe. Or maybe a wall.

Instead Wei Ying shatters the silence with a shrill voice. "The same?! You felt the same?!?!"

Embarrassed, Lan Zhan nods.

Wei Ying was brave. Wei Ying confessed to a truth that Lan Zhan thought he would never hear, that makes fire burn through Lan Zhan’s veins, makes him wonder about the concept of past and present tenses, about secrets, about the phrase "it’s never too late". He thinks Wei Ying deserves the same kind of honesty in return.

"Oh my god." Wei Ying smacks the back of his hand against his forehead with a loud slap. "Oh my god."

"Couldn’t you tell?" Lan Zhan doesn’t mean to sound accusatory, except maybe he does, because Wei Ying had a crush on him, Wei Ying was the one who flirted and touched him and was supposedly brave, but Lan Zhan was the one whose infatuation shone like a beacon, glaringly obvious to everyone around them, so why didn’t Wei Ying know? How could he possibly not tell?

"You were angry at me all the time!" Wei Ying lowers his voice when several heads turn towards them. "Even when we became friends, you always — Lan Zhan! You never let me touch you for more than a few seconds."

"Mn." Lan Zhan agrees. "Too distracting. Wanted to ravage you."

Wei Ying sputters. If this is what honestly gets him, Lan Zhan might just try it more.

*

Lan Zhan wanted to ravage him. Lan Zhan. Ravage. Him.

Wei Ying feels as if his entire skin is on fire. He can’t help himself — he leans forward and, maneuvering between the plates, takes Lan Zhan’s hand in his. Their legs are already impossibly tangled below the table again — Wei Ying isn’t sure when exactly that happened. The table is too small. It’s too cramped. They are two grown men, shouldn’t there be more room? Enough room, say, for Wei Ying to slide down off his chair and onto the floor and —

Lan Zhan catches his eye and it looks as if Lan Zhan's thoughts are very similar to his.

Wait. Waitwaitwait.

"Lan Zhan, is it, wanted, back then? Wanted, in high school and nothing more?" Wei Ying clutches at his palm a little forcefully. "Does that mean you don’t — that now you aren’t —"

In his mind there are carefully constructed questions, a thousand of them, but all that comes out of his mouth is this helpless, unintelligible stammering.

Lan Zhan — brave, amazing, beautiful, incredible Lan Zhan, the star of Wei Ying’s fantasies the past thirteen years and counting, Lan Zhan who’d just used the word ravage, in context of what he would like to do to Wei Ying — Lan Zhan comes to his aid. Makes himself clear.

"I do." His voice is quiet, suddenly, less of that seductive undertone, something more sincere. "I want. Still."

"Oh, good," Wei Ying blurts, heart beating rapidly in his chest. "Me, too. I mean. I never stopped being a little in love with you."

Wait. Fuck.

*

Lan Zhan sits dumbfounded as his brain plays and replays Wei Ying’s last sentence, the way his mouth curved around the words, the little squeal he gave a moment after, how he covered his face and his ears were so red. Wei Ying is still hiding behind his hands — he is peeking through the fingers, occasionally, taking one look at Lan Zhan’s face, yelping, hiding again.

It is only when Wei Ying starts withdrawing into himself — and when was it that their legs tangled together again, under the table, as if they belonged like that? — that Lan Zhan jerks from his momentary stupor.

He licks his lips. Gently grabs onto Wei Ying’s wrists so he can uncover his face.

"Me, too." He has to clear his throat for how rough his voice comes out. Then, almost in a whisper, Wei Ying leaning so close to hear that Lan Zhan can imagine he feels the hot wisps of his breath, Wei Ying’s hands still secure in Lan Zhan’s hold, he adds. "Never stopped."

"Lan Zhan." Wei Ying sounds strangled. Slightly teary. Overcome. Lan Zhan lets go of his wrists, and Wei Ying looks down at his forearms and massages them, seemingly forgetting what he meant to say.

"Wei Ying?"

For one moment Wei Ying is quiet, still staring down at the smooth expanse of skin, fingers tracing absentmindedly over the place Lan Zhan’s fingers had dug in.

"I need to kiss you," he says, suddenly. Urgently. "I need to be kissing you, Lan Zhan, I need —"

Lan Zhan kisses him.

*

One moment Wei Ying is mumbling, pouring his heart out, feeling himself sinking, drowning, suffocating, and the next moment Lan Zhan’s lips are against his, and he is being kissed, awkward and uncomfortable over the table, chair scraping on the floor as Lan Zhan leans up to get a better grip.

It’s intoxicating. Breathtaking. Better than Wei Ying has ever dreamed.

*

It’s a marvelous thing, Lan Zhan hazily thinks, that he can simply — lean forward, and kiss Wei Ying. Do it in public, where everyone can see, where no one will care, in particular, except maybe to pause and admire how lovely Wei Ying is when kissed.

It’s a marvelous thing, kissing Wei Ying.

*

They only break apart when the waiter arrives and politely clears his throat. Lan Zhan doesn’t meet his eyes when he sits back and fixes his hair, his clothes — it’s very cute of Lan Zhan, Wei Ying thinks, how he can confidently say things like "wanted to ravage you" and kiss him in public, but he cannot meet the direct gaze of a stranger who caught him with his pants down. So to speak. Wei Ying smiles widely at the waiter, thanks him when he gathers the plates, hums in agreement when the waiter asks if it’s time for their dessert.

Frankly, Wei Ying could give up on dessert altogether, leave right this minute, drag Lan Zhan outside to the nearest place they could fuck.

But.

They did pay for the tasting menu.

And it might be wiser to wait, until that nearest place is a hotel and not the closest unoccupied alley. Although…

Yeah. Yes. Probably better to wait.

*

Once the table is all cleared, Lan Zhan reaches forward to hold Wei Ying’s hand.

"They’ll bring the dessert menu in a moment," Wei Ying informs him, his face still prettily flushed. His voice is higher than its regular register. His hair still tousled. He looks perfectly ready to be wrecked.

"Mn." Lan Zhan does not care in the least about dessert. But if that’s what Wei Ying wants, Lan Zhan can wait. Can allow the desire to lull itself into a low, anticipating hum in the meanwhile. He strokes the back of Wei Ying’s hand with his thumb.

"So." Wei Ying’s grin is so wide it’s a wonder no one around them is dazed, so strong is its light. "Is this a date then? For real? Can we make it a date?"

It’s a warm and sticky feeling in Lan Zhan’s chest, like syrup, like honeyed tea. A date with Wei Ying. "Mn."

"Wow." Wei Ying leans back, but his hand remains firmly in Lan Zhan’s hand. "Only took us thirteen years."

Lan Zhan doesn’t quite know what to say to that.

Wei Ying laughs, an artificial sound. Lan Zhan’s thumb slips — his palm is starting to sweat.

"Um." Wei Ying says.

The waiter comes back with the dessert menu before Lan Zhan has to figure out how to answer.

*

This is horrible. This is absolutely, awfully horrible. Both of them have been staring at the dessert menu for over a minute now without speaking, and Wei Ying’s hand is on fire — for all he knows Lan Zhan’s hand might be burning, and the only reason that he isn’t pulling away is because Wei Ying is sweating so profusely that it has melded their hands together, and now they’ll forever be stuck like this.

This has never happened to him, on any of his dates. Not on the most casual encounters, not on those rare ones where he thought he might’ve found something real. For Wei Ying to become tongue-tied like this — usually with Lan Zhan he couldn’t stop from teasing, from flirting, and now suddenly…

"I think chocolate is overrated." Lan Zhan says suddenly. Then his eyes widen, a look of utter and complete panic relayed in that minuscule motion of eyelids and pupils. "I did not mean — we can have a chocolate dessert. If you like."

Even Lan Zhan is out of sorts.

Is this their undoing? Have they cursed themselves into this doomed-in-advance date, just by saying what was on their hearts? That can’t — Wei Ying didn’t even — They didn’t even —

"I’m leaving tomorrow!" It comes out in a squeak. Wei Ying is horrified at himself. He only meant —

Lan Zhan’s eyes reveal nothing when he looks at him. "Mn. I will also be leaving. Tomorrow."

What are the odds — Wei Ying should ask, he should ask

He grabs his sangria instead, downs it to the last drop. "We should get married." He says hastily. Wait. What? "No, I meant — I meant, we should make tonight count. Not married. Wrong brain wires! I mean. Haha." He pronounces it instead of laughing, ha-ha.

"Yes." Lan Zhan says. He sounds incredibly, extremely intense.

"Yes, we should make tonight count, right?" Right???

"Mn." Lan Zhan says after a moment.

They lapse into silence once more.

*

The dessert menu is still lying on the table between them, an inanimate witness to the treacheries of the heart. For years, Lan Zhan has loved Wei Ying and done nothing. For years, apparently, Wei Ying has been doing the same. Now they’ve confessed, Wei Ying has proposed — Lan Zhan thinks, at least, thinks that for one, crazy moment, Wei Ying had meant it — and this is what they are reduced to now. Staring at the descriptions of three different chocolate desserts, one with peanut-butter, another one with mango — and being absolutely incapable of speaking any intelligent words.

No one around them pays them any mind. Maybe they did, for a moment, when they were kissing, when their waiter had arrived. Now it’s all back to business, eating, drinking, laughing, while that weird gay Chinese couple two tables to the left is going through a disastrous date crisis.

Lan Zhan is the first to admit — even if just to himself — that he doesn’t always do well in social situations that hadn’t been planned ahead. Negotiated. And yet. He went out with people, on occasion. Knew how to make himself attractive. What to do when he wanted to fuck. Some would even go as far as saying that on his better nights, Lan Zhan has what is referred to, colloquially, as game.

And now.

"This is ridiculous!" Wei Ying wails suddenly, mirroring perfectly the thoughts that circle round and round in Lan Zhan’s mind. He was just wondering — maybe, if they kiss again, and never stop. Then they won’t have to ever talk.

Wei Ying tugs insistently on Lan Zhan’s hand, where it’s still hopelessly connected to Wei Ying’s hand, just tugs on the whole jumble even though they have been stuck like this for ages now, and there is no going back.

"Lan Zhan, this is —" He huffs in annoyance, making the small wisps of hair around his face flutter with the force of the shifted air. "We’re both intelligent, right? Smart? Brilliant even."

Lan Zhan can feel his face growing warm. He does not feel in particular like any of those things right now.

"I know!" Wei Ying raises both arms in the air, yanking, in the process, his hand away from Lan Zhan’s hand. Both of them stare at each other, momentarily shell-shocked. The air in the restaurant is cool over Lan Zhan’s clammy palm.

He misses Wei Ying’s touch all the same.

Wei Ying snaps his fingers though, a rapid succession of sounds and clicks, back to his footing, back at his element. "Like I said, Lan Zhan, we’re smart, this shouldn’t happen to us, it’s never happened to me on any other date."

Lan Zhan smothers the sudden flare of jealousy. "To me, neither." He says carefully. Where is Wei Ying going with this?

"So!" Wei Ying sways into his space, all but swooning over the table. "We should treat this like any other date. None of all the baggage! History can be so limiting sometimes."

"I am not sure I understand." Is it just him, or did Lan Zhan’s sentence sound awfully stuffy and measured?

"We pretend, Lan Zhan!" Wei Ying’s eyes shine at him, two gleaming grey stars. "We pretend we’re strangers." He leans back into his seat, composed, collected, but with a tiny amused spark in his eyes. "Hello, stranger." He extends his hand forward. "My name is Wei Ying."

*

Thank goodness Wei Ying is incapable of staying down for long. He has figured it out. Cracked the riddle of strangers to friends to estranged friends to shyly confessing that they’re in love but now overwhelmed. It’s brilliant. Simple and brilliant and fool-proof.

"Hello, Wei Ying." Lan Zhan shakes his hand with a solemn expression. "My name is Lan Zhan."

Fine, maybe not brilliant then. But it works! They’ve both said words already! It totally, totally —

"I do not see how this will change anything." Lan Zhan adds after a moment.

Wei Ying groans. He contemplates the merits of banging his head against the table. Maybe against the dessert menu. He isn’t sure if he deserves the added cushioning the menu would offer.

"You’re supposed to pretend." He settles on placing his hands over the table, one on top of the other, and sinking down in his chair until his eyes are almost at table-level. When he places his head over his hands, his chin digs into the back of his hand.

It’s what he deserves.

Lan Zhan still looks so helpless.

"You’re supposed to act like you don’t know me. And do what you would’ve done on any other date. Say what you would’ve said. What do you usually do?" Does Lan Zhan usually go on dates?

The look in Lan Zhan’s eyes changes in a subtle way, and it makes Wei Ying hot all of a sudden. He isn’t sure why.

"You don’t have to think about it," he rattles on, unsettled to his bones, unable to keep control of his mouth. "Just — whatever comes to mind. Even if I know this already, just say the first thing you’d say, like this."

"What I’d usually say." Lan Zhan’s voice sounds rough. Smoldering. Sending all kinds of tingles through Wei Ying’s body.

"Lan Zhan!" It can’t, Wei Ying can’t, they can’t let it end like this. He lightly thumps his forehead against his hands. "Just… whatever!" He speaks down into the table. "You don’t know me. You’ve stumbled upon this handsome man in this lovely restaurant. We made eye-contact. We clicked. We flirted a little over potatoes. Come on. You can do this. Just say what you’d usually say."

Lan Zhan is silent for a moment that lasts approximately a year. It makes the back of Wei Ying's neck tingle, and he dares to look up, taking in Lan Zhan's considering gaze. Then Lan Zhan — Lan Zhan wets his lips. Opens his mouth on an inaudible sound. Before Wei Ying can explain it again though — how hard could it be to pretend, it’s not even anything kinky, just Wei Ying’s dumb, useless rescue plan — Lan Zhan says, "I am a dom top. Exclusively."

Oh.

*

Lan Zhan carefully examines the look on Wei Ying’s face. He looks like if he didn’t already have his head on the table then they would’ve met just now, as Lan Zhan let the careless words leave his mouth. Simply… released that sentence into the air, all because it was Wei Ying, because Lan Zhan wanted so badly but didn’t know how to handle it.

Was it too much? Did he lay too much on the line, too soon? But then — Wei Ying talked about getting married. He didn’t mean that, obviously — obviously — but… that must mean Lan Zhan is allowed a slip of the tongue as well? He should — Lan Zhan can back away from it, still, they can pretend they aren’t on a date, go back to how it was, maybe that’s…

When Wei Ying raises his head and slowly sits back up properly, his cheeks are an attractive shade of pink. "So this is the kind of dates you go on, Lan Zhan?" He is clearly flustered, attempting humor — but his hands over the tabletop are restless, fingers clenching and opening.

Lan Zhan musters every single ounce of control that he has ever possessed. "No breaking character." It was Wei Ying who’d insisted on this game — it only makes sense that Lan Zhan is curious to see his response to his gamble.

The smile that spreads over Wei Ying’s face is nothing like his excitement from before, his sweet smiles from high school, his effortlessly teasing flirts. This smile is a smirk — self-possessed. Rising up to the challenge.

"Okay, okay." Wei Ying raises his sangria glass to his lips, tips it over theatrically, then pouts when he finds out — expectedly — that it has been emptied dry. He places it back on the table with an unrefined sound. "Well. In that case, then. Lan Zhan who I’ve only just met who introduces himself as a dom." It’s the widest smirk Lan Zhan has ever witnessed. It colors Wei Ying’s face smug. "You should know that I’m a brat."

Lan Zhan’s breath catches in his throat.

*

Not so pleased with himself now, is he. Wei Ying feels on sure footing again, somehow — not the kind he’d expected, maybe, the kind with polite chitchat and hair twirling and trying to impress, but… a familiar ground all the same.

Lan Zhan is quiet. His expression is directed inwards, as if he is shocked. Or… processing.

Wei Ying waits. He reads the list of desserts again, in English and in Spanish, just for the heck of it. He pours himself a glass of water. Considers stealing the last sip of Lan Zhan’s lemonade. The silence grows around them, like a balloon, encompassing them in a soundless bubble, detached from the hubbub of the rest of the restaurant. He jiggles his foot up and down on the floor.

Lan Zhan licks his lip again. And then doesn’t say a thing.

Finally, Wei Ying can’t take it. He giggles.

Lan Zhan’s eyes flick to his mouth and then away. The laughter grows in Wei Ying’s belly, filling him to the brim until he can’t hold it, until he laughs out loud and collapses back down to the table. "Lan Zhan, your face." He gasps, clutching at his side.

"No breaking character." Lan Zhan’s voice is infinitely colder this time around. It makes something catch in Wei Ying’s chest — makes his blood hot, its flow directed south. He barely conceals his shiver.

"Oh." He drawls, a question, a push. "Or…?"

"We are going to order the mango mousse." Lan Zhan sounds so certain. So authoritative. "You will eat it to the last drop. I am going to pay. And then you’re coming back with me to my hotel room."

Wei Ying raises himself from the table, settles back, crosses his legs so they purposefully rub against Lan Zhan’s. "Doesn’t sound like much of a threat."

"I did not yet say what will happen once we get there."

Wei Ying doesn’t try to suppress the shiver running through him this time. "Still doesn’t sound too bad. Can’t imagine what you might be implying."

"Try harder."

And oh, Lan Zhan won’t let him off easy, will he, like he knows already that Wei Ying can very clearly imagine some things, can imagine the way Lan Zhan will punish him if he misbehaves now, if he tries to wriggle out of it or even merely suggest they order the chocolate fondue instead.

When he meets Lan Zhan’s eyes they flicker momentarily to the side though.

"Color?" He asks in a low voice.

How absolutely responsible and sexy of him.

"Green," Wei Ying breathes. "We’re all green, baby."

Lan Zhan forcefully presses his ankle against the table’s leg. Wei Ying has to stifle a tiny moan.

"Order for us." Lan Zhan commands him when their waiter approaches. "Let me hear your pretty accent."

Wei Ying doesn’t even try to be clever about it.

*

Lan Zhan is reeling, inwardly, from the changes brought upon by the last few minutes. Kissing Wei Ying. Being allowed to kiss, to hold his hand. Discovering that loving someone for thirteen years and then finally confessing can, in fact, result in an extremely awkward situation. And then, all of a sudden, this.

A brat. He likes that Wei Ying speaks his language. He likes that Wei Ying is quick enough, resourceful enough, to spin this into what it is now.

After Wei Ying orders, Lan Zhan takes his hand again.

There is no hesitation this time, no fear of his palm sweating, his voice breaking in an embarrassing way. He squeezes his thumb into the soft spot in the middle of Wei Ying’s palm, until his fingernail is digging into the flesh. He watches Wei Ying’s eyes.

"Tell me what you like." When Lan Zhan is like this there’s no hesitation in his voice. No elevated self-awareness, no fear of the looks others might be sending his way. The restaurant is back to being cozy — a background, a setup, warm like the feeling of control that slowly spreads through Lan Zhan’s limbs.

"I like many things, Lan Zhan." Wei Ying flutters his eyelashes at him, his tongue peeking out to lick at his lips. "I liked the potatoes we just ate, and peach sangria, and long walks on the beach, and…"

Lan Zhan’s fingernail digs further in. Wei Ying doesn’t hiss, but his voice does falter, words stopping mid-sentence, and his eyes — this time when his eyelashes flutter, when his pupils roll upwards, it’s not an act. Lan Zhan can tell as much.

"I will not ask again." Lan Zhan sounds derisive, sounds bored, like he doesn’t care at all. He loves Wei Ying with all his heart, wants this — whatever this has become, however much Wei Ying will give him before they inevitably have to part — and the way to achieve this is by acting like he does not care at all.

This is the kind of acting that Lan Zhan is extremely good at.

Wei Ying turns his hand in Lan Zhan’s hand, leaning his weight into the pain, taking everything that Lan Zhan gives. The waiter arrives while Wei Ying is still talking, words tumbling out of his mouth, a flood unleashed, confident in the anonymity of a foreign language that nobody but them can perceive.

*

Lan Zhan drinks in each and every word Wei Ying speaks, his face impassive but his eyes heavy, dark, darkening. Wei Ying’s heart is beating in his chest and in the place his ankle is still held tight against the table, beating in his hand where Lan Zhan so easily found a way through his defenses. When he tries to shift Lan Zhan follows, pinning his other ankle as well, both of Wei Ying’s legs trapped between Lan Zhan’s legs, and if there wasn’t a table between them, if there weren’t all those people around, Wei Ying would slide down to his knees right now.

"Eat." Lan Zhan tells him when he’s done, and when Wei Ying takes the first spoonful into his mouth he adds, "You did well, telling me all of that."

The mousse is cold when it slides down Wei Ying’s throat, and yet his face is warm, so warm.

*

When the waiter arrives with the check, Wei Ying has regained some of his composure, despite still being held tightly between Lan Zhan’s legs, one hand incapacitated. Lan Zhan likes that, wants to keep him like that, will restrain him again once they are back in his hotel room, when they have the space and the time and the privacy. In fact, Wei Ying has returned to himself enough to try and pay the bill — "I have a local credit card, Lan Zhan," he tries to excuse himself, to justify his blatant disobedience to Lan Zhan’s previous directions.

Lan Zhan very calmly replaces Wei Ying’s card with his own, tells the waiter in perfectly polite English, "Please excuse my date’s behavior", and asks to add a generous tip.

"Lan Zhan!" Wei Ying makes a move to grab his credit card back from Lan Zhan’s hand; Lan Zhan keeps his face expressionless while he puts it in his pocket instead.

"You will not require it for the rest of the night." Lan Zhan wishes he would no longer require it forever — it’s a brief hesitation, there and gone. They are in this scenario because it works for them. He should not go taking more than he is allowed.

"Are you going to let me stay the night, then, Lan er-gege?"

It hits Lan Zhan like a wave, all those times, at school, in the library, how he’d wanted to push Wei Ying down to the floor, shove his head against the carpet until he could no longer talk, let him kick and fight and struggle against Lan Zhan’s hold until all of his energy has run out, and then kiss him, kiss that red, impudent mouth.

He breathes, long and controlled. The waiter arrives back to ask Lan Zhan to sign the invoice. He does not remark about their entangled hands. The place where Lan Zhan’s thumb is still pressing into Wei Ying’s skin is hidden, the gesture innocent and demure to the outside observer. Lan Zhan thinks — the way the skin is heated, he has probably left a mark on Wei Ying already.

Wei Ying has a duffel bag with him, stored between his chair and the wall. "Didn’t arrange for accommodations yet." He shrugs at Lan Zhan’s look. "You didn’t answer my question, Lan Zhan." There’s a playful lilt to his voice when he says Lan Zhan’s name, but then he hefts the bag from the floor and onto his shoulder and he sways, visibly, balancing himself against the table.

Lan Zhan is there in an instant, wrapping his arm around his waist, taking the bag away from him and slinging the strap over his own shoulder. "You are drunk." He thinks he manages to keep the sorrow, the regret and the heartache inside. Of course Wei Ying is drunk. They shouldn’t have — Lan Zhan shouldn’t have — but he can do this for him, still. Can keep him safe for tonight. "I will take us back to my hotel room. You are welcome to stay the night."

*

It takes Wei Ying a while to catch on. Not because he’s drunk! It’s just that Lan Zhan nonchalantly stealing his credit card and carrying his bag and holding him around the waist as if he is some damsel in distress is very distracting, and also nice and warm and everything Wei Ying has dreamt of since he was sixteen years old. He snuggles into Lan Zhan as they walk out to the street — the hostess flashes him a smile when they leave, and he winks at her in response — and he allows himself to stumble a little, on purpose, when they make their way down the stairs leading into the subway station, since it’s nice to lean all of his weight on Lan Zhan and feel his muscles flexing when he balances both of them.

Lan Zhan walks him toward a bench in the middle of the platform — it’s abandoned, at this hour, and usually Wei Ying feels anxious to be alone in large, spacious places, especially underground, but this time it’s comforting, there’s no one here but him and Lan Zhan, no sound but the echoing of their feet walking on the ground. But then Lan Zhan sits him down and leaves his side, instead of joining Wei Ying and resuming the cuddling.

"Excuse me." Wei Ying pats the seat beside him and makes a pouty face. "Lan Zhan! Mister stranger! Come back here."

"Wei Ying, you are drunk." Lan Zhan sounds tired all of a sudden, tired and sad. "You can drop the act now."

That’s the moment Wei Ying realizes what this is all about. Lan Zhan’s words back at the restaurant. The chivalrous act. His blatant disappointment that he tries so hard to hide.

He can’t help it. He laughs. "Nonsense, Lan Zhan. My tolerance is way high." Too high. It’s so expensive to get even the slightest buzz, like that.

"I will not take advantage." Lan Zhan sounds stubborn, but he inches a step closer to the bench.

"I would want you to take advantage," Wei Ying says without thinking, and at the sound of Lan Zhan’s strangled breath he hurries to add, "But that’s not the case here! Green, Lan Zhan! Green and sober! Please, I swear."

"Prove it." Lan Zhan doesn’t sit down, but he does stand before him now, and anyone else would say he was unreadable, but Wei Ying can see it, it’s like a veil has been lifted, the years and the distance and the pining all erased. He can see his longing mirrored in Lan Zhan’s eyes, the hunger, the desire, the love. They both want this, they both want this to be more than it can probably be, and Lan Zhan wants to be hopeful, wants to have faith in him but at the same time he is Lan Zhan, careful and responsible and always, always thinking first and foremost of Wei Ying.

The overhead system comes to life around them, sounds blaring from all around, the train is now approaching the platform, please take care not to step over the designated line. There’s the quiet rumble arriving, the lights flashing over the barren station’s walls. Lan Zhan holds his hand out in front of him, offering it to Wei Ying. Wei Ying pulls himself up into standing, purposefully swaying into Lan Zhan’s chest and smooching him on the cheek.

"I’ll prove it." He whispers hotly into Lan Zhan’s ear, as the train comes to a halt. "But then you’ll have to fuck me."

He thinks, if it weren’t for the racket, he would’ve heard Lan Zhan growl.

*

Wei Ying’s proof-of-sobriety method is reciting the list of Cloud Recesses rules the entire time they are on the subway. It makes Lan Zhan’s blood run hot, roaring in his ears. When they were teenagers, Wei Ying never once agreed to recite the rules. He claimed he couldn’t be bothered to remember them.

"Section 3, proper conduct." He cites now. "Rule 3.1. Under no circumstances should a student…"

Lan Zhan lets the familiar words wash over him, mingle with the sounds of the train on the tracks. When Wei Ying stops mid-sentence, blinking at his apparent disinterest, Lan Zhan finds his wrist and tightens his fingers hard around it. "Continue."

Wei Ying gasps, and continues. Lan Zhan goes over the same rules in his heart, willing himself to calm, to concentrate. There’ll be time to let himself go. They are in sync again. Even if just for tonight, there will be time.

*

Lan Zhan’s hotel is fancier than Wei Ying expected, small but modern, sleekly decorated. He stops talking once they walk through the front doors, Lan Zhan barely sparing a glance to the concierge’s welcome call before leading Wei Ying to the elevators. Lan Zhan is still carrying Wei Ying’s bag, once again holding him around the wrist, snug and possessive. Whenever Wei Ying wriggles a little against it Lan Zhan holds him tighter.

Once they’re inside the elevator, Lan Zhan speaks. "Carry on."

Wei Ying sighs. "I think you can tell I’m not drunk by now." His throat is starting to feel sore, from all that talking. At least he’s reacquainting himself to the feeling of Chinese in his mouth, on his tongue. These transitions are always a bit of a whiplash after a long time away, and this time he’s coming back to stay.

Wei Ying wonders what Lan Zhan’s plans are. He doesn’t ask.

"That was an order." Lan Zhan is so deliciously bitchy when he’s like that. Wei Ying never would’ve imagined. He had fantasized — there’s no shame in having an active imagination, in knowing himself enough to know that what he wants is someone — someone who often looks, sounds, feels like Lan Zhan in his mind — to be crass with him, careless, to throw him around and fuck him hard and slap him when he dares cross the line.

"Wanna do other things with my mouth, er-gege." Wei Ying likes poking at that line. He likes that a lot.

Lan Zhan rewards him by pinning both of his wrists against the mirror, Wei Ying’s duffel bag making a dull thud as it hits the elevator’s floor. "That’s for me to decide." Lan Zhan’s eyes travel over Wei Ying’s face, his eyes, his nose, his mouth. "As long as I don’t shut you up, you are to continue. Is that understood?"

Wei Ying thinks he can feel each and every one of his tendons, his muscles, his blood vessels under Lan Zhan’s hand. Straining. Struggling. Achingly, deliciously pulsing under the pressure. He swallows, wets his mouth. "Section 6." He recites. He can only hope that Lan Qiren will never, ever hear of this.

*

Lan Zhan regrets not packing his handcuffs.

Sometimes he does. Sometimes when he has a little more time to spend outside of the current conference or workshop or lecture series, he packs some supplies for the road. He rarely uses them — there’s something awkward about having sex with a language barrier, and Lan Zhan can be particular about things that are not always popular wherever he goes, but… Sometimes the opportunity arises. It is good to be prepared, as a rule.

This visit has been so short though — he landed the night before the conference started, and is leaving less than 24 hours after its end. Less than a week, overall. He really saw no point.

Now, as he regretfully lets go of Wei Ying’s wrists when the elevator door opens, Lan Zhan fervently wishes he was a little more open-minded. Wei Ying would have looked good in his handcuffs, the dark padding a stark contrast to the pale and fragile skin of his inner arm. Lan Zhan would’ve liked to cuff him — to chain him to his bed, to control him. To keep him.

Perhaps it’s for the best that the handcuffs remained back in Beijing.

Wei Ying is still reciting the rulebook as he walks and skips behind him. Quieter now — considerate of the other guests, and isn’t that a sign of growth, a sign of maturity that once wasn’t there. He keeps close to Lan Zhan’s back, and it makes Lan Zhan’s spine prickle with the electric crackle of desire between them, that intense feeling before play, before they can close the doors on the outside world and…

Lan Zhan isn’t entirely certain.

The problem isn’t that he hasn’t got anything in mind — it’s that the ideas are multiplying, evolving, clamoring for his attention from every corner in his head. If this is to be their first and only time…

Perhaps Lan Zhan should ask. He could come back to Barcelona. Even make it as far out of the city center as required to reach the quiet quarter where Wei Ying has said his university is located.

It feels futile, somehow. They couldn’t even manage to keep in touch as friends, in long distance. How would — why would this even work, then?

*

Lan Zhan is giving him nothing. He leads Wei Ying to his room, pausing only to glance at him when he falters over one of the more obscure rules, but remaining quiet, other than that.

Wei Ying’s entire body is tingling. When Lan Zhan grabbed him at the elevator — he thinks he would like that, if Lan Zhan did that again now. He’s told Lan Zhan what he likes — a unique experience, sitting out in the open in public and talking about what kind of violence he preferred and how, unbeknownst to everyone around — and he hopes that Lan Zhan is the type to initiate the scene immediately once they’re in private. They’ve talked enough, if you ask him.

There’s nothing remarkable about the door to Lan Zhan’s room, but still, Wei Ying shivers when it clicks open, bites his lips as he walks through it. Lan Zhan turns and looks at him, dark, hungry. His eyes travel all over Wei Ying’s body, taking their time, and for a moment it makes Wei Ying hesitate — there’s so much hiding in those eyes, so many truths he has only begun glimpsing, and maybe — maybe they don’t need this, right now, a scene, maybe what they need is to —

"You stopped talking." Lan Zhan’s voice is severe.

Fuck.

"Rule 7.4." Wei Ying has to stop and clear his throat. "No acts of—"

"I don’t think this will be necessary anymore." Lan Zhan says in the same monotonous, chilly tone. And then he slams Wei Ying against the wall.

*

The decision is easy, in the end. Lan Zhan is greedy. Lan Zhan will take what he can get. And if it is, at least for the foreseeable future, only for tonight — Lan Zhan will make sure to mark Wei Ying up, to leave behind evidence of what they’ve done.

Seems like those handcuffs wouldn’t have been needed after all.

He holds Wei Ying down, by his wrists, by his throat. When Wei Ying tries to rebel and bite him Lan Zhan chokes him for a long, satisfying moment, watches his eyes roll and his body go lax and feels, even as he lets go, the bruises forming from the imprint of his palm.

There’s another session of rule-reciting, with Lan Zhan’s arm wrapped around Wei Ying’s neck from behind, tightening when he stumbles, a promise of punishment if he makes a mistake. There’s a particular satisfaction in watching Wei Ying grow hard when his body is held close against Lan Zhan, incapacitated under his arm, reciting the rules that Lan Zhan tried to get him to transcribe a thousand different times and never managed. He cherishes the moment when Wei Ying surrenders, when he becomes docile and obedient as Lan Zhan pinches the inside of his thighs. Wei Ying gets through the entire rulebook, and he sobs when Lan Zhan lays him down flat on his back and turns to biting, beautiful, red marks blooming on Wei Ying’s beautiful, flushed skin, his cock dark and leaking, twitching, and Wei Ying doesn’t touch it because Lan Zhan told him not to, and when Lan Zhan wraps his lips around him it’s the single most sensual sound that Lan Zhan has heard in his life.

After Wei Ying shivers and shudders and spills down his throat, Lan Zhan brings himself to climax by rutting between Wei Ying’s thighs, and when he comes he paints Wei Ying with white, pearly streaks, over his stomach, his chest, his face, mingling with his tears.

*

Wei Ying floats.

Lan Zhan cleans him up. Holds him close. Lan Zhan who was so amazing and attentive and good that he read between Wei Ying’s lines, took unrelated strings of words, like, "Breathplay", and "I like to be held down", and "My thighs, I’m really sensitive there — I like it when they bruise", and translated them to what Wei Ying didn’t say, which was that he wanted to be owned, to be claimed and beat up and branded as someone’s. As Lan Zhan’s.

At some point Lan Zhan carries him to the bath, where he doesn’t let go of Wei Ying the entire time the water pours into the tub, where he murmurs soft praise in his ears while he submerges the two of them together, as one.

This was a very good idea, Wei Ying decides. A brilliant plan.

Lan Zhan doesn’t speak much, when he washes him up. He gives instructions — hands up, tip your head — and checks in with Wei Ying, and there’s not a minute that goes by without him telling Wei Ying how good he’s been, how proud of him Lan Zhan is. But other than that a quiet stretches between them, comfortable and warm and easy, the easiest this evening has been.

"’m staying, yes?" Wei Ying is still a little bit fuzzy when Lan Zhan carries him back to the bedroom — Lan Zhan is ripped, Jiang Cheng would never believe — not that Wei Ying ever plans on telling him, not this particular detail, but he might brag, like, vaguely.

"If you wish so." Lan Zhan kisses his forehead and feeds him expensive chocolate from the minibar.

"I love you." Wei Ying snuggles against him and says, the words feeling light, right on his lips. "We should do this again."

"I love you too," Lan Zhan whispers, and reaches for the light switch. "We’ll make sure that it happens."

Wei Ying drifts to sleep.

*

Lan Zhan wakes up relaxed, loose-limbed and satisfied. Usually the night before a flight he sleeps uneasy — even when it’s in the afternoon, like it is this time. The events of last night play like a panorama in his mind — small, cozy restaurant, golden lighting, grey eyes. The sharp taste of the cheese, crispiness of a croquette, Wei Ying’s mouth tasting of sangria when Lan Zhan kissed him, of mango when Lan Zhan kissed him again.

Wei Ying.

He is spread over Lan Zhan completely, endearing in his nakedness, in the open expression of his face. His hair tickles Lan Zhan’s nostrils when Lan Zhan bends his neck to look at him.

"Mmm." Wei Ying nuzzles against Lan Zhan’s throat when Lan Zhan moves. "Morning, Lan Zhan. Is it daytime, or your atrocious wakeup hour?"

Lan Zhan checks the clock by the bed. "It is 7:34." He informs him. "I would not know if that counts as atrocious."

Wei Ying pushes himself up on his elbows and kisses him.

*

It would be a crime, Wei Ying decides, if they ever have to wake up not in each other’s presence from now on. Lan Zhan has been such a comfortable mattress — Wei Ying isn’t surprised, he really isn’t, he thinks nothing about Lan Zhan can surprise him ever since his admission last night to being a dom. But — it is a nice discovery to make. Wei Ying wonders what else he can discover, and how.

They kiss for a long time, leisured, languid, and Wei Ying is about to propose a second round — it’s so early, Lan Zhan always liked waking up before the sun, but there are perks to this, Wei Ying can take advantage, his flight’s not for hours and —

He takes in, for the first time, the sight of the room.

"You’re all packed." He says stupidly, still against Lan Zhan’s mouth.

"Mn." Lan Zhan sounds… regretful. "I am leaving today."

"No conference?" Somehow Wei Ying had thought…

Lan Zhan shakes his head. "It lasted the entire week, ended last night. I’m flying home in the afternoon."

Home.

Home?

"Wait." Wei Ying pushes himself up into sitting, straddling Lan Zhan’s lap in the process. There’s an interest there, from both of them. He’ll see to it. But first… "You’re not staying in Barcelona?"

Lan Zhan’s eyes track his movement, his hand possessive around Wei Ying’s hip. "No."

"So that new position you were talking about yesterday…"

"Back home. In Beijing." Lan Zhan is starting to look at Wei Ying as if he fell and hit his head.

Back home. Back home.

Wei Ying giggles. "When’s your flight, Lan Zhan?"

"Afternoon." Lan Zhan hesitates. "I thought we might spend the morning together — if you have to return —"

"I left my visitor’s quarters yesterday, Lan Zhan." Wei Ying cuts into him. "Sent all my belongings back home a couple weeks ago already."

Lan Zhan meets his gaze. He is the most gorgeous human being Wei Ying has ever seen. "Back… home?" Lan Zhan’s voice is soft, an embrace around the words.

Wei Ying nods. "Back to Beijing. For good. Or, at least…" He tilts his head, meeting Lan Zhan’s eyes through lowered eyelashes, feeling wild, feeling owned, feeling so much in love. "For as long as my boyfriend allows it."

He can feel Lan Zhan’s gasp below him, stuttering through his entire body.

"Do you love this boyfriend of yours?" Oh, Lan Zhan gets a hold of himself quickly.

"Very much." Wei Ying says cheerfully. He wriggles his toes against the plush, soft mattress, pretends to rearrange himself when he purposefully grinds down against Lan Zhan’s erection. "It’s a funny story, we met in this restaurant in Barcelona, and we didn’t even know each other."

"Wei Ying."

He laughs, but it’s cut short when Lan Zhan flips them over, looming above him with a menacing stare.

"Fine, fine, Lan Zhan! It’s still a good story, we’ve been in love since high-school, and now, finally — boyfriends!"

Boyfriends, boyfriends, boyfriends. How ridiculous of them. How wonderful.

Lan Zhan shakes his head. "Wrong."

The taste of disappointment floods him all at once, bitter, unsettling. Lan Zhan must see it on his face, his eyes softening immediately, his hand coming up to press against Wei Ying’s neck, light, but possessive.

"You were not drunk yesterday."

Wei Ying nods, perplexed.

"You asked a question last night. I said yes."

"I—" Lan Zhan’s hand is a warm and grounding weight around him. Wei Ying doesn’t remember what he’s asked him. He’s asked Lan Zhan so many things.

Lan Zhan leans down and presses a kiss to his lips. "Fiancés," he says softly, and Wei Ying throws his head back and laughs, exhilarated, relieved. When he catches Lan Zhan's eye Lan Zhan huffs a quiet, amused sound in return, a perfect, joyful understanding sparkling between them, needing no words at all.