Lan Zhan is kissing Wei Ying, and he’s not sure how they got here—here, in a quiet alley, with Wei Ying’s back pressed against the wall, smile pressed against Lan Zhan's mouth—only that it has something to do with three shots of baijiu, two bottles of beer, and the person Wei Ying had been dancing with earlier tonight.
Though, dancing is probably a generous word for what they were doing. It was something flirtier, something that held the promise of more, something that made Lan Zhan burn with a feral possessiveness he had no right to feel. And then Wei Ying caught Lan Zhan’s eye across the room, desire giving way to joy, and he’d bounded back to the table with a grin that gave nothing away, squeezing into the booth beside Lan Zhan as if he’d never left at all.
It’s not the first time Lan Zhan has allowed Wei Ying to drag him out for the evening, nor is it the first time he’s had to sit and watch Wei Ying dance and tease kisses against the mouths of people he never bothers to remember in the morning, but it’s the first time they’ve done this. The first time Wei Ying, laughing, bright, joy made effervescent, has tugged Lan Zhan into an alley and pressed his smile to Lan Zhan’s mouth instead of anyone else's.
Lan Zhan, who’s been in love with Wei Ying for three years and has wanted to kiss him for just a little longer. Who’s never known how to ask and still isn’t sure what he’s been given is his to take, but in his desperation, in his ever-present wanting, will take it anyway. Will take it for as long as he can, up until the very moment it ends. Only, the kiss doesn’t seem to end. Becomes endless. A multitude of slow touches dragged out for so long that it’s easy to ignore the numbing cold of the air as it nips the tips of their fingers, the echo of music and voices that spill out from the club into the quiet street at the mouth of the alley. The sounds Wei Ying makes are the only thing Lan Zhan cares about: his soft sighs, his softer moans. Wei Ying has never been this quiet, this still, although he’s not quite quiet, not quite still—and he doesn’t say anything, do anything, other than kiss Lan Zhan. Kiss Lan Zhan, and hold him close.
Lan Zhan has never seen anyone kiss Wei Ying like this. Has never seen Wei Ying kiss anyone like he kisses Lan Zhan.
The sky had been a gradient of pink when they entered the bar, clouds glowing orange as they reflected the light of a setting sun, but darkness now bleeds into the horizon, clouds indistinguishable, the dark glass of towering skyscrapers shining like oil beneath the humming bulbs of old streetlamps. It’s a beautiful city night, the kind of night that gets captured on camera, caught on film, and the most stunning thing about it is the expression on Wei Ying’s face when he pulls back, takes a breath, and kisses Lan Zhan again.
Lan Zhan, who’s kissing Wei Ying. Lan Zhan, who Wei Ying is kissing back.
The blunt edges of his nails drag against Lan Zhan’s scalp, fingers tangled in his hair, breath catching on a gasp when Lan Zhan licks the seam of his mouth, and then he pushes forward, presses his body closer as though he wants more. Lan Zhan wants to give him more. Wants to bite kisses down his jaw, his neck, following the path of liquor that had spilt from the corner of Wei Ying’s mouth when he’d messily taken another shot. He wants to press his tongue against the stuttering thud of Wei Ying’s pulse and leave a bruise so deep it’ll ache for days, for hours and for days, and Wei Ying will find himself back at Lan Zhan’s door, begging for another.
Lan Zhan would give him another.
Wei Ying doesn’t put any distance between them, so Lan Zhan makes no move to, either, even though he should, because Wei Ying is drunk, drunk and kissing him. Kissing Lan Zhan when he’s never wanted to kiss Lan Zhan before, and that means something, means that this is a mistake, something he’ll regret. Lan Zhan doesn't want to be something Wei Ying regrets. But he’s in love. He’s in love, and selfish, and so he trembles, breathless, and does his best to kiss Wei Ying without letting any of his love bleed through.
His fingers slip on Wei Ying’s waist, catching on the sliver of skin exposed beneath the hem of his shirt, and Wei Ying makes a small, keening sound. “Oh,” he murmurs, “Oh, sweetheart, yes, please.”
Their lips make a slick sound as Lan Zhan breaks the kiss. Their noses press together, Wei Ying’s breath warm against his cheek. He’s called Lan Zhan sweetheart a handful of times: when he’s been too tired to open his eyes, when he’s drunk on fruit cocktails that sit heavy on his breath, high enough that he giggles at every little thing. He never remembers saying it, and never says it when he’s sober.
He’s not sober. He won’t remember this.
It takes Lan Zhan a mortifyingly long moment to step back, to steel himself and step back. He has to swallow around a lump in his throat when Wei Ying’s eyelashes flicker, gaze settling on Lan Zhan’s face, and shakes his head. His voice sounds distant to his own ears. “Only me.”
Still close enough to touch one another, to hear each other breathing, Lan Zhan sees and feels Wei Ying stiffen, the click of his throat as he thinks of what to say, the little jerk when he realises his fingers are still caught in Lan Zhan’s hair, immediately working to untangle themselves.
“Ah?” Wei Ying breathes, “Lan Zhan,” and then says nothing. He presses his palms to either side of his neck and takes a shaky breath. It’s as though Lan Zhan’s words have sobered him, his eyes sharp and assessing despite the fact his mouth remains parted, lax, remnants of the kiss shining on his lips, remnants of the alcohol undoubtedly still running through his blood. There are so many things to say, and nothing at all, and Wei Ying continues to look wordlessly up at Lan Zhan like he’s not sure how they got here, how they were so close for so long and how Lan Zhan allowed them to be. “Lan Zhan,” he says again, something in his expression falling away. “My Lan Zhan. But there’s no only about you.”
It’s soothing, balm on a wound, comforting in a way Lan Zhan didn’t realise he needed it to be, to know that Wei Ying considers Lan Zhan his.
That, at least, has always been true.
Sunlight slants over the hardwood floor of the studio as Lan Zhan slips through the closing door; it shuts beside him with a resounding thud but Wei Ying, too familiar with the sound for it to stir him, stays focused on his work. His back is to Lan Zhan, a threadbare t-shirt hanging from the dainty slopes of his shoulders, one strap of his washed-out dungarees falling halfway down his arm, cheek resting against his knee as he sketches absently in his book. He’s tired. It’s so clear, looking at him even like this, that he’s tired, that he’s lingering here only because he booked the studio and would feel guilty for leaving early, that he's doing something simply for the sake of having something to do.
Wei Ying startles, turns in his chair, expression brightening before he’s even caught sight of Lan Zhan. There’s a dark bud sticking out of his ear, wisps of hair messy as they frame his face, and he’s undoubtedly, unarguably, the most beautiful thing Lan Zhan has ever seen, the most beautiful person he’s ever known. The lithe lines of his body create a picture so perfect Lan Zhan wishes, not for the first time, that he had Wei Ying’s transcendent skill to create art with such vivid detail it’s as though every image comes to life beneath his hands.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying pulls out his earbud, foot falling from the edge of the stool. It’s the first time they’ve seen each other since the weekend, since Wei Ying awoke after—that night, soft with sleep, and walked through the apartment in a dreamlike daze until Lan Zhan handed him a bowl of scrambled eggs for breakfast. There’d been nothing to indicate he remembered what happened, no trace of embarrassment or of regret, and if Lan Zhan hadn’t been inclined to press for an answer then, to try and talk about it when the taste of Wei Ying’s laughter was still fresh on his lips, he’s even less inclined now. Especially not when Wei Ying continues to look at Lan Zhan, say his name, like it’s every good and lovely thing in the world. He doesn’t want to ruin that. “I thought you were teaching till late today! I was going to show up outside class and surprise you, but, ah, it’s good that you’re here now Lan Zhan ah. Please tell me you’ve brought coffee?”
Lan Zhan has, on numerous occasions, come to the studio solely to give Wei Ying his third iced coffee of the day. Has, on other occasions, come to the studio with coffee and then stayed, both of them working in companionable silence on opposite ends of the table, ankles knocking, Wei Ying glancing up every-so-often to catch Lan Zhan’s eye, and smile, and say something funny or sweet or smart, sometimes all three. Today, though, three days after Wei Ying woke up with a pillow-wrinkle on his cheek and ever-cold hands curled tightly into the duvet, knees and knuckles dusted pink, Lan Zhan has come here with a different purpose.
“You haven’t eaten,” he says.
Wei Ying shoulders immediately slump. It’s his own fault, and this should come as no surprise to him: he’d sent Lan Zhan a series of selfies throughout the day, some blurred because he’d been running, others blurred because of how close to the camera his face had been, all of them messy and wonderful and so quintessentially Wei Ying that Lan Zhan found it increasingly difficult to hold back the smiles from his face. Wei Ying told Lan Zhan what he was doing, where he was, where he had to go next, and with each photo, each text, he’d been telling Lan Zhan he was too busy to take care of himself, too busy to take a moment and see to his needs.
So, Lan Zhan will take of him, will give him what he needs.
“Ahh, Lan Zhan. Don’t you know I had breakfast today? And Huaisang gave me an orange and bought me chai earlier, too—the orange was kinda warm though? Like it’d been in his bag for a while…more like he was trying to, um, get rid of it? But! But, an orange is still something. And one of my kids gave me a box of mochi. I saved some for you, by the way, you’re welcome, let me just—” Wei Ying reaches out for the backpack at his feet, murmuring about how he’s been really careful, how he’s saved the three biggest ones just for Lan Zhan, and then—“Aha! Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan ah, you like the matcha ones, don't you? I remembered right? I ate all the taro flavoured ones, I’m sorry, but I don’t think you even like them that much. Here, let me—”
He moves quickly across the room, light on his feet, and Lan Zhan has no time to react other than to open his mouth, instinctively, when Wei Ying comes close enough to raise a heavily powdered ball of mochi towards it. It’s only when he feels the sweet starch against his tongue, the cool-heat of Wei Ying’s fingers radiating again his lips, that he realises what he’s done. That Wei Ying seems to realise, too; his smile falters, cheeks cherry-blossom pink, and he makes a quiet ah sound beneath his breath, but doesn’t pull away. Even when Lan Zhan bites into the dough, feels it give way beneath his teeth, and Wei Ying’s eyes are drawn to the string of saliva that connects Lan Zhan’s lips to the mochi, he doesn’t pull away. Thoughtlessly, thoughtlessly, skin flushed, not quite meeting Lan Zhan’s gaze, Wei Ying brings the mochi to his mouth and tastes it for himself.
“Mm,” Wei Ying says, throat clicking as he swallows, then grins. “That was—it was good, right? That was good!”
Lan Zhan nods. They’re standing so close together that it wouldn’t take much to be closer, for Lan Zhan to settle his hands on the dips of Wei Ying’s waist and feel the warmth of him, to take his bony wrists, graceful and delicate like a dancers, smudged with coal, and kiss them, suck Wei Ying’s knuckles into his mouth, flick his tongue against the tips of Wei Ying’s fingers. He says, “You haven’t eaten.”
Wei Ying blinks slowly, the words clearly taking a moment to register, before he breathes out a laugh and finishes the rest of the mochi despite having saved it for Lan Zhan. It’s alright, though; there’s nothing that belongs to Lan Zhan that doesn’t belong to Wei Ying, nothing that’s meant for him to have that Wei Ying isn’t meant to take. Smiling, he says, “No, no, you’re right. Toast and an orange doesn’t really count, huh? I could eat now, I guess—if you eat with me, though! You’ll eat with me? Let’s get pho.”
He packs his things away as he speaks, and it’s only then that Lan Zhan notices the cream jumper he’d folded over the back of another stool; he’d bought it for Lan Zhan and then stolen it back after one of their many film nights, saturating the wool with the warm citrus of his cologne. He’d offered it back, once, and only once, and Lan Zhan had looked at the way Wei Ying stroked his thumb absently over the soft wool even as he’d held it out for Lan Zhan to take and promptly refused. It looks better on Wei Ying, he’d said, and he’d been right, and gets proof of it now as Wei Ying pulls the jumper over his head, hair falling into further disarray.
“Mn.” Wordlessly, he gestures for Wei Ying to come closer and then turns him around by the shoulders, undoes the tie in his hair and works through each strand with delicate fingers until it’s slightly less tangled than it was. The tips of Wei Ying’s ears are bright pink, but his smile is wide, eyes glittering, when he turns back to look up at Lan Zhan, one hand curled in around the strap of his backpack.
“Pho?” he asks, already reaching around Lan Zhan to open the door.
“Pho,” Lan Zhan agrees, and maps the route they’ll need to take to the restaurant, from the restaurant to the ice-cream shop that Wei Ying always ends up wanting to go to every time they eat out, where he’ll spend ten minutes deciding on a flavour before eventually, inevitably, settling for mint chocolate. From there, they’ll go to Lan Zhan’s, because his apartment is closer and it’ll be too late for Wei Ying to walk home—rather, it’ll be too late for Lan Zhan to feel comfortable sending Wei Ying away. He never quite feels comfortable sending Wei Ying away.
“Okay, okay! Let’s eat, Lan Zhan. And I’ll pay this time, I promise. Here, here, have another mochi before we go.”
He lifts the mochi to Lan Zhan’s lips yet again and Lan Zhan, a moth drawn to a flame, obsessed with the soft plush of Wei Ying’s mouth and the freckles over the bridge of his nose, curls his fingers around Wei Ying’s wrist and takes a bite. It’s clumsier, messier. The tip of Wei Ying’s thumb catches on his tongue.
It takes a moment for Lan Zhan to let go. A moment more for Wei Ying to laugh, breathless, half-delighted, half-something Lan Zhan doesn’t know how to name. His hand hovers by Lan Zhan’s face before he shakes his head as if dispelling a thought, and finishes the other half. There’s powder on the corner of his mouth, a soft dusting Lan Zhan wants to lick away. To taste and to lick away.
“Okay,” Wei Ying says, raspy. “Right!”
By the time they’re out on the street, it's as though the moment shared between them in the studio has all but faded, snow disappearing beneath the sun as though it was never there at all. Wei Ying tells Lan Zhan about his day and Lan Zhan listens, amused and fond and still full of wanting, their elbows knocking as they keep pace. The only indication that anything happened between them at all, how they’d crossed a line that they’d never crossed before, is in the way Wei Ying spends the rest of the evening absently running his fingers against the side of his thumb, chasing a phantom touch.
The summer of freshman year, Lan Zhan had been ready to ignore the incessant buzzing of the intercom, the static that filled the living room and allowed the sound of relentless rain, car tyres driving over shallow puddles in the road, bleeding into his apartment, until he’d heard Wei Ying say his name. The kettle was half-boiling by the time Wei Ying made his way upstairs, eyes rimmed red and nose bright pink, and a radiant smile had broken over his face when he’d seen Lan Zhan standing there, waiting for him, with two towels clenched in his hands.
The summer of freshman year, Lan Zhan had fallen in love.
Wei Ying, shivering, grinning—always grinning, always smiling like nothing in the world could go wrong, would dare to go wrong around him—had allowed Lan Zhan to worry over him, to towel-dry his hair in the hallway and then push him into the shower, give him a set of pyjamas and an additional sweater to wear on top. Socks. A mug of mint tea, two spoons of honey stirred in. Allowed Lan Zhan to sit him on the couch with a blanket over his shoulders, instant ramen steaming on the coffee table, before he started explaining why he was there, why he’d arrived so suddenly, so late.
Lan Zhan had never thought so many things at once, had never thought so many things that were all really the same, single thing. Wei Ying’s hair had a slight wave to it when it was damp, and Lan Zhan was in love. The nape of his neck was delicate and soft, unruly baby hairs curling against it, a shade paler than the backs of his hands and the skin of his cheeks, and Lan Zhan was in love. He smelled of citrus and something woody despite using Lan Zhan’s shower gel, and they had never been so close, and Lan Zhan was in love.
Wei Ying had said, I’m sorry. Had said, I know it’s late, I wouldn’t have—I didn’t want to bother you, but I just, I wanted to see you? Sorry. Sorry, Lan Zhan. And Lan Zhan had said, Wei Ying. Had said, Wei Ying, I’m happy you’re here.
It had been a simple truth, a simple statement, but Wei Ying’s smile had cracked, just slightly, breath catching in the not-quite quiet, and then he’d moved.
The first and last time Wei Ying touched him had been four months before that, when they were balancing the fine line between strangers and friends—though they’d spiral towards the latter soon enough, so naturally so quickly it would be hard to imagine a time when they weren’t close, a time they’d considered themselves too different to get along—and Lan Zhan, startled, unfamiliar with casual touch even from his closest friends, had jerked away. They’d never spoken of it, but Wei Ying hadn’t touched him since. Hadn’t touched him until that moment, rain beating against the windowpane; slowly, giving time to Lan Zhan to move, or jerk away, or stop him, he’d rested his head on Lan Zhan’s shoulder and, when he’d met no resistance, slumped into him with a quiet, heartbreaking sigh.
Taking slow sips of his tea, Wei Ying had said, through trembling breaths, that he was okay, really! It’s just, ah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan ah, you know how it can be, going back home? And it’s, like, it’s no different from usual, so I should be used to everything by now, I guess? But I just, I don’t know, sometimes it’s worse than others so…so I was coming back early, and I thought, I thought if it wasn’t too late, you might let me in? And you did! Ahh, you’re so good. Thank you, Lan Zhan, you’re really great. You’ll tell me if it’s too much? I think I’m—I’m too much for people, sometimes, so you’ve got to tell me when I am, alright? I can take it! But I hope...I’m not being too much right now, at least. You’ll indulge me, right? Like, you’ll let me be dumb for a little bit. I know, I know you will.
Up until that point, Wei Ying had never said much about life growing up; he had many stories to tell, memories he recalled with laughter about summers by the sea, school days spent sneaking into the city, but all of it had seemed—superficial, to Lan Zhan. There was a forced emptiness behind certain things he said, especially in regards to family, in regards to home, two words spoken so wistfully sometimes it was though he still wasn’t quite sure what they meant. Lan Zhan recognised the feeling. Recognised that Wei Ying had been given many opportunities to be sad and rejected every one of them. And he recognised, then, what Wei Ying meant when he said too much, said I can take it.
Since then, it became a routine: that whenever Wei Ying would return from the Jiang household with a smile that came fleetingly and fell intermittently, he’d make his way to Lan Zhan’s apartment, to honeyed-mint tea, and rest his head on Lan Zhan’s shoulder, and tell him everything that had happened without saying anything about it at all.
And Lan Zhan had fallen in love.
They’re watching true crime mukbangs together on Wei Ying’s bed; their food arrived twenty minutes ago and they finished it in ten, and the video Wei Ying pulled up with the intent to only watch for as long as it’d take them to eat still has fifty minutes left to play. The moment Wei Ying had sprawled on his bed, groaning, Lan Zhan made his peace with the fact he wouldn’t be getting any more work done tonight.
Wei Ying is currently sitting with his legs crossed, knee brushing Lan Zhan’s thigh, absently chewing on a leftover steamed bun, body hunched forward, entirely focused on the story in front of him. The video is well edited, the speaker informed, and Lan Zhan thinks Wei Ying is beautiful and messy and wonderful; he oohs and aahs at all the right moments, makes indignant, horrified sounds beneath his breath, hears something incomprehensible and blindly reaches back, saying Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan! before he goes quiet again. Messy. Wonderful. Lan Zhan loves him.
Still chewing on the last bite, Wei Ying turns to reach for another steamed bun, turns and catches sight of Lan Zhan, sitting against the headboard, a mug of tea cradled in his lap. He looks strangely startled, and Lan Zhan’s fingers twitch with the desire to reach out and smooth his expression, rub his thumb against the line of Wei Ying’s brow until the line of his mouth eases into something softer, happier.
“Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying shakes his head, smiles. “I just, I was—never mind, it’s nothing. I thought of something, but it’s gone now.”
Lan Zhan nods, not entirely convinced but unable to think of any reason Wei Ying would lie to him, either.
“Are you—are you hearing this, though? Are you listening? They just forced a confession out of this guy, Lan Zhan!” He takes a bite of the bun, dough dimpling between his fingers, and barely swallows before he continues. “He’s, like, catatonic with grief and they just made him admit he murdered his wife? His wife! Like, like, imagine the state you’ve got to be in to confess to something like that when it’s not even true.”
Lan Zhan hums, reaching forward to pause the video, knowing Wei Ying will end up rewinding the last five minutes even though he’s missed forty seconds at most. “The case was poorly managed.”
“Yeah! Yeah, I mean, shit, when isn’t it? All these stories you hear and half the time it boils down to, like, poor police work. Literally what the fuck.” Wei Ying’s cheek bulges as he chews, frowning at the screen. “Can you imagine that, though? Like, loving someone so much that losing them just, just, breaks you? And then in dealing with all of that shit, you’re the first person everyone points a finger at?”
Lan Zhan’s favourite part about days like this, about productive afternoons that bleed into wasted evenings, isn’t watching crime stories or indulging in takeout from places he’d never consider ordering from himself—it’s this. Wei Ying. Watching how invested he gets, how passionate, how, if he doesn’t spend the entire video pausing it to have discussions with Lan Zhan, he can talk for hours afterwards about the cases they discovered, the things that came up.
“Uxoricide is fairly common,” Lan Zhan says. “It’s not…unfounded for them to suspect the husband.”
Wei Ying’s eyes snap back towards him, mouth snapping shut.
“Over fifty percent of married women are killed by their spouses,” he adds.
Wei Ying blinks at him.
Lan Zhan blinks back.
“It shouldn’t be cute to me that you know that,” Wei Ying murmurs finally. “Uxoricide.” Then, he snorts and shuffles, turning on the bed so he can face Lan Zhan properly, cupping his chin in one hand. “You strange, wonderful person. Why do you know that? How recent is that data? And, and okay, that’s fucked up, obviously, but so is this!” He gestures behind him, back now to the screen, and Lan Zhan thinks he understands what Wei Ying meant by calling him cute, thinks he can’t quite comprehend that Wei Ying did in the first place, thinks it’s been happening with increasing frequency lately and he’s still unable to wrap his head around it. Between them, Wei Ying is cute. Between them, Wei Ying is strange and wonderful, and the very best person Lan Zhan knows. “The last thing he needs to be dealing with is something like that, right? Like, when they find the killer—because obviously they will, it’s solved or whatever, but like, he’ll always have the trauma of saying he did it? I mean, shit, Lan Zhan, what the fuck? And they don’t have the stats you have, okay, there’s no way. Accusing him was just, it was probably just convenient.”
“They didn’t consider more likely suspects.”
“Exactly!” Wei Ying says, bun all but forgotten where he’d dropped it on the paper bag as he’d moved. “Exactly.” He sighs, then, energy leaving him—though only momentarily, never for too long—and Lan Zhan watches golden sunlight filter through thin clouds and gild Wei Ying’s face, highlight the soft peach of his cheeks and turn his lips, still swollen from spice, pomegranate red. Lan Zhan wants to trace the tip of his tongue against the blurred lines of them, wants to feel the outline of Wei Ying’s teeth against his mouth. He wants.
Wei Ying sighs again and then, with the kind of jovial determination that would be out of place in front of anyone else, in front of anyone who was seeing what they were seeing and having a conversation like this, Wei Ying says, “Lan Zhan, I think you should love me enough to be the first person accused of my murder. I really think it’d add so many layers to the story.”
A strange, messy, foolish boy. “The story.”
“Of my murder. Listen, if I get murdered and it isn’t so horrifying that people make documentaries and shit about what happened, and like, call me a good person or say how I lit up the room or whatever, then I don’t want it.”
There is, as always, so much to unpack in the things that Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan thinks he could write essays about how good of a person Wei Ying is, how people turn towards him like flowers towards the sun. Knows that if he tried, if he even made the slightest indication of what he was thinking, Wei Ying would fluster and turn away. Instead, he says, sincerely, “Don’t get murdered.”
Wei Ying stares at him.
“It’s less messy.”
There’s something wonderful in the way Wei Ying finds Lan Zhan funny, in the way he wears it so openly on his face. He’s always surprised, at first, surprise that shifts quickly into delight, his entire body moving with laughter. Lan Zhan wishes he could trap the sound of Wei Ying’s joy in a jar, keep it close to him, an unending echo, and listen to it whenever he’s feeling low. Listen to it just to listen to it.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, attempts to sound scandalised but falls short by miles. He’s so witty in front of others, so sharp and quick that it’s infuriating, makes Lan Zhan want to kiss him breathless, kiss him until his smirk falls away and he can voice nothing other than Lan Zhan’s name. In moments like this, however, he never quite seems to know what to say, absurdly happy when Lan Zhan teases him, happier when he does so unexpectedly.
“I’d have to avenge you,” Lan Zhan says. “I’d prefer to avoid it.”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, grinning. “Lan Zhan, that’s so sweet. You’d avenge me? Murdering me is one thing, of course, but inconveniencing you? No, no, we can’t have that. I know, I’ll get a tattoo, carry around a business card or something. If anyone ever, like, approaches me with killing intent, I’ll just hand it over to them. I’m sure they’d understand.”
Killing intent, Lan Zhan thinks. Says, “I’d appreciate it.”
Wei Ying covers his face with his hands, cackling, bending forward until he’s practically bent in half, head against the pillow. It takes a while for him to settle, a while for Lan Zhan to stop smiling. Moving before he can think, Lan Zhan finds his fingers softly pushing back the strands of Wei Ying’s hair, combing through them like he did only days ago, like he’s found himself doing more often, because Wei Ying likes when he does, and Lan Zhan likes doing what Wei Ying likes.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying sighs, voice muffled against the pillow, turns his face just enough to look up at Lan Zhan. “Ah, Lan Zhan ah. I’ll love you enough to be accused of your murder.”
It’s horrific, given the context, and even without. And even more horrific, that instead of exasperation or incredulity, Lan Zhan feels a thrill rush through him at the thought of Wei Ying loving him, loving him that much. Perhaps Lan Zhan is foolish, and strange, and a little messy, too. His fingers settle solidly into the black silk of Wei Ying’s hair, the hill of his palm on Wei Ying’s cheek, and they stay like that, quiet like that, watching one another. Like this, Lan Zhan could miss the end of the world.
“Yes,” he says.
Wei Ying’s tongue darts out to wet his lips, leaves a shine that dries quickly. Lan Zhan wonders what Wei Ying’s thinking as he looks up at Lan Zhan like this, whether he’s quietly stunned by how easily these physical barriers have fallen away between them recently with no rhyme or reason. At least Lan Zhan can justify why this is happening now when it didn’t happen before, that he knows what Wei Ying tastes like, what he feels like, and it’s impossible for him to hold back in the same way he used to, but Wei Ying has no idea that he even has a memory to recall, a feeling to remember. It must be a mystery to him, one that he mustn’t care to solve if it means Lan Zhan will continue to be affectionate with him, open with his touches, the kind Wei Ying has always wanted but never pushed for, caring more for Lan Zhan’s comfort than his own.
He doesn’t know that Lan Zhan always wanted to give Wei Ying this much affection, if not more. He doesn’t know that Lan Zhan wanted to give Wei Ying everything, which he why he struggled to give Wei Ying anything, for fear it would reveal too much.
“And you?” Wei Ying asks suddenly, “you’ll love me that much, too?”
“Yes,” Lan Zhan says quietly, fails not to sound as earnest as he feels. “I’ll love you, too.”
Something flashes across Wei Ying’s face, and then he huffs out a breath of laughter and sits up, turns back to the screen. Lan Zhan withdraws his hand—had forgotten, for a moment, that having Wei Ying once didn’t mean he’d have Wei Ying again—and settles back against the headboard.
“Let’s finish the video, hey, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying says, and Lan Zhan doesn’t trust himself to say anything that isn’t come closer, come back. That isn’t ask me again if I love you, let me tell you how. That isn’t the confession he’s managed to hold onto for years. So, Lan Zhan nods, though Wei Ying can’t see him, and lets Wei Ying press play on the video, and lets the moment pass.
Three weeks after the kiss, they’re at the club again. Three weeks after the kiss, they’re in the same place, with the same friends, the same drinks on the table and the same people watching them from across the room. Watching Wei Ying.
Lan Zhan’s not unfamiliar with scenes like this, but cares very little for them. He knows he draws attention to himself—his body and his build, the clothes he wears and makes an effort to wear well—but it’s been a long time since he’s wanted any of it. A long time since he’s wanted anything other than the person sitting beside him. Wei Ying isn’t halfway across the room dancing with Nie Huaisang or Luo Qingyang, tonight, assessing the bodies around him until he gravitates towards someone interesting enough to catch his eye, spending time with them until he’s bored or breathless—Lan Zhan hasn’t ever managed to find a pattern, or a type of person that Wei Ying seemed attracted to, in appearance or shape or size. But, no. Tonight, Wei Ying has tucked himself into the booth beside Lan Zhan, head against his shoulder, one leg draped over Lan Zhan’s thighs as Wei Ying steals glances at him between each drink he finishes, each shot he takes. He’s drinking now as much as he did the last time they were here.
Looking at him, the way he worries his lip between his teeth and seems unwilling to move away, Lan Zhan thinks: maybe. Maybe Wei Ying had wanted Lan Zhan that night, wanted something he’d never have wanted before. Something Lan Zhan could have given to him, would give to him still, if he asked.
Looking at him, Lan Zhan realises that maybe Wei Ying is asking. That Wei Ying was asking him then, and is asking Lan Zhan now.
“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying has to turn his face to hear Lan Zhan better, lips glazed red like the cherries caught on the rims of cocktail glasses. “What is it?”
Lan Zhan wets his mouth and feels heavy static gather in his stomach when Wei Ying’s gaze drops down towards it. He doesn’t think Wei Ying even knows what he’s doing. Thinks Wei Ying might not even know what he wants. Thinks maybe.
“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying prompts. “Do you want to go home? It’s late enough that we can probably leave without anyone having a coronary about it. They’ll survive without us. Come on, let’s go, I’ll go with you.”
Wei Ying would. If Lan Zhan wanted to go, then Wei Ying would go with him, would leave their friends and the promise of an evening that has no near end in sight, the kind of evening that’s charged with something electric, just to walk home with Lan Zhan.
The offer is tempting. Lan Zhan shakes his head. “Washroom.”
“Oh,” Wei Ying says, pulling back. He stares at Lan Zhan for a long moment, but it seems to take another while for the words to register. “Oh! Right, yeah, okay. Here, let me just, just—”
Wei Ying stumbles as he stands and slides out of the booth, more drunk than Lan Zhan realised, a flush creeping up his neck that’s visible even beneath the odd neon lights, and Lan Zhan reaches out to steady him. He waits until Wei Ying straightens, waving him away with a small grin, eyes flitting around the room, before he goes.
Lan Zhan walks to the back of the club, past wandering hands and curious eyes, smirks and smiles and bitten lips, all of them meaningless, all of them—the bodies and the smells and the colours—dull, washed out, in comparison to the pink of Wei Ying’s skin and the pulse of his heart, the cotton-soft exhales of his breathing. Then, in the narrow corridor that leads to the bathrooms, he slips out a faulty fire door and into the alley outside.
The night air is cool enough to help soothe the heat that prickles beneath his skin, carry away the bass of the music that beats against the walls like a distant, persistent headache. There are a few people gathered out on the street, visible even from this distance, but Lan Zhan pays them no mind, leans back against the brick, and waits. He doesn’t have to wait long. Wei Ying stumbles into the alleyway with wide, searching eyes, looking towards the street as though he’s a moment away from rushing towards it, and Lan Zhan watches him, feels something come to life beneath his skin, honeybees around a hive; Wei Ying is a pool of nectar, a body of liquid gold.
“Oh,” Wei Ying breathes when he finally catches sight of Lan Zhan. “Lan Zhan, I thought you left! Silly man, standing out here in the cold like this. I said we could go home!”
“Air,” Lan Zhan lies, though it’s not entirely a lie, because Wei Ying is here with him, out in the nighttime when he could be inside with everyone else, because whether or not Wei Ying is aware of it, he clearly—he wants Lan Zhan, wants to have him in some way, and no amount of air in the world would be enough for Lan Zhan to breathe. If Wei Ying wants this much, he thinks, if Wei Ying wants this much right now, then perhaps, then maybe, in the future, he might want more.
“Right,” Wei Ying says, makes a visible effort to relax. He walks towards Lan Zhan with slow, measured steps, hands tucked beneath his armpits as he smiles. It borders on shy. Lan Zhan wonders what it is Wei Ying feels the need to be shy about, and want to kiss him. Kiss surety into him. “Sure, yeah, that makes sense. Let me join you, Lan Zhan ah. It’s so cold outside, right? But I guess, I mean, it was definitely getting too warm in there. A little cold is probably good! Refreshing, even.”
Wei Ying’s…rambling. It’s strange, that he’s rambling, that his eyes are darting all over Lan Zhan’s face like he’s not sure where to settle his gaze. He’s nervous about something, restless with it, and the small bud of hope nestled in the soil of Lan Zhan’s heart and bones begins to bloom.
“You’re drunk,” Lan Zhan says, but it doesn’t quite sound like the truth.
“I’m fine,” Wei Ying says immediately, and then again, looking away. Lan Zhan wants to believe him. Believes him. Thinks if Wei Ying isn’t drunk now, then last time—Wei Ying’s cheek hollows as he bites down on the inside of it, slate grey shadows sharpening the angle of his jaw. “I’m not, I’m not drunk, Lan Zhan. I’m not.”
His expression is pinched like he’s biting himself back from saying more. Lan Zhan wants him to say more, to say something, just so he knows with certainty that the things he wants are the things that Wei Ying wants, too, and then realises that maybe Wei Ying can’t. That maybe he doesn’t know how to. Testing, cautious, Lan Zhan fits a hand against Wei Ying’s waist and is immediately rewarded by the sight of Wei Ying stilling, tension dropping from his shoulders that Lan Zhan hadn’t even noticed building,
Wei Ying takes a step forward and tilts his head up, looking more serious than Lan Zhan has ever seen, and lifts a hand to cup the side of Lan Zhan’s face far too purposefully for it to mean anything else, for it to mean anything other than Wei Ying wants this, too.
It feels like a lifetime since they last kissed. Like a lifetime, and no time at all. It’s different in so many ways—this time, Lan Zhan has his back to the wall, they’re more in the open than they were before—and similar in so many ways, too. Wei Ying’s fingers tease and then tangle in the strands of hair that frame Lan Zhan’s face, his head tilted slightly because it’s only when they’re this close that their height difference becomes pronounced; his lips are chapped and cold and softening, softening, as he coaxes kisses from Lan Zhan’s mouth. Coaxes. As if Lan Zhan hasn’t been tempted by him from the start, as if a single glance or word wouldn’t be enough for Lan Zhan to surrender everything to him. He swallows Wei Ying’s soft sound of surprise—surprise that they’re kissing, perhaps, or surprise that Lan Zhan knows how to kiss him—and deepens the kiss, licks into Wei Ying’s lovely mouth and tastes sweet spearmint and bitter beer.
Wei Ying’s breath catches, and then he presses himself against Lan Zhan like he’s not being kissed hard enough, held firmly enough, wordlessly asking for the things he doesn’t know how to say out loud. So, Lan Zhan kisses him harder, holds him tighter, and gives Wei Ying everything he can without knowing if it’s enough, if it’s too much. The air is cold against his cheeks, cold where it slips through the layers of his clothes, but Wei Ying is warm and breathless and beautiful, his hand trembling, trembling, against Lan Zhan’s chest, fingers curling over his heartbeat. “Lan Zhan,” he murmurs, “Lan Zhan ah, I want, I want, I need you to—”
His eyes are hooded, mouth shining, and he’s swaying forward to kiss Lan Zhan again. Lan Zhan kisses him again, softer, slower, lips tingling and pink. Once, and then again.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, “don’t stop. Don’t stop, Lan Zhan ah—”
He doesn’t. Even when the kisses taper off into nothing more than a gentle press of mouths, Lan Zhan doesn’t stop, giving Wei Ying what he’s asking for—because he’s asking, barely, but still enough. Distantly, he wonders that if Wei Ying is like this after only a kiss, what would he be like after he’s been fucked? After he’s been taken apart and put back together, only to be pulled to pieces again. Lan Zhan wants to pull him to pieces. Wants to fuck him until Wei Ying is breathless, speechless, physically unable to ask for anything and subject to whatever Lan Zhan is ready to give him. Would give him everything. Would make Wei Ying take it. Knows he’d take it well.
It’s Wei Ying, in the end, who moves away, though he doesn’t strictly move back so much as tuck his nose against the nape of Lan Zhan’s neck, shuddering as he takes several deep breaths. Lan Zhan’s hand slips to his back, strokes up and down the length of his spine soothingly.
“Wei Ying,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to say.
Wei Ying says his name just as quietly, takes a moment to straighten up, to look Lan Zhan in the eye. His mouth shapes itself soundlessly over a number of words before he shakes his head, throat clicking as he swallows. “Lan Zhan,” he says again. “You didn’t say anything.”
Lan Zhan stays quiet, confused.
“Um, last time, I mean. You didn’t…you didn’t say anything? You let me pretend that I’d forgotten but you, you remembered, right? But you didn’t, ah, you didn’t say.”
Lan Zhan stills. “Pretend?”
“Yes,” Wei Ying says, drawing back slightly, a tremor of embarrassment of his voice that’s shrouded beneath something deeper, almost scared. “I—you can’t really have thought I’d forgotten, right? I know I, um. I know I forget a lot of stuff, but you can’t think I really forgot that.”
“You were waiting for me, right? Like, you didn’t—you didn’t want air. You were waiting for me. You want me. You want me, don’t you?” Wei Ying’s voice wavers on uncertainty and, struck speechless, Lan Zhan can’t do anything other than nod, because Wei Ying wants Lan Zhan to want him, and Wei Ying came outside and kissed him, and—“I know you wouldn’t kiss me if you didn’t want me, so, so, so why didn’t you say anything?”
Lan Zhan can’t look away from him, from the furrow of his brow and the way he worries his lip between his teeth, the flush that sits on his cheeks even in the dim light of orange streetlamps. “I thought you had.”
“Forgotten?” Wei Ying asks. “That I’d kissed you?”
Lan Zhan, hesitant, nods again.
“But you want me,” Wei Ying repeats, confused. “You want me and I kissed you and you—Lan Zhan? Even if I’d forgotten, you should have said. You should have, you shouldn’t have just let me go.”
“Wei Ying.” There’s a dissonance between wanting something and having it; Lan Zhan has wanted Wei Ying so deeply and for so long that desire slotted between the cells of his body like it always belonged. He’s not sure who he’d be without it. And now Wei Ying knows, at least to some extent, and wants to know why Lan Zhan didn’t ask for more. He feels something lodge itself in his throat. “Wei Ying,” he says.
Wei Ying’s gaze flickers away, a hand on Lan Zhan’s chest, another against the nape of his neck, and it’s only because Lan Zhan knows Wei Ying that he can see how clearly Wei Ying is fighting the urge to run away, is forcing himself to stay here and be brave. Between them, he’s always been so brave.
“You want me,” Wei Ying echoes, swallowing, pressing his thumb against Lan Zhan’s carotid, the vessel as wide as his knuckle. “You want me. And you, you had me…but you didn’t say anything about it. You didn’t say or do anything about it, and I, I’m still trying to—” He cuts himself off.
“I really tried not to want you so much!” Wei Ying says, forcing a breath of laughter, blinking rapidly, eyes bright. “I tried so hard to want you less, Lan Zhan, but I—you make it so difficult! And that’s really cruel, you know. That’s so unfair. And now I know you want me, but I guess, I guess you want me differently, right? Because if you, if you wanted me like I want you you’d have said something. You’d have said.”
He’s trying to make light of this, Lan Zhan thinks without sparing a thought to be offended, because it’s easier to pretend that something doesn’t hurt if he can laugh it off. Lan Zhan doesn’t want Wei Ying to laugh this off. Doesn’t think Wei Ying wants to, either. Doesn’t think either of them could.
“Wei Ying,” he says quietly. “Wei Ying, I’ve wanted you always.”
Wei Ying is rarely quick to annoy, to anger, but something like frustration flashes across his eyes before he shakes his head, frowning slightly, the only indication that he’s been hurt by Lan Zhan’s carelessness, his foolishness. “That’s not true,” he says, “Lan Zhan. That’s not true. If you wanted me for so long then you’d have, then you’d have said! You’d have said, wouldn’t you? But you didn’t say anything and you didn’t do anything so you, you can’t have, and it’s not—you’re not cruel. Don’t be cruel.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, soft, insistent, squeezing Wei Ying’s waist. “Not cruel. You didn’t say, either.”
Wei Ying frowns. “Yes, I did,” he says, grip tightening briefly against Lan Zhan’s neck. “This—Lan Zhan! I told you. I’ve told you, of course I’ve told you.”
“What?” Lan Zhan rasps, shakes his head. “Wei Ying, you—”
“You’ve been my favourite person since the day we met, Lan Zhan, I’ve not exactly been subtle about it! Did I really, did I really have to—” Wei Ying bites down on the inside of his cheek, shoulders dropping, grows somehow smaller without doing anything at all. His grip eases, his voice going quiet. “I like you so much. I really like you so much, and I tried to tell you all this time. That I like you and I love you and it’s always been you—everyone knows. Everyone knows. How could you not?”
Wei Ying has always asked for the things he wants most by never asking for them at all. Lan Zhan had Wei Ying, in front of him, kissing him, asking in the only way he knew how to, hoping—expecting—that Lan Zhan would do something about it. And Lan Zhan hadn’t. Caught in his own doubt, his own fear, he’d hurt Wei Ying, and Wei Ying still decided to try again, to take a risk that Lan Zhan never would have been able to.
“I didn’t,” Lan Zhan promises. “Wei Ying, I didn’t know.”
Wei Ying looks at him searchingly and then sighs, looks down. “Okay,” he says, quiet and resigned. “Alright, Lan Zhan.”
“No,” Lan Zhan says, “no, Wei Ying—”
Words have never failed him the way they do now, years’ worth of desire and longing caught beneath his tongue, practiced in the art of remaining unspoken that they don’t know what to do when presented with the opportunity for freedom. Unable to say anything more, anything other than Wei Ying’s name, he tips forward, eyes burning, and slots their mouths together again. Kisses Wei Ying, saltwater and warmth. Kisses him, and can’t quite do it properly, his lips quivering, his breaths coming short.
“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying’s voice is thick even though he kisses Lan Zhan back, even though he’s standing here like he’s ready to get his heartbroken, ready for Lan Zhan to break it. Kisses Lan Zhan like he can’t help himself. “Lan Zhan.”
“It’s always been you,” Lan Zhan says, eyes closed, their foreheads resting together. “I like you and I love you and it’s always been you.”
Wei Ying’s palm is flat against his sternum, pressing against it, and Lan Zhan looks through his eyelashes to see Wei Ying’s eyes darting all over his face. His voice is quiet, disbelieving. “What?”
“It’s you,” Lan Zhan says again. “It was always you.”
Wei Ying’s eyes are rimmed red, the tip of his nose pink. “Lan Zhan."
“My favourite person,” Lan Zhan echoes. His favourite person, his only person. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t say that,” Wei Ying says automatically, and then falls quiet. “You mean that,” he says. “You mean that.”
Lan Zhan nods, and then,
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying snaps, only the effect is lessened by the way he sniffles immediately after, the way he can’t quite hold back the smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. It’s a devastating sight. “I love you,” he says, almost challengingly. “I really love you, Lan Zhan.”
There isn’t a challenge that Wei Ying has made that Lan Zhan hasn’t risen to. A promise he’s made to Wei Ying that he hasn’t kept.
“I love you, Wei Ying.”
The words have barely passed his lips before Wei Ying surges forward and kisses Lan Zhan again, a punchy little thing that softens, lingers. Lan Zhan wants to stay like this forever. Wei Ying would stay like this with him forever. He can feel the smile on Wei Ying’s face before he pulls back to see it—pulls back anyway, lifts his fingers to trace the lines of it, the smudged edges bruised pink by Lan Zhan’s own mouth.
“You always forgot.”
Wei Ying makes a sweet, inquiring sound. “I haven’t kissed you before the last time I did. I’d know if I kissed you, but I didn’t, so I can’t have.”
“Sweetheart,” Lan Zhan says, watches Wei Ying’s eyelashes flutter and thinks that this is something he’ll have to revisit later, explore in further detail. “You’d call me sweetheart, only…”
Wei Ying half-jerks, eyes wide, and then—a flush creeps under his skin, up the lines of his throat and across his cheeks. His fingers twitch against Lan Zhan’s jaw. Lan Zhan cradles the back of his neck and strokes his thumb behind Wei Ying’s ear, the soft skin over the ridge of his skull, right where the tendon attaches to the bone. “Lan Zhan!” he says, voice high, then presses his nose to Lan Zhan’s cheek, an ineffective attempt at hiding his face. “Lan Zhan,” he says, “That’s just—I didn’t, I didn’t—that’s just who you are to me, oh my god. God, this is so.” He pulls back, curls his hands over Lan Zhan’s shoulders, equal parts embarrassed and determined. “You’re my sweetheart, alright? You’re my, that’s who you are. To me.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t think he could be any more overwhelmed than he is, any more in love. “Wei Ying.”
“You’d always, you’d just freeze!” Wei Ying rushes to explain. “So I figured like, if I said it when you, when I could pretend it didn’t mean something, it wouldn’t, you wouldn’t be so uncomfortable.” He smiles, scrunches his nose. “That was silly, huh? And I guess…you weren’t that uncomfortable.”
“No,” Lan Zhan confesses. “It made me want you more.”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, like the breath has been knocked out of him. “Oh no, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan ah. I’m sorry, your Wei Ying is sorry.”
Lan Zhan likes that, likes that Wei Ying is his, that Wei Ying knows it—that Wei Ying wants it. Something must show on his face, something pleased, because Wei Ying laughs, bright and fond, and reaches up, cups Lan Zhan’s cheeks between his hands and squeezes until Lan Zhan’s lips pucker, and then leans up to kiss them.
“You like me,” Wei Ying says. “You want me and you love me and you like me. You like me so much.”
It’s as though the more he repeats it, the more real it becomes, and Lan Zhan delights in the way Wei Ying is delighted. Is glad that he delights Wei Ying, that loving Wei Ying delights him.
“I like you still.”
“Stop,” Wei Ying demands, but doesn’t stop grinning, doesn’t hide the blush that hasn’t quite faded from his skin. “You do, huh? You really do. You’re stuck with me for life, Lan Zhan ah. For life, okay? I love you. I love you, love you.”
“Love you,” Lan Zhan says, the easiest thing he’s ever had to say, and allows himself a smile, a laugh, when Wei Ying makes a high, keening noise and ducks forward to press nose to the nape of Lan Zhan’s neck. Lan Zhan holds him close. Holds him tightly.
Wei Ying. His Wei Ying, who loves him, and wants him, and who Lan Zhan has always loved and wanted back.
He kisses the tip of Wei Ying’s ear, ridged and delicate, the baby-soft strands of his hair, the barely-exposed skin of his cheek. Wei Ying sighs into the embrace, wraps his arms around Lan Zhan so tightly it’s clear he has no intention of letting go. Lan Zhan won’t let him go.
“Call me again,” Lan Zhan says. “Wei Ying.”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says dutifully, muffled against Lan Zhan’s skin. Lan Zhan hums, not quite displeased, and Wei Ying pauses, shifts, then, a smile in his voice, says, “Sweetheart.”
Lan Zhan’s swallows around the lump in his throat. Wei Ying lets out a shaky breath and then kisses his pulse, grins against it.
Sweetheart, Lan Zhan thinks. Wei Ying.