Actions

Work Header

Happy for Now

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, but I don’t see a reservation under that name.”

Wei Ying’s starting to panic a little, but she tamps it down into the pit of her belly and plasters a smile on her face. “Can you check under Ying Wei?” she asks, in her best customer service voice. “Sometimes the online forms get confused about that.”

The woman behind the counter taps at her keyboard and scans the monitor, frowning. “I’m sorry,” she says, again, “that’s not working, either. It was definitely with this branch of the hotel?”

“It was,” Wei Ying confirms, nervous sweat prickling at her lower back and between her boobs, the two worst places it’s possible to get the nervous sweats and therefore where she always gets them. “I’m here for the conference.” And if there isn’t a room available for her, this is going to be a staggeringly awful five night event that was already going to be exhausting.

“Hm,” the woman says, clicking a few more things. “Do you have the card you made the reservation with?”

Wei Ying hands it over, willing herself to stay calm. This isn’t a disaster yet, right? There’s just a typo in the system or something. They’ll find her room and get her checked in and she’ll go drop off her bags, spend fifteen minutes stretching out the worst of the travel knots in her back, and figure out the best way to make it to a grocery store. This is fine. It’s fine.

“I can’t find anything in here under this card, either,” the woman behind the counter—Tiffany, according to her nametag—says, frowning in earnest now. She’s looking almost as concerned as Wei Ying feels, which is both worrying and gratifying.

“I have the confirmation email,” Wei Ying offers, and holds out her phone. Tiffany trades it for Wei Ying’s credit card, and the way her face changes isn’t exactly promising.

“Oh,” Tiffany says, after a moment, and a little more tapping at the keyboard. “Hm. I see.” She looks up at Wei Ying, and any hope that Wei Ying was clinging to fades away at the apologetic face she’s making. “I’m afraid,” she says, in a too-gentle voice that does not bode well for Wei Ying’s proximity to a bed in the near future, “it looks like your booking wasn’t made through a legitimate website.”

Wei Ying takes a moment to process that through the anxious screaming in her head. “So I got scammed,” she says, pressing her hands to the counter, trying to make herself as steady as the cool granite. “That’s what you’re saying.”

“You should be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company,” Tiffany says, gently setting Wei Ying’s phone where she’ll be able to reach it as soon as she can manage to move her hand, which is currently attempting to bond with the counter on a molecular level via pressure, like a metamorphic rock. “I can print out some paperwork to help with that.”

“Cool,” Wei Ying says, forcing herself to put away her phone. She takes a deep breath, exhales, and re-centers. Okay. Her booking was fake, and she’s out four hundred dollars, but she should be able to get that back, and she can handle it later. “Like I said,” Wei Ying starts, putting that customer-service smile back on her face, “I’m here for the conference. I know it’s short notice, but given the circumstances, is there any way I can get a room at the con rate?” Sure, the con rate is still pricey (hence Wei Ying’s frantic scouring of multiple third-party booking websites) but she can afford it, probably, assuming she can get her money back from the scam site and gets her meals primarily from the complimentary snack bar at the larger evening events. She can make this work! She just needs a bed.

More tapping, and more of that apologetic expression. “I’m sorry, the conference block is sold out,” Tiffany says, and before Wei Ying can ask she adds, “And it looks like the non-conference rooms are booked out as well. All we have left are penthouse suites.”

Wei Ying resists the urge to put her forehead down on the counter, but just barely. “How much are those?”

Tiffany tells her, and this time Wei Ying does bend over to put her forehead on the counter. Nope. No way. No way. “Are there any other options?” she asks the cool stone. “Do you have, like, a stand-by list?” They have those for airplane flights, right?

“We do not,” says Tiffany, a little less apologetic and a little more worried. That’s fair. Wei Ying is starting to lean into “making a scene” territory, what with the slump over the counter. She doesn’t actually want to make a scene—it won’t help, and it’ll just make Tiffany’s job harder—so she takes a deep breath that utterly fails at being calming and pushes herself back upright.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, aware that her smile is slipping and unable to fix it. “What are my options?”

Tiffany takes a deep breath, her face going politely blank, and Wei Ying steels herself to hear the bad news a face like that inevitably precedes when—

“Wei Ying?”

The voice is deep, resonant, and viscerally familiar. Wei Ying turns toward it as though under a spell and yes!

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying’s smile immediately goes from fake to genuine, the current crisis forgotten. “Hey! I was hoping we’d run into each other!”

Really, they were almost guaranteed to run into each other. The Romance Novelist’s Guild is a large enough organization that non-romance authors are surprised to learn the headcount, but the conference is small enough that the chances of any two attendees meeting are practically one hundred percent. Wei Ying had, admittedly, been hoping to see Lan Zhan in better circumstances than this—like, for example, wearing the stretchy red velvet jumpsuit she has packed in her suitcase for the banquet and/or dance party. Seeing Lan Zhan in person again for the first time in years while still in her travel sweats, smelling like airplane, and trying to avoid being functionally homeless for five nights is not ideal. So goes Wei Ying’s life, alas.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, rolling her matching pearl-white luggage set closer, an ice blue cardigan draped over one arm, her dove gray sleeveless midi dress leaving her toned biceps open to the air and Wei Ying’s (respectful!) gaze. She’s gotten a side-shave, Wei Ying realizes with a horrible gay jolt. The rest of her long hair is braided over her shoulder, hanging to right about nipple level (not that Wei Ying’s thinking about her nipples!), but the other side of her head is shaved down to the skin, and, to add sexy to attractive, she’s apparently had a second lobe piercing and a cartilage piercing put in, silver hoops with blue stones winking in the light. She looks very queer, and Wei Ying would like a moment to process that. “It’s good to see you,” Lan Zhan says, giving one of those patented tiny smiles that transforms her whole face and always makes Wei Ying feel like she’s been hit over the head with a baseball bat. No processing time, then. Cool cool cool cool cool.

“You, too,” Wei Ying says, a little dazed. Tiffany clears her throat politely, breaking the spell, and the reality of the situation slams back into Wei Ying like whoever was wielding the metaphorical baseball bat came back for another swing. “Gimme just a sec,” Wei Ying tells Lan Zhan, who nods with her characteristic infinite patience, and turns back to the counter. “Hit me with the bad news.”

“There’s room in the other branch,” Tiffany says, “and I can even get it to you for the convention rate. It’s about a fifteen minute drive.”

This is, in some ways, good news. It would be great news for a Wei Ying who could afford a rental car, or multiple rideshares in addition to paying more for her hotel room than she’d budgeted. That hypothetical Wei Ying probably wouldn’t have gotten ripped off by a sketchy booking site in the first place, though. The only Wei Ying here is the one who’s going to have to walk if she stays off-site, and a fifteen minute drive means at least half an hour on foot, if not more. “Is there anything closer?” she asks, dangerously close to whining.

“I can call around to some of the nearby hotels,” Tiffany says, making an apologetic face, “but I’m afraid there are several conferences happening this weekend, so you may not be able to find a better rate.”

Wei Ying covers her face with her hands and takes a deep, steadying breath, which she’s doing a lot today. “Okay,” she says, scrubbing her eyes and giving Tiffany another bright, fake smile. “Can we start with whoever’s nearest?”

“Is something wrong?” Lan Zhan asks, wheeling her luggage closer. She sounds so sincere and concerned, the same way she used to ask if Wei Ying had eaten before their creative writing workshops and then hand over a banana when Wei Ying’s answer was inevitably, “No.”

“It’s fine,” Wei Ying says, waving a hand. “I apparently got scammed and my booking wasn’t valid and now the place is full, but we’re figuring it out.” There’s no banana this time, she thinks wistfully.

“You don’t have a room?” Lan Zhan asks, a tiny furrow appearing between her brows. Wei Ying shrugs, and the furrow gets deeper. “You can stay with me,” Lan Zhan says, decisively, and then, to Tiffany, “She can stay with me.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying protests, as Tiffany politely accepts Lan Zhan’s key card and taps at her computer. “You—it’s fine! We were going to find something!”

“Now you don’t have to,” Lan Zhan says.

“But—” Wei Ying doesn’t have another argument, not really. It’s just—this is Lan Zhan. Yes, she’s one of Wei Ying’s best long-distance friends and the only person from her college creative writing courses she’s stayed in touch with, but she’s also a quiet, organized, introverted neat-freak, and Wei Ying is none of those things.

“Thank you,” Lan Zhan says to Tiffany, accepting another key card. She turns to Wei Ying, scans her face, and whatever expression she sees there makes her shoulders curl in slightly. “Would it make you uncomfortable?” she asks, a little hesitant. “To share with me?”

“No,” Wei Ying says, “but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I know conferences are a lot for you even without a roommate.”

Lan Zhan’s shoulders square again, and she gives Wei Ying another tiny, devastating smile. “You won’t make me uncomfortable,” she says, and she seems to be telling the truth, even though Wei Ying doesn’t see how. “I would like to spend time with you, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan continues, too-sincerely. “This will make it easier.”

“Okay,” Wei Ying squeaks, blushing furiously. There’s just something about the way Lan Zhan gives her full, undivided attention that squirms in Wei Ying’s guts and makes her silly and even less focused than normal, which is saying something. “If you’re sure?”

“I’m sure.” Lan Zhan holds out a keycard, her entire being radiating welcome.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, again, accepting the keycard, because apparently Lan Zhan can, in fact, make a banana happen even when there’s no literal banana. “Okay, yeah. Thank you, Lan Zhan.”

“It’s no trouble,” Lan Zhan says, gathering up her rolling luggage. Wei Ying scrambles to follow, grabbing her much more battered, on-sale-at-Ross red plaid suitcase.

“Thank you for your help,” she tells Tiffany as Lan Zhan leads her away toward the elevators. “I appreciate you!”

“Good luck with your credit card,” Tiffany says with a wave. “If you have any trouble let me know!”

“Will do!” Wei Ying waves furiously, turns around just in time to avoid running into a luggage cart, and scrambles to catch up with Lan Zhan. True to form, Lan Zhan is waiting calmly at the elevator bank, the button already lit, her luggage tucked neatly in by her side. She’s so steady and solid, like a rock in a river, allowing the world to flow around her without ever being touched by it. She was like this back in college, too, but she’s settled into it now. The Lan Zhan Wei Ying knew in college held herself apart from other people because she was unsure how to interact with them. This Lan Zhan has none of that nervous energy. She knows herself. Wei Ying wonders if she’ll get to know this new Lan Zhan the way she knew the old one, and then pushes that thought away deliberately.

“Thank you so much,” she says, as they bundle into the elevator with a few other probable conference attendees and a woman escorting a small child who have clearly just come from the hotel pool. “I would have figured something out but it would have involved a lot more money and a lot more walking than I planned; you really saved my a—” Wei Ying glances at the pool kid and yanks the wheel of her language in a different direction “—booty.”

“I’m glad I was able to,” Lan Zhan says, shifting a little closer so the woman and the wet, towel-clad child can exit. She still smells like the sandalwood and jasmine perfume she liked in college, which Wei Ying cannot un-know, and this is going to be a long conference. Five years of living across the country from each other was apparently not enough to dampen the flames of Wei Ying’s enormous crush, which, honestly, she probably could have predicted, considering she texts Lan Zhan every single day and waits with bated breath for her concise and hilarious responses. Well, all right. Shared hotel room. Here they go.

“How long are you staying?” Wei Ying asks, when they exit and take a moment to get their bearings. “I guess I should have asked before I agreed to stay with you, but beggars can’t be choosers! My flight goes out on Monday.”

“Mine as well,” Lan Zhan says. “This way.”

Wei Ying practically sags with relief as she trails her down the hall. “Oh man, great. Fantastic. Like, literally any nights I don’t have to book at the last minute are nights I will cherish, but this is perfect.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, halting outside a door that looks like every other door and getting out her key card. “It worked out well.” She hesitates, glancing between Wei Ying and the door a few times, and scans the card. “I just realized,” she says, pushing the door open, “that the room I requested isn’t ideal.”

“I’m sure it’s going to be great, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, wheeling her suitcase inside. It’s a hotel room, all right, and it smells clean, and it’s technically a mini-suite, with a half-height wall separating a sitting area with a loveseat, coffee table, and dining table for two from the sleeping area.

Which has a bed. Singular.

Okay.

“I don’t mind sharing,” Lan Zhan says, from behind Wei Ying’s shoulder. Wei Ying abandons her suitcase to investigate the sleeping situation, already coming up with a hundred reasons not to inconvenience Lan Zhan by stealing half of her fucking bed, and then gets a better look at it.

It’s huge. Wei Ying has seen a king bed before, and this is bigger than that. Is that a California King? Is that what those huge-ass orgy beds are called? There are parking spaces smaller than this bed. Wei Ying has lived in apartments smaller than this bed.

“You know,” Wei Ying says thoughtfully, “I’ll level with you. I was gonna volunteer to sleep on the couch, or steal some pillows and blankets and sleep in the bathtub, but then I saw this monstrosity. Lan Zhan, look at this fucking bed.”

Lan Zhan rests her hands on the room divider, her face softly amused. “I am looking.”

“We could tend a whole herd of sheep on this bed,” Wei Ying says, warming to her subject. “We could cross the Pacific Ocean and weather any storm on this bed. Fuck, Lan Zhan, I could stage an entire community theatre production of Chicago on this bed.”

“Wei Ying is very talented,” Lan Zhan says. “It would be off-Broadway at the very least.”

“I appreciate your faith in me,” Wei Ying says, walking to the side closest to the window and kicking off her shoes. She flops onto the bedding and turns to look at Lan Zhan, who’s still in the sitting/living area and giving her that amused look. “Come on, I want to run an experiment.” Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow, and Wei Ying pats the open side of the bed and gives her the ol’ pleading emoji face. “I know outside clothes on the bed are gross but humor me.”

Lan Zhan takes off her elegant white leather ankle boots and lies down, her hands resting on her chest and her head tipped toward Wei Ying. Wei Ying starfishes out, demonstratively, and after a moment Lan Zhan gets it and starfishes out on her side. Neither of them is short—Lan Zhan is the kind of tall woman who makes insecure five-foot-eleven men hate their lives, and Wei Ying’s only a few inches shorter—but even with them intentionally taking up as much space as possible their fingers barely brush.

“We’re practically in different time zones, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, pitching her voice like she’s yelling from very far away. “Will you even know I’m here?”

“I will,” Lan Zhan says, “which is why I asked you to stay.” Her eyes are warm and direct, her mouth still curved in that soft smile. Wei Ying forgets that words exist and how she might possibly put them together into a sentence, which—given that she’s a professional author—is really saying something. While she’s still mentally flailing, Lan Zhan stands smoothly and crosses to their abandoned luggage, the broad muscles of her back visible through her dress in a way that makes Wei Ying’s mouth go dry. “I was planning to unpack and then make a grocery run. Does that work for you?”

“Same hat!” Wei Ying says, getting her mouth working again as she scrambles off the bed. “My plan involved a fifteen minute break for stretching, too, but otherwise that sounds perfect.”

“We can incorporate stretching time,” Lan Zhan says magnanimously, opening the closet. “My unpacking process is… elaborate.”

“You? Having a particular method to your unpacking?” Wei Ying frowns theatrically, dragging her suitcase over to the drawer console thing that also contains a mini-fridge and microwave. “Sounds fake. I don’t know if I believe it.”

Lan Zhan shakes her head, hanging a blue dress with casual movements. Wei Ying had been planning on living directly out of her suitcase, but if Lan Zhan’s unpacking then she feels obligated to pretend she’s not a filthy goblin. Pretending isn’t the same as being, so she opens her carry-on and the bottom drawer, intending to dump the contents of the suitcase inside with no organization, and freezes, because she forgot about her sex bag. 

Sex bag is kind of a misnomer—Wei Ying isn’t looking to hook up with anyone at the conference, but calling it a “masturbation bag” sounds bad, so sex bag it is. It contains a dildo, two vibrators, a travel bottle of lube, and a thigh harness she was planning on wrapping around a pillow for some solo stress relief after a long day of workshops and panels. That plan evaporates into the air, Wei Ying’s face going hot at the very idea of asking for that much privacy in a shared room. There is no way she can let Lan Zhan know she rolled into this conference ready to fuck. Thank god the bag she zipped everything into is discreet-ish, though the outline of the dildo remains (as one might expect) unmistakably phallic.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan asks, from much closer than the closet. Wei Ying throws the sex bag into the drawer and then dumps her pants on top of it in a wild panic.

“Yeah?” she says, her voice almost normal. Nailed it.

“Did you have anything you needed to hang?”

Wei Ying hands over the red velvet jumpsuit and a black knit dress, heart pounding in her ears. As soon as Lan Zhan has safely turned away Wei Ying shoves the rest of her clothes in the drawer, making sure the sex bag is as buried as humanly possible. The fact that she packed three times more underwear than she could possibly wear over the course of the conference definitely helps in this quest. Fifteen pairs of underwear is the correct number of pairs to have packed for five nights, right?

“Hey, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks absently as she sets her dressy shoes in the closet, toiletry bag clamped under her arm. “How much underwear do you usually pack when you travel?”

Lan Zhan, who has replaced Wei Ying at the drawers, goes so still Wei Ying wonders if the world stopped buffering for a moment. “Are you conducting a demographic survey?” she asks, voice even.

Wei Ying replays her question and goes redder, hiding her face in her toiletry bag. “Oh my god, sorry, I got up at like four this morning to make my flight, and now I have no fucking filter. No, I was just—Jiang Cheng accuses me of packing undies like I’m planning to piss my pants twice a day and I’m trying to figure out if I’m an outlier.”

Lan Zhan puts a perfectly packed zippered clothing pouch into the drawer with great ceremony, still not looking at Wei Ying. “‘Piss your pants,’” she quotes dispassionately.

“His words,” Wei Ying calls from the bathroom. “Oh, hey, this place actually has a pretty nice bathtub!” She shoves her toiletry bag in the corner of the counter, where it’ll be out of the way, and starts smelling the complimentary lotion. Lavender? Could be worse. “I’m not saying he’s right, and I’m certainly not planning on pissing my pants at all, but I did pack fifteen pairs so he might have a little bit of a point.” Wei Ying’s luck is terrible enough that she’s learned to prioritize strangely when she packs—there was that one time she was stranded at the Chicago O’Hare airport for a week because every single plane she attempted to board had mechanical problems, and while it had been hell on earth, it would have been even worse if she hadn’t had enough underwear with her for an entire baseball team and their replacements.

“I see,” Lan Zhan says, who probably has never been on a delayed flight in her entire life and never had to consider bartering a clean pair of underwear for an uninterrupted hour on the electrical outlet to charge her phone. Wei Ying winces. God, she’s such a disaster. She was trying not to think about her sex bag and Lan Zhan in the same vicinity so she asked about underwear instead? Great fucking job, Wei Ying, A+ work there.

“Sorry,” she says, re-emerging back into the living area, “it was a weird question, you don’t have to—”

“Seven,” Lan Zhan says, cutting off Wei Ying’s rambling apology.

“Eeeeh?” Wei Ying’s brain is foggy from travel and the relief of having a place to stay and the embarrassment of asking questions she shouldn’t have, so she can’t for the life of her figure out what Lan Zhan means.

“I packed seven pairs of underwear,” Lan Zhan says, shutting the drawer into which she may have unpacked her seven pairs of underwear. “I find it prudent to bring spares, though perhaps not to your level.”

“Oh, very few people are on my level, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says breezily, instead of asking if she can see Lan Zhan’s seven pairs of underwear, for science or something. “I’m in a whole different galaxy.”

“Truly a star,” Lan Zhan deadpans. Wei Ying snorts as she’s moving the coffee table out of the way and has to take a second to make sure she doesn’t drop it on her foot. The hotel carpet is… fine. She’s stretched on worse surfaces than this. Wei Ying wishes she had the space in her carryon to somehow fit a yoga mat, but alas. She twists, and her spine cracks like someone shook a maraca. Lan Zhan looks up, startled, possibly trying to locate the stealth percussionist.

“Just me,” Wei Ying says, twisting the other way with another round of crackling, a handful of dry twigs snapped in half. “Ignore it, this is normal.”

Lan Zhan makes a sound that might be dismissal and might be concern, but she continues her unpacking while Wei Ying tries to make her body into a body again and not a disparate conglomeration of stiff meat parts. Tomorrow, when she’s had a chance to settle in and more than six hours of sleep, she’ll get her rubber physio ball out and really go to town on her back and hips, but right now it’s about getting through the rest of the day.

Some ten agonizing minutes later, Wei Ying levers herself off the floor to find the hotel room transformed. Lan Zhan has, while Wei Ying swore at her own ligaments, made the bland space into something actually… homey? There are some art prints on the walls held up with washi tape, a blue floral cloth on the little dining table, and—Wei Ying takes a second to make sure her eyes are working—an honest-to-god tiny kitchen set up on the media console/dresser/fridge cabinet. That’s the only way Wei Ying can describe it.

“Did you seriously roll into this hotel with an electric skillet and a rice cooker in your bag?” she asks, as Lan Zhan applies some of those sticky wall hook things to the side of the console and hangs a tiny utensil set and a dish towel from them.

“I also brought an electric kettle,” Lan Zhan says, like this is a normal thing to do. Wei Ying investigates the tiny kitchen more closely and yep, that’s an electric kettle. There’s also a neatly-organized set of spices in tiny travel bottles, a six-inch chef’s knife in a protective sheath, and a travel-sized cutting board, the whole thing set up on a couple of non-skid placemats.

“Hey, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying asks, leaning on the part of the console that isn’t set up to make tiny meals, “I mean this in the nicest way: What the fuck?”

“Are you ready to get groceries?” Lan Zhan asks instead of answering, and Wei Ying can, in fact, take a hint, so she finds her sneakers and her purse.

They’re in Lan Zhan’s rental car and a few blocks away when Lan Zhan says, “On my first book tour I ate a lot of room service.” This non-sequitur has the flavor of an explanation to it without yet being an actual explanation, so Wei Ying hums an affirmative noise to show she’s listening. “I learned, in that time, that there are few things I dislike more than overpaying for mediocre food.” She makes a turn, handling the car with the kind of smooth confidence Wei Ying sometimes writes into her protagonists, and adds, “I also learned that many American room service menus assume that if you don’t eat meat, you must either want to eat a limp green salad for dinner, or you must be able to easily digest massive amounts of cheese.”

Wei Ying was lucky enough to get the lactose gene, but she winces anyway. “Just what you want when you’re on tour, too. I feel like the thousand PSI of cheese farts must really add to the public speaking experience.”

“It was not ideal,” Lan Zhan says, which for her is practically complaining. “I now have strategies that make touring more pleasant. Cooking for myself is one of them.”

“That’s so smart, jiejie,” Wei Ying says, legitimately impressed. “If by some fucking miracle I go on a book tour I’m totally stealing that idea.” Not that Wei Ying’s ever going to go on a book tour—she’s not like Lan Zhan, who has an actual publisher and a promotional budget for her meticulously researched, primarily wlw historical romances. No, Wei Ying has a line of self-published tropey queer wuxia and xianxia romances under the pen name Wei Wuxian, and then a second, semi-secret line of garbage porn novels under the pen name Mo Xuanyu to hit that lucrative “furtive guilty wank” market. No one’s ever going to put her up on the same level as pen name Lan Wangji, who gets book covers illustrated by a professional. Wei Ying designs her own book covers with a pirated copy of Photoshop and a package of credits to a stock photo website she bought on sale one time. “I was just happy this conference was being held in a hotel that has microwaves in the room and you show up ready to make a five-course meal.”

Lan Zhan narrows her eyes thoughtfully as they wait to make the left turn into the grocery store parking lot. “Usually I stop at three courses, but with slightly more planning I could do five.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying slaps at her arm, gets a handful of all that toned bicep, and tries to ignore how it makes her fingers tingle. “That wasn’t a hint! You don’t need to cook for me.”

“Perhaps not,” Lan Zhan agrees. “But I enjoy a challenge.” She parks the car, getting it perfectly spaced between the white lines on her first try, and unbuckles her seatbelt. Wei Ying, still trying to figure out if she’s the challenge, and if so, how, scrambles to follow.

Lan Zhan shops like a woman with a mission, basket on her arm and a steely glint in her eye. Wei Ying, whose basket contains instant coffee, a half-dozen bananas, five apples, the spiciest cup noodles available, and two boxes of meal replacement bars, watches her in admiration. Lan Zhan grabs a head of garlic. She grabs shallots. She examines the pre-chopped vegetable mixes in the salad section and picks the two she finds the most appealing. There’s a dozen eggs and a block of pre-baked soy-sauce-marinated tofu in her basket by the time they check out, along with the smallest bag of rice the store had to offer and a couple baby-sized bottles of sauces. Clearly she came to win.

“How many eggs do you go through in a day, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks, scanning her significantly more paltry haul through the self-checkout. “Do you drink raw egg smoothies now? Is that how you’re so buff?”

“I do not drink raw egg smoothies,” Lan Zhan replies, deadpan, as she loads her groceries into the paper bag like she’s a professional Tetris player.

“I guess you didn’t bring a tiny blender,” Wei Ying muses, “so it’d be pretty hard to make smoothies. You’re smart, though, so I bet you could find a way.”

“I appreciate your faith in me,” Lan Zhan says wryly. The corner of her mouth quirks up, and fuck, this is so much better than daily texts and being across the country from each other. She’s read Lan Zhan’s finished books and workshopped plots with her and liked every single one of her meticulously planned social media posts in the years since college, but having Lan Zhan here, in the same space? In the flesh? Nothing could compare. They load their groceries and climb back into the same car, and it’s a struggle not to stare at Lan Zhan for the entire ride back to the hotel. Wei Ying’s only going to get five nights like this before they both head off for separate flights again, and she wants to grab whatever she can with tight hands.

“Ms. Wei!” Tiffany calls, as Wei Ying and Lan Zhan cross the air-conditioned, significantly less crowded lobby, paper bags in hand. Wei Ying panics for a moment that she’s about to get busted for eating ramen instead of room service, reminds herself that the hotel has microwaves and fridges in the rooms, therefore encouraging her ramen adventures, and heads for the counter. “I’m glad I caught you before I went off shift,” Tiffany says, at a normal volume. “I had to get permission, but here.” She slides a paper card across the table, some handwriting and a signature visible on the cardstock. “Fifty dollars of hotel credit, to be used at any of our dining options, including room service, as an apology for the trouble.”

“Oh, dang,” Wei Ying says, picking up the voucher, her voice thick. “Thank you so much. You didn’t have to do that, it’s not like it was your fault.”

“It wasn’t yours, either,” Tiffany says. “Remember, if you have any trouble getting your credit card company to reverse the charges, come back and see me tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Wei Ying says again, fervently. “You’re literally the best.” She practically skips back over to patient, reliable, steadfast Lan Zhan and waves the card in front of her nose. “Let me know if you do decide you want to eat massive amounts of room service cheese.” Wei Ying pockets the paper like it’s a high-limit credit card and gives Lan Zhan one and a half finger guns (she’s still holding the grocery bag). “I’m not just a freeloader now, I’m a freeloader with a snack hookup.”

“You’re not a freeloader,” Lan Zhan says, steering them toward the hotel restaurant, where Wei Ying is prevented from immediately responding when Lan Zhan requests tableware and utensils from the hostess.

“I’m kind of a freeloader,” Wei Ying insists, when the hostess leaves to find the requested plates and forks and whatever. “I’m an adorable street urchin. An abandoned kitten that you swept in to rescue.”

“That makes you a family member, not a freeloader,” Lan Zhan says with the kind of stubborn logic Wei Ying once watched her use to shred White Kyle in their creative writing workshop to pieces when he initially refused to admit his main character was a thinly-veiled self-insert after months of him deriding every female protagonist as a Mary Sue.

“That’s not the point, jiejie,” Wei Ying whines, automatically reaching out to take Lan Zhan’s grocery bag so she has both hands free to accept the stack of dinnerware from the hostess. “The point is that I now have more to offer you this week than my sparkling personality! In addition to the warmth and natural radiance of my presence, I’m now bringing—” she pauses to do some mental math on general restaurant prices, and then adds another twenty percent of inflation for room-service gouging “—probably five desserts delivered right to your door.”

“Five?” Lan Zhan presses the button for the elevator with her elbow. She makes it look disgustingly graceful, how dare she.

“Plus or minus one,” Wei Ying replies, sticking her leg in the elevator door to make sure Lan Zhan can get the dishes inside without issue. “I haven’t looked at the menu yet, but I’m fully prepared to laugh and then cry about a fifteen dollar slice of previously frozen cheesecake.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan cocks her head in the way Wei Ying recognizes as meaning she’s mentally cross-referencing things. “Previously frozen cheesecake is usually twelve dollars on the high end.”

“Low end?” Wei Ying punches the number for their floor and then switches which hand is holding which grocery bag. Lan Zhan’s is much heavier than hers, not that she’s complaining.

“Eight,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying hums thoughtfully. “You wanna bet on which price this place has? They have complimentary ice water in one of those fancy jars with the spout in the lobby, so I think twelve.”

“The complimentary ice water only has lemons in it,” Lan Zhan says, holding the elevator door open with her foot this time so Wei Ying can exit. “If there were strawberries it would be twelve dollar cheesecake. Eight dollars.”

“There are hotels that put strawberries in the free water?” Wei Ying digs her key card out of her pocket awkwardly, double-fisting groceries in her other hand, and lets them into the room. “Really? That sounds swanky as hell.”

“The Venn diagram overlap of ‘hotels that put strawberries in the free water’ and ‘hotels that charge ten dollars a night for wifi’ is a circle,” Lan Zhan says in the most longsuffering voice Wei Ying has heard from her since that one time Guy-In-Your-MFA Brian tried to get the group’s feedback on his two hundred thousand word “psychosexual boundary-pushing thriller,” aka, “Brian’s Personal Spank Bank In Word Form.”

“I am much less interested in free strawberry water now,” Wei Ying announces, putting the groceries down. She sets her whole bag against the side of the tiny kitchen media center, because she might not be living out of her suitcase, but she’s definitely living out of this grocery bag. “I don’t get how expensive hotels get away with that shit. Like, the Motel 6 will give me a clean room, a shower, a fridge, a microwave, wifi, and free breakfast for sixty dollars, Lan Zhan! Get on their level, Hilton!”

“You should write a strongly worded letter,” Lan Zhan says, setting her armload of tableware and cutlery next to her tiny kitchen. “Perhaps a petition.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Wei Ying grumbles, kicking off her sneakers and bellyflopping onto the bed. “I’ll do it. What’s another ongoing project to an author with ADHD? I’m surprised I’m not writing a strongly worded letter right now.” Thinking about expensive hotels makes her think about money, which makes her think about trying to get deals on expensive hotels, which reminds her that she’s in Lan Zhan’s hotel room—on Lan Zhan’s bed—because she didn’t have a room, because she got scammed looking for one of the aforementioned deals, and she groans into the pillow. Lan Zhan makes an inquiring noise, and Wei Ying turns her head to the side so she’s not speaking directly into high-thread-count cotton. “I gotta call my credit card company,” she says, heaving a sigh. “Pray for me.”

“You remain in my thoughts.” Lan Zhan drops into an easy squat next to the mini fridge and rustles in her grocery bag. “Will you eat after this?”

“I’ll have a ramen,” Wei Ying says, waving off the question as she digs out her phone and wallet. “Godspeed to me.”

It takes thirty excruciating minutes, five of which are spent in a phone tree and fifteen of which are spent on hold. Wei Ying’s only solace is getting to watch Lan Zhan put her groceries away with surgical precision. Did she measure the inside of the fridge before we left? she wonders over the tinny music in her ear. Wei Ying didn’t see her do it, but the fridge is so perfectly packed now it looks like a commercial for mini-fridges. Lan Zhan clearly knows her shit. By the time Wei Ying gets to speak to an actual person Lan Zhan is cooking something in the electric skillet that smells like garlic and soy sauce. Wei Ying habitually travels just with a carry-on and her laptop bag, because it’s cheaper, but she’s now giving serious thought to the tiny kitchen lifestyle. It’d be worth it to cook her own food, right?

“Thank you so much,” she says to the man (Carlos, she thinks his name was?) on the customer service line, as he confirms the charges have been cancelled. “You’ve been so helpful. No, that was all for today. Okay!” Call complete, Wei Ying punches the buttons on the survey to give Carlos a ten out of ten rating and drops her phone on her chest.

“I am, officially, no longer out four hundred dollars,” she tells the ceiling. “Woo.” She raises one fist for a single pump and lets it flop back to the bed.

“Good,” Lan Zhan says. “Come eat.”

“Did you make my ramen for me, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks suspiciously, levering herself off the bed and padding to the table in her socks. “You didn’t have to.”

“You were busy,” Lan Zhan says, looking down at her own plate, which contains a tofu and vegetable stir-fry over a portion of rice that she definitely cooked in that tiny rice cooker, because Lan Zhan is an overachiever in this and all other things. “It was no trouble.”

“Sure,” Wei Ying says, about to make a joke about how she’s always trouble, and then she sits down at the little dining table, looks at her place setting, and her words fuck off into space, probably. There’s an actual ceramic bowl, covered by an extra plate to keep it warm, and a glass of sparkling water. Wei Ying didn’t buy sparkling water. Is this Lan Zhan’s sparkling water? She lifts the improvised lid off the bowl, as though in a trance, and discovers that Lan Zhan de-cupped her cup noodle into the bowl, like it’s a real meal or something. It is, in fact, something like a real meal now, because there’s some sauteed vegetables arranged artistically on one side of the bowl and the two halves of a fucking real-life soft-boiled egg on the other.

“Uuuuuh,” she says, eloquently.

“Ramen on its own isn’t a balanced meal,” Lan Zhan says to her bowl of stir-fry. She pushes a bottle across the table to Wei Ying, still not looking up, and picks up a set of collapsible travel chopsticks she must have packed, because there’s no way the hotel had them on hand.

“How did you do the egg?” Wei Ying asks on autopilot, picking up the bottle and having another minor meltdown when she finds it’s her favorite brand of chili sauce. “Wait, did you buy this for me?”

“In the electric kettle,” Lan Zhan says. “No talking while eating.” She takes a bite of her stir-fry demonstrably, her ears pink at the top, which makes the cartilage piercing stand out even more. It must be pretty hot work cooking in a hotel room with no real ventilation. Wei Ying’s feeling a little warm herself. Maybe they should look at the thermostat after dinner? Presumably by the time Wei Ying is done eating she’ll also be over the absolute buck-wild surge of emotions she’s having about Lan Zhan cooking for her in a hotel room, that Lan Zhan is letting her stay in, that Lan Zhan is sharing a bed with her in. Wei Ying dumps chili sauce on her bowl and picks up a standard-issue hotel fork, because not even her heart doing crossfit inside her chest is gonna stop her from demolishing these noodles.

“Now, you definitely did not have to doctor this for me,” Wei Ying says, when she’s chasing the last noodle remnant around in the chili-red broth dregs at the bottom of her bowl, “but that was fucking delicious and thank you.” She yawns, jaw cracking from it, and rubs her face. “Woof. How early did you have to get up to get here?”

“My flight left at eight,” Lan Zhan says, gathering their empty dishes. “My normal sleep schedule was uninterrupted.”

“You still on nine to five?”

“Mn.”

“You’re like a fucking grandma, you weirdo,” Wei Ying says, and then yawns again. “Fuck, I think I’m destined for a grandma bedtime, too. I’ll make it until nine if I’m lucky. I’m dead on my feet.”

“You should take the first shower,” Lan Zhan says, striding past Wei Ying into the bathroom with the dishes. “Your hair takes less time to wash.”

Wei Ying runs her hand through the hair in question, wincing when her fingers tangle in the strands. A chin-length choppy bob with an undercut is a low-maintenance hairstyle for sure, but there’s only so much it can do against a day of travel. “Good call,” she says, padding over to the drawers to grab something to wear to bed, whereupon Wei Ying realizes her usual packing tends to be very lacking in one particular department that emphatically didn’t matter when she was going to have her own hotel room and very much matters now. Fuck. Fuck.

“Uh, Lan Zhan?” she says, leaning around the doorway into the bathroom, and then, “Is that sponge rabbit-shaped?

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, as though a hot lesbian with a side-shave washing dishes in a hotel sink with a travel bottle of dish soap and a rabbit-shaped sponge is normal. Well, Wei Ying supposes that since Lan Zhan is the lesbian in question, it’s normal for her. It’s definitely not normal for Wei Ying, and she has to take a moment to recover from this vision that hath been visited upon her. “Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan asks, in a prompting kind of way, making eye contact via the mirror.

“Right!” Wei Ying shakes herself. “Sorry, zoned out again. Uh.” She scrubs her face with her hands, runs them into her hair, and smiles in what she hopes is a winning manner. “So not to get too TMI or anything, but I usually sleep naked—” Lan Zhan’s breath stutters, and the bowl she’s washing must be really slippery or something because she almost drops it. Wei Ying winces and continues, “And because I usually sleep naked, and I thought I was going to have my own room, I might have, uh, neglected to pack pajamas. Or anything to sleep in, really.”

Lan Zhan carefully rinses the bowl, and then her hands, and turns off the sink, every movement precise. “I see,” she says, very levelly. She doesn’t make eye contact with Wei Ying, in the mirror or otherwise, and Wei Ying wishes she were capable of existing in the world without constantly making everything around her worse, or at least more awkward.

“Is it gonna make you uncomfortable if I wear a tank top and undies to bed?” Wei Ying asks, a little wildly. “Or there’s gotta be a Target or something nearby? If you don’t want to drive me I can get a rideshare—”

“It’s fine,” Lan Zhan says, too quickly, and Wei Ying shuts her mouth. Lan Zhan never interrupts. Her face is a blank mask and her ears are red and her shoulders are tight. She looks so awkward, Wei Ying is the worst.

“If you’re sure,” Wei Ying says, trying to sound as sincere as possible. “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine,” Lan Zhan says again. She takes a deep breath, turns around, and meets Wei Ying’s eyes, the line of her mouth strained. “You won’t make me uncomfortable.” Wei Ying gives Lan Zhan a skeptical look and her mouth softens. “It’s fine,” she says, a third time, and she sounds like she really means it.

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, leaning against the doorframe, dizzy with relief. “Sorry. I didn’t think—sorry.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, picking up a clean dish and a dishtowel so she can apply the latter to the former, “I’ve seen women’s legs before. I’ve seen your legs before.”

“I mean, yeah,” Wei Ying agrees, because yes, she definitely spent a summer or three in college wearing denim hot pants, “but underwear is different.”

“You once wore a thong jumpsuit over fishnets to queer dance night because, and I quote, ‘My ass looks slappable today, Lan Zhan, and the gays need to know.’”

“It did, and they did!” Wei Ying insists. “I couldn’t be selfish, Lan Zhan!”

“Truly a woman of the people.” Lan Zhan’s ears are still very red, but if she’s making fun of Wei Ying then she’s not actually uncomfortable, which is all Wei Ying wants, really. (That’s a lie. Wei Ying wants a lot more than Lan Zhan not being uncomfortable, but she’s used to squishing those wants down, and she does so now.)

“I’m generous,” Wei Ying says, sauntering back to the dresser and digging out clean underwear and a tank top. “I’m an ass philanthropist, Lan Zhan. You should be thanking me, really.”

Lan Zhan mutters something under her breath that Wei Ying doesn’t quite catch, though maybe there was a “thank you” in there? Wei Ying struts past as Lan Zhan emerges with the dishes and blows her an air kiss, playing it up like the theater kid she’s always been. Lan Zhan shakes her head fondly, and is it really this easy to tease each other again? Wei Ying has settled back into their old dynamic in less than a day, and she tries very hard not to think about how much it’s going to suck to give it up when the conference ends.

The shower is exactly as bracing as Wei Ying wanted after an early morning wakeup time and a four hour flight, and she leaves the bathroom like a clean, fresh-smelling butterfly hatched from the horrible cocoon of airport grossness. Her hair smells nice, her mouth tastes minty, and she’s about to climb into one half of a massive bed and pass out for approximately ten hours, if she’s lucky.

“All yours,” she sing-songs, dirty clothes tucked under one arm, bare legs goosebumpy in the slightly-too-cold hotel air, as is the tradition of every air conditioned space since the invention of the air conditioner. “Good water pressure, and the showerhead was actually tall enough.”

“Showerheads pointed at my collarbones are the second worst part of living in hotels,” Lan Zhan says from the couch where she’s curled up with her e-reader. Her eyes flick over Wei Ying, up and down and back to her face. Wei Ying’s cheeks get hot. Yes, her nipples are hard because of the air conditioning and yes, her underwear says, “this is not a place of honor” on the front. Wei Ying likes novelty underwear! Lan Zhan’s met Wei Ying before. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

“Well, enjoy not doing a weird squat to wash your hair,” Wei Ying says, using humor to paper over her awkwardness as she shoves her dirty clothes into her empty suitcase.

“I will,” Lan Zhan says, picking up her already-prepped pajamas and disappearing into the bathroom. Wei Ying stretches in the suddenly-too-empty space and winces as her back emits a new set of horrible crunching sounds. Airplanes. Fuck ‘em.

Wei Ying locates her phone and laptop and chargers and gets everything she’ll need overnight (aka the aforementioned items and also a glass of water, thank you Lan Zhan for getting a fucking carafe from the restaurant and putting it in the fridge) arranged on her nightstand. The bed, when she climbs in, is amazing. She takes a moment to enjoy the sensation of being horizontal, swishing her legs against the linens with a happy sound in the back of her throat, and then wiggles herself upright. Wei Ying rests her hand on her laptop for a moment, considering. She could probably grab one of her vibes and get off while Lan Zhan’s in the shower. The water’s running, and the fan, so there’s no way she’d hear it. Wei Ying masturbates nightly when left to her own devices as the last thing she does before going to sleep, because there’s nothing like an orgasm to shut off her fucking loud-ass brain. She’d been hoping to continue that tradition while on this trip.

It is probably, Wei Ying decides mournfully, crossing a line to get off in the bed you’re sharing with your best long-distance-friend-slash-secret-crush-since-college, especially if the secret crush isn’t interested in sex things with you. Wei Ying was a single out bisexual all through their shared masters program, though it was a singlehood interspersed with a handful of good makeouts with a variety of genders and a couple mutually enjoyable if awkward hookups. Lan Zhan was there the whole time, also single, also out, definitely a lesbian, and yet absolutely nothing ever happened between them but some generally platonic cuddling and hair braiding. If Lan Zhan was interested, Wei Ying has told herself for years, something would have already happened. Lan Zhan is a great friend and a great person. Wei Ying is just happy to have Lan Zhan in her life, in whatever capacity works for Lan Zhan. She doesn’t have to make it weird. She can sneak a vibrator into the shower with her tomorrow and masturbate then—there’s nothing weird about masturbating in the shower. The shower ends up perfectly clean afterward! It’s practically made for the purpose!

Decision made, Wei Ying opens her laptop and connects to the hotel wifi, which is free for conference attendees. (Small blessings.) She checks her email, farts around on social media for a bit (there are some really excellent cat memes to retweet over on Romance Twitter, and then some jokes about monster dicks to retweet on Porn Book Twitter), and opens Mo Xuanyu’s latest writing project. It’s the fourth book in her ongoing hot alien gangbang series, descriptively named “Hot Alien Gangbang IV: Diplomatic Negotiations.” The heroine, after her abduction in “Hot Alien Gangbang I: Alien Abduction” has worked her way up from being just a sex experiment in “Hot Alien Gangbang II: Sex Experiment” to being the queen of this alien hive in “Hot Alien Gangbang III: Alien Queen” and now, as queen, has taken on the responsibility of her station by engaging in the titular diplomatic negotiations… all via gangbang. Shakespeare it’s not, but it pays the bills, and honestly Wei Ying thinks Shakespeare would probably appreciate all the alien dick jokes she’s making, once Shakespeare stopped freaking out about the concept of aliens and the existence of things like computers.

Wei Ying shakes her head, banishing thoughts about Shakespeare, takes a sip of her water, and re-focuses. Brain empty, words on.

(Wei Ying has tried to explain to other people how she’s able to spit out between a thousand and ten thousand words in a day, depending on her mood and what she’s writing and what else she has to do. She can’t explain it, though, not in a way that makes sense or is replicable for other writers. The best advice she can give is “Don’t care if it’s good,” and “Write whatever the fuck you want to write and fix it later.” Maybe some of it is a hyperfocus ADHD thing? She doesn’t know! She just does it!)

The shower shuts off with an audible clunk, and Wei Ying jolts out of her writing haze and checks her wordcount. Five hundred and twenty-two words tonight? Not bad. She’ll have to revise them later when she’s not exhausted, because even in her brain-foggy state she can see several places where she’s swapped around various little connective words. “Hu Xuan stood, swept back that sparkling iridescent cloak the marked her as was Alien Queen, exposing the eager nude lines of here body, and said, ‘I believe it’s time is begin the negotiations,’” isn’t good grammar, but it’s easily fixable.

A yawn overtakes her, jaw-cracking in its intensity, and Wei Ying makes an involuntary sound of complaint in the middle of it. It’s easily fixable tomorrow. She saves her work, shuts her laptop, and gets everything plugged back in on her nightstand just in time for the bathroom door to open.

“Good shower?” she asks, checking her phone one more time, because her habits are bad, and she should feel bad.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, with a sigh Wei Ying feels in her bones. “I did, indeed, enjoy not having to do a weird squat.”

“That’s gooooooooood—” Wei Ying says, voice wavering wildly in the middle there as she looks up from her phone, because the full vision of Lan Zhan dressed for bed has punched her in the face like a member of the women’s Olympic boxing team. She’s wearing a nightgown, which Wei Ying had somewhat expected, trimmed with blue lace at the neckline while the white body of it falls to just above her knees in a graceful drape, no darts or other fitting. It looks like it would swish nicely, especially if Lan Zhan twirled in it. It looks soft, and elegant, and probably a hundred percent silk.

It’s also basically fucking sheer. Wei Ying can’t tell if she’s hallucinating the outline of Lan Zhan’s areolas and the dark triangle of hair between her legs or if it’s just what she wants to be seeing, but there’s a moment when Lan Zhan pauses to turn off the floor lamp where she’s basically backlit, and Wei Ying definitely sees the whole silhouette of her body, and it’s a good fucking body. Those thighs, though. Wei Ying is looking disrespectfully. Wei Ying is looking with intent.

“Do you want me to wake you at any particular time tomorrow?” Lan Zhan asks, crossing to the remaining pool of golden light left from the bedside lamps. Wei Ying tears her eyes away from Lan Zhan’s amazing fucking tits under that indecent fucking silk nightie and tries to make her mouth do word things again. It’s a real challenge, since Lan Zhan’s hair is in a loose braid for sleep and her side-shave is all flushed from the shower and Wei Ying wants to bite her fucking pierced ear.

“My alarm is set for seven,” she says, like a normal person. “If I sleep through it feel free to poke me.”

“Noted,” Lan Zhan says, pulling back the covers and slipping between the sheets. The bed is so huge Wei Ying barely feels it. It’s like being on the opposite side of a pond from where someone threw in a rock—yes, the ripples reach her, but without any actual power behind them. Lan Zhan lays down, apparently planning on going straight to sleep without reading or looking at her phone or doing any of the bad sleep hygiene things Wei Ying can’t seem to avoid.

“I usually write for a bit when I get into bed,” Wei Ying says, scooching horizontal as well and plugging in her phone. “Is that going to bother you this week? I can just… not do it.”

“It’s fine,” Lan Zhan says. She hits a button on something, and the room fills with a pleasant, ocean-buzz white noise. Lan Zhan picks something else up and dangles it from her first two fingers so Wei Ying can see it’s a sleep mask, one of the molded ones that looks like a tiny weird bra. “As long as you do not hold rehearsals for your off-Broadway production of Chicago on the bed, I can sleep through it.”

“Hmm.” Wei Ying rubs her chin and frowns. “I dunno, jiejie, that’s gonna really heck up my choreography schedule.”

“I have faith you will adapt,” Lan Zhan deadpans, slipping the sleep mask on and leaving it pushed up over her forehead. “Perhaps consider rehearsing during the day instead.”

“Oh my god,” Wei Ying breathes, “you’re a genius!” She mimes taking notes, muttering, “Rehearse… during… the day…” Lan Zhan snorts, barely audible, and Wei Ying just floats on affection and delight and sleeplessness, warm and comfortable in a bed that hadn’t been guaranteed even five hours previously. “Hey, Lan Zhan,” she says, reaching out a hand and wiggling her fingers. Lan Zhan obediently stretches to meet her, their hands clasped in the no-woman's-land in the middle of the huge-ass mattress. “Thanks for letting me stay with you. It’s gonna be really great.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, squeezing Wei Ying’s fingers. “I’m glad. Good night, Wei Ying.”

“Good night, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says. She gives Lan Zhan’s hand a little pat and withdraws back to her side of the bed, clicking off her light. Lan Zhan does the same thing a breath later, leaving them in the dark with the soothing roar of the white noise machine. Wei Ying doesn’t feel like she’s sharing a bed. She feels like she’s on her own private island, warm and comfortable and surrounded by the sound of the ocean.

Huh, she thinks. I figured it’d be more awkward.

It’s the last thing she remembers before she passes out.