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your heart, two doors down

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It begins with a stray clementine, half-peeled and trailing rind, rounding the corner and rolling down the hallway. Lan Zhan has just stepped into the lobby of the apartment complex, grateful for the reprieve from the heat. He blinks, bemused, and watches as the clementine rolls to a stop just behind him.

It’s why he’s unprepared for the little body that collides with his knees. It’s surprise more than anything that makes Lan Zhan take a step back, his hands automatically reaching out to steady the child. The movement causes the pot of purple geraniums he’s holding to tip over, upending a wet clump of flowers and soil onto the tiles.

“A-Yuan?” A voice calls out, taut with worry, accompanied by the sound of hurried footsteps.

The child—A-Yuan, he assumes—looks a little shell-shocked from the impact. He cranes his neck up to blink owlishly at Lan Zhan, once, twice, and then his bottom lip begins to wobble dangerously.

Oh no.

Lan Zhan has enough peripheral knowledge about children thanks to his pediatrician older brother, but he still feels woefully unequipped to deal with this type of situation. He stares down at the child, the hand that isn’t holding the now-empty flower pot hovering uselessly in the air as he debates patting the child on the head.

A-Yuan stares back at him. He looks about two years old, rooted to the spot in what Lan Zhan can only assume is fear, eyes watery and lips trembling. His hands are clenching and unclenching in the hem of his t-shirt; there’s some type of cartoon print on the front, and the motion makes the character look like she’s raring for a fight.

Lan Zhan feels a little awful. He knows he has the kind of face that looks intimidating, has been reliably informed by his colleagues that it’s likely why most of his undergraduate students prefer to clarify their doubts over email.

Thankfully, before he can attempt—and likely fail—to console the child, a man rounds the corner, footsteps slowing as he takes in the sight before him. He’s tall, about Lan Zhan’s height, with shoulder-length hair pulled up into a messy high ponytail, and keen, bright eyes. Dressed fashionably in shades of black and grey, the baby blue cartoon character-adorned backpack he’s carrying is incongruent with the rest of him.

“A-Yuan,” The man calls again. He looks like he’s fighting a smile, mouth pursed in restrained humor. Lan Zhan finds his eyes drawn to the bow of the man’s lips and he quickly tears his gaze away, focusing instead on a lock of the man’s fringe that seems to have a mind of its own.

At the sound of his name, A-Yuan turns and practically throws himself at the man’s legs, pudgy arms squeezing tight. Lan Zhan assumes the man is A-Yuan’s father.

“You okay?” The man asks. A-Yuan nods, pressing his face against the man’s leg.

Lan Zhan watches, impressed despite himself, as the man closes the distance between them, the child clinging to his leg like a koala doing nothing to hinder his stride. The man’s eyes land on the flowers on the ground and he winces. Immediately, he unzips one of the compartments on his backpack and pulls out a plastic bag, before bending down and attempting to use his hands to shovel the mess into it.

Lan Zhan is too stunned to do much more than stare.

“I’m really sorry about that, I’ve told him not to run in the hallways but, you know how it is,” the man says, fondly weary. His eyes dart up to meet Lan Zhan’s briefly, before returning back to his task.

Lan Zhan does not, in fact, know how it is, or what ‘it’ is really, but the man’s words spur him into action. Without really thinking about it, he gets down on his knees too and catches the man’s wrist, taking the plastic bag from him.

“It’s alright,” he says. “No harm done.” He lets go of the man’s hand and tries to ignore the way he can still feel the man’s pulse along his fingertips.

“Oh, thanks.” The man clears his throat, dusts his palms off on his pants. “A-Yuan,” he murmurs, nudging A-Yuan’s side. When the child continues to hide his face against his leg, the man uses one finger to tickle his ear. “C’mon, what do we say when we do something wrong?”

“Sorry,” A-Yuan mumbles into the man’s pants.

“Don’t say it to my leg, say it to this gege,” the man prompts, mouth once again twitching like he can’t help himself.

Lan Zhan opens his mouth to tell him it’s alright, but before he can get the words out, the boy pulls his face away from the man’s leg and meets Lan Zhan’s eyes.

“Gege, sorry,” he says carefully, like he wants to give each word his full attention.

“It’s okay,” Lan Zhan replies. “Are you alright?”

A-Yuan nods shyly. Lan Zhan notices his vice-like grip on the man’s pants has loosened.

When Lan Zhan looks up, his mouth goes a little dry. A-Yuan’s father is staring at him unabashedly, openly curious, with something akin to warmth in his smile. He has a dimple on his left cheek.

“Let me pay you back for the flowers,” the man offers, smiling playfully. Lan Zhan makes a mental note to google ‘causes of heart palpitations’ later.

“No need,” he says simply.

The man doesn’t look convinced. “Are you sure?”


The man frowns but seems to let it go. He says, “I’m Wei Ying, by the way. Do you live in the building?”

It occurs to Lan Zhan then that he’s crouched in the middle of the hallway, holding a plastic bag full of dirt while having a conversation with this man—Wei Ying, apparently. Strangely, he can’t find it in himself to mind all that much.

“Lan Zhan,” he replies. “13-B.”

“Oh!” Wei Ying exclaims, lips curling into a grin. It looks good on his face. Lan Zhan has known Wei Ying all of five minutes, and he seems to always be smiling or doing a bad job of pretending not to. “We live in 13-E! We moved in over the weekend.”

“Oh,” Lan Zhan says, unsure of what to do with this information. The thought of potentially bumping into Wei Ying in the hallway on a regular basis makes something in his stomach flip in a way he’s certain it’s not supposed to do. Wei Ying keeps smiling at him despite the sudden lull in conversation and Lan Zhan’s not sure what to do with that either.

Suddenly, there’s a tug on his pants. At some point, A-Yuan had detached himself from Wei Ying’s leg and is now standing at Lan Zhan’s side, offering him the runaway clementine. The fruit seems to have fared better than Lan Zhan’s geraniums, at least.

“A-Yuan!” Wei Ying sounds like he can’t decide between being horrified or thoroughly amused. His voice causes another rush of that unnamed something to fizz in Lan Zhan’s chest. The feeling is distressingly similar to heartburn.

Laughing, Wei Ying takes the clementine from A-Yuan’s hands and exchanges it for two fresh ones from his backpack. He keeps the bruised one for himself.

“Give gege a nice one,” he says, ruffling A-Yuan’s hair. A-Yuan beams at him, then turns the full force of his toothy smile on Lan Zhan.

“Gege, for you,” he says, once again offering up a clementine. Lan Zhan doesn’t think he could refuse even if he wanted to. He accepts the proffered fruit and, after a slight pause where he transfers the clementine onto his lap, pats A-Yuan’s head.

“Thank you,” he says. He didn’t think it was possible, but A-Yuan’s smile grows impossibly wider. So does Wei Ying’s.

“Well, we should probably get going,” Wei Ying says after a beat. A-Yuan prods his father’s arm with the clementine. Wei Ying takes it from it from him, deftly poking a hole in the rind, before handing it back to A-Yuan who seems to want to peel it for himself. “Guess we’ll see you around?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. He’s not sure they will, but he finds himself hoping that they do.

“Bye gege!” A-Yuan yells, and it’s a leftover habit from his brief stint as a high school teacher that has Lan Zhan raising a finger to his lips. A-Yuan’s eyes grow comically wide and he covers his mouth with his free hand. Lan Zhan can still see his grin peeking out from behind his little fingers. “Bye gege,” he tries again in a pseudo-whisper.

Lan Zhan’s lips twitch of their own volition and he meets Wei Ying’s twinkling eyes.

“Bye,” he says. If his eyes linger on Wei Ying as they walk out of the lobby, well—that’ll stay between him and these walls.

Later that night, body humming with restless energy, Lan Zhan decides to go for a walk. He opens the door, only to find a small pot of peonies set by the doorframe. There’s a note stuck to the side.

‘We’re really sorry! Please accept this little something to make up for today,’ it says in an enthusiastic scrawl, the characters almost dancing across the page. Under it, drawn in red crayon in the unsteady hand of a child, is something that could potentially be called a flower, if one were being generous. It could just as easily be a drawing of an internal organ.

Lan Zhan sets the peonies on the windowsill by his bed and displays the card on his desk. In the end, he doesn’t go for his walk.

Despite living on the same floor, a whole week passes before Lan Zhan sees Wei Ying and A-Yuan again.

It’s a Saturday and he’s standing in line to pay for groceries at the supermarket. He’s the last in the queue, and there are only two registers open at the moment, so he takes the time to mentally review next week’s lesson plan while he waits.

At least, until he feels a pair of tiny arms wrap around his leg. He looks down, startled, and finds A-Yuan grinning up at him, showing off the dimple on his left cheek.

He is, inexplicably, wearing a small cape.

“Gege hello,” A-Yuan whispers, likely remembering how Lan Zhan prompted him to lower his voice before.

“Hello,” Lan Zhan replies just as Wei Ying joins them in the queue.

“He really likes you,” Wei Ying says in lieu of ‘hello’. “Usually, it takes him weeks to warm up to someone. He still doesn’t really get along with my brother, but then Jiang Cheng’s always been an acquired taste, ha.” He chuckles at his own joke, the corners of his eyes crinkling.

Lan Zhan swallows hard. His eyes flick to the basket Wei Ying is carrying, loaded with milk and a mix of meats, fruits, and vegetables. It looks heavy, but Wei Ying doesn’t seem to be bothered by the weight.

He also doesn’t seem to be fazed by Lan Zhan’s silence, leaning around Lan Zhan to poke at the vegetables in his basket. He says, “Lan Zhan ah, you’re so healthy. Are you a vegetarian?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says.

“Baba, what is that?” A-Yuan asks. He’s still clinging to Lan Zhan’s leg. Idly, Lan Zhan wonders how he’s supposed to walk without tripping over him.

“It’s when someone only eats vegetables, you know like broccoli, carrots, peas. Fruits too. And eggs, sometimes,” Wei Ying explains patiently, slowing his speech a little to give A-Yuan time to parse his words. He adds, “Lan Zhan, do you eat eggs?”


“Apples?” A-Yuan asks.

Wei Ying nods. “Apples are fruits. Vegetarians just cannot eat meat, like chicken.”

“No nuggets?” A-Yuan stares up at Lan Zhan, eyes wide and sad like he just received the world’s most upsetting news. Lan Zhan doesn’t quite know what to do.

Wei Ying bites back a smile. “There are vegetarian nuggets.”

Like a rubber band snapping back into its original shape, A-Yuan’s frown tips back up. He bounces on the balls of his feet, shoes squeaking against the linoleum. “We try?”

“Sure, next week, okay? We’re already in the queue,” Wei Ying says. A-Yuan’s face falls again and Wei Ying kneels down to hand him his sippy cup, ruffling his hair with the unconcerned grace of a parent well-versed in their child’s art of sulking.

Barely a minute later, A-Yuan’s back to his usual self, his bad mood vanishing like someone had pressed ‘reset’. Lan Zhan wonders how much of that is from being around Wei Ying, with his infectious good mood and his constantly-smiling mouth.

Out of the blue, A-Yuan declares, “I like vegetables.” He stumbles over the syllables, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. He pats Lan Zhan’s leg until he’s satisfied he has Lan Zhan’s full attention and repeats, “I like vegetables.”

Lan Zhan nods. “They’re good for you.”

A-Yuan mirrors him, nodding along solemnly like they’re discussing something far more serious. As they shuffle forward in the queue, Wei Ying catches Lan Zhan’s eyes and smiles like they’re both in on a secret. Lan Zhan really wants to know what it is.

Soon, it’s Lan Zhan’s turn to pay. After he’s done, he waits by the exit for Wei Ying to finish.

A-Yuan has stopped hugging his leg for the moment in order to hop around Wei Ying at the register. He reaches up and Lan Zhan assumes he’s asking Wei Ying to carry him; he’s too far away to hear the actual conversation. But then A-Yuan points to where the cashier is bagging their items. Wei Ying smiles down at him, says something that makes A-Yuan giggle. A-Yuan gestures again and this time, Wei Ying takes one of the scanned packets of lotus roots and passes it to him. A-Yuan hugs it to his chest. He says something to Wei Ying and Wei Ying nods as he swipes his card.

Lan Zhan watches as A-Yuan comes toddling over, proudly holding up his lotus roots for Lan Zhan to see. Paired with his cape, he looks like he could be the mascot for a brand of lotus roots. Lan Zhan’s lips twitch and he coughs to hide his amusement.

“I help baba!” A-Yuan exclaims.

“Good boy,” Lan Zhan says, feeling strangely proud of this child who isn’t his own.

Wei Ying comes over after he’s done. As they exit the supermarket, Lan Zhan offers to take some bags from him since he himself only has one. Wei Ying waves him off, lips quirking.

“No need to show me, I can already tell how strong you are, Lan Zhan,” he says, playfully bumping their shoulders. The tips of Lan Zhan’s ears grow hot.

“Strong, strong!” A-Yuan repeats, lifting the lotus roots over his head as he walks, which makes Wei Ying laugh.

“Are you parked opposite?” Lan Zhan asks when they reach the traffic lights.

“Nope, we’re taking the bus.” Wei Ying says, swinging his shopping bags lightly.

Lan Zhan frowns. “I can give you a lift. My car is here.”

“That’s sweet Lan Zhan, but we’re fine-”

“We live in the same building.” He can tell Wei Ying’s about to protest, so before he can, Lan Zhan adds, “I insist. For the peonies.”

“The peonies were for your geraniums,” Wei Ying says, but he doesn’t decline the offer again. Lan Zhan helps him load his groceries into the boot while he buckles A-Yuan into the backseat.

Driving is usually a solitary, peaceful—if somewhat, boring—experience for Lan Zhan. Sometimes he turns the radio on to a classical music station, and sometimes he just drives in silence.

For the first time, the entire drive home is filled with idle chatter, mostly sustained by Wei Ying and A-Yuan. Lan Zhan gives his occasional input when they direct something at him, but for the most part, he’s content to just listen. The topics bounce haphazardly from food to animals to pets. Lan Zhan learns about Wei Ying’s deathly fear of dogs.

He ends up enjoying the drive back more than he thought he would. When they get back to the apartment complex, he ignores Wei Ying’s protests and helps him with some of the bags. As Wei Ying unlocks his door, Lan Zhan pulls a packet of frozen dumplings from his own shopping bag.

“It is not nuggets, but I have vegetarian dumplings, if A-Yuan wants to try them,” he says, offering it to Wei Ying. Before Wei Ying can even reply, A-Yuan drops his packet of lotus roots and latches onto Lan Zhan’s leg.

“Thank you gege!” He’s nearly yelling in his delight. Wei Ying sighs, shaking his head.

“Lan Zhan ah, are you trying to steal my son?” He says, folding his arms in what Lan Zhan can only assume is his attempt at looking intimidating. The effect is wholly diminished by his laughter. “Unbelievable.”

A-Yuan shifts. Lan Zhan finds him peeking at Wei Ying from behind his legs.

Wei Ying makes a face at A-Yuan, which sets off a round of giggles between them. Lan Zhan’s heart does a strange clenching thing—he feels so hopelessly endeared.

“C’mere you,” Wei Ying says, crouching and opening his arms. “We gotta let gege go home sometime today.”

A-Yuan lets go of Lan Zhan’s leg and launches himself into his father’s waiting arms. “We see gege again?”

“Why don’t we ask gege?” Wei Ying suggests. They look expectantly up at Lan Zhan.

“We see you again?” A-Yuan repeats.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan promises.

True to his word, Lan Zhan makes it a point to stop by once in awhile, usually on Saturday afternoons.

Each time, he brings something small for A-Yuan: a packet of frozen vegetarian nuggets because A-Yuan wanted to try them, a children’s picture book he saw in a store window on the way home from work, a whole bunch of bananas because A-Yuan once said he liked them.

This time, Wei Ying accepts his latest gift—a bag of fresh peaches because Lan Zhan read that they were good for children—and he quirks his brow.

“Aiyo, you’re going to spoil him, Lan Zhan. You know you don’t always have to buy him things, right? There’s no entry fee at the door,” Wei Ying says, stepping aside to let Lan Zhan in.

“I want to,” Lan Zhan replies. “But those are also for you.”

Wei Ying casts a sidelong glance at him, smile playing on his lips. It’s a testament to how much time Lan Zhan’s spent watching him during these visits that he anticipates Wei Ying’s teasing remark before it even leaves his mouth.

“Are you saying you’re going to spoil me too, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying says, dragging out Lan Zhan’s name like he wants to keep it in his mouth longer. He seems to like saying Lan Zhan’s name, takes every opportunity to say it in increasingly playful and creative ways. Lan Zhan should hate it, but it causes a pleasant shiver to run down his spine each and every time.

Wei Ying misinterprets his silence for reproval. Laughter hugs his words when he adds, “I’m just teasing, Lan Zhan. Relax.”

And the thing is, Wei Ying is always just teasing, just joking, just ‘kidding’. Lan Zhan has to constantly remind himself of this whenever his heart threatens to beat a hole right out of his chest.

He tries not to notice the little details around Wei Ying’s house that suggests he doesn’t have a partner, tries not to wonder where A-Yuan’s mother is.

Because Wei Ying is always just teasing and Lan Zhan shouldn’t expect any more than that. Wei Ying has a child to look after and Lan Zhan should respect that.

The child in question pokes his head out of the bedroom, the sound of their voices likely waking him up from his afternoon nap.

“Gege!” He says, nearly stumbling in his haste to get to them.

“Careful,” Lan Zhan says; at the same time, Wei Ying chides, “A-Yuan, slow down.”

They blink at each other. Wei Ying looks like he’s pleasantly surprised by something. But the expression flits away the next second like a butterfly skirting out of reach. He shoos them towards the living room before going into the kitchen to slice the peaches.

As he does, Lan Zhan catches Wei Ying flicking a considering glance back at him.

Wei Ying, in turn, catches him mid-backward glance, too. He winks.

Lan Zhan turns abruptly, letting A-Yuan pull him to the sofa to read another picture book. He thinks he hears Wei Ying laughing, but his heart is beating too loudly in his ears for him to be sure.

Lan Zhan is grading papers on a Sunday afternoon when there’s a series of frantic little knocks on his door.

When he answers it, he’s surprised to find A-Yuan standing alone in the hallway, wringing his hands.

“What’s wrong?” He asks, immediately kneeling like he’s seen Wei Ying do so instinctively. He’s half-expecting it, given A-Yuan’s obvious distress, but it still surprises him a little when the boy all but tackles him, tiny arms coming up to squeeze his neck.

“Baba is sick,” A-Yuan says. “Gege and I help.”

Before he’s even finished, Lan Zhan is on his feet, pulling the door shut and making his way down the hallway, A-Yuan bundled in his arms. The door to 13-E is ajar—from A-Yuan sneaking out, he suspects. It’s thrown fully open just as he steps up to it, Wei Ying’s panicked face coming into view.

He looks awful, pallid like all the color has been drained from his face—except for his nose, which is an angry red. His eyes are bloodshot and there are smudges under them like he hasn’t gotten any sleep. The sweatshirt he’s wearing is thick and looks like it’s in the process of swallowing him whole, hanging halfway down to his knees, yet he’s still shivering, arms wrapped around himself.

“A-Yuan!” He cries out when he sees them standing there, voice scratchy and nasal. His relief is palpable when he reaches out to squeeze A-Yuan’s hands, though he doesn’t take him from Lan Zhan’s arms. Lan Zhan suspects it’s because he doesn’t want to pass whatever bug he’s got to A-Yuan.

On the heels of his relief is anger, brows furrowing and his mouth turning down at the corners. “A-Yuan, you cannot just leave the house by yourself. It’s dangerous! You know you’re not supposed to stand on chairs either, you could’ve fallen down!”

It’s the first time Lan Zhan’s seen Wei Ying angry, though it’s obviously fueled by worry.

A-Yuan’s chin wobbles. “Gege and I help!” he insists.

Some of Wei Ying’s anger wanes under A-Yuan’s earnest pouting. His gaze softens and he hooks a finger under A-Yuan’s chin, gently tipping his face up. “A-Yuan, you don’t need to help me. I’m okay, alright? Please don’t do this again.”

A-Yuan frowns harder but he doesn’t argue. He does, however, turn away and bury his face in Lan Zhan’s neck.

Wei Ying sighs.

“I’m sorry about this, Lan Zhan. A-Yuan, c’mon. Gege is busy, we can’t bother him like this.” He reaches out to ruffle A-Yuan’s hair. As he does, his fingers graze Lan Zhan’s cheek—they’re burning.

Lan Zhan grabs his wrist. “Wei Ying, you have a fever.”

Wei Ying looks a little shocked, eyeing Lan Zhan’s hand on his. Lan Zhan realizes belatedly that it’s the first time he’s initiated contact between them. Wei Ying is usually the tactile one, bumping their shoulders, placing a hand on his arm, tugging on a lock of his hair to get his attention.

“Lan Zhan?” he says, weakly.

Lan Zhan doesn’t reply. Instead, he turns Wei Ying around and nudges him back into the house, his hand on the small of his back. He has to move a small plastic stool aside with his foot in order to shut the door. It’s likely what A-Yuan used to reach the doorknob and unlock the door earlier.

Wei Ying allows himself to be lead to the living room, flicking a confused glance back at Lan Zhan every few steps. Lan Zhan places A-Yuan on his feet, then picks up two picture books and a stuffed rabbit from the sofa.

“A-Yuan, help me clear these,” he says. A-Yuan dutifully takes the things from Lan Zhan, placing the books on the coffee table and hugging the rabbit to his chest.

Lan Zhan turns back to Wei Ying.

“Lie down, you need to sleep,” he instructs, pointing at the sofa. Wei Ying blinks at him.

“Um, Lan Zhan? I’m really okay, you don’t have to-”

“Lie down,” Lan Zhan says again.

Wei Ying, as Lan Zhan has come to expect, defaults to humor.

“Lan Zhan ah,” Wei Ying drawls in a way that’s no doubt aggravating his already sore throat, “I didn’t know you liked to play nurse.”

Lan Zhan feels his patience wither in the face of Wei Ying’s blasé attitude towards his own health. He sighs forcefully and picks Wei Ying up with ease, one arm supporting his back, the other under his knees.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying squawks as he’s promptly deposited onto the sofa.

“Stay,” Lan Zhan warns.

“What am I, a dog?” Wei Ying mutters, but he stays so Lan Zhan counts it as a win.

A-Yuan seems to find the entire situation hilarious. “Dog,” he parrots, giggling.

“Shush you,” Wei Ying says fondly, beckoning him over. A-Yuan bounds over, squealing in delight seconds later when Wei Ying grabs him and tickles his sides. Watching them, Lan Zhan feels a quiet surge of warmth and protectiveness swell like a balloon in his chest, so large that it feels a little harder to breathe.

He escapes into the kitchen to catch his breath.

It’s easy to navigate Wei Ying’s kitchen with how often Lan Zhan has come by lately. But that’s a dangerous line of thought, one that will ultimately go nowhere, so he pushes it aside and sets about making some honey lemon tea.

After a few minutes, A-Yuan wonders in.

“Baba sleeping,” he whispers.

Lan Zhan nods. “It’s time for your nap, too.”

A-Yuan shakes his head, but he’s clearly sleepy, already rubbing at his eyes. “I help,” he says.

Lan Zhan kneels, rests a hand on A-Yuan’s head.

“You already helped. I am here now, I will take care of your father,” he promises.

“You stay with baba?”


With Wei Ying asleep, it falls to Lan Zhan to tuck A-Yuan in. Lan Zhan has never tucked a child into bed before and he assumes it’s just the one step: place the child on the bed.

And that’s—thankfully—mostly it, except A-Yuan asks for a song, too.

“Baba always sings,” he says, looking so small enveloped by the fluffy quilt covers on Wei Ying’s bed.

“What song?” Lan Zhan asks.

“Baba’s song.”

“I do not know that song. Can I sing you another?”

When A-Yuan nods, Lan Zhan begins to hum the song he remembers from his childhood, how his mother would sing for him whenever he was allowed to visit her. The words come easily despite the years between now and then, and soon A-Yuan’s asleep, snoring softly with his arms wrapped around the stuffed rabbit.

Lan Zhan gets up to leave, careful not to jostle the bed as he does, and he spies Wei Ying leaning against the door jamb. Wei Ying’s smiling at him, holding a tissue up to his nose.

“You should be sleeping,” Lan Zhan says, pitching his voice low.

“You should be a singer,” Wei Ying counters as they make their way back to the living room. Sleep lingers in the roundness of his words and he presses a yawn into his sleeve. The mug of tea Lan Zhan had left for him on the coffee table is empty now.

Wei Ying flops onto the sofa, pats the cushion next to him and waggles his brows invitingly. Lan Zhan takes a seat, conscious of the sliver of space between them.

“Thank you,” Wei Ying says softly, voice for once devoid of his usual playfulness. “For doing this, I mean. You didn’t have to.”

Lan Zhan turns, finds Wei Ying regarding from under sleep-heavy lids. “I want to,” he says, because it’s the truth.

Wei Ying smiles, but there’s a crease between his brows, like Lan Zhan’s speaking in a language he doesn’t quite understand. He says, “Are we friends, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan swallows. “Yes.”

Wei Ying seems pleased by this. The crease smooths out and his face lights up with an eye-crinkling grin. He tips over suddenly, resting his head on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. Lan Zhan tries not to think about how perfectly he fits against him.

“Lan Zhan, do I get a song too?” he says. His voice is so close.

Lan Zhan doesn’t shiver, but it’s a near thing.

“Songs are for people who behave,” he says.

Wei Ying huffs but his laughter catches, turning into a coughing fit.

Immediately, Lan Zhan makes to get up, intending to get a glass of water for him, but Wei Ying grabs his hand and holds on.

“I’m fine,” he croaks, once his coughing subsides. He touches two fingers to Lan Zhan’s forehead, just between his brows. “Stop that.”

Lan Zhan didn’t even realize he was frowning.

There’s a beat of silence. Wei Ying clears his throat and says, “You should go, or you might catch what I have, too.” He hasn’t let go of Lan Zhan’s hand, though.

Lan Zhan shakes his head, settles back against the sofa. Before he can think better of it, he slides a hand up to Wei Ying’s head and pulls it down to rest against his shoulder once more.

“Rest,” he says.

“I will if you sing to me,” Wei Ying replies, seeming to melt against his side.

So Lan Zhan sings, because Wei Ying asked, and because he hopes his voice will mask the sound of his heart crashing against his ribs. It’s a song he’s been working on, the notes having taken seed in his head the day he met Wei Ying, growing into a slow, longing melody under his careful attention.

He feels more than sees the moment Wei Ying falls asleep, breaths evening out where they’re puffing against his collarbone. He takes the opportunity to rest his palm over Wei Ying’s forehead and finds that it’s still hot to the touch. Rising to his feet, he lowers Wei Ying back down onto the cushions and pulls a throw blanket over him, tucking it around his shoulders.

It’s quick work to prepare a cold compress. Once he has everything he needs, Lan Zhan sits on the ground by Wei Ying’s head. He dips a clean cloth into a bowl of cold water and wrings it out, before smoothing it over Wei Ying’s forehead.

Wei Ying, he finds out, is a heavy sleeper. He doesn’t stir, even when Lan Zhan replaces the cloth each time it grows warm.

When Wei Ying wakes up an hour later, the color has returned to his cheeks and his voice doesn’t sound so much like someone’s scrubbed his throat raw with steel wool. He seems embarrassed to find Lan Zhan fussing over him and uses his renewed energy to insist that Lan Zhan stay for dinner.

Lan Zhan doesn’t want Wei Ying overexerting himself, so he offers to cook or call in an order from some restaurant. Wei Ying compromises by allowing Lan Zhan to help out in the kitchen.

It’s the first time he’s trying Wei Ying’s cooking. As they sit at the dining table, A-Yuan in his booster chair beside Wei Ying with Lan Zhan across from them, he’s a little overwhelmed by the domesticity of it all.

Wei Ying’s fried rice is unnaturally red. Lan Zhan’s mouth burns with each bite. He wants to say it’s delicious, but he can’t quite feel his tongue. A-Yuan has his own little bowl of fried rice, with some fish fingers and boiled carrots on the side. He seems to be handling the spice admirably well with his sippy cup of milk.

Lan Zhan is tempted to get a glass of milk too, but then Wei Ying beams at him and says, “Wow, you must really like spicy food too, huh, Lan Zhan!”

Lan Zhan decides that permanently losing his sense of taste is a small price to pay if Wei Ying will keep looking at him like that.

After dinner, Wei Ying asks for his number. “So A-Yuan can call you next time, instead of sneaking out when he’s supposed to be taking a nap and nearly giving me a heart attack,” Wei Ying says. “And so that I can get an encore of your song whenever I have trouble sleeping.”

Lan Zhan’s heart trembles a little as he saves his contact information onto Wei Ying’s phone and Wei Ying does the same on his.

Later that evening, just as he’s about to go to bed, his phone lights up with a message from Wei Ying. Lan Zhan stares at the contact name for a long time, before finally opening the message.

♡ Wei Ying ♡: free for dinner tomorrow, y/n?

He sends back a ‘Yes.’ Seconds later, his phone lights up with Wei Ying’s reply: a string of happy emoticons and, at the end, a heart.

Lan Zhan feels like he’s swallowed the sun, warmth spreading out from his chest to his fingertips and toes.

Though that could also be a side effect of his dinner.

He doesn’t change Wei Ying’s contact name.

Having dinner together becomes a frequent occurrence after that, though Wei Ying always asks if he’s free beforehand, like he doesn’t take Lan Zhan’s presence in their lives as a given. Like there’s anywhere else Lan Zhan would rather be.

Sometimes Wei Ying cooks, sometimes Lan Zhan does, and sometimes, when they’re both exhausted from work, they order in. Lan Zhan leaves the ordering to Wei Ying, but he always insists on paying for their meal.

Lan Zhan was raised not to speak during meals. Wei Ying doesn’t have any such qualms, only reminding A-Yuan not to talk with his mouth full. It’s during these meals that Lan Zhan learns more about them.

He learns that Wei Ying is a teacher too; he teaches in a primary school and he loves his job. He doesn’t say as much, but judging by how patient he is with A-Yuan, Lan Zhan suspects he’s really good at his job too, that all the children love him. He’s proven right on Teacher’s Day, when Wei Ying’s dining table is piled high with handmade cards, teacher-themed mugs, and cookies.

(He helps Wei Ying tack the cards onto the corkboard above his desk after dinner that day, notices the soft smile that lingers on Wei Ying’s face after he reads each card.)

He also learns more about A-Yuan, like how he loves chicken and most vegetables, except cauliflowers. He’s easy to feed because he’s not picky, but he can be a little whimsical sometimes, wanting to eat a particular food just because he saw it in a picture book or on television.

One day, after Wei Ying puts A-Yuan to bed, leaving the bedroom door open just a crack, he tugs Lan Zhan over to the sofa and splits a clementine with him. It takes Lan Zhan back to the first time they met, and he marvels at how far they’ve come, Wei Ying’s knee pressed flush against his.

Wei Ying is unusually quiet as they finish off the clementine, and after, he offers Lan Zhan a finger of whiskey from the topmost cupboard in the kitchen. When Lan Zhan declines, Wei Ying pours some for himself.

On that day, Wei Ying reveals that A-Yuan’s adopted, recounting the story between sips of alcohol. Lan Zhan never would’ve imagined that such a happy child could’ve lost so much so early on in life.

When Wei Ying is done, his glass empty too, all Lan Zhan says is, “You are a good father.”

Wei Ying’s mouth pops open, a perfect little ‘o’. It seems to take him a couple of tries to find his voice.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, like he has something caught in his throat. “You’re really too nice to me.”

Lan Zhan wonders why he never really noticed the now-obvious differences in their features before. It’s the smile, he thinks; A-Yuan may not be Wei Ying’s biologically, but he’s got Wei Ying’s infectious smile, right down to the dimple in his left cheek.

Both Wei Ying and A-Yuan seem to quickly realize that Lan Zhan will not talk during meals, so they take the opportunity to fill him in on their days. Lan Zhan hoards each tidbit of information, holds it close to his chest like they’re all important secrets.

Wei Ying himself is adopted, and he gets along well with his adopted siblings. Not his older sister’s husband though, because he’s pretentious and definitely not good enough for his sister. Jiang Cheng, the man Wei Ying mentioned all those months ago, is actually his younger brother; Wei Ying likens him to a cactus, prickly on the outside, with a soft core. A-Yuan is scared of his uncle Jiang Cheng, but he loves his aunt Jiang Yanli. He also likes his aunt’s husband, because he gave him candy once. (Wei Ying looks so betrayed by this revelation. Hand on his chest, he bows his head and dramatically declares, “It’s always those closest to you that stab you in the back.”)

Without fail, the moment they’re done with their meal, Wei Ying will begin to toss questions back at Lan Zhan, like he’s been saving them all through dinner. He asks Lan Zhan about himself and hangs on to his answers like they’re of vital importance. A-Yuan stares at him too, curious. Lan Zhan humors them and answers all of their questions about his childhood, his family, and his job, among other things.

Growing up, Lan Zhan never really thought much about having a family of his own. It was an abstract concept, still is in some ways. But sometimes, as he’s pouring more milk into A-Yuan’s sippy cup, or doing the dishes with Wei Ying, he finds himself wondering if this is what it would be like.

It’s during one of these dinners, as they linger over a plate of sliced pears, that Wei Ying receives a phone call. His demeanor goes from teasing to frantic in seconds.

“I thought she wasn’t due for another two weeks?” He says, eyes wide. He’s already on his feet.

The voice of the caller is loud and sharp, grating through the speakers on Wei Ying’s phone. Lan Zhan doesn’t catch all of what the caller says, but he does hear “baby” and “just fucking get here”.

“Give me half an hour,” Wei Ying says, ending the call. He wipes A-Yuan’s mouth with a wet wipe, then unbuckles him from his booster chair and sets him down. “A-Yuan, guma’s having her baby and we’re going to see her. Go get a book and your rabbit, okay? We might be there awhile.”

As A-Yuan scampers off, Wei Ying shoots Lan Zhan an apologetic glance.

“Sorry Lan Zhan,” he says, clearing the table in a hurry. “Just leave your plate in the sink. I’ll wash it when I get back.”

“I can send you,” Lan Zhan says as he helps Wei Ying clear the cutlery. “It takes fifteen minutes by car.”

Wei Ying wags a hand at him. “No need, Lan Zhan, we can take the bus. It’s just four st-”

“I can send you,” Lan Zhan repeats.

“Lan Zhan ah,” Wei Ying sighs his name, sounding a little accusatory. He stops wiping the table and props a hand on his hip, lips quirking. “You’re really going to spoil me, you know?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. It’s not like he minds; if anything, he enjoys it.

Wei Ying shakes his head, dumps the dishrag in the sink and washes his hands. “Fine, but I’m making you dinner tomorrow. Are you free?”


The drive to the hospital is quick, the evening traffic having cleared up hours ago. Wei Ying, as usual, fills the car ride with idle chatter, this time baby-related.

“It’s a boy, you know? I wonder if he’ll be a fussy baby, or if he’ll have dajie’s temperament. A-Yuan?” He says, twisting in the passenger seat to look back at A-Yuan. “Are you excited to meet your new friend?”

“Yes!” A-Yuan says, waving his stuffed rabbit about.

When they reach the hospital, they make a quick stop at the gift shop where Wei Ying ends up buying a purple bear the size of an infant, a fruit hamper filled with red and black dates, and a whole mass of brightly colored congratulatory balloons.

The waiting area is surprisingly empty, save for an unsmiling man in black slacks pacing the length of the room. He stops when he sees them, frowning at the balloons partially obscuring Wei Ying’s head.

“What the fuck took you so long?” he snaps.

“Are you going to swear like that around your newborn nephew, huh?” Wei Ying says, slinging an arm around the man’s shoulders. “Anyway, Jiang Cheng, this is Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan, this is my adorable little brother.”

Jiang Cheng makes to jab his side but Wei Ying twists quickly out of reach, ducking behind Lan Zhan.

“So, you’re the neighbour,” Jiang Cheng says, cryptically, nodding in greeting. Lan Zhan wonders what to make of the fact that Wei Ying apparently talks about him to his family.

“Yes,” he says, and that effectively ends the conversation between him and Wei Ying’s brother.

“You really went overboard,” Jiang Cheng says to Wei Ying, eyes taking in the hamper in Lan Zhan’s hands and the purple bear A-Yuan’s hugging, nearly half his size.

“Of course, it’s dajie’s first baby! You’re excited too,” Wei Ying says, unrepentant, gaze flicking pointedly to the large stuffed dog on the couch that looks like it’s guarding the chocolate bouquet and hamper beside it. “Don’t worry, when you have your first baby I’ll go overboard too.”

“Shut up,” Jiang Cheng grumbles. He wanders back to his seat and A-Yuan toddles cautiously after him, seemingly fascinated by the huge stuffed dog.

As they settle in to wait, Wei Ying bumps their knees together.

“It might take awhile y’know. You don’t have to stay,” he says.

“How will you go back?” Lan Zhan replies.

“We’ll take a cab.”

Lan Zhan considers this. He doesn’t mind waiting, he just doesn’t want to impose on what is arguably a private family affair.

“Do you mind if I stay?” he asks.

Wei Ying stares at him. “Do I mind? Lan Zhan, you’re the one doing me a favour.”

“I don’t mind,” Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying smiles and it’s a little sly. “I don’t mind you staying either, but you know this means I’ll ask you over for dinner again, right? Do you really like my cooking that much, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan is thankfully saved from answering by his older brother’s uncanny timing.

“Brother?” Lan Huan says, coming up to them. “What are you doing here?” He has a clipboard in one hand and a stethoscope looped around his neck.

“Wei Ying’s sister is having a baby,” Lan Zhan replies. His brother’s eyes flick over to Wei Ying, lighting up in understanding.

“Ah, you must be the neighbour,” he says, extending his hand.

Wei Ying shakes it and, in a faux-whisper, says, “Only if Lan Zhan’s told you good things.”

His brother laughs. “Lan Zhan’s right, you are funny.”

Wei Ying’s brows disappear into his hairline. Glancing quizzically at Lan Zhan, he says, “You think I’m funny? But you don’t laugh at my jokes.”

Lan Zhan avoids acknowledging Wei Ying’s question. Instead, he says, “Brother, may I speak to you for a minute?”

His brother smiles apologetically, flicking a glance at his pager. “I’m sorry, I have to go now, but it was nice meeting you Wei Ying. Maybe we can all have dinner together sometime. Please pass along my well wishes to your sister.”

With that, his brother excuses himself, but not without a discreet thumbs-up that Lan Zhan pretends not to notice.

It’s another hour and a half before they’re allowed to see Jiang Yanli and her baby. By that point, A-Yuan’s already fast asleep, head pillowed on Lan Zhan’s lap. Wei Ying decides not to wake him, tells Lan Zhan he won’t be too long.

Lan Zhan tells him to take as long as he needs. He imagines this isn’t the type of experience that should be rushed. With a glance back at them, Wei Ying enters the elevator with Jiang Cheng by his side, and Lan Zhan settles back against the sofa to wait.

True to his word, Wei Ying doesn’t take long. Barely twenty minutes later, he’s stepping out of the elevator, Jiang Cheng in tow. Both of them look uncharacteristically misty-eyed.

Lan Zhan meets them halfway, carrying A-Yuan. The boy is still dead to the world, drooling on his shoulder. Wei Ying moves to take him from Lan Zhan, but Lan Zhan says, “I have him.”

Jiang Cheng darts a look between them, opens his mouth like he wants to say something. He seems to think better of it a second later and just shakes his head. They part ways at the carpark, with Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng making plans to visit their sister after she’s been discharged.

Once they’re back in the car, Wei Ying says, “Dajie looked really tired so we decided not to stay too long.” He’s seated in the back this time so A-Yuan can lie across the seat with his head in Wei Ying’s lap.

Lan Zhan glances at him in the rearview mirror. Wei Ying’s looking down at A-Yuan, expression fiercely tender as he pats A-Yuan’s back in a soothing rhythm.

“He’s so small. Jin Ling, I mean. Right now, he looks a bit like an overripe tomato, but he has dajie’s eyes. He’s going to have her heart too, I’m sure of it,” he whispers, sounding so full of wonder. The rest of the drive home is filled with the gentle lilt of Wei Ying’s voice as he tells Lan Zhan all about the newest addition to his family.

Lan Zhan doesn’t interrupt, content to just listen. Wei Ying’s voice is pleasant, and he imagines it slowly filling the car like something tangible, wrapping around him like a blanket.

All too soon, they’ve reached home. Lan Zhan walks Wei Ying to his door, helps him unlock it.

Wei Ying smiles tiredly at him. A lock of his hair has slipped out from his ponytail and it falls in his eyes. With A-Yuan snoring in his arms, Wei Ying can’t brush it aside.

It must be that Lan Zhan’s too tired since it’s way past his usual bedtime. That’s why he allows himself to reach out and tuck the lock of hair back, his thumb grazing the shell of Wei Ying’s ear. Wei Ying has a small silver stud halfway down his cartilage.

Wei Ying’s Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. His cheeks turn a lovely shade of pink that reminds Lan Zhan of the peonies on his windowsill.

“Are we still on for dinner tomorrow?” Wei Ying says. He’s still whispering.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan replies. They stare at each other and the hallway is so silent, it feels like it’s holding its breath.

A-Yuan snuffles suddenly, shifting in Wei Ying’s arms, and Wei Ying blinks like he just woke up.

Lan Zhan feels similarly disoriented. He takes a deep breath that shakes a little on its way out and he hopes Wei Ying doesn’t notice.

“Goodnight,” he says, softly.

“Goodnight, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying replies. “Sweet dreams.”

That night, Lan Zhan lies awake in bed, gazing at the peonies on his windowsill. They look white under the moonlight.

For the first time since he met Wei Ying, Lan Zhan allows himself to wonder if he’s truly alone in his feelings. For the first time, he allows himself to entertain the idea of saying something to Wei Ying, of being a family someday.

In the end, he does have sweet dreams.

Christmas Eve finds Lan Zhan over at Wei Ying’s place. Having dinner together is now an everyday thing, with lunch too on weekends. They’ve taken to alternating whose apartment to use, but Lan Zhan still prefers going over to Wei Ying’s place, mostly because it’s already childproof. There’s nothing quite like having a two-year-old waddling around one’s apartment to make one realize how sharp and heavy everything is.

At this point, Lan Zhan is certain he spends more time at Wei Ying’s apartment than his own. All he does in his own home is shower, sleep, and water his peonies. He’s never had a problem with silence before. But now, whenever he returns home after spending time at Wei Ying’s, his quiet apartment that once used to feel like a peaceful reprieve from the outside world, feels cold and dim in contrast to the liveliness around him just moments ago. He doesn’t quite know what to do about this.

Right now, he’s sitting on the sofa, using the armrest as a table to grade papers. A-Yuan, a little lethargic after dinner, is on his lap, using his chest as a backrest. The television is on, playing an animated movie about a young woman who disguises herself to join the army. Lan Zhan’s too focused on his work to pay attention to the plot, but he does enjoy having the beautiful musical numbers as background noise.

Wei Ying’s currently in the bedroom wrapping A-Yuan’s gift and he’d asked Lan Zhan to keep the child in question distracted for awhile. When he emerges a few minutes later, he flashes Lan Zhan a thumbs up.

Lan Zhan returns the gesture. For some reason, this makes Wei Ying laugh.

Wei Ying disappears into the kitchen, returning with a glass of red wine and a mug of hot chocolate in each hand, A-Yuan’s sippy cup tucked in the crook of his elbow. He joins them on the couch and Lan Zhan wonders if it’s intentional, the way he tucks himself up against Lan Zhan’s side like he doesn’t realize the rest of the sofa is unoccupied.

Not that Lan Zhan’s complaining.

Wei Ying hands Lan Zhan the hot chocolate and A-Yuan the sippy cup, then takes a sip of wine. Another musical number comes up in the movie and Wei Ying begins to hum along.

Lan Zhan goes back to reading a student’s essay. He makes it through two paragraphs before:

“Lan Zhan.”

“Mn,” he acknowledges without turning his head, sets his hot chocolate down to make another comment in the margins of the student’s work.

“Lan Zhaan,” Wei Ying tries again, dragging out his name. He leans his weight harder against Lan Zhan’s side.

“Mn." He’s never been able to ignore Wei Ying, but he continues to pretend to be too focused on his work. A part of him wants to see what Wei Ying will do. He ends up having to reread the same sentence thrice, his brain stalling each time Wei Ying’s fingers walk a path up his bicep.

“Lan Zhaaaan,” Wei Ying practically whines. It should be unattractive, but all it does is make Lan Zhan’s heart thrill.


A-Yuan pats Wei Ying’s arm. “Baba, shhh,” he says, before sliding off Lan Zhan’s lap to imitate the heroine’s warrior stance.

Wei Ying goes quiet. There’s a full minute of silence as he sets his empty wine glass down. Lan Zhan wonders if he’s given up and is about to turn when Wei Ying’s breath ghosts along his neck.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whispers, lips brushing his ear.

Lan Zhan feels his heart stutter and wonders if this is how he’s going to die.

“Are you really going to keep marking on Christmas Eve?” Wei Ying continues, seemingly oblivious to Lan Zhan’s impending demise. He’s not as oblivious as Lan Zhan would like, though, as a second later, he adds, “Lan Zhan ah, your ears are so red.”

He sounds wickedly delighted, lifting a finger to trace the shell of Lan Zhan’s ear.

Lan Zhan can’t decide if this is Christmas come early, or a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Either way, he can’t take it anymore.

He grabs Wei Ying’s hand.

Wei Ying only grins and twists his arm, lacing their fingers together. Lan Zhan stares at their joined hands and almost forgets how to breathe.

“If you wanted to hold my hand,” Wei Ying says, smiling impishly, “all you had to do was ask, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan opens his mouth, but he can’t seem to hold onto his thoughts long enough to formulate a reply.

“Anyway,” Wei Ying continues, squeezing his hand. “Dajie’s having a Christmas party tomorrow. Would you like to-”

“Stay forever?” A-Yuan finishes.

They both blink at him, stunned. A-Yuan doesn’t seem to notice, eyes still glued to the television screen. A second later, an old lady on the screen asks, “Would you like to stay forever?”

Wei Ying bursts into laughter, nearly folding himself in half as he clutches at his stomach. He’s squeezing Lan Zhan’s hand in his and Lan Zhan doesn’t want him to ever stop.

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, like he’s just realized something. “He’s watched this a lot, it’s one his favorite movies.”

Before Lan Zhan can reply, he continues, “I was going to ask if you’d like to come with us to dajie’s party, but that works too. Would you?” He doesn’t elaborate on which he means—the party or forever.

Either way, Lan Zhan’s answer is the same.

“Mn,” he says and Wei Ying’s eyes grow wide. He lets go of Lan Zhan’s hand, but Lan Zhan doesn’t even have time to register the loss before Wei Ying’s leaning forward, palms coming up to cup his cheeks.

“Lan Zhan,” he breathes, awed. His thumbs brush almost reverently against the corners of Lan Zhan’s lips. “You’re smiling.”

Lan Zhan didn’t even realize. “Oh,” he says.

“You’ve stopped now,” Wei Ying says, still whispering.

“Oh,” Lan Zhan repeats.

Wei Ying licks his lips. “I have a theory on how to make you smile again.”


“Can I test it?” He asks, eyes on Lan Zhan’s lips.

Lan Zhan swallows. “Mn.”

Wei Ying closes the remaining distance between them and Lan Zhan’s world narrows to the point where their lips meet. Wei Ying tastes like red wine and he’s smiling, smiling, smiling.

It’s over too soon; it has to be, with A-Yuan’s still in the room, though his attention is still otherwise occupied.

Wei Ying’s hands are warm on his face. His eyes are practically dancing.

Lan Zhan is tempted to pinch himself, just to make sure this isn’t an incredibly realistic dream. Somehow, he manages to find his voice. He asks, “Did it work?”

“No, but that wasn’t my best. We’ll have to try again,” Wei Ying replies. There’s a budding grin tucked into the corner of his mouth and Lan Zhan can’t wait to feel it blossom against his lips.

His heart is still racing as they settle back against the couch, Wei Ying pressed against his side. Lan Zhan doesn’t think it’ll slow any time soon as he wraps an arm around Wei Ying’s waist.

A-Yuan doesn’t seem to notice the change. As the credits roll, he clambers onto their laps and promptly asks for another movie.

Much later, after they tuck A-Yuan into bed, Lan Zhan will help Wei Ying with the remaining dishes, and between one glass and the next, Wei Ying will lean over and surprise him with another kiss, gloved hand smearing soap onto Lan Zhan’s cheek. Lan Zhan will kiss him back, marveling at how he’s allowed to now, and exact petty revenge by curling a damp hand around the back of Wei Ying’s neck, pulling him closer.

Tomorrow, he’ll attend Jiang Yanli’s Christmas party and Wei Ying will introduce him as his date, A-Yuan holding both of their hands between them. After dinner, Jiang Cheng will distract Wei Ying and Jiang Yanli will pull Lan Zhan aside to politely threaten him with bodily harm if he ever hurts her brother or A-Yuan, all while cradling her newborn in her arms. It’ll be one of the best days of Lan Zhan’s life.

But for now, he curls his fingers around Wei Ying’s waist as Wei Ying loads up another animated movie. It’s another of A-Yuan’s favorites, he’s informed, and has something to do with lions. A Yuan curls against his chest, his feet in his father’s lap. It’s been cold lately so Lan Zhan pulls the throw blanket tighter around all of them.

It’s not technically Christmas yet, but Lan Zhan already feels like he’s received the gift of a lifetime.