There is a blue envelope in Wei Ying’s mailbox.
Oh god, he thinks, is the dean sending out valentines to the faculty now? Because who else would put what looks to be an actual stamped and mailed envelope among the other flyers and announcements and a few late papers from students in his faculty box?
He takes the envelope with the rest of his mail, and it’s not until he’s in his office that he sees the return address is familiar and the name above it is—
“Shit!” Wei Ying spills his coffee when he trips, and the hand that holds the blue letter, now speckled with brown, shakes with the pain.
Lan Zhan sent him a letter in a small, prim blue envelope on Valentine’s Day.
Wei Ying falls into his chair and goes quietly insane. He didn’t—valentines weren’t called for, were they? For the person who has been your best friend even during the scandal that got you ostentatiously fired and then quietly reinstated? The same person who let you stay on his very comfortable couch then your apartment burned down six months ago, the person who you kissed at the faculty mixer last week when you were tipsy and he was more drunk than expected after just half a beer. The person you shouldn’t have kissed but did because you have thought about about kissing him, a lot, and then you just had to fuck it up and kiss him when he wouldn’t remember.
Wei Ying buries his face in his hands for a moment. Or five.
Oh my god, he should have sent a valentine, shouldn’t he?
Somehow through the haze of his panic, Wei Ying opens the letter and just stares at it. It has a white bunny on the front, a chubby one nibbling on a heart. He splays the card open and stares at the inside too, not reading, just feverishly imagining Lan Zhan writing this. Wei Ying, it starts, and imagining Lan Zhan writing that spears him even more than hearing Lan Zhan say it.
Please forgive me for saying this, but I can’t stay silent. I have feelings for you. Please, will you be my valentine?
“This,” Wei Ying breathes to himself, because he really needs to process this somehow. “This is—the worst valentine. What the fuck, Lan Zhan.”
Wei Ying almost screams because in the doorway of his office, hand raised to knock on the door, is Lan Zhan. He looks—well, beautiful, as always, but somehow impossibly more so and maybe that has to do with the redness in his face and the heaviness of his breaths. Like he ran here.
Wei Ying slaps his hands over the—valentine—on his desk and feels his face split into a grin even though his heart is racing rabbit-fast in his throat.
“Lan Zhan! What are you doing here?” As soon as he asks, his head clears a little and he recalls Lan Zhan’s schedule. “Wait, shouldn’t you be teaching a class right now?”
“I—” Is all the answer Lan Zhan gives him before he says, “You said my name?”
“Huh? No I didn’t,” Wei Ying says as he drags his hands down his desk, taking the letter with them until it lands in his lap, safely hidden. “What’s up? Do you need me to cover your class? Because I can, who cares about office hours anyway.”
“No, thank you,” Lan Zhan says, almost as a reflex because that’s how polite he is, just as a default. He looks like he’s trying to swallow something and can’t. “Wei Ying.” It’s half a question, and then he tries to steady his breathing. “Wei Ying.”
Suddenly, Wei Ying understands. Lan Zhan regrets sending the valentine. Maybe he hadn’t meant to send it at all. He’s embarrassed. He doesn’t know how to ask for it back, to ask Wei Ying to forget it.
Wei Ying feels his chest tighten a little, and—it certainly wasn’t the best valentine he’s ever read. But it’s the only he’s ever received, even if it was a mistake.
“It’s okay, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, because Lan Zhan has done so much for him. Forgetting this small thing is nothing, even if it hurts now. He slides the card back into the blue envelope and then stands. “Here, you can take it. I promise I won’t—mention it or tease you about it. It’s okay.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t look relieved. He doesn’t take the letter. He stares at it, brows pulling together, then stares at Wei Ying, then back at the letter.
“What?” Wei Ying asks. “Did—you came to get it, right?”
“N-no,” Lan Zhan says, looking at the valentine in Wei Ying’s hand. “No, I...You can keep it.”
Lan Zhan shifts subtly, and if Wei Ying hadn’t spent years watching Lan Zhan and noticing Lan Zhan and interpreting Lan Zhan’s movements, he would have missed the smooth way Lan Zhan tucks one hand behind his back.
Wei Ying’s heart starts beating so hard, he swears it will cramp up. He comes around the desk, and the change of perspective is enough to see the edge of a letter Lan Zhan is holding behind his back. The envelope is red.
“Oh,” Wei Ying says, confused. “Shit?”
Lan Zhan stares at the floor. “Do you—do you want yours back?”
“What?” Wei Ying blinks. He’s reeling. How is he still standing up. What is happening. “Mine? I didn’t—”
And then he somehow understands, but the understanding doesn’t make anything better.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, his mouth dry. “Did you send me this—letter?” He holds up the blue envelope, the one that matches the soft blue of Lan Zhan’s dress shirt.
Lan Zhan looks at it. “No. I didn’t.”
Wei Ying isn’t sure if this is better or worse or—
“Okay,” he says. “Okay. Well. I don’t know what you have in your hand, but. I didn’t send anything either. I’m sorry if you thought I did.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything, just blinks for a moment. His breathing has calmed down by now. But come to think of it, why did Lan Zhan run here if he wasn’t trying to retrieve the valentine he didn’t send?
“We are victims of a prank, it seems,” Lan Zhan says in his matter-of-fact way.
“Prank? Wait, what’s in that envelope?” Wei Ying asks, reaching for it. Lan Zhan doesn’t step back, but he does somehow tense. Wei Ying frowns and then offers up his coffee-stained valentine. “Tradesies?”
They exchange envelopes silently, Lan Zhan’s face impassive. Wei Ying tries not to rip into the red envelope, but he does almost tear it in two when he sees his name on the return address. It’s—of course it’s not his handwriting, he didn’t write it, but it’s similarly sloppy. A very detailed prank.
Dearest Lan Zhan!
I can’t wait any more! I’ve waited just this long, just until Valentine’s Day to tell you that you are the best man in the world and I love you! I love you, Lan Zhan, and I know you feel the same for me.
It’s somehow worse than the awkward little note he thought had been from Lan Zhan. It’s not that Wei Ying would have phrased whatever it is he feels in this way, but it sounds more like him than he wants to admit. It’s messy and hurried and enthusiastic. And it’s telling Lan Zhan things that Wei Ying has never had the courage to say. He’s jealous of a fucking piece of paper.
“Oh,” he finds himself saying, “I guess it’s. Well, it’s just a valentine.”
He looks up to see Lan Zhan frowning hard at the card in his hand. He looks like he wants to crumple it in his hand, and the thought makes Wei Ying wither a bit. No wonder Lan Zhan came racing when he got his own valentine. Lan Zhan is clearly not into this, at all, any of it.
“I knew it wasn’t your handwriting,” Lan Zhan says, glancing away from the blue card. “I didn’t think through it as well as I should. These were forged.”
Wei Ying does what he does when he’s embarrassed and laughs. “You mean you don’t have chubby bunny stationery? I’m disappointed.”
“I do,” Lan Zhan says seriously. “In my office. I let Nie Huaisang take one to write a get well soon card to his nephew. He asked a few days ago.”
“Nie—” Wei Ying looks at the card in his hand. It’s purple with a single, small white heart on the front. Now that he thinks about it, he thinks he remembers getting a card like this from Yanli, maybe last Valentine’s. “Oh my fucking hell. Jiang Cheng.”
Lan Zhan. “Your brother and his boyfriend did this?”
“They had to have,” Wei Ying insists. He wants to scream. He told Jiang Cheng about kissing Lan Zhan last week. He—well, he might have blubbed about it a little, having gotten drunk again in Jiang Cheng’s kitchen. But Jiang Cheng was unsympathetic, he’d told him to stop whining and do something about it. Wei Ying had just laughed.
“Oh my god. They think that just because they’re happy, they get to play around with other people’s lives?”
Wei Ying doesn’t care so much about his half of this mess. He would have been fine, after he got over the valentine. After it became clear that Lan Zhan hadn’t sent it. But Lan Zhan—he has clearly been upset about this whole thing, and Jiang Cheng did that.
Wei Ying shoves the valentine in his hands at Lan Zhan. “Excuse me. I have to go make my sister an only child.”
He’s moving to the door. He’s shaking a little. Jiang Cheng is teaching a lecture course right now, but that’s fine, let there be witnesses. Let some excited undergrad film Wei Ying beating his brother to death and post it on the internet.
“Wei Ying, stop.” Lan Zhan is using the voice he uses when Wei Ying is being dramatic.
“I’m serious, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying is shaking, especially in his hands. He clenches them into fists. “He can’t just—how dare he—this isn’t cool! He made you think—”
“Let it go. You said it yourself,” Lan Zhan says, measured. “It’s just a valentine.”
“It’s not!” Wei Ying is shouting. The whole building can probably hear. “I’m not going to let it go.”
“Because I wouldn't have done it like this!” Wei Ying feels embarrassingly close to tears, but he keeps going. “And I'm the one that gets to say those things, the way I want to. I get to tell you how beautiful and kind and funny and good you are, when I want to and how!”
Suddenly, all the air and tension and most of his anger billows out from him. Lan Zhan is staring at him, mouth slightly open, ears a little pink under his dark hair. Wei Ying really did just shout all that with Lan Zhan just three feet away.
“I'm sorry. I really am,” Wei Ying says, humiliation creeping up him like a climbing vine. “I'll make sure Jiang Cheng doesn't get away with this. I'll strangle Nie Huaisang with his favorite fan. I'll—”
Lan Zhan isn’t exactly charitable toward Jiang Cheng. They get in arguments, often. Jiang Cheng says terrible things when he’s angry, and Lan Zhan dredges up the past to lay blame at Jiang Cheng’s feet. He should be jumping at the chance to tear into him.
“You're just okay with this?” Wei Ying asks, incredulous. Though why wouldn't he be, if he didn't have feelings at stake? This is probably just embarrassing for Lan Zhan. He probably wants to let it go. “Lan Zhan, did you see what they had you write?”
Wei Ying gestures at the card in Lan Zhan’s hand—he’s holding both now, the blue and the red. Wei Ying means the stilted words, the shaking characters. It’s a mockery of Lan Zhan’s calm, quiet way of expressing himself. “Is that how you would have—”
“No,” Lan Zhan says, taking a step forward. “I would not have sent a valentine in the first place.”
It—hurts. It shouldn’t, with all of this being the most obnoxious hoax, but it still hurts. If Wei Ying is being honest, it actually crushes him, and he can’t quite breathe, but that’s fine, that’s okay, this is—
Lan Zhan takes another step toward Wei Ying.
“I would have told you myself,” he says in that same voice. “I would have told you the words to your face. I was—going to come. I was going to try.” Lan Zhan is a foot away, so tall, so gorgeous, looking at Wei Ying with a softness that makes him ache. “I'm sorry if that's an inconvenience.”
Wei Ying still can’t breathe, but it’s for a different reason now. Lan Zhan is all he can see, all he can smell. Blue eyes and sandalwood. He blinks. He couldn’t have heard—
“What would you have told me?” he hears himself say.
Lan Zhan smiles.
“Please forgive me for saying this,” he says in that voice Wei Ying loves. And it’s a joke, so Wei Ying laughs, and it’s also not, so he starts to cry. “But I can’t stay silent. I have f—I love you.”
“Fuck,” Wei Ying whispers.
Lan Zhan reaches out, and he’s brushing away a tear and letting his hand linger there, holding Wei Ying’s face. Wei Ying feels like he is imagining this, but his imagination could never be this good—and he never would have imagined Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang having any hand in something as wonderful and beautiful as this.
“Please, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, “will you be my valentine?”
Wei Ying is exposed. He’s crying, because he never thought—he never could have thought that Lan Zhan, beautiful lovely kind wonderful Lan Zhan, would love him back. He feels a strong desire to hide, so he does in Lan Zhan’s chest. It’s warm and solid, and the heart there matches the hectic pace of his own. There are arms around him, and his own arms are around Lan Zhan. He wants to stay here for a while, but after a moment, he blinks and sniffs and pulls back and—
He means to say I love you. I feel the same. Yes, will you be mine too?
Lan Zhan’s eyes are very bright. Wei Ying chickens out.
“You forgot ‘sincerely, Lan Zhan,’” he says, and then laughs at the way Lan Zhan’s face turns unamused.
“I will write you a real valentine,” Lan Zhan says, sounding settled on the idea, as settled as the arms around Wei Ying.
“Then I will too,” he says, but the thought pricks nerves. “But—Lan Zhan. I meant it. You are beautiful and good and funny and—Lan Zhan, I have loved you for a while. I should have told you. I love you.”
“You have told me now.”
Lan Zhan kisses Wei Ying’s cheek, like he has always been doing it, like it isn’t the first—if you don’t count their drunken kiss, which Wei Ying does. He treasures it, and he wants to do it again.
“Lan Zhan—please, can I—?”
But Lan Zhan is already kissing him.
On the floor beside them, there are two discarded spots of red and blue. They end up leaving them there.