Wei Ying is casually lounging on his bed when he hears the door click open.
Moments later, there is a man standing in his room.
A really pretty man.
Wei Ying blinks exactly once.
“Uh,” he says eloquently. The man is staring at him, a suitcase clutched in his right hand. Wei Ying’s eyes flicker over his figure, brows pinching together. “Hi?”
The man glances around the room, saying nothing.
Wei Ying takes this as his cue to quickly throw his phone aside, hearing it plop down somewhere on the floor. He pushes himself to his feet, smoothing out the front of his t-shirt and offering the man a friendly smile.
Then, the man says, “Hello.”
“Did you… need something?” Wei Ying asks. He rocks on the balls of his feet, tilting his head curiously. “Are you lost? Do you need help finding your room?”
“No,” says the man. His features do not budge. “This is my room.”
“This is your room,” Wei Ying repeats. Then, “Wait, what? This is your room?”
“Mn,” nods the man. “Is this not room 3123?”
Oh. Well, yes. That is in fact his room number.
“No, no it is,” says Wei Ying. “I just… I think you might be mistaken? This is my room.”
The man very pointedly looks over to the empty bed on the other wall. Wei Ying gulps.
“That bed’s been empty since my first year,” he says, shaking his head. “There has to be some kind of mistake. No one told me I’d be sharing with someone. They’d totally tell me, right?”
“You must have received an email,” says the man. “I can assure you that this is the room I am assigned to.”
Wei Ying gives him a long look. “Are you sure?”
“I am positive.”
Wei Ying narrows his gaze, peering at him closely. “One hundred-percent?”
“Two hundred,” says the man.
“Huh,” says Wei Ying. Then, he shrugs. Oh well. “Alrighty! I guess we’re roomies, then?”
“No,” says the man. “There has definitely been a mix-up.”
“I requested a single,” says the man. Wei Ying really needs to figure out what his name is. “A double was… not in my plan.”
“A double wasn’t in my plan either, buddy,” says Wei Ying. He crosses his arms, balancing on his right hip. “But I’m super sure this is my room.” He gestures to his things, already splayed out around his bed. “And if you’re sure that this is also your room—” He points over to the other bed, it’s sheets stark naked and bare of any color, “—then that’s your side, and this is mine.”
The man seems to consider this. “I see.”
“Great!” says Wei Ying. He takes a step closer, sticking out his hand for a shake. “Nice to meet you, then! I’m Wei Ying.”
The man looks down at his outstretched palm for a solid four seconds before cautiously taking it. “Lan Zhan,” he says slowly. “A pleasure.”
“Lan Zhan,” says Wei Ying, testing the name on his tongue. “I’ve never seen you around before! Are you new?”
Lan Zhan shakes his head. “I was renting an apartment off-campus with my brother. He graduated last year and moved away for work.”
Wei Ying grows quiet for a moment. Then, “Ah. Brothers.”
His fingers itch from the sudden awkwardness. Wei Ying reaches over, clasping the bottom part of the cool silver handle on Lan Zhan’s suitcase and pulling the trunk closer to himself. Lan Zhan looks startled for exactly a fraction of a second, letting go of his own hold on it and letting Wei Ying roll it over to the other bed.
“Come on, I’ll help you unpack,” says Wei Ying.
“It’s okay,” says Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying waves him off. “Nah, don’t worry about it. We’ll be living together for a long while! It’s the least I can do.”
Lan Zhan looks at him, expression never faltering. Then, he glances away and nods. It’s nothing more than a small incline of his head, but Wei Ying knows to take it in stride. He’s also, like, really fucking hot.
And, so, it begins.
Lan Zhan doesn’t talk a lot.
Well, no. It’s unfair of Wei Ying to say that, because Lan Zhan does talk. He just says everything he needs to say in about a quarter of the amount of words Wei Ying would use.
Wei Ying doesn’t quite understand that, but, well, to each their own.
The first week of the two of them sharing a room breezes by splendidly quickly.
Wei Ying courseload is reasonably difficult—enough that he has to spend more of his time in lectures and labs than anything else. He wakes up at nine, goes to his first class at ten, and then returns to his dorm in the late evening. It’s a schedule he’s gotten used to over his years in university. He doesn’t mind it—not at all, really—because it gives him something to do. It’s an excuse for him to always be on the tips of his toes. There’s never a dull moment, and he’s grateful for that.
But he has absolutely no idea what Lan Zhan’s day looks like. Heck, he doesn’t even know what Lan Zhan’s major is.
So, on the one-week anniversary of the two rooming together, Wei Ying takes the chance to ask.
“Damn,” he whistles as he steps through the doorway and into their shared space. Lan Zhan is sitting at his desk, eyes carefully trained on the screen of his laptop. His hands are flying across his keyboard, not stopping even when Wei Ying walks up behind him and peeks over his shoulder. “Wow, Lan Zhan! I see you are really into tonight’s celebration.”
Lan Zhan pauses. “What celebration?”
Wei Ying pouts as he turns around to look at him. “You moved in exactly a week ago! Where’s the cake, huh? The balloons? The confetti and streamers?”
Lan Zhan turns back to his laptop. “Ridiculous.”
“You’re no fun,” chides Wei Ying, blowing him a raspberry. He skips over to his own desk on the opposite wall, sliding into his rolling chair and spinning around so he can look at Lan Zhan. “What’re you working on?”
Lan Zhan stops typing again, this time turning his chair around fully so they’re completely facing each other. He crosses his right leg over his left and places his hands in his lap, looking far too put-together for almost eight in the evening. Wei Ying suddenly becomes aware of his messy hairdo and the smudged remnants of dust from his afternoon lab blotched on his cheeks.
“I have a paper due in two days,” says Lan Zhan.
“Two days?” Wei Ying asks. “If it’s due in two days, why are you working on it now?”
Lan Zhan nods. “You are correct. I should have started it a while ago, but my other class—”
“What?” interrupts Wei Ying. “No, no. I mean you can just start it tomorrow!” He looks over Lan Zhan’s shoulder, quirking an eyebrow. “You can type pretty fast. I saw you! You’ll definitely be able to finish it later!” He grins. “Besides, now is the time for our celebration!”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan, looking appropriately horrified. “It is a ten page assignment.”
Lan Zhan’s eyes narrow on him, but he doesn’t say anything to continue.
Wei Ying huffs. “Anyways, what’s your major? Do you have one? You never told me!”
“Literature,” says Lan Zhan. “Yours?”
“Chemistry,” says Wei Ying. “You see this?” Wei Ying points to his left cheek, where he knows a bit of blackness is currently residing. “There was an explosion in the lab today. It was incredible.”
“Mn,” says Lan Zhan, “you seem to have a passion for it.”
“I do!” Wei Ying nods enthusiastically. “I’m in a few biology and physics classes too. Oh, and I also signed up for this really cool astronomy course this semester.” He grins. “Literature, huh? That explains the papers so early on into the year.”
“You don’t write papers?”
“No, I do,” Wei Ying says, “but definitely not as many as you must write. What’s your essay on?”
Lan Zhan turns to get his laptop, placing it in his lap and swerving around so that Wei Ying can see his screen. Wei Ying squints at it, barely making out the page of text, littered with light blue highlights and plentiful annotations. Fuck. Maybe he really does need to invest in some proper glasses.
“An analysis on ancient versus modern-day prose,” says Lan Zhan. “I am on page six.”
“Oh, then you’ll definitely finish the first draft tonight,” says Wei Ying. “Unless, of course, you want to be a good roommate and humor me with our anniversary celebrations?”
He bats his eyes innocently, puckering his lips for extra effect.
Unfortunately, Lan Zhan doesn’t look fazed in the slightest. Wei Ying is slowly beginning to learn how not to wince under that steady gaze of his.
“Is it really something worth celebrating?” Lan Zhan asks after a dubious moment of silence.
“Of course it is!” Wei Ying exclaims. “You wouldn’t want us to be one of those boring roommate pairs, right?” When Lan Zhan’s expression doesn’t move an inch, he sighs. “Okay, well, first, do you wanna celebrate or not? Come on, it’ll be a great way to wind down after the stress of the semester beginning. We could just get some food and drinks and chill here! Absolutely, one hundred-percent risk free! And you can finish up that essay of yours once we’re done!”
“Or... we could go out to eat something?” Wei Ying suggests.
“No,” says Lan Zhan. “It is already late. We can eat here.”
Wei Ying immediately brightens up. Lan Zhan doesn’t look any different than how he normally is, but simply the fact that he’s agreeing, that he actually is willing to play along with Wei Ying’s fruitless antics…
It sends a bolt of excitement coursing through him.
“Great!” he says, clapping his hands. He springs off of his chair, stretching out his legs in the process. “Should I go and get us some stuff from the convenience store downstairs? Do you have anything special you want?”
“No need,” says Lan Zhan. Wei Ying watches as he closes the lid of his laptop and puts it away. “I will accompany you.”
Wei Ying blinks. “Really?”
“Of course,” says Lan Zhan. He walks over to his cupboard and pulls out a thin jacket. Wei Ying startles at the gesture, quickly retrieving his own coat and draping it over his shoulders. Lan Zhan looks over to him while he’s putting his shoes on, grabbing his keycard and pocketing it. “Lead the way.”
“Right,” says Wei Ying, and the two slip outside.
They walk through the empty corridor in relative silence. The lights slowly turn on one by one as they make their way to the elevator, dim and intrusive and inherently dull. There’s no warmth—no brightness—and sometimes Wei Ying absolutely despises it.
Still, he’s learned not to care. It isn’t like he has much other choice.
The ache in his knee is excruciatingly annoying tonight, a constant throb at his leg. He ignores it as he always does.
When they’re downstairs, Wei Ying points over to the escalator that’ll take them to the main entrance of their dorm house. Lan Zhan nods, following after him without a word. They walk out into the cool night, a soft shiver of wind flying by Wei Ying’s ear. He leans into it, finding himself smiling.
“I don’t actually get to do stuff like this too often,” he says, slipping into Lan Zhan’s stride. They move together, stepping in time. “Like, you know, the whole nightly rendezvous.”
“Mn,” says Lan Zhan.
“Like, I did do all of the stereotypical college stuff in first year,” Wei Ying continues. “Parties, all-nighters, major procrastination… everything!” He whistles, clasping his hands together behind his back. “Or, actually, maybe I still do the procrastination thing. And the parties thing. Sometimes. Not really.”
He doesn’t really like to think about his freshman year, to be honest. Still, it’s okay sometimes, if it’s in passing like this.
“You do,” says Lan Zhan. “The procrastination.”
Wei Ying shoots him a look. “Hey!”
“You wanted me to start my paper the night before it’s due,” says Lan Zhan matter-of-factly, and, well, Wei Ying can’t exactly argue with that.
“Yeah, because nine times out of ten it works out in the end,” Wei Ying says pointedly. “I should know! It’s my approach for, like, a solid seventy-percent of my assignments. Except the week-long lab reports, of course. Documentation sucks.”
“It is rewarding,” says Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying smiles at this. “It is,” he agrees. “Except when my professors tell me they can’t read my handwriting.” He scoffs. “Honestly, a lab notebook isn’t for them to read. It’s for me! Besides, I copy everything over into my reports later, anyways. They should learn to take a chill pill.”
They stop in front of a brightly lit storefront. Wei Ying points over to the door, and Lan Zhan nods, following after him.
“Have you ever come here?” Wei Ying asks as he picks up one of the small handheld carts at the entrance. “You said you used to rent, right? Was it anywhere near campus?”
“A few blocks away,” says Lan Zhan. “My brother usually did our grocery shopping.”
“Your brother sounds like an angel,” Wei Ying says, ignoring the pang in his chest. He quickly shakes it away. There’s no need to busy himself over pointless thoughts like that.
“Mm. Does Wei Ying have any siblings?”
Wei Ying smiles. “No,” he says, shaking his head. “I do have some pretty awesome friends, though. I’ll introduce you to them soon!”
Lan Zhan seems content with this.
Wei Ying drags them over to the bakery section, stopping in front of the display of cakes. “Okay, our cool anniversary celebration isn’t gonna be complete without a cake.” He leans over the glass case, eyeing the selection of desserts with narrowed eyebrows. “What do you think? Do we like any of them? Do we hate all of them? Do we just want to ignore all of them and try a different store nearby?
“They are nice,” says Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying glances over to him. He frowns. “Ah, come on, Lan Zhan! I picked the snacks, so you pick the cake!”
“Hmm.” Lan Zhan looks at the array again. Then, he points to a small one in the corner. “How about this one?”
The design is simple enough. It looks to be vanilla frosted with light multicolored piping around the edge. Wei Ying considers it, then breaks out into a smile. He shoots Lan Zhan a thumbs up before calling over one of the store workers and asking for it.
Once they’ve paid for their things, (they split the bill, only because Lan Zhan had absolutely insisted on it,) the two make their way back up to their room. Wei Ying decides to forego the drinks this time, but only because getting them seems like a lot of work and he’s tired. He’s sure Lan Zhan is in a similar state, too.
Once inside their room, Wei Ying tosses the plastic bags to the floor in the space between their beds, and Lan Zhan pads his shoes off and goes to sit on the ground. Wei Ying quickly pulls off his jacket and follows suit, the two of them sitting across from each other with the grocery bags pooled together between them.
Wei Ying immediately reaches for the cake, carefully taking the lid of the clear packaging off. He places it in the center, crossing his arms and proudly grinning down at it.
Then, he realizes something.
“Oh, fuck,” he curses. “I forgot I don’t have a knife.”
Lan Zhan pushes himself to his feet, walking over to his desk and rummaging through his pencil case. Wei Ying watches him with mild interest, jaw dropping when Lan Zhan returns with a small pocket knife enclosed in his fist.
“It is always good to be prepared for any situation,” says Lan Zhan.
“Sure,” says Wei Ying. He points down to the cake. “Well, then, you can do the honors! Oh man, I should have bought some candles or something. But then we’d need a lighter!” He peers closely at Lan Zhan. “You wouldn’t happen to have a lighter, would you?”
The pinkening of Lan Zhan’s ears is enough of an answer. Of course he has a lighter.
Wei Ying snickers. “Wow.”
“Let us cut the cake,” says Lan Zhan, smoothly transitioning back to the topic at hand. Wei Ying nods quickly, watching with glee as Lan Zhan’s knife hovers above the corner of the dessert. It sinks in without much fuss, and Wei Ying throws his arms up into the air and cheers.
“Fuck!” he exclaims, blazing smile prominent. “I don’t have plates or utensils!”
Lan Zhan shakes his head, (that might’ve been out of amusement—Wei Ying is definitely not taking notes,) carefully slicing a piece away. He holds it up between his fingers, the palm of his other hand elegantly placed beneath it lest it crumble and fall. The entire angle is so awkward that Wei Ying can’t help but burst into laughter.
Lan Zhan looks away, pinching his lips together.
“Give it here,” Wei Ying says, snorting. He carefully extracts the cake from Lan Zhan’s grip, feeling the icing messily smearing over his fingers. He raises it to his lips, opening his mouth wide and practically inhaling it in one go.
Lan Zhan is staring at him, a mild emotion evident in his eyes. Wei Ying chuckles through the mouthful of the cake, humming in contentment.
He swallows, then nods approvingly. “Ten on ten!”
“I should finish my paper,” says Lan Zhan.
“What? But you haven’t even tried it yet!” Wei Ying says, pouting. He reaches for the knife, cutting off a small bite-sized portion and wiggling it out in front of Lan Zhan’s face. “Come on, you’re tempted, aren’t you? You know you want some!”
Lan Zhan levels him with an unimpressed stare. “I do not.”
“But it’s our special roommate weekiversary celebration cake! The one that you picked out yourself!”
“We do not have plates or forks,” says Lan Zhan.
“Didn’t stop me!” Wei Ying says, pointing to the smears of icing at the corners of his mouth with his free hand. Lan Zhan’s line of sight pauses there, but his lips remain strung together. Wei Ying sighs, slumping down against the edge of his bed. He crosses his legs beneath him and sighs. “Alright, alright. Go and finish your dumb paper. I’ll clean up here.”
“I will help you,” says Lan Zhan. “Tomorrow I will go and buy some paper plates. We can enjoy the cake properly then.”
“Fine,” Wei Ying says, sticking his tongue out at him. “We can buy another cake next week, too!”
Lan Zhan scrunches his nose in, ever so slightly. So slightly that Wei Ying barely manages to catch it. “Two weekiversary?”
Wei Ying gasps, holding his palms up to his chest. “Lan Zhan! You’re learning so quickly!”
“It is not healthy,” says Lan Zhan, “to eat that much cake.”
Wei Ying scoffs. “We’re in our early twenties, Lan Zhan! This is the time to be wild!”
“Once a month,” says Lan Zhan, tone firm and giving absolutely no room for argument. “No more than once a month.”
A stretch of silence follows, in which Wei Ying feels his mouth going dry. Lan Zhan is currently balancing on his knees, his position making him seem even taller despite both of them being on the floor. Wei Ying feels his fingers twitch, aching for something—anything—to do.
His knee still feels sore—sorer than usual.
“Okay,” is what eventually comes out of his mouth. He’s honestly just glad his roommate is willing to go along with this and make into a silly tradition of sorts. “Okay! Fine, then. Once a month it is! You can’t back out, though. Okay? What day is it today?”
“Wednesday,” Lan Zhan smoothly replies.
Wei Ying laughs. “Thanks, but I mean the day of the month.”
“Oh,” says Lan Zhan. “I believe it’s the thirteenth.”
“Great!” says Wei Ying. “Then the thirteenth of every month will be our monthly celebration night.”
Lan Zhan nods. “Alright. Can I work on my essay, now?”
Wei Ying makes a shooing gesture with his hands, flicking his fingers in the direction of Lan Zhan’s desk. “Yeah yeah. Go forth, young grasshopper. Finish that stupid essay of yours.”
Lan Zhan does. Wei Ying looks at him a moment longer, feeling a gentle smile twitch at the corners of his mouth. He shakes the feeling away, grabbing his things and siding out into the hallway in his battered slippers.
Perhaps a shower is due.
Two days later, Wei Ying drags Lan Zhan with him to a breakfast joint a little off campus. (Or, well, maybe he doesn’t drag him there, per se. Lan Zhan seems perfectly content with tagging along.)
“Okay, so,” he says as they walk side-by-side on the pavement, “there’s Wen Qing, and there’s her little brother Wen Ning.” He hums, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “I met them in my first year. Wen Ning is an absolute angel. You’ll love him.”
“He sounds lovely,” says Lan Zhan.
“He is!” Wei Ying says quickly. “Wen Qing is kind of, well, she’s scary. You’ll see what I mean. I love her to bits, obviously, but man can she hold a glare.”
“She sounds interesting,” says Lan Zhan helpfully.
Wei Ying snorts. They continue on their way, and when they arrive at the restaurant they find the Wen siblings already there waiting for them. Wei Ying grins, raising his arm and waving out frantically. Wen Qing pockets her phone and nods in greeting, while Wen Ning smiles widely and waves back.
“Hey, guys!” says Wei Ying as they approach the two. He sees Wen Qing’s eyes glance between himself and Lan Zhan, and he quickly jumps into introductions. “Lan Zhan, this is Wen Qing, and this is Wen Ning.” He leans over, placing his elbow on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “This is my new roommate, Lan Zhan! You three are now morally obliged to be best friends.”
Wen Qing rolls her eyes at this, but doesn’t verbally protest. She reaches her hand out, and Lan Zhan stares at it for exactly two seconds before clasping it with his own. He gives it a firm shake, and Wei Ying watches the entire interaction with glee.
“Nice to meet you,” says Wen Qing.
“A pleasure,” says Lan Zhan. “Wei Ying has told me a lot about you.”
“Everything he’s said is false,” Wen Qing says immediately.
Wei Ying pouts at her. “Aw, c’mon Qingqing. Have more faith in me!”
“I have zero faith in you,” says Wen Qing, but her tone holds no malice. Wei Ying loves her.
Wen Ning steps up shyly. “Let’s go inside and talk?”
They make their way through the front doors of the restaurant, quickly managing to find an empty booth and slipping inside. They’re given menus, and after they’ve placed their respective breakfast orders, they slide back into casual conversation.
“I’m a medical student in my final year, and A-Ning does art,” Wen Qing says. “Lan Zhan—ah, can I call you that?”
“Please,” nods Lan Zhan.
Wen Qing smiles. “Alright. Lan Zhan, how are the dorms treating you? Wei Ying mentioned that you used to rent off-campus?”
“Mn,” says Lan Zhan. “My brother and I used to live together. He does social work, and went abroad for an internship after graduating.” He pauses. “The dorms are nice.”
“Of course they’re nice,” says Wei Ying with a scoff. “You’re living with me! What’s not nice about that?”
Their food arrives, and Wei Ying instantly digs in. There’s a long stretch of silence around the table while they eat, before Wen Ning breaks it.
“Ying-ge,” he says slowly, “you know you’re always welcome in our apartment. Our spare room…”
Wei Ying smiles warmly, reaching over the table to gently ruffle Wen Ning’s hair. “Ah, Wen Ning, you know I can’t do that.” He shoots a glance over to Lan Zhan, who’s watching the scene with a concentrated frown. “Besides, I even have a cool roommate with me now! Lan Zhan depends on me for survival, don’t you, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Zhan says nothing.
“That’s Lan Zhan Code for yes,” Wei Ying says matter-of-factly.
It’s more than that, though, and Wei Ying knows it. The truth isn’t that he can’t go and live with Wen Qing and Wen Ning. No, it’s more like he won’t. The two of them have offered their room to him multiple times before, but Wei Ying has always steadily denied their hospitality.
They know why, of course. They were there when everything happened. They saw how Wei Ying had been all those years ago.
After all, Wen Qing and Wen Ning’s apartment complex is in the same neighborhood as Jiang Cheng’s, and Wei Ying knows he’s not welcome there, no matter how much his friends seem to think otherwise.
It’s already bad enough that Jiang Cheng has run into Wen Qing before—that he’s actually spoken to her. Jiang Cheng knows who she is. He knows who Wen Ning is. Sometimes, it scares Wei Ying, just a little, but he knows Jiang Cheng wouldn’t do anything to them. He hasn’t contacted Wei Ying himself in years, after all.
Wei Ying has been extremely fortunate to not accidentally run into him. Then again, it’s not like he actively seeks him out. Jiang Cheng definitely doesn’t go looking for him, anyways.
Wei Ying silently thanks the heavens that the buildings housing their classes are on opposite ends of campus.
(Sometimes, Wei Ying wants to transfer out more than anything in the world. He wants to move away and start his life afresh, away from the haunting memories of his hometown. Away from the local hospital. Away from life. But he can’t do that to Wen Qing and Wen Ning. He can’t do that to his uncle. Not after everything he’s already done to disappoint him.)
He’s only acutely aware of the growing ache in his knee.
Breakfast ends with Lan Zhan exchanging numbers with the Wen siblings, promising to meet up again soon. Wei Ying can tell that Wen Qing’s taken a liking to Lan Zhan already, and Wen Ning has always been easy to please. Excitement bubbles in his throat upon the prospect of his small friend group expanding to another person.
“What did you think?” Wei Ying asks Lan Zhan when they’re walking back to their dorm. “Do you like them? You and Wen Qing really seemed to get along pretty well.”
“They are wonderful,” says Lan Zhan. “Thank you for introducing me to your friends.”
“Of course!” Wei Ying exclaims. “Do you have any classes today?”
“Mn,” says Lan Zhan. “I will leave for my first one in an hour.”
Wei Ying nods. “Okay! Then we’ll see each other in the evening back at the dorm? Should I order some food for us?”
“I will order,” says Lan Zhan. “Wei Ying ordered last night.”
Wei Ying’s lips part in surprise, and he can’t help but widen his smile. “Okay, then! I’ll order tomorrow.”
“Hm. We should not eat this much takeout,” says Lan Zhan.
“You’re right,” Wei Ying agrees, “but the cafeteria’s food is gross, and there are still, like, forty restaurants I wanna try before the semester ends.”
“We can cook,” Lan Zhan points out. “I believe there’s a kitchen in the common area downstairs.”
Wei Ying immediately stops in his tracks. He shoots Lan Zhan an incredulous look, who returns it with his everlasting blank stare. “You cook?”
“I know a few dishes,” says Lan Zhan.
“So you do cook,” Wei Ying presses. “Holy fuck. You’re literally a god.”
“Does Wei Ying not know how to cook?”
“No!” says Wei Ying. “If I could cook, do you really think I’d be ordering shitty takeout every night?” He adds on with a grumble, “Besides, whenever I cook something everyone tells me it’s too spicy. Well, you know what I say to that? Fix your tastebuds!”
“Everyone can cook,” says Lan Zhan. “You are a scientist. All you need to do is follow a recipe. It is not unlike how you follow a procedure in a laboratory.”
“Cooking is an art,” says Wei Ying, shaking his head. “I am simply not talented enough in the kitchen for that. Plus, like, I have super weird tastes, apparently. You know, once back in high school I tried to make congee, and Jiejie told me that chili isn’t a part of the recipe—”
The words die in his mouth as soon as they are out. His throat suddenly feels parched dry and his eyes flicker around, finally landing somewhere by Lan Zhan’s ear. Lan Zhan is looking at him, eyebrows brought naturally together as he too seems to be taking in Wei Ying’s little rant.
“Wei Ying?” he calls after a few seconds.
“Sorry,” Wei Ying says quickly. He gulps, then turns on his heel and abruptly continues walking. “Sorry, sorry about that.”
“It is okay,” says Lan Zhan, slowly. He doesn’t ask any questions on the matter, instead remaining silent as he steps in time by Wei Ying’s side. Wei Ying’s heart suddenly bursts with fondness he isn’t prepared to feel. He pushes it down, then plasters a smile back onto his features.
“Anyways,” he says, swallowing heavily, “we can try and cook this weekend. Should we go grocery shopping tomorrow to buy some ingredients?”
“Yes,” says Lan Zhan.
“Great!” Wei Ying says. “Then… I’ll see you tonight?”
“Mn. See you tonight,” says Lan Zhan. “Preferences on dinner?”
Wei Ying hums. “Nah. Surprise me!”
“So,” says Wen Qing, dropping her bright pink mechanical pencil on the cover of her textbook. Wei Ying looks up from where he’s seated across from her, his pen cap caught between his teeth.
“Lan Zhan, huh?” Wen Qing says, raising a delicate eyebrow.
Wei Ying immediately straightens up. “What about him?”
“Don’t play dumb with me,” Wen Qing snaps. “I’ve been your best friend for almost two years now. You can’t fool me.”
“Aw,” says Wei Ying, sticking his bottom lip out, “so you finally admit that we’re friends?”
“Shut up,” says Wen Qing. She sighs and crosses her arms over her waist, leaning back in her chair. They’re in a secluded corner of the library, amidst shelves of books and the battered smell of coffee. “Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s good for you. He seems like a pretty level-headed person.”
“He is,” says Wei Ying. “Like, the epitome of Good Boy. He’s probably never swore in his entire life.”
“Somehow, I believe you,” murmurs Wen Qing. “How’s it like being his roommate?”
“Pretty quiet,” Wei Ying admits. “We wake up at different times and usually go to sleep at different times too. He wakes up and sleeps earlier.”
“Sounds like he has his life together,” nods Wen Qing. “Stable. I like that. Can’t relate.”
Wei Ying grins. “We’re both in class pretty much all day,” he continues, “but we eat dinner together every night. Usually on the floor in our room.”
“Nice,” says Wen Qing. “I never would have taken you as the type of person to actually enjoy rooming with someone.”
Wei Ying shrugs. “You get used to it, I guess.” He looks away. “Besides, you know I haven’t roomed with anyone since…”
“Yeah,” says Wen Qing. “That’s why I’m surprised.”
“I forgot what it’s like,” Wei Ying says, twirling his pen between his fingers. “Lan Zhan’s nothing like Jiang Cheng and Jie—Jiang Yanli, though.” He bites down the sudden bitter taste in his mouth, swallowing heavily. “He’s quiet, and asks me before doing anything. He’s not very chatty, but he still listens to me rant about random shit whenever.” He ends off with a short laugh, absolutely zero humor attached to it.
“Wei Ying,” Wen Qing starts, and Wei Ying immediately knows where she’s going. “You know, what A-Ning said the other day is right. You’re always welcome in our apartment, no matter what happens.”
Wei Ying looks over to her and offers her a small smile. It’s a genuine one this time, and he knows she can see it too. “I know,” he says sincerely. Then, “Can you imagine? I’m walking down the street to your place and all of a sudden I see Jiang Cheng across the street.” He shudders, because he has imagined it. Multiple times. In his dreams.
In his nightmares.
Wen Qing eyes him warily. “Wei Ying,” she says softly, “it’s been two years.”
“Two years too few,” Wei Ying says pointedly. “Do you really think that just because two years have passed Jiang Cheng will forgive me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive,” Wen Qing says firmly, immediately, like there’s absolutely no room for argument.
But they’ve had this conversation one too many times already. Wei Ying knows Wen Qing’s feelings on the matter. He knows Wen Ning’s feelings on the matter, though the boy is much more discreet. Still, he is very aware that even someone as lovely and sweet as Wen Ning is angered by Wei Ying’s past. Wei Ying had been angry too, maybe, at some point. But he’s had time to think—he knows, deep down, that everything that happened really was his fault.
And there’s nothing he can do about that.
Wen Qing never wants to hear it, so Wei Ying never tells her—never indulges himself further than those quiet annual nights in front of the hospital. He keeps his feelings hidden, deep within, and he’s gotten used to it. It’s not a burden anymore.
There’s a hand on his forearm, and Wei Ying looks over the table to see Wen Qing eyeing him worriedly. He smiles, unable to help himself, feeling a rush of warmth envelope him when Wen Qing squeezes her grip more tightly.
“You miss him,” she says quietly, and, well, there’s really nothing he can say to that.
Because it’s true. It’ll always be true.
Wei Ying’s lab partner is sick.
Wei Ying’s lab partner is sick, and he has no other alternative. The only other person in the lab he could potentially work with is the crusty teacher’s pet Su She, who still has some of the worst grades in the department despite sucking up to every single one of his professors.
Yeah. There’s no way in hell Wei Ying is asking him to look over his notes.
His partner, Luo Qingyang, texts him early in the morning that she won’t be able to make it, and Wei Ying immediately feels a headache coming on. Lan Zhan shoots him a curious look as he scrambles out of bed two hours earlier than he normally would, looking like he very desperately wants to ask what’s wrong.
Wei Ying decides to humor him. Perhaps Lan Zhan’s dry conversation is exactly what he needs to relieve his stress right now.
“My lab partner called in sick,” he says as he runs around their room, looking everywhere for his closed-toed shoes. “I love her, and she’s an absolute angel, but today’s experiment is really important and I need to get in as early as possible so I’ll have enough time to cover her part too.”
Lan Zhan narrows his eyebrows at his words. “Can you do the lab another day?” he asks.
Wei Ying sighs and shakes his head. “I wish,” he says, “but we’re on a pretty strict schedule. I might be able to leave a few things off for tomorrow, and hopefully Mianmian will be feeling better by then so we can finish it together, but I think I may just have to take a pretty major L this time.”
“Will you be back late?”
Wei Ying runs through his plan for today mentally, then nods. “Yeah, probably. Don’t wait up for me. I have to be in the lab till around nine today.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Then, he gets up from where he’s sitting on his bed and walks over to the other end of the room. Wei Ying watches as he bends down and reaches under Wei Ying’s desk, pulling out the very shoe he had been looking for.
Wei Ying gasps, skipping over to him and taking it with a wide smile. “You are literally my favorite person,” he says, and Lan Zhan releases a breath through his nose. “Thank you! I’ll be off now!”
He quickly slips the shoe on, grabbing his backpack and practically running out the door.
The rest of his day is tiring, but it’s nothing he isn’t already used to. Wei Ying often has extremely busy days, and ones where he spends the majority of the time in the lab are the best. The building that houses the science rooms is completely secluded from the rest of the campus, and there’s no need for anyone who isn’t majoring in one of the science courses to be there.
After the accident, Wei Ying had practically booked his life in the labs. That way, he wouldn’t have to roam around campus. He wouldn’t have to run into Jiang Cheng by chance.
It ended up working out for the better, anyways. It was how he met Wen Qing, after all. They had been working on opposite ends of the same room one day and had struck up a conversation on the brilliance of petri dishes. Soon after that, the two were getting coffee together and Wei Ying was being introduced to her little brother. They became as close as real family.
Wei Ying is looking through his spreadsheet, goggles pulled above his forehead and trickles of sweat running down his temples, when he hears the glass doors to the lab room opening.
He looks up, clearly surprised. He’s not expecting anyone, and the only person he can think of it being is Luo Qingyang—but she’s sick and she’d definitely give him a heads up before popping by.
That’s why, when Wei Ying sees Lan Zhan standing a few feet away with a plastic bag hanging off of his index finger, his jaw drops.
“Lan Zhan?” he asks, quickly reaching up and pulling his goggles off of his head. He sets them aside, closing his laptop and turning to look at him properly. “What are you doing here? It’s almost…” He quickly glances at his watch, “it’s almost eight! Are you done with classes?”
“Mn,” nods Lan Zhan. He’s still standing in the doorway, and Wei Ying quickly ushers him inside.
“Ah,” he says, running up to him and reaching for the bags. They’re heavy in his hands, a familiar smell wafting out of them. His lips part in surprise, and he shoots Lan Zhan another incredulous look. “You brought food?”
“You have not eaten,” says Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying raises an eyebrow. “How’d you know?”
“I messaged Wen Qing,” says Lan Zhan. They walk over to one of the tables next to Wei Ying’s workspace, taking a seat next to each other on the stools. “She told me where your lab is. I asked her if you have eaten and she said that you probably have not.”
Wei Ying bites down his smile. Oh, Wen Qing really does know him too well.
“Well, she’s right,” he says with a short huff. Lan Zhan is beginning to unwrap the food, and Wei Ying grins gleefully at all the different dishes. “I seriously can’t thank you enough, Lan Zhan. I was just gonna go and grab something from the cafeteria after I was done here.”
“When will you be done here?” asks Lan Zhan as he fills a paper plate with rice.
“I’m almost done,” says Wei Ying, graciously accepting the food and grabbing a pair of wooden chopsticks. “I just have to record a few final things, so it shouldn’t take more than another half hour or so.”
Lan Zhan hums. “I will wait for you.”
Wei Ying blinks. “Oh. You don’t have to.” But I want you to.
He very promptly ignores that thought.
“I will,” says Lan Zhan. Wei Ying feels another smile gently tugging at the corners of his lips. “It is late. We can walk back to the dorm together after you are finished.”
“Alrighty then,” says Wei Ying.
After they finish eating, Wei Ying buttons up his lab coat again and pulls his goggles back on. He goes back to his station, peering closely at the assortment of vials on the bench and jotting down any and all observations he can make. He’ll spend time on sorting through them later, but for now it’s important to get as much information down as possible.
Lan Zhan is still sitting where they had been eating. He’s taken his laptop out, typing something with astonishing speed. It’s probably another paper, Wei Ying thinks. Lan Zhan writes a lot of papers.
When he’s finally slipping out of the pristine white lab coat, Lan Zhan puts away his own things and stands up. Wei Ying shoots him another grateful smile, grabbing his keys and twirling his index finger through the chain.
“Thanks again,” he says as he goes over to the corner of the room and fiddles around with the light switches. The room is immediately bathed in darkness, and Wei Ying unlocks his phone to turn on the flashlight.
He shines it on Lan Zhan, and feels his heart jump when he sees the latter’s burning expression directed right back at him. It’s blank and incredibly startling with the current lighting—or lack thereof—and after a moment, Wei Ying clutches his stomach and lets out a bark of laughter.
“Oh, Lan Zhan,” he says, snickering. “You scared me.”
“My apologies,” comes Lan Zhan’s immediate response. Wei Ying peers through the darkness, watching as Lan Zhan takes out his own phone and turns on his flashlight. He directs it back at Wei Ying, who immediately pulls a funny face.
Lan Zhan’s eyebrow twitches, and Wei Ying cackles gleefully.
“Heh, let’s go,” says Wei Ying. He pulls his backpack over his shoulders and heads toward the door, opening it and stepping out into the dark hallway. There are a few rooms that are still lit up, probably with students who are also working late on their projects. Wei Ying looks back to see Lan Zhan following behind him, his figure just barely visible.
“Should we look for a light switch?” asks Lan Zhan as he comes up next to Wei Ying.
“Nah,” says Wei Ying. “That’s too much work. Come on, I know the way downstairs.”
Wei Ying reaches out and grabs Lan Zhan’s wrist. Lan Zhan releases a small noise of surprise, and Wei Ying only tightens his grip, dragging him through the dark hallway and toward the staircase.
“Careful,” he mutters, using his free hand to shine his phone’s light down at their feet. They go one step at a time, and Wei Ying doesn’t bother to let go of his hold on Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan doesn’t make any move to pull away, anyways, so Wei Ying thinks it’s okay.
Once they’re outside, Wei Ying breathes into the cool night air. Lan Zhan’s presence is warm by his side, and his palm is beginning to feel a little clammy.
Wei Ying gently unclasps his fingers from the skin of Lan Zhan’s wrist, finding himself hovering for a fraction of a second. Regret burns through him, but a moment later, he feels pressure on his hand again. He looks down to see that Lan Zhan has moved his own fingers to gently clasp around Wei Ying’s.
Wei Ying’s eyes snap up to Lan Zhan’s face immediately, but the latter isn’t looking at him at all. Instead, his gaze is focused steadily ahead.
“Um, Lan Zhan?”
“Come,” says Lan Zhan, beginning to walk and tugging Wei Ying behind him. “It is dark. It is good to stay close.”
Oh. Well, yes. That’s true. That is very true, indeed.
“Mm!” Wei Ying swiftly says with a nod, his hand subconsciously tightening around Lan Zhan’s. “Okay, then, Lan Zhan! Lead the way!”
They settle into a slow pace, hands still intertwine between their waists. Wei Ying can’t help the overwhelming feeling in the pits of his chest, a minute burning that he barely manages to swallow down.
Wow. Wow, he likes this. Wow. Lan Zhan’s hand fits perfectly in his. Wei Ying finds himself pressing down his smile, gritting his teeth together for extra measure. Are his cheeks burning? His cheeks feel like they’re burning. God, that’s so embarrassing. His cheeks better not be burning.
“Did you manage without your lab partner?” asks Lan Zhan after a few minutes of silence. The sudden question startles Wei Ying, though only slightly. He quickly manages to recover, looking over to Lan Zhan and nodding.
“It was a little messy,” he admits with a short laugh. “You never really realize how much you rely on your partner till they’re not there to catch your stupid mistakes. I did call Mianmian in the middle of one of my trials, though, and when she answered her voice was cracky and gross and honestly kind of funny. No, scratch that. It was hilarious. She wanted to punch me through the phone, I could tell.”
Lan Zhan shoots him a look.
Wei Ying grins. “Kidding, kidding! I’m not heartless, Lan Zhan. I just wished her a speedy recovery and then hung up after she told me what to do!”
“Well, what about you, huh?” asks Wei Ying, leaning to the side a little to bump their shoulders together. He watches as Lan Zhan clears his throat, eyes darting away. “Had any interesting encounters in your classes today? A sick lecture partner? Did someone profess their undying love for you at lunch?”
“Nothing of the sort,” comes Lan Zhan’s smooth reply.
Wei Ying sniggers. “Boring.”
“I called my brother,” says Lan Zhan. “He asked how I was doing.”
“Ooh,” Wei Ying says, “that’s fun! When was the last time you talked to him?”
“Mm, three days ago, maybe,” Lan Zhan says, looking thoughtful for a moment. “He asked how you are.”
“Ah, he knows about me?” Lan Zhan talks about him to his brother?
That shouldn’t make his chest lurch the way it does. And yet.
“I told him that I have a roommate,” says Lan Zhan. “I have only said good things, do not worry.”
“Good things, huh?” Wei Ying grins. “You don’t have to lie, Lan Zhan. I’m sure there’s nothing inherently good about being roommates with me. I’m messy and loud and I make fun of you all the time.”
“I don’t mind,” says Lan Zhan without a moment’s hesitation. “You are bright.”
Wei Ying’s head snaps over so he can look at him again. Bright, huh.
“Mn,” nods Lan Zhan.
“Oh,” says Wei Ying, epitome of eloquence. “That’s good, then. I guess. I don’t mind rooming with you either, because, you know, you’re, like, perfect.”
“I am glad,” says Lan Zhan. Wei Ying inwardly winces.
The campus is quiet at this time of day. It’s quite late, so the people who are out are very obviously on their way back to their dorm rooms. It’s peaceful, Wei Ying thinks. He hasn’t been outside like this in a while. Lan Zhan’s hand feels secure in his grasp and Wei Ying truly can’t think of anything more he can ask for from tonight.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says suddenly, and Wei Ying immediately perks up.
This time, Lan Zhan does look a little hesitant. Wei Ying bites his lip, eyeing him closely. He doesn’t say anything more, simply waiting patiently for whatever Lan Zhan wants to say. It’s the first time he’s ever seen the latter actually struggling to find words, if one could even call it that. Wei Ying isn’t completely in tune with Lan Zhan’s emotions just yet, after all.
He’s working on it. He is.
“A few weeks ago,” says Lan Zhan, the skin between his eyebrows creasing as the words come out. Wei Ying feels his breath hitch as his mind immediately begins to replay every single interaction he’s had with Lan Zhan in the past thirty days. “I am sorry,” Lan Zhan continues, “you don’t have to answer me if you are not comfortable, but you said that you do not have any siblings.”
And then he had blatantly called someone Jiejie. Lan Zhan doesn’t say it, but Wei Ying knows he’s thinking it.
He feels himself cringe involuntarily and can only hope that it’s not too noticeable.
“I don’t,” he says slowly. “Um. Not anymore, anyways.”
Lan Zhan looks down. Their steps have slowed down considerably, and now they’re only a few blocks away from their dorm building. Silence stretches between them as Lan Zhan seems to drink in these words.
The air is frigid, and Wei Ying finds himself glancing upward. He takes a deep breath, feeling the chilly breeze slide through his throat. It’s getting colder, he notices.
Then, Lan Zhan nods. It catches Wei Ying’s eye, making him turn back to look. “I am sorry for asking,” Lan Zhan says. The bottom portion of his lip is jutted out strangely, which can only mean Lan Zhan is biting the inner flesh of his mouth.
Wei Ying’s lips twist into a strange smile. “Nah,” he says, waving it off as casually as possible. He can feel his heart practically racing to jump out of his chest. “Don’t worry about it. It was bound to come up sooner or later. Wen Qing and Wen Ning aren’t exactly… subtle.” He pauses. “Actually, that’s not true. Wen Ning can be pretty subtle, but Wen Qing is absolutely the farthest from. When she’s angry about something, the entire world is gonna know, whether she likes it or not.”
He wonders if he’s given away too much. Still, Lan Zhan hasn’t called him out for it yet.
“I see,” he says slowly. “Wen Qing is sweet.”
“When she wants to be,” Wei Ying points out.
“Mm,” hums Lan Zhan, “I suppose so.” He takes a long breath. Then, “Wei Ying.”
They’re almost at the entrance to their building now, and Wei Ying takes out his keycard to authorize their entry. His hand slips away from Lan Zhan’s, and he immediately feels the lack of warmth. He shakes it off, then focuses back on Lan Zhan saying his name.
“Hm?” he mutters, swiping the card and watching the front double-doors open.
“It is the thirteenth.”
Wei Ying’s eyes widen. Oh, fuck. How could he have forgotten?
“Oh,” he says, voice just a little too breathy. “Oh, man. That’s hilarious. I can’t believe it slipped my mind.” He laughs, eyes pinching shut. “Sorry, Lan Zhan. It’s been a day.”
“I know,” Lan Zhan says quietly.
“Do you wanna go and get something to celebrate with?” Wei Ying asks, even though they’re already entering the elevator. “Hm, maybe some cake again?”
“You are tired,” says Lan Zhan. The bell dings on their floor, and the doors open as they step out.
“Yeah, but it’s our roommate monthiversary!”
“One month and one week,” Lan Zhan corrects.
Wei Ying scrunches his nose. “Oh, right. That was dumb of us. Maybe we should have made it every month instead.”
“One month since our first celebration,” says Lan Zhan. “It is fine.” He brings out his keys to their room, opening the door and stepping inside right before Wei Ying does. When Wei Ying enters, he sees a small box in the middle of the room.
Lan Zhan turns to look at him, and this time, Wei Ying actually does see the barest hint of a smile.
There is a cake in the middle of the floor. This time, there are enough paper plates and spoons to go around—much more than what is necessary for two people. Wei Ying feels his eyes crinkling with mirth as he bounds over to his seat against the edge of his bed, crossing his legs and rubbing his palms together with anticipation.
“You bought a cake? You bought a cake?” he asks, looking up to his roommate who is putting his things away. Lan Zhan joins him on the floor a few moments later, his actions coupled with a short nod of his head. “Lan Zhan! You’re incredible! When did you do this?”
“I bought one after my last class,” he says. “I went to meet you for dinner after getting everything set up here.”
Oh, he’s too good. He really is much too good.
“Have I told you that you’re my favorite person ever? Because you are one hundred-percent my favorite person ever.”
“You have,” says Lan Zhan.
“That’s good. You should know,” Wei Ying breathes, “I don’t deserve you. I’m the one who’s supposed to be pulling all this nice roommate shit on you. It’s my brand, you know! Doing cute stuff like this for other people.” He hums. “That’s what Wen Ning says, anyways.”
“It is okay,” says Lan Zhan as he picks up the knife by the cake box. He holds it out to Wei Ying in a silent offer. “I cut it last time.”
Wei Ying grins happily, feeling all the stress of the day magically leaving his shoulders. He relaxes back after taking the knife, eyeing the cake in front of him with hunger. He quickly cuts out two generous chunks, placing them both into the plates Lan Zhan is holding out for him.
He grabs a spoon and hastily digs in.
“Fuck,” he groans. “This is exactly what I needed.”
Lan Zhan looks pleased by this.
It’s strange, Wei Ying thinks. It’s strange how a person can be so thoughtful to someone they barely know.
But, well, he supposes he and Lan Zhan aren’t exactly strangers anymore. They’ve been living together for over a month and do everything the closest of friends would do together. Wei Ying feels comfortable around him, and he hopes Lan Zhan feels the same.
Perhaps they’re friends now.
No, they’re definitely friends now.
“Hey,” Wei Ying starts, catching Lan Zhan’s attention. “Are we friends?”
Lan Zhan looks visibly startled by this. Then, the slopes of his facial features even out. “Do you not want to be?”
“Of course I wanna be friends,” Wei Ying says. “And, just for the record, I definitely consider us friends. I was just thinking… wondering if you…” He trails off, tilting his head and raising his eyebrows high on his forehead. Thankfully, Lan Zhan seems to pick up on the implication fairly well.
“We are friends,” he says. His tone is firm. “Wei Ying is my friend.”
Wei Ying smiles at this. “That’s nice,” he says. “I’m glad to be your friend. Even though you do stupid stuff like this all the time without me asking you to.”
“It comes with friendship,” Lan Zhan says. “You would do the same for me.” Then, his face does something funny. “Do you think it’s stupid? I will not do it in the future.”
“No!” Wei Ying says hurriedly, shaking his hands out in front of his chest. “Definitely not. I was just saying that. Didn’t actually mean it. This is not stupid.”
“Hmm,” says Lan Zhan.
“Really,” Wei Ying says. “I’m really happy that you did all of this.” He smiles. “Seriously.”
Lan Zhan seems to believe him this time. He nods.
(Later that night, when they’re changed for bed and lounging on their respective beds, Wei Ying takes his laptop out and invites Lan Zhan to watch a movie with him. Lan Zhan looks hesitant at first, but Wei Ying manages to convince him to come and sit next to him.
They fall asleep like that, the blaring yell of the characters through the screen lulling them into the land of dreams.)
Winter comes, bringing with it the cool release of autumn, somehow already long forgotten and left behind. Winter is one of Wei Ying’s favorite seasons. He prefers extremes to middles, summers to springs, snow to rain.
He finds himself standing in the parking lot of the hospital on the same day as the year before, squinting up through the moonlight and peering closely at a specific window on the seventh floor.
It’s the only day he allows himself to think soundly, unrestrained.
It’s petrifying. He stops himself before he can jump down the rabbit hole.
Then, like it had never happened, he turns around and walks away. It’s almost ten at night. Jiang Cheng will be walking out through the double doors of the hospital entrance soon. Or, maybe, he’ll stay the night.
Wei Ying never lingers to find out.
It’s only the second time he’s done this, but he’s already sick of it. He misses his sister. He misses the warmth of her embrace, syrupy sweet and everything he has ever known to mean kindness.
He wonders if she’s okay now. He wonders if Jiang Cheng would tell him if she is.
It’s been exactly two years now, and Wei Ying still can only live through the fragments of memories he holds of his siblings. Jiang Cheng hasn’t reached out. Jiang Cheng will never reach out. Wei Ying will never know of Jiang Yanli’s condition. He can only pray that she’s well after all these years.
He wonders if he’d be welcome in her hospital room. Not now. Maybe when they’re older. Maybe on his deathbed.
But Wei Ying knows he won’t be able to take the first step. Not without Jiang Cheng’s approval. Not without Jiang Cheng himself there with him, as calm and guiding as a thundering snowstorm.
Speaking of snowstorms.
It’s fitting, the ugly weather on the anniversary of the ugliest day of Wei Ying’s life. Pathetic.
Wei Ying turns around, barely registering the splotchy remnants of tears on his cheeks. He gazes through the night, realizing that somehow, through his daze, he had managed to bring himself back to campus.
Lan Zhan is standing on the opposite end of the street. It’s empty, cold, and perfectly misfortunate.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, watching as Lan Zhan quickly eyes the open road before briskly crossing and walking up to him. He’s bundled in a thick jacket, a plain white scarf tattered and hung from his shoulders.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says again. “You’re freezing.” He tugs on the end of his scarf, pulling it away from his neck and reaching out to loop it around Wei Ying’s shoulders. Wei Ying blinks through the musty fog, wondering if it’s the heavy snow that’s making him delusional.
“Sorry,” he croaks out. “Sorry.”
“Come,” Lan Zhan says. “Let’s go inside.”
It’s infuriating, how wonderful Lan Zhan is. Wei Ying hates it. He hates how Lan Zhan never asks questions. He hates how Lan Zhan just goes along with everything Wei Ying does no matter what it is.
He doesn’t know if he’d be able to do it, faced with a situation like his own. Would he be able to refrain from knowing the truth about his friend’s past? Would he still be so openly accepting of whatever had happened, no matter the consequences?
Wei Ying doesn’t even know what Lan Zhan would think if he knew. Sometimes, he wonders. Other times, he wishes he couldn’t.
“Two years ago today,” he says suddenly, the words falling through his lips before he can stop them, “I almost killed my sister.”
Lan Zhan stops walking. Wei Ying is expecting this kind of reaction, so he continues despite the burning in his chest.
“It was my fault,” he says, looking up at the sky and blinking through the petals of snow landing on the blossom of his cheeks. “She was going to get married. Jiang Cheng and I were going to give her the best, most beautiful wedding ever. The wedding she deserved. She was the prettiest bride in the world.”
Lan Zhan stays quiet, but he turns to look at him.
“I was driving,” Wei Ying says. His voice is barely a whisper by this point, but he doesn’t care. “I was taking her to her favorite flower shop. I didn’t tell anyone where we were going. They still don’t know, probably. I was going to surprise her with lotuses. They’re her favorite, you know? I had a whole arrangement of bouquets ready for her and I took her with me to go and pick them up and…”
He trails off, gulping back the shake in his throat.
“I was in the hospital for three months,” he says. “I was lucky. They managed to save me. She took the brunt of the hit.” He shudders, looking down at his feet. “The only thing it left me with was a few scars on my body and a faulty knee. I don’t know if she ever woke up.”
He looks up to see Lan Zhan already staring at him. His eyes are dark and plainly focused, like he’s giving Wei Ying every last bit of attention he can muster. Somehow, Wei Ying doesn’t even doubt it.
“Madam Yu told me to leave,” he continues, this time keeping his eye contact with Lan Zhan steady. “I ruined the family’s relationship with the Jins, the family my sister was going to marry into. Jiang Cheng refused to talk to me, and when he did, he would only yell at me. He hates me. Uncle Jiang only still pays for my tuition because he feels guilty toward my parents.” He takes a breath. “I’ll pay back everything after I graduate. I will.”
“No,” says Wei Ying. He puts a hand up to silence him. “It’s okay. I don’t need pity.” He sighs and looks away. “Sorry. I just… I always kind of get emotional when I think about this. The only other people who know are Wen Qing and Wen Ning, and that’s only because they were there during the whole… you know. The aftermath, I guess.” He releases a humorless laugh. “Dunno. I was kind of a mess. Didn’t really take the best care of myself.”
“Maybe Wen Qing the med student was exactly what I needed,” says Wei Ying. He hums. His ears are tainted with frost. “She helped get my life back together. Made me take my medication on time and fed me. Wen Ning was there for me too, so you don’t have to worry. I’m okay now.”
“Are you?” asks Lan Zhan. His voice is low and smooth, and Wei Ying doesn’t know if it’s the weather that’s making his mind draw all these ridiculous illusions.
He frowns. “Yeah I am.”
“You were standing out in the snow,” Lan Zhan says, “for ten minutes. I saw you through the window and came down to get you.”
Oh. Oh, was he? Oh.
“Sorry,” he says, more as a reflex reaction than anything else. “Sorry. Let’s go upstairs.”
It takes much longer than necessary to get themselves to their room. Wei Ying’s toes are freezing and his entire body is shaking. He isn’t sure if it’s shivering from the weather.
The silence is thick in their dorm, the comfort of the sounds from outside no longer present. Wei Ying reaches for Lan Zhan’s scarf, unravelling it from himself and staring down at it dumbly. His fingers clench around the white fabric, thick and warm in his hands. He hadn’t noticed before, but it smells faintly of sandalwood, washed over by the scent of crisp frozen water.
Wei Ying finds himself wondering, Does Lan Zhan smell like this?
“Wei Ying. You are tired.”
Wei Ying blinks, looking up to find Lan Zhan standing in the middle of the room. His jacket is folded neatly on his bed, and Wei Ying swallows. He tosses the scarf into Lan Zhan’s space and wobbles over to his own side dresser.
The contrast between their opposing sides of the room is almost humorous. While Wei Ying’s clothes and things are scattered unevenly around his bed and desk, Lan Zhan’s are pristine and kept exactly where they should be. One would think, upon walking inside, that there are actually two rooms here, bounded by an invisible wall keeping them separate and away from each other.
Lan Zhan often offers to help him clean up. Wei Ying refuses, adamant on not being a burden.
He never voices these thoughts aloud—he knows Lan Zhan would immediately tell him that he’s the farthest thing from.
It’s cold. The heaters in their building are broken. Wei Ying shivers as he pulls his shirt off and exchanges it for a more comfortable one. He runs his hands through his hair, keen on avoiding eye contact with Lan Zhan, who is still staring at him quietly from the other side of the room.
He takes a chance glance over his shoulder, and when he sees Lan Zhan still looking at him, he half expects him to look away. When he doesn’t, Wei Ying huffs.
“Would you like to have a sleepover?”
Wei Ying turns his body completely, knocking his hipbone against the wooden dresser. He raises an eyebrow.
“Lan Zhan,” he says slowly, “you do realize what being roommates means, right?”
“Mm. We can sleep on the floor.”
The floor, somehow becoming more symbolic than any other place in Wei Ying’s life. It’s his and Lan Zhan’s favorite hangout spot. It’s where they eat the majority of their dinners and talk through splintering evenings.
Still. To sleep?
“That doesn’t sound very comfortable,” he says.
Lan Zhan looks down at the hard carpeting beneath his feet, a frown painting his lips. “We can use our bedding as a makeshift mattress.”
“Why are you so adamant about sleeping on the floor tonight?”
Something tells Wei Ying that he already knows why. He knows what Lan Zhan is trying to do—knows that Lan Zhan will never admit to it out loud either, lest it become a burden for Wei Ying to bear.
Almost three months, and they’re like this. Three months of living together and awkwardness ceases to curl around the edges of conversation. Their back and forth is warm, frighteningly so, and Wei Ying still is unsure how to approach it.
“A change,” says Lan Zhan, and he provides no other explanation.
So, Wei Ying latches onto it. He nods, the pressure of the furniture against his side brutal. “Alright,” he says. “Sleepover on the floor in our shared dorm room. Lovely.”
“Lovely,” Lan Zhan repeats, and they leave it at that.
Wei Ying pulls his blankets away from his bed, folding them carefully over each other and laying them flat on the space between their beds. Their room is small, but comfortable. After living alone in this space for so long, Wei Ying has gotten used to it. It’s nice. He likes the feeling of being enclosed securely between four walls.
He wonders, briefly, if it’s hard for Lan Zhan to live so cramped up like this. He wonders how big the apartment he used to share with his brother was. He wonders if he doesn’t mind having to live with Wei Ying, even after he told him on the day they met that he had been expecting a room for himself. Alone.
Like many things in Wei Ying’s life, he can only hope for the best.
They lay down side by side, the floor hard and uncomfortable around Wei Ying’s shoulder blades. Lan Zhan’s blanket is bigger than his, so it drapes over both of their bodies. Wei Ying carefully extracts himself a comfortable distance away from him, his arm barely brushing against Lan Zhan’s side.
“Are you okay?” Wei Ying asks. The light is off, and the room is enclosed in darkness. His eyes are still taking their sweet time to adjust, but he doesn’t feel the need to rush.
“Mn,” comes Lan Zhan’s voice. He sounds faraway, yet close at the same time. “Are you?”
“I’m fine,” says Wei Ying. He laughs because it feels wrong to do otherwise. “Still don’t know why you wanna sleep like this.”
“A change,” Lan Zhan says again, like it’s obvious. Wei Ying is staring up at the ceiling, so he can’t see his face. He realizes that maybe it’s easier this way.
“Bed sharing? We don’t know her,” he snorts. “We just took her to the next level. Floor sharing, can you believe?”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan.
The words die in Wei Ying’s throat. “Yeah?”
Wei Ying presses his lips together, a tight line forming around his mouth. “For what?”
“Thank you for telling me,” says Lan Zhan. “I know that must not have been easy for you.”
Wei Ying almost wants to laugh, because nothing is easy for him. It’s a constant he’s gotten used to.
But Lan Zhan doesn’t need to know that.
He lets the soft rise and fall of his chest guide him through his next words. “Sometimes,” he says, “it’s okay. Sometimes it’s just, like, this thing in the back of my mind that I can’t get rid of. Other times, it’s, well… it’s like this.”
“But most times,” says Wei Ying, “I just miss her a lot.”
“Yeah.” Wei Ying breathes, his cheeks puffing out. “She’s amazing.” Then, quieter: “I ruined her life.”
“You are human,” Lan Zhan says immediately. “I am sure she misses you too.”
“How can she?” Wei Ying says. “You know, I never liked Jin Zixuan. Never. He was always a pretentious asshole. But, well, Jiejie was in love with him for some reason, and he loved her too. And I ruined that for them.”
Lan Zhan always sleeps on his back, pin straight and unmoving. That’s why Wei Ying is surprised when he feels the sheet shuffle next to him. He turns his head so he can look at Lan Zhan, finding that he’s already rolled over onto his side. He’s staring at him. Wei Ying stares back, breath catching in his throat as their sudden proximity sinks in.
He blinks through the moonlight and wonders if Lan Zhan can see him.
“Did they think badly of you?” asks Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying hums, growing thoughtful. “How could they not?”
“Did they think you did it on purpose?”
Wei Ying’s eyes close automatically. There’s a clawing sensation in his chest, rough and wild and pounding against his ears. “Madam Yu definitely did.” He swallows. “In any case, she was right to. It’s not like she had any evidence telling her otherwise.”
Lan Zhan stays quiet for several seconds. “Preposterous.”
Wei Ying laughs breathily. “Yeah. I guess.”
“And your brother?”
“Jiang Cheng?” Wei Ying releases a shuttering breath, as he normally does when he thinks about this. “No. Or at least, I don’t think so.”
“Yet he still blames you.”
Ah, Lan Zhan, always so insightful.
“It’s okay,” says Wei Ying. He shakes his head, the scratchy fabric of his pillow rubbing against his skin. “It’s better this way, in any case. I was never supposed to be a part of their family. It was only a matter of time.”
If this was Wen Qing, she’d be yelling at him by now. She’d tell him that it wasn’t his fault and the Jiangs had no right to kick him the way they did. If this was Wen Ning, he’d envelope him in a tight hug and tell him sweet, fruitless reassurances.
But this is Lan Zhan, and for some reason, that fact alone is infinitely comforting.
“Sleep,” Lan Zhan says, voice quietly firm. “You are tired.”
Wei Ying says, “Okay.”
“Goodnight, Wei Ying.”
Wei Ying feels a wry smile creeping at his lips. It’s absolutely humorless. His temples are throbbing from the arrival of unwelcome memories. Perhaps sleep will be good for him. It’ll give him an excuse to forget, temporary or otherwise.
“Goodnight,” he says, feeling his eyelids flutter shut on their own, “Lan Zhan.”
But sometimes, it’s not that easy.
Sometimes, Wei Ying finds that he can’t breathe.
Wen Qing and Wen Ning have never known. They live away from him. There’s no way they can know. Wei Ying has dealt with his emotions alone, as always, for as long as he’s lived on campus. It’s been easy to block everyone out. He’s never had to think otherwise.
But now he can’t do that anymore, for Lan Zhan is right there, right there, sitting across the room in all his glory.
And sometimes, it’s okay. Other times, it’s not, and that’s when it hurts the most.
Wei Ying wonders if he should feel guilty. After all, Lan Zhan never explicitly asked for any of this. He’s just being thrust into Wei Ying’s messy life because he has to. There’s no way he wants any of this.
So, Wei Ying tries to deal with it alone.
It’s fine, until it’s not. It’s definitely not. He wonders how he’s managed to hold out for this long already.
“Wei Ying?” There’s a hand shaking his shoulder. Wei Ying is curled in on himself, his back to Lan Zhan’s side of the room. He’s chewing his fingers relentlessly, eyes screwed shut as he tries to call sleep upon him.
He rolls over to find Lan Zhan gazing down at his figure. His brows are pinched together questioningly. Wei Ying wonders what time it is. It’s clearly after dark.
“Lan Zhan?” he croaks out.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says. His voice is barely above a whisper, but Wei Ying can hear him loud and clear. “Wei Ying, are you alright?”
“Fine,” says Wei Ying. “‘M fine. Go to sleep, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Zhan seems to think this over for a moment. Then, he puts his hands back on Wei Ying’s shoulders and pushes him over.
Wei Ying’s eyes widen. “Lan Zhan? What are you—”
But Lan Zhan is already halfway beneath the covers. Wei Ying huffs, his heartbeat quickening on its own before he can control it.
There’s a hand on his arm. Wei Ying’s gaze flickers down to see Lan Zhan hesitantly holding him.
He finds himself smiling. His mind is still cloudy, his tongue is still tied, and there’s still a familiar, unpleasant little buzz coating his body. His breathing steadies on its own as he takes his own hand and covers Lan Zhan’s with it.
“Thank you,” he whispers quietly. The bed is too small for the two of them, but Wei Ying doesn’t mind. His back is pressed completely against the wall. His eyes are fluttering.
“Sleep,” Lan Zhan murmurs.
Sleep comes easily after that.
It’s through the buzzing haze of exam season that everything suddenly shifts. It’s almost as if the world has tilted on its axis—Wei Ying feels more alive than ever, yet bruised and cut down at the same time.
It’s exhilarating till it’s not.
He studies in the library with Wen Qing on his on days, and goes out for drinks with Wen Ning on his off days. Yet, still, every single night he finds himself lying in his bed, looking up at the ceiling of his dorm and feeling Lan Zhan’s everlasting presence from across the room.
[4:14] Wei Ying
meet me for coffee in 20? ^-^
[4:15] Lan Zhan
I will be there.
Lan Zhan truly is always there.
Wei Ying sits idly in the corner of the coffee shop that sits a little off campus, nursing a hot peppermint mocha between his fingers. The liquid burns his throat as it goes down, but somehow, it’s comforting.
Lan Zhan slips into the seat across from him, holding a cup of what Wei Ying presumes is green tea. Wei Ying smiles, reaching out to gently touch his forearm in greeting. Lan Zhan nods, settling himself in and letting his bag slide off of his shoulders and down onto the floor.
“Hey,” says Wei Ying.
“Hello,” says Lan Zhan. His voice is warm like honey, and the chilly remnants of winter cling to the air around them. “How was your lab practical?”
“Exciting,” Wei Ying says with a grin. “I think it went pretty well, anyways.”
“You will do splendidly,” says Lan Zhan.
“I always do,” says Wei Ying with a wink. Lan Zhan’s eyebrows turn up ever so slightly—a sign that Wei Ying has come to know means amusement. “Anyways, how were your exams? I’m sure you aced them all.”
“I think I performed adequately,” says Lan Zhan, and Wei Ying rolls his eyes.
“Of course you did. You’re Lan Zhan. There’s nothing you can’t—”
He catches something—or rather, someone—out of the corner of his eye. Wei Ying’s jaw goes slack, and his hands immediately move on their own. He raises his coffee to his lips, gulping down three mouthfuls and ignoring the scorching heat on his tongue.
Lan Zhan is looking at him, frowning with obvious concern. “Wei Ying?”
Wei Ying feels his entire body freeze. His eyes are trained on the front door to the cafe, where a familiar figure is standing, phone in hand, glasses over eyes.
The world seems to be moving all too slowly when the person finally seems to notice someone blatantly staring at them. The person looks up, to the left, down a little, and then it’s over. Wei Ying’s chest is jumping with nerves, his teeth are jittering uncomfortably and working at the insides of his mouth.
Lan Zhan seems to realize what’s going on. He turns as well, seemingly following Wei Ying’s line of sight.
Jin Zixuan is standing at the entrance, staring straight back at Wei Ying with a completely unreadable expression.
Wei Ying moves to get up, but his knees fail him. He clambers back down onto the plush cushion of his chair, his throat feeling all too dry with all the coffee he’s been drinking. He sets down his cup with shaking fingers, and his mind wanders on its own.
What is he supposed to do now? Is he supposed to leave? Should he wait for Jin Zixuan to decide on what to do next? Should he get up and talk to him?
But before he can say anything, he notices that Jin Zixuan is already walking up to him. His expression is one that Wei Ying can’t place, so he pushes his thoughts aside and swallows heavily. He moves to stand up, expression forlorn.
There’s no malice in his voice, but somehow that’s a thousand times worse.
Wei Wuxian. Wei Ying hasn’t heard that name in years—the name bestowed upon him by the Jiang family. The name he shed off years ago.
He meets Jin Zixuan’s eyes. “Jin Zixuan.”
Jin Zixuan looks at him carefully, as if surveying him. Wei Ying stays still under the scrutiny. “I assume you have been well.”
Wei Ying doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say to that. What can he say to that? Yes? That would be lying. No? That’s not quite it either.
“I have been managing,” he says instead.
Jin Zixuan nods. “I am just passing by.”
“Then you should pass by.”
Jin Zixuan narrows his eyes on him. “I suppose you have already heard about the wedding.”
Wei Ying’s heart stops. “What?”
“The wedding,” Jin Zixuan repeats. He frowns. “Don’t tell me you didn’t hear about it.”
“I—no. I didn’t,” says Wei Ying. What wedding? Whose wedding? Fuck, is Jiang Cheng getting married? Holy fucking shit. Jiang Cheng? Jiang Cheng? He looks back to Jin Zixuan, who still hasn’t moved away. “What wedding?”
“You really don’t know,” says Jin Zixuan.
“It’s not like I’m in a place where anyone’s gonna tell me,” Wei Ying snaps, patience running thin. He takes a deep breath, remembers his place, and shakes his head. The time where he could be unruly and disapproving of Jin Zixuan is long gone. He can’t be rude with how everything is now, no matter how much he still dislikes this peacock.
What Jin Zixuan says next shocks him to his utter core. “Mine,” he says, and Wei Ying’s head snaps up, “and A-Li’s.”
“I’m afraid I cannot extend an invitation,” Jin Zixuan says with a huff. “You’re not exactly welcome anymore. I would have told you myself, but I didn’t know where exactly to find you.”
“Jin Zixuan,” Wei Ying says, punctuating every syllable. He takes a dangerous step closer, and the latter doesn’t move an inch. “What the fuck are you talking about. Is Jie—is Jiang Yanli…” He trails off, words puckered with uncertainty.
Jin Zixuan gives him a blank look. “What?”
Wei Ying takes a long breath. He feels a pressure on his side, and looks over to see that Lan Zhan has moved to stand next to him. He’s placing a hand on his shoulder, brows drawn together in concern.
“Is she okay?” Wei Ying asks finally. He gives Jin Zixuan the hardest look he can muster, because if he can’t verbally say anything to him, he’ll at least have to try to get his feelings across this way. “Is she awake?”
“What do you mean, is she awake?” snaps Jin Zixuan, and Wei Ying immediately winces.
He’s okay about a lot of things—but never about Jiang Yanli. Never about his beloved sister.
Though he can never call her that out loud. He lost the right to that a long time ago.
“I mean,” Wei Ying starts, eerily calm, “is she awake?”
His knee is aching all of a sudden.
“Of course she’s awake,” says Jin Zixuan, looking inappropriately aghast. “She’s been awake for almost eight months now.” Then, “Did you seriously not know?”
But Wei Ying isn’t listening anymore. His mind is racing; his palms are clammy.
“Is she okay?” he asks, quiet.
Jin Zixuan eyes him warily. “She…” He closes his eyes, releasing a long breath through his lips. “Okay, well. I suppose it makes sense that you don’t know.” He crosses his arms over his chest. Wei Ying feels Lan Zhan’s grip on him tighten considerably. “You should go and see her.”
“I can’t,” Wei Ying says immediately. “Do you seriously think she’d want to see me? After what I did?”
“Yes,” Jin Zixuan says immediately. “She tells me almost every day.”
And Wei Ying—well, he doesn’t exactly know what he can say to that.
“Why are you telling me this?” Why Jin Zixuan? Jin Zixuan is supposed to hate him—he’s supposed to absolutely despise him for what he did to his girlfriend. He should probably even be more nasty to Wei Ying than even Jiang Cheng is, because Wei Ying knows he deserves it. He knows there’s no actual need for Jin Zixuan to be telling him any of this.
Wei Ying wonders if he even has a right to know anymore.
His perception of reality has shifted. Now, all that’s left are the murky waters of what could have been.
“Your sister,” says Jin Zixuan, and Wei Ying’s blood runs cold, “has ingrained into my brain that it was not your fault.”
“But it was,” Wei Ying says immediately.
Jin Zixuan raises an eyebrow. “That shouldn’t be your line.”
“But it was my fault,” Wei Ying presses. “If I hadn’t—if I hadn’t taken her out that day—”
“You’re an idiot,” says Jin Zixuan. “I don’t care anymore. I’m not your therapist.” With that, he finally takes a step back, out of Wei Ying’s space. Wei Ying watches dumbly as Jin Zixuan leaves, not even bothering to get the coffee he had probably come for in the first place.
“Wei Ying?” comes Lan Zhan’s voice. It sounds small and faraway, though that might be because of the ringing in Wei Ying’s ears. Wei Ying helplessly shudders, and the room is suddenly a few degrees too cold.
“Lan Zhan,” he manages to say. “Lan Zhan, he called her my sister.”
“She is your sister,” says Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying shakes his head.
“Do you have any other classes today?” Lan Zhan asks.
“No,” says Wei Ying. It’s all he can manage to push through his lips. He feels exceptionally exhausted. His limbs are merely hanging off his skeleton.
“I don’t either,” says Lan Zhan. He takes Wei Ying by the hand, quickly gathering up both of their things. He drapes Wei Ying’s jacket over his shoulders, helping to zip it up. “Come,” he says, “let us go to our dorm.”
The dorm. Right. Their dorm. Wei Ying can do that. One foot in front of the other, go, go, go. The journey is a silent one, an unpleasant one, nothing at all like the walks he’s used to taking with Lan Zhan. But, still, Lan Zhan is there, a constant presence by his side.
Wei Ying feels himself leaning against him, shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm.
Lan Zhan doesn’t move away. That’s nice.
They arrive and Wei Ying practically collapses to the floor. He leans against the frame of his bed, tilting his head back and taking several, long breaths.
Jiang Yanli is awake. Jiang Yanli is awake, and she has been for a while now. The revelation is creased at the edges of his skin, nothing more than a cold shudder of guilt.
You should go and see her.
Oh, if only it were that easy.
Suddenly, there are clothes being thrust into his arms.
Wei Ying blinks up, finding Lan Zhan standing in front of him with that stupid unreadable gaze of his. He flinches.
“Change,” says Lan Zhan. It’s not a request, no. It’s more of a demand. Wei Ying can only follow.
He takes the clothes and makes his way to the bathroom in a daze. He barely registers his own actions—change, wash face, brush teeth. Is he forgetting something? He probably is forgetting something.
He walks back to their room, finding that he doesn’t have the energy to pull out his own key. He raises his knuckles to the door, landing one single hard knock against it. It opens, and Wei Ying sees Lan Zhan again. He’s pulled inside; he doesn’t resist.
“What time is it?” he asks, voice muffled and quiet.
“Past five,” says Lan Zhan.
“It’s early,” says Wei Ying, his word punctuated with a yawn. He sheepishly looks away.
Lan Zhan has also changed in the time Wei Ying had been in the bathroom. He’s wearing the light blue pajamas with the patterned bunnies—Wei Ying used to tease him for them, and Lan Zhan would only retaliate with pinkened ears.
He finds himself smiling at the memory.
Lan Zhan seems to notice this. His features visibly relax, and Wei Ying feels another pang of guilt. Oh no, he thinks, I’ve worried him.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “You… you probably didn’t have to see that.” He stops. “You know, what happened with Jin Zixuan and everything.”
“It is not a bother,” Lan Zhan says. “I am glad to be here for you.”
“Still,” Wei Ying says, “I feel bad. You’ve had to deal with me ever since you moved in. It must be really annoying. I’m sorry about that.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says. He sounds exasperated. That’s new. “You are not a bother.”
He says it with such certainty that Wei Ying almost wants to believe him.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says again. He takes a step closer.
Lan Zhan doesn’t look away. “Yes, Wei Ying.”
“Lan Zhan, I’m tired.”
“I know,” says Lan Zhan. Wei Ying wonders if he really does. “I will help you with your hair.”
“My hair?” Wei Ying reaches up, immediately feeling the absolute mess of tangles and knots atop his head. He inwardly flinches. “Oh. Right. My hair. I forgot to comb it.”
“No matter,” says Lan Zhan. He walks over to his bed, taking a seat and scooching down till his back is against the wall. He folds his legs beneath him and gestures to the space in front of him.
Wei Ying hesitates for a moment, but also knows that if he’s to argue, it’s going to be a losing battle. He feels his shoulders stiffen, and he gently pads his way over, turning around and taking a seat. Lan Zhan’s secure grip is on his shoulders almost immediately, settling him into place. Moments later, there is a comb in his hair.
Wei Ying wonders if the way he subconsciously begins to shudder is noticeable. He hopes not—that would be quite embarrassing. Still, Lan Zhan doesn’t seem to pay much mind to anything but his hair.
Wei Ying briefly ponders where Lan Zhan even got the comb from in the first place, but throws the thought aside upon feeling the tight grip around his long hair.
Wei Ying always makes sure to take excellent care of his hair, yet this is so inexplicably different for some reason. Lan Zhan’s fingers are soft yet firm as they thread their way through, stopping to rub against particularly tight spots against Wei Ying’s scalp and neck. Wei Ying’s eyes flutter close on their own accord, and thoughts regarding Jin Zixuan and Jiang Yanli automatically disperse.
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan. His low voice surprises him.
“Can I braid it?”
Wei Ying’s breath hitches, catching in his throat. A mirage of memories from his childhood flush through his mind, barely more than a breezy chill against his core. An image of Jiang Yanli plays in the back of his head, the way she would braid his and Jiang Cheng’s hair before bed and tell them long tangential stories to lull them to sleep.
But he gulps all of that down, for what else can he do?
“Mhm,” he hums, careful to mask his thoughts away from Lan Zhan. It’s not that he doesn’t trust him—far from it—but he wonders for how much more time Lan Zhan will humor him. He wonders how long till Lan Zhan decides he’s done entertaining Wei Ying.
Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything more, simply parting Wei Ying’s hair into three sections. He runs his index finger through his fringe, piecing out small portions near his temples and loosely tying together the remaining bits. Braids are minimal effort, and Wei Ying knows that, but Lan Zhan still takes his utmost care with the style, spending long stretches of time making sure everything is perfect.
It’s… weirdly touching. In a strange, inherently Lan Zhan type of way.
Wei Ying wonders what that means. He wonders if it means more to him than it’s supposed to.
He feels Lan Zhan pat down the end of the braid, an air of finality ringing through the gesture. He turns his head around to peek over his shoulder, and the first thing his eyes catch is the blatant pinkness of the tips of Lan Zhan’s ears.
He sniggers to himself, then pushes away and up to his feet.
“Thanks,” he says, reaching back to tug at the braid. He feels himself smiling despite himself, and turns on his heel to face Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan is looking up at him, lips parted slightly. “Hold on, lemme take a look at your handiwork.”
Lan Zhan nods, then points over to the small mirror by his dresser. Wei Ying waltzes over to it, eyeing his frontside.
He looks… good. Much too good. The small wisps of hair not part of the braid frame the outline of his face perfectly, clinging to his jawline and cheeks.
“Wow,” he says, approval dripping through his voice.
“Good?” asks Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying glances over to where he’s still sitting on his bed, and shoots him a thumbs up. “Very good.”
“I am glad,” says Lan Zhan.
“Thank you,” says Wei Ying, earnestly. “I feel kinda bad though. I’m probably gonna mess this up in my sleep.”
“So be it,” says Lan Zhan.
“I can do it for you again,” Lan Zhan continues.
“Oh,” says Wei Ying. He feels his heart warm, overwhelmingly so. “Okay.” He gulps. “Lan Zhan.”
“Yes, Wei Ying?”
Wei Ying walks back over to the edge of Lan Zhan’s bed. His eyes flit over the space next to him, and Lan Zhan automatically moves to the side to make room. Wei Ying thanks him with his eyes, then proceeds to crawl over to sit down.
He squints at Lan Zhan from beside him. “Lan Zhan,” he says again.
“Why are you so nice to me?”
The question very obviously catches the latter by surprise, judging by the way his eyes shrink and his brow cocks. Neither of them say a word for a long, lingering moment, and Wei Ying doesn’t find himself struggling to fill the silence. He knows that if it were anyone else, it would be different.
Besides, he really does want to know the answer to his question.
Then, finally, Lan Zhan takes a breath. Wei Ying perks up, ears attentive and ready.
“Wei Ying is kind,” says Lan Zhan, and all the air in Wei Ying’s lungs disappears. “You have not received that same kindness in turn.”
“What?” Wei Ying’s eyes narrow. “But you didn’t know about the whole… thing… till just a little while ago. You’ve been nice to me since day one.”
“It is not a crime,” says Lan Zhan.
“I know,” says Wei Ying, shaking his head. “I know that, I do. It’s just… weird, I guess. No one’s ever…” He trails off, eyes widening. He looks up to Lan Zhan, who is staring at him with an expectant look. “Oh,” he says. “Oh, I get it.” No one’s ever been nice to him both before and after hearing about the accident. Wen Qing and Wen Ning got to know him in the aftermath of finding out.
He presses his lips together tightly and looks away.
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan. “I am glad to be your friend.”
Wei Ying mulls it over. “It’s not a burden?”
“It is not a burden,” Lan Zhan says. He shakes his head.
“Hmm.” Wei Ying slumps against the wall, bringing his knees up to press his thighs against his chest. He loops his arms around his legs, resting his chin against them. “You shouldn’t say stuff like that, Lan Zhan.”
He feels the mattress shift, but he doesn’t look over.
“I’m serious,” Wei Ying continues, blissfully unaware. “If you keep saying stuff like this, I dunno what I’m gonna do.” He releases a short laugh, halfway between fake and full of humor. “You know? I think I have a problem.”
“A problem,” Wei Ying confirms. “It’s strange. Whenever you do shit like this, my chest hurts.”
“Right here,” Wei Ying continues, lowering his legs and pressing the index finger of his right hand to the general area of his heart. “So… unless you want that to continue, you should probably stop.”
This time, Lan Zhan does speak. “It… hurts?”
Wei Ying nods. He doesn’t turn to look at his face. “Hurts a lot.”
“Very real pain.”
Then, “Good pain?”
This makes Wei Ying pause. He mulls over the question for a second longer than necessary.
“I don’t know,” he answers honestly. He’s still looking straight ahead, currently engaged in a fierce staring contest with the plush toy on his bed. “Sometimes good, sometimes not. Not… bad, either, of course. I don’t think that would be very normal.” He laughs. “Then again, when have I ever been normal? My life is just one big abnormality.”
Lan Zhan stays silent, seemingly in thought.
Wei Ying continues with a shudder. “Sometimes,” he says, “I feel like I don’t even have the right to say that.”
“What?” asks Lan Zhan.
“Like, I’m still here. I have a place to sleep, food to eat, my tuition is still paid for, even though I don’t want it to be paid for.” He barks out a laugh, and this one is bland of any flavor. “I feel like even saying that is selfish.”
“You are allowed to feel what you feel,” says Lan Zhan. His response is so immediate—so automatic and meaningful—Wei Ying has to finally turn and face him. Lan Zhan’s eyes are hard and dark on him, like he’ll do anything to make sure Wei Ying hears.
Hears, and truly listens.
Wei Ying nods, because he doesn’t know what else he’s supposed to do.
“And I cannot do anything but accompany you,” Lan Zhan says, “but I will.”
He doesn’t ask if that’s okay with Wei Ying. He doesn't follow that up with a ‘if you’ll let me.’ He says it as it is. He says it like the most absolute truth of the world.
And this time, Wei Ying really does believe him.
He’s finishing up his lab report when he gets the text.
[5:26] Wen Qing
hey i’m so sorry about this
but can you do me a huge favor?
[5:30] Wei Ying
hit me with it!!!!!!!!!
[5:31] Wen Qing
i left my wallet at home
wei ying… you can say no
but a-ning’s in an exam right now and i don’t really trust anyone else to go inside the apartment
i’m helping someone scrub in in about 20 mins so i can’t go back myself i’m so so sorry
[5:33] Wei Ying
ooh fun surgery time?
[5:33] Wen Qing
[5:33] Wei Ying
right right sorry haha
no problem qingqing dw about it! i can deliver it
to the hospital right?
[5:34] Wen Qing
oh god i literally owe you my life
i’ll let the people know to expect you
if you could just give it to someone or leave it in the staffroom
That’s how Wei Ying finds himself walking off campus and into Wen Qing and Wen Ning’s neighborhood ten minutes later. He shoots Wen Ning a quick good luck text beforehand, searching for anything to use as a distraction from the task at hand.
Lan Zhan had been working at his desk when he left. Wei Ying thought about asking him to come with him, but he knows Lan Zhan would have said yes even if the assignment he had was blaringly overdue.
Not that Lan Zhan would ever be in a position where something is overdue. The guy is painfully on top of his schoolwork.
And, well, it’s not like Wei Ying’s never been to Wen Qing’s apartment before. They’ve been close friends for a number of years now—visiting the Wen siblings in their home had been nothing short of inevitable.
Luckily, he’s never run into Jiang Cheng. His apartment complex is fairly close to Wen Qing’s—just about a block away, really—but their neighborhood is fairly quiet and everyone seems to know everyone.
He pulls his face mask over his mouth and nose and keeps his head down, pointedly avoiding anyone and everyone’s gaze.
He gets to the building without much fuss, quickly climbing up the stairs and heading inside. He finds Wen Qing’s wallet on the kitchen counter and grips it flimsily in his hands. He stops to take a look around, smiling fondly when he sees the framed picture of himself, Wen Qing, and Wen Ning still hanging on the wall opposite the living room.
He walks up to it, eyeing it carefully. It’s a selfie Wen Ning had taken back in his and Wei Ying’s freshman year. Wei Ying reaches out and runs his fingers over the image, stopping at his own face. The Wei Ying staring back at him looks incredibly tired, with dark circles and chapped lips decorating his features. He’s wearing a battered grey hoodie—the same hoodie that he had practically lived in after the accident. It took everything in Wen Qing to drag him to the mall and buy him some new clothes.
As always, Wei Ying is reminded of yet another reason to be grateful for his friends. His words have never been enough, he feels, no matter how much Wen Qing and Wen Ning say otherwise.
Gulping down the spring of tears that seem to be slowly making their way to the corners of his eyes, he steps back and heads to the front door. He casts one glance back over his shoulder at the space, notices how homely everything looks, and breathes a sigh out.
Perhaps under different circumstances, Wei Ying really could have lived with them.
Then again, he wouldn’t have met Lan Zhan if he was living here. That fact alone is enough to make the regret wash away.
He finds himself smiling despite himself.
Lan Zhan. He’ll really have to properly sit down and thank him for everything one day. Maybe they could go out to a fancy restaurant. Properly. Not like the shabby dinners they share in their dorm room.
Like a date.
A real date.
Wei Ying hasn’t been on a date since high school. Would Lan Zhan want to go on a date with him? Probably not, but he can try to ask. As friends. Maybe not friends. Maybe something more.
He pushes the front door open and steps into the hallway, quickly making his way back downstairs and out into the streets.
He checks his phone. It’ll probably take him around fifteen minutes to walk to the hospital, give or take five. He knows this because the hospital Wen Qing interns at is the same one Jiang Yanli was admitted to. He walks around the area often.
(He hasn’t driven a car in over two years. He wonders if he’ll ever be able to drive again.
He doubts it.)
“You’re fucking nuts.”
Wei Ying’s head snaps up at the sound of the familiar voice.
“Don’t give me that shit. It’s tulips or nothing—yes, of course I know her favorites are lotuses. No fucking way I’m letting those anywhere near the reception. Shut the fuck up Huaisang.”
Wei Ying’s heart speeds up within the confines of his chest. He subconsciously reaches up to make sure the mask on his face is covering him properly. He barely notices the way his fingers are shaking.
“No. Shut up. I can’t fucking believe Nie Mingjue opened a flower shop and he can’t provide us with tulips. Fucking tulips. They’re not even roses—don’t tell me you’re sold out of roses too. Are you serious? No I will not buy lotuses, I already told you. I’m not being a bad brother! You’re being a bad brother! Shut the fuck up!”
Jiang Cheng is across the street. Jiang Cheng is across the street. Wei Ying freezes in his tracks; his grip on Wen Qing’s wallet fumbles loose.
Oh. Oh. He needs to get out of there. He needs to get out of there right now.
But his feet refuse to move. Wei Ying wills himself to step away, turn around, head back in the direction of the hospital, but his efforts are fruitless. Pathetic. Pathetic.
His eyes find themselves roaming. They land back on Jiang Cheng’s figure, tall (though not as tall as Wei Ying himself) and looming and the same as always. He hasn’t changed. Not really. He still wears his hair in a bun. There’s still that familiar scowl on his face—the same one that Wei Ying had gotten so used to seeing every single day till the sight faded to nothing more than a distant memory.
A memory. Isn’t that what this is? Isn’t that what this will become?
Wei Ying realizes that perhaps he shouldn’t be staring. He should keep walking ahead and throw this chance encounter behind him. The insides of his chest are ice cold, frost and wind clinging to him and refusing to drift away. It’s infuriating. It’s terrifying.
But Wei Ying can’t find it in himself to be surprised.
After all, wasn’t he just practically walking into a trap by agreeing to get Wen Qing’s wallet for her? He is sick of himself—did some twisted part of him want this to happen?
He doesn’t want to acknowledge that possibility.
Then, Jiang Cheng turns. He’s wearing that purple jacket of his, the one Jiang Yanli gifted him for his eighteenth birthday. Jiang Yanli. Jiang Cheng is talking to someone—Nie Huaisang, most likely—about her, right? He has to be, right?
Wei Ying feels his heart drop.
Jiang Cheng’s eye catches his.
Wei Ying’s entire world seems to stand still around him. Everyone is frozen in place, legs up and ready to take their next step. Wei Ying finds that he can’t even make the first move to raise his foot.
Jiang Cheng squints through the broad daylight, and Wei Ying suddenly finds himself again. He looks away immediately, ignoring the tremble in his limbs. He steadies his breath, blinking rapidly and turning completely away from Jiang Cheng. He hopes—prays—that he hasn’t been recognized.
He walks, one foot in front of the other. Slowly, then quickly.
Jiang Cheng’s voice fades into the background. Wei Ying wishes he could do the same.
“Ying-ge,” says Wen Ning. His backpack is hanging loosely off his shoulders. Wei Ying stands up from the bench he’s sitting on and offers him a friendly wave in greeting. Wen Ning quickly jogs up to him, hesitant smile already in place. “You wanted to see me?”
“Wen Ning!” Wei Ying says, reaching out to gently shove his shoulder. “Your sister told me you were in an exam. How was it?”
“Good,” nods Wen Ning.
“Great!” Wei Ying takes a deep breath. Then, “I saw Jiang Cheng.”
The shift in Wen Ning’s expression is so sudden, it’s almost comical. His eyes widen considerably. Wei Ying knows that it’s partly his fault. After all, he did kind of just rip off a pretty big bandaid.
“You—you saw—” Wen Ning is stuttering, very clearly taken aback by the sudden topic of conversation. Wei Ying doesn’t really talk about Jiang Cheng unless he absolutely has to. And that too is only when Wen Qing wants to badmouth his adoptive family.
(She’s working on that. At least, she says she is.)
“Yeah,” says Wei Ying. “He, uh, he looks good.”
Which is true. Jiang Cheng looks pretty normal. As normal as he can look, anyways.
“I didn’t talk to him or anything,” Wei Ying says hurriedly. “Um. I went to your apartment to get something for Wen Qing. She left her wallet there so, uh, I offered, you know. He… Jiang Cheng was across the street. I don’t think he saw me properly.”
Wen Ning takes a step closer to him. The next thing he knows, Wei Ying is being engulfed in a comforting embrace. He shakes slightly, melting into it with ease.
“A-Ning,” Wei Ying says quietly, “my sister’s getting married.”
Wen Ning let’s go of him for a moment, eyes bearing into his own. “She’s…?”
“She’s okay,” Wei Ying nods. He gulps. “I ran into Jin Zixuan. He told me that she’s… she’s okay. And the wedding is still on.”
“That’s wonderful,” says Wen Ning, and he sounds like he means it. Wei Ying can’t stop himself from nodding in silent agreement. “I know you’ve been worried about her.”
“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. “Yeah. I guess I have, haven’t I?” He looks away, chewing at the inside of his mouth. “I… is it selfish to want to go and see her? Maybe not now, of course. I don’t even know where she is. I don’t know where she lives right now, or even if she’s actually out of the hospital yet. It’s stupid, isn’t it? God, nevermind. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“Ying-ge,” says Wen Ning, firm and absolute. “It’s not selfish. You should go and see her.”
“I can’t,” Wei Ying says.
“Then later,” Wen Ning says. “You should.”
Wei Ying laughs lowly. “Jiang Cheng will kill me.” Then, “Also, don’t tell your sister about any of this. She’ll probably yell at me and then force me to go just to spite Jiang Cheng.”
This elicits a laugh out of Wen Ning. “She will,” he agrees. “I won’t tell her till you’re ready. Don’t worry.”
“You’re the best,” Wei Ying laughs. “Say, we haven’t hung out alone in a bit. Do you wanna go out and get some food with me? Lan Zhan’s in a boring evening class and Wen Qing’s gonna be working late.”
Wen Ning nods. “Are you close with Lan-xiong now?”
The topic of Lan Zhan makes Wei Ying’s heart warm unexpectedly. He smiles, thoughts unravelling to focus entirely on that stupid roommate of his. “Yeah,” he says after a moment. “Close. Yeah. I guess you can say that.”
“I think he really likes you,” Wen Ning supplies helpfully.
Wei Ying quirks an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Mm!” Wen Ning says. “I see him around campus a lot. Sometimes I talk to him, too! He’s really nice. I think he likes you, Ying-ge.”
“Huh,” says Wei Ying. “Well, I guess that’s part of the perks of being his roommate.”
“Maybe,” says Wen Ning. “Do you like him?”
“Of course I like him.”
“No, I mean…” Wen Ning trails off. He gives Wei Ying a look, something that he’ll never ever get accustomed to. Wen Ning isn’t exactly the most forward person, after all.
Wei Ying huffs. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Okay,” says Wen Ning. He slides past the topic with ease, probably feeling a little awkward himself. “Sorry. I was just wondering. You haven’t made any close friends since me and my jiejie.”
“Yeah,” says Wei Ying. “Lan Zhan’s super nice, and he’s super helpful too. He’s the only other person who knows about… you know.”
“Really?” Wen Ning asks. “Ying-ge, did you tell him?”
Wei Ying presses his lips together and nods slowly. “He saw me outside the hospital a couple of months ago.”
“Was he… was he nice about it?”
“Too nice,” Wei Ying says. He sighs, shoulders slumping down. “Way too nice.”
“That’s good,” says Wen Ning.
“Yeah,” says Wei Ying. “Yeah, I guess.”
There’s a churning sensation in his stomach—one that’s prominent and anxious. It tugs at him, closing around the edges. Wei Ying presses his lips together into a tight line and looks down at his feet.
Wen Ning seems to notice this, and frowns. “Ying-ge,” he starts, “you are deserving of love.”
It’s so sudden that it catches Wei Ying by obvious surprise. He looks up again, meeting Wen Ning’s eye. There’s a twinkle in the way he’s gazing back at him, knowing but courteous.
“And if Lan-xiong can give that to you,” Wen Ning continues, ignoring him. It’s unlike how he usually is. He’s probably serious, Wei Ying realizes. “If he can give it to you,” Wen Ning says again, “then I think that’s good.”
Wei Ying stops, because isn’t that what he’s afraid of?
“You are a good person,” says Wen Ning. “What happened wasn’t your fault.”
There’s a hand on his arm. Wei Ying looks down to see Wen Ning clutching him in a manner that can only be described as comforting. It’s nice. Wen Ning is always nice. More often than not, Wei Ying feels he doesn’t deserve his friendship. His, and Wen Qing’s. They really are wonderful. Much too wonderful.
“Jiejie and I are always here for you,” says Wen Ning.
Wei Ying feels warm. He feels a sense of belonging—one he hasn’t dared to acknowledge in the past couple of years.
He nods. “I know.”
“Are you awake?”
Wei Ying peers through the darkness of the room. He’s laying on his bed, rolled over on his side. Lan Zhan is sleeping soundly as always, resting on his back with his hands on his chest.
He doesn’t move. Wei Ying tries again, “Lan Zhan, are you awake?”
Wei Ying takes a deep breath. He peels the thin blanket off of him, feeling the cool night breeze immediately rush onto his bare skin. He shudders automatically, then sits up straight and dangles his feet off the edge of the bed.
“Lan Zhan?” he calls again.
He inches up till he’s standing straight. It’s past midnight, but Wei Ying can barely keep his eyes closed. His mind is clogged, refusing to give him a second’s respite.
He tip-toes up to Lan Zhan’s side of the room, squinting down onto his bed and frowning when he sees that Lan Zhan is indeed asleep. He reaches out and roughly pokes his index finger into his side.
Lan Zhan’s eyes fly open immediately, and Wei Ying finds himself smiling.
“Lan Zhan,” he whisper-shouts.
“Wei—Wei Ying?” comes Lan Zhan’s voice. It’s dripping with sleep, and Wei Ying realizes that he should probably be feeling a little guilty.
There’s no time for that, though.
Lan Zhan tries to sit up, but Wei Ying quickly pushes him back down. He presses his hands against Lan Zhan’s arm, then tries to roll him over closer to the wall.
Lan Zhan freezes. “What are you doing?”
“Move over,” Wei Ying whispers.
Lan Zhan says nothing for a long moment. Then, he slowly complies, scooching over to the side by the wall and making enough room for Wei Ying to squeeze himself under the covers.
He gets himself inside Lan Zhan’s bed, bringing the blanket up to his shoulders and settling in next to him. The beds in their room are small—much too small for two people. Still, Wei Ying makes it work. If he has to lay half off of the mattress he’ll do it.
It’s not the first time they’ve shared a bed, after all. The first time was even initiated by Lan Zhan. Wei Ying thinks that what gives him the sudden courage to crawl into his personal space like this.
So, really, this is all Lan Zhan’s fault. He mentally nods at this conclusion.
And, anyways. He just… really doesn’t want to be alone right now.
He knows that’s stupid. After all, the two of them share a room. He’s not really alone, even in his own bed.
Still. This is different. It’s different like this.
It feels better like this.
It felt good the first time, too.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan croaks. He sounds a lot more awake now, and Wei Ying tries not to struggle over what that could mean. “Are you okay? Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” says Wei Ying. “Sorry. I can leave if you—”
He’s interrupted by a firm hand on his arm. Wei Ying blinks, then relaxes into the touch.
Lan Zhan doesn’t let go.
“I have told you,” he says. “You are not a bother.”
“You have told me that,” Wei Ying agrees seamlessly. Then, “It’s nothing. It’s just cold.”
A flimsy excuse. He knows Lan Zhan probably realizes that.
He also knows Lan Zhan is smart enough to understand it means he doesn’t really want to talk about it.
Wei Ying brings his knees up, but then stops when he realizes there’s really not enough space for that. Lan Zhan seems to notice, bringing his own legs further away for Wei Ying’s comfort. Wei Ying makes a displeased noise, hoping it’s enough to convey his feelings.
It seems to do the trick. Lan Zhan stops moving immediately.
“Is this uncomfortable?” asks Wei Ying, breaking the silence between them. “Sorry. It’s probably uncomfortable. I won’t do this again, I promise, but—”
“Wei Ying. I am not uncomfortable.”
Wei Ying shuts up immediately at that.
“Oh,” he says eloquently. “I see. Um. That’s good, then.”
“Lan Zhan, I am sleeping—”
“No more talking.”
“Um. Lan Zhan?”
“Goodnight, Wei Ying.”
A strange spark ignites inside him.
Wei Ying doesn’t know what it is—doesn’t really want to know what it is, lest it go away—but one moment he’s sitting at his desk working away at an assignment and the next he’s reaching for his phone and turning on the first song on his music application.
He gets up, noticing the way Lan Zhan perks up at the sound.
Lan Zhan turns around in his own seat, eyes roaming up to find Wei Ying’s. Wei Ying walks up to him and pokes his shoulder. A smile spreads across his features before he can help it, and he bends his knees down to meet him at eye level.
“Lan Zhan,” he says. “Dance with me?”
Lan Zhan’s mouth opens, then closes, then opens again. Wei Ying watches as he turns back around to plug his laptop to the charger, then shuts the lid and stands up as well. Wei Ying straightens up automatically, a wide grin making its way to the corners of his mouth, and he backs up till he’s standing in the center of their room.
Lan Zhan follows him. Lan Zhan always follows him.
Wei Ying holds his arms out, hands faced palm-up. Lan Zhan’s gaze flickers down to them, and he gently places his own hands on top. Wei Ying’s fingers curl around the skin of Lan Zhan’s knuckles, and he pulls him in tightly till they’re just a breath apart.
Wei Ying shakes his head. He lets go of his hold on Lan Zhan’s hands, then slides up till he’s touching his bare wrists. Then higher, to his forearms, and even higher still, all the way to his biceps.
His hands then find the padding of Lan Zhan’s firm shoulders, broad and inviting. Lan Zhan is staring at him, eyes dark and focused. Wei Ying doesn’t meet his eye. He knows the time will come for that later.
Then, Lan Zhan’s hands are on his waist, and every other thought disperses into thin air.
Wei Ying beams. He wonders if the true intensity of what he’s feeling is able to sink through his skin, but decides perhaps it’s for the better if it doesn’t.
They move slowly at first, every single step in time with the soft, lulled beat of the music in the background. Wei Ying doesn’t exactly know how to dance, and he knows Lan Zhan doesn’t either. What they’re doing, though, that’s enough. It’s a little all over the place, and Wei Ying trips in the face of Lan Zhan’s slightly taller form more often than not, but he finds himself laughing through it.
Breezy chuckles. An unconcealed glow.
He swears he catches Lan Zhan smiling as well.
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan as he grips Wei Ying’s fingers in his palm and twirls him around. Wei Ying’s knee clashes against the edge of his bed, and he giggles uncontrollably. “Is something the matter?”
He always asks. He always makes sure Wei Ying is okay. It’s scary how much he wants this, whatever it is.
“No,” says Wei Ying. “Nothing really. I just thought this would be fun.”
“Mm.” Lan Zhan takes him by the waist again and dips him.
Wei Ying prepares to be lifted up again, but instead he feels Lan Zhan’s hands tightening around him, pausing behind his back and stopping him from falling over.
He’s suspended in the air like that, and suddenly Lan Zhan’s chest is the only thing crowding his vision.
He looks up, alarmed. “Lan Zhan—?”
His voice sounds so much closer this way. So close, yet so undeniably far. Wei Ying’s hands reach up on their own accord and gently loop around Lan Zhan’s neck. He pulls himself up till their chests are almost touching. His eyes bear directly into Lan Zhan’s.
He doesn’t know who moves first, but suddenly he feels something warm and soft press against his lips.
Wei Ying’s eyes shutter close.
Lan Zhan is—Lan Zhan is kissing him. Lan Zhan is kissing him. Or, maybe, it’s Wei Ying that’s kissing Lan Zhan. Either way, they’re kissing. They’re kissing and it’s deep and wonderful and oh fuck.
It’s a small peck, and then it’s not. They break away for a fraction of a second before they’re pulling back in, and Wei Ying feels every other sense in his body fade away. This is… this is not exactly what he had been going for when he had asked Lan Zhan to dance with him, but he’s also definitely not complaining.
He gasps into Lan Zhan’s mouth, soft and oh so sure. It’s exhilarating. It’s absolutely everything. Wei Ying doesn’t want to ever stop doing this. Lan Zhan’s hands are splayed across the spanse of his lower back and Wei Ying is supporting himself by clinging to his neck. He’s still being dipped down, his right leg just slightly raised off above the ground. He wonders if Lan Zhan would be able to pick him up completely like this.
Lan Zhan pulls him up till Wei Ying is upright again, and suddenly it’s better. This way, Wei Ying is able to press against him completely. Lan Zhan’s hands slide over his cheek and gently move to cup around his jawline, their mouths never breaking apart.
It’s utter bliss. Wei Ying feels himself being pushed slightly, and his legs work automatically in his favor. They carry him back till he feels his mattress plush against the back of his knees, and he quickly tightens his hold around Lan Zhan to pull him down as he topples back. Lan Zhan readily complies, and they break away so Wei Ying can move till his back is against the wall. Lan Zhan crowds over him, his form blinding every inch of his peripheral.
He looks lovely like this, his eyes dim and half-closed. His lips are kiss-bitten, swollen and red. Wei Ying doesn’t know what to do with that image—did he do that? Did he really do that?
He doesn’t even want to know what kind of state he himself is in right now.
“Lan Zhan,” he breathes as Lan Zhan’s lips brush his mouth for a brief moment. “Lan Zhan.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t bother justifying that with an answer. Instead, he leans in again, peppering light kisses to the corners of Wei Ying’s mouth.
“Wei Ying,” he says quietly. His voice is barely above a whisper. It sends a chill down Wei Ying’s spine.
He feels his eyes narrow with something new, something odd, but not unwelcome. Lan Zhan seems to notice it too. His dark gaze sends sparks shivering through the air. Lan Zhan’s hands fly to his shoulders, and this time, they stay there. He pulls him closer, closer, and it’s never enough. It should be enough, but it’s not.
“Lan Zhan,” he says when they break away again. The name feels nice on his tongue. It feels like it belongs there. “Something is going to happen.”
Lan Zhan looks at him, but they’re so close that Wei Ying can barely make out the details of his face. Lan Zhan hums to show that he’s listening.
Wei Ying takes a staggering breath. “I don’t know what it is,” he says, voice slightly cracked and rough. He swallows heavily. “I don’t know why everything is suddenly happening now, first with Jin Zixuan and then with seeing Jiang Cheng again.”
Lan Zhan’s hold on him suddenly tightens. “You met your brother?”
Ah. He remembers now that he hasn’t told him of what happened yet.
“Saw him,” Wei Ying gently corrects. “He was across the street. I can’t help but wonder, though…”
“If it’s a sign,” Lan Zhan finishes for him.
Wei Ying nods. “Mhm.”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan. He leans back a little so they can properly see each other, but their chests remain pressed together. “You are not alone.”
Something snaps inside of Wei Ying. A budding realization suddenly blossoms into a nightmare.
He wonders. He’s been wondering for a while now—his mind is constantly in a state of disarray. This much is true. This much Wei Ying has acknowledged. Sometimes, he thinks back to his more coherent days, his more coherent thoughts, and drifts between the space of time and reality.
Can he bring Lan Zhan into that? Can he pull him into something like this? Wei Ying knows Lan Zhan won’t mind, and that maybe it’ll be okay to do so. Eventually.
He can’t help but ask himself, though. Would Lan Zhan want that? Should he ask if he wants that? Yes. He should.
But it’s too hard.
“This.” He makes a vague gesture between them, and watches as Lan Zhan’s eyes widen in understanding. “This is nice. I like it.”
Lan Zhan’s lips quirk at this.
Wei Ying continues, “But I… Lan Zhan, you don’t want to be with someone like me.”
“I do,” Lan Zhan says immediately.
It’s said so hurriedly, with so much emotion simmering at the surface. It’s bubbling till it’s overflowing, and all of a sudden it’s too much.
Sometimes, most times, all the time—Wei Ying doesn’t understand himself. He can’t understand himself. Will there ever be a person who can?
“I appreciate the sentiment,” says Wei Ying. He swallows down the words that threaten to escape, something along the lines of yes, be with me, tell me everything, hold me, do what you’ve always been doing. Instead, “I do. I really, really do. But… I can’t.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything, simply staring back at him.
“I’ll hold you down,” Wei Ying says quietly. His tone quivers, up and down, up and down. “I’m too much to handle. I’m like that extra baggage the airport people don’t let you check-in because it exceeds the weight limit.”
“You are lovely,” says Lan Zhan. He promptly ignores the analogy. “Anyone would be lucky to have you.”
“You don’t…” Wei Ying’s eyes flicker away. “You shouldn’t say things you don’t mean.”
“I mean it,” says Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying doesn’t consider himself to be particularly in touch with his emotions at all times, but he does know enough to have the least bit of common sense.
He reaches up to press his palms against Lan Zhan’s chest. He gently pushes, and watches as something flashes through Lan Zhan’s eyes—they’re still trained on him, heavily, intentionally. Wei Ying can only look away after a moment too long.
Lan Zhan stumbles away, just out of Wei Ying’s reach. His chest burns. His mind is racing with a plethora of thoughts, all invasive and most probably untrue. He knows that much himself; he knows Lan Zhan will never hold him against anything.
What Wei Ying doesn’t know is whether or not Lan Zhan can handle him.
“I’m sorry,” he manages to croak out. “I’m sorry.”
Lan Zhan stares at him, now standing upright in front of the bed. He shakes his head.
“Do not apologize,” he says.
Wei Ying cowers back. “Lan Zhan,” he says, voice on the borderline of a pathetic whine, “Lan Zhan, why are you so good? Why are you so good?”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan, “it is okay.”
“It’s not,” Wei Ying shakes his head. “It’s not okay.”
“It is,” says Lan Zhan. “I will not push you into something you are not ready for.”
But it isn’t that.
“Wei Ying.” He reaches over and places a hand on Wei Ying’s knee. Wei Ying jerks at the sudden touch, but makes no move to pull away. “Sleep, now.”
Wei Ying gulps. He nods because he doesn’t know what else he’s supposed to do.
“You don’t hate me?” he asks as he watches Lan Zhan retreat back to his desk.
Lan Zhan stops. He turns, looking back at him over his shoulder.
“I do not hate you,” he says. Wei Ying curls in on himself. “I could never hate you.”
Wei Ying drifts.
The thirteenth arrives as it always does, and with it comes a morning of tender celebrations.
“Thank you,” says Wei Ying. Lan Zhan is sitting in front of him, small cake wrapped in a plastic box in hand. He’s smiling fondly back at him, and Wei Ying can’t help but return it.
Things aren’t awkward between them, no. Wei Ying quite likes that aspect of their relationship—even after the kiss, Lan Zhan doesn’t avoid him. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He’s still there for Wei Ying through it all.
Wei Ying’s heart feels full. It feels happy and content and everything is suddenly so, so warm.
There’s only one thing that could make it even warmer. He wonders when he’ll be ready to tell Lan Zhan.
“Happy six months and one week roommate anniversary,” says Lan Zhan. His voice is serious, like this is actually very important to him.
Wei Ying grins. “Cake for breakfast, huh? This is the first time we’ve done this in the morning.”
“You have a long day ahead of you,” says Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying’s eyebrow quirks. “Just two lectures and a lab.”
“A long day,” Lan Zhan repeats. “Plus, six months is special.”
Wei Ying rolls his eyes, incredibly fond. “Yeah yeah, whatever. Sure.”
“Would you like to cut it?” asks Lan Zhan. He holds up a plastic knife in a silent offering. Wei Ying nods and takes it, quickly cutting out two large chunks and dropping them onto the paper plates lying on the floor nearby.
They eat and talk about meaningless things as they always do. It’s nice. It’s easy. It’s so them.
“I should get going,” Wei Ying says, preparing to get up and gather his things together for his first class.
Lan Zhan raises a hand to stop him, and Wei Ying immediately freezes. He watches as Lan Zhan leans over the space between them, his fingers gently landing at the corner of his mouth.
Wei Ying holds his breath when he feels Lan Zhan’s finger swipe at his skin.
“Icing,” says Lan Zhan, backing away and holding up his hand to show him. Indeed, there is a small bit of crusty white cake topping there. Wei Ying releases a breath and relaxes his awfully tense shoulders, then nods.
“Thanks,” he says. “Um. I’ll go then? I’ll see you for dinner.”
Lan Zhan nods, then shoos him off.
Wei Ying’s day goes by especially quickly. His lab is a breeze, and his lectures are an absolute shitshow. Some kid in the front row of his early afternoon one throws an absolute fuss over one of his overdue assignments, and Wei Ying’s head just hurts.
Well. In hindsight, he should have been expecting it.
Not many people are out and about on campus, and the people who are are much too focused on getting to their next class.
Wei Ying is exiting his lecture hall when it happens. The air is a few degrees too chilly for the beginnings of a new season. A scarf is wrapped loosely around his neck. His head is down and his eyes are focused on his phone. Wen Qing has texted him, asking if he’d like to meet up for lunch tomorrow.
He’s typing out an affirmative reply when his shoulder accidentally bumps into someone.
He looks up, startled. The person grunts, turning around as well.
“So—” Wei Ying starts, but his voice dies in his throat when he sees who it is.
“—rry?” Wei Ying finishes lamely. His hands drop to his side, his jaw going slack.
It takes all of three seconds for Jiang Cheng to move. His eyes are wide on his face, and his lips part in obvious surprise. Wei Ying gulps, subconsciously taking a step back and almost tripping on his feet.
This close, Wei Ying is able to more properly see his face. His features are still inherently the same, his hairstyle is still his signature do, but the real difference is the sudden mature slopes of his face. Gone is the teenager Wei Ying once knew—the person who he treasured more than himself.
Then, Jiang Cheng’s eyes narrow.
Wei Ying quickly shuts his mouth and turns on his heel. He’s prepared to march away, shut this memory into the back of his mind, and go to sleep for a solid three weeks.
But he feels a strong grip on his shoulder stopping him from moving.
He stops, leg raised halfway above the ground. Goosebumps rise on his arms, feeling prominent even through his clothing.
He glances over his shoulder to see Jiang Cheng’s hard gaze on him, clenched and unmoving.
Now, Wei Ying doesn’t think he’s the most socially aware person. Still, this is an all time low.
“Uh,” he says. He watches as Jiang Cheng’s glare on him further deepens at the sound of his voice. “Hi?”
Okay. Okay, maybe that was not the best thing to say.
“Hi?” Jiang Cheng repeats. His voice is just as rough and crackly as Wei Ying remembers. “Almost three years, and all you have to say is hi?”
Wei Ying bites down on his lip, stopping whatever response he has at the tip of his tongue from escaping.
“Not even two and a half,” Wei Ying says.
Ouch. Maybe another line that might’ve been better left unsaid.
Jiang Cheng’s cheeks blossom the color of pretty red roses—a telltale sign that he’s getting angry. “Shut the fuck up.”
It’s not said in the teasing voice Wei Ying had gotten used to throughout their childhood. No. This time, Jiang Cheng’s emotions are very clearly real, and it doesn’t look like he’s planning on hiding his displeasure.
So, Wei Ying straightens up. He turns around fully so that he’s facing the latter. His hands come up automatically to gently tug at the ends of his scarf, tightening the fabric around his neck. Maybe he feels like it can hide him, maybe it’s something else. He doesn’t know.
“What do you want me to say, then?” he asks.
Jiang Cheng’s eyebrow twitches. Wei Ying winces at the sight.
“Whatever,” says Jiang Cheng. He abruptly lets go of his hold, his fingers clenching, then unclenching.
He turns on his own this time to leave, and Wei Ying watches him with a dumbfounded expression.
“Wait,” he says, the word leaving his lips before he can fully think it over. Jiang Cheng pauses, but doesn’t face him. Wei Ying takes a short breath. “Jiang Cheng.”
Jiang Cheng’s shoulders flex. He’s listening.
That in it of itself comes as a bit of a surprise. Wei Ying can’t seem to make out the true extent of what is happening right now—he knows it’ll hit him later. For now, though…
“Congratulations,” Wei Ying says. “I heard… I heard Yanli is getting married.”
At this, Jiang Cheng does spin around. “What?” His glare is sharp on Wei Ying’s figure, and although he’s taller, Wei Ying feels incredibly small under the scrutiny. Jiang Cheng scowls. “Who did you hear that from? I didn’t tell you.”
“Jin Zixuan,” says Wei Ying. Then, “Extend… my regards to her.” It’s a stupid request. There’s no way Jiang Cheng will fulfill it.
Jiang Cheng’s face does a weird thing. Weirder than usual, anyways.
“You can extend your regards to her yourself,” he says.
Wei Ying stares at him. Did he just—
“What?” he asks.
“Tell her yourself,” Jiang Cheng snaps. “I’m not your fucking messenger.”
“How can I…” Wei Ying trails off.
Jiang Cheng flips around again and stomps away, leaving Wei Ying standing there, his mind dripping with unconcealed confusion.
[7:32] Wei Ying
what does it mean if your brother who you haven’t seen in 2+ years suddenly tells you to extend your regards to your sister yourself
after you tell him to congratulate said sister on your behalf
because of her wedding
[7:35] Wen Qing
what the fuck
what the fuck???????
[7:35] Wei Ying
shhh shh shh just answer the question
[7:36] Wen Qing
there is so much to unpack in that question
you met jiang cheng?? you talked to jiang cheng?
[7:36] Wei Ying
oh right you don’t know
i told wen ning not to tell you
[7:36] Wen Qing
tell me what
[7:37] Wei Ying
i saw jiang cheng in your neighborhood that day when i went to get your wallet for you
but it was across the street and it was super quick so i don’t think he recognized me
[7:40] Wen Qing
and you just didn’t think this was important to mention
[7:41] Wei Ying
shhh shhs h that’s all in the past now :D
anyways answer the question
[7:41] Wen Qing
jiang yanli is getting married?
[7:41] Wei Ying
oh right i never told you about that either
[7:41] Wen Qing
[7:42] Wei Ying
okAY ok ay i get it you’re angry it won’t happen again blah blah blah
now can you ANSWER THE QUESTION
[7:42] Wen Qing
it means go and fucking talk to your sister
[7:45] Wei Ying
[7:45] Wen Qing
[7:45] Wei Ying
lan zhan is calling me
yo did you know we kissed but then i pushed him away and now i regret pushing him away and lowkey i think i might be a little in love with him LMAO
[7:46] Wen Qing
Wei Ying sees Jiang Cheng again on campus.
This time, he’s not sure if it’s a complete accident.
“Friday,” Jiang Cheng tells him. His voice is hard, like he’d rather be anywhere else. “Meet me outside the quad on Friday at noon. Don’t miss it.”
“I said don’t fucking miss it.”
Wei Ying stares at him for a long time. “Okay,” he nods. “Alright. I’ll be there.”
He’s at dinner with his friends, Lan Zhan next to him in the booth and Wen Qing and Wen Ning across from him. He frowns, poking his straw into his drink and sighing deeply.
“Should you what?” asks Wen Qing, clacking her teeth. “Seriously, you’re the one who invited us out. All you’ve done is sit there and mope for the past ten minutes. Will you please tell us what’s going on?”
Wen Ning nods, albeit a little hesitantly. “Ying-ge, is everything okay?”
“Wei Ying,” comes Lan Zhan’s voice. Wei Ying looks over to him, sees the peppering concern written clear as day over his gorgeous features, and sinks back into his seat.
“Jiang Cheng asked me to meet up with him,” he says slowly. “I was going to ask him why, but he left before I could.”
Wen Qing makes a weird noise. “Did you agree?”
“Yeah,” says Wei Ying.
“Then you obviously have to go,” Wen Qing says. “You know how Jiang Cheng is. Once you give your word, there’s absolutely no turning your back on him.”
Wei Ying knows that. He knows that more than anyone else in the world.
“I just feel like all of this is happening so quickly,” he says. “Like, the whole thing with Jiang Cheng. Meeting him again in the first place. Just seeing him.” He pauses to shudder. “Honestly, it hasn’t even fully sunk in yet.”
“Maybe he wants to talk,” Wen Ning supplies helpfully.
“Doubt it,” mutters Wei Ying. Wen Qing nods in agreement.
“There’s definitely an ulterior motive here,” she says, slamming her fists together. Wei Ying tries very hard not to wince at the sight. “Wei Ying, do you want me to visit his place tonight and interrogate him? Because I can definitely do that. Definitely, one hundred-percent. I am willing.”
“Shut up,” Wei Ying groans.
Wen Qing’s eyes on him soften. “Sorry,” she says. “It’s just, you know how I feel about this whole thing.”
“I do,” nods Wei Ying, “and I appreciate it. Really. I’m just confused. I never thought he’d actually approach me again after the first shitshow.”
“The first shitshow?” Wen Ning repeats.
“Oh,” says Wei Ying. “That’s right. I forgot to tell you.” He turns to Lan Zhan, who is already looking at him. “You too.”
He quickly proceeds to recount the events of what had taken place the first time he had spoken to Jiang Cheng. Wen Qing crosses her arms and looks away, expression tight. Wen Ning listens intently, and Lan Zhan’s eyes stay trained down on the table.
“Ying-ge,” Wen Ning starts once he’s finished, “I think you should go.”
“Yeah,” says Wei Ying. “I should, shouldn’t I?” He groans, covering his face with the palms of his hands. “This is stupid. Why did it have to be Jiang Cheng? Why couldn’t I just run into, like, I don’t know, Madam Yu.” He immediately stops. “Actually, no. No way. That would be a million times worse.”
Wen Qing and Wen Ning exchange a look, solemnly nodding between themselves.
Then, Wei Ying feels a hand on his forearm, hidden discreetly underneath the table. He looks down to see Lan Zhan gripping him, before letting his line of sight travel up to meet his eyes.
He opens his mouth, about to say something—anything—but Lan Zhan beats him to it.
“You are not alone,” says Lan Zhan. It’s not the first time he’s said those words. Wei Ying feels them vibrate in his body, all the way down to his core.
He finds himself nodding, using his free hand to squeeze Lan Zhan’s fingers.
“Thank you,” he says.
And Lan Zhan is still staring at him, quietly certain as always. He’s looking at Wei Ying like he’s the only person left in the entire universe. For some reason, Wei Ying thinks that even if that were the case, Lan Zhan’s expression would never falter.
The realization buzzes through his veins.
Oh, he thinks, oh, I don’t want to lose him.
He knows that it’s a petty thought. Somehow, he feels that Lan Zhan will still be holding his arm silently till the end of all of this. That alone is comforting to no end.
He looks back to the others, finding Wen Ning pointedly facing away from them and Wen Qing looking between them with a very delicately raised eyebrow. She meets Wei Ying’s eye, bearing a question straight at him, silent but deadly.
Wei Ying gulps. He looks away, but even that is a mistake—now he’s back to staring at Lan Zhan, who in turn offers him the smallest, most graceful smile he’s ever seen.
And this time, he doesn’t turn away.
Lan Zhan looks up from where he’s sitting on the floor, a crowd of papers scattered around him.
Wei Ying hangs off of his bed, peering closely into his eyes. “Do you think I’m being stupid?”
“Never,” says Lan Zhan, his response coming as naturally as always. “What are we talking about?”
Wei Ying snorts. “See? I’m always being stupid so you have to ask which moment I’m telling you about.”
Lan Zhan sets the paper he has in his hand down. He looks at Wei Ying seriously.
“Is this about your brother?”
“No,” says Wei Ying. “I mean, yeah, but also no.”
Lan Zhan says nothing, silently urging him to continue.
Wei Ying sighs. “You.”
Lan Zhan blinks. “Me?”
Wei Ying hums. “Do you remember when I told you about the pain in my chest?”
“The good pain.”
“Right,” Wei Ying nods. “The good pain.” He rolls onto his back, till his head is dangling off of the edge of the mattress. He sees Lan Zhan’s face upside down, and from his angle, his frown looks more like a smile.
He laughs. The smile deepens. He laughs again.
“What about it?” Lan Zhan asks.
“I think,” says Wei Ying, “I know what it is.”
“You know what it is,” Lan Zhan says.
He does. He does know what it is. And this time, he knows better than to push it down—he knows better than to push Lan Zhan away.
Because Lan Zhan is wonderful. He’s brilliant, perfect, amazing, all of the above. Wei Ying can see it. It’s clear as day to anyone.
“Mhm,” Wei Ying says. He nods, but his current position makes the gesture just a tad bit uncomfortable. “You know, I’ve noticed a pattern with it. Actually, it only really happens when I’m with you.” He pauses, giving himself a moment to string his thoughts together. “See, I thought that was weird, so I just went with it. But then…” He twists his lips thoughtfully. “Hmm. Well, in any case.”
“You said,” Wei Ying says, “that you didn’t want to push me into something I’m not ready for.”
Lan Zhan nods.
“I don’t think it’s that I’m not ready,” Wei Ying says, “because I am. I’m one hundred-percent ready.” He swallows. “I’ve just had a lot… wait, no. I just think… Lan Zhan, um. I’ve never really been with anyone. Not seriously, at least. You know why.”
“I have not either,” Lan Zhan says.
Wei Ying is surprised at this. “Really? You?”
“Me,” Lan Zhan nods.
Wei Ying huffs. “That’s dumb. Someone like you can get anyone you want.”
“I want you.”
He says it so seriously—so suddenly—that Wei Ying has to take a moment to backtrack in his mind.
Oh, Lan Zhan. Oh, Lan Zhan.
“So forward,” Wei Ying murmurs. His head is beginning to hurt, no doubt from the blood rushing up to his head. “Lan Zhan, kiss me?” He pauses. “Again?”
And Lan Zhan does. He does, and it’s sweet, nothing at all like anything Wei Ying has ever experienced before. The angle is exceedingly strange, one upright and the other not. Wei Ying remembers watching a movie where something like this happened—a guy in a red spider costume? He doesn’t remember.
Wei Ying hums into Lan Zhan’s mouth, feels the way the latter smiles against his lips, and soars.
This time, it is enough. It’s more than enough. It’s everything, and Wei Ying is falling.
He’s fallen, and it’s okay. It’s more than okay.
When he climbs into the passenger seat of Jiang Cheng’s car, Wei Ying feels an incredibly low chill run through his spine.
Jiang Cheng isn’t looking at him, but Wei Ying had been expecting that. The unfamiliar space of a vehicle is new to him as well—he hasn’t been inside a car in a very long time. When even Wen Ning offered to drive him places, he’d always decline.
It would just be too much.
Yet, still, with Jiang Cheng…
“Where are we going?” Wei Ying asks, voice low. They’ve been driving for a couple of minutes now, and his fists are clenched together to stop the violent shaking of his fingers.
Jiang Cheng’s eyes are trained on the road ahead as he responds. “Hong’s Cafe.”
And that—that isn’t what Wei Ying had been expecting. In all honesty, he doesn’t really know exactly what he was expecting in the first place, but whatever it is, it was definitely not this.
Hong’s Cafe was the small bakery-style cafe in Wei Ying’s childhood neighborhood. He and his siblings would often go there after school to do their homework or to catch a bite to eat. The memories the three of them shared at Hong’s Cafe were unrivaled—there’s no other place in the world that means as much to them as the small, quaint little eatery.
So, instead of saying anything more, Wei Ying gulps and nods. “Okay.”
The drive is quiet. Jiang Cheng doesn’t bother turning the radio on, and Wei Ying thinks it would be awkward of him to do so. He wants to. He definitely wants to. The tension in the small area of the car is palpable. It’s flimsy and dark and seemingly hanging by a thread.
Wei Ying looks out the window, feeling the rumbling of the car stutter beneath him. It’s a foreign feeling, and he can’t find himself truly enjoying it, either. Not with Jiang Cheng mere centimeters away.
“That was you, wasn’t it?” Jiang Cheng asks suddenly.
Wei Ying startles. “What?”
“That time across the street,” Jiang Cheng continues, and Wei Ying immediately knows what he’s talking about.
Oh. So he had recognized him.
He swallows heavily, then nods. “Yeah,” he says.
Jiang Cheng grunts, “Fuck you.”
Wei Ying blinks, not knowing how to respond.
They arrive a few minutes later, and Wei Ying quickly manages to open the car door and fumble out. He takes a deep breath and looks up.
A pang. A pang to his heart. Right then and there. Right there.
The cafe looks the same as always. Nostalgia peppers at his skin.
Jiang Cheng comes up next to him and says roughly, “Come on, then.”
They go inside, Wei Ying staying a few steps behind all the way. The bell rings in the same way it used to, the light sound resonating through his bones. His eyes flit around the area, taking in the sight of people chatting with friends and family, slurping away at their respective meals.
He gulps, audible to even his own ears.
“We’re here to meet someone,” Jiang Cheng is saying to the hostess who comes to greet them. “Jiang.”
“Ah,” says the woman. She points to a corner of the brightly lit room. “Over there.”
Wei Ying turns to follow her line of sight.
Jiang Yanli is staring back at him.
She’s sitting with her legs crossed at a four-way table, a single flower in a vase centered in front of her. Her phone is in her hands, but it’s being completely ignored.
Wei Ying takes a staggering step forward. Jiang Cheng snorts from next to him.
Wei Ying turns to look at him, questions bubbling in his eyes. Jiang Cheng immediately schools his expression, raising an eyebrow.
“Are you just gonna fucking stand there looking like an idiot?”
“I, I don’t—”
Jiang Cheng’s cheeks go red, and he huffs angrily. He reaches out and actually touches Wei Ying, grabbing his shoulders and roughly shoving him.
Wei Ying stumbles, almost falls, but catches onto the handle of a chair nearby to steady himself.
His chest feels tight. Is he breathing? He should be breathing. Deep breaths, Wei Ying. In, out. In, out. Fuck.
He looks up and meets Jiang Yanli’s eyes again. Her face is scrunched, littered with a scatter of emotions that are simultaneously unreadable and also clear as day. She mouths something, but Wei Ying’s vision is clouded. He takes another step forward. Then another. Then another.
And she’s okay.
And she’s reaching for him.
And Wei Ying runs.
“A-Xian,” he finally, finally hears.
Wei Ying gathers her into his arms, guilt poking at every corner of his body. He pushes it aside—for now—because Jiang Yanli is here. He hasn’t seen her in over two years and she’s here. She’s not pulling away, in fact, Wei Ying hears her sharp intake of breath, full of warmth and brightness and anything and everything she has ever stood for.
“Jiejie,” he says, voice muffled by her shoulder. She laughs, and Wei Ying feels his entire resolve breaking.
He crumbles against her, and as always, she’s there to steady him.
“A-Xian, oh, A-Xian,” she’s whispering, over and over and over again. Wei Ying’s lips press together as he feels the tears pool at the corners of his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. His hands are raking over her back, clashing together in an utter mess of limbs and frightened shudders. “Jiejie, I’m so sorry. I’m so—I’m so sorry, it was all my fault. It was all my fault, and you—”
She rests her hands on his shoulders and pushes him away. She’s smiling at him, and Wei Ying wants nothing more than to magically transform into his seven year-old self and crawl into her lap for midnight cuddles.
Jiang Yanli lifts her elegant finger, pressing it to the corner of Wei Ying’s eye and gently swiping. It’s then when Wei Ying realizes his cheeks are splotched with messy tears.
“A-Xian,” she whispers, “nothing was your fault.” Then, “I never got to tell you, but I didn’t blame you for anything.”
His breath comes to a shuddering halt.
“You never came to visit me,” Jiang Yanli continues, her smile melting into something more playful. He laughs wetly.
Behind him, Wei Ying hears Jiang Cheng scoff. He shuts his eyes tightly and shakes his head.
“How could I?”
“What do you mean, how could you,” Jiang Cheng asks. He walks up next to the two of them, crossing his arms and looking down at Wei Ying. “What, did you think of yourself as someone so great? You couldn’t even come meet us once? Are you fucking delusional?”
“What?” Wei Ying scrambles to his feet, his arms feeling limp at his sides. “What are you talking about? It’s not like I was welcome.”
Jiang Cheng grits his teeth. “So you just ignored us for over two years?”
“It’s not like you reached out,” Wei Ying says.
“I had to fix the mess you created when you left.”
“Do you think I was living some fantasy dream life?”
“Stop it.” Jiang Yanli’s voice pierces through their argument. She lifts herself to her feet, looking at the both of them sternly. “Enough. You two can talk about this later.”
Wei Ying hangs his head. Jiang Cheng snorts and looks away.
“Whatever,” he mutters. He glares at Wei Ying one last time. “I have class in an hour, so I’ll leave first.” He shoots Jiang Yanli a look, then stiffens his shoulders and walks away, to the entrance, out through the front door.
Wei Ying watches him go, his heart thudding in his chest.
He feels Jiang Yanli’s hands on his arm, and he turns to smile down at her.
“Jiejie.” Oh, that really does sound so good to say out loud. “I heard about your wedding.”
Jiang Yanli’s smile upon hearing that is blinding. She quickly ushers him down to the table, taking her own seat across from him. She nods rapidly. “Yes, yes. I have so much to tell you!”
And Wei Ying listens. He listens like his entire life depends on it.
“Did it go well?”
Lan Zhan is carding the tips of his fingers through Wei Ying’s hair. They’re seated on the floor, Wei Ying in the junction between Lan Zhan’s legs.
He smiles fondly, taking a carrot from their dinner and reaching back to feed it to him.
“It went really well,” he says, feeling the weight of Lan Zhan’s mouth on his chopsticks. “Really well. Jiang Cheng left, though, but I’m not really surprised about that.”
“Give him time,” says Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying hums. “Would you like to meet her?” He pauses, taking a deep breath. Before Lan Zhan can ask, he clarifies: “My sister.”
There’s a long pause. Then, “Yes.”
Lan Zhan’s voice is deep, warm, and undeniably touched. He’s Wei Ying’s summer. He is his moon.
“I think she’d really like you,” says Wei Ying. “No, I know she’d like you.”
“We are similar,” says Lan Zhan.
“Yeah? How so?”
Lan Zhan places his hands on Wei Ying’s shoulders, pulling him down till his back is pressed against his firm chest.
“We care about you.”
Wei Ying can’t help the small gasp from escaping his lips. He looks down at Lan Zhan’s hand, now curled around his arm. He smiles down at it, then reaches for it and pulls the both of them up.
He laughs. “Lan Zhan.”
“Dance with me?”
Lan Zhan’s eyes are sparkling with mirth. His hold on Wei Ying’s waist is a balmy type of warmth. The lights above them are dim.
Wei Ying’s feet bounce across the rough carpeting of their small dorm room as they fumble through a shitty rendition of the waltz. There’s laughter, though—that much alone is enough to make it all worth it. Lan Zhan’s grip is secure and special and Wei Ying is so, so gone for him.
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Zhan.
“Let’s get cake tomorrow.”
Wei Ying’s lips part at the sudden suggestion. “What? But it’s not the thirteenth tomorrow.”
Spring is creeping around them, wrapping them into its tight embrace with no intention of letting go. The colorful breeze outside is endlessly inviting, but Wei Ying finds himself completely content, right here, right now.
—this is life.
So, he nods. His fingers tighten around Lan Zhan, squeezing gently.
“Okay,” he says. “Okay.”
The world fades around them. They dance till dusk.