“I don’t think,” Wei Ying says, wedging his phone between his shoulder and his ear as he tries to coax some change out of the self-checkout machine, “that a dozen white doves are going to solve my problem.”
“Really? I’d be hard-pressed to find a problem a dozen white doves wouldn’t solve,” says Nie Huaisang. There’s static on his end of the line, engine and wind-crackle like he’s driving with the windows down somewhere. “It’s a classic. Hear me out: it’s a dazzling sunny day. You’re at a park. You take Lan Zhan’s hand and say hey, my darling, my sweetheart, my everything, I have something I want—nay, something I need—to say. But then, right before you pop the question, doves burst into the sky above you, and it’s magic, Wei-xiong, and as Lan Zhan gapes in awe—”
“Lan Zhan has never gaped in awe in his life,” Wei Ying points out.
“—As he gapes in awe for the very first time ever because the display is just so breathtaking, a single dove departs from the crowd with a red rose in its—what do doves have, do they have talons?”
“God, I hope not?” Wei Ying says.
“A red rose clutched gently in its dove feet,” Nie Huaisang continues, “and when it reaches you Lan Zhan sees a ring nestled on the stem of the rose, and as he takes the flower in his tremulous hands and gazes at you with eyes so big and emotional they rival the pleading emoji itself, that’s when you say, Lan Zhan, will you—”
“Okay,” Wei Ying says. “First of all, stop imposing wildly uncharacteristic facial expressions on my boyfriend”—is it silly that, even now, his heart does a little shiver when he says the word boyfriend?—“and second of all, as inspired as this is, I am not proposing via dove.” Then, in English: “Sweetheart, I know you’re not trying to steal my change again.”
“Excuse me?” Nie Huaisang says. “Darling, if I were stealing something from you, you’d never even realize it.”
“Not you, I’m talking to my nemesis,” Wei Ying says. In front of him, the self-checkout machine flashes yet another error message. “Ah, we just did this last week,” he tells it, and pokes at the screen a few more times with a bit of added force. He’s been living in Vancouver for six years now, and working at the bar around the corner for four of them, so this is an old battle. Which makes sense, because it’s an old machine in an even older Stop’N Shop, which also happens to be one of the only places nearby that’s still open after his shift at the Gaslamp, so: here he is.
“I don’t know if I should be jealous or not,” Nie Huaisang says. “Does your fiancé know you have a nemesis you see on the regular?”
“He’s not my fiancé yet!” Wei Ying says. “You’re not allowed to call him that until it’s official. I don’t want to tempt fate.”
“Tempt—” Nie Huaisang lets out a long, dramatic sigh. “There’s nothing to tempt. Wei-xiong, that man is so far gone for you that he’s left the stratosphere. If you said, hey, darling, sweetheart, angel, I want to drop all our plans and buy a little boat and go sail around the world for a year, he’d have his toothbrush and swimsuit packed by morning. If you said, hey, light of my life, heart of my heart, I want four children and I want them yesterday, he’d have an adoption agency on the phone before you finished talking. Obviously he’s going to marry you.”
“He,” Wei Ying says, but finds that he can’t actually refute any of that. Mostly because none of it has actually happened. (Though there was that one time Wei Ying had a headache for three days and when Lan Zhan asked about it Wei Ying was like, ah, the city is just very—loud right now, that’s all, and then a day later Lan Zhan had bought a tent and a giant sleeping bag and had gotten Wen Ning to cover Wei Ying’s Saturday shift and then they were out of the city and Wei Ying could breathe and—)
Well. Wei Ying finds himself smiling down at his nemesis-machine, and try as he might, he can’t stop. Lan Zhan is just so wonderful. Which is the problem, agh, because Wei Ying needs to do something amazing if he’s going to propose. It can’t be elaborate or public, because Lan Wangi wouldn’t like either of those things, but it must be thoughtful and reflective of their relationship. It should involve a carefully-prepared speech about how much Lan Zhan means to him, ideally coupled with a gift, and take place at a significant location. He’s been going in circles trying to come up with one—their first kiss seems obvious, but that was in Lan Zhan’s old Point Grey apartment. And while it’s only a few kilometers away, Wei Ying doesn’t think knocking on some random kid’s door and saying, hey, mind clearing out for a bit so I can propose to my boyfriend (boyfriend!) in your bedroom, which I’m guessing you’ve maybe cleaned once this semester, if at all? would really fly.
IKB seems like the next-best bet, because that’s where Wei Ying fell asleep with his head in Lan Zhan’s lap one night in the bookstacks, and woke up to Lan Zhan holding a poetry book with a peeling spine in one hand and resting his other hand, very lightly, in Wei Ying’s hair, and Wei Ying had blinked up at him and said, “Oh, I love you,” and Lan Zhan’s ears had gone violently, brilliantly red. But again, Wei Ying doesn’t want to be interrupted by a stressed-out student or irritated librarian, mostly because he doesn’t want Lan Zhan to get stressed out at all in the middle of a proposal, so that’s firmly on the “back-up options” list for now.
Other options include the cafe where they had their first official date (maybe he can get the staff to let him in after hours?), the cabin where they took their first official vacation as a couple (if he can track down the same rental again), and the hospital ward where Lan Zhan had terrified a doctor into letting him stay by Wei Ying’s side despite the “family only” rule (which is probably a more pleasant memory for Wei Ying than it is for Lan Zhan, anyway, even if it wasn’t that serious—who hasn’t passed out from exhaustion once or twice?).
None of them feel just right, though, and his mind keeps stretching, picking up and rejecting the same ideas over and over. He’s even considered, for a brief moment, the place where he fell in love with Lan Zhan the first time, but it’s not an option for obvious reasons—he can’t exactly bundle Lan Zhan onto a plane just to take him to a private school hallway in Shanghai. (He can’t, can he?) It doesn’t exactly scream romance. It didn’t even scream romance at the time—it was probably one of the worst days Wei Ying had there, actually, though he doesn’t remember it that way.
There was a presentation at school, part of a parents’ weekend event that mostly functioned for the students’ families to ooh and ahh at the expensive facilities their tuition paid for. The presentation was staged in the wide receiving hall of the main building, with parents and siblings weaving through the students’ semester projects. Wei Ying’s display was an instrument he’d built himself, repurposing lines of PVC pipe and little rubber paddles until he had something weird and twisty and totally functional. No one spared it more than a glance for the whole afternoon—Uncle Jiang had wandered over for a moment before being called away by Madam Yu, and that was about it. Some teachers stopped by, but they didn’t have much time because the whole event was about parents who paid tuition and responded to fundraising calls and such, so they were fleeting visits, moths around a particularly dim bulb.
(Jiang Yanli would’ve looked, he knew, but she was already away at university. He sent her a test video he’d recorded earlier and her string of hearts and exclamation marks in return almost made up for everything else.)
He did get to play a few silly medleys for some of his classmates’ bored little siblings, at least, and he kept mentally taking notes on ways he could improve the instrument for better performance value, but at the end of the night when Madam Yu swept back and Wei Ying asked if he could maybe ship it back to their house to store, Madam Yu had said, “That eyesore? No.” And then she had left for dinner with the other very important parents, herding Jiang Cheng along with her.
Wei Ying was sixteen at the time—old enough to know better than to expect anything else, but still.
He waited until the hall had all but emptied, then settled down in front of his creation, trying to figure out the best way to dismantle it. It took a few moments for him to notice footsteps approaching, and another moment to realize the footsteps had stopped behind him.
“Oh,” Wei Ying said, craning to see who it was, “hey, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Zhan—cello prodigy, Headmaster Lan’s nephew, and Wei Ying’s one-time detention buddy—blinked back at him.
Wei Ying turned back to his instrument. “Do you have any scissors?” He probably needed something more along the lines of an axe, but it was a start. “I have to fit this in the bins somehow.”
“What?” Lan Zhan said, and he sounded alarmed.
Wei Ying didn’t look back as he said, “Well, I can’t keep it. It’s too big. And it’s—it’s an eyesore, anyway.”
He pushed himself to his feet, ready to go find some scissors since Lan Zhan clearly wasn’t going to help on that front, and Lan Zhan caught his sleeve. The briefest tug, there and gone again on Wei Ying’s uniform jacket.
“May I try,” Lan Zhan asked.
“Try—oh.” Wei Ying realized Lan Zhan meant the instrument. “Yeah, if—you want? Shouldn’t you be at the parents’ dinner though?”
Lan Zhan made a noncommittal noise and moved around to the other side of the instrument, surveying the array of pipes. Wei Ying pulled a set of rubber paddles from his pocket and handed them over.
It took about a minute for Lan Zhan to get a feel for it. Wei Ying watched as he tapped around, drawing a careful assortment of notes, and then Lan Zhan settled in like he’d studied at the PVC Pipe conservatory. He picked out a tune that Wei Ying didn’t recognize and knew, somehow, that it was one Lan Zhan wrote himself, and then another tune that Wei Ying did recognize as the Bubugao music phone jingle.
“Ooh,” Wei Ying said, “wait, let me—” And he pulled out the second set of paddles, which he hadn’t had a chance to use yet, and slid in next to Lan Zhan. They worked out the jingle again, Wei Ying running a harmony to Lan Zhan’s melody, and it sounded five times better than anything Wei Ying had managed by himself. They kept playing, spinning through different tunes, for hours, at least, until the custodial staff showed up and Wei Ying’s sides hurt from some combination of laughing and playing. He still had to break down the instrument at the end of the night, but it didn’t sting as much, somehow.
Anyway. That’s when Wei Ying first fell in love.
He didn’t do anything about it—not then, at least. Not until they found themselves at the same university overseas, and Wei Ying started poking and prodding at Lan Zhan and dragging him to group hangouts and parties way past his bedtime, where sometimes, after, they went back to Lan Zhan’s room and stayed up even later until Wei Ying fell asleep on the couch because Lan Zhan had an actual couch and not half a dorm room. And when Wei Ying realized how tired Lan Zhan was after those nights Wei Ying switched to dragging him to actual daytime study sessions, that turned into study sessions followed by grabbing boba, that eventually turned into grabbing boba and dinner, that eventually turned into Wei Ying once again sleeping on Lan Zhan’s couch, and then, eventually, it was Wei Ying sleeping in Lan Zhan’s bed and then—
And here they are, five years later, disgustingly in love and sharing a one-bedroom apartment in Kitsilano, because Wei Ying’s nonexistent student teacher salary and mountain of loans does not exactly a mansion buy. Wei Ying had insisted on finding a place where he could afford half the rent, because Lan Zhan isn’t, like, mega-rich, but he would spend his entire inheritance on Wei Ying if Wei Ying let him. It had gnawed at Wei Ying at first, when they were looking for a place together, and he kept saying It’s okay if you want to get your own place still, we can wait until I pay off my loans, we can wait until I get a full-time job—
“If you had to choose between me and a two-bedroom condominium,” Lan Zhan had said one afternoon, folding dumplings at his kitchen table. The sun was just dipping below the city skyline outside, the last rays carding their fingers through Lan Zhan’s hair, and Wei Ying was in love, in love, in love.
“Ah,” he said, blinking, “what was the question?”
“If you had to choose between me and a spare bedroom,” Lan Zhan said patiently, “what would it be?”
“You, you, of course, but that’s different,” Wei Ying said.
Wei Ying busied himself with filling a wrapper. “Oh, I’ve just never—wanted a big place. Never wanted more.” What he meant: he’s never been destined for more, for anything but what he is now. Lan Zhan, with his talent and his family and his forthcoming law degree and his quiet, graceful life, has always been destined for more than this.
He felt Lan Zhan’s eyes on him for a long moment. When Wei Ying looked back up, Lan Zhan’s gaze found his immediately. “I have,” Lan Zhan said.
Wei Ying swallowed. “See—”
“I have wanted more,” Lan Zhan said, “than a large, silent home. I have wanted you.”
Something turned over in Wei Ying’s chest. A realignment. He felt breathless, for a moment, unsure if he wanted to cry or—he didn’t even know. He was suddenly too big for his own body. “Oh,” he said. Lan Zhan had said I love you before, and Wei Ying had said it back, but this was. This was. “Oh,” Wei Ying said again, and then the tears came anyway, and the dumplings were set aside for another hour, and later, after he was done crying against Lan Zhan’s shirt, it felt like a summer storm had swept through him, leaving his insides rain-washed and clean.
Anyway. The point is—Lan Zhan is amazing, and deserves everything ever, and therefore Wei Ying has to make this proposal absolutely perfect.
He says as much now to Nie Huaisang, who hums thoughtfully into the phone and replies, with a gentleness he hadn’t possessed earlier when talking about doves: “To my previous point, you are aware that any proposal from you is going to be a good proposal because it’s from you, right?”
In front of him, the self-checkout machine finally relents and spits out a few bills. Wei Ying pockets them, hefts his shopping bags into one arm, and takes a moment to appreciate his friend before his mind spirals back into low-grade panic. “On the one hand, I know that,” he says. “I do. But on the other hand: what if I mess everything up so badly that Lan Zhan throws me out and I have to change my name and move to Antarctica and survive by eating penguins? I don’t think I’ll make it. I know I sound tough, but penguins are really too cute to eat.”
“Wei-xiong,” Nie Huaisang says, firmly.
“Okay, yeah. Nevermind on the penguins.”
“Nevermind on the concept of Lan Zhan throwing you out,” Nie Huaisang adds.
“Okay,” Wei Ying allows, “that too.” He stifles a yawn with his sleeve and pushes through the glass doors, leaving the harsh store lighting for the dark sidewalk outside. He adjusts his computer bag strap on his shoulder as he blinks, waiting for his eyes to adjust. “Sorry, Nie-xiong, I really do appreciate your help. I’m just—” He breaks off into another yawn.
“Maybe you should sleep on it,” Nie Huaisang suggests. The wind and engine noises have died down on his end, and Wei Ying imagines him parked somewhere. His brother’s house, maybe, despite the fact that it’s Wednesday morning on their side of the world. (For all that Nie Huaisang is supposedly studying in Beijing, he always seems to be busy doing anything but attending classes. Wei Ying doesn’t bother asking anymore.)
“Mm,” he says, “good idea. Okay. I’ll message you later.”
“I’m sure you will,” Nie Huaisang says, not unkindly, and then hangs up.
Wei Ying takes a moment to send Lan Zhan a quick omw home <3 <3 before he pockets his phone and heads down the block toward the bus stop, half of his brain trying to calculate how much time he has before the next bus arrives, factoring in its usual three-minute delay, and half of his brain still stuck on...proposals. Proposals. Proposals. Nie Huaisang was right, he really is too tired right now. Morning class, afternoon practicum across town, and five hours at the Gaslamp are enough to totally knock him flat, and yet another fruitless brainstorming session on top of that makes him feel more zombie than person at this point.
It’s just, Wei Ying can’t decide if all this frustration is a good thing or not. Surely he should be putting maximum effort into planning the perfect proposal, because that’s what Lan Zhan deserves. But also, surely, if Wei Ying were good enough, or romantic enough, he’d simply know the exact right way to do it already.
He stops halfway down the block, pulls out his phone, and sends a one-handed message to Nie Huaisang.
is it bad that i really just want to say
hey, i love you in a forever kind of way, and i think you love me back in a forever kind of way, so let’s make it official and get married??
Then he locks his screen and keeps walking.
The night air cools around him as he reaches the bus stop, bringing a bite of salt as a breeze moves in from the waterfront. It’s the hour where things are really starting to settle, the last stretch of time before the deepest, quietest part of the night. Wei Ying feels himself start to sink into it, the lines between him and the darkness going soft. He didn’t realize, before he moved here, that the knot of tension between his shoulders could ever go away. That he could enjoy just—existing, this much. This isn’t the city where he was born, or the city where he grew up, but it is the city where he has, so far, chosen to stay, and the city where Lan Zhan has, so far, chosen to stay with him. As it turns out, that makes for a pretty good existence.
Ten minutes pass—either the next bus was running really early, or is currently running really late—and Nie Huaisang still hasn’t replied. And when Wei Ying unlocks his phone to make sure the message went through, he realizes why.
“Oh, shit,” he says out loud, because his message—his—his proposal, oh fuck—is right there under the message omw home <3 <3, which is right under the contact header 🐰✨, which is not Nie Huaisang.
Forget about the bus. Wei Ying has to get home now.
Maybe, he reasons to himself while dodging a late-night sidewalk bicycler, Stop’N Shop bags bouncing wildly against his legs, maybe Lan Zhan is asleep (no, he waits up when Wei Ying’s shifts run late), or studying (no, his finals were last week) or out for a run (no, it’s almost 11pm), or absorbed in a book and hasn’t checked his messages (no, he never ignores his phone, not when it’s Wei Ying) and Wei Ying can burst in and distract him and then super subtly take Lan Zhan’s phone and delete the message and—
It’s three kilometers to their apartment, and Wei Ying doesn’t think he breathes for a single step of it.
He doesn’t stop running until he’s up the three flights of stairs and outside their front door, where he takes two seconds to dab at his damp hairline and take half a breath, and then he pushes open the door.
Lan Zhan is sitting in the middle of the living room couch waiting for him, his phone face-up on his knee. Their eyes lock immediately.
“Ahh, fuck,” Wei Ying says.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan starts, quiet.
“I’m so sorry,” Wei Ying says, all in a rush. He moves inside and closes the door, fighting the urge to brace against it. Instead, he drops his bags all in a pile and kicks off his shoes and throws himself down to kneel in front of the couch, half for dramatics and half because he needs to see everything that’s happening on Lan Zhan’s face right now. He covers Lan Zhan’s phone screen with his palm, even though it’s obviously a useless gesture at this point. “That was meant for Nie-xiong, I swear.”
A tiny line appears between Lan Zhan’s eyebrows. “You meant to propose to Nie Huaisang?”
“Propose to—no! No, I meant to propose to you, obviously, but not like that.”
Like that, Lan Zhan mouths.
“It was going—is going—there will be a real proposal,” Wei Ying babbles. “That was just me being stupid, overthinking things. Not that I think I shouldn’t be overthinking something like this! But, I mean. I mean.”
Lan Zhan blinks down at him. His hair is loose, spilling around his shoulders, and he smells faintly like mint and facewash. There’s a book set carefully on the arm of the couch, a cloth bookmark tucked inside the pages. It’s all the makings of a quiet, peaceful night, and Wei Ying becomes suddenly very aware that he basically just barged in, sweaty and out of breath at 11pm, and collapsed at Lan Zhan’s feet after proposing via WeChat. Wei Ying lets out a small noise of despair and leans forward, pressing his face to Lan Zhan’s thigh. “I really made a mess of this whole thing, didn’t I?”
He feels Lan Zhan’s fingers in his hair, ghosting over the back of his head. “Not a mess,” Lan Zhan says.
“No, it is,” Wei Ying says into Lan Zhan’s pyjama pants. “I had, like, one job, and that job was come up with a good way to propose. I don’t even have the ring ready yet! Ah, ahaha, not that I—pretend you didn't hear that, okay, I should stop now.”
“If you’d like,” Lan Zhan murmurs. He has the gall to sound fond, at a time like this.
Wei Ying pushes himself back up so he can see Lan Zhan’s expression, and yes, the corner of his mouth is soft in the way that means fond. “You think this is funny,” Wei Ying wails. Lan Zhan’s hand has followed him up, cupping the back of his head, and he leans into it just a bit. “It’s not funny, Lan Zhan! Listen! It’s appallingly boring, even, as far as fuckups go, I could’ve done something far worse. I could’ve proposed while we were—while we were drunk, or while you were asleep!”
The hand in Wei Ying’s hair goes still. Wei Ying peers up at Lan Zhan, whose eyes have widened just a fraction.
“I—oh, god,” Wei Ying says. “I didn’t, did I? Did I?”
“No.” Lan Zhan seems to hesitate, then says, oddly deliberate: “You did not.”
Wei Ying lets out the breath he was holding. “God, okay, because I haven’t even been drunk in—since uni, so—wait.” Lan Zhan isn’t meeting his eyes. “Wait. Lan Zhan?”
Lan Zhan looks very intently at his knee, where Wei Ying’s hand still covers his phone.
“Oh my god,” Wei Ying says. “You…?”
Now Lan Zhan glances up at him. He nods once.
Delight unspools in Wei Ying’s chest. “When?”
Lan Zhan shifts the slightest bit, and stares determinedly at a point next to Wei Ying’s ear. “First year of university.”
“First year of—!” Wei Ying only remembers Lan Zhan getting drunk once that year. “When we went to the Thirteen Hands afterparty?”
“Mn.” Lan Zhan swallows. “The first night you stayed over. We returned to my apartment and—we were both still intoxicated, and we sat on the couch, and you asked me what I was thinking about, and I. I said I was thinking that I would like to marry you.” He lets out a small huff of air through his nose. “I took a long time to answer. By the time I did, you were asleep on my shoulder.”
Wei Ying blinks once, then again, trying to process this. Most of what he can recall about that night comes from the party, chock-full of drama kids in thick makeup and half-shed costumes, Wei Ying wearing dark colors because he worked as a stagehand, one of the few things he tried during the two years he tried everything just because he could. He recalls clinging to Lan Zhan’s arm as they wove through campus, the moon bright above them, a light rain falling and making the soft wisps of hair around Lan Zhan’s face curl the tiniest, tiniest bit. He recalls waking up on Lan Zhan’s couch the next morning with a headache to end all headaches, and not an ounce of regret.
He does not, unfortunately, recall being proposed to.
“How do you remember that?” he says. “Usually you’re out like a light!”
“Apparently I...called my brother,” Lan Zhan says. “Once I realized you were sleeping. And apparently I was very distraught.”
Wei Ying flashes back to the day they videochatted Lan Huan so Lan Zhan could share that he and Wei Ying were officially dating. Now that Wei Ying thinks about it, Lan Huan had seemed oddly amused at the time. “He knew,” Wei Ying says, awed and a little jealous. “He knew about us before I did.”
Lan Zhan presses his lips together.
“I can’t believe,” Wei Ying says, and then he feels like laughing, so he does. “I can’t believe my accidental proposal is somehow less of a mess than your accidental proposal,” he says when he can talk again.
“Well,” Lan Zhan says, “I was able to hide mine, at least.”
“It’s not my fault you weren’t asleep this time.” Well, it sort of is, because Lan Zhan was waiting up for him. Because Lan Zhan loves him enough to want to stay awake and see Wei Ying for even just a few minutes before falling asleep. Wei Ying feels fondness swell inside of him, a cup on the verge of spilling over. He moves Lan Zhan’s phone to the table and takes his free hand, twining their fingers together. “Did you mean it, back then? About marrying me?”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, a smile blooming across his whole face.
“Did you,” Lan Zhan says, “mean it?”
Lan Zhan nods to his phone. “Today. Did you mean it?”
“Yes,” Wei Ying says helplessly.
“Yes,” Lan Zhan echoes.
“Yes, yes, I meant it. But I promise, I’ll do it right, don’t worry—”
“Wei Ying.” His hand in Wei Ying’s hair shifts, tilting Wei Ying’s face up just enough for their eyes to meet. “Yes.”
Oh. “Oh,” Wei Ying breathes. “Yes. Oh. Lan Zhan.”
Lan Zhan smiles, small and soft and brighter than anything. “Wei Ying,” he agrees, and leans down, kissing him lightly on the forehead. And—
“Oh, no, I’m still gross and sweaty,” Wei Ying says. “I’m all—hang on.”
Lan Zhan shakes his head. “Come here,” says his fiancé, and, oh.
If Wei Ying thought he liked saying boyfriend, he has a feeling he’s going to like fiancé even more.
(The moment Wen Ning says, “You may now kiss—,” a dozen white doves burst into the air behind him.
“Oh,” Wen Ning says, startled, as a dove circles once above his head, “I. Excuse me?”
Wei Ying doesn’t know how it happened, considering their entire wedding is a tiny park affair. They’ll be flying back next month for a big, official ceremony, but they wanted this first, a wedding just for them in the city they’ve made their home. It’s all of five people: Wei Ying and Lan Zhan, Wen Ning as officiant, a jetlagged Lan Huan and Wen Qing as witnesses. And, somehow: a dozen doves. Wei Ying cranes his neck, watching the birds disperse into the eye-wateringly bright sky, and lets out a small laugh.
“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan murmurs.
“Don’t ask,” Wei Ying says, and leans forward to kiss his husband.)