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Ticket to Ride

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Lan Zhan had already been waiting at the terminal for well over an hour when the announcement was made.

"Good evening, everyone. Flight 8236 from Toronto to New York Laguardia has been delayed due to technical issues. The plane is currently being worked on, but at this point we're looking at an estimated departure time of 9 p.m."

At the start of the announcement, Lan Zhan had stood in preparation for boarding, but he slowly sat back down.

"We're sorry for the inconvenience, and we'll keep you updated on any developments. For now, please remain near the gate, and thank you for flying with us today."

Flight delays were a part of travel, and Lan Zhan did his best to roll with the inevitable hiccups. He always arrived at security at least two hours in advance of his scheduled departure time, and he had already eaten his pre-flight snack. But he would be missing his Wednesday night dinner with his brother completely at this point, and needed to come up with an alternative for his meal.

After calling Lan Huan to let him know he wouldn't make it, he found the airport restaurant closest to his gate and sat at the bar. He ordered the least objectionable entree on the menu and an iced tea, and stared up at the baseball game on the television before turning back to his phone.

He was terrible at waiting in airports. They were so loud, and so much was happening all around him, and being near so many anxious people was unbearable. It made it impossible for him to focus on a book or music or even a podcast, and he found himself flipping through apps on his phone, trying to find something to distract him.

Picross held his attention for a few minutes, but he couldn't kill three full hours by filling squares. So he opened the dating app his brother had made him download a couple of months ago and took a look.

It was difficult to meet people, and while he had naively hoped that the app would lead him easily to someone he wanted to date, what it had actually led him to was sexual harassment under the guise of flirting. But it was an entertaining kind of people watching, if also something of a guilty pleasure; men were so open on this app, in a way he couldn't imagine being either online or in person.

He didn't chat with anyone, or exchange photos. He certainly didn't mean to lead anyone else on, or fake an interest he didn't actually have. But he did find the profiles fascinating, in an almost academic sense.

When his brother had asked him if he ever used the app, he’d said yes, and only felt a little guilty about it.

The first man who popped up was an immediate no. The profile picture bore the tell-tale signs of a closet case on the prowl while on a business trip, and that made Lan Zhan feel like an unwilling accomplice just from looking. The next one was cute, but also young enough to be one of his college students, and he had very firm lines about even his fantasy life.

When the third profile came up, he paused.

The man in the profile was beautiful, yes, but Lan Zhan was used to seeing beautiful (and often clearly fake) pictures of men on the app. And it wasn't simply the pleasure of seeing another East Asian man's features, although that was certainly a part of it. But he had never been caught so instantly by a smile, had never felt so certain that this man was in fact exactly as he presented himself: charming and interesting and interested, his gaze open and disarming as he looked at whoever had taken his photograph.

Long hair that was pulled back into a high ponytail above an undercut; a mouth that was dropped open in a look of surprise and pleasure under bright eyes. It was captivating and effective. Lan Zhan was certain he was far from the first person who immediately imagined other circumstances under which this man would wear a similar expression. He allowed himself to think about it for a moment longer, eyes closing as he reminded himself he was in public.

Once he had composed himself again, Lan Zhan skimmed over the profile details, and none of them did anything to dispel his immediate sense of who this man was. He was pleased that his initial impression seemed to be correct. If he was going to have an active fantasy life, then he wanted it to be rooted in something real. After one final look at the photo, he closed the app.

"Not even a flame?"

Startled, Lan Zhan turned to his left.

"I know not everyone wants to start chatting right off the bat, but you spent long enough looking at my face," said the man from the app, who was sitting at the bar.

He was even more beautiful in person, which felt especially unfair in an airport of all places. No one should look good while lit by harsh overhead fluorescent lighting and dehydrated from the air system. But somehow he did, in a white tank top with a half-zipped red hoodie over it, tight black jeans and black Converse. His hair was tied back again, but pieces had come free over his temples, and he was watching Lan Zhan with what looked like delight, rather than judgment. Lan Zhan considered for a moment that he was hallucinating and had invented this man to distract him from the stressed-out families and business flyers who all wanted to impress each other with their boarding perks.

There was one empty stool between them, and the man casually slid over until he was sitting next to Lan Zhan. "I thought the point of apps was avoiding face-to-face rejection, and yet I've managed it somehow," he said cheerfully.

"I never message anyone," Lan Zhan said eventually.

"Never?"

Lan Zhan shook his head.

"You only look? Well, that's better than being biphobic," the man said. He gestured to the bartender, and then turned back to Lan Zhan. "You wouldn't believe how many guys won't even look twice once they see the word bisexual on a profile."

Lan Zhan sat in silence as the man ordered a stir fry and a cocktail. He finally said, "I am not biphobic," just to be perfectly clear.

"Great! I'm Wei Ying, by the way, I just go by William on the app since it's easier.". After a moment, Wei Ying raised an eyebrow. "This is when you tell me your name."

"I am Lan Zhan," Lan Zhan said. "My profile name is also not real."

"A fake name on a fake profile, makes sense." Lan Zhan considered and decided against explaining that while he did not use the profile, it was not precisely fake. It was, perhaps, theoretical, but that was not the same thing.

While he was debating that, Wei Ying had carried on. "You're going to New York, right? On the flight that got delayed because of maintenance?"

Lan Zhan nodded.

"I've been in this terminal forever, I had a layover from Montreal. Usually I'd just fly direct from there to home, but it was so much cheaper that I decided it was worth it this time. And I was right, since I met you." The bartender brought him his drink and Wei Ying toasted him before eating the cherry garnishes and tossing back half the cocktail.

"Do you travel to Montreal often?"

Wei Ying nodded, set the drink down, and rested his elbow on the bar before putting his chin on his hand. "My oldest friends live there, so I try to make it up a couple of times a year, or they come down to New York. But nevermind about them, tell me about you. Or at least tell me why you lurk on Grindr for kicks at airports."

When described like that, Lan Zhan felt as sketchy as he'd feared. "I don't lurk."

"Listen, you could be doing far worse on that app, believe me. I don't mind the odd unsolicited dick pic, but somehow I don't think you're the type."

"I am not," Lan Zhan said, desperately trying to figure out how to get this conversation back on track. Or if he even wanted it to get onto any sort of track.

He knew the answer to that, though. He would be perfectly happy to keep listening to Wei Ying talk a mile a minute about utter nonsense on whatever track he wanted to travel down, for as long as he wanted to.

"What type are you?" Lan Zhan asked finally.

Wei Ying laughed. "Well. I would say I'm the type who gets the unsolicited dick pics, but really I'm the guy who will chat with someone for months and only figure out they were trying to flirt with me when someone else informs me a year after they've gotten married." He stabbed a carrot out of his stir fry and chewed on it thoughtfully. "Usually those are different from the ones who send me dick pics, though."

"Usually?"

Rolling his eyes, Wei Ying put his fork down firmly. "I don't think a picture of a dude wearing a banana thong is a clear signal! It's not sexy, it's funny, and while humor can be a method of flirtation, it can also just be friendship." He said all this with the air of a well-rehearsed speech.

"I don't get any kind of dick pics," Lan Zhan said helpfully.

"Of course you don't, you never let anyone know you're interested." Lan Zhan took a bite of his veggie burger, which was half decent, and didn't say anything. "I mean, do you even want dick pics?"

He was grateful for the time it took for him to finish chewing and swallowing his burger, but he still didn't have a great answer. "I wouldn't necessarily mind them."

"Oh, just start chatting with someone and you'll get more than you could ever need," Wei Ying said, and stuck another forkful into his mouth.

"From someone I knew and liked," Lan Zhan added.

Wei Ying nodded. "Yeah, that part's harder on an app. Or just in general, maybe. Dating's impossible," he said, sounding remarkably unconcerned about it.

"You don't find dates on there? I would expect—" Lan Zhan stopped, but it was too late.

Eyes sparkling, Wei Ying leaned in far too close, his mouth open in a wide smile that did not in any way resemble his profile picture. "Are you calling me a slut?"

"I am not," Lan Zhan said firmly.

"I mean, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be insulted if you were, but nah," he said. "I get lots of feelers but very few bites, at least from people I'm interested in. It was one thing when all I wanted was something casual, but." His mood suddenly dimmed a bit, like they had hit on something more significant than he had intended.

Lan Zhan knew how to change the topic. "I spent many years in school expecting that I would meet someone there, and then that I would meet someone at my job."

"No luck, huh?" Wei Ying's expression was back to what Lan Zhan already thought of as his normal cheerful self.

Lan Zhan shook his head. "Not so far." He caught the bartender's attention and gestured for the check. "I should get back to the gate."

"It's two hours until the current departure time!" Wei Ying protested, while mirroring Lan Zhan's signal to the bartender.

"Yes," Lan Zhan said, and felt no need to elaborate.

"You probably arrive fifteen minutes before the start of every appointment," Wei Ying said.

"Not every appointment," Lan Zhan said. "Sometimes I choose to be early rather than merely on time." He couldn't help giving himself away by smiling a little.

"Oh god, I knew it. How can you stand to spend so much time waiting around for something to start?" Wei Ying signed his credit card slip and stood up, waiting for Lan Zhan to finish doing the same.

"Better that than causing someone else to wait for me."

"Ugh," Wei Ying said. "Well, I guess I'll wait with you at the gate instead of here." He paused and looked down at his carry-on. "Unless you'd rather just read or listen to a podcast or whatever, I won't be offended."

"I do not mind," Lan Zhan said, and then heard his brother gently chiding him to express himself. "It's been very nice talking to you."

Wei Ying brightened. "Ha! And to think, half an hour ago you were pretending to ignore me on an app."

"You are impossible to ignore in person," Lan Zhan said without thinking, and that, bizarrely, seemed to silence Wei Ying completely.

"Well," Wei Ying said finally as they walked up to the gate, "I—"

The overhead announcer crackled. "Good evening, passengers on Flight 8236 from Toronto to New York Laguardia. Unfortunately, tonight's flight has now been canceled. Please wait in line here until we are able to rebook you on flights tomorrow. We apologize for the inconvenience."

"Okay then!" Wei Ying turned to Lan Zhan. "Guess it's time to find a comfy place to spend the night in the terminal."

"We will sleep at a hotel," Lan Zhan said.

"Lan Zhan!" Wei Ying was staring at him with an expression that was a mixture of shock and something else.

"The airline will give us hotel vouchers," Lan Zhan clarified. "Our flight was canceled due to mechanical reasons, so they are liable."

Now Wei Ying's face was doing something Lan Zhan was much more familiar with. "How do you know that?"

"It is on the ticket." The line to reach the counter was already twenty people deep; this was going to take a while.

"On the—Lan Zhan, do you read the entire ticket? Oh my god, you carefully consider every Terms of Service notice before you click ‘I Agree,’ don't you?"

He could feel his face becoming hot. "I do not." He didn't add that he had stopped when he realized that he had no firm boundaries that he wouldn't cross before he downloaded a new game on his phone, which made the entire exercise feel pointless. He was aware that this was how big tech would continue to destroy society, but he was attempting to feel less personally responsible for every system that failed. It was a work in progress.

"But you still know about this. And you're claiming that," Wei Ying had leaned closer to Lan Zhan, his voice dropping into a whisper, "when we get up there, we can simply demand a hotel voucher, and they'll just give it to us?"

"It's possible there will be some mild pushback." Lan Zhan felt compelled to match Wei Ying's low voice. "But they know what they owe us, and as soon as any of us make clear that we know as well, it should go quite quickly."

There was a tiny voice in his head that had started worrying that perhaps he was wrong, and the airline representative would laugh at him, and at that point he would have to simply pay for a hotel room for Wei Ying after promising him that it would work out. He told the tiny voice to shut up. But by the time they approached the counter together, his heart was beating much too hard for a simple customer service transaction.

"Good evening." It was always imperative to be polite to someone assisting you, especially when they had been dealing with dozens of upset and angry people. "We were booked on Flight 8236—"

"And due to the mechanical delay, we would like to request hotel vouchers," Wei Ying finished for him, looking extremely firm and also slightly disbelieving.

"One hotel room or two?" the woman behind the counter asked without the slightest bit of resistance.

"I'm sorry?" Perhaps Lan Zhan had misheard her.

"Are you traveling on the same reservation? Because if so—"

"No, no," Wei Ying said, laughing. "Two hotel rooms would be fine!"

After they gave her their reservation numbers, she printed out two hotel vouchers on flight ticket paper and circled something at the bottom. "You also have forty dollars of room service credit. Now, the earliest flight I can get you booked on for tomorrow is the 5:40 p.m."

"Is there anything earlier that lands at JFK or Newark?" It was a long shot, but Lan Zhan thought it was still worth asking.

She shook her head. "Tomorrow's flights are all oversold as it stands."

"We'll take the 5:40, then," Lan Zhan said, and then stopped. He looked at Wei Ying. "Unless that's not—"

"Nah, that's fine," Wei Ying said, studying the hotel voucher.

"If you would like to be on standby for an earlier flight, feel free to check in early tomorrow. Once you go back through customs and retrieve any checked luggage, the shuttle will be outside Door A. Thank you for flying with us, and have a good night. Next!"

It took another forty-five minutes for them to get through the next two lines they needed to navigate, but finally they were on the shuttle to the airport hotel. The exhaustion of the day had begun to catch up with Lan Zhan, and he spent the shuttle ride staring out the window at the late night sky of summer.

"We should spend the hotel voucher on something," Wei Ying said, breaking through Lan Zhan's haze. "Too bad we already ate dinner, I bet you can't use this on alcohol."

Lan Zhan shook his head. "Anything on the room service menu is eligible."

"Boy, aside from the whole getting home an entire day late part of it, this seems like a steal," Wei Ying mused. "Okay. In that case, I'll get a bottle of wine, and you'll get like three desserts, and we'll have ourselves a night."

"I'm not a big drinker," Lan Zhan said after a moment.

"Perfect, you'll have half a glass and I'll take care of the rest of the bottle." Wei Ying gave him a big smile, and Lan Zhan suddenly had plans for an unexpected extra night in Toronto.

Their final line of the evening to check in was mercifully short, and they got assigned rooms on the same floor just a couple of doors down from each other. "Okay, once the desserts arrive just bring them to my room!" Wei Ying called to him as he tapped the key card against the sensor.

Lan Zhan nodded and opened his own hotel room, which was corporate and generic and perfect—its bland greyness at least momentarily muffled the buzzing in his brain. He coped well with travel delays because he had trained himself to, but the effort took a lot out of him. After a necessary five minutes of lying on his back staring up at the ceiling, he sat up and found the room service menu. He decided on three different categories of dessert—tiramisu, chocolate cake, and a fruit tart—and then unpacked the outfit he would wear tomorrow and hung it up.

The next decision was whether to do what he wanted, which was change into soft pants and a t-shirt, or do what he thought he should, which was stay in his jeans and sweater. The hotel was just as over-air conditioned as the airport, but he could bring a hoodie with him to Wei Ying's room. That wouldn't solve the main issue, which was determining what Wei Ying intended by prolonging their evening together.

It had been a long time since Lan Zhan had met a man he found so physically attractive whose personality hadn't dulled his first impression in short order. That didn't mean he understood what Wei Ying saw in him. Maybe he was one of those people who was so desperate for company at all times that he would attach himself like a barnacle to a stranger in an airport. A possibility, but Lan Zhan didn't like thinking of Wei Ying that way, constantly in need of distraction.

He didn't dislike the idea that Wei Ying was particularly interested in his company, obviously, but he also dismissed that thought pretty quickly. Lan Zhan had long since stopped thinking that every other queer man he met would be a kindred spirit based on queerness alone, and he didn't flatter himself that it would be any different for Wei Ying.

Finally, he settled on the idea that Wei Ying preferred company when he drank, which was definitely better than drinking alone, and Lan Zhan was happy to serve that role. While he waited for the desserts to arrive, he called his brother again to explain the situation and reschedule their dinner, and couldn't keep himself from mentioning Wei Ying.

"Well, at least you'll have company," Lan Huan said, sounding sympathetic, and it occurred to Lan Zhan that his brother might think that he was someone who needed to be around people.

"Yes. I will let you know when you can expect me tomorrow," Lan Zhan said, and refrained from making further comment.

He hung up the phone, having just about decided to change his outfit after all, when room service knocked and his decision was made for him. He grabbed his key card and opened the door.

"Good evening, where should I set this down?" the waiter asked, and Lan Zhan shook his head.

"I am going to a different hotel room, if you'll follow me?" Lan Zhan walked past him out into the hall.

"...Sure," the waiter said after a moment.

They walked four doors down and Lan Zhan knocked firmly.

A moment later the door flew open, and Lan Zhan discovered that his memory had not in fact exaggerated how bright Wei Ying's smile was. "Come on in!"

After getting the desserts set up on the desk and the bill taken care of, Lan Zhan suddenly found himself in a hotel room with a man he had only met a few hours ago. He had no idea what to say.

Luckily, Wei Ying seemed to have absolutely no issue with that whatsoever.

"I went with Riesling since we were doing desserts," he said, popping the cork with a practiced motion that drew Lan Zhan's eye. "But it's a dry one so it shouldn't be too sweet."

"That is fine," Lan Zhan said, accepting the glass Wei Ying handed him.

"Plus, I figured since I'd be drinking most of it, I should get the wine I wanted," Wei Ying said, toasting Lan Zhan before taking a sip.

Lan Zhan mirrored him; there was a crispness to the flavor that cut through the sweet overtones, and he could see himself drinking this far too quickly. It had been a long time since he had been such a lightweight he would blackout after one drink, but he still didn't have much of a tolerance. He picked up the fruit tart in an attempt to slow himself down.

"I don't know how well this wine will pair with tiramisu, but who cares, I love it," Wei Ying said as he grabbed that plate. "Even hotel restaurant tiramisu is great, you have excellent taste."

His eyes were bright on Lan Zhan. At a loss for words, Lan Zhan took another, larger sip of wine before finally saying, "I went with an assortment."

"You rose to the occasion valiantly," Wei Ying said, but thankfully shifted topics before Lan Zhan had to figure out how to respond. "So what were you in Toronto for, anyway?"

This was something Lan Zhan knew how to talk about. "I was here for an academic conference. I teach at a university."

"What subject?"

"Comparative religion, with a focus on Buddhism and Daoism."

"Oh, that sounds fun," Wei Ying said, and reached over to steal a strawberry off the fruit tart.

Usually when someone commented like that on his job, Lan Zhan would say something like, “The students are very rewarding,” or “I’ve been very fortunate to do something I love.” But something—the wine or the competing sugar high or just Wei Ying’s face—compelled him to tell the truth. “I have one of the only good jobs left in a profession that’s collapsing around us, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

For once, Wei Ying was quiet, simply watching Lan Zhan's face as he took another sip of his wine. And that silence was invitation enough for Lan Zhan to continue saying things he thought all the time but rarely said aloud.

"I'm one of the lucky ones, but sometimes all I feel like I'm doing is perpetuating the broken system around me. Some of my colleagues thought they could do more to change the academy from within, but I never had that hope." Lan Zhan drank more, the wine going straight to his head, and didn't decline the offer when Wei Ying waved the bottle at him. "I simply didn't know what else to do, and I had the right advisor and background, and I could afford a decade of paying for school and not making any money, and so here I am." Wei Ying finished refilling his glass, and Lan Zhan forced himself to sip slowly.

"Well, I'm sure you're also brilliant at your job," Wei Ying said, and Lan Zhan did not tell him that so were lots of grad students who got crushed and spit out by his very own university. His face must have said something, though, because Wei Ying laughed and shook his head. "Winning a rigged system doesn't feel great, though, I get it."

"I do like the students," Lan Zhan said. "Most of them."

"That's something! I bet you're super on top of everything and they love you," Wei Ying said. He was lounging against the pillows of the bed, twirling the stem of the wine glass between his fingers, and Lan Zhan felt his focus on him like a brand. The wine was really hitting him now, his face warm and sensitive. It had been a while since he’d gotten tipsy, and he’d forgotten how it made him want to feel the skin over his cheeks, the way it made him think about how someone else might touch him.

He kept his hands on his wine glass. "What do you do?"

"Oh, I'm back in grad school," Wei Ying said easily. "I spent most of my twenties trying and failing to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and once I figured out that nothing I did would make my family happy, I decided to become a music therapist. So I spent most of this summer doing a fellowship at a hospital program, and now I have a couple of weeks off until I go back in the fall."

"What do you play?"

"Pretty much everything, but I stick to an acoustic guitar and some percussion when I'm working with patients. And I sing." Wei Ying had finished the tiramisu and, after holding the plate of chocolate cake up and raising his eyebrows at Lan Zhan, began making his way through his second dessert once Lan Zhan gestured go ahead. "I wanted to major in music in college, but my aunt and uncle would only pay for it if I got a degree in something practical. So at least I wasn't drowning in student loans while I attempted to find myself for a decade, I guess."

"Your aunt and uncle?" Lan Zhan felt like he had missed something.

"My parents died when I was a kid, and my dad's best friend from college took me in." Wei Ying sounded quite unaffected in delivering this news, but Lan Zhan felt terrible. "Uncle Fengmian is great, but his wife has never been very fond of me, let's say. But my brother and sister are the best, so on the whole it's fine."

Lan Zhan didn't want to turn this into a whole support group for orphans, but he felt that he owed it to Wei Ying. "I was also raised by my uncle. My parents haven't been around since I was quite young."

Wei Ying looked curious but didn't ask, which gave him another point in Lan Zhan's favor. "Do you have any siblings?"

"One older brother," Lan Zhan said. He took another sip of wine before saying, "He's the reason I have that app."

"Ahhhh, a meddler!" Wei Ying looked thrilled, and instantly the slightly somber mood lightened.

"He would like me to be happy," Lan Zhan said.

"And what could possibly bring more happiness than a guidebook to casual sex in your pocket." Wei Ying finished the last bite of the chocolate cake with a flourish.

"...I don't think that was his intention, but perhaps I should ask," Lan Zhan said, dry as bone. The way Wei Ying beamed back at him made his face want to do a thing, but he managed not to outwardly react. At least, he thought so. It was hard to tell after two (small) glasses of wine.

"You should tell him you managed to find a friend in an airport and thwarted the whole point," Wei Ying said, pouring the last of the bottle into his glass.

"This evening has been fairly unconventional for me, he would be quite surprised." Lan Zhan attempted to get the final drops of wine out of his glass, but it was sadly empty.

"My brother wouldn't be at all, but then he's always mad at the fact that nothing ever happens in a straight line for me. I always have some weird story to tell and he gets jealous."

"Why would you want your lines to be straight?" Lan Zhan said, keeping his face perfectly still.

Wei Ying stared at him and then shook his head, the grin splitting his face. "I bet half of your colleagues think you never joke at all."

"They do," Lan Zhan confirmed.

"Well, I see right through you," Wei Ying said, with an intensity Lan Zhan didn't know if he could withstand. Just as he began to contemplate doing something quite forward, Wei Ying yawned and stretched, and the moment broke.

"I should go," Lan Zhan said, standing from the overstuffed chair next to the tiny coffee table shoved under the window. "I have had a long day."

"Make sure to drink lots of water," Wei Ying said, sounding both sincerely helpful and also like he was gently teasing Lan Zhan for being an obvious lightweight. Lan Zhan liked it.

"I will." Lan Zhan walked over to the door, Wei Ying following him.

"We should take the shuttle back to the airport together," Wei Ying said, his voice much closer than Lan Zhan was prepared for.

"I had planned to attempt to get on an earlier flight, if possible," Lan Zhan said, turning back to Wei Ying with his hand on the door handle.

Wei Ying nodded. "Me too. I'd rather get home before 8 p.m. tomorrow if I can. Meet in the lobby at 10?"

"I will see you there." Wei Ying's answering smile was sweet and satisfied now, like they were sharing a secret.

Lan Zhan really needed to drink some water and put himself to bed. He nodded at Wei Ying and left the room, only looking back when Wei Ying called his name.

"Sleep well!" Wei Ying said and waved at Lan Zhan. After a moment, Lan Zhan gave a little wave back, and opened his door.

*

The next morning was perhaps less painful than Lan Zhan deserved, but he had in fact consumed multiple glasses of water before going to bed, and he didn't even need to use his emergency Advil. His alcohol tolerance hadn't improved much with age, but he still managed to be more prone to hangovers now, which didn't exactly make him want to attempt to increase his tolerance.

He kept his mind blank as he went through his morning routine, not allowing himself to linger mentally or otherwise in the shower, except to enjoy the water pressure of a good hotel designed for catering to business travelers. He let his hair dry while catching up on the reading he’d intended to do on the flight last night and then pulled it back into a low ponytail. Once he had made tenure, he’d allowed himself to grow it out to the length he preferred; his brother had told him he was being paranoid, but he hadn't wanted to give his university any reason to view him as less than perfectly professional. Eccentric hair was a luxury only white straight men and STEM professors could get away with. He had toed every line he could imagine.

When he got to the lobby at five of ten, he was pleasantly surprised to see Wei Ying already there, typing furiously on his phone.

"Everything alright?" he asked as he walked up to him.

Wei Ying nodded, his focus still on his phone. "Yeah, there's just a family crisis, the usual." He finished sending something and then looked up at Lan Zhan, the furrow clearing from his brow. "How are you doing this morning?"

"I slept perfectly well," Lan Zhan said. "And you?"

"Like a baby!" Wei Ying put away his phone and smiled up at him, and the full surreality of the entire situation hit Lan Zhan again in full force. A day ago he had never met this person, and now he had different categories in his mind for Wei Ying’s various smiles.

He almost hated to break the spell of being in this hotel together, but if they didn't move now they would miss the 10:05 shuttle.

Wei Ying took the window seat, his face turned toward the morning sun behind his sunglasses. Lan Zhan read a little, but mostly he just enjoyed the simple pleasure of being in the company of another person and not feeling the need to speak. He already knew that if Wei Ying wanted to talk, he would, and Lan Zhan didn't need to feel responsible for saying anything out of fear of seeming rude. It was incredibly soothing.

Once they arrived back at the airport, they went back through customs and retraced their steps through the terminal back to the same gate Lan Zhan had waited at for hours yesterday. He had hoped it would be fairly empty and their chances of getting seats off of standby would be decent, but instead it was disconcertingly full for before noon.

Wei Ying claimed a seat with a table and waved Lan Zhan toward the seat across from him. "This will be our home for the day."

After putting his satchel on the chair, Lan Zhan scanned the terminal for a Starbucks in the land of Tim Hortons to no avail. "I am getting myself some breakfast. Would you like anything?"

"Nah, I never eat anything before noon. I'd take a coffee, though." Wei Ying started to dig into his pockets, but Lan Zhan shook his head.

"I can get you a coffee, you're in grad school," Lan Zhan said, already walking away.

"I could just be scamming you!" Wei Ying called after him, and Lan Zhan was glad he couldn't see his smile.

He had never before looked forward to a day spent waiting in an airport. The feeling was so strong and so pervasive that it made him feel a bit ridiculous, but then he brought back a coffee for Wei Ying and he looked so genuinely excited that Lan Zhan began to wonder what else he could get for him in an airport. He ate his egg sandwich slowly, watching as Wei Ying bounced a little in his seat after he took a sip, like even that made him so happy he couldn't keep his happiness out of his body.

Lan Zhan would do a lot to see that reaction.

The people-watching in an airport was also top notch, an excellent cross-section of strangers to psychoanalyze and project onto.

"The two of them are about to go on their honeymoon together, but I don't think the marriage is going to last," Wei Ying said, gesturing with his coffee cup at a man and a woman across the terminal from them. They were both on their phones, but while the woman looked over at her travel companion frequently, he seemed completely absorbed by his screen. Eventually she gave a little huff and turned her attention back to her phone, and the cycle repeated.

"I think they're siblings on their way to visit their parents," Lan Zhan said, just to prolong the conversation.

"Oh, maybe they're one of those couples that's been together so long they look like they're related! Like those people who start resembling their pets," Wei Ying said.

Lan Zhan had no idea what he was talking about, so he found their next subjects. "What about them?" He nodded at two women in their sixties.

Wei Ying swung around and took a long look. "They, on the other hand, have been a couple for ages—probably as long as we've been alive. They're on their way to a fantastic vacation. Probably someplace warm, judging by the hats."

After a moment, Lan Zhan could only say, "I think you're exactly right." And when Wei Ying looked back at him and beamed, Lan Zhan felt his face mirror Wei Ying's.

"I am an excellent judge of character," Wei Ying said, and Lan Zhan wasn't imagining how loaded his words sounded, or how intentional his meaning was as he stared at Lan Zhan. He was going to say something, just as soon as he figured out how to flirt the way Wei Ying seemed to do as easily as breathing, when there was an announcement from the gate.

"Good evening, passengers. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, the 1:50 flight from Toronto to New York Laguardia has been delayed again, and the 3:50 has been canceled. If your flight has been canceled, please see a member of the crew to be rebooked onto a later flight. We apologize for the inconvenience."

Wei Ying looked out the gigantic terminal windows at the bright blue skies, and then back at Lan Zhan. "Inclement weather, huh?"

Already scrolling through his weather app, Lan Zhan nodded. "It's down in New York: thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the day."

For a moment Wei Ying's face fell, but then his normally cheerful demeanor reasserted itself. "Well, I don't care how long we have to wait in this terminal, just as long as we leave sometime tonight."

But the longer they sat there, and the further back flights that were scheduled to leave hours before their own were pushed, the more Lan Zhan feared they wouldn't be leaving today at all. Every time Lan Zhan checked FlightAware on his phone, their scheduled departure time had been delayed by another thirty minutes, and the flight originally scheduled to leave at 1:50 was now supposed to depart after their original departure time. He was mentally preparing himself for another night spent in a hotel, and even let himself imagine having a proper dinner with Wei Ying this time, and maybe another bottle of wine, and then—

His phone pinged with the alert two seconds before the PA system came back online. He was staring at the message telling him their flight was canceled as the woman at the gate informed them of the same thing. The disgruntled murmurs of the passengers at the gate meant it took Lan Zhan a moment to realize that Wei Ying was urgently calling his name.

When he looked up, he blinked in shock. Wei Ying's sunny disposition had completely disappeared; now he was pale and drawn and looked like he might start crying at any moment. "What is wrong?" he asked urgently.

"Lan Zhan, I have to get home tonight," Wei Ying said, his voice flat and terrible.

"Our flight's been canceled—" Lan Zhan began, but Wei Ying shook his head.

"No, I know, but I can't wait for a flight tomorrow and take the risk we won't get on one then, either, I have to be back in New York by tomorrow night or my sister's gonna kill me."

"What is happening tomorrow?" Lan Zhan asked.

Wei Ying was still talking over him. "Or really, my aunt will kill me for missing my sister's tea ceremony and ruining her wedding weekend, and then my brother will bring me back from the dead and kill me again. Yanli will just be sad and disappointed and then I'll have to kill myself because what could be worse—"

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan said and put his hand on Wei Ying's wrist. Wei Ying's eyes snapped up to his. "What do you need?"

"I have to get home," Wei Ying repeated. "Oh god, my aunt was so mad I went away this close to the wedding and I told her it would be no problem! But apparently Canada had other plans."

"I know that you need to get home," Lan Zhan said, rubbing his thumb over the soft skin of Wei Ying's wrist. "But what do you need?"

Wei Ying took a deep breath. "I need us to rent a car so we can drive home tonight—"

Lan Zhan took his hand off Wei Ying's wrist and picked up his phone again. "I will find us a car."

"—and I need you to drive because I left my driver's license in New York," Wei Ying finished.

Lan Zhan stared at him. "Why did you leave your driver's license at home?"

"It's Canada, I already had to bring my passport, why bring extra stuff? Oh god, you do know how to drive, don't you?" Wei Ying asked, sounding worried all over again.

"Yes," Lan Zhan said. "And I even have my license with me."

"Of course you do," Wei Ying said. Lan Zhan stole a glance at him from his phone; Wei Ying still looked a bit off-color, but nothing compared to a few minutes ago.

Lan Zhan looked back at his phone to see the results of his search. "There are no one-way rentals available at this airport—"

Wei Ying put his forehead on the table and groaned.

"—but there are cars available in Toronto itself, if you want to take a cab there."

Wei Ying lifted his head. "I really, really would. I mean, if you're really willing—"

Lan Zhan had already stood up and was gathering his things. "I have reserved a car for us. It will take an hour to get downtown at this time of day, but we should be able to be on the road by 6. When do you need to be back in the city tomorrow?"

Wei Ying was staring at him. Lan Zhan was well aware that he was perhaps overstepping, but he reminded himself that Wei Ying had asked him. "I—if we could be back by noon, that would be amazing. I'd have time for a nap and a shower and to get myself ready."

Nodding, Lan Zhan finished putting his things back into his satchel and swung it over his shoulder. "We can make it. I will need to sleep tonight, but we can find a hotel on the way." He started walking toward the exit, Wei Ying right behind him.

"I'll pay for the hotel! And the car and gas, of course, although you'll probably need to pay for the car initially since it'll be under your license, but I'll pay you back—"

"No need."

"Lan Zhan! I'm not letting you pay—"

"My travel insurance will cover it," Lan Zhan said, and didn't realize for a moment that Wei Ying had stopped walking. He turned back.

"Oh, sure, travel insurance, I should have known," Wei Ying said in an odd tone, and finally started walking again.

"Yes," Lan Zhan said uncertainly. "I—it's part of the credit card I use for travel, so I'll need to put everything on that card—"

"I have never been so glad someone didn't think I was hot enough on Grindr," Wei Ying interrupted him, smiling over at him with a look of disbelief on his face.

"Well," Lan Zhan said, and fell silent. There were so many things he wanted to say in response to that, not least of which was that Wei Ying was so hot and so charming that Lan Zhan had just volunteered to drive for eight hours for a person he hadn't known twenty-four hours ago. He finally said, "I am also glad you were sitting at that bar," and didn't know whether he hoped Wei Ying could see through those words to the deeper meaning below.

The process of getting back through customs took even longer the second time, but at least they knew how it went this time. It felt good once they were in a cab together, like they were finally getting somewhere after hours of delay, even though they were headed in the wrong direction from their eventual destination.

Wei Ying clearly felt the same way, that awful pallor on his face completely gone now as he made important plans for the trip. "Since you'll be driving, I'll be in charge of navigation and entertainment."

"We can just set the GPS—"

"Okay, fine, but I'll keep an eye on it anyway. I don't want to end up in Montreal by mistake or something."

"It has seemed like that kind of trip," Lan Zhan said.

"Listen, I know you're just humoring me, but I'll take it. And it's my job to keep you alert and awake—do you listen to podcasts?"

Lan Zhan did not blush. "I do."

He could feel Wei Ying peering at him. "Why are your cheeks pink? I bet you just listen to like fifteen news podcasts and a whole bunch of academic stuff that will go over my head. But I will withstand that for you, Lan Zhan!"

"I also enjoy paranormal podcasts, and shows about queer historical figures," Lan Zhan said. "And one on etymology."

"Bugs?" Wei Ying wrinkled his nose but attempted to look interested.

"The history of words," Lan Zhan clarified. "Entomology is about bugs, it's a common mistake."

"Oh, sure," Wei Ying said, his face so soft that Lan Zhan could hardly look directly at him.

"But I am happy to listen to whatever you want, aside from true crime. Or politics. But many other things."

Wei Ying shook his head. "Nope, that's not how it works, driver chooses the entertainment. I will happily listen to someone explaining word origins to me, or whatever."

It was ridiculous to feel like he was being indulged by someone Lan Zhan was willingly driving five hundred miles for, but he did. He didn't know quite what to do with that.

By the time they arrived at the rental agency, signed the paperwork, and picked up the actual car, it was almost seven. Lan Zhan liked driving, most of the time, but the pedestrians of Toronto seemed to actively want to be hit by cars, and it took him ten full minutes to safely make one right turn. Finally, they made it to Lake Shore Boulevard, the sun at the perfect angle for photographs but also for blinding drivers, and they were on their way.

Lan Zhan could feel Wei Ying gradually relax as they got further away from Toronto and closer to the border. The drive began to feel like something fun, a road trip rather than an act of desperation he was willingly undertaking with someone he barely knew. But he was getting to know Wei Ying remarkably quickly, especially since he apparently enjoyed talking back at Queer as Fact.

"Oh, sure, Frederick the Great had an entire collection of Greek gay-ass art in his Temple of Friendship where he brought all his closest male friends, but truly who can say if he liked dick!"

"Modern historians at least have accepted that as almost certainly true," Lan Zhan said.

"I know contemporary standards can't be applied to relationships of the past, but on the other hand, sometimes when a dude sends another dude an erotic poem he wrote for him, it's not entirely platonic!"

"That does seem like a stretch," Lan Zhan agreed, glancing over at Wei Ying and smiling. Wei Ying was somehow curled up while buckled into the passenger seat, his right leg tucked underneath him and his left foot up on the seat, his right shoulder pressed against the passenger side door. When Wei Ying smiled back at him, Lan Zhan had to force his eyes back on the road.

"Okay, wait, I need to back up, I missed what they were talking about there," Wei Ying said, and the podcast began discussing Frederick's relationship with Voltaire.

The traffic had finally cleared up about twenty miles outside of the city, and they were coming up to the border crossing. Customs was less of a hassle than Lan Zhan had feared; their passports were checked and the border agent seemed perplexed by their story but not particularly suspicious.

The podcast was winding down when Lan Zhan stopped at a rest stop for gas and protein bars and water. He also started looking for hotel options.

"I would like to stop driving by about 10 tonight, if that's okay," he said, Googling different routes and locations.

"That's fine by me! You're the driver," Wei Ying said while inhaling corn nuts, of all things.

"That will mean that tomorrow we should be on the road again by 7:30 in order to get you back to New York by noon." Lan Zhan clicked on the best hotel option he’d found, and then hesitated. "My travel insurance will cover one room, but if you'd prefer I book you your own room—"

"Nah, that's fine, I don't mind sharing," Wei Ying interrupted him, and flashed him a smile. "Unless you want some time away from me, in which case—"

"One room is fine," Lan Zhan said quickly, his heart thumping quite foolishly.

When they got back into the car, Wei Ying started scrolling through Lan Zhan's podcasts for a new one. But Lan Zhan was beginning to feel a bit more daring.

"Are you happy for your sister?" he asked as he pulled out of the rest stop.

Wei Ying put Lan Zhan's phone down in his lap and looked over at him, clearly surprised. "What?"

"For her marriage, I mean," Lan Zhan clarified. "I just wondered if there was a reason you went away so soon before the wedding."

Wei Ying's head thumped back against the headrest and he sighed. "I am very happy for Yanli, because for some unknown reason she's extremely excited about marrying her fiance, and if she's happy, then what I think doesn't matter."

Lan Zhan waited.

"But I think he's a stuck-up rich asshole, and if I had been around this week I would have had to make nice with him and his family and all my aunties for days, and I'm not very good at that! Usually I just end up getting yelled at. So I figured I'd stay away until the tea ceremony and it would make everyone happier. Which was going fine until I told them this morning that I was still in Toronto." Wei Ying glanced over at him, his face dimly lit by the highway lights. "But, in answer to your actual question, yes. I am thrilled for her because she deserves everything she wants, even if I think it's dumb."

"I feel similarly about my brother," Lan Zhan said. "His romantic choices are...questionable."

"And like, obviously I'm not going to be blatantly rude to her future in-laws or whatever, but my brother says my face is rude enough," Wei Ying said, shifting in his seat until he managed to get his long legs curled underneath him again. "Which is pretty rude of him, if you think about it! And it's not my fault I have no poker face."

"You do seem like an open book."

Sighing, Wei Ying slumped back. "I swear I'm a good actor, but no one believes me."

"I think it's good. To be an open book," Lan Zhan clarified when Wei Ying turned toward him. Lan Zhan kept his eyes on the mostly empty highway; he wasn't sure he could say any of this if he were looking at Wei Ying. "I have been accused of being impossible to read, or of being cold and aloof, by many people."

"Hmmm." He could hear Wei Ying shifting around again. "I guess I can kind of understand that, if someone has just met you—I didn't quite know what to make of you at the bar last night. But honestly I think that most people are just idiots."

Lan Zhan made a small noise.

"Because if they'd just pay attention, I don't know how anyone could think you were cold," Wei Ying went on easily, as if he wasn't lighting up Lan Zhan's entire body with each word.

"Mn," he managed to say, finally. "Perhaps you are more insightful than most." He tried to mimic Wei Ying's light tone, but he didn't know if he succeeded.

Wei Ying snorted. "That's me, the most insightful guy around. Okay, let's listen to one of your bug podcasts next."

The quiet tones of his etymology podcast guided them along the highway, blanketing them in the darkness. They could have been the only people on the road, or possibly on the planet.

By the time they pulled into the hotel parking lot, Lan Zhan wasn't sure if it was exhaustion or something else that was making him feel so odd.

The last twenty-four hours felt more like a dream than reality to him; the idea that he would be at a random hotel in upstate New York with a stranger would have been entirely incomprehensible to him yesterday morning. It was like he was outside time, the rules of their normal lives suspended for as long as they were together.

As they brought their bags to the room, Lan Zhan watched Wei Ying a few steps ahead of him, trying to convince himself that they were both real. It had been so long since something truly unexpected had happened to him; his life had set patterns he had carefully designed, and Wei Ying had just redrawn all of them.

The hotel room was plain but serviceable, two double beds taking up most of the space. Wei Ying turned to him once Lan Zhan had closed the door behind them. "Do you need the bathroom, or can I get ready for bed first?"

Lan Zhan shook his head. "Go ahead." He chose the bed nearer the door and unpacked the cleanest outfit he had to wear tomorrow, laying it out on the foot of his bed, before quickly changing into a t-shirt and loose yoga pants.

Wei Ying was fast; he was coming out of the restroom in sleep shorts and a tank top, his hair falling loose around his head, by the time Lan Zhan had gotten his toiletries bag out.

Wei Ying gave him a small smile. "No room service at this place, huh?"

"No." Lan Zhan hesitated; it was odd being able to look directly at Wei Ying again. He had felt braver in the car. "I took this bed, unless—"

"Oh, that's fine, I'm not picky," Wei Ying said, starting to walk around Lan Zhan to the other bed.

Something in Lan Zhan burst. Rather than do the smart thing and prepare for bed, he caught Wei Ying by the arm. "Wei Ying."

Wei Ying stopped instantly, searching Lan Zhan's face. There was only a foot separating them, and the look on Wei Ying's face gave Lan Zhan courage.

"We can just sleep," Lan Zhan began, and immediately recognized his mistake when Wei Ying's brow furrowed. "I mean, you do not owe me anything. But." He looked down at where his hand was still firm around Wei Ying's bare arm, the skin hot and smooth, and then back at Wei Ying's face. "But I did not close the app because I didn't find you attractive."

The relief on Wei Ying's face was everything Lan Zhan needed to see. "Oh, thank god, because otherwise I was gonna end up stalking you in New York and this whole thing was going to get extremely awkward." He was beaming now, his eyes bright and intent on Lan Zhan, the exhaustion of the day seemingly wiped away.

Lan Zhan couldn't stop staring at him. "I would like," he started, and then he gave up on words for the moment and leaned in to kiss him.

Before their lips met, he was still slightly nervous that he was being presumptuous or misreading the signals. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. But the way Wei Ying immediately responded, kissing him back and grabbing hold of his shirt, gave him the last tiny bit of confidence he needed. He let go of Wei Ying's arm and wrapped his arms around him, one hand up in Wei Ying's hair.

Wei Ying let him take some of his weight, melting against Lan Zhan as the kiss deepened. Their mouths moved together slow, like they had all the time in the world. Wei Ying's tongue slipped inside and Lan Zhan chased it, swallowing the soft sounds Wei Ying made.

Lan Zhan felt drunk on kissing, each brush of Wei Ying's lips dragging him deeper. He gently tugged Wei Ying forward and sat down on the foot of the bed with Wei Ying straddling him. They were sitting on top of the clothes he had laid out five minutes before, but that was fine: he would wear wrinkled clothing tomorrow if it meant he could keep kissing Wei Ying now.

And Wei Ying showed no signs of wanting to stop kissing him. His hands were in Lan Zhan's hair, tugging his head back, while Lan Zhan held him steady by the hips. Wei Ying made hitching moves with his hips, pressing closer to him as they kissed. Lan Zhan slowly fell back onto the bed, his hands sweeping down Wei Ying's legs to his bare skin, and Wei Ying followed him down.

Once Lan Zhan was flat on his back, Wei Ying pulled his mouth away. "Impressive core strength," he said, and kissed Lan Zhan again.

"I enjoy pilates," Lan Zhan said against his lips, smiling when Wei Ying groaned.

"Fuck, of course you do," Wei Ying said, the exasperation in his voice slightly at odds with the slow grind of his hips against Lan Zhan's.

Lan Zhan let his hands move up Wei Ying's legs and under his sleep shorts until he was holding his ass. "It alleviates back pain," he said, a bit breathless, and arched up to kiss Wei Ying again.

Wei Ying made a shocked noise against his mouth and moved with Lan Zhan's hands for a moment before tucking his face against Lan Zhan's neck. "Oh my god, I can't believe I ever thought you were super serious. You're just a constant troll," he said against Lan Zhan's neck, and then bit down at the crook of his neck.

Squeezing his ass even harder, Lan Zhan tilted his head until his mouth was next to Wei Ying's ear. "I can be serious. I spent so long looking at your profile because I couldn't believe how beautiful you were," he said, and then kissed Wei Ying's cheek.

Wei Ying made a wounded sound. "Lan Zhan," he gasped, and thrust down harder.

"Usually looking at profiles makes me feel a bit defeated, but yours felt like what I had been searching for," he went on, hiding his face against Wei Ying's face.

"Then why didn't you message me?" Wei Ying asked, sounding a bit desperate.

Lan Zhan felt like the last two days had stripped away his normal self-protection instincts. "Just knowing you were out there felt like enough," he said, and couldn't say anymore.

"Jesus Christ," Wei Ying muttered, sounding almost angry, and Lan Zhan would have been more worried if Wei Ying hadn't grabbed his face and started kissing him fiercely, like he was trying to own him. Lan Zhan let him, gave himself over to the focus of Wei Ying's kisses, and moved with his body.

"What do you want?" he asked when Wei Ying let him up for air, and Wei Ying shook his head and kissed him again. Wei Ying's thigh was rocking against Lan Zhan's cock, the pressure so close to being enough, but it had been a long time since he was a teenager. He broke away from Wei Ying's mouth and asked, "Do you want me to suck you?"

Wei Ying shuddered and ground his cock against the hollow of Lan Zhan's hip. "I—"

"I really want to," Lan Zhan said quickly, and Wei Ying groaned and shifted until they were both on their sides.

"I won't last," Wei Ying warned him, but he also rolled over onto his back and spread his legs.

His dick was jutting up through the fabric of his sleep shorts, obscene and obvious, and Lan Zhan reached down and ran his open palm over it. It twitched up into the touch, and Wei Ying grabbed Lan Zhan's wrist.

"I wasn't kidding about the hair trigger," he said, eyes blown wide and mouth red and wet. Lan Zhan's imagination had been wholly inadequate: Wei Ying in bed was more gorgeous than he ever could have dreamed.

He forced himself to look away from Wei Ying's face, and got his fingers under the waistband of his shorts. Carefully lifting it away from Wei Ying's body, he freed his cock, which was long with a gentle curve to the right. Not letting himself get distracted by anything else, he leaned over and took it into his mouth.

Wei Ying sighed and pushed up; Lan Zhan relaxed his mouth and let him for a moment before putting a hand on Wei Ying's hip bone and pressing down. And then he started to suck.

He let his mind go blank, focusing only on the feel of Wei Ying's cock in his mouth, the soft plush head and the heavy weight of the shaft on his tongue. Wei Ying's hands were tight in his hair, his hips relentlessly pushing up against Lan Zhan's hand, his legs twitching and trembling. He had only just begun to sink into it when Wei Ying made a choked sound, and a second later he started to come, spilling into Lan Zhan's mouth.

Lan Zhan kept sucking softly until Wei Ying pushed him off, and then he gave the head of Wei Ying's cock one final lick before looking up at him. He was staring back down at Lan Zhan; he looked wrecked, like he somehow hadn't been expecting any of this, and an intense, possessive sense of satisfaction and pride coursed through Lan Zhan.

I made him look like that, he thought, and then Wei Ying made a strangled sound deep in his throat and pulled him up to the head of the bed and kissed him.

"You liked that, huh," he said between kisses, his tongue sweeping through Lan Zhan's mouth. Lan Zhan nodded frantically, his hips pushing forward. He moaned when Wei Ying's hand stroked over his cock through his yoga pants. "Well, you're going to like this, too."

Wei Ying gave him one last hard kiss and then shuffled down his body, getting Lan Zhan's cock out and his mouth around it before Lan Zhan knew what was happening. The tight wet heat of Wei Ying's mouth was almost too much all at once, his entire body so sensitive, and he thrust up instinctively. Wei Ying moved with him, one hand firm around the base of his cock, and Lan Zhan felt his orgasm building through his body already, all his nerve endings alight.

He came on a gasp, one hand gripping Wei Ying's shoulder hard, the other in his own hair. Panting up at the ceiling, he tried to make himself speak, and just closed his eyes instead, his whole body wrung out.

He felt Wei Ying crawl up the bed and flop down next to Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan got his arm around him and pulled him in for a kiss, and then another, and then one more.

"I should go brush my teeth," he said finally, and immediately kissed Wei Ying again.

"Do it in the morning," Wei Ying mumbled, and yawned in Lan Zhan's face. Lan Zhan held him close and stayed.

*

Lan Zhan woke up once in the middle of the night, and managed to extricate himself from Wei Ying without waking him. He took care of the tasks he had neglected in order to kiss Wei Ying, set his alarm for 6:30, and got both of them under the covers to sleep until morning.

He woke again five minutes before his alarm, his body's daily rhythms asserting themselves even now, and he let himself spend that time looking at Wei Ying. He was still plastered against Lan Zhan's side, with his head tucked under his chin. The pins and needles in Lan Zhan's arm would be strong but worth it.

When the alarm went off, Wei Ying pressed his face against Lan Zhan's chest and made a small noise. Lan Zhan turned the alarm off and kissed the top of Wei Ying's head. "I'm going to shower, stay in bed." It took some time to slide his way out from under Wei Ying, who finally curled up around a pillow once he was alone.

This morning when he showered, he let himself do what he hadn't yesterday and thought about Wei Ying, thought about how it had felt to kiss him, to suck him off, to have his mouth on him. He thought about that and about everything they hadn't done yet, which he allowed himself to believe might actually happen.

He came quickly, the orgasm almost perfunctory after how Wei Ying had made him come last night. But it cleared his head and made him feel like he could handle another four or five hours in the car with Wei Ying, knowing now that he could touch him.

Wei Ying was still asleep when Lan Zhan came back in from the bathroom, clean and dressed and wide awake. He left him there while he went to find the coffee station the hotel had set up along with an extremely limited breakfast spread. It would do for this time of morning.

When he opened the hotel room door, Wei Ying was sitting up, staring blearily at him. "I brought coffee," Lan Zhan said.

"Oh, you sweetheart," Wei Ying said and made grabby hands at the cup. Lan Zhan felt his whole body flush at the word and handed over the cup.

"Good morning to you," Wei Ying cooed at the coffee before taking a large gulp.

"We should leave in the next fifteen minutes or so, if you can manage that," Lan Zhan said.

Wei Ying nodded, finally tearing his eyes away from the coffee. "Give me like two minutes to let the caffeine work its magic and then I'll get up and be ready to go."

Lan Zhan didn't entirely believe him, but Wei Ying was the person on a deadline, not him. So he sat on the other bed and quietly scrolled through his emails and did not offer once to help Wei Ying pack or remind him again of the time. He felt simultaneously quite proud of himself and like he was dying.

But after sitting and communing with his coffee for another five minutes, Wei Ying did in fact suddenly spring out of bed and was dressed and packed by 7:30 on the dot. "Ready?" he asked Lan Zhan.

He was certainly ready to tackle Wei Ying back into bed and slowly strip him out of the tank top and cutoffs Wei Ying was wearing, his sunglasses stuck in his hair. It was becoming more and more clear that there was no situation under which Lan Zhan wouldn't find him unbelievably attractive, whether first thing in the morning or while on an unplanned road trip wearing clothing that had probably already been worn at least once.

Lan Zhan managed not to derail their entire schedule by giving in to that urge, but he did let himself kiss Wei Ying on the lips, and pull him close when Wei Ying immediately kissed him back.

"Ready," he said in a low voice, drinking in how dazed Wei Ying looked just from a kiss. It was that look that let him take Wei Ying by the hand and lead him out of the hotel room: he needed to stick to the schedule for Wei Ying. He was being counted on.

The drive started the way last night had ended: a mostly empty highway through the countryside. The mist of the morning was slowly lifting, but it lingered in the valleys the highway wound around as they drove through the hills.

"I've never really thought about how big upstate is," Wei Ying said. He had finally finished his coffee, and Lan Zhan had started mentally calculating when they should stop off so he could grab a proper breakfast. "Like, I knew it was big. But I feel like now I really know."

"The last time I was up here was for a conference at Cornell," Lan Zhan said. "That experience was...different."

Wei Ying laughed at him, and Lan Zhan let himself look over at him. "What, this isn't your standard post-conference routine?"

"It is not." Lan Zhan waited a moment, and then added, "Conference hookups are usually much more of a disaster."

"Hold up. Are you—is this your 'so serious it's actually a joke' voice or your 'I sound like I can't be serious but really it is' voice?" Wei Ying demanded.

"A good question."

"No, shut up, I—I think you're serious," Wei Ying finally said.

After he held out for as long as he could, Lan Zhan finally smiled a little. "I haven't personally had many disastrous conference hookups, but I am in the minority, I fear."

"Okay." Wei Ying fell back against his seat for a moment, and then sat back up. "You haven't had many?"

Lan Zhan fully laughed now. "You listen very closely," he said, and let himself put his hand on Wei Ying's bare thigh.

There was what felt to Lan Zhan like a long silence, during which he resolutely did not worry, and finally Wei Ying put his hand on top of Lan Zhan's.

"I don't miss much," Wei Ying said, and Lan Zhan squeezed his leg.

Aside from the curves of the road that required two hands on the wheel, he left his hand there while they continued to make their way along the highway, and put it back as soon as it was safe to drive one-handed. That one point of contact was barely close enough for his liking at this stage; he knew he was perhaps overreacting, and he was certainly being unforgivably sentimental, but he felt like he had awoken to a new dawn this morning.

And Wei Ying did nothing to dispel that feeling, his left hand immediately landing back on top of Lan Zhan's as soon as it was back in place, his right hand gently playing with Lan Zhan's fingers. Lan Zhan did not feel alone in his sentimentality, which should have been the most frightening thing of all, and instead it merely felt deeply correct. Which was another sign the sentimentality had taken over completely, much like the old saying that if you thought you were crazy, clearly you weren't.

Well, he knew that wasn't technically true, and for once he decided to let himself trust his feelings, for as long as he could.

His hand returned to its rightful place after they had stopped off for gas and snacks, still a couple of hours out from the city.

"Where will the tea ceremony be held?" Lan Zhan asked, his thumb softly sweeping over Wei Ying's thigh.

"At my aunt and uncle's townhouse. It will be beautiful and tastefully extravagant, and A-Li will be the most stunning bride who has ever existed, but it's going to be exhausting," Wei Ying said, sighing.

"Mn." Lan Zhan could imagine the type.

"I mean, it won't be exhausting for her, I don't think—she has always been exactly who any family could ever want their son to marry. But that's the problem! What if they don't appreciate that? What then?" Wei Ying asked, making what sounded like a well-worn argument.

"Is her fiance who her parents would have wanted?" Lan Zhan stole a glance at Wei Ying, who made a face.

"Probably. I mean, his family is rich and he has a good career on top of that, and he does really seem to love her, at least. But he's so boring," Wei Ying complained, drawing out the word. "He never laughs at my jokes and he always looks puzzled when my sister laughs, and really he should know that it's only good manners to always laugh at your future brother-in-law's jokes, especially when he's your fiancee's favorite brother."

"Does your brother know this?"

"Of course he does, that's why he's always mad at me," Wei Ying said, and laughed. "Maybe favorite isn't the right word. But hardest to win over probably is."

The idea that Wei Ying was hard to win over felt utterly foreign to Lan Zhan. He still couldn't quite believe how easily he'd seemed to do it. "Perhaps he simply needs to drive you home from Canada," Lan Zhan suggested.

Wei Ying laughed again. "Nah, I only let guys I want to sleep with do that," he said.

It was simply absurd how happy Lan Zhan felt, hearing that. You exchanged blowjobs last night, he reminded himself. All evidence supports the idea that he's interested in you. He shouldn't need to hear it.

It still felt nice, though.

"In that case, please don't get stranded with him in Winnipeg or something," Lan Zhan said finally, and smiled when Wei Ying laughed again.

He clearly finds me funny.

"Anyway, even though I am obviously her favorite brother and also the best one at planning parties and managing social events, I am actually in a terrible situation of my own making," Wei Ying said, moaning dramatically.

"A terrible situation other than this one?"

"Pffft, this hasn't been a terrible situation for at least eighteen hours," Wei Ying said. "So one of my jobs was figuring out door games for tonight."

"...Do you not know what you're doing, yet?" Lan Zhan was quietly horrified.

"Oh my god, it's not that serious, I'll figure it out!" Perhaps his horror was less quiet than he had realized.

"You must have some idea."

"I do, but my brother thinks some of them are too much or whatever," Wei Ying said. "So they're obviously gonna have to give us red envelopes to get in, because they're filthy rich and if this whole thing is going to be paid for with, like, blood money, then they can give some of that to me."

"Mn." Lan Zhan was uncertain how literal Wei Ying's assessment of his sister's future family was.

"But I want each of them to also have to kiss me on the cheek, and Jiang Cheng, my sister's second favorite brother, thinks that'll make it weird. As if that's not the point!"

"It's certainly aggressive."

Wei Ying sighed. "I honestly think it would just be funny, but yeah. We're gonna have them sing, for sure—that was what Jiang Cheng was in charge of—and for the quiz we're going to stuff some of the marshmallows they have to eat if they get an answer wrong with wasabi—"

"That sounds perfectly appropriate—"

"—but I wanted to stuff them with chili peppers instead, except Jiang Cheng thinks that's too mean."

After a moment, Lan Zhan slowly said, "It sounds like you have a plan, you're just arguing over the details."

"Yes, because I'm right and Jiang Cheng refuses to admit it. But you have to be on my side."

"Of course," Lan Zhan said, glancing over at him. "But please don't ever make me eat a chili pepper inside a marshmallow."

"You're no fun," Wei Ying wailed, and Lan Zhan smiled and tried to focus on the road.

The conversation between them gradually drifted off, and Lan Zhan felt quite content as he navigated from one highway to the next. When he put his hand back on Wei Ying's thigh, he noticed that he looked about a minute from falling asleep.

"You can nap, if you want," Lan Zhan said, voice deliberately soft. "I'll be fine."

"You sure?" Wei Ying mumbled, already turning a bit in his seat so that Lan Zhan's hand slid onto his inner thigh.

"Just tell me which part of the city I should be aiming for."

"Morningside Heights," Wei Ying said on a yawn, and he was out.

Satisfaction bloomed in Lan Zhan's chest as he continued the drive. It was peaceful and comfortable, and he was glad Wei Ying could get an extra hour or so of sleep before what would be a very busy weekend for him. He was already debating with himself how long he would need to wait before contacting Wei Ying again. He felt quite certain that Wei Ying would want him to, but he didn't want to crowd him after so much socializing. Lan Zhan would want to be in a sensory deprivation tank after a weekend like that, but he knew not everyone felt that way, in theory.

He was a bit worried they would hit traffic the closer they got to the city, but they had managed to time it perfectly and missed all of rush hour. Wei Ying woke up with a start when Lan Zhan slowed down at the George Washington Bridge toll, and stared out the window at the city as they crossed the Hudson.

"This was not how I thought I was getting home from Toronto," he said finally, looking over at Lan Zhan.

"It was exactly what I planned," Lan Zhan said.

Wei Ying laughed, and Lan Zhan couldn't believe how easily Wei Ying laughed at all of his terrible jokes.

He followed the GPS directions to Wei Ying's apartment building, and tried to prepare himself for suddenly being alone again for the first time in what felt like a week. After he dropped Wei Ying off, he would need to return the car and get back to his own apartment. And then it would be time to figure out which plates he had dropped while being consumed by all this.

While they were stopped at a red light, Wei Ying squeezed his hand, and he looked over.

Wei Ying looked oddly nervous, an expression Lan Zhan hadn't seen very often on his face. "I know this is super last minute, but you should come to the wedding banquet tomorrow."

Lan Zhan was speechless.

"I mean, if you're free, and you want to. As, you know, my guest."

The car behind him honked, and he looked up and saw that the light had turned green. He finally made himself speak. "What would your aunt and uncle think?"

"They should be happy, they bugged me for months about not bringing a plus one. Well, now I will be, if you want."

Lan Zhan found himself rearranging his future mental plans for the seventeenth time this week. "Send me the details, and I'll be there." He stole a look over at Wei Ying, just long enough to see the huge smile on his face, and then focused back on driving through Northern Manhattan.

When they finally arrived at Wei Ying's apartment building, Lan Zhan pulled in front of a fire hydrant, flicked on the hazards, and popped the trunk before opening his door.

"You don't have to—okay," Wei Ying said as Lan Zhan got his carry-on out of the trunk. They stood together near the curb, the buzzing activity of midday on a summer Friday loud all around them, and Lan Zhan felt like he had somehow crash-landed back into normal life. Except that his normal life didn't usually include a man looking at him like this, like he was memorizing his face for the twenty-four hours they'd be spending apart. Or perhaps that was just Lan Zhan.

"Hey, give me your number," Wei Ying said, pulling out his phone. Lan Zhan did, slowly and carefully, and a second later he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. "Okay, I'll text you about tomorrow. Um, thanks again for the ride." He laughed while saying it and shook his head.

"You're welcome." Lan Zhan grappled for something to say, his words failing him for the first time since Wednesday. "Send me pictures."

"What?"

"Of tonight. The tea ceremony. And you," he added, in case it was somehow unclear.

Wei Ying's face had cleared, and he looked gorgeous and happy smiling up at Lan Zhan. "Listen, if you want pictures, you just had to ask."

No longer caring that they were standing next to his illegally parked rental car in the middle of the day, Lan Zhan leaned forward and kissed him, lightly at first and then deepening it when Wei Ying wrapped an arm around his neck. "I will take any pictures you want to send me," he said against Wei Ying's mouth, and kissed him again.

It took them a couple of minutes, but Wei Ying finally pulled away from Lan Zhan and walked to the door of his building. He turned around and waved once he'd unlocked it, and Lan Zhan kept watching until he had shut the door behind him.

*

Lan Zhan spent the next two hours on autopilot. First he had to return the rental car at LaGuardia, and then get himself back home. He had felt lonely and odd from the second he'd pulled away from the curb in front of Wei Ying’s apartment.

When he finally got home, almost a full forty-eight hours after he was originally supposed to, he stood in his entryway and tried to figure out what to do next. He should check his calendar and see what he had originally had planned for this Friday afternoon; probably he had edits to work on for his book proposal. It was time for him to reacclimate himself to his actual life.

Instead, he went and took a nap.

It has been years since he had taken a nap in the middle of the day; the last time had been while he was in grad school and had to grab every spare minute of sleep he could carve out of his schedule. This was nothing like that. This was pure luxury, a gift he was giving his brain as he attempted to process the past two days. He felt his body relax, the intense responsibility he had felt since Wei Ying had looked at him with that poorly disguised panic at the airport finally dissipating and leaving him completely wrung out.

He slept without moving for three hours.

When he woke up, he was starving. He wandered into his kitchen to find out what was there; after being out of the city for almost a full week, it was an exciting mystery to solve. The options were poor enough that he immediately picked up his phone to order his usual from his favorite noodle place. He had no idea what to make with the assortment of groceries the Lan Zhan of a week ago had purchased.

There were seven new notifications, all from the same number, on his phone screen, and once he had ordered his food, he let himself read them.

Lan Zhan

Lan Zhaaaaaan

omg are you ghosting me

I regret to inform you that it's impossible to ghost me, I keep everyone, I have a collection of exes, like some people collect spoons

Not that you're an ex

Ha ha

Lan Zhan :(

The first six texts had all been sent within three minutes, about two hours ago, and the final one had just arrived.

Hello Wei Ying

omg Lan Zhan!!!

I did not ghost you. My nap did

lol

well did you sleep well??

I did. Lan Zhan paused and then decided to just say it. I missed sleeping next to you

Lan ZHAN

He thought that was a good response. Did you also nap?

Yes, once I let everyone know that obviously I was back in New York with plenty of time to spare

Lan Zhan stared at the moving dots, which stopped for a moment and then started again.

I missed that too

And then, quickly following: I have to finish getting ready but I'll text you later, okay?

Okay, Wei Ying

The last thing Wei Ying texted him was a heart emoji, which Lan Zhan stared at until his noodles arrived.

A few hours later, Wei Ying sent him a picture.

The person in it had to be his sister: a beautiful woman in a gorgeous red qun kua. Her face was serene, but her obvious happiness was shining through.

She is beautiful, he sent back.

She is!!! The most beautiful bride in the world, that peacock doesn't deserve her

Lan Zhan was trying to play it slightly cool, but he had never been good at that.

Do you have other pictures?

After what felt like far too long, Wei Ying sent him a picture of himself and another man, both wearing dark suits. Wei Ying was smiling so hard that Lan Zhan smiled back immediately, his heart pounding. The other man looked extremely fond but like he was trying to hide it.

Is that your brother?

the one and only Jiang Cheng

Lan Zhan thought for a moment about what to say, and Wei Ying texted again.

No comments about my beauty???

I have never seen a more handsome man

Lan Zhan thought for a moment before amending that. Handsome isn't enough. You are the most beautiful person I've ever seen, either by picture or in person

The little dots appeared on his phone, and then stopped, and then appeared again for another second before stopping once more. Lan Zhan put down his phone and stood up and got himself a glass of water. Flirting was beyond him; he either under or overplayed his hand, every time.

He picked his phone back up.

Lan Zhan I am in PUBLIC

You asked.

I know but

Lan Zhan took a long drink of water.

okay you need to send me a picture then

Jiang Cheng doesn't believe you exist

Selfies had baffled Lan Zhan for ages, but his brother had finally shown him how to angle the phone and where the light needed to be. The result didn't have the overwhelming impact of Wei Ying's casual snapshot, but nothing would.

Wei Ying responded almost immediately after he sent it. It is unfair that you look like that in a t-shirt on a couch

What else should I look like?

I mean maybe I look "beautiful" or whatever but anyone looks good in a suit

Untrue

But you're just like "oh this old thing?" I mean fuck off

Lan Zhan laughed, feeling both sheepish and smug.

I don't mean actually fuck off btw

Just to clarify

But I mean you don't even know how to properly use grindr so like for all I know you don't know how internet sarcasm works

Yes, I have never encountered sarcasm before.

omg fuck offfffffffffff

Lan Zhan couldn't stop smiling. I will not.

Sigh FINE. okay I gotta go talk to family or whatever now, but I'll text you later

After he finally put his phone down, Lan Zhan was able to make himself focus on reading. The admittedly irrational fear he'd had that once Wei Ying left the car, he'd never see him again was soothed, at least for the time being. And after unexpectedly losing two days to a travel delay, he should at least attempt to catch up on his work.

He managed an hour before he admitted to himself that he wasn't absorbing any new information. So he went into his bedroom and stared at himself in the floor length mirror. Standard selfies were one thing, but if he was going to attempt this, he needed to practice.

Just thinking about taking a picture like this for Wei Ying had made him start to get hard. He watched himself put a hand on his dick through his yoga pants, and then he changed his mind and closed his eyes. He thought about Wei Ying, what he would do if Wei Ying were here, on his knees in front of Lan Zhan. Breathing hard, he took off his t-shirt and shoved his yoga pants down to his thighs and got one hand around his dick.

It felt stupidly good. He had been jerking off for well over twenty years at this point; it shouldn't make such a difference to be touching himself to make himself hard for someone else, to show Wei Ying. But it did, his dick jumping in his hand, his neck arching back as he fell into it.

He needed to slow himself down and get the shot. He picked up his phone and tried framing his dick from above, and once in the mirror. Then, feeling unbelievably daring, he took a picture that also got the bottom of his face in the frame, his mouth open. He stared at that last picture for a long moment, thought about sending it now, and then thought better of it. That would be rude to Wei Ying and his family. Instead, he pulled his pants back up and went back into his living room to wait.

Half an hour later his phone buzzed.

God that was a LOT

Swallowing hard, Lan Zhan told himself to be brave. Are you by yourself?

Yeah, just got home five minutes ago

Lan Zhan sent him the last picture he had taken before he could overthink it. He didn't have to wait long for the response.

Jesus FUCK

His face hot, Lan Zhan smiled. This is not a joking dick pic, for the record

Yeah no, I didn't think so

Can I see you, too Lan Zhan had never been this desperate before in his entire life. please

Sorry, gotta wait until my brain reboots

You can keep the suit on if you want

Lan Zhan's phone buzzed a second later. "Wei Ying."

"God, you're so much," Wei Ying said, his voice already breathy.

This was so much better than just texting him, but he still wanted more. "Please let me see you."

"Should have just FaceTimed you," Wei Ying said, but a moment later Lan Zhan heard the rustling of clothing. "Okay, I just sent it."

Lan Zhan put his phone on speaker and then a second later got the text notification. He switched over and let out a soft, "Fuck," when he saw the picture.

Wei Ying had done what Lan Zhan had said: he was still in the suit, the jacket and shirt unbuttoned and open, revealing his chest and belly. His pants were unzipped and his briefs shoved down under his balls, and his dick stood straight out from where it was framed by Wei Ying's hand. He was so gorgeous Lan Zhan could barely breathe.

"Lan Zhan, say something," Wei Ying said, sounding desperate, his voice barely carrying over the soft sound of his hand against his skin.

"If I was there I would suck you again," Lan Zhan said. He put his phone on his chest and shoved his pants down until he was completely naked. He was splayed out over the couch, head against the arm rest, one foot flat on the floor. "Or turn you over and rim you."

"Fuck," Wei Ying gasped out. Lan Zhan started to stroke himself, already fully hard again.

"Do you want that?" Lan Zhan asked. "Tell me."

"Yes," Wei Ying bit out, and then gasped into the phone.

"Fuck, I wish I was there," Lan Zhan said again, hips moving up while he stroked himself, his other hand reaching down between his thighs and pressing behind his balls. "I'm so hard for you."

"Oh, god," Wei Ying groaned.

"Are you close? Are you gonna come?"

"Yes, I—"

"Come for me," Lan Zhan urged, and a moment later he heard a high-pitched moan, long and drawn-out. He stroked himself faster and came on a grunt, pressing his face against the back of his couch, panting and sweating.

Lan Zhan had never had phone sex before, or sent a dick pic. He had never really understood the appeal of either, finding the idea of them vaguely embarrassing; he preferred his imagination to actual people so much of the time. Now, staring up at the ceiling of his living room and feeling completely wrung out, he was reconsidering those assumptions.

"Lan Zhan, I think you killed me."

At least when it came to Wei Ying.

"I am sorry to hear this," Lan Zhan said, and sat up to grab a tissue.

Wei Ying huffed out a small laugh while Lan Zhan wiped himself off. "Yes, you seem extremely sorry."

"Mn." Lan Zhan picked up his phone and turned it off speaker; he wanted to feel like Wei Ying was close enough to whisper into Lan Zhan's ear. "I could be sorry."

"Uh-huh."

"I hope the evening went well." Lan Zhan stood up and walked to his bedroom. The exhaustion of the day had hit him again, post-orgasm, and there was no reason not to just go to bed now.

"It was exactly what my sister wanted, so it was great," Wei Ying said. "She was in charge of the actual ceremony tonight, and tomorrow her in-laws and my aunt can show off as much as they need to. Everyone wins."

Lan Zhan wanted to ask whether Wei Ying still wanted him to come, but he was trying not to reveal every single insecurity he had immediately. "What should I wear?"

"Do you have a tux?" Wei Ying asked, clearly joking.

"Yes."

"Oh. Well, you should—wear that, then." Wei Ying's voice sounded strange.

"I will."

His voice low, Wei Ying said, "Fuck, you're gonna look so good in a tux, it's unfair."

Lan Zhan felt his entire body flush hot. "I will make you look good."

"Yeah," Wei Ying said, laughing a bit. "Jiang Cheng still didn't believe you were real, even after I showed him your picture. Said you were so attractive it proved you were fake."

"Well, he will see tomorrow."

"He will." Wei Ying was quiet for a moment; Lan Zhan pressed his phone tighter to his face. "I should probably go to bed, it'll be a long day tomorrow. I'll text you the details."

"Okay," Lan Zhan said. He hesitated, then said, "I'm glad you were back in time."

"Fuck, me too. I don't know how I'll pay you back, but I'll figure it out someday."

Lan Zhan refrained from offering any number of suggestions, none appropriate. "Good night, Wei Ying."

*

The wedding banquet was held at a huge, extremely fancy venue in Flushing. From what Wei Ying had said of his sister's new in-laws, it was precisely where Lan Zhan would expect a family that wealthy to hold the banquet. Lan Zhan had been there before for other wedding banquets, mostly involving friends of his uncle, and he wondered how many people he would know there.

When he saw the name of the groom for the first time, that changed from being a good possibility to being a certainty.

"Lan Zhan!"

He turned just before he entered the slightly smaller ballroom where the pre-banquet ceremony would be held. Wei Ying was beaming at him from down the hallway, wearing a gorgeously fitted tuxedo with a deep purple bowtie and vest. "Hello, Wei Ying."

Lan Zhan didn't know what to do with his hands when Wei Ying came up to him; they had never discussed if Wei Ying was out to his family, or whether Lan Zhan was simply here as his valiant rescuer. Even after last night, Lan Zhan half-feared that the magic of the past couple of days would dissolve as soon as he saw Wei Ying in his real life, surrounded by his family and people he'd known forever.

But Wei Ying saved him from overthinking things too much by giving him a quick hug, with a soft brush of his hand against Lan Zhan's cheek that reassured him immediately. "I knew you'd look incredible in a tux," Wei Ying said softly, and Lan Zhan tried not to blush.

He cleared his throat. "You also look very handsome."

Wei Ying seemed to stand up a bit taller. "Well, I have to make sure I represent my sister well! I have to get back to my family, but I saw you and wanted to say hi before the ceremony. I'll find you during the banquet, okay?" He squeezed one of Lan Zhan's hands on the last word.

Lan Zhan squeezed back. "I'm sure it will be wonderful."

He was right; the ceremony was lovely, Jiang Yanli resplendent in a Western white wedding gown, Jin Zixuan attractively nervous in his tux, his eyes filling with what looked like genuine tears when she entered. Lan Zhan had sat far back in the crowd, off to the side, and spent as much time watching Wei Ying as he did the wedding couple.

The moment he had been anticipating came shortly after he entered the larger, even fancier ballroom where the banquet itself would be held. Lan Zhan sighed inwardly and made his way over.

"Hello, Uncle."

Lan Qiren turned around. His expression started out surprised, then shifted to pleased, and finally landed on suspicious. "Well! I didn't expect to see you here. Your brother is over there," Lan Qiren gestured to the other side of the ballroom, "but he didn't mention you were coming also."

"It was a last minute decision," Lan Zhan said, uncertain how he would explain.

That task was taken out of his hands when he heard Wei Ying call out his name again.

He looked to the side and saw him approaching. "Wei Ying, the ceremony was beautiful."

Wei Ying absolutely beamed, his face looking suspiciously pink, like he'd either been drinking or crying or both. He grabbed one of Lan Zhan's hands in both of his. "Wasn't my sister stunning? She's still changing into her qipao, but she'll be out in a bit, you have to meet her." He suddenly seemed to realize that Lan Zhan was standing with someone. "Oh! I'm Wei Ying, the brother of the bride," he said to Lan Qiren, dropping Lan Zhan's hand and extending a hand out.

"This is my uncle, Lan Qiren," Lan Zhan said quickly, attempting to forestall the inevitable.

He saw when it hit Wei Ying. "Oh my goodness, your uncle! Then you know—"

"—Jiang Fengmian and Jin Guangshan, yes," Lan Qiren said. "It was a beautiful ceremony. You and your family must be very proud."

"Yes," Wei Ying said, sounding uncharacteristically speechless. Lan Zhan closed his eyes briefly and then opened them; he should not be caught unaware. "Well! I am sure you know that your nephew is a pillar among men."

"...yes," Lan Qiren said, his eyes flicking over to Lan Zhan.

"I truly do not know where I'd be right now without him," Wei Ying continued, grabbing Lan Zhan's hand again, and Lan Zhan stood still and looked straight ahead as he clasped Wei Ying's hand tightly and did not let go.

"I am glad to hear it. Nephew, I am sure we will catch up more later. It was very nice to meet you, Wei Ying," Lan Qiren said, and made a hasty retreat.

"Oh my god, you're one of those Lans," Wei Ying said once he was out of earshot, and Lan Zhan fought the unexpected urge to smile.

"You knew my last name," Lan Zhan said mildly.

Wei Ying hit him in the arm but didn't let go. "Yes, but I didn't think we'd have an entire social circle in common. Oh my god, my classmates are always asking me if I know this Chinese person or that Chinese person, and I'm constantly explaining that there are over half a million of us living in New York City, we don't all know each other!"

"And yet," Lan Zhan said, losing the fight against his smile.

"And yet!" Wei Ying echoed.

"You never told me your sister was marrying a Jin, either," Lan Zhan said.

"Yes, because I try not to think about it! I guess he's not as bad as his father, at least."

"I should hope not," Lan Zhan murmured, and Wei Ying laughed and tucked his face against Lan Zhan's neck.

"So you must be the famous knight in shining armor," said someone who could only be Jiang Cheng.

"I am Lan Zhan, yes," he said, feeling warm with satisfaction when Wei Ying snorted against his neck before pulling away.

"See, I told you he existed!"

"I never said I didn't think he existed, I just wondered if perhaps you exaggerated the situation," Jiang Cheng said.

"I doubt it," Lan Zhan said. "It was quite the unexpected predicament."

"See," Wei Ying said, and stuck his tongue out.

"Don't let Mom see you do that," Jiang Cheng warned, which Lan Zhan already could have told him was a terrible tactic.

But luckily, before things escalated even further, the center of everybody's attention intervened. "You both aren't allowed to fight this weekend, I told you that yesterday," Jiang Yanli said. Her red silk qipao fit her like a glove, and she looked radiant even while telling her brothers off.

"It wasn't me fighting," Jiang Cheng protested just as Wei Ying said, "I was introducing him to Lan Zhan and he decided to be rude!"

"Congratulations," Lan Zhan said, cutting through both of them. "I am honored to be able to join you and your family here."

Yanli's eyes all but twinkled at him. "We can always make room for a hero of the hour."

"Especially given how often Wei Ying needs a hero," Jiang Cheng added.

"You see?" Wei Ying complained, and Lan Zhan just put his hand on Wei Ying's lower back.

"Yes," Lan Zhan said. "I see." He looked around the banquet hall, catching a glimpse of his brother. He would need to find him, to introduce Wei Ying, to find out the current state of his brother's convoluted dating life. He would need to figure out where exactly he was sitting, and how to explain to his uncle precisely how it was that he had ended up here tonight. But for now, all he wanted to do was to stand here next to Wei Ying, where he could see everything before him.

*

Later, after hours of eating and drinking and celebrating the new couple, Lan Zhan found himself in yet another hotel room with Wei Ying.

"God, I am exhausted," Wei Ying said, already taking his jacket and tie and vest off even as Lan Zhan was closing the door behind them. "I thought renting a hotel block near the venue was dumb given that we live here, but I'm so glad I don't have to take a cab back to Manhattan."

"Mn." Lan Zhan was picking up Wei Ying's discarded items of clothing and draping them over the desk chair.

"And I get to share a king sized bed with you." Wei Ying flopped back onto the bed in question, already down to his undershirt and boxer briefs and dress socks. He should have looked ridiculous, but all Lan Zhan wanted to do was crawl up over him and fuck him into the mattress.

Instead, he inclined his head toward the bathroom. "You should brush your teeth before you fall asleep."

"I'm not that tired," Wei Ying said, not at all convincingly, but he rolled off the bed and stumbled into the bathroom. Lan Zhan had finished undressing by the time he came back out, and he crawled under the covers after Wei Ying when he got into bed.

"Don't you have to brush your teeth?" Wei Ying asked, yawning halfway through the question.

Lan Zhan gave in to the impulse and kissed him. "I don't have a toothbrush, no one told me I'd be staying here."

"I thought that was implied," Wei Ying said, kissing him back.

"Mn."

"Understood, even, that when someone invites you to their sister's wedding, you'll spend the night."

"Who understands that?" Lan Zhan asked against Wei Ying's lips, holding himself apart from Wei Ying with all of his self-control.

"Well, apparently not you," Wei Ying said, sounding adorably outraged, and Lan Zhan finally kissed him the way he had wanted to all night.

"I had hoped," he said into Wei Ying's mouth, swallowing up each of Wei Ying's gasps, sliding his tongue in deeper, "but I didn’tknow."

"Why not?" Wei Ying asked breathlessly, as Lan Zhan kissed down his neck.

"You have to tell me," Lan Zhan said, and bit Wei Ying's nipple.

"Ah," Wei Ying moaned, so Lan Zhan did it again, tugging on it between his teeth and then wetly sucking, Wei Ying's hands tight in his hair. "Okay, okay. I was—I was hoping that you'd fuck me."

"Hm," Lan Zhan said, working his way over to Wei Ying's other nipple.

"Fuck me hard, and spend the night, and maybe in the morning I could blow you again. Or you could bring me coffee and blow me. And then you could come home with me and do it again." Wei Ying said the last bit in a rush, sounding nervous of all things, so Lan Zhan moved back up and gave him a deep kiss as a reward and a promise. Wei Ying opened up for it immediately, moaning as Lan Zhan sucked on his lower lip before catching it between his teeth.

"That's what you hoped for?" he asked, wanting to see if Wei Ying would say it again.

"Yes," Wei Ying said, and pulled Lan Zhan down for another kiss. "Condoms and lube are in the drawer." He looked smug when Lan Zhan pulled back from him. "I told you that's what I was hoping for, I come prepared."

"And so will you, now," Wei Ying added, laughing at his own terrible pun as Lan Zhan opened the bedside table and found a half-empty bottle of lube and a strip of condoms on top of the Bible. Wei Ying's lamentable attempt at humor did nothing to diminish Lan Zhan's desire to fuck him.

In fact, he thought as he knelt between Wei Ying's legs, Wei Ying's entire body on display for him, he wasn't sure there was much of anything that could diminish that. Certainly not the sound Wei Ying made when he pressed a first finger inside of him, or the taste of his cock when Lan Zhan leaned over and sucked him down while he fingered him open. He was consumed by Wei Ying's beauty all over again when he began to slowly push inside of him, supporting Wei Ying's legs with his arms, as Wei Ying's entire body opened beautifully for him, making room.

With each thrust inside, Wei Ying cried out and pulled him closer, demanding and insistent, his voice holding him there. Lan Zhan wanted to fuck him forever, wanted to make him come over and over again, wanted to carve out a space in Wei Ying's life where only he belonged.

Every time Lan Zhan had a thought like that, he would try to hold back, to be reasonable, but Wei Ying simply tugged him forward each time, answering yes to Lan Zhan's unspoken questions. So Lan Zhan finally stopped holding back and let go, let it all pour out of him, and Wei Ying matched him beat for beat, his body shuddering around him as Wei Ying came, his cock pulsing come onto his stomach.

Lan Zhan thrust forward into Wei Ying's trembling, sated body, guided home by Wei Ying's insistent hands on his back and in his hair, and he made a small sound against Wei Ying's neck as he broke apart. He gave up questioning this, or fearing it, and allowed himself to collapse against Wei Ying, overcome.

Wei Ying's hands in his hair slowly brought Lan Zhan back to himself, and he rolled over onto his side and slid out of Wei Ying as gently as he could. Then he kissed Wei Ying, tasting that certainty there, willing to go along with it for as long as Wei Ying would let him.

"I will get you coffee in the morning," he said finally, and closed his eyes when Wei Ying kissed him again.

 

Epilogue

 

They were sitting together on Lan Zhan's couch, Wei Ying's head resting on Lan Zhan's thigh, when Lan Zhan got the email.

"Hm."

"What is it?" Wei Ying didn't look away from the book he was reading.

Lan Zhan stroked his free hand down Wei Ying's chest while he scrolled through the email with his thumb. He had learned quickly that his need to constantly touch Wei Ying wherever he could reach was matched only by Wei YIng's desire to be touched. "My travel insurance reimbursement finally came through from my credit card."

There was a brief silence. "The travel insurance that you invented in order to kidnap me and drive me home?"

"Yes, that one," Lan Zhan said, tweaking Wei Ying's nipple. His hips flexed upwards at Wei Ying's sharp inhalation in response.

"Huh. Well, I guess we should figure out where to travel next," Wei Ying said, as he let the book fall to the floor and sat up.

Lan Zhan was ready for him when Wei Ying swung around until he was straddling his lap. "You choose," he said, holding Wei Ying's face in his hands, and kissed him.