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artificial nocturne

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It’s nearing two in the morning when Wei Ying steps out of the club. In the middle of December, the air is chilly at this hour of the night even this far south, and the flimsy jacket thrown over a crop top does very little to keep the sting of the cold out.

Wei Ying shivers, wrapping the jacket tighter around himself, ready to head home for the night. The jitters are not just the cold, either. It’s been a pretty disappointing night for him, all things considered. All the guys who were all too eager to grind against him on the dance floor disappeared into the crowd before Wei Ying could drag one of them into a dark corner or into a restroom stall and satisfy the buzzing of a different kind of hunger that lives in his veins.

The hunger is so loud tonight. It’s been a while since Wei Ying properly made out with someone until the guy started to all but hump his leg and Wei Ying could feed off more than just wisps of the yang energy that flowed between them. In more ways than one, he’s been feeding off scraps for so long that he doesn’t even remember what it’s like to feel full.

Sometimes that hunger is just a quiet rocking of the waves in his veins, but sometimes it’s a living thing, wanting to claw its way out of his body. Wei Ying has been denying this hunger ever since it first manifested itself in his youth. He could, of course, give in to his instincts and find someone who could really give him what he needs, but for now, what he’s doing is enough, and even more importantly, it’s safe. Sure, it’s a bit like eating plain noodles cooked in unsalted water, but it gets the job done. No need to worry about taking too much in the heat of the moment, no need to put himself on the radar of one of the local cultivation sects. Nobody cares about a random guy at a club in Suzhou groping another dude in the privacy of a restroom stall, but someone—like the Gusu Lan, for example—might care about a guy leaving some poor dude half-dead in said restroom stall because Wei Ying almost sucked him dry of yang energy.

Besides, there has just never been quite the right vibe, and Wei Ying doesn’t actually want his first time (that half a handjob doesn’t really count, okay) to happen to the sounds of someone pissing into the urinal on the other side of the club restroom. Call him romantic like that.

With the music from the inside of the club receding with every step, Wei Ying turns the corner to hail a Didi when a deep voice from behind says, “You. Stop right there.”

There’s no one else outside right now, the street empty, puddles reflecting only the light of the street lamps, but Wei Ying still looks both ways before turning around.

There, illuminated faintly by the sliver of the moon that peeks out from behind the clouds, stands the most beautiful man Wei Ying has seen in his entire life. His long, dark hair shines like an oil spill, pinned into a high ponytail, and Wei Ying thinks he spies a sliver of an undercut at the back of the man’s head, though it’s hard to tell for sure in this light. The beautiful man is wearing white and blue, what looks like some kind of modern hanfu that belongs on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar—along with the man, because holy shit—rather than in front of a rowdy night club on a Saturday night. There’s a ribbon tied around the beautiful man’s forehead, some kind of ornament at the front.

Shit, Wei Ying realizes with a sinking feeling. What the fuck do the Gusu Lan even want with me?

The beautiful Gusu Lan man is wearing the most sour expression Wei Ying has ever seen on a person, and he grew up with— Well, never mind, he thinks. Not his problem for now.

No, the problem for now is tall and broad in the shoulders and has cheekbones that could cut steel, and the iciest gaze known to man. Under different circumstances, Wei Ying would be climbing him like a tree, pressing hickeys to the column of the man’s throat, but somehow he doesn’t think that’s on the agenda tonight.

“Sorry, are you talking to me?” Wei Ying asks in an attempt to stall.

There are several possible escape routes here—the easiest one would be across the roofs until he can lose the beautiful Gusu Lan man somewhere further into the city. Wei Ying hasn’t been here for too long, but he has a decent knowledge of the city’s urbanscape. The beautiful Gusu Lan man probably does too, though, considering that his sect has lived in the vicinity of Suzhou for literal millennia.

Well, shit, Wei Ying thinks again.

“Okay, look,” he picks up the thread of the conversation again when the beautiful Gusu Lan man doesn’t respond. “I don’t know what kind of misunderstanding happened here, but can we maybe not do this today? I’m pretty tired, and it’s the middle of the night, and I really don’t think there’s anything that urgent that couldn’t wait until the morning, right?”

The beautiful Gusu Lan man narrows his eyes, then pulls a whole fucking sword out of the sleeve of his hanfu. What the fuck, Wei Ying mouths silently. Okay, sure, it’s a qiankun sleeve, Wei Ying has one of those, too, but who carries a sword in their qiankun sleeve in this day and age?

“Seriously?” he asks, taking a step back, just to find himself at the end of the sword’s blade. The tip of it presses into his throat, just under his chin, lightly enough not to break the skin. It would be extremely, extremely hot if the beautiful Gusu Lan man wasn’t actually trying to murder Wei Ying right now, no questions asked.

“I told you not to move,” the beautiful Gusu Lan man says, voice deep and smooth like honey. Okay, so maybe Wei Ying is just a little bit aroused, but what can he do. It’s his nature, for one, and also, there’s something incredibly sexy about a transcendentally beautiful man with a deep voice holding him at swordpoint.

“Okay, okay,” he placates, raising his hands. “I’m not moving. But seriously, could you tell me what this is even about? Or, like, your name?”

The beautiful Gusu Lan man gives Wei Ying a look that could curdle milk. “There is no need for you to know my name,” he says. “I have been tracking your moves for weeks. Do not play stupid. You know what you’ve done.”

For the past few weeks, Wei Ying has been mostly slumming it at work by day and going to pick up by night, neither of which is forbidden by the law, as far as he knows. It might be against the Gusu Lan rules, because there are about five thousand of them, but that’s not exactly Wei Ying’s problem.

“What I’ve…done?” he repeats dumbly. Wei Ying doesn’t even litter these days, not to mention commit more serious offences, and he’s been remarkably well-behaved these past few years, trying to keep under the radar. “Look, like I said, I have no idea what’s happening here, but the only things I’ve done recently was go to work and go clubbing. That’s it.”

He doesn’t mention the lone trip outside the city to see how the Wens were doing.

Something steely settles in the beautiful Gusu Lan man’s eyes. “Is that what you call it?” he asks.

“Yes?” Wei Ying says, incredulous. “Sorry that my life is so boring—look, no, seriously, can you tell me your name at least? I’ve been referring to you as the beautiful Gusu Lan man in my head for the past several minutes, and it’s a mouthful.”

The beautiful Gusu Lan man’s hand slips the tiniest bit, the tip of his sword scraping against Wei Ying’s skin. It’s there one second and gone the next, but maybe the unflappable façade is not as unflappable, after all.

“You can address me as Hanguang-Jun,” the beautiful Gusu Lan man says, and something in Wei Ying’s mind clicks.

“Ohhh, you’re Lan Zhan! I’ve heard about you.” Wei Ying’s heart flutters when the tip of the sword moves under his chin, forcing him to look up, and seriously, how is there no one in the streets to witness Wei Ying being held at swordpoint in front of a night club?

He should’ve stayed in Shanghai—better clubs, more anonymity, no annoyingly beautiful men wanting to kill him for the egregious crime of either being gainfully employed or horny, apparently.

“Wait, is this about the Wens?” Wei Ying asks then, because if there’s one thing the cultivation world might want him for, it’s that. Sure, he’s technically a yao, but that’s not a crime in and of itself. Wei Ying is not and has never been malicious, and the Wen business is the only thing that would put him on the sects’ radar, if they somehow found out.

“The Wens?” Lan Zhan takes a step closer, but the tip of his sword remains where it is, unmoving. “This has nothing to do with the Wen remnants. It is about the three women, found dead, drained of their spiritual energy. We have received reports of an unfamiliar yao roaming around the city, the kind that feeds off the spiritual energy of others during intercourse to sustain themselves. This is you, as I am given to understand.”

Wei Ying almost slumps with relief—the only thing stopping him is the tip of the sword still pointed at his throat.

“Oh, wow, okay,” he says with a breathy laugh and observes as something ripples through Lan Zhan’s face. “I know that my kind is rare, but I would’ve thought the famed Gusu Lan libraries would have more accurate information available. You can believe me or not, but I am not your man. Your man might not even be a man to begin with. You got the wrong guy, Hanguang-Jun.”

The slight mockery must not be appreciated much, because Lan Zhan only narrows his eyes further. It’s unfair that even like this, he still looks hot enough to lick all over.

“I do not believe you,” Lan Zhan says. “You are lying.”

In the next moment, he advances. Wei Ying has a fraction of a second to launch himself into the air, landing on the closest roof. He fires off a protective talisman that emits a loud clang when the blade of the sword meets the barrier, and then another one. The glowing, blue tendrils of his binding spell wrap around the blade, but the spiritual energy of the sword cuts through them just as fast.

“Your wicked tricks will not stop me for long,” Lan Zhan says, landing on the opposite side of the roof.

“No, seriously, will you just listen to me?!” Wei Ying throws another protective talisman to give himself some time to put more distance between them if need be. “So you found dead women and they were drained of their spiritual energy, right? And maybe you found them in…compromising positions? Naked, maybe? Looked like they had been having a good time right before they died?”

The slight twitch in Lan Zhan’s jaw tells Wei Ying that he’s right. Lan Zhan doesn’t move, either, so Wei Ying takes that as a good sign.

“Okay, so here’s the thing. It couldn’t have been me, because I can’t feed on women,” he says. “Like, my body is literally incapable of that. It’s all yin energy, all the way down, so it’s not like I’d need even more yin energy from women. That wouldn’t make sense. If I want to balance it out, to—well, you would say feed, so if I want to feed, I need yang energy. You’re a smart dude, Lan Zhan, you must know what that means, right? I only get down with guys, and even then it’s not like—you don’t even need to go all the way, if you want to get just enough juice to get by. So that’s what I’ve been doing, going out to clubs most nights. If I went all the way, that would keep me sated for a couple of weeks at least. But that’s dangerous and you can overdo it if you’re not careful, so I don’t.”

Wei Ying can’t believe he’s just had to admit to the most beautiful man he has ever seen that he’s never gone past the second base (the half a handjob still doesn’t count) to try and exonerate himself from murder. If only Lan Zhan weren’t such a goddamn stickler for the rules and pulled the stick out of his ass, they could be making out right now, dry-humping against the wall somewhere until they both came in their pants, should Lan Zhan be willing. But here they are instead, out on the rooftop in the middle of December in Suzhou, with Wei Ying dressed only in a crop top and a thin jacket.

“Besides,” Wei Ying continues, “if you really have been tracking my moves for weeks, when have I ever been anywhere close to those women? If you have been observing me all the time, when would I even have the time to commit all those murders?”

Lan Zhan gives him a long, piercing look. “We became aware of your presence after the victims had been found,” he says.

Up on the rooftop, even more moonlight spills across his features, bathing him in soft, ethereal light. Wei Ying understands now how Lan Zhan got his title, even if this whole situation does nothing to curb Wei Ying’s natural responses to ridiculously hot people. He wants to lick the hollow of Lan Zhan’s throat and bite his ear. God, Wei Ying hopes his dick is big. It must be. No one can be this confident in himself with merely an average dick.

“Look,” Wei Ying says for what feels like the hundredth time, full of exasperation. “I keep telling you, you’re looking for a yang energy yao. I’m all yin energy. I couldn’t have sucked those women’s spiritual energy dry without immediately going into qi deviation. Come on, you can find out for yourself if you don’t believe me.”

Wei Ying doesn’t know what possesses him to say that, but if that’s what it takes for Lan Zhan to let him off the hook, then so be it. Wei Ying is far from defenseless, even when faced with a strong cultivator such as the illustrious Hanguang-Jun. Even if Lan Zhan has to get close, Wei Ying possesses the means to protect himself. He might look like a fairly ordinary dude—though a pretty good-looking one on the whole—but he can be rather certain that he’s the most dangerous thing in any room he steps into.

He puts his hands up and gives Lan Zhan his best, most disarming smile. There is hesitation in Lan Zhan’s eyes, something in his expression that softens the severe (beautiful, transcendent) lines of his face.

“Really, you can come closer, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying coaxes. “Or are you worried I’m going to charm you or something?”

Wei Ying could do that, technically, but he much prefers to get down and dirty with people who actually think he’s cute. He can work tight jeans and a crop top, and he knows he has a nice face and an equally nice ass. That’s usually enough to make at least one guy at the club want to feel Wei Ying up a little, and that’s all he needs if he goes to pick up every night. It messes with his sleep schedule something fierce, but Wei Ying has become used to living in the glow of the artificial lights. It’s the price he pays for his lack of notoriety.

“You could not compel me even if you tried,” Lan Zhan says matter-of-factly. “My cultivation is too strong for that to work.”

He takes a step forward, and Wei Ying’s knees give out a little.

It shouldn’t be this hot, but it is, and Wei Ying can’t help but imagine that Lan Zhan could be really mean to him, if only Wei Ying asked. Lan Zhan could mess him up a little (or a lot), and Wei Ying would love every minute of it. A shiver runs through him, his hunger a rising song in his veins. It’s been left unsatisfied for too long. Wei Ying’s head spins.

He drops the barrier as a show of goodwill, the talisman burning to embers in the air. He keeps his hands still up in the air as Lan Zhan comes closer, cautiously like a prowling panther circling its prey, and reaches out to press his hand over Wei Ying’s lower dantian, where the yin energy gathers in place of a golden core.

Lan Zhan must feel it instantly, if his shocked expression is anything to go by. The change in his face is striking, like the first drop of rain that disturbs the still waters of the lake.

“See, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying says, his voice suddenly gone weak. Lan Zhan’s hand, still resting on his lower abdomen, burns like a brand through the flimsy fabric of Wei Ying’s jacket. His head is spinning, blood thundering in his ears, and before he can fully realize what is happening, his body collapses in on itself like a lifeless paperman.

He expects to hit the ground, but instead he finds himself enveloped in a tight embrace, strong arms supporting his limp figure.

Huh, sandalwood, he thinks nonsensically.

“Are you all right?” Lan Zhan’s voice sounds from very, very close by, warm and deep.

Wei Ying rights himself and jumps back before his instincts take over. His body wails at the loss of contact, the hunger dragging itself up to the surface, screaming under Wei Ying’s skin.

“Haha, Lan Zhan, don’t worry, I’m just a little woozy,” he says, laughing weakly as he takes a seat right there on the ground. “There were no takers today at the club, y’know? Or these past few days, really. But I’m good, you don’t need to concern yourself. Nothing that a good night’s sleep won’t fix.”

That’s a lie. By morning, the hunger will be a symphony in his ears, a nocturne that will drown out any lucid thought. Even a kiss would help now, but Lan Zhan won’t be giving him any kisses. At least he’s dropped the sword for now, even if it’s still out of its scabbard, bare and reflecting moonlight at Lan Zhan’s side.

Vaguely, through the haze coursing through his veins like a fever, Wei Ying notices that Lan Zhan fishes his phone out of the pocket of his pants and frowns, looking at the screen.

“What did you mean when you asked whether this was about the Wens?” he asks, turning to face Wei Ying. “Do you know something about the Wen remnants?”

Wei Ying cranes his head to give him a cautious look. “Why the sudden interest?”

“Answer my question first,” Lan Zhan says, putting his phone back in his pocket. “And I might answer yours in turn.”

Wei Ying takes a deep breath. There is a part of him that just wants to tell Lan Zhan what he knows. But there’s another, greater part of him that screams at him to take this secret to his grave.

“It’s not like you Gusu Lan were completely blameless in the whole Wen mess.” Wei Ying tips his head back to look up at Lan Zhan, who stubbornly refuses to sit down. He’s very tall, and this is very annoying. “Yes, yes, it was a shitshow from start to finish, and Jin Guangshan is a huge piece of shit who likes to have other people indebted to him, but still. So I guess you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not spilling the entire story here, to a dude who’s pointing a sword at me, even if it’s the illustrious Hanguang-Jun.”

Wei Ying is half-expecting the tip of Lan Zhan’s blade to touch his throat again. After all, the Wens have been wanted fugitives in the cultivation world, for as long as Jin Guangshan had anything to say about this.

Instead, Lan Zhan gives him a long, considering look. “You appear to be telling the truth about the abundance of yin energy in your body,” he says at last. “And my brother messaged me earlier. They found another body, still warm, on the other side of the city. I have been watching you for the past several hours. It could not have been you. They are handling the situation on their side.”

It’s definitely the most Lan Zhan has said at once ever since he appeared in the little alley behind the club, and if Wei Ying were in a better shape, maybe he could appreciate the soft, lilting cadences of his deep voice a little better. The earlier fight, brief as it was, has left him exhausted, the overflow of yin energy boiling over furiously. It leaves him weak and hollow, with nothing to satisfy the hunger.

“So what, am I off the hook?” he asks.

Lan Zhan nods, the gesture strangely jerky for how fluid his movements have been until now. “I suppose you may go—” he pauses, as if searching for something.

“Wei Ying. My name is Wei Ying, just in case you wanted to know.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan repeats. “You are free to leave.”

It’s a good thing Wei Ying is already sitting down, because his knees feel weak even now. The relief is mixed up with something else he can’t quite identify, but nothing can rival the furious howling of hunger underneath Wei Ying’s skin. It screams, begging to be sated. It’s been a while since Wei Ying went more than three days without feeding, and the little scraps he gets are not enough to tide him over long-term. He needs to find someone tomorrow, maybe even tonight, if he can drag himself to a different club. It’s early enough for a weekend night that there will still be enough people there for him to pick from.

“Right, I’m gonna be off, then,” he says, scrambling to his feet without any grace. He feels woozy, like he’s drunk too much of the Emperor’s Smile he can’t really afford and it went to his head all at once. His body is a coil waiting to release, and the pounding of blood in his ears is reaching a crescendo.

As soon as he’s up, Wei Ying stumbles again, the world tilting in front of his eyes. And again Lan Zhan’s strong arms catch him before he can fall. In the moonlight and the neon lights of the night, Wei Ying looks up and smiles, eyes going out of focus.

“Hah, thank you, Lan Zhan,” he says weakly. “You keep catching me tonight.”

Wei Ying wants to press his mouth to the line of Lan Zhan’s collarbone, faintly visible in the opening of his hanfu. Wei Ying wants to kiss him all over, to kneel in front of him and suck him off until his jaw hurts and lick him clean when he comes all over Wei Ying’s lips. His own body would sing under Lan Zhan’s.

He pushes off, pushes himself upright.

“Right,” he repeats. “I think it’s time for me to go now, for real. Thanks for catching me, Lan Zhan. And for, y’know, not killing me, I guess. It was nice to meet you, beautiful Gusu Lan man.”

The joke is a weak one, and it lands off-center, if the lack of any reaction from Lan Zhan is any indication.

Right, shit, Wei Ying thinks, forcing his body to obey him even though the howl of his hunger rattles the base of his skull as soon as he moves away from Lan Zhan. It was nice while it lasted, but Wei Ying knows his place. As obnoxious as he can be when he really wants to, he tries to never be or take too much where it counts.

He’s almost halfway across the roof, looking for a way down that wouldn’t require him to use up too much of his spiritual energy, when Lan Zhan’s voice comes from behind. “Wei Ying,” he says. “Would you like to have a cup of tea with me before you leave?”

As if to mock Wei Ying, a gust of cold wind disturbs the air, reminding him that he’s wearing only a crop top and a light jacket. He can’t quite hide the shiver that runs through him.

“Oh, yeah,” he says against his better judgment, turning on his heel, “it is a bit chilly, actually. Some tea would be nice. Or maybe some wine? Do you have wine, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan gives him a long look. “I don’t, but that can be arranged.”

They share a Didi back to Lan Zhan’s place. On the way, Lan Zhan asks the driver to stop for a moment when he spots a liquor store past an intersection, then leaves Wei Ying in the car while he goes inside the shop just to emerge with two bottles of Emperor’s Smile, the white and blue of the clay jugs unmistakable even at night.

Lan Zhan gets back inside the car and places the bottles between them, fastens his seatbelt, then instructs the driver to proceed to the Cloud Recesses. From what Wei Ying knows of the place, the original seat of the sect is closed to everyone but the inner disciples, but as the sect and the clan grew over the centuries, a whole neighborhood sprang up on the southern reaches of the city, bearing the same name. Now there’s a modern, gated residential complex, a cultivation school for the outer disciples, and even a museum that houses copies of the traditional Lan treatises on the matters of cultivation, ancient music sheets, and instruments used by the Lan cultivators. Wei Ying has never been, but he’s seen the leaflets here and there.

“Should we ring in?” the driver says as they approach the gates of the residential complex. The road that has led them here has been twisting and winding through the hilly area surrounded by trees that must be older than the city itself.

In front of them there is the gate, unguarded and left wide open, and beyond, Wei Ying can see the shapes of the buildings that cut into the slope of the mountain, all dark wood and white walls and glass.

“That is unnecessary,” Lan Zhan replies. “You can drive through.”

Soon enough, they cross the gate without any issue, rolling slowly up the steep incline of the road that leads them to Lan Zhan’s place. Wei Ying has no idea what to expect. Does he live with his family? Alone? Wei Ying has heard enough about the leadership of the Gusu Lan to know that Lan Zhan has a brother and an uncle. But do they all live in each other’s pockets? Wei Ying can’t quite imagine that to be the case. Does Lan Zhan live in an apartment, then? A house?

“We have arrived, thank you,” Lan Zhan says a moment later, pointing to a small house tucked into the slope of the mountain, partially secluded from the rest of the complex. He confirms the payment on his phone and slides out of the car, taking the bottles of Emperor’s Smile with him.

Wei Ying, unsteady on his feet, follows.

The house looks elegant but simple from the outside. The inside, though, screams money. It’s not even that ostentatious—quite the opposite, the décor is minimalistic and restrained, but the furniture looks to be in an immaculate condition and incredibly expensive, and Wei Ying would bet all the pieces on display are either genuine, thousand-year-old antiques passed down from their ancestors or custom-made by the greatest artisans alive.

They take their shoes off in the entryway and Lan Zhan offers Wei Ying a pair of house slippers more classy than any kind of footwear Wei Ying has ever owned. The slippers Wei Ying wears at home were twenty yuan from the market and are beginning to fray at the soles. He panics for a moment, unsure where to leave his scuffed sneakers that are probably trailing dirt all over the spotlessly clean floors, then settles them on the mat right next to Lan Zhan’s calfskin boots. The contrast is grotesque. Wei Ying almost laughs, at once painfully aware how foreign he is to this beautiful house that belongs to this beautiful man.

When he comes further inside, the feeling doesn’t abate. He hasn’t seen this much wealth in one place since he left Lotus Pier at sixteen, when it became clear to him that he was no longer welcome there, even if no one—not even Madam Yu—said it outright in his presence.

Lan Zhan moves freely in this space, though, unrestrained by the paralyzing fear that just one wrong step could destroy something worth more than all of Wei Ying’s belongings. He lights an incense stick that fills the air with the scent of sandalwood and moves to the kitchen—similarly immaculate—to make tea. At home, Wei Ying has an electric kettle and an assortment of slightly chipped mugs, but now he watches as Lan Zhan prepares the tea in a clay pot, his movements assured and full of effortless finesse.

Wei Ying wants to kneel before him and take Lan Zhan’s cock into his mouth right then and there. He has zero experience giving blowjobs, but he’d try to make it good for him. He did, once, experiment a little with a sex toy just to find out that he doesn’t have much of a gag reflex, but it’s one thing to deepthroat a silicone toy, and another to try it on an actual cock. Still, Lan Zhan could fuck his mouth a little if he wanted to, hold Wei Ying by his ponytail, hands fisted in his hair, and take whatever he wanted. The hunger inside him wails at the prospect. Wei Ying bites his lower lip until he almost bleeds.

He needs to be normal about this. He’s only just convinced Lan Zhan that he’s not some freak going around and murdering people by having sex with them; there’s no need for him to go and fuck it up immediately by asking if he can suck him off against the kitchen counter.

It’s shit luck, pure and simple, that Wei Ying has been starved for so long that he can barely control himself right now, while an incredibly hot man, absolutely brimming with yang energy, prepares tea for the both of them.

Since his hunger first manifested, Wei Ying went through this kind of ordeal only twice. The first time was when he was still living at Lotus Pier, shortly before he left. Back then, he was still new to the whole thing and trying to keep it a secret from the Jiangs. The second time—he doesn’t like to think about that. The memory of it belongs to the ugliest parts of himself, those he tries to keep buried far away from any kind of light.

The constant undercurrent of hunger that lives in his veins is the legacy of his mother, who died years ago, along with his father, before she could teach him anything. What he knows about that part of himself, he has mostly learned from books and those few like him he met after leaving the Jiang family behind. The rest he learned through experience. He wants Lan Zhan to know about none of that.

“—ei Ying?”

As soon as Wei Ying shakes off the haze, he finds Lan Zhan looking at him expectantly.

“Yes, Lan Zhan?” he says, pushing the wailing of the hunger deep down, trying to focus. “Sorry, I’m still feeling a bit—you know. What were you saying?”

“I asked if you could take the tray with the wine to the living room.” Lan Zhan gestures in the direction of a tray that looks to be made of some kind of expensive wood, so dark it’s almost black, threaded through with lighter veins. He’s placed one bottle of Emperor’s smile on the tray, along with a pair of porcelain cups.

“Right, right.” Wei Ying grabs the tray off the counter and makes his way to the living room, a glimpse of which he saw earlier when Lan Zhan led him through to the kitchen.

He places the tray on the table made of the same dark, expensive-looking wood and sits down on the sofa, upholstered in a pretty shade of blue-green that probably has a really pretentious name, like duck egg blue or whatever.

What the fuck are you doing? Wei Ying asks himself furiously, picking at the tassel of a throw pillow, tastefully selected to match the sofa. He’s not going to give you what you actually need, so why are you wasting your time?

The truth is, it’s ridiculous to think that Lan Zhan would ever even consider letting Wei Ying anywhere near him in that way. Lan Zhan’s reputation is well-known in the cultivation circles, and he’s supposed to be peerless among the sects. Untouchable. It’s laughable to think he would let Wei Ying touch him.

Wei Ying stands up when he hears the soft sound of footsteps coming his way. Lan Zhan looks surprised to find him like that, jacket in hand, ready to leave.

“Look, Lan Zhan, it was really nice of you to invite me here, but I think I need to go,” he says, his throat tight. “It’s late, and I kept you up long enough, you know? And I still need to go and deal with my—” he makes a vague gesture, “whole thing before the clubs close for the night. Hah, so, yeah. I better go. Sorry to have wasted your time. I’m sure the tea would’ve been lovely. I can send you some money over WeChat for the wine, if you want to give me your info. So, yeah, anyway…”

He’s rambling, when instead he should be getting the fuck out. Wei Ying doesn’t know what’s wrong with him—whether it’s the pull of the hunger, the dark song it sings in Wei Ying’s veins, or maybe something else, but he can’t force himself to move.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, voice low, and Wei Ying shudders. “What do you need?”

“Look, what I need is not something you’d want to give me, so I’m really, really sorry, but I need to go,” Wei Ying repeats, even though his legs stay glued to the spot. “You’re a good guy, Lan Zhan, even if a bit too much of a stickler for the rules, you know what I mean? I’m glad we’ve met, because now I can tell everyone that Hanguang-Jun really is that upstanding, but I think it’s best we end this here, no?”

Lan Zhan regards him calmly. He places the tea set down on the table, then turns to Wei Ying, one hand tucked behind his back, his shoulders straight. “I asked,” he says in a voice like dark, sweet honey, “what it is that you need, Wei Ying, not what you think I can give you.”

Wei Ying’s knees almost give out under him. His throat is parched, tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth.

“Lan Zhan,” he says weakly, the last token protest, “you have no idea what you’re talking about. That’s not— I’m not going to take anything from someone unwilling.”

“It is a good thing, then,” Lan Zhan says, taking a step towards him, “that I am not unwilling.”

It takes no time at all for Lan Zhan to reach Wei Ying, who’s still clutching his jacket in his slightly sweaty hands. The thrumming of his hunger is like a drum coming from the deep. There’s sweat pooling in the dip of his philtrum, even though Lan Zhan’s house is pleasantly warm instead of unbearably stuffy.

Wei Ying opens his mouth—maybe to protest for the last time, maybe to do something else, he doesn’t know—but before anything else can happen, Lan Zhan’s lips are on his, soft but unyielding, insistent, tongue licking into Wei Ying’s mouth.

There’s nothing restrained about the way Lan Zhan kisses, nothing delicate about the way he devours Wei Ying’s mouth, nothing hesitant about the way he presses against Wei Ying’s body with his own. Wei Ying makes a sound, a strangled moan deep in his throat, his knees finally giving out. Lan Zhan is there to catch him again; he wraps an arm around Wei Ying’s waist and pulls him closer, tipping Wei Ying’s chin up with his other hand for better access.

Wei Ying is no stranger to kissing, to heavy makeouts punctuated by the wet slide of tongues and lips, but he’s never been kissed like this, with this kind of fervor and raw need. Lan Zhan is a force of nature—a flood, a tsunami, an ocean that crashes into Wei Ying, wave after wave. The yang energy trickles, sweet and golden like syrup, from the tip of Lan Zhan’s tongue, seeping into Wei Ying in all the other places they touch.

The hunger inside him claws at the connection, drinking greedily, taking and taking and taking from what seems to be a bottomless well. Wei Ying can feel Lan Zhan’s spiritual energy fill the cavity of his chest with light, swirling inside him like spun sugar, so warm and so bright it’s almost blinding.

He can’t get enough of it. He keeps moaning into Lan Zhan’s mouth, and he almost loses it when Lan Zhan wedges a thigh between Wei Ying’s legs. He’s growing harder in his already tight jeans with every minute they spend kissing, and soon this is going to be a problem, but right now Wei Ying can hardly give a shit. Not when Lan Zhan is kissing him like Wei Ying is the only person he wants to kiss until the end of the world; not when he keeps pressing his body against Wei Ying’s, the line of Lan Zhan’s cock hard and hot against Wei Ying’s hip.

Oh, he’s big.

“Oh my god, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says when Lan Zhan lets go of his mouth to suck bruises down the column of his neck. “Where did you even learn all that? Is that what they teach all the good Gusu Lan boys these days?”

Lan Zhan pulls away to look Wei Ying in the eyes. “No,” he says, solemn. “All of these things I learned on my own.”

Wei Ying can feel the vibrations of Lan Zhan’s voice in his own chest. He feels like he’s going to faint before he can come in his pants like he’s sixteen again and waking up from a wet dream.

“Oh my god?” he says, voice pitched far too high. “Oh my god. Okay, okay, that’s…yeah. Show me what else you can do, then, Lan Zhan.”

“Mm,” Lan Zhan hums. “As you wish.”

The next moment, Lan Zhan reaches for Wei Ying’s jeans, opening them one-handed while his other hand wanders to the back of Wei Ying’s head. His fingers close around a fistful of hair, messing up Wei Ying’s ponytail when they pull.

The sound that leaves Wei Ying’s throat is hardly human—a low, desperate keen that rattles his chest. Lan Zhan peels Wei Ying’s jeans off just past his hips and rucks up his crop top to get his mouth on Wei Ying’s nipples. Then he tips him backwards, until Wei Ying is lying across the expensive wooden table, splayed across the surface with his hips pushing up, the bulge in his briefs prominent and obscene, the fabric wet where he’s leaking at the tip.

The edge of the table keeps digging into the meat of his ass, but even that ceases to have any significance when Lan Zhan pushes Wei Ying’s underwear down as well and wraps his hand—and then his lips—around Wei Ying’s cock.

His hips stutter, the pleasure of Lan Zhan’s hot, wet mouth running through him like lightning. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands, keeps clawing at the wood until his fingers catch an edge and grasp at it for purchase.

Wei Ying is fully hard, but it seems to be nothing for Lan Zhan, who swallows him down until his nose touches the thatch of hair between Wei Ying’s thighs. Lan Zhan sucks him off with ruthless precision, cheeks hollowed and the back of his throat relaxed to let Wei Ying’s cock in. Wei Ying watches with fascination the steady rhythm with which Lan Zhan’s head rises and falls between his thighs, his strong hands pinning Wei Ying’s hips to the table.

It’s nothing like Wei Ying imagined it—it’s so much more than that, it’s almost too much, the pleasure of Lan Zhan’s mouth around him overwhelming. He won’t last long like this, with Lan Zhan licking and sucking around him, kneeling between Wei Ying’s legs like he’s praying with his mouth on Wei Ying’s cock.

He’s so, so close, teetering just on the edge of orgasm, toes curling where he has his legs thrown over Lan Zhan’s shoulders, his breathing labored.

“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, I’m—” he begins to say, but before he can come, Lan Zhan pulls back, then rolls Wei Ying onto his stomach and pulls his jeans and underwear all the way off. Before Wei Ying can register what’s happening through the haze of pleasure and bone-deep hunger, Lan Zhan arranges him on his arms and knees, legs spread wide, and gives his hole a lick. The broad stroke of Lan Zhan’s tongue makes Wei Ying cry out, the sound ripped from his chest before he can stop it.

Thank fucking god he’s someone who plans ahead for all eventualities, Wei Ying thinks weakly as his knees buckle under him for what feels like a hundredth time today. He can’t even bear to look over his shoulder, his cock leaking all over the incredibly expensive wood of Lan Zhan’s table. He only listens to the obscene sounds of Lan Zhan licking and sucking at the skin around his hole, teasing Wei Ying until he’s a trembling, sweaty mess, his face mashed into the hard wooden surface that does nothing to muffle his moans.

It’s not exactly his fault that he shoots his load all over Lan Zhan’s stupidly high-end table in the end; the moment Lan Zhan’s tongue breaches him, it’s all over. Wei Ying comes untouched with a choked-off cry.

“Shit,” he manages, the second he falls into the puddle of his own come, arms finally giving out. “Shit, Lan Zhan, I’m so sorry. I came all over your fancy table.”

“Mm.” Lan Zhan hums behind him, withdrawing his mouth. “It is no matter.”

Wei Ying already feels more sated than he has ever been, with Lan Zhan carefully feeding him yang energy throughout the whole thing, but, he guesses, Lan Zhan wants to get something out of this, too. If he wants to fuck him, Wei Ying won’t say no—wouldn’t say no even if he wasn’t starving. It’s probably the safest option for him, too. He couldn’t suck Lan Zhan dry of spiritual energy even if he tried. It runs through Lan Zhan, spilling from his golden core, a seemingly never-ending supply of it, and he’s apparently prepared to give Wei Ying as much as he needs.

“Perhaps we should move to bed,” Lan Zhan says, then carries Wei Ying further down the hall and into his bedroom, decorated in shades of white and blue. There are midnight-blue sheets on the bed that must have a thread-count Wei Ying can’t even begin to imagine, because when Lan Zhan deposits him on the mattress, it’s like he’s touching silk. Hell, maybe it is silk, and Wei Ying can’t even tell, but whatever it is, it’s falling fully into the territory of luxurious.

As soon as Lan Zhan joins him on the bed, Wei Ying begs, with the last of his dignity left behind on the coffee table along with his jizz, “Lan Zhan, hey, Lan Zhan, please, let me suck your cock.”

Lan Zhan has taken off the hanfu when they came in, leaving him in a thin undershirt and tailored trousers that leave very little to the imagination. Wei Ying’s mouth waters.

Lan Zhan’s gaze flicks down to Wei Ying’s lips. “If you want,” he says.

“Yeah, I really, really do,” Wei Ying says, reaching out to touch the length of Lan Zhan’s cock through the fabric of his pants. He’s given half a handjob in his life; he’s got this. “God, you’re so big,” he adds in awe when he opens Lan Zhan’s trousers and pulls his cock out.

It’s bigger than the biggest of Wei Ying’s toys, and just as pretty as the rest of Lan Zhan, long and thick, flushed at the tip and leaking precome.

“Are you going to fuck me, Lan Zhan, after I suck you off?” he asks, sinking off the bed to kneel between Lan Zhan’s open thighs. He looks up through his lashes and bites at his lip, hoping it comes off as seductive instead of just silly. “I really, really want you to.”

Lan Zhan gives him a look that sears Wei Ying’s skin like a brand. “If that is what you want,” he says, measured and controlled, but his eyes are burning with the kind of need that Wei Ying knows intimately.

“Yeah. Yeah,” Wei Ying says, breathless, before he wraps a hand around Lan Zhan’s cock and bows his head to lick at the crown.

The taste of Lan Zhan is different from his own (he tried it once, for practice). It’s less salty-bitter, more sweet, because Lan Zhan probably eats healthy food that makes even his come taste good, instead of the garbage Wei Ying stuffs himself with most of the time. The sensation is a lot different, too, compared with trying to deepthroat a dildo. Lan Zhan’s cock is hot to the touch, at the same time firm and silky soft under Wei Ying’s mouth, and Wei Ying has never experienced anything more arousing in his entire life. The experience is on par only with Lan Zhan swallowing around the entire length of Wei Ying’s cock and then eating him out until he almost cried, but those happened less than fifteen minutes ago, so it all counts as one prolonged moment in Wei Ying’s mind.

Wei Ying keeps his attention on the head of Lan Zhan’s cock for a while, licking and sucking around it experimentally before he forces his throat to relax and sinks down. It’s so much to take in. The girth of Lan Zhan’s cock is stretching out Wei Ying’s mouth in an obscene way, spit dripping down its length where his lips can’t reach yet. Wei Ying breathes through his nose and sinks lower and lower in tiny increments. His hand keeps stroking the rest of Lan Zhan’s cock, slippery with spit and precome.

It feels so good—his jaw is beginning to ache and his mouth feels impossibly full, but the overwhelming presence of Lan Zhan around and inside Wei Ying is slowly driving him wild. All he can smell and taste is Lan Zhan, the scent of sandalwood and clean skin underneath drowning out everything else.

He can hear Lan Zhan, too, the way his breathing grows quicker and heavier, the quiet moans slipping past his lips as Wei Ying works the underside of his cock with his tongue.

It’s trial and error, but eventually he gets a rhythm going. It’s all a bit sloppy and very, very wet, but Wei Ying doesn’t think this matters much, not when Lan Zhan’s fingers close around a fistful of Wei Ying’s hair again and his mouth keeps making little punched-out noises of pleasure every time Wei Ying sinks lower.

There’s no way he can take him all the way down. He tries, though, until the back of Lan Zhan’s cock hits his soft palate a bit too hard and Wei Ying pulls off, coughing. Well, maybe he has a bit of a gag reflex, after all. He could probably train himself out of it with enough practice, but it’s not like he has anyone to practice on. He can still make it good for Lan Zhan tonight, so he just wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand and dives right back in, taking him as far as he can comfortably go. He hollows his cheeks, sucking hard around Lan Zhan’s cock, swirling his tongue around the head on every upstroke, until Lan Zhan pushes at his shoulder. His breathing is hard over Wei Ying, and the little moans keep spilling from his mouth. He must be close—must be about to come, but Wei Ying doesn’t pull off, determined to let Lan Zhan come into his mouth.

He does come a moment later with a breathy gasp. His body curves like a drawn bow around Wei Ying and his cock jerks, then fills Wei Ying’s mouth with more than he can take. He pulls off again, coughing a little as he works to swallow most of it, but some spills down the corner of his mouth. It probably doesn’t look that hot, but Lan Zhan doesn’t seem to be complaining. Instead, he pulls Wei Ying up and kisses him, licking his own come out of Wei Ying’s mouth, and okay, that is hot as hell.

“Lie down on the bed on your stomach,” Lan Zhan instructs, and Wei Ying can do nothing but obey. He’s hard again, and desperate to come, wetness already pooling at the tip of his cock.

With his head propped on a pillow, Wei Ying watches as Lan Zhan pulls a bottle of lube from the nightstand. He thinks he’s prepared for what’s to follow, but instead Lan Zhan kisses a trail down the column of Wei Ying’s spine and dives in again with his tongue. This time he’s much more thorough, opening Wei Ying slowly with just his mouth before he puts the first finger in. It’s a heady, overwhelming feeling to be spread out like this in front of Lan Zhan, Wei Ying’s body lighting up from within at the slightest touch, with the kind of heat that turns into a slowly building inferno in the cavern of his chest.

By the time Lan Zhan has him taking three fingers, there’s sweat pouring off Wei Ying, soaking the expensive sheets beneath as he writhes with his ass up in the air, legs spread wide enough that his cock keeps brushing against the bed with each thrust of Lan Zhan’s fingers. He’s making sounds, too, but he can’t stop, so he’s not even trying to be subtle about it. If Lan Zhan is going to fuck him like this, he’s going to know what it’s doing to Wei Ying’s body as well as his sanity.

At last, Lan Zhan withdraws his fingers, then slicks himself up. “Tell me if it is too much,” he says in a tone that speaks of past experience.

“Come on, I can take it,” Wei Ying goads, looking over his shoulder, not entirely convinced whether he, in fact, can.

That’s quitter talk, though, and Wei Ying has never been a quitter.

“Oh, fuck,” he gasps, the words punched out of him the moment Lan Zhan begins to sink his cock into him. Not even Lan Zhan’s fingers could prepare him for the stretch as Wei Ying’s body adapts to the intrusion. It’s so much, and he feels so full, so completely enveloped in Lan Zhan that he can hardly think.

His hunger sings in his veins, finally satisfied, a crescendo that keeps rising and rising as Lan Zhan begins to move. His thrusts are hard and confident, a testament to his experience, and he fucks Wei Ying with the kind of tightly-controlled force he could never even imagine. There’s no toy that can compare with the reality of Lan Zhan’s cock, now buried in Wei Ying up to the root, thrusting into him as Wei Ying’s body clenches around the girth of it.

He pushes back against Lan Zhan, much less coordinated, but his body is overheating, his mind halfway vacant. The overwhelming pleasure of it is punctuated by the kisses Lan Zhan presses to the skin of Wei Ying’s back, the side of his neck, the wing of his shoulder. He doesn’t know how much longer he’s going to last like this, the heat in his abdomen beginning to unspool, ready to spill over.

Before that happens, Lan Zhan hoists him up until Wei Ying is practically sitting in his lap, head lolling against Lan Zhan’s shoulder. The change in angle drags a loud moan from the depths of Wei Ying’s chest; Lan Zhan is buried even deeper now, thrusting up into the tight heat of Wei Ying’s body while Wei Ying keeps pressing sloppy, wet kisses to the side of his neck.

“Oh my god, Lan Zhan, oh my god,” he keeps babbling in between the kisses. “I’ve been so good, right? I’ve been so good for you, so please, this is too much— Just let me— just let me come, please, Lan Zhan.”

“As you wish,” Lan Zhan says and curls his palm around Wei Ying’s cock, stroking him in time with his thrusts.

It doesn’t take long. Lan Zhan doesn’t slow down even for a moment, the touch of his fingers firm and sure as he guides Wei Ying straight to orgasm. It hits him like a punch to the solar plexus, the release dragged out of him with a low, loud moan as he spills all over Lan Zhan’s hand, his ass clenching.

That’s all it takes for Lan Zhan, too. Even through the aftershocks of his climax, Wei Ying can feel the moment Lan Zhan thrusts into him one last time and buries himself deep inside. The warmth of the yang energy is a heatwave that goes through Wei Ying’s body in a split second, lighting him up from the inside all over again.

Usually, the sensation is a flicker of a candle. This feels like he's just swallowed a sun.

He collapses against Lan Zhan’s chest, heaving, and barely even notices when Lan Zhan slips out of him. Lan Zhan then arranges Wei Ying on the bed, presses a kiss to his cheek and leaves the bedroom.

Wei Ying has no idea how long he’s left alone for, but by the time Lan Zhan returns, so do most of Wei Ying’s faculties. He’s feeling sleepy and boneless, his body thrumming with the golden warmth of Lan Zhan’s spiritual energy like it’s a living thing. He won’t be going hungry for at least a month.

It must be late, Wei Ying realizes as Lan Zhan presses a warm cloth over Wei Ying’s abdomen and wipes the excess of lube from between his thighs. He should be going.

“That was…wow. That was really nice, thank you, Lan Zhan,” he says, pushing himself up on his elbows. He can’t believe he’s just thanked the guy who fucked the living daylights out of him, but it seemed like the polite thing to do. He laughs, a little self-conscious now that he’s feeling better than he has in years. Ever, maybe. “Right, so…” He attempts to get up, looks around for his discarded clothes. “I’m gonna get out of your hair now, Lan Zhan. It must be really late, I don’t wanna keep you up any longer. So, yeah, I’m just gonna let myself out.”

He gets as far as picking up his crop top—the only piece of his clothing that made it to the bedroom—when he feels the gentle but firm grip of Lan Zhan’s hand around his arm.

“Wei Ying,” he says seriously, sounding entirely too composed for someone who did absolutely filthy things to Wei Ying’s body less than half an hour ago. There it is, then, the moment Wei Ying has been waiting for the entire night. The polite dismissal, the cordial thanks for the fuck, now get out of my house. “What you said earlier, about the Wens,” Lan Zhan continues, and Wei Ying’s brain screeches to a halt. “The Gusu Lan complicity. You were right to say what you did. We did look the other way at the time, even if I did not want to see it that way. The circumstances were complicated, but that does not change the facts. I wanted you to know that. I was wrong about many things tonight, I suppose.”

The temptation to just tell Lan Zhan everything returns. It’s not like Wei Ying doubts his sincerity now, after everything, and the Wens are well-hidden. Even if something were to happen to him at some point, Wen Qing would know what to do and how to ensure their continued survival.

“So, the thing about the Wens is…” he begins, unsure how to tell this story. “After the whole mess with Jin Guangshan, after Jin Guangyao assassinated Wen Ruohan and then Lanling Jin started to hunt down everyone who bore the Wen name, no matter who they were… Well, it’s a funny thing, you know, Lan Zhan? When you’re a roaming yao who doesn’t stay long in one place, you meet all sorts of different people. So I knew some of the Wens from before, and our paths happened to cross when a bunch of old people, children and some Dafan Wen cultivators who only practiced traditional medicine were fleeing the righteous wrath of the Koi Tower or whatever bullshit the Jins were trying to spin. An old friend asked for my help. I said yes. They’re safe now, I made sure of that. No one can get to them, and I’m never telling anyone how to find them. That was a promise I made to myself, and I intend to keep it.”

When Wei Ying looks up, he sees Lan Zhan’s feature soften almost imperceptibly, another ripple in the still surface of a lake. His lips part for a moment, then close again.

“Anyway, that’s the whole story, minus the details.” Wei Ying gives him a shaky smile. He pulls his crop top over his head. “Now I really should get going, I wasted enough of your time.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan repeats, his voice low and gentle. Earnest. “It is late, and you must be tired. Stay the night. I will make breakfast in the morning.”

It would be difficult to explain to Lan Zhan that he absolutely can’t be this nice to Wei Ying right now, because Wei Ying always wants to take too much, have too much, ask for too much. He needs to take his shit and go before he finds himself reaching.

“No, seriously, you deserve a good night’s sleep, and—”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says again, insistent, but even then, at the slightest hint of resistance, his hand falls away. “The bed is big enough for both of us.”

Wei Ying laughs, the sting of it bitter in his throat. “It’s not about the size of your bed, Lan Zhan,” he says. “It’s about the size of your life. I know it’s not big enough to fit me, too, and that’s— That’s fine, but I need to be kind to myself, too, you know? So that’s why I need to go.”

He got to have this once. That’s enough. Lan Zhan is so good—stickler for the rules and all—and Wei Ying can’t have more of him, and that’s okay, too.

Lan Zhan is standing less than two steps away, dressed only in loose, flowy pants and nothing else. His hair is still damp at the temples, and he still smells like sandalwood. It messes with Wei Ying’s head like hell.

Right. Nothing to do but grab his stuff and leave.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan repeats as Wei Ying turns to go. “I think you will find that my life has enough room. If that is what you want, then I will make room.”

Wei Ying’s head is spinning.

These things don’t happen to him, but if there’s one thing that Wei Ying knows, it’s that Lan Zhan doesn’t lie—he can’t lie, there’s a whole Gusu Lan rule about it and everything. Lan Zhan’s face is an open page from a book Wei Ying doesn’t know how to read yet in its entirety, but all he sees in it now is sincerity. Lan Zhan truly means what he’s saying, even if he doesn’t fully understand what he’s signing up for.

“So?” Lan Zhan prompts. “Will you stay for breakfast?”

Wei Ying crumples his crop top in his hands. He should be running, but he’s been running for so long that he’s tired of it. If he can stay the night—maybe stay a bit longer, in Lan Zhan’s life even if not in his bed, then maybe that’s what he needs right now. Wei Ying has been living in the artificial lights of the night, but maybe what he needs is to for once wake up with the sun.

“Yeah,” he says, dropping the crop top back to the floor. “Yeah, I’ll stay for breakfast.”

In the morning, Wei Ying wakes up to the scent of congee and dumplings wafting from the kitchen. When he looks around, he finds his clothes from last night neatly folded on the armchair in the corner of the room, by the window. He puts his underwear and jeans on, then steals a soft, thin sweater that smells like Lan Zhan and wanders into the kitchen.

The come stain on the coffee table in the living room is gone, thank god. Wei Ying doesn’t have much shame, but he has enough of it left that his cheeks wouldn’t stop burning for an hour otherwise.

In the kitchen, Lan Zhan is preparing breakfast. It’s weird to see such a beautiful, immaculate kitchen actually being used. In his experience, in most rich people’s houses, the kitchen serves a purely decorative purpose. But Lan Zhan navigates around it with practiced moves, like he prepares the majority of his meals here.

“Ah, you’re awake,” he says when he notices Wei Ying hovering by the entrance. “Take a seat, there is fresh tea if you want it.”

“Mm.” Wei Ying hums, then pours himself a cup of tea from the clay pot and sits at the breakfast bar, leaning on his elbows. “Thanks. Sorry for waking up so late, I was really worn out, I guess.”

He gives a weak laugh, still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but Lan Zhan simply ladles some congee into a bowl and sets it in front of Wei Ying together with some neatly chopped spring onion in a small bowl and a pepper grinder, then turns back to serve the dumplings. It feels like something they’ve been doing for a long time, late Saturday morning breakfasts after a night of wild sex. Wei Ying doesn’t even have Lan Zhan’s WeChat info yet.

“So,” he says once Lan Zhan brings the dumplings to the counter and they sit down side by side to eat. “I stayed for breakfast. What happens now?”

Lan Zhan gives him a scrutinizing look. “Are you feeling well, Wei Ying? Has the…hunger stopped?”

Wei Ying laughs between the mouthfuls of congee. There’s no chili oil, but he’s making do with what’s available. “Oh, yeah, I’ll be good to go for a month, if not longer. You cultivators really leak spiritual energy, huh?”

“I see.” Lan Zhan nods. “In that case…if I messaged you later and asked if we could spend some time together, as a date, what would you say?”

Wei Ying feels a little lightheaded. He puts the spoon down and stares at Lan Zhan in disbelief. “Well, first of all I’d say that’s impossible because we still haven’t exchanged WeChat info,” he teases, laughing under his breath. “But then I would say yes. If you asked. I would say yes.”

“Very well, then.” Lan Zhan pulls his phone out of his pocket, then reaches out his hand, palm up. “Give me your phone, Wei Ying.”

When Lan Zhan returns the phone a moment later, Wei Ying sees that his WeChat app is open and Lan Zhan has put in his contact info there. Lan Zhan is typing away on his own phone right now, presumably saving Wei Ying’s contact in return.

Still barely comprehending that this is all happening for real, Wei Ying looks up from his phone and gives Lan Zhan a smile. Then he says, “Okay, I’m gonna wait for your message, then,” and saves the contact info as lan zhan, beautiful gusu lan man 💕 🗡️💕.