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Pet Slut

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Walking the dog has become part of Meng Yao’s job the same way so many of his other tasks have: because the one sentence Meng Yao will never utter is “that’s not my job.”

He’s pretty sure that Wen Ruohan only gave him the personal assistant job as a petty dig at Meng Yao’s birth father, who after years of paying the bare minimum of child support was not about to hire Meng Yao on at the family business. The joke is on both Wen Ruohan and Meng Yao’s asshole father, though, because Meng Yao is an exceptional PA. Three years in and he basically runs the man’s life.

Unfortunately, catering to Wen Ruohan’s every whim also frequently means catering to the whims of his odious children, both of whom are also employed at Wen Corp.

Wen Xu is a vicious, belligerent fuck, but at least he wields his natural unpleasantness well as his father’s top corporate raider; he’s got a sixth sense for when a smaller company’s weaknesses will enable him to sail in and burn them to the ground. Meng Yao will mentally excuse a great many faults in a competent person.

Wen Ruohan’s younger son Wen Chao, on the other hand, can eat a hot bowl of dicks. He has terrible taste, is blisteringly condescending to anyone he perceives as below him, and has an impulse control problem that means Meng Yao has posted bail for him on no less than three occasions, all of which Meng Yao could forgive if Wen Chao weren’t also bad at his job. He seems to view his cushy salary and corner office as millstones around his neck, and only deigns to even come in to work from his palatial home in the suburbs when doing so provides cover for one of his numerous extramarital affairs. And when he does come in, he brings the dog.

Of course a guy like Wen Chao couldn’t just go down to the shelter and give a good home to somebody who needs it; he had to have the biggest, scariest-looking, most expensive purebred dog he could think of (Wen Chao also drives a Hummer; one might speculate that the man is compensating for something, but Meng Yao of course would never say such things). NaoNao is a Tibetan mastiff, which means he looks like a wolf crossed with a bear crossed with a muppet someone left in a puddle outside a gas station for a week.

“Walkies, NaoNao,” Meng Yao says, jingling the leash, and the big dog hops to his feet with a drooly grin on his broad, jowly face. NaoNao is really a big sweetheart — he’s just a little bored. Walkies are his favorite thing in the world, which is fortunate for Meng Yao, who weighs maybe ten pounds more than NaoNao does and would have no way to make him go if he didn’t want to. Wen Chao barely looks up as Meng Yao takes him out — he’s on the phone to his girlfriend, cooing endearments into the handset with his feet up on his desk.

It’s a beautiful day and Wen Ruohan will be in meetings until 3 pm, so Meng Yao decides to take NaoNao to the downtown dog park — it’s not as big or as nice as some of the other dog parks in the city, but according to the internet it’s important for NaoNao to socialize with other dogs.

Even at the park, Meng Yao doesn’t let NaoNao off leash — NaoNao’s a big dumb sweetie but he could also straight-up eat another dog without even chewing. Meng Yao is just congratulating himself on the prudence of that decision when a yellow lab darts up to NaoNao, snatches the matted rope toy NaoNao’s been playing with out of the mastiff’s jaws, and dances away, the Universal Dog Signal for “chasey chasey.”

NaoNao takes off.

Meng Yao is not actually lifted off his feet to trail behind NaoNao like Charlie Fucking Brown, but it’s close. As it is, he’s pulled along helplessly in the big dog’s wake, the leash burning into his hand where it’s wrapped around too tight, stumbling and almost being dragged before breaking into a run behind the fleeing bear-dog. “NaoNao!” he calls helplessly. “Stop! Leave it! Stop, NaoNao!”

Of course, NaoNao doesn’t give a shit, and even if he did, Wen Chao definitely hasn’t taught him any commands like “leave it.” He drift-races around the corner of a bench and Meng Yao experiences what happens next in slow motion: he’s snapped around in a crack-the-whip movement and flung sideways, rebounding hard off of a small tree.

Fortunately, at this point NaoNao has finally caught up with the lab; he takes the rope toy back with an expression of lofty unconcern, settling in to give it a thorough chew. Meng Yao puts his hands on his knees and tries to catch his breath, willing his head to stop ringing like a gong.

“Are you all right?” the tree asks.

Meng Yao jumps and whirls around, looking up — and up, and up — into the face of what turns out to not be a tree at all, but a tall, smiling Asian man who happens to be built like a small tree. The guy is gorgeous, with a long square jaw, broad shoulders, and kind-looking eyes that are currently gazing at him with a mixture of amusement and concern. He’s wearing a soft, expensive-looking powder-blue sweater, which drapes elegantly over a chest Meng Yao already knows feels like a brick wall. He’s holding a leash wound around his hand.

Great, because ‘tall Asian guys who love dogs’ aren’t Meng Yao’s entire type or anything.

“I’m OK,” Meng Yao breathes. “I’m sorry, are you OK?”

“Fine,” the beautiful man says, his soft bee-stung lips curving into a gentle smile. “That’s...quite a lot of dog you have there.”

Meng Yao glances over at NaoNao, who is now surveying the rest of the park with a proprietary air. “Ah...yeah, NaoNao is really a good boy, he just...doesn’t know when to stop, sometimes.”

The man laughs. “Well, I think you have only yourself to blame on that one, giving him a name like NaoNao.” His voice is a rich baritone; he speaks with a posh British accent, hints of Chinese around the very edges.

Chinese-born Chinese, London educated, the part of Meng Yao’s mind that never shuts up registers. Out loud, he laughs and says “Strong point, but I’m, ah, not the one who named him.” He glances down and back up, to present his eyelashes to their best effect, and subtly leans more of his weight into one hip. “Are you British?” he asks, with just the right hint of guilelessness in his tone.

“No,” the beautiful man says. “I’m from Hong Kong, but I went to school in the UK. I lived there until recently.” He holds out a hand for Meng Yao to shake; his fingers are long and supple, the nails filed to smooth and glossy ovals — a musician’s hand. “I’m Lan Xichen,” he says.

The name clicks into place in Meng Yao’s brain, and just like that he’s snapped into reconnaissance mode. He gives the beautiful man — Lan Xichen, of the Hong Kong Lans — a subtle once-over. The gray trench coat is almost certainly Burberry; now that he’s not distracted by the rock-hard pecs underneath, Meng Yao can see that the sweater is cashmere, with a shawl collar that sets off the guy’s knife-sharp jawline. Either his eyebrows are naturally perfect, or they’ve been groomed with exquisite subtlety; his hair is artfully tousled in a way that says I own product and I know how to use it. The guy even smells like money, like old wood and leather and warm spices.

Meng Yao takes his hand, stomach giving a soft little hop at the way it completely engulfs his own. “Meng Yao,” he says faintly. It’s definitely not his imagination; Lan Xichen’s fingers linger softly at his pulse point, his pinky finger sliding along Meng Yao’s like a caress. It is quite possibly the sexiest handshake Meng Yao has ever experienced.

“Nice to meet you, Meng Yao,” Lan Xichen says with a tiny upward quirk of one perfect brow. Fuck, you just know he’s got a big dick, too, Meng Yao’s brain supplies helpfully.

Lan Xichen, as in Lan Industries?” Meng Yao asks, as though there are so many mega-rich Hong Kong Lans to choose from.

“Yes! Well spotted,” Lan Xichen replies. “I hadn’t realized our US presence was so recognizable yet.”

“I work at Wen Corp, so I’m familiar with our main competitors. You must be here spearheading the new office.”

“Guilty as charged.” Lan Xichen gives him an appraising look, one that makes Meng Yao wish his outfit weren’t so abysmally business casual. “Wen Corp, hmm? I hope that doesn’t make us enemies.”

“Wen Ruohan doesn’t pay me anywhere near enough for that,” Meng Yao says into his melting dark eyes.

“Good.” Lan Xichen’s voice is somewhere between a murmur and a purr, and it makes Meng Yao want to drop to his knees right there in the mud.

“Which dog is yours?” he asks, since what’s your dick like seems a bit forward.

Lan Xichen scans the park. “Over there,” he says, pointing. “The little fluffy white one, that’s my Cloud.” He indicates the prettiest little fluffy white terrier mix Meng Yao has ever seen, prancing about with a winsome expression. “I hadn’t intended to get a dog so soon after moving here, but I saw her at the shelter and just fell in love.”

“Oh my God,” Meng Yao breathes. “She is just precious, look at her, she’s just like a little teddy bear, what a good girl.” He realizes with a start that he’s actually grabbed Lan Xichen’s arm in his excitement and releases him hastily. “Sorry,” he says. “I just really like dogs.”

“I can tell,” Lan Xichen smiles, indicating NaoNao with a nod. “Is that why you went for as much dog as you possibly could?”

“Oh, ah, NaoNao’s not mine,” Meng Yao says hastily. “He’s my boss’ son’s dog, I just walk him sometimes. No, no dog for me, not right now anyway,” he sighs. “Maybe someday when I’m not living alone and spending all day at work walking other people’s dogs, I’ll be able to get one of my own.”

“I’m sure you will,” Lan Xichen says warmly. “You seem like the kind of person who goes after what he wants.”

I will absolutely die if I don’t get to fuck this man, Meng Yao thinks. Out loud he just says, “Thank you.”

They talk for a few more minutes while Cloud runs in haphazard loops around them and NaoNao slowly reduces the rope toy to shreds. Finally, Meng Yao really can’t justify spending any more time away from work.

“It was nice to meet you,” he says, extending his hand.

“You as well, Meng Yao,” Lan Xichen replies, holding on for a little too long once more. “I’ll see you around.”

~*~

“So what was this guy, like 7 feet tall?” Mo Xuanyu asks that weekend, scraping his straw against his cup to make the most obnoxious noise possible. He’s drinking an enormous frothy sugar-and-coffee monstrosity that makes Meng Yao’s teeth hurt just to look at and that Meng Yao is pretty sure he only ordered because it’s the priciest thing on the menu and Jin Zixuan was buying.

“No,” Meng Yao says defensively. “He was 6’1”, maybe 6’2”, tops. Your point being?”

“My point being, you’ve never met an even somewhat tall guy you didn’t want to climb like Mount Everest.”

Brothers Weekends had been Jin Zixuan’s idea, back when they first uncovered the existence of their latest half-sibling. It gives them a way to get to know the kid, and gives Mo Xuanyu some adult role models besides his exhausted mother and her mean parents (their mutual deadbeat father not being even remotely in the picture at this point). Ordinarily Meng Yao quite enjoys their weekend outings, but it does mean occasionally subjecting himself to every adult’s worst nightmare: being read all the way into the ground by a teenager who’s related to him.

“Did you get his number?” Jin Zixuan asks, like someone who hadn’t taken five years to ask out his high school crush.

Meng Yao shakes his head. “It’s too early for that.” Several stages too early, in fact — he hasn’t even finished his Online Research stage, which will be followed by In-Person Information Gathering, and if all goes well, a few expertly crafted Conversational Gambits that will end in Lan Xichen asking for his number, rather than the other way around. “He did say he just moved to the area, so I’ll probably see him around the dog park on days when I walk NaoNao.”

“Wait, I’m sorry, I came into this conversation late,” Jin Zixuan says. “You met this guy at the dog park?”

“Yeah, the new one downtown.”

“So...he has a dog, then.” Jin Zixuan’s mouth moves suspiciously like that of a person trying not to laugh.

“...Yes? That’s usually how people end up at the dog park?”

Mo Xuanyu makes a sound like a teakettle and then both of his brothers burst into uncontrolled laughter.

What?” Meng Yao demands. “What’s so funny?”

“What’s funny,” Mo Xuanyu giggles, dabbing at the corners of his eyes so as not to disturb his eyeliner, “is that you are a total pet slut.

Jin Zixuan guffaws so loudly the other people in the cafe stare at him.

“No I’m not,” Meng Yao hisses. “What does that even mean?”

“It means that you’ll swipe right on literally any guy with a dog in his profile pic, even if you’re not attracted to him, even if he’s not tall, on the off chance you’ll get to pet his dog,” Mo Xuanyu says with merciless precision. “It means you dated Su She for two months because his roommate had a corgi.”

“Aww, Buttons,” Meng Yao says fondly. He’d been such a good dog. Too bad Su She had been such a shitty boyfriend. “I miss that little guy.”

“Face it, A-Yao,” Jin Zixuan says with a punctuating swirl of his iced latte. “A tall Chinese guy with a dog is basically your Kryptonite.”

Meng Yao glares at him. It doesn’t matter that Jin Zixuan’s comments closely echo Meng Yao’s own thoughts at the dog park; his brothers should not be allowed to Perceive him. He doesn’t care for it.

“So the next time you see him, you should just ask him out.” Mo Xuanyu says. “Don’t, like, Do a Plan at him, just be like, hey, do you wanna go out with me?”

“I really work better when there’s a Plan, though.”

“Fine, then,” Jin Zixuan sighs. “This will become your Plan. Just head to the dog park, leap into his arms, and tell him you want to get married and move to the country and have 500 dogs, like the good little pet slut you are.”

Meng Yao finishes his tea and tries to affect a mature, superior air. “This child is a bad influence on you, Zixuan.”

~*~

Meng Yao is well aware that he’s intense. He’s well aware that many — maybe even most — people aren’t constantly keeping mental tabs on all of the people around them, their relationships to each other, and the explicit and implicit structures that give them power over each other. He knows that his ability to find and, if he chooses, exploit the weaknesses in those power structures is not an attractive quality, even if he mostly uses it to keep himself safe.

At the beginning of a relationship, men usually like that he’s small and quick and pretty; they often think that they also like his intelligence, his dedication, his passion. He’s good at the beginning; he knows how to make a man feel important. After a while, they start to say he takes everything too seriously, or that he works too hard at a job that will never appreciate him. Both of these things are true, but they seem to be hard-wired into him. He doesn’t know how to explain to people that the only way he knows how to survive is to know the most, see the most, do the most, be the best. The full force of this is way too much for most guys to handle, especially guys like Lan Xichen who have never had to choose between food and rent.

So all things considered, Meng Yao feels justified in Doing at least a Small Plan for a chance to date Lan Xichen. Even Mo Xuanyu can’t expect him to quit scheming cold turkey.

He’d met Lan Xichen on a Thursday around midday; people usually visit the dog park on a fairly consistent schedule, so to maximize his chances of running into him again, Meng Yao needs to be there at midday this Thursday. Unfortunately, Wen Chao only brings NaoNao to the office sporadically: when he’s in the city and his wife won’t be home during the day (Wen Chao and his wife, who Meng Yao would feel sorry for if she weren’t also a colossal asshole, refuse to crate-train NaoNao, saying it’s “mean to put him in jail” — consequently NaoNao can’t be left alone in their house).

Wen Chao comes into the city to see his mistress, Wang Lingjiao, who works as a hostess at a nightclub uptown. If she has the night off, she and Wen Chao usually spend the evening at her apartment, which means Wen Chao won’t bring NaoNao — he’ll invent some excuse to make his wife change her plans instead. Fortunately, a quick glance at the nightclub’s shift scheduling software (which he’d bribed his way into ages ago, the better to keep tabs on Wen Chao) shows that she’s working Thursday.

According to their shared calendar, Wen Chao’s wife has a hair appointment on Friday. It only takes a couple of phone calls to get her stylist to move it to Thursday in exchange for a bottle of the very fine wine that Wen Ruohan, who hates wine, received as a thank-you gift from some Wen Corp clients last month and that Meng Yao has been saving for just such an occasion. Now all Meng Yao has to do is get the Account Services team’s monthly team lunch — the only team meeting Wen Chao never misses — moved up to Thursday from next week. Twenty more minutes of phone calls (and a strategically placed pretend phone call within the Account Services Director’s earshot) later, all the pieces are ready fall into place.

Really, if Wang Lingjiao didn’t want Meng Yao snooping in her DMs, she shouldn’t leave her accounts logged in on company computers for anyone to find. Less than an hour after Meng Yao’s last phone call, Wen Chao is sliding in to make plans for Thursday — he’s always drunk and horny after team lunch.

Their second meeting assured, Meng Yao settles in for the Online Research phase, and likes what he sees. Lan Xichen, 30, oldest nephew of Lan Industries’ childless CEO. His Instagram is full of pictures of Cloud — sleeping in her little princess bed; head cocked adorably with a toy bone in her mouth; a selfie of Lan Xichen, sleepy-eyed and deliciously tousled, using her back as a pillow, which Meng Yao mentally files away to look at a lot more in the privacy of his own home. Other than that, Lan Xichen’s feed is mostly pictures from around the city and a couple snaps with an aggressively unsmiling man with Lan Xichen’s same eyes and chin — the brother, no doubt.

His background is squeaky-clean and impressive: Oxford, naturally, followed by London Business School. Patron of the London Ballet and a variety of children’s charities. No criminal record. Never married. Linked briefly in the press with the heir to the Nie Fine Foods fortune, which causes Meng Yao an unpleasant and entirely unreasonable spike of jealousy, but at least confirms his suspicion that the Lan heir prefers men.

Men born to wealth and privilege tend to see Meng Yao as more of a side-piece than actual relationship material, which he’s pretty sick of — it won’t do to come off too obsequious, then, even though guys from backgrounds like Lan Xichen’s often enjoy having their asses kissed figuratively as well as literally. He’ll need to be scrappy, assertive without trying for dominance. A well-placed mention of the recent Forbes article about Lan Industries, to show he can move in Lan Xichen’s world. A self-deprecating upward roll of the eyes, to showcase his graceful neck; a sly, knowing smile to show off his dimples in a way that makes him seem mischievous rather than childish. These are movements he’s practiced in the mirror until they’re a matter of muscle memory.

It’s a good amount of Plan, at least Meng Yao thinks so until Thursday, when he sees Lan Xichen in a button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and forgets the whole thing.

“Hello again,” Lan Xichen says, his eyes crinkling warmly at the corners. In the sunlight, they’ve taken on a warm honey-gold hue over the deep brown. Meng Yao’s tongue briefly sticks to the roof of his mouth. “I was hoping I’d run into you again.”

Meng Yao does not breathe Really? like an Austen heroine, but it’s a near thing. “I was hoping to run into you as well!” he says. “How’s the move going? Are you settling in all right?”

They chat for a few minutes about the apartment Lan Xichen is sharing with his brother until he can find his own place, about the best coffee places downtown, and the difficulty of unpacking those final few boxes after an international move. “I can’t get over how friendly everyone is here,” Lan Xichen says. “People are always smiling and saying hi to me on the street, or like, ‘Have a nice day!’ as I’m leaving a shop. In London people would think you’d gone off your nut, acting like that.”

Meng Yao suspects that Lan Xichen may be experiencing more of the American have-a-nice-day culture than someone who didn’t look like a supermodel would, but he’s not going to say that. “I’m glad people have been nice so far.”

Mercifully, NaoNao has remembered that he is part of an ancient and revered line of guard dogs this morning and is behaving himself. He gives Cloud a cursory sniff when she approaches, but otherwise seems content to be present at the dog park in more of a supervisory role.

“Of course, mostly I’ve just been working,” Lan Xichen confesses. “The only times I’ve really been out so far have been business lunches — although I did go out for hot pot with my brother and his boyfriend the other night.”

Meng Yao is aware of this, from Lan Xichen’s Instagram, but there’s no reason Lan Xichen needs to know that. “That’s nice you have some family in the city,” he says. “It can be so hard to meet people when you move to a new place.” This would be a very natural point in the conversation to ask Lan Xichen if he’d like to go out sometime. Just ask him out, Meng Yao hears Mo Xuanyu’s voice in his head. Don’t, like, Do a Plan at him.

“Do you have family in the area?” Lan Xichen asks politely.

“No. I mean, yes! Yes I do.” Meng Yao cringes inwardly. He is never like this. He always knows what he’s going to say before he says it. What is this man with his gentle eyes and his enormous hands and his perfectly biteable chest doing to him? “Sorry, I — I grew up outside the city, but my mom passed away a couple of years ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lan Xichen murmurs.

“Oh, I — thank you. She was…it was a long time coming.” Meng Yao swallows the grief that tries to ooze into his mouth, shoving it back down into the little nutshell where he keeps it. Not now. “She was a single mom; it was just her and me growing up.” He can see that Lan Xichen is about to say something else, and he can’t deal with whatever it’s going to be. “But since I moved to the city, I’ve been able to reconnect with my half-brothers,” he continues brightly. “So that’s been nice. We got together for coffee over the weekend.”

“Same dad?” Lan Xichen asks, then covers his mouth like a naughty schoolchild. “I’m sorry, that’s none of my business.”

“No, it’s OK!” Meng Yao says, imagining covering Lan Xichen’s mouth in that same way in a very different setting, those plush lips pressed up against his palm, that rich voice stifled in Lan Xichen’s long, elegant throat. Focus. “Same dad, yeah, but he’s…not in the picture.” That’s not entirely true — Jin Guangshan is very much in the picture for Jin Zixuan, rotten luck for Jin Zixuan — but for the purposes of this conversation, it might as well be.

Lan Xichen takes a sip of his coffee. “I see.” He looks out over the park with troubled, unseeing eyes, then turns back to Meng Yao with a sad and gentle smile. “I lost my mum quite young as well, and my dad...wow, almost ten years ago.”

“I’m sorry.” People always say that, and it’s not enough, but it’s also the best available option of the things people tend to say.

“Thank you. It’s been...really wonderful, living with my brother again. I’m glad you have your brothers in your life as well.”

They stand in silence together, a comfortable, companionable silence, watching the dogs.

“That’s Sergeant Pepper, over there,” Lan Xichen says after a while, indicating a severe-looking gray standard poodle. “He’s here every day. He’s basically the mayor. And over there” — he points to a happily romping shepherd mix being closely watched by a harried-looking woman clutching a blue rubber ball — “is Luna. She seems sweet, but her owner brings her own toys to the park and then spends the whole time stressing out about getting them back from other dogs.”

“You’ve really picked up a lot in the last, what, week?” Meng Yao asks, as though he had not specifically arranged to be here exactly one week after they met.

“I’ve been coming here every day,” Lan Xichen confesses. Meng Yao tries not to feel a pang of regret for his carefully-orchestrated and entirely unnecessary Thursday plot. “Our office is dog-friendly, so I’ve been bringing Cloud to work with me. She loves it, she gets loads of attention and skritches, and I get to hang out with her all day. Plus, my, er, well, it turns out my brother’s boyfriend is afraid of dogs, so I’ve been trying to give them some time in the apartment without her.”

Meng Yao eyes Cloud, who appears to be about 25 pounds of mostly fluff and is currently romping around with her little pink tongue hanging out pertly, and tries to imagine being afraid of her. “That’s considerate of you.”

Lan Xichen chuckles. “Well, he and Wangji — that’s my brother — are basically the only people I know here, so I need to stay on their good side.”

Just ask him out, Mo Xuanyu’s voice echoes in his head again. “You know me,” he offers, testing the waters.

Lan Xichen looks at him, a long, warm, lingering look. “That’s true, I do.”

Just ask him out. Just be like, hey, I know you’re phenomenally good-looking and fit and apparently rolling in money and are also for some reason really nice, like a genuinely nice person, and I know I’m short and decently good-looking but dirt-poor and never went to college and am not at all a nice person, not really, but I think I might wither away and die if you don’t give me some dick-to-mouth resuscitation in the next week or so, so do you wanna, like, grab coffee? Or if not, maybe I could just come over to your house sometimes and play with your dog and like, smell your t-shirts?

Lan Xichen clears his throat; Meng Yao realizes that he’s been zoning out staring into those big pretty eyes. He looks away, trying not to blush.

“Meng Yao,” Lan Xichen says. “Forgive me if I’m reading this wrong, but would you like to have dinner with me sometime?”

Meng Yao blinks, feeling like someone just came up and pinched the soft flesh of his belly as hard as they could. “I...yeah, I’d love to,” he says blankly.

Lan Xichen nods carefully, eyeing him. “Like, as a date, I mean,” he clarifies. “Or not, I suppose, if you’d rather be friends, but I was thinking more along the lines of a date.”

Summoning every ounce of self-possession remaining to him, Meng Yao forces himself not to flail like Kermit the Frog and instead to give Lan Xichen his boldest, most flirtatious smile. “Yes,” he says firmly. “I would like to go on a date with you.”

“Wonderful,” Lan Xichen beams, incandescent.

They exchange phone numbers and agree on a time and place, Meng Yao feeling vaguely divorced from reality the whole time. He hasn’t even had a chance to employ a Conversational Gambit.

“I should probably take NaoNao back to the office,” Meng Yao says reluctantly. “But I’ll...see you tomorrow?”

“See you then.” Lan Xichen crouches down and holds out his arms. Cloud, who is a well-trained pup and a very good girl, comes bounding into them; he scoops her up, heedless of her muddy paws against his tailored shirt, and laughs as she frantically licks his square chin. “Good girl, that’s my good girl, that’s my sweetheart,” he tells her fondly, and Meng Yao joins the other dogs (and many of the humans, he suspects) present at the dog park in privately wishing he could hump Lan Xichen’s leg.

~*~

Brothers from Other Mothers Chat

A-Yao: he asked me out!

Cooler Than Yu: dog park guy?

A-Yao: Yes!
Also how married are we to that nickname

JZX: Congrats! o((*^▽^*))o

Cooler Than Yu: climb every mountain ge
lol did u tell him ur ready to Mount Everest

A-Yao: I hate you

Cooler Than Yu: if u hate us so much y dont u have any other friends

JZX: That’s not fair, NaoNao is his friend

~*~

They grab dinner downtown, someplace nice-ish but not terrifyingly fancy. Lan Xichen is dressed more casually than Meng Yao has seen him, which means his long legs are wrapped in designer jeans instead of designer slacks and he’s switched out his watch for a raft of silver-and-leather bracelets, each of which probably cost Meng Yao’s rent in any given month. His pearl-gray shirt is unbuttoned just enough to make Meng Yao’s brain occasionally short-circuit.

Meng Yao is expecting the usual first-date small talk stuff — the weather, movies, books, their jobs — and they do a bit of that at first, but after their food arrives, Lan Xichen goes very quiet, staring down at his plate and only answering in monosyllables.

“Is everything all right?” Meng Yao hesitantly asks, frantically racking his brain for what he could have said to put Lan Xichen off.

Lan Xichen looks up at him with a wide-eyed, caught-out expression. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” he says with his mouth full. He covers his mouth primly and swallows. “I...this is so embarrassing. I was raised in a house where we weren’t permitted to speak during meals, and since living with my brother I suppose I’ve...gotten back in the habit.” His perfect brows draw upward, worried and a little panicky. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shut down on you like that.”

“Oh! That’s all right, don’t worry about it,” Meng Yao assures him, charmed in spite of himself. “I was just worried you weren’t having a good time.”

“I am.” Lan Xichen smiles softly and reaches for Meng Yao’s hand across the table. “I’m having a really good time.”

After that, the conversation flows easily. They get dessert, then coffee, lingering. Finally, regretfully, Lan Xichen motions for the check. “I’m sorry, I have to go home and let Cloud out. Wangji’s spending the night at his boyfriend’s and she’ll be getting hungry.”

“Aww, Cloud! She’s such a good girl,” Meng Yao gushes. “You’re so lucky to have found someone so sweet.”

“Do you...want to come say goodnight to her?” Lan Xichen asks, long fingers fiddling with the pen he’s used to sign the check. It’s clearly a line, but Meng Yao doesn’t mind and he also wants to pet Cloud again, so it’s a win-win.

Lan Xichen’s apartment is enormous and elegantly, sparsely appointed; his brother seems fond of natural wood and neutral shades. “You can see why I had to get a white dog,” Lan Xichen jokes as he lets Cloud out of her crate. “Her hair just blends right into the rugs.”

Meng Yao glances around at the spotlessly clean environs and doubts there’s so much as a single white hair to be found anywhere, but laughs anyway.

Cloud fawns over Lan Xichen for a moment, then ventures over to investigate Meng Yao; after submitting to a thorough sniffing, Meng Yao is rewarded for his patience with a swipe of Cloud’s little pink leaf of a tongue and is permitted to scratch gently behind her alert triangle ears. “She likes you,” Lan Xichen says.

“Do you think so?”

“Oh yes, she’s always had excellent taste in men.”

Meng Yao wants to do the flirty-dimples smile now — it would be an excellent moment to do so, and the lighting in here is great — but he ends up just grinning at Lan Xichen like a fool. Lan Xichen grins back.

Greeting routine completed, Cloud trotted briskly to the gleaming stainless-steel kitchen. Meng Yao had a brief moment to reflect on how the kitchen was the approximate size of his entire studio before Lan Xichen bent down to get Cloud’s bowl out, and then any thoughts of class differences were drowned out by the divot of muscle indenting each of Lan Xichen’s lean buttocks, lovingly highlighted by the dark denim of his jeans, and remind Meng Yao to send Mr. John Varvatos a thank you note.

With Cloud happily crunching away at her food, Lan Xichen straightens and turns to Meng Yao, who leans against the counter with a casual I-Wasn’t-Just-Checking-Out-Your-Ass look. One corner of Lan Xichen’s mouth quirks up. He steps into Meng Yao, slowly, carefully. “Hey,” he murmurs.

Meng Yao swallows, looking up at him. Up close, the planes of Lan Xichen’s face seem softer, his lips lush and inviting. “Hi,” Meng Yao says.

Lan Xichen slides a hand to the small of Meng Yao’s back, pulling him closer; the other hand comes up to softly cup the back of Meng Yao’s neck, tilting his head back so that Lan Xichen can bend down and kiss him.

The kiss is soft, sweet, a brush of Lan Xichen’s lips against Meng Yao’s upper lip, his lower. Meng Yao slides his hands up Lan Xichen’s biceps, privately marveling at the lean sinewy strength of them, and leans into him; Lan Xichen sighs and scrapes his teeth against Meng Yao’s bottom lip, slipping his tongue into Meng Yao’s mouth with a gentleness that nonetheless asserts itself, pressing Meng Yao’s jaw open.

Meng Yao makes a low sound, the busy gears of his mind grinding all the way to a halt as Lan Xichen pulls their bodies flush against each other, heat lingering wherever they touch. He’s helpless to do more than press himself against Lan Xichen, his breath quickening when Lan Xichen slides one broad hand up his back under his shirt, the bare skin under Lan Xichen’s fingers feeling like it might burn to cinders.

“Mmmh,” Lan Xichen says, breaking the kiss to lean his forehead against Meng Yao’s. “Here,” he breathes, and the next thing Meng Yao knows Lan Xichen has slid his hands down to grab him by the ass, picking him up and setting him on the kitchen counter and oh, that is better, their height disparity less of a factor, Meng Yao more able to kiss him back as good as he’s been getting now that his neck’s not craning back.

He pulls Lan Xichen closer to him, right up against the counter between Meng Yao’s spread knees, and kisses him again. Lan Xichen groans and slides his hand back up under Meng Yao’s shirt; Meng Yao sighs, licking deep into his mouth, and slips his hands beneath Lan Xichen’s shirt to caress the sharp points of his hip bones with his thumbs.

They kiss for untold minutes, hands sliding over skin, mingled breath and the scrape of teeth, half-hard and grinding against each other with increasing enthusiasm, and as Meng Yao is starting to ask himself whether or not it’s a terrible idea to let a guy fuck him on said guy’s kitchen counter on the first date, Cloud announces that she’s done with her meal by picking up her bowl and dropping it on the tile floor with a loud clang.

Breaking from each other, they both turn to look at her; she looks back up at them with her head cocked, tongue out in an expectant doggy grin.

“Oh, baby, you probably need to go outside, don’t you?” Lan Xichen says, and something about the way he says it, the way he can switch into a sweet baby voice to talk to his adorable little dog with one hand still firmly in Meng Yao’s back pocket, fills Meng Yao with a bright warmth. He laughs a little, just because it’s so cute.

Lan Xichen turns back to him, a little sheepish. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I should really take her out before it gets much later.” His lips are swollen, his hair mussed up; he looks at least moderately wrecked and Meng Yao takes pride in that.

“No worries,” Meng Yao assures him. “She’s right to interrupt; she’s much too young to be catching that kind of show.”

Laughing, Lan Xichen leans in to kiss him again. “I really like you,” he murmurs.

“I really like you too,” Meng Yao grins at him.

“I should tell you,” Lan Xichen murmurs, looking down and away, “I...I’m not great at casual dating. I’ve been told I’m too intense, that I get too serious too quickly. So if I’m going too fast, just let me know.”

Meng Yao would like to find whoever told this gorgeous man with the kiss-drunk eyes that he was too intense and either give them a piece of his mind or possibly send them a fruit basket for releasing Lan Xichen back into the wild. “As it happens,” he says, “I have also been told I’m too intense.”

“So…” Lan Xichen slides a hand back to Meng Yao’s knee. “Do you want to be intense with me?”

“Yes,” Meng Yao says, kissing him again. “Definitely.”

~*~

They make it two whole weeks before saying the word boyfriend, and an entire week after that before making it public.

On the day they decide to make it social media official, Meng Yao takes a series of selfies while they’re cuddling with Cloud on Lan Xichen’s couch in the golden afternoon sunlight. He settles on one where Cloud has turned to lick his cheek, while Lan Xichen smiles crinkly-eyed and relaxed into the camera, his chin buried in her fluff.

“Tag me in that, will you?” Lan Xichen asks.

After applying the appropriate filters to make his skin look better and make Cloud’s fluff look as soft as possible (Lan Xichen does not need filtering), Meng Yao posts the picture with the caption Saturday afternoon with bae. Oh, and @zewujun is here too 😉

Smug relationship photo successfully posted, Meng Yao heads to the kitchen to make some popcorn before the movie — apparently Lan Xichen has never seen Mean Girls, which is a travesty. His phone vibrates in his hand; Mo Xuanyu has already left a comment.

“A-Yao?” Lan Xichen calls from the living room. “What does ‘pet slut’ mean?”