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the hard way

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"You're really staying with Lan Zhan? You mean, actual Lan Zhan? Alpha thirst trap Lan Zhan?" Nie Huaisang's incredulous voice echoes in the quiet cafeteria.

"Yes!" Wei Ying scowls, slides a chunk of watermelon off the fruit skewer with her teeth. She brandishes the empty skewer at Nie Huaisang accusingly. "You never believe when I say I have other friends."

"No, I just don't believe when you say you're friends with Lan Zhan."

"Stop saying her name like that, you make it sound like she's an idol."

"Well, isn't she?" Nie Huaisang points out. "All the baby omegas in Philosophy 1B are going to hunt you for sport if they find out about this."

Wei Ying has to concede. She had taken just one class with Lan Zhan last semester, Intro to Philosophy of History. Lan Zhan was the stillest and most terrifying person she'd ever seen. She sat at the head of the seminar table, listening to the class discussion with her head tilted away from them. She was pin-neat, with shiny dark cropped hair, wore soft wool sweaters with the sleeves rolled up, exposing lean muscled forearms and sharp wrists when she made longhand notes in her little jotter. Whenever anyone said something disagreeable, she fixed them with a long look, and murmured, "Interesting," and the whole class shuddered.

At the end of the semester, Lan Zhan left the room while they filled out their class evaluations, and an omega girl had turned to Wei Ying and said loudly, "I need her to sit on my face." Wei Ying laughed awkwardly. Then there was a sharp bang as the door slammed shut; they all glanced up, caught a flash of Lan Zhan's face at the window. The omega girl flushed bright red, and didn't return to her usual colour for an hour.

"Those baby omegas have nothing to worry about," Wei Ying says. "Lan Zhan's just doing me a favour. I'm not even staying there for long."

"But why is she doing you a favour?" Nie Huaisang demands. There's something extremely insulting about the way she enunciates the pronouns.

"Because we're friends!" says Wei Ying, and Nie Huaisang scoffs.

Actually, they aren't, but Wei Ying has no intention of letting Nie Huaisang – or anyone – know the real circumstances which led to her crashing in Lan Zhan's decadently enormous spare room. Wen Qing needed her folding couch back now that Wen Ning was moving in, so Wei Ying had assured her that she had another place to stay, which was, essentially, a lie; the "place" was a 24-hour computer lab on campus. Lan Zhan found Wei Ying asleep there at five am, lying across three vinyl chairs pushed together with a leather jacket draped over her like a blanket. She'd awoken, startled, to Lan Zhan towering over her, stern-faced and censorious.

"Oh! Lan Zhan! I was just." Wei Ying's voice was croaky from sleep. "Reserving my study space! You have to get here early for the good computers, ha, ha!"

Lan Zhan's eyes had flicked over to the large battered travel suitcase with a peeling hot-pink sticker declaring "BETAS DO IT BETTA", then travelled slowly back to Wei Ying.

"Okay, well, to be honest, I just had enough of my roommates for the night," Wei Ying tried. "They're a real nightmare, it's much better here, Lan Zhan, trust me!"

Lan Zhan's face hardened further, if possible. She said nothing, but her eyes bored a hole in Wei Ying's skull.

"Okay, fine," burst out Wei Ying, and that was how she ended up telling Lan Zhan everything.

Lan Zhan hadn't offered a place to stay, exactly. She'd just said, "Come with me," and hustled Wei Ying into her car. Wei Ying had meant to argue, but she was so tired she kept nodding off and bumping her head against the car window, and once inside, she'd taken one look at the perfectly pressed white linen sheets and fluffy pillows on Lan Zhan's spare bed, collapsed on to it, and passed out for twelve hours straight.

"Anyway, you make it sound like something lewd is going on," Wei Ying complains. "It's all totally above board. She's just being a nice person. It's just one kind alpha grad student offering one room of her huge house to one beta undergrad in need, what could be more appropriate than that?"

Nie Huaisang mutters something inaudible.

Wei Ying narrows her eyes. "What?"

Nie Huaisang coughs. "Nothing. What's her place like? Let me guess, she's got a harem of omegas stashed in there?"

"Lan Zhan isn't that kind of alpha," Wei Ying insists. "They don't all go chasing their knots around all the time, Nie Huaisang! I'm frankly disappointed in you for propagating this type of regressive anti-feminist myth!"

"I'm speaking from experience," Nie Huaisang says, longsuffering. "My jiejie is an alpha. I thank the universe every day for her moving out. Alpha dyke drama? Way too much to deal with."

"Lan Zhan's too smart for drama," Wei Ying says, and at that precise moment, Lan Zhan appears as if summoned, sweeping through the cafeteria, trenchcoat hanging loose and open over her blazer and corduroys, her hair lightly ruffled from the wind outside. She sees Wei Ying, gives one brisk nod, unsmiling, and keeps walking, her long legs making long strides, cutting between the tables, through the double doors to the meeting room beyond.

"Wow," Nie Huaisang sighs, sinking forward, chin on her hand. "You live with that. Have you seen her naked yet?"

"Shut up," Wei Ying says weakly. There's a funny twist in her stomach, and she's running a bit warm, suddenly. "Ugh. I think I'm getting the flu."

"Mm hm," Nie Huaisang says, and doesn't sound surprised at all.

 

 

-

Wei Ying knows that Nie Huaisang's wrong, that everything is fine and normal and Lan Zhan is just a generous person, but she keeps picking over the conversation like picking a scab, the words But why is she doing you a favour playing on loop in her head. She doesn't have money for rent, but maybe she could contribute something for electricity, or offer to go grocery shopping, or – something? She knows she can't stay here indefinitely, no matter how many times Lan Zhan says "It is no trouble" in her slow, dismissive way. They should probably work out some kind of timeline for Wei Ying leaving. Wei Ying's aware she has the personality of a stray cat. Someone feeding her once doesn't give her the licence to follow them around forever, but she never really learned another way to be.

She's steeled herself, is ready to have the Serious Adult Conversation, but when Wei Ying gets home, Lan Zhan isn't there.

"Lan Zhan?" she calls, walking from room to room. "Lan Zhan?" The front door was unlocked. It doesn't seem like Lan Zhan to make such a mistake.

Wei Ying sits on the living room couch with her jacket still on, taps out a text. Where are you?

It takes a few minutes for the second checkmark to appear.

downstairs

Wei Ying can't figure it out at first, gets up and starts opening doors again, like Lan Zhan might be secretly tucked away in a closet or something. She does another round of the ground floor rooms, before it clicks that she must mean the basement.

Wei Ying's never been down there before, although Lan Zhan had pointed it out to her the day after she'd arrived. There's a stairwell leading to another doorway. It gets warmer and more humid with each descending step, and a feverish, flu-y feeling starts to wash over Wei Ying again in waves. She grips the handrail tight, her fingers already slippery with sweat; pauses on the stairs and takes a steadying breath, praying she doesn't faint. It'll be so beyond embarrassing if she falls down and hits her head. Lan Zhan will have to come and drive her to the hospital.

"Okay," she whispers to herself. God, what is wrong with her? "Okay."

She wobbles down on jelly legs, and pushes the door open.

It's like walking into a sauna. The heat immediately smacks her in the face. The scent, too, thick and overpowering, woody and smoky like incense. Wei Ying can't identify it, but it's strangely pleasant: she finds herself taking in deep gulping breaths of it without meaning to. Is it some kind of super-strong air freshener?

There's a home gym set up down here, racks with giant gleaming weight plates and chunky rubber dumbbells, a bench, a mat. Lan Zhan's standing under a tall steel squat stand with a heavy-looking barbell resting on her shoulders. Lan Zhan. Ah.

Wei Ying didn't think it was possible to flush any more, with how warm and sweaty she is already, but she does. Lan Zhan's more scantily dressed than Wei Ying’s ever seen her, in a white sleeveless men's tank, nipped in with some kind of state-of-the-art weightlifter's belt, and a tiny pair of black shorts. Wei Ying has never imagined, exactly, what Lan Zhan would look like with her limbs bare, but she thinks she would have imagined... differently. Like, with clothes on, Lan Zhan looks almost slender, but without, she is. Not that. Her shoulders are built, deltoids rounded; there's a deep dip before the flare of her biceps. Her legs are thick and firm-looking, fleshy thighs bursting out from beneath her shorts, calves curving elegantly like treble clefs. One thigh has a tattoo in heavy black lines: some kind of bird of prey with its wings fanned out.

"Lan Zhan," says Wei Ying. Her mouth is very dry suddenly. She realises she's still looking at the tattoo, and has to consciously drag her eyes up to Lan Zhan's face. "Lan Zhan, how can you work out in here? It's way too hot!"

Lan Zhan quirks an eyebrow at her, then jerks her head towards the thermostat on the wall opposite. Wei Ying goes over to look. The black number reads 54°, but that can't be right.

"It's broken!" Wei Ying exclaims, turning around, but Lan Zhan is sinking into a slow squat with the barbell. Her face is taut with concentration, a gleam of sweat on her forehead catching the light. When she rises again, it's with a quiet grunt, a littleungh.

Wei Ying sways on the spot, faint again. She takes in a shuddering breath, a lungful of that herby incense scent. She can feel her pulse thundering, hear her heartbeat in her ears. Lan Zhan's broken out in a flush over her collarbone and her – chest. How far down does it go, Wei Ying wonders. What a weird thought to have about a friend.

"It's at least a hundred degrees in here," she says. Her voice sounds odd, distorted, like she's underwater and hearing it from the surface.

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan grits out, strained because she's pushing up with the barbell again. Wei Ying's stomach swoops, for some reason. "Are you feeling well?"

"Actually, I have been feeling kind of weird," Wei Ying says, and touches her own face, pressing the back of her hand to her cheek, then her forehead. "Why? Do I look sick?"

This time, Lan Zhan's grunt is louder as she rises. Uuuuuuhhh. Wei Ying's skin prickles. "Maybe you should go and lie down," Lan Zhan says, panting a little.

There's a metal clang as she offloads the barbell onto the rack, and then she's walking over. Wei Ying can see all the muscle and sinew in her body tightening and shifting as she moves, like a film in slow-motion. Lan Zhan reaches a hand out to Wei Ying's face, and Wei Ying says, "What," although it comes out so soft and breathless, it's more like, whuh.

The back of Lan Zhan's hand is cool on Wei Ying's forehead. "You have a fever," she says. Her voice is rich and dark and deep. Wei Ying feels it rumbling through her whole body, reverberating in her bones. It feels as though someone drew a long line with their fingertip from the top of her neck all the way to the base of her spine.

"Oh," Wei Ying says, shivering.

Lan Zhan takes her hand away, and Wei Ying's knees give out.

Lan Zhan catches and steadies her, gripping both Wei Ying's arms. Her hands are big. Wei Ying never noticed how big before, even sitting right in front of Lan Zhan in class for all those months. They encircle each of Wei Ying's biceps, her fingertips meeting her thumbs.

"Let's get you upstairs," Lan Zhan says. She takes one hand off Wei Ying's arm. Wei Ying hisses through her teeth: it feels searingly hot there, scalded, and she glances down, half-expecting Lan Zhan's palm to have made a print. Then Lan Zhan bends, and before Wei Ying's realised what's happening, she's scooping Wei Ying into her arms, her hand firmly gripping Wei Ying by the back of her knees.

"Lan Zhan!!! What? You don't need to – !" Wei Ying tries to protest, but Lan Zhan's marching them out of the basement gym, through the open door, and up the stairs. Lan Zhan isn't even breathing hard. Wei Ying feels so light in her arms, like a kid. "Huh," she says, and her voice has gone embarrassingly weak and thready.

She slumps against Lan Zhan's warm chest. Lan Zhan's skin is a little sweat-damp, which should be gross, but it isn't. It helps that Lan Zhan smells so nice – like that addictive scent Wei Ying noticed before. Wei Ying's cheek is pressed against Lan Zhan's shoulder, her nose to Lan Zhan's neck. She can't help but nuzzle against the soft skin, just slightly, breathing in deep.

"You smell good," she slurs, her eyes falling closed.

There's a bang, and she opens them again. Lan Zhan's kicked open the bathroom door.

"You need to cool down," Lan Zhan says, and bends again to deposit Wei Ying gently on the closed toilet lid. A tiny bereft whine falls out of Wei Ying's mouth. She wants Lan Zhan to touch her again. It didn't feel so bad when they were touching.

Lan Zhan's running the bath now. "Stay," she says in a warning tone, like Wei Ying's a - a dog, or something, and Wei Ying bites her lip and squirms, but stays when Lan Zhan leaves. She listens to Lan Zhan's footsteps, the occasional creak of the floorboards, the faint sounds of drawers opening and closing in the kitchen, and stays perfectly still. Even when her teeth start chattering. Even when her bones start twinging, her muscles screaming.

The bath's nearly full when Lan Zhan returns with a metal pail filled with ice, and tips it upside down into the water, splashing, before she turns the faucets off.

"Come on, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says, turning towards her. Lan Zhan's voice is so soft and musical. Wei Ying doesn't understand how she never noticed before. She leans forward, nudging her head against Lan Zhan's t-shirt. Takes a deep, heaving breath like she's starved of the oxygen, feels relief spread through her body, pleasure trickling through her veins. The minutes of separation had hurt. They'd really hurt. Wei Ying only realises how bad it hurt now that it's no longer hurting. Lan Zhan's hands come up to cradle the back of Wei Ying's head at the base of her skull and that feels so good, so right she actually moans, opening her mouth against Lan Zhan's t-shirt, getting it damp with her drool.

Lan Zhan's body jerks like she's received an electric shock, and she takes her hands away.

"Wei Ying," she says. "Bath."

Wei Ying whimpers and doesn't move. Lan Zhan grabs the bottom of her t-shirt and pulls, and Wei Ying obediently raises her arms, lets her peel it off. She doesn't complain when Lan Zhan unclasps her bra and tugs the straps over her shoulders and down her arms, even though dimly she's aware she should be self-conscious. All of that seems far away. She can't think about anything other than Lan Zhan's big hands, getting them back on her skin. Every brush of Lan Zhan's fingertips sends lightning zinging through her. When they slide under the waistband of Wei Ying's jeans to pull them off, she gasps and trembles.

"Up," Lan Zhan says. Wei Ying stands, and Lan Zhan bends to pick her up.

For one glorious moment, Wei Ying is gathered naked in Lan Zhan's arms.

A moment later, she's dumped unceremoniously in the ice bath.

"Lan Zhan!" she shrieks, limbs flailing. She tries to haul herself upright, but slips and sinks under the water again.

"Stay," says Lan Zhan. "It will help."

"It won't!" Wei Ying argues, through her chattering teeth. "It's not going to help! It really hurts, Lan Zhan!"

"Shhhh," says Lan Zhan, seats herself on the toilet lid, and reaches out, offering her hand. Wei Ying grabs onto it like a lifeline, not even caring that her own is sopping wet, that she's dripping ice water all over the floor.

"Don't go," she pleads, digging her fingernails into Lan Zhan's palm.

"Mn," Lan Zhan assents.

To Wei Ying's immense surprise, it really does help. Lan Zhan holds on to her hand tight, and hums a low, soothing melody like a lullaby, and Wei Ying's breaths even out. She stops sweating and shivering. Her heart rate slows. She goes limp, sagging with her head resting on the edge of the bathtub, her eyes fluttering closed.

"S'good," says Wei Ying, still slurring. "So smart, Lan Zhan, you know everything. How do you know everything?"

Lan Zhan doesn't answer, but she gives her hand a quick squeeze.

Wei Ying's nearly asleep when Lan Zhan says, "Time up." She mewls when Lan Zhan lets go of her hand, but it's not so bad, because a second later, Lan Zhan's hoisting her up in her arms again. Wei Ying can feel she's soaking through Lan Zhan's t-shirt, but Lan Zhan doesn't flinch at all, even though the water must feel freezing.

Wei Ying's barely aware of her surroundings, sliding in and out of consciousness. It's all a haze of Lan Zhan-scent, Lan Zhan-skin, Lan Zhan giving commands in her soft, authoritative voice, manipulating Wei Ying's body with her sure, clever hands. At some point, Wei Ying is bundled into something warm and soft and good-smelling, and tucked into a bed that she's pretty sure is not her own. She doesn't ask any questions. She's relinquished the right to. Lan Zhan knows everything, she thinks blurrily, right before she falls asleep.

 

 

-

She feels better when she blinks awake in the morning, more clear. She takes stock of her body. Her temperature feels normal. She isn't in pain. She's in Lan Zhan's bed, she guesses, remembering how clingy and needy (and naked) she'd got, and her insides writhe with humiliation.

Cautiously, she shifts, preparing to drag herself upright, when – oh. Something... gushes between her legs.

She wonders if she's started her period, but it doesn't feel like that, no cramping or discomfort. Actually, it feels good, just like ordinary horny wetness, but more – an intense, tingly, full-body shock of arousal, and an accompanying rush of slick all the way down her thighs. Wei Ying's hand has drifted between her legs before she's even thought about it. She pushes her hips up, humping against the heel of her hand, gets the same deep thrum of arousal, even sharper and more vivid this time, enough that she has to let out a shuddery breath.

She brings her hand out from under the covers, examines the slick. It's thicker than usual, more viscous, and it has a strong, sweet smell like honeysuckle. Must be some hormonal thing, Wei Ying guesses, and wipes off on her shorts.

Which are, she realises belatedly, not hers. Lan Zhan had dressed her. The hoodie she's wearing is a couple of sizes too big. Wei Ying pulls the neck up over her nose, inhales deeply. Mmmmm. Lan Zhan.

She makes a quick danger-dash across the hall to her own room, desperate to avoid Lan Zhan in her sodden shorts. Once inside, she learns the following cursed pieces of information: her phone is on 5%, she has a lecture in twenty minutes, and Nie Huaisang wants to know if Jiang Cheng is an alpha. Disgusting.

She's hopping around the room with one leg in her jeans, when she hears Lan Zhan from across the hall: "Wei Ying?" Immediately, helplessly, her stomach dips, and her body releases another spurt of slick, and that. Yeah, that is going to be a problem.

She's only just managed to get her zipper up when Lan Zhan knocks the door.

"Yeah?"

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says, stopping in the doorway and frowning. She looks cosy, holding a steaming cup of tea, tiny in her enormous hands. She's wearing a forest-green cable knit sweater over her dark brown tailored corduroys today. The sweater is loose, neckline falling to expose the tops of her pale collarbones, and the colour makes her eyes glow gold. Wei Ying sends up a silent eulogy for her pussy. "What are you doing?"

"I've got class?" says Wei Ying. "Lan Zhan, did you think it was the weekend? Am I finally more organised than you? Lan Zhan, mark the date! I'm going to write it on the calendar."

"But you're..."

"Sick?" Wei Ying starts ferreting around in her floordrobe for a pair of clean socks. "I don't know, I feel much better today! I think that ice bath really did the trick, Lan Zhan, I definitely don't have a fever anymore! Maybe it was one of those twenty-four hour things. Or like, food poisoning? I should know better by now than to trust what you get in that unsanitary-ass cafeteria. Thank you, by the way," she adds, glancing up to meet Lan Zhan's startled gaze. "Lan Zhan, my saviour! My knight in shining armour! I owe you, seriously!"

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says urgently. "Stay home from class today. It's not safe."

Her tone throws Wei Ying off a bit. She sounds so serious. "Awwww, Lan Zhan, it's so sweet of you to worry about me like this," Wei Ying says, pulling on a sock. "I'll really be fine! It's only one lecture. I would skip, but I really shouldn't miss any more, or I'll lose credits."

"I'll write you a note," says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying blinks, straightens up. "That's okay, Lan Zhan, you've done me so many favours already! I really better be going, I'm about to be late!"

Lan Zhan won't budge in the doorway, so Wei Ying pushes past her, placing a hand on her rock-hard bicep as she does so. Accidentally! At the same time, she catches a waft of Lan Zhan's scent. It's all far too much, too intense, this pull in her gut. She has to hold her breath, exhale long and slow.

Halfway down the hall, she feels Lan Zhan's gaze, looks over her shoulder, and finds Lan Zhan watching her knowingly, eyes dark. Wei Ying won't get to jerk off for at least another two hours. There is no justice in this world.

 

 

-

"Ma'am, are you okay?"

It's a fair question. She's stopped in the hall outside the lecture theatre, hand braced against a pillar, head bowed, hyperventilating. There are too many scents, sweat and rubber, hairspray and leather, new notepaper and cheap deodorant. Wei Ying's never thought about the smell of a freshly sharpened graphite pencil before, but it has one, and at the moment it's pissing her off. Her face is getting hot again, her mind fogging over. Lan Zhan was right, she thinks pathetically. Didn't she learn this last night? That Lan Zhan is always right? Why must she force herself to learn this yet again, the hard way?

"Ma'am?"

“I’m okay, I’m okay, just need a minute,” she pants.

The man places a hand between her shoulder blades. Wei Ying is sure it's meant to be comforting, but it's just too much, the weight of it, it feels wrong, and he's got a scent too, reeks of gasoline, and it makes her feel sick and dizzy as if she's really huffing from a petrol tank. She's rolling her shoulders to shrug him off before it occurs to her that it might seem rude, and she glances back, opening her mouth to say something, apologise, when she recognises him. It's Jin Zixun, that weird relative of her sister's boyfriend she's seen hanging around their house. Wei Ying knows little about him apart from that he's an alpha, loud, and kind of aggressive, and now, she gathers from the incredulous curl of his lip, he is not well pleased with her.

"Listen, man," she starts – but it's the wrong tactic. His eyes narrow, shoulders squaring. "Okay," she backtracks, "sorry, all right? I'm not feeling great right now, I don't want to be touched, it's nothing personal, okay? I'm sorry."

Jin Zixun scoffs. "Wow. And here I was just trying to help. Who knew an omega in heat could act so stuck up?"

"Hey, fuck you," Wei Ying snaps, and then, through the fog in her brain, his words register. "What?"

She doesn't get a chance to make Jin Zixun repeat himself, because at that moment, Lan Zhan swoops in, glowering.

"Jin Zixun," she greets him.

Jin Zixun's eyes dart between them, like he's figuring something out. "Oh, so it's like that, huh," he says. "Just as well. Your pet needs a leash, Lan Zhan. It's misbehaving."

Lan Zhan reacts before Wei Ying even understands what was said, gliding towards him with one arm outstretched, spectrelike. Her hand wraps around his throat, squeezes tight. He turns red, struggling, both his hands coming up to tug on Lan Zhan's forearm, but Lan Zhan's stronger. She – lifts him by the neck, pins him with his back against the pillar, like it's easy, like he's no heavier than a newborn puppy. He's making painful, dry, choking gasps as he fights for air, his eyes popping in his head, legs kicking under him.

"You do not speak to her," Lan Zhan says, her voice perfectly even. She isn't out of breath at all. "You do not touch her. You do not look at her. Understood?"

He can't nod in this position, gives a frantic half-jerk of his head, blinking rapidly.

"Good," Lan Zhan says, and drops him. He crumples to the floor, gulping for breath, massaging the front of his throat.

Wei Ying's still staring at him when she feels Lan Zhan's palm, proprietary on the back of her neck.

"Let's go," she says softly, her breath tickling Wei Ying's ear, and steers Wei Ying out of the hall towards the exit, keeps touching her all the way to the car.

"You didn't need to do that," Wei Ying says in the passenger seat, once she can speak. It's clean in there, smells of nothing but the leather seats and Lan Zhan herself, and Wei Ying feels like she can take a full breath in again. "Actually, it's kind of fucked up that you did that. Everyone's going to think that we're – that you're my –"

Alpha. That she's her alpha. Just thinking the word causes another gush of slick, and Wei Ying groans internally, prays it doesn't soak through her jeans.

Lan Zhan starts the car, reverses out of the parking lot. Wei Ying tries not to watch her hands on the steering wheel.

"It's getting worse," Lan Zhan says. "We'll need to keep you at home for a few days."

We'll need to, Wei Ying thinks dazedly, like Lan Zhan is making the executive decision for both of them. She has a feeling this whole situation has got away from her somehow, taken on a life of its own and started walking around, getting in trouble.

"I don't get why this is happening," she whines. "Usually when I'm sick I can't smell anything, but this is like the opposite? Everything smells so bad it's making me want to throw up? Apart from you, Lan Zhan," she reassures hastily. "You always smell so clean and nice. I don't know what that cologne you use is, but it's amazing." She thinks she sees the corner of Lan Zhan's mouth tug upwards. "What's that Jin Zixun guy's problem, huh? Did you hear him? He called me 'omega' like it was a slur! Which, not only is that offensive to omegas, it's also just inaccurate! Like, where are you even getting this?"

The half-smile slides straight off Lan Zhan's face. "Wei Ying," she says, slowly, with the air of someone breaking terrible news. "You are an omega."

Wei Ying laughs. "I can see why you might think that, Lan Zhan! Jiang Cheng used to always say it too. He said I'm so clingy and touchy, there's no way I could be any placement but omega. But that's just another dumb stereotype! I never presented."

"You're presenting now."

Wei Ying falters, half-laughs. But Lan Zhan is deadly serious.

"You're going into heat."

There's a long pause, no sound apart from the low rumble of the car engine, the whoosh of other cars flashing past.

"But," says Wei Ying. "I'm too old for that, aren't I? I never heard of an omega presenting after age twenty."

"Regardless," says Lan Zhan, and leaves it hanging.

"But," says Wei Ying again, feebly. She supposes it adds up, the fever, the sensitivity, the smells, the... slick. It's just that Wei Ying is so used to thinking of herself as a beta now. She always thought she was so lucky to avoid all the dynamic drama. In first year, she'd always been the one to go to the grocery store to buy bags of ice and cold gel packs for her roommates, bring them popsicles and bottles of Powerade, send them check-in texts. She figured that was her role. The idea of being the one in need, vulnerable and defenceless, makes something inside her flinch. "Lan Zhan, are you sure?"

Lan Zhan clears her throat, something Wei Ying has never heard her do. Her eyes stay on the road, but when Wei Ying looks, she sees Lan Zhan's ears and neck are lightly flushed. "I'm sure."

"How do you know? Are you–"

"I can smell you," she interrupts.

Oh. "Oh," Wei Ying says faintly. The leather car seat squeaks as Wei Ying squirms, pressing her legs together. "And what. What does it smell like."

Lan Zhan exhales slowly, shakily, through her mouth. For a moment Wei Ying thinks she isn't going to reply, but then she speaks, and her voice is a cadence lower than usual. Wei Ying can feel it in her body like it's rattling her bones.

"Like summer air," she says. "Heat. Pollen. Citrus fruit and honeysuckle."

Wei Ying wets her mouth. She's getting warm again. "And, do you. Lan Zhan. Do you like that smell."

"I do." Lan Zhan's voice drops even more, to a gravelly murmur. "I... like it."

Wei Ying has to bite back a groan. She's squeezing her thighs together, abdomen tensed up. She has to think about it to relax and when she does, another heavy rush pours out of her, this time definitely dampening the denim of her jeans.

Lan Zhan's mouth falls open, like she's tasting the air. "There it is."

Wei Ying doesn't quite manage to stop her own whimper this time. She folds forward, head dropping towards her knees. "Lan Zhan." It feels good to say her name, Wei Ying's tongue caressing the roof of her mouth, La, buzzing behind her teeth, Zha. "Lan Zhan. Can you hurry?"

The car's rumble gets louder as Lan Zhan floors it.

She's broken out in chills again by the time they make it home, shivering. Her teeth ache, keep clacking together as they chatter, and the impact pounds in Wei Ying's head. She just wants Lan Zhan's hands on her, wants to be buried in her chest, wants to be held tight in her big arms, taste her sweat. Want it, she thinks, like a chant in her head, urgent and panicked, want it, want it, want it. She's leaking near-constantly now. Lan Zhan goes around to open the car door for her, and Wei Ying climbs out slowly, gingerly, hobbling towards the front door, feeling fluid dribble down her trouser leg.

Lan Zhan doesn't touch her again. She holds open the front door, careful and courteous, then keeps precisely one pace behind her. It's driving Wei Ying insane. When Wei Ying goes to her room to peel out of her soiled clothes, Lan Zhan doesn't even follow her inside, just stands behind the half-closed door.

"I can run you another bath," Lan Zhan offers.

"No," snaps Wei Ying. It's even wetter than she thought when she pushes her jeans down. Both her thighs are shiny with it. The fluid isn't just coming from her pussy, it's coming from her asshole, too, both holes soaked and ripe for alpha knot. She'd only been vaguely aware that was a thing.

"I can call someone," says Lan Zhan. "Your sister?"

"No!" Wei Ying wants to cry. Lan Zhan's hoodie is on the floor. She picks it up, presses her face into the soft, well-worn cotton, rubs it against her cheeks. Her skin is so raw and sensitive, it feels like it's chafing. Breathing in the scent of Lan Zhan is good, but it's not enough; she stuffs the material in her mouth, shoving it so deep in she nearly chokes.

"Or that friend of yours. Nie Huaisang?"

At the sound of another omega's name in Lan Zhan's mouth, Wei Ying's whole body reacts like she's been burned, jerking. She spits out a mouthful of hoodie. "No!"

"Wen Ning?"

"No! Lan Zhan, no!" She really is welling up now, standing naked in the middle of the spare room, swallowing around a lump in her throat, vision blurring. "Don't call anyone, please, I don't want anyone but you!"

This seems to be a magical combination of words, because Lan Zhan's voice goes infinitely gentle. "Wei Ying. Will I bring you some clothes?"

Wei Ying's shoulders are shaking with sobs, but she manages to get out a, "Please."

She slumps on the floor, drawing her knees up to her chest, trembling, as she listens to Lan Zhan's footsteps get further away, and closer again. When she looks up, Lan Zhan's hand is reaching around the door, holding a bundle of neatly-rolled clothes. Wei Ying scrambles over on her knees to snatch them. There's a soft grey tank-top, and – oh. Lan Zhan's workout shorts, still unwashed. Wei Ying can't help it; she sniffs at them, huffing the filthy reek of alpha sweat, and her mouth drops open on an involuntary moan.

"Wei Ying," comes Lan Zhan's voice sharply. "Get dressed."

"Yeah," Wei Ying says, her voice uneven. She's going to. She will. She just needs a minute, because it just, it smells so good, and her clit is throbbing, and she feels like – she thinks she might –

"Now," says Lan Zhan, and Wei Ying tears her hand sharply away from where it'd drifted, unbidden, to her pussy. Get dressed. Right.

She does so quickly. The shorts are baggy, but fit high up on her waist when she pulls the drawstring tight. The top, though, gapes, the neck falling halfway down her chest. The material is so thin, her painfully hard nipples stand out sharp and obvious like thumbtacks. Still, with Lan Zhan's clothes next to her skin, she immediately feels calmer.

"Done," she calls.

Lan Zhan pushes the door open.

For a moment, they look each other. Wei Ying feels Lan Zhan's eyes drag over her like a physical touch, lingering on her gleaming thighs, on her half-exposed breasts, coming to rest on her face. She doesn't say anything, but she nods, and Wei Ying feels the approval sing in her veins.

 

 

-

Wei Ying isn't hungry, still feels woozy and hot, but Lan Zhan cooks her tomato and scrambled eggs, and makes her eat it sitting up at the kitchen island with a towel spread out on the stool under her legs.

"Hey," Wei Ying says through a mouthful of egg, looking up from her phone screen. "I'm researching, and according to this health site, I'm not even in full heat yet."

Lan Zhan's sitting opposite her, watching from over the rim of her cup of tea. "Mn," she says, unfazed.

"What do you mean, 'Mn'? You don't think that's fucked up? Lan Zhan, I can barely function! What's it going to be like?"

Lan Zhan hums, low and considering. "You will need to decide what to do," she says. "For example, I have some toys you could borrow. Provided you're comfortable with that."

Wei Ying pauses with chopsticks halfway to her mouth, frowning. "Toys?"

"Knotting dildos," Lan Zhan says casually, and Wei Ying chokes. Dramatically. She coughs so much Lan Zhan gets up and fills her a glass of water at the sink.

When she's recovered, she says, "But Lan Zhan, you're an alpha! Why do you even have something like that?"

Lan Zhan gives her a cool stare, eyebrows raised, and Wei Ying flushes in mortification. "Oh," she mutters.

She remembers Nie Huaisang's comment about the harem of omegas. How many others has Lan Zhan helped through their heats? She thinks she should feel better, calmer, maybe, knowing Lan Zhan is equipped with the knowledge of how to deal with a heat; less humiliated, knowing she has seen other omegas writhe and shake and lose it. She doesn't. The kitchen gives a sudden swerve around her, and she has to slap a hand down to the counter, her palms cold and sweaty.

"Wei Ying!"

Lan Zhan moves in a flurry, is behind Wei Ying in the next second, hands gripping the sides of her arms. Her body is warm, pressed along Wei Ying's back. Mmmmm. Wei Ying allows herself to sink against it, head lolling back on Lan Zhan's stomach.

"I'm okay," she says, a little breathy.

"Bed," Lan Zhan says firmly.

It's coming on again, another wave of it. She stumbles twice on the way to the bedroom, but Lan Zhan is there to steady her, places a hand on the small of her back to usher her across the threshold, and then they're inside, and Wei Ying's breathing a sigh of relief. The scents are just right here, Lan Zhan's mingling with her own. She bounces onto the bed, collapses face forward, moaning happily, rubbing her face on the sheets. "Yeaaaahhhh," she sighs, then turns her head to peer at Lan Zhan, who's rummaging around in the closet for some reason. "Hey, Lan Zhan, what are you doing?"

"The toys," Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying thinks about using a dildo from one of Lan Zhan's previous conquests, and nearly gags. "Nooooooo!" she moans, screwing her face up and burying it in the sheets again. "I don't want it. I don't want it." Her voice is muffled.

She feels a dip in the bed beside her, and then Lan Zhan's palm, firm and hot, in the centre of her back. "Then what do you want, Wei Ying?"

"Ugh, I don't know! I don't know!" But she does know. "Lie down with me?"

She expects Lan Zhan to get in at the other side of the bed, but instead, she feels Lan Zhan climb over her, settling with one knee on either side of her hips. "Huh?" she says, rising up onto her elbows and twisting her head back to look, but Lan Zhan places a hand on the back of her neck and shoves her face down onto the pillows, hard.

Wei Ying cries out. Her brain goes white for a few seconds, filled with static. It's been flowing steadily between her legs for the last hour or so, but now, she feels her gut wrench with almost painful desire, and a long thick glob surges onto her thighs. She's going to ruin Lan Zhan's bedsheets, she thinks, smearing them with her slutty omega slick. Lan Zhan's going to be able to smell her for days. At the thought, she moans again.

"What," she manages, "what are you doing."

"Arms above your head," Lan Zhan says, instead of an answer. Wei Ying's obeying before she's thought about it, stretching towards the headboard, and then Lan Zhan's pushing the tank-top down her back, over her head, down her arms, leaving it looped around her wrists, a suggestion of a bond. "Keep them there."

Wei Ying squeezes her eyes shut, overwhelmed, shifting her hips against the sheets. She can feel the soft scrape of Lan Zhan's corduroys against her half-bared thighs. Lan Zhan's sitting very carefully, keeping most of her weight off Wei Ying's back. Wei Ying wants more. She wants Lan Zhan to crush her against the mattress, envelop her in woody, smoky scent, suffocate her, choke her.

"This will help," Lan Zhan murmurs, and Wei Ying gasps and jerks at the feeling of Lan Zhan's cool fingertips on her back, first running her fingernails in light teasing arcs over her shoulders, then pressing in harder with her thumbs, working in small circles parallel to her spine. It's deep pressure, a rough, dry, painful drag, the only lubrication from the light dew of sweat on Wei Ying's back, but that only makes it better. Wei Ying wonders if Lan Zhan's leaving marks behind. Her mouth fills with saliva at the thought.

She sighs into the pillows, head drooping, lets herself drift. There's a low buzz in her head growing louder, louder, a heat creeping up her neck. She can feel the sweat cooling on her skin under the faint air conditioner breeze, and it makes her shiver. She's unaware of time passing, of anything apart from Lan Zhan's hands working their way down the length of her spine, agonisingly slow.

When Lan Zhan reaches the dip at the base of her spine, Wei Ying's hips rise involuntarily off the bed.

"Still," Lan Zhan growls, and she – backhands Wei Ying's ass. Crack.

Wei Ying's so shocked, she yelps. Her right ass cheek stings sharply, and then it's like her pain and pleasure receptors rearrange themselves somehow; everything goes hot and tingly, Wei Ying's nerves lighting up. Which is... weird. Wei Ying doesn't like pain. She thinks she'd know if she liked pain.

Lan Zhan's thumbs smooth over the swell of each ass cheek, begin kneading gently over the cotton of her shorts, and Wei Ying mewls, goes boneless. She's trying to do as Lan Zhan says, but she can't help the little twitches of her hips. She's been on the edge forever now, it feels like, desperate and unable to touch herself. She doesn't think it'd take much to come, just a single touch or a word from Lan Zhan. Actually, she's sure she could come right now, any second, but she forces herself to hold back, even though it makes her thighs shake. She knows Lan Zhan is unfazed by the sight of an omega in heat, but she's still not sure if she's allowed.

"Good," says Lan Zhan, presumably at Wei Ying's compliance, her slow melting into the mattress. She drops a little more of her weight onto Wei Ying's legs, like a reward, and Wei Ying gasps, because.

"What's that?!"

Something big and thick and hard is resting between her ass cheeks.

Lan Zhan doesn't answer.

Wei Ying's never had sex with an alpha before, but she knows a little about this, about how some female alphas can... grow when they're aroused. Lan Zhan is aroused? She wants to fuck Wei Ying? Wei Ying nudges her ass back against Lan Zhan curiously, and Lan Zhan growls again, this time a deep, feral, animal sound, and digs her nails in brutally hard. A wave of scent floods Wei Ying's nostrils. Lan Zhan's scent, but there's a new undercurrent, dark and musky, needy and intense.

Huh. Lan Zhan wants to fuck her. She wants to fill Wei Ying up with her huge alpha dick, breed Wei Ying with her thick knot.

"Lan Zhan," Wei Ying slurs, turns her head to the side, blinking. She feels drunk suddenly. Her vision is distorted, the room softened and grainy like old film. "I think. I think it's happening."

"Mn," says Lan Zhan. The single syllable has an odd, strained note.

"I think," says Wei Ying, "you have to put it in me now."

Lan Zhan breathes out in a quick hot gust, and Wei Ying feels it on her back.

"Wei Ying," she says. "I cannot."

She cannot? Lan Zhan cannot? Wei Ying arches her back and makes a sound she's never made before in her life, a high, distressed yowl, thrashing her legs against the mattress.

"The toy," Lan Zhan starts to say, and Wei Ying shrieks even higher and louder. When will Lan Zhan shut up about that toy?

"No! No, no, no!" she chants. "Don't want a toy, Lan Zhan, I want you! I'm so empty and wet, Lan Zhan, it fucking hurts so bad, can't you just put it in me? Just a little?"

"It's not safe," Lan Zhan says. "You're in heat. You could get -"

"Pregnant, yeah, I know, Lan Zhan, I don't –" She only just manages to cut herself off from saying I don't care, biting the inside of her cheek. "You can pull out," she says instead. "Just, please, Lan Zhan. I need it. Please."

Lan Zhan takes her hands off Wei Ying's ass, which makes Wei Ying cry out again. Every inch of her skin is oversensitive and aching. It hurts where Lan Zhan is touching, and even worse where she isn't, and her muscles are beginning to complain, especially her arms, still stretched obediently over her head.

Then Lan Zhan's hands are snaking around her waist to loosen the drawstring of the shorts, and tug the waistband down, pulling the material to her thighs, fully exposing her ass. There's some rustling, the sound of a zipper, and Wei Ying feels it, the hot head of Lan Zhan's dick pushing against the edge of her pussy.

"You want it?" Lan Zhan rasps.

Didn't Wei Ying make it clear? "Yes!" she moans, a little hysterical.

Lan Zhan presses further in, breaching her slightly. "Are you sure?"

"Yes! Yes, Lan Zhan, please, just do it!"

Lan Zhan does.

She pushes in, a long, slow slide. Her dick is – impossible, monstrously huge and thick. Even with Wei Ying soaked and gaping, her whole body primed, it feels like the width and length of a whole forearm, hot and throbbing, pushing and dragging against Wei Ying's slick inner walls. Wei Ying comes back to herself, and realises she's screaming, sort of, little bitten-off "Ah”s into the pillow.

"Shhhhh," soothes Lan Zhan, and slips in deeper.

"I can't," Wei Ying sobs. "I can't, Lan Zhan, you need to stop, it's too much, it's too big!"

"Wei Ying can take it," she says, unconcerned.

"No, Lan Zhan, that's what I'm saying, I can't! I've never," hiccupping breaths, "taken an alpha before, like this!"

Lan Zhan grunts, deep and rumbling, and slides the rest of the way in one hot rush, until Wei Ying can feel the hard jut of her hips pushed up against Wei Ying's ass, Lan Zhan's dick reaching inside her guts like a hook.

"You can take it," Lan Zhan says, breathing harder now, "and if you want to be my mate, you will take it." Then she draws out and slams back in so hard Wei Ying jostles forward on the bed.

"Your..." Wei Ying can't think through the sharp stinging pain, the haze of heat and lust. "Your..."

"You wanted it," Lan Zhan reminds her, speech syncopating with her slow, ruthless, stabbing thrusts. "You said you were sure."

"I am!" Wei Ying insists. "I do want it! Alpha," she adds, as an afterthought, and Lan Zhan outright groans, and folds forward, draping her chest over Wei Ying's back, and, oh, it's much better like this, with Lan Zhan surrounding her, bearing down on her, pushing her into the mattress, swathing her in alpha scent. Lan Zhan's still partially dressed, like she just couldn't wait to be inside Wei Ying, to grab her and take her and claim her. Wei Ying never would’ve guessed she’d be so selfish, so mean. Her sweat-dampened cotton undershirt is sticking to Wei Ying's back and she's fucking into her with short, spiteful snaps of her hips, her mouth open against the back of Wei Ying's neck, on just the right spot for a bond-mark. Wei Ying shudders.

"You want me to bond you," she says, like she can read Wei Ying's mind, her lips moving hot against Wei Ying's neck.

"Hnnnnn," Wei Ying moans, "Lan Zhan. Yes."

"You want me to knot you."

"Yes, fuck, please, Lan Zhan, yes."

Lan Zhan's hand slides over Wei Ying's hip, coming to rest on her abdomen, laying her palm flat, circling slowly, once, twice.

"You want me to breed you," she says, and Wei Ying's whole body tenses, her fists clenching in the pillows, thighs shaking.

"I've got to," Wei Ying sobs. "Lan Zhan, I've got to – I'm going to –"

Lan Zhan understands instantly, and dips her hand down. Wei Ying only has to grind her clit against Lan Zhan's palm twice, roughly, before she's coming. It almost hurts after being on the edge for so long, the shockwaves of pleasure too intense, and it lasts for a long time, Wei Ying heaving and huffing and spasming.

When Wei Ying comes back down, her cheeks are wet, and Lan Zhan is fucking her frantically, fast and hard, driving towards her own orgasm. "Fuck," she grits out, as close to the edge of composure as Wei Ying's ever heard her. "Wei Ying." Then she's biting down on the back of Wei Ying's neck, and coming, pulsing her own slick inside, mingling with Wei Ying's.

"Ow!" Wei Ying cries out. Lan Zhan's teeth are digging deep in Wei Ying's skin. "That hurts! Lan Zhan, I –" And then she cuts off, because she feels it, the swell of Lan Zhan's knot at the base of her dick, pushing around the edges of Wei Ying's pussy, forcing her open wider.

"Oh," Wei Ying says weakly.

"Uuuuuh," Lan Zhan's panting as she dislodges her teeth from Wei Ying's skin. She's still moving her hips in tiny convulsive thrusts.

"Alpha," Wei Ying whispers, and feels Lan Zhan's knot swell further. How much bigger can it possibly grow? Wei Ying feels like she might break. "Alpha, what are you doing to me?"

Lan Zhan slumps forward, dropping more of her weight on Wei Ying's back, skating hands up her sides, making her shiver. She runs a sweaty hand through Wei Ying's hair, grabbing a handful and tugging sharply until Wei Ying turns her head, then catching her mouth in a messy kiss. The angle is strange, and they're both clumsy and fucked out, Lan Zhan's spit getting all over Wei Ying's cheek and chin, but Wei Ying keens into it. It's her first kiss with Lan Zhan. Her first kiss with her alpha mate, she thinks dizzily, and opens her mouth for Lan Zhan's prying tongue.

Lan Zhan knots her twice more that night: face-to-face the next time, so she can see Lan Zhan's sweet solemn face, her huge amber eyes, and so Wei Ying can giggle and murmur obscenities into her mouth. They sleep for a while after that, and then Lan Zhan wakes Wei Ying up with two fingers in Wei Ying's asshole and her dick in Wei Ying's pussy, wringing orgasm after orgasm out of Wei Ying until she's begging her to stop. And then two more after that.

The heat recedes for a few hours in the morning, so Lan Zhan cooks them hot dry noodles.

"It's good," says Wei Ying, tasting. "Thank you, alpha," and Lan Zhan looks up at her, dark and intent. Before Wei Ying knows what's happening, she's hauled up onto the kitchen island with Lan Zhan's head buried between her legs, lapping hungrily at her clit, coaxing cries out of Wei Ying with three fingers beckoning inside her pussy.

The cold dry noodles are fine.

-

"There's no need to look so smug about it," Wei Ying says a week later in the cafeteria.

Nie Huaisang sucks the last remnants of pink boba through the plastic straw until it rattles, then leans back in her chair, licking her lips and batting her eyes innocently. "Who's smug? I didn't say anything."

Wei Ying narrows her eyes. Lan Zhan had told her not to cover up the hickeys and bruises on her neck and arms. "I like to see them," she'd murmured hotly, and leaned in to lave her tongue over a sore spot under Wei Ying's ear, and Wei Ying had shivered and melted, and the whole thing generally seemed very sexy until Wei Ying walked onto campus and headfirst into Nie Huaisang, whose eyes bulged to twice their usual size. She's been fending off Nie Huaisang's horny questions and overall aura of insufferableness ever since.

"If I was going to say something," Nie Huaisang begins, and Wei Ying groans, but Nie Huaisang ploughs on. "We're friends, you said! Perfectly appropriate, you said! You know, this is a really important lesson for you in life, Yingying."

"Don't call me that."

Nie Huaisang waves her boba cup like a conductor's baton. "No one ever does anything without an ulterior motive. Write it, learn it."

Wei Ying rolls her eyes. "Speak for yourself. Lan Zhan didn't even know I was an omega when I moved in. It was a total surprise to both of us."

"Was it now," Nie Huaisang says sceptically, but Wei Ying doesn't have time to respond, because Lan Zhan's making her way across the cafeteria, looking as tall and terrifying as ever in a long navy men's overcoat, only this time, she's walking over to Wei Ying. Wei Ying's stomach flutters helplessly. She beams.

"Hi," she says, slow-blinking up at Lan Zhan when she comes to a halt.

Lan Zhan doesn't say anything, just runs her hand up Wei Ying's neck, tangles in her hair, and tugs lightly, encouraging her head back. Wei Ying goes as directed, tilting her head for Lan Zhan to kiss her soundly.

And kiss her. And kiss her, slipping her tongue in the middle of the cafeteria, her fist clenching and unclenching in Wei Ying's hair, sending thrills of heat up Wei Ying's spine.

"I'll see you at home," Lan Zhan says when they part. Wei Ying feels herself blushing bright red.

Then Lan Zhan gives Nie Huaisang a single disinterested nod, and leaves.

"Seems exactly like what someone with pure motives would do," Nie Huaisang observes.

"Shut the fuck up," says Wei Ying, and steals a handful of cashew nuts from her plate. Her blush doesn't fade for the rest of the day.