Zhao Yunlan pauses when a splash of color catches his eye. Blue and violet swirls adorn a small box of nail polish bottles: three analogous colors, and silver for an accent. The set reminds him of the electric crackles that fringe dark energy, and he tosses the box into his shopping basket. When the cashier scans it, she gives him an approving smile. “For your girlfriend? Good choice!”
Zhao Yunlan smiles in return, and doesn’t correct her.
When he opens the door to his apartment, the smell and sound of sizzling pork welcome him home. Shen Wei is busy in the kitchen, but throws Zhao Yunlan a warm smile. Da Qing is stretched out on the couch, feet propped on the arm rest, thumbing at his phone.
On the bed, the comforter has been pushed against the wall. Ye Zun is curled up under a thin sheet, only his mussed hair peeking out, shivering visibly.
Zhao Yunlan hangs up his jacket, toes off his shoes, and takes his shopping bags into the kitchen; he dumps them on the table before snaking an arm around Shen Wei’s waist. Shen Wei pauses, indulging Zhao Yunlan’s need to feel him close – presses closer still as Zhao Yunlan kisses his neck and rubs his beard along Shen Wei’s cheek.
“What’s with didi?” Zhao Yunlan murmurs into Shen Wei’s ear; Shen Wei shivers at the breath ghosting across his skin. “He looks like he’s freezing his ass off.”
Shen Wei sighs, and leans into Zhao Yunlan for another moment before pulling away. Zhao Yunlan lets him go, because he’s watched Shen Wei make this dish often enough that he knows the sauce is about to burn. “The comforter felt oppressive, as did any blankets we offered. I have the silk sheets drying on my balcony, but that will take overnight at best.” Shen Wei says the last with no inflection, as if it’s not something that he could have dealt with instantly… before.
Shen Wei is wearing a heavy sweater, even though the apartment is quite comfortable. The temperature used to never bother him. Now he and Ye Zun are always cold.
Zhao Yunlan makes a sympathetic noise in reply, then turns to unpack the shopping and put it away. The box of nail polish is the last thing out, sitting on the table and looking completely out of place. Zhao Yunlan shakes his head, muttering, “Stupid.”
New nail polish is not going to fix any of the hundred and one things that are wrong here. If anything, it might make them worse.
Shen Wei would have heard him over the sizzle and bubbling of the food, before. He would have turned around and asked why Zhao Yunlan was berating himself.
Now, he doesn’t turn until the rice cooker dings. “Zhao Yunlan,” he asks, “could you get—” His gaze catches on the box still sitting forlornly on the table. “Oh,” he breathes, and wipes his hands on the dishtowel hanging at his waist. He picks up the box and examines it; his mouth curves up in a very soft smile. “You should give this to him now,” he tells Zhao Yunlan. “He’ll appreciate the distraction.”
“You don’t think it’s…” Zhao Yunlan trails off, not quite willing to finish the sentence.
Shen Wei, either unaware of or unwilling to address the topic of Zhao Yunlan’s thoughts, hands him the box and nods toward the bed. “He’ll like it.”
Zhao Yunlan doesn’t take a bracing breath as he turns toward the living area, even though he wants to. He tickles Da Qing’s socked feet as he passes, eliciting an outraged yowl. It makes him smile despite himself.
On the bed, Ye Zun’s face emerges from beneath the sheet, and he warily watches Zhao Yunlan come closer.
“Hey, A-Ye. Today’s not so good, huh?” Zhao Yunlan sits sideways on the bed, facing Ye Zun and the kitchen both. “I got you something.” He waves the box of nail polish weakly.
Ye Zun’s eyes flick between the box and Zhao Yunlan’s face; he finally settles for staring at the box. “Acetone,” he mumbles.
“Acetone?” Zhao Yunlan echoes.
“Did you buy more,” Ye Zun says, not quite making it a question.
Zhao Yunlan winces. “Ah, no, sorry.”
Ye Zun grumbles, a low sound like a displeased cat. Zhao Yunlan idly wonders if he learned it from Da Qing. An arm slides out from beneath the sheet and makes a grabby motion. “Give it.”
“Don’t make a mess on the sheets,” Zhao Yunlan warns, though he knows he won’t actually care even if Ye Zun manages to spill a whole bottle on the bed.
“Acetone,” Ye Zun sing-songs, brows arching, eyes rolling: You should have thought of that before you bought this, you idiot.
“Gonna come out from under there?” Zhao Yunlan asks as a shiver trembles the sheet. “You look cold.”
Ye Zun grits his teeth and waits it out before saying, mulish, “It’s not any better out there.”
Zhao Yunlan hitches his legs up on the bed. “Could be,” he says, holding out his arms.
Ye Zun glares at him, but there’s no anger in it, and barely any disgust. “Stop babying me.”
“Can’t I just want to hug you?” Zhao Yunlan asks, and wiggles his fingers in a come-here motion.
Ye Zun grumbles again, but sets the nail polish aside to lever himself up. He’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt with some kind of donghua character on it and a pair of plaid cotton pants.
“You could put some more clothes on?” Zhao Yunlan suggests.
“I couldn’t,” Ye Zun shoots back, pausing in his effort to collect himself and regarding Zhao Yunlan with distrust.
Zhao Yunlan winces. “Really bad day, huh? I’m sorry.”
Ye Zun huffs but starts shuffling across the bed, sheet and nail polish caught in one hand. Zhao Yunlan lets him makes all the moves instead of trying to reel him in. Didi does not respond well to physical manipulation, no matter how well-intentioned.
“Dinner’s ready!” Shen Wei calls just as Ye Zun’s settled himself in Zhao Yunlan’s arms, head tucked under Zhao Yunlan’s chin. He pulls the sheet over his shoulders as best he can, and lets Zhao Yunlan tuck it in around him.
“Sorry, Xiao Wei, I don’t think we’re moving for a bit,” Zhao Yunlan says, rubbing a hand through Ye Zun’s hair; it’s just as soft and silky as his brother’s.
Shen Wei looks over at them, that soft smile lighting up his face again – he only smiles like that at Zhao Yunlan’s affection for Ye Zun, as if he’s surprised still, after all these months, that Zhao Yunlan has come to care for his didi. “Da Qing and I will eat now,” he says – Da Qing is already at the table, serving himself – “and I’ll heat up your portions again when you’re ready.”
Zhao Yunlan nods. “Sounds good,” he says, and kisses Ye Zun’s ghost-white hair, right near his temple; Ye Zun leans into it. “We’re comfy.”
Shen Wei’s smile widens, and Zhao Yunlan can tell when he meets Ye Zun’s eyes because he huffs out a laugh, and Ye Zun burrows closer, like a possessive cat. “Don’t make a mess on the sheets,” Shen Wei says before turning back to the table.
Zhao Yunlan looks down to see that Ye Zun is prying open the box of nail polish. The same worry that made him think twice in the kitchen causes him to stiffen now, and Ye Zun pauses. “What?”
“Are the colors okay?” They’d reminded him of dark energy, but…
“Bi pride?” Ye Zun asks, and shrugs a little within the circle of Zhao Yunlan’s arms “Not quite, but I suppose you can’t be expected to remember all the different pride colors.”
Zhao Yunlan laughs, pleased, because that’s probably the longest sentence Ye Zun has uttered in two days. “You didn’t even know what pride was two months ago. Don’t get haughty with me.”
Ye Zun scoffs, taps Zhao Yunlan’s arm in rebuke, and tilts the box so the bottles spill out onto the bed.
“I approve of the silver; it matches my hair exactly,” he says. “Wise choice. Oh, and there’s a pattern.” He shakes the box some, and a sheet of stencils falls out. Ye Zun picks it up and hums thoughtfully. “Not very exciting, but we’ll make do.”
“We won’t just make do,” Zhao Yunlan counters with wildly exaggerated enthusiasm. “We’re gonna make it great!”
“You are ridiculous,” Ye Zun says, and turns to look at Zhao Yunlan. “You’re lucky I like you.”
Zhao Yunlan meets his eyes, and feels his heart swell at the easy humor he sees in them. “I am, didi,” he says. “I really am.”