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a history of the body

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The office is a modest space in a building full of similarly modest spaces, intended for people running small businesses, for artists looking for studios, and for people like Lan Zhan, who is primarily a writer—and could therefore perfectly well work from home, were it not for the fact that working from home makes her feel that she’s going to have to switch to writing murder mysteries for the sole purpose of getting the urge to stab someone out of her system.

It took Lan Zhan far too many years to understand that being alone was not good for her. She had assumed it must be, largely because other people—relatives, classmates, her first girlfriend—had told her so. A self-contained person, made for solitude. The truth was that she had simply not known how to be among people. It is a skill, like language, like running and running, every day, until your legs hold the memory of quick motion and are ready for it. One must choose which skills one wishes to cultivate, but it feels much better, to Lan Zhan, to be able to run than not. It feels much better to know that life is moving around her—that if she wishes to speak to someone she need only open the correct door—than it does to be alone.

Luo Qingyang is in the communal kitchen when Lan Zhan lets herself into the building, and they can nod to one another, and today they do not speak of anything in particular, but sometimes they do. The potential is held in the quick glance that they share. Up the first flight of stairs, music bleeds from behind a closed door. The second, and here is the office, at the end of a short hall: a south-east-facing window, morning-bright; a desk; a half-dozen hard to kill plants which she waters dutifully although she has no real talent for looking after them and which, despite her minimal care, allow the air to breathe a little better.

Lan Zhan is not very solitary, as she understands solitude, these days.

Imagine a tousled head that refuses to emerge from under the covers. Hands that gesture wildly to illustrate any and all points. A laugh which isn’t pretty and is better for it.

Wei Ying is, just now, asleep in Lan Zhan’s bed.

The world is strange. Mercifully, terrifyingly, the world is strange. Lan Zhan, who only goes out to bars when she wants sex, went to a bar one night—it was winter, it was her birthday—there was snow in the air, and people were excited about it—about the cold clean smell of it and the way the flakes caught on their clothes and their hair. It was her birthday and she had left the restaurant where she’d eaten with her brother and uncle feeling strange and dislocated and as though she might stop existing if nobody looked at her but might scream if anyone did. It was winter and she wanted to fuck someone hard so that they could do the screaming instead, could bleed it out of her and leave both of them a little more relaxed, and so she went to a bar. She found Wei Ying. Did not fuck her—has not fucked her—cannot fuck anyone, any more, without thinking about fucking her. But found her. What matters is that she found her. Again. What matters is the late night phone calls and the laughter and way some piece of Wei Ying’s clothing always seems to be forgotten in Lan Zhan’s home, that Lan Zhan mentioned the forgotten clothing once and Wei Ying said maybe it’s just a ploy so I can keep coming back and perhaps meant, in fact, that it was a promise—I will keep coming back.

She puts her laptop on the desk and performs the ritual of connecting it into the waiting collection of cables. External monitor, ergonomic keyboard, mouse. Her calm reflection blinks at her in the blank moment when the desk monitor is considering the new input it is receiving, before it shifts to blue—a mountain forest painted all in blue, a blue world, secretive and still, waiting for her to unlock it. It is the painting she has used for years, now. A world her brother painted for her. He imagined it was what she needed, when she was at her most grey-white. Perhaps it was. Perhaps not. But the love in it is dear to her—either way.

She goes back to the kitchen and she makes tea. Luo Qingyang is gone but the boy who has stock space here for his tiny stationary company is yawning in front of the fridge. The kettle mutters.

Wei Ying is asleep in her bed.

Envelopes stacked neatly on her desk. The state of her e-mail inbox. Her brother has been telling her for years now, ever since she signed the lease for this office, that she could hire an assistant. She is successful enough; she has enough money by inheritance; there is no reason not to. She could write more and develop tension headaches less. He helped her a great deal, in the beginning, but they are older now—things are harder, between the two of them—easier, in some ways, between Lan Zhan and the world. She makes a note in the margin of her planner about hiring an assistant—a note to make more notes. Reminder: do not forget to remember to—and so on.

She replies to letters and messages from eight thirty until ten. She underlines the note about hiring an assistant in red. She makes more tea. She sends requests for material to three archives. Much of writing is not made up of writing, or is made up of writing things that are not prose. She does not detest it, it is simply another complex job, but it’s a little out of balance right now, perhaps—perhaps.

She is thinking of Wei Ying when Wei Ying texts her. She is thinking of Wei Ying, thinking about the shape of the life Wei Ying has led, her brilliant mind, the way it burned. What happens when a person is pushed and pushed. That so many things can be survived, after all, and that so many things cannot. She is thinking of Wei Ying, safe, and in her home, and Wei Ying writes so hey lan zhan how mad would you hypothetically be if i just didn’t get out of your bed today and the words fall into Lan Zhan’s hands with a little buzz and sit there waiting for her.

She considers them carefully. Text and subtext. She considers the way that she can see in a grinning selfie when Wei Ying is at ease and when she’s having a bad day. The nuances of inflection when Wei Ying speaks. Wei Ying has tells in text as well but is more conscious of them.

She calls Wei Ying.

“Hey, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, with a yawn stretched taut under the words. Tired pain—not sleepless-tired but fatigue-tired. “How mad?”

“Why can’t you get out of bed?” Lan Zhan asks, instead of saying not at all, instead of saying I’d keep you tied to the bed for hours if you’d be interested in it, Wei Ying, so you cannot think I’d mind you staying there when you’re in pain.

“I mean,” Wei Ying says. “I could. I’m not saying I can’t.”

“Hm,” Lan Zhan says. She pins her phone between ear and shoulder, stands by the window with her cooling tea in the late morning light, the sun slanting now so that only a narrow strip of the office is illuminated. The leaves of her plants are translucent and gold-edged, but only in places. She considers their veins, which are not veins at all. Underlying structures. Poetic metaphor. She waits Wei Ying out. Wei Ying is far worse at the game of drawing out an uncomfortable silence than Lan Zhan is.

“Ah,” Wei Ying says. She laughs. The sheets rustle as she shifts. She does not entirely hide her hiss of discomfort. “I did something weird to—most of my right side, I guess.”

There was a bad accident once. A fall from a height. The terror of it. The list of injuries. It is possible to construct horror by presenting things clinically. The abstract precision of sterile words, lined up ready for surgery. The blank space where the blood has been scrubbed away. Chlorhexidine and nitrile gloves.

“Your hip?” Lan Zhan asks.

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, drawling the word, making it wry. The tone comes with a rueful smile, which is a particular kind of downplaying—the kind Wei Ying does not entirely mean to do, often. “And I guess my back is in on the party too. You know how it goes.”

“Mm,” Lan Zhan agrees. She sighs softly. “Do the exercises you can do in bed. I’ll bring you lunch at one.”

Jiejie,” Wei Ying says, a whine to the words—there’s usually a whine to the words—she says them like a joke, they are a joke, she is older than Lan Zhan by several months. “No, you’re meant to tell me off so I’ll get up. That’s your job.”

“I believed my job was to write perfectly dull historical novels so minutely researched that they ought to just admit that they’re really academic papers,” Lan Zhan tells her, merciless.

“Oh my god,” Wei Ying says, into one of Lan Zhan’s pillows, Lan Zhan’s pillows that will smell of Wei Ying for the rest of the week. “Shut up. I’m going to go back in time and kick my own ass.”

A moan as she moves too much or too fast.

“Not,” Lan Zhan says, “until you have done your exercises.”

“I don’t suppose you have a tennis ball in your bedside table,” Wei Ying mutters, talking to herself, a not-question. “My own knuckles aren’t really doing it for me, jiejie.”

Two crows squabble over a scrap of food on the pavement below, moving in elastic hops, heads bobbing. The heavy flap of wings as they scuffle.

Lan Zhan has a great many things in her bedside table, none of which are tennis balls. She runs mental inventory, as though it were in any way necessary. A slowly passing car breaks up the fight below, the crows hoisting themselves hurriedly into the air.

“There is a turquoise bag in the middle drawer,” she says, because if pushed to choose between personal dignity and Wei Ying’s comfort she will always make the same choice. “It’s properly cleaned,” she adds, belatedly and perhaps a little inanely, as she hears Wei Ying work slowly on rolling over far enough to reach the drawer.

“Uh?” Wei Ying says, and then, over the soft roll of the drawer’s wheels: “Ah? Lan Zhan?”

“They’re good for muscle pain,” Lan Zhan says stiffly.

“I mean,” Wei Ying says. Something thuds. She swallows audibly, a little click down the line. “Oh, the actual thing is turquoise too, huh? That’s cool. I mean, ah, Lan Zhan, jiejie, I think there are some things in here that aren’t great for anyone’s joints—”

Ankle cuffs can in fact also be very good for the joints, Lan Zhan does not say, because then Wei Ying will either ask for specifics or explain that in actual fact she was looking at—well. There are plenty of things she could be looking at. Lan Zhan is not embarrassed about owning any of the sex toys she owns but she believes in Wei Ying’s ability to create embarrassment in her, and she is also not going to discuss the merits of certain kinds of restraints as sex aids over the phone, from her office, with Wei Ying, who she wants to fuck.

“Then I suggest you don’t use them,” she says, instead, as tart as she can manage.

“Oh,” Wei Ying says. “Ah! Right! Well. I guess that’s the answer to that.”

“Have you used a massager on your hip before?” Lan Zhan asks.

“It’s so cute that you think I can afford one of these,” Wei Ying says. “But I, uh, I’ve improvised a lot. I’ve got this.”

“Lunch at one,” Lan Zhan says, and hangs up with impolite haste as she hears her wand vibrator start rumbling in Wei Ying’s hand.

She sits at her desk. She thinks: what would Wei Ying like to eat, if she’s feeling bad? She thinks: I’m getting so tired of messages asking about my refusal to work with the Jin family, when the argument is such an old one. She thinks: Wei Ying is in my bed and holding a vibrator.

She thinks: I’m not going to get a single thing done today. If I start to write, all that my hands will remember the shape of is Wei Ying, Wei Ying, Wei Ying.

The truth is that she’s been writing Wei Ying for more than a decade now, no matter what her books and short stories might pose as, how much else they may contain—it has always felt painfully obvious to her, what she’s doing—it has been startling, that people don’t seem to see it. Wei Ying is not a character in a story she tells, but rather the lense through which stories are seen—that is to say, instrumental. But there is writing Wei Ying and writing Wei Ying.

Steamed buns would be easy to eat lying down or propped up, she decides, and perhaps some dry noodles. She will take the longer route home and walk through the covered market—pick up some groceries for the evening—find lunch somewhere along the aisle of street food vendors there. Something sweet, too. And there is a pharmacy on the corner—

She is being absurd, perhaps. This will not stop her; it never does.

jiejie this thing IS magic 😳, Wei Ying writes. The choice of emoji is going to haunt Lan Zhan.

how mad would you be if i stole it? Wei Ying writes.

what level of relationship is sharing sex toys anyway? Wei Ying writes.

jiejie are we married now, Wei Ying writes.

🔪, Lan Zhan replies, and it will be no less than Wei Ying deserves if she hurts herself laughing.

 

 

 

 

Summer sinks over Lan Zhan as she leaves the office building. Her sleeveless blouse clings to her back. Her scalp feels hot below the bun her hair is pulled up into. The polarized lenses of her sunglasses turn the world deep and clear, and she is going home, to where Wei Ying is. In the shaded outdoor stalls that crowd around the covered market, piles of fruit look jewelled—lychee and pitaya, strawberries, cherries. Inside the market sound echoes uncomfortably, and people jostle—Lan Zhan prefers early mornings here, the sleepy vendors opening their stalls, the air not yet close—but it doesn’t matter, not when Lan Zhan has folded purpose around herself. Fan units wheeze. The hot sound of oil crackles. She buys groceries, and then pork buns in a waxed paper box and spicy noodles scooped quickly into a plastic one. Square little pastries with a mix of fillings from the bakery just beyond the market, because Wei Ying knows she likes them too and can therefore pretend that they aren’t another offering. It’s nice to let her feel like she’s getting away with something when she steals things.

Everything is ordinary, Lan Zhan thinks. All of this is very ordinary. She holds that ordinariness. The market. Making space for Wei Ying in the shape of her days. The rising heat of the summer. The bicycles leaning into each other in a row on the street, the old men who stand on the corner smoking. Wei Ying in her home. Wei Ying is often in her home. Ordinary. Call it ordinary. The quiet side street where she lives is pollen-dusted. The cool dimness of the building’s entrance hall is shocking, raising the hair on her arms as she pauses to tuck her sunglasses away, to find her keys before she climbs the stairs.

Wei Ying is in the kitchen, leaning against the counter. She holds her body skewed, weight twisted onto one leg, hips and shoulders tilted. Dressed, partly—bra and t-shirt, but still in the pyjama shorts Lan Zhan lent her the night before, soft cream cotton with flowers embroidered along the hem in thread of the same colour.

“You didn’t need to get up,” Lan Zhan says, as Wei Ying reaches out to capture the box of noodles from the top of the paper bag, cooing over it in delight.

“Of course I did,” Wei Ying says, digging out chopsticks. “You should come home from work and find your wife in the kitchen, shouldn’t you?”

“Hm,” Lan Zhan says, and puts away her groceries as Wei Ying starts, without ceremony, to eat.

“No fun,” Wei Ying tells her.

“No talking with your mouth full,” Lan Zhan says, and Wei Ying laughs, lips pressed closed on it—because her mouth is full. Her eyes crinkle. There are dark circles under them. Creases at the corners of her mouth, more pronounced when she’s carrying tension or when she’s smiling.

In the bedroom, the drawer Lan Zhan’s sex toys live in is, awfully, open. Cuffs and dildos and vibrators, a neatly folded harness, things which might be purely for masturbation and things that overtly are not. Certain toys are in bags, although not all of the bags are obscuring. Some nipple clamps, she notes with detachment, are entirely visible, sitting in a gauzy little pouch. The wand vibrator is lying on top of the covers, on the side of the bed where Lan Zhan had slept—the covers on Wei Ying’s side have been left thrown back. It is foolish, that they share a bed so often—foolish for Lan Zhan’s heart, her ego, her libido. Wei Ying is a messy sleeper. She tangles herself around Lan Zhan in the dark, unconscious, and makes a joke of it in daylight. Are we married now? So funny, the idea of desire between them. Would she be mortified, if she knew? Would it be alright?

Lan Zhan strips quickly, shedding the stickiness of the day, and pulls on high-waisted but lightweight trousers and a cropped shirt which just barely covers their waistband. She brushes out her hair, sighing as her scalp relaxes, and braids it quickly over her shoulder.

“Oh, cute,” Wei Ying says when Lan Zhan steps back into the kitchen. She’s still standing against the counter, still more or less balanced on one foot, which suggests to Lan Zhan that she doubts her ability to stand up again if she sits. “You should go out like that.”

Lan Zhan is quite sure cute isn’t something anyone but Wei Ying has called her since she was ten; not with sincerity; mockingly, perhaps, or with the kind of reflexive entitlement which attempts to speak the quality it names into being. Wei Ying means it—means you look nice or I like it when you’re flustered. Lan Zhan would like to be more annoyed by it than she is.

“You’re still in pain,” she says, instead of dealing with any of it. “Massage?”

Wei Ying tips her head back, arching her spine in an experimental way—flexes her leg. “Hmm,” she says. Pulls a bun in half and shoves a chunk of it into her mouth, too much at once. Her look of flushed concentration as she tries to deal with the consequences of her mistake is—one might as well admit it—cute. Yes.

Lan Zhan hands her a glass of water, and Wei Ying gives her a grateful thumbs up.

“I can just use your magic wand again,” Wei Ying says, when she can breathe. Her eyes are watering slightly, pink around their lower rims. “You’re a very busy person, jiejie.”

“I’m done with work,” Lan Zhan says; this is true, even if Wei Ying is the reason for it. “Let me help.”

“Ugh,” Wei Ying says—not with venom, but uneasily. “Yeah, sure. Be nice to me. I know that does it for you.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says. She feels, for a moment, truly exasperated—but she knows, she does know, how help can feel like an imposition if you need a great deal of it. She has her years of piled up laundry and unwashed dishes behind her—her brother stroking her hair the way their mother had when they were very small and telling her she would feel better, her uncle’s blunt and demanding practicality which was not ill-intentioned but did not help.

“Ah, sorry,” Wei Ying says, with a wince. “Sorry, Lan Zhan. A massage would be great.”

 

 

 

 

So here is Wei Ying, again, on her bed. Lan Zhan slides the drawer of her bedside table closed with her calf while Wei Ying studiously doesn’t make eye contact with it. She’s pink-cheeked. She is so easy to read and so hard to read at the same time.

“Where needs most work?” Lan Zhan asks, as Wei Ying flops awkwardly over onto her stomach, and waits a moment for Wei Ying to extract her arm from under herself. The pyjama shorts are very short indeed. The crease at the top of one thigh where it meets Wei Ying’s ass reveals itself as Wei Ying squirms—and then Wei Ying is pointing out spots on her hip and thigh, and, with an awkward twist, which muscle has knotted itself up in her back. Her head is turned to the side, but her hair half-covers her face, the choppy bob of it a bit too short for the ponytail she always tries to put it up in. It hides her eyes, but not the way her lips part as Lan Zhan moves to kneel on the bed. The flicker of her tongue across her lower lip. Her throat works visibly as the mattress dips.

“Sorry,” Lan Zhan says.

“Didn’t hurt,” Wei Ying tells her. Parts her legs a little without prompting, so that Lan Zhan, trying very hard not to think about the position, can slot one knee between her thighs. She takes a breath, slow and careful. The wand is right there beside them, and she’s uncertain as to whether it represents an out or not—if it would be better or worse—her hands on Wei Ying’s skin, or the buzz of a toy to which she’s fairly certain she has a pavlovian pleasure response. It is, unfortunately, a very good vibrator—she comes fairly easily on it, and she likes to settle in with it until she’s feeling both a little numb from the heavy rumbling and close to tears from overstimulation—

She lays both hands lightly on Wei Ying’s back, over her t-shirt, and explores the muscles between the bottom of her rib cage and the top of her pelvis, comparing left side and right to help her find the points of tension. The comparison is largely unnecessary—she can feel the hard lump of muscle immediately, and Wei Ying hisses when she presses down gently on it.

“I see,” she says, and Wei Ying laughs, slightly strangled.

Lan Zhan pushes Wei Ying’s t-shirt up, works her fingertips across bare skin. She leans forward, opens a drawer—not the drawer—thankfully not the drawer—and fishes out massage oil, offers it to Wei Ying to sniff.

“Yeah, that’s good,” Wei Ying mumbles. “I’m ready to smell like a pharmacy. Go for it. You’re prepared for everything, huh?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says, and means it profoundly. “Pull your shirt up further. I don’t want to stain it.”

“I’ll just,” Wei Ying says, and wriggles her way, somehow, entirely out of the wretched thing—her bra is black and deep blue, the pattern of the fabric subtle—the band is narrow, only two hooks closing it—the space between Wei Ying’s shoulderblades is a sharp-edged valley. It really is possible that Lan Zhan is going to die, or faint, or scream.

She warms oil between her palms instead. Shifts her weight until she feels more balanced, and smooths oil over Wei Ying’s skin, and begins to work. Heel of the palm, pad of the thumb. Knuckles. She digs in until Wei Ying yelps into the pillow, eases back.

“No, no, it’s good screaming,” Wei Ying mumbles.

“You aren’t screaming yet,” Lan Zhan says, and is regretting it even as the words leave her mouth—not just the words but the tone of them—it’s such a sex thing to say, it’s for when she’s about to hurt someone just right—which is, she thinks hysterically, more or less what this is—and also not what this is at all.

She leans her weight into the heel of her palm again, careful of the force, conscious of hidden structures and delicate systems. If she hits people, she doesn’t do it here—there is too much that can be damaged. The focus is good. It takes her past Wei Ying’s muffled laughter, and the way it morphs into a moan. This is work; she makes it be work; she can only survive it if it is work.

“Wow, okay,” Wei Ying says, after a while, stretching under her. Something in her spine crunches, which would be alarming if Lan Zhan were less accustomed to the way Wei Ying’s body negotiates audibly with itself at all times. “Hip now. Hip’s really gonna hurt. It’s gonna be great. Uh, you should—take off the shorts, right?”

I have made a mistake, Lan Zhan thinks, despairing. It’s also becoming clear to her, as she sits back, that she hasn’t avoided inappropriate arousal through focus so much as deferred her own awareness of it. She feels wet and hot—she feels so wet that if she moves wrong it might be audible—she feels so wet that her underwear is clinging uncomfortably, so hot that she’s sort of damp between her inner thighs.

“You should use the wand again,” she says. “Over your clothes.”

Jiejie,” Wei Ying protests. “Cold! I can do that whenever. You’re right here.”

Lan Zhan feels helpless. Wei Ying is right. Massage with hands is a different thing.

She wipes her hands off. She hooks her fingers under the waistband of the shorts.

She tugs.

“Uhh,” Wei Ying says. Her face is entirely obscured now. Her hairband is barely attached to the mess of her hair. Her arms are tucked up under the pillows, making a deeper hollow for her to hide herself in. Lan Zhan is feeling unhinged. She needs to ask Wei Ying what this is, why they’re doing it—but she started it—she wants Wei Ying to explain that to her too. You see, jiejie, you want me so much your brain stops working sometimes, which is okay, because I’m really very hot—

Wei Ying is terrifyingly clever, but she can’t save Lan Zhan from herself.

Lan Zhan closes her eyes. She can feel Wei Ying’s thigh flexing between hers. The fabric of the shorts is bunched between them. I had some idea that it would be better if I didn’t take the shorts off her entirely, she thinks. Why am I like this?

She opens her eyes. Wei Ying still looks obscene.

Wei Ying is also still in pain. So Lan Zhan rubs a thumb up the side of Wei Ying’s hip, testing, and then, problem spots found, allows herself the appropriate level of brutality in working them out.

Fuck,” Wei Ying says. “Aagh! Are you always like this—”

“If you make this into a sex joke,” Lan Zhan says, “I will walk out of this apartment right now.”

Wei Ying huffs like an affronted cat, and, damningly, does not finish her sentence.

Wei Ying’s hip relaxes slowly. The scars on it are neat and old. Some of her other scars are messier. Even these, though, can be felt under the fingers—seams that are a little like very distinct stretch marks—except for the depth—except for the way you can feel or imagine you feel where stitches sat. There’s something about deep scars which makes the body both more and less real. A crevasse in a glacier turns the abstract understanding of a metre of ice into a dizzy reality. Wei Ying was sliced to the bone here—there are bones here—function becomes visible through its absence—the limits of the body are not absolute—they can be broken—they have been broken here.

“Thanks, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says. She sounds bleary or drowsy or dazed.

“No need,” Lan Zhan tells her. Strokes her side, unthinking—

Wei Ying shivers under her—

Lan Zhan sits back hurriedly—pulls the shorts back up over Wei Ying’s ass—

Wei Ying makes a frustrated noise into the pillows.

“Rest, and then try moving around a bit,” Lan Zhan says, and goes, ears burning, to deal with the wet mess she’s made of her own underwear in the bathroom. She can’t even bring herself to masturbate, to try and work it out of her system—there isn’t any working Wei Ying out of her system—there’s barely even a way to blunt her devastating impact. So she just wipes herself off, gritting her teeth at the drag of her washcloth between her folds, and at the volume of slick liquid removed, at its stickiness against her palm and fingers—the way it clings, webs briefly between thumb and body. Her underwear feels cold against her skin when she tugs it up again, unpleasant, but this is the nature of her life and the consequence of the series of mistakes she has made. She rinses the washcloth for longer than is necessary before setting it aside to launder.

 

 

 

 

Wei Ying is doing stretches on the living room floor when Lan Zhan emerges, t-shirt thankfully back on. Lan Zhan watches the arch of her spine as she raises her hips off the floor, hands braced under her back. Watches her extend and flex one leg and then the other. Her hip crunches loudly, her knee more quietly. She grins up at Lan Zhan.

“You’re my saviour again, jiejie,” she says, and they have come a very long way from the barbs of their youth and so that barely stings at all, the times she failed to be what Wei Ying wanted or needed barely sting at all—comparatively.

“What do you want to do this afternoon?” Lan Zhan asks, because she has no good response.

“Hmm.” Wei Ying rolls over onto her front—she’s moving more easily now, Lan Zhan notes with relief—and pulls one knee under her. “I was going to go grab some books from the library. Maybe not that, though. Heavy.”

“Good boy,” Lan Zhan says, and Wei Ying cackles. It has to be good boy, never good girl—that makes it funny, makes it silly enough to disarm it, lets Lan Zhan express approval slyly.

“I guess I could make Lan Zhan carry my books for me,” Wei Ying says, thoughtful. Puffs out a breath, sinking down into a resting position on the floor. “Still sounds like work, though. Maybe I’ll just steal your wi-fi and mess around online.”

“Give me the titles,” Lan Zhan says. “I need some things from the library too.”

“Oh?” Wei Ying asks. She already has her phone out, tapping her way through a list.

Lan Zhan thinks, reaches for a plausible topic. “Etiquette manuals,” she tries.

“Are you calling me rude, jiejie?” Wei Ying asks.

“You are very rude,” Lan Zhan says, placatingly, although Wei Ying’s rudeness is generally minor and cosmetic, unlike Lan Zhan’s own, which can be sweeping. “As you should be. I want to make some comparisons. I can look in historical collections, but I need modern ones too.”

It isn’t a terrible fabrication, she supposes. She’s never been as quick as Wei Ying, but she’s better at invention than she used to be. The books may even be useful. One can do a great deal by playing with established forms. Society, like poetry, has a rhythm, a metre; even in breaking its rules, some of the structural logic often remains; consider instructional texts regarding poetic best practices; instructional texts regarding social best practice.

Oh,” Wei Ying says, sitting up. “Oh, right, your split timeline thing! That’s cool. Okay, sending you the list now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piles of library books. The way Wei Ying mumbles to herself as she thinks her way through an academic paper, the constant movement of her hands. Pak choi fried with garlic, tofu skin with mushrooms, chicken thighs which are in the fridge only for Wei Ying thrown together with chillies, present for the same reason. Disposable gloves with the fingers stained red by the chillies Lan Zhan sliced for Wei Ying—the way Wei Ying laughs about the gloves—there was an incident once—that’s all. Music as site of cultural anxiety, Wei Ying says—no talking while eating, Lan Zhan says—yeah but jazz and folk music in Shanghai though, Wei Ying says—mm, Lan Zhan agrees.

Of course Wei Ying will stay another night. Of course Lan Zhan will always share her bed with Wei Ying—although she feels restless tonight—although Wei Ying fidgets in the dark. Lan Zhan does sleep, eventually, all the same—

 

 

 

 

And wakes to warmth, to a body against her side, an arm slung across her middle. Wei Ying worms close in her sleep. Her legs are moving, rubbing together. Her body twists, seeking—something. She throws a leg over Lan Zhan’s thigh—rocks forward—

Jolts herself out of sleep with a little gasp. Pain. Something else. Both.

Lan Zhan does not know what to do. She doesn’t know what to do. Wei Ying is frozen against her, breathing too-hard-too-hot into her shoulder. Lan Zhan is too hot. She’s too hot in her hands, her feet—she’s too hot in the pit of her stomach.

Wei Ying pulls her leg back slowly. She tips her head, letting her forehead thud gently against Lan Zhan’s shoulder. Lan Zhan breathes slowly and evenly. Wei Ying relaxes in increments.

We can pretend to still be asleep, Lan Zhan thinks. It’s alright. Wei Ying is always clingy.

The rock of her hips is a burning memory. Her back under Lan Zhan’s hands in the afternoon.

They can pretend to still be asleep.

All of this is so foolish.

All the same, Lan Zhan pretends.

The soft hum of ventilation systems. The white noise of distant traffic. The faint glow of the city at night filtering past the edges of the curtains.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whispers. Her lips brush against Lan Zhan’s bare arm.

Lan Zhan sighs quietly.

“Mm?”

“I thought you were awake,” Wei Ying says. She’s still whispering, as though the night demands it—as though there is something here that could be shattered. There is, perhaps—there is, probably—probably there is.

“Mm,” Lan Zhan agrees.

Wei Ying’s fingers trace lines across Lan Zhan’s stomach. Lan Zhan closes her eyes.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whispers again.

Lan Zhan lays a hand over Wei Ying’s, stilling it—trying to still the squirming feeling under her own skin that the light touches have woken. “What is it?”

“Do you—have a lot of sex?”

Lan Zhan opens her eyes again. She stares at the ceiling, at the shadowy impression of the light fixture there, the stripes of pale light from the window. She swallows, heavy. Feels the shifting pressure in her ears. She longs for some distinct sound, for the slam of a car door, for the old man who lives upstairs to turn the radio on too loudly the way he sometimes does when he can’t sleep, breaking faintly through the well-isolated spaces between homes—for anything that will expand the world a little, make it larger than two women pressed together in a bed in the dark, larger than Lan Zhan’s wanting. There is nothing.

“That’s relative,” she says, careful. “I have sex.”

“I kinda gathered,” Wei Ying says. She laughs. It sounds—nervy, maybe. She’s angling for something.

Lan Zhan curls her hand more fully around Wei Ying’s still-restless one.

“Just, like, for fun?” Wei Ying asks, at length.

“I believe that’s the usual reason,” Lan Zhan says. Sighs. “Yes. For fun. To relax.”

“Hmm,” Wei Ying says.

I was trying to find someone to have sex with the night I met you again, Lan Zhan could say. I’m bad at making it be anything other than a distraction, Lan Zhan could say, but I find it a good distraction, so that’s mostly not a problem.

She rubs her thumb against Wei Ying’s wrist. Wei Ying makes a tiny noise in her throat—sags against Lan Zhan’s side.

“Why?” Lan Zhan asks. In the dark, Wei Ying will at least not see the details of her expression.

“I don’t know,” Wei Ying says. “I just wondered. You have so many toys. You have, like—I don’t know.”

Creative double-ended dildos. Restraints. A strap.

“I guess I was the boring one all along, huh?” Wei Ying says.

“I doubt that,” Lan Zhan tells her.

They are silent, silent for so long that Lan Zhan begins to think Wei Ying may be drifting off to sleep.

“Jiejie,” Wei Ying says. She flexes her legs, pushes her foot between Lan Zhan’s ankles. “Can I tell you a secret?”

“Mm,” Lan Zhan says. She wants to lift Wei Ying’s hand to her mouth, kiss her palm. She curls and uncurls her fingers instead, a quick squeeze.

“I’m maybe kinda bad at it,” Wei Ying says. Laughs, too thin.

Lan Zhan thinks of being young. She thinks of Wei Ying’s bravado. Stories about who she’d kissed at what party, who she’d fucked, her cultivated reputation—cool Wei Ying who was up for anything, who laughed about being easy, who was always vocally in it for the fun of the thing and who specialised, at the same time, in sequential unfulfilled crushes. She thinks about her own fumbling attempts at maintaining relationships—about you’re good in bed but you’re so uptight—about why are you even here—it feels nearly funny, nearly like a huge joke.

"What do you mean?" she asks.

Wei Ying is quiet. Hums softly, stretches—stalling tactics, thinking tactics.

"Don't get me wrong," she says. "I'm a great lay, jiejie, promise. No complaints, rave reviews, whatever."

"But?"

"I'm not great at, like—uh—wow, this is embarrassing."

Lan Zhan squeezes her hand again.

"I'm bad at me," Wei Ying blurts. Lan Zhan can feel how she clamps her mouth shut, breathes hard through her nose.

Lan Zhan works an arm under Wei Ying's neck—pulls Wei Ying's head in against her chest—pets her hair. It is a strange feeling to be able to do it. A stranger feeling to dare.

"You don't enjoy sex?" she asks.

"No, I do," Wei Ying says. "Fuck, I really do, I just—uhh—jiejie, I looked in your stupid drawer and I was like, wow, wouldn't even have thought of that, like—"

She wrinkles her nose—rubs it, obnoxiously, adorably, against Lan Zhan's chest. Lan Zhan is feeling too many things at once, she is simply beyond feeling things capacity, and so the feelings are a kind of psychic noise, are buzzing and blurring together within the close sphere of the night.

"I could afford a fancy vibe," Wei Ying says. "I'm not that broke." Her breath settles across Lan Zhan's breast in waves, hot and cooling and hot and cooling.

"So buy one," Lan Zhan says.

The conversation is so strange, feels so strange, is tightening something inside her. A cantilever construction weighted too heavily at its unsupported end, not tilted precisely but straining, reaching its mechanical limit.

"Mm," Wei Ying says. "I guess I mean I don't know how to not, uh—perform. Does that make sense? I don't think it makes sense. Never mind—"

"You don't do things that are only for you," Lan Zhan says slowly. Wei Ying seems so easily spooked. Lan Zhan feels easy spooked.

"Yeah," Wei Ying mumbles. "Jerking off—ehh. I'm bad at it. I'm just bad at it. It's no fun. I just do it while I'm, I don't know, watching TV or something. Not even watching porn."

"Perhaps," Lan Zhan says, and hears that she does manage, somehow, somehow, to sound dry, "if you bought a fancy vibe."

Wei Ying laughs. Her legs are still restless. "Mm," she agrees. "Maybe. Maybe that won't be any good either."

Lan Zhan tugs lightly on her hair, fingertips under the hairband. Wei Ying makes a strangled little noise.

"Do you enjoy it when someone," Lan Zhan says, and hesitates, abruptly aware that she will always know everything Wei Ying tells her about her sex life, that her mind isn't going to let her escape a single bit of it

"What?" Wei Ying asks. She prods Lan Zhan lightly in the stomach. Lan Zhan grabs her hand again, turns it over. "Do I like it when someone, like—watches me?"

Lan Zhan, who had been intending to bring up oral sex, acts generally taken to be focused on the recipient's pleasure first, finds her awareness of human language trying to escape her.

"Do you?" she asks.

"Uhh," Wei Ying says. "I, I could maybe—get into that. You know I love to show off. Lan Zhan, you want to watch me?"

"Don't tease," Lan Zhan says. She blinks slowly several times. She remembers, more or less, how to breathe. "That would rather defeat the idea of learning how to not perform."

Wei Ying clears her throat. "Ah. You've got me there."

Lan Zhan would like to push Wei Ying. She would like to fuck her so well that her brain has to slow down, be in it, feel it. She wonders what it would take to get Wei Ying there. If she would be able to provide it. If that's what Wei Ying wants. If she wants it from Lan Zhan.

It's strange, this too: you grow older, you grow into yourself, you find ways to move through the world. And the world turns just so and you find the anxious teenager you were is still in there, she's still in there, she's still afraid of the same things. Afraid to leap.

"If you want to borrow anything," she says. She does not finish the sentence. She burns.

"If I," she says. She does not finish the sentence.

"Lan Zhan," Wei Ying says. Tiny voice, muffled voice. "I'm bad at me, at—at wanting specific things, right—"

"Mm," Lan Zhan says. Neutral voice, carefully encouraging voice.

"Sometimes," Wei Ying says. She swallows audibly. "I want—Lan Zhan, I—"

Who kisses who? It's an awkward scrambling thing, a thing that meets in the middle but not gently, that rushes and stumbles and bumps teeth, bumps noses. Wei Ying pants into Lan Zhan's mouth, hands curled into tight fists in Lan Zhan's pyjama shirt. Lan Zhan's hands are as tight in Wei Ying's hair. One of them whines—they are kissing—they whine and gasp—Lan Zhan's teeth on Wei Ying's lip—the shapes of bones under fingertips—Wei Ying's soft small breasts pressed to Lan Zhan's—thighs twined together, Wei Ying's leg so close to Lan Zhan's pussy, so close that heat radiates. Lan Zhan's leg pressed even closer between Wei Ying's, she can feel the hard pubic bone, she can feel the flesh over it, the place where hard structures dip away, where Wei Ying's pussy is, where it's leaving a wet spot as she grinds down.

"Fuck, fuck," Wei Ying gasps. Grinds down again. Through layers of fabric the folds of her are not distinct but Lan Zhan can feel that they shift, can guess—guess that they part a little, that Wei Ying is just slightly more open, feeling just slightly more—or a lot more—Wei Ying squirms, pushes down, the press could be uncomfortable, is not uncomfortable. She holds all the angles of Wei Ying to her.

"Yeah," Wei Ying says. Her palm drags down Lan Zhan's body from shoulder to breast, pushes against Lan Zhan's nipple. "Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you'll let me, right—"

"Yes," Lan Zhan says, not knowing what she's allowing—if Wei Ying often doesn't know what she wants before it's happening, Lan Zhan always has a plan—except with Wei Ying—there is never a plan that holds against Wei Ying. She doesn't try. She takes everything Wei Ying will give her, always, everywhere. She drops what she's doing for Wei Ying, she ignores her phone. She couldn't say what she wants, because what she wants is everything. She feels dizzy, trying to make space inside herself for so much Wei Ying at once. For years and years there were only scraps.

Wei Ying pushes her face into Lan Zhan's throat, she squeezes Lan Zhan's breast, rocks her hand against it. Drags her thumb lightly over the nipple, making Lan Zhan gasp and jerk, stomach flexing, clenching. Oh, Lan Zhan is wet. She is trying to think. She is trying to feel few enough things at once to process any of them. Wei Ying drags her hand lower, tugs at the hem of Lan Zhan's shirt, gets her hand underneath, fingertips on skin, electric, a circuit closing.

"What do you want?" Lan Zhan asks. This feels important—the shape of Wei Ying's wanting—when they've been talking about that, been talking about distance, what it is to not know yourself. There is a fear in Lan Zhan—that's one of the things she's feeling—she finds the edges of it—to feed into something Wei Ying is trying to break out of—

"To try stuff," Wei Ying says. "I'm kinda stupid, jiejie, I'm so bad at imagining. This. I want to try—oh, um—to try things."

This makes sense—it makes a kind of sense—Wei Ying can do wild things, can invent and invent, but she has never had goals, really—she doesn't begin with a place to reach, but with a loose thread to tug at or with the way an object reacts, she chases so fast along lines of reasoning that it looks like vivid imagination but is, perhaps, not. Wei Ying can see how to rearrange the world around her, but she needs something to begin with, an entry route. It is difficult, to know what to do with it, in this—in some ways it is difficult. In others, it is easy. She is good at being an object for the force of Wei Ying to act upon, react to.

She does not like the way Wei Ying talks about this, all the same. That she hasn't found anyone to be that, before—or that she hasn't let anyone—Lan Zhan believes in good sex, it was so hard to learn good sex, she was intense and fumbling and closed herself off, but she learned, it was learn or never do it, and she wanted it. She kept an intensity, but structured it. She is still a kind of closed off, with almost everyone. She is still a kind of fumbling, right now, grasping shakily at Wei Ying as Wei Ying drags a nail along the edge of her underwear.

She can see how this could be a performance. A superficial confidence. Lan Zhan knows Wei Ying, she knows her, but if Wei Ying hadn't said, would she have seen it—? She is trying to think it now, and the reality of Wei Ying against her is nearly too much to let her. It is so easy to read Wei Ying as headstrong, Wei Ying is headstrong, but she is also other things, also this, also strangely malleable.

Lan Zhan cups the back of Wei Ying's head, cradles it. Tugs at her hair, pulling her back until they can look at each other, half-see each other, although the room is so dark. The shine of eyes in the faint light. The brighter line of a cheekbone and the deeper shadow of untidy hair. Lan Zhan reaches past Wei Ying, grasps after the light switch. The snap into life, the slow brightening and clarifying of the light as the bulb warms. Wei Ying's mouth is full and red. Her eyes aren't quite wet but are filmed, reflecting the world.

"Maybe I should watch you," Lan Zhan says, and Wei Ying blinks, whimpers—Wei Ying's hips jerk—

"Jiejie," Wei Ying says. She sounds plaintive.

Lan Zhan flicks her cheek lightly, and she blinks again, beautiful, beautifully startled. She is so handsome. Pretty. She laughs, snorting, surprised into it, and claps a hand over her mouth, shoulders shaking—kicks at Lan Zhan's shin—there she is—there she is, Wei Ying, all of her. Lively and strange.

"Behave," Lan Zhan says, and means be exactly as you are. Means no performing. "You're curious about my sex toys."

She is proud of herself for not stumbling over the words. Wei Ying laughs harder, gasps.

"Spine, spine," she says, and flops over onto her back, stretches out, still laughing despite whatever twinge she felt. "Ah, I should have known you wouldn't be like anyone else. You flicked my cheek!"

"You deserved it," Lan Zhan says.

Wei Ying sighs. "Nobody will ever believe me, jiejie. Nobody ever does. You're so funny. You're such an asshole."

"People know I'm an asshole," Lan Zhan tells her. "You're not in pain?"

Wei Ying shakes her head. Shrugs, at Lan Zhan's mildly skeptical look, working her shoulderblades into the mattress. "Normal pain. It's fine. You know."

Lan Zhan knows. To inhabit a body with a history written on it.

She swings herself over Wei Ying, up on her knees. Plants a hand on the mattress beside Wei Ying's head. Her braided hair swings, casting shadows. Wei Ying arches up into her kiss.

"I thought you were going to pull my underwear down with my shorts earlier," Wei Ying says, when Lan Zhan finally gives her the space to speak. "I thought you were going to keep me like that and, ah, fucking—shove your fingers in me. I'd have let you shove your fingers in me, jiejie."

Lan Zhan groans. "My thumb," she says, flushing. "I would have used my thumb."

"Uhh," Wei Ying says, and Lan Zhan daring, reaches down to demonstrate—it's more awkward with Wei Ying on her back—but she twists her hand—takes a shaky breath—lays her thumb between Wei Ying's legs, against wet heat—index finger and middle finger up, an approximation of framing Wei Ying's clit. Wei Ying makes that little uhh noise again, higher pitched. Her legs part, her hips tilt—Lan Zhan watches, feels, her thumb slide—sink in between Wei Ying's folds—catch at her entrance—through her clothes. Lan Zhan pushes, just a little—with her thumb, with her fingers—Wei Ying claps a hand over her mouth again.

"And I wouldn't have pulled your underwear down," Lan Zhan says. She still feels sort of dizzy, sort of unbalanced, spun off her axis. "I would only have needed to push them to the side, Wei Ying."

"Oh," Wei Ying says, between her fingers. "Oh, I, uh, I guess that's true, huh?" Her body flexes, her pussy, the brief tightening of muscles. It makes a sticky sort of sound, against her underwear and Lan Zhan's thumb—she's very wet, then—wetter as she clenches. It seeps through against Lan Zhan's thumb. She smells of sex. Lan Zhan could bury her face there. She might even be fine with doing nothing more than that to Wei Ying, just nosing at her there, burying herself in that thick smell and jerking herself off quick and rough—the idea of Wei Ying just petting her hair and being sweet and teasing as Lan Zhan unravels herself is—is something.

But it need not be only that, she thinks—

"Did you think I would do anything else?" She asks.

"I don't know, jiejie," Wei Ying mumbles. "You're being really distracting right now."

"Oh?" Lan Zhan asks. She pushes harder with her thumb. The sound is even more obscene this time. Wei Ying's leg kicks, abortive.

"Fuck you," Wei Ying says. "Uhh, I thought you'd make me use the wand but like, you know—"

"Oh," Lan Zhan says. Oh—Wei Ying on her stomach, arm twisted to hold the wand between her legs as Lan Zhan fingered her from behind. Grinding down on it. She would barely need to hold it, really—it has an ergonomic curve to its long handle that would tuck against Wei Ying's stomach—she could practically ride it. She could put it inside her underwear, it would ruin the underwear, stretch out the elastic for good, but the fabric would hold it there—stop her getting away from the feeling of it—she would only need to find the setting buttons.

As Lan Zhan fingered her.

The wand is still out on the bedside table. Wei Ying follows Lan Zhan's gaze to it. She takes a shivery gasping breath. She throws her hand out, before Lan Zhan can even suggest it—her fingers slip against the buttons—it's vibrating the moment she has hold of it, and she screws her eyes shut, flips the setting accidentally from a steady rumbling buzz to swelling pulses before she manages to switch it off again, pulling it against her body, the rucked up front of the tank top she's been wearing to sleep—soft pink with a faded brand logo, the print worn and cracked. The turquoise silicone is a bright splash against her stomach. The rounded head of it lies against her pubic mound.

Lan Zhan lays a hand over it, presses it lightly down—rubs it against the soft layer of fat there, indirect pressure to Wei Ying's clit. She slides her hand up the length of it, intensely aware of the strangely suggestive nature of the gesture, like stroking a cock, like the way she'd stroke lube onto a dildo before fucking it into someone. She holds the shaft like that. She watches Wei Ying's face. Her desperate dazed expression. Neither of them have taken off any clothes. Lan Zhan feels wrecked. She finds the power button with her thumb. It doesn't need heavy pressure to switch it on. Just a caress.

"Huh, uhh," Wei Ying says. "That's kinda—kinda deep, huh—that figures—I'm used to things that are a bit more buzzy, this is—hm."

"No good?" Lan Zhan asks, and rolls the handle up towards her—rolls the head, therefore, lower between Wei Ying's legs—doesn't press down. Just lets it rest there, thrumming.

Wei Ying's core clenches. The breath she draws in is shuddery, rising with the growing pulse of the wand, settling as it dies down. "I," She says, "I, uh, I didn't say that—"

She grabs at the handle, finds Lan Zhan's fingers—slides her own between them, finding the buttons, feeling out which is which—her brow is creased in concentration. She taps it up a notch, cries out in surprise at the higher peak of the next pulse—laughs at herself.

"Bored yet?" Lan Zhan asks. She brushes damp hair away from Wei Ying's forehead.

"I'm never bored with jiejie," Wei Ying says—such a normal reflexively teasing thing to says—but it sounds new. "Ah, ah, okay, wow, I—hm—"

"If you want something, say it," Lan Zhan murmurs. She can feel her stomach rising and falling, that she's breathing hard. She can feel slick gathering between her folds, feels heavy with it, with the way it's just collecting, not going anywhere. With the way the only touch she's getting is the drag of wet cotton. The way her pubic hair catches weirdly against the seam of her briefs.

"Shorts off," Wei Ying says. "More, uhh—more."

"More what?" Lan Zhan asks. Brushes her knuckles along Wei Ying's cheekbone, her thumb across Wei Ying's lower lip.

Wei Ying breathes in little gasps, little haa—haa—haa cries. She shakes her head, cheeks burning. Chases Lan Zhan's thumb to kiss it, scrape her teeth over it—she has done this with other people and looked seductive, Lan Zhan thinks. She's been cool, sucking on someone's thumb. It's an endearingly hungry thing on her now. Lan Zhan likes that much better.

"Jiejie," Wei Ying says, strained, "I know I had a whole thing about not knowing what I want, but, uh—I'm maybe going to die if you don't put something in me soon. Actually."

Lan Zhan wants to fuck her. Lan Zhan wants, so badly, to fuck her.

"What should I put in you?" she asks—because she has to ask—because she's not just going to say that she has a double ended dildo that effectively functions as a strap, that she's been dreaming of fucking Wei Ying with it for months—because that's a lot to lead with, when she doesn't know how much Wei Ying likes to take, can easily take. When she is forcing this to be about Wei Ying. She wants Wei Ying to want things. She wants her to squirm and blush and say it anyway.

"Fuck, your whole fist if you like," Wei Ying says, blurts—starts to laugh hysterically. "Oh—I didn't say that, don't look at me, jiejie—are you laughing at me—"

"Mm," Lan Zhan says, because she is, a little—because she is trying to find the words funny instead of losing her mind over them. She is trying not to consume Wei Ying all at once. She is trying, trying, trying.

"Fingers," Wei Ying says, weakly. "A dildo. Give me something. It's, mm—"

"It's what?" Lan Zhan asks. She reaches down, kneels back a little—yanks the pyjama shorts and Wei Ying's underwear down together, out from under the vibrator.

Wei Ying loses her grip on it, grabs it again, presses it against herself—perhaps harder than she means to—because she shouts, body arching too hard—whines—

Lan Zhan pushes her back down with a hand on her stomach, below her navel. Looks at her. Wei Ying's pubic hair is sparse, neatly trimmed but not shaved or waxed away. It's impossible to see much of her pussy past the bulk of the wand. Lan Zhan scrapes her thumbnail through the finer hair on Wei Ying's lower belly. Holds her down as she tries to arch into that. She can feel the way the wand vibrates through Wei Ying.

"It's what?" she asks again.

"A lot on the outside," Wei Ying mumbles. "Weird to not have anything to, uh—squeeze down on, I guess—"

"Mm," Lan Zhan agrees. "Are you going to come from the wand?"

Wei Ying tilts it back and forth, frowns, trying to really think about it. Shakes her head. "Not just that. It's, uh—it's good, though. Feeling pretty great."

"You see," Lan Zhan says. "You aren't bad at this."

"Actually, I'm pretty sure you're just talented, jiejie," Wei Ying mumbles. "Wouldn't work without you."

"And yet," Lan Zhan says, "you seem to be finding ways to make yourself feel good."

"Uh-huh," Wei Ying says, distractedly—presses her lips together, makes a muffled sound behind them, half-captured. Her legs are half-captured, too, in the clothes pulled down around her thighs. "Oh, feels kind of—jiejie, seriously, something in me. Fuck me. Come on."

Lan Zhan strokes her hip, pushes her shirt up further—kisses between her breasts. Nuzzles up under them, kisses one on its lower curve, nips at it. One hand to balance herself, and the other between Wei Ying's legs—that short coarse hair—cool wetness in the hair, hot wetness on her skin, the folds of her labia blood-hot and blood-thickened, full enough for Lan Zhan to take parts of her easily between her fingers, rub at them, play with them—although the wand obstructs movement. Her fingers slide easily.

"Lan Zhan," Wei Ying whispers.

Lan Zhan makes a soothing noise, removes her hand. Leans, reluctantly, further—the drawer—a couple more toys, a bottle of lube. She lets her body trap the wand between them as she moves, take its positioning out of Wei Ying's shaky control for a moment. Wei Ying's fingers claw at her side.

"Try another toy," Lan Zhan says. She has to coax Wei Ying to let go of the wand—switches it off for her and puts it aside. Rubs at Wei Ying's hips, checking for tension—pulls the shorts and underwear down her legs for her and drops them on the floor, freeing her to make herself comfortable.

"Oh, that's hot," Wei Ying says, almost clearly. "Throwing things on the floor. You're so cute. And not fucking me."

"Another toy," Lan Zhan repeats, "which will get in the way less. When I fuck you."

"Okay," Wei Ying says. She reaches for Lan Zhan, for her face. Pats it, clumsy. Her smile is lopsided. "What've you got for me?"

Lan Zhan picks up the little red vibrator, elongated smoothly monochrome body and raised mouthpiece. It fits well into the palm of a hand. It tucks close against the body. The hum of it, when she turns it on, is barely audible.

Wei Ying watches her with a sort of dazed curiosity.

"Hand," Lan Zhan says, and fits the vibe into Wei Ying's offered hand. Smears lube across its mouth, which makes Wei Ying giggle, and they will talk about the benefits of using lube with silicone toys later no matter how wet one is when Lan Zhan can form complex thoughts and perhaps even put parts of them into words. "Hold it here," she says, and guides it down, holds it just above Wei Ying's clit.

"Doesn't feel like," Wei Ying says, and then Lan Zhan lets go of her wrist, dropping it the last little distance, and the mouth of the vibe finds her clit with a messy wet sucking noise, and Wei Ying isn't covering her mouth with her free hand to keep herself quiet so much as biting down on her fingers.

"Hold it there lightly," Lan Zhan says. "Good? The same buttons as on the wand. Here."

She sounds almost as though she's functional, saying these things. Almost as though she knows how to deal with Wei Ying mostly naked in her bed, wet and wet-eyed and trying not to writhe and mostly failing.

Lan Zhan strokes the inside of Wei Ying's thigh. She watches her own fingers tremble. She is the most and least inside herself she's ever been. She brushes her fingers up the length of Wei Ying's pussy, coming to rest just by the toy—strokes down again, outside the lips of her labia. She curls her fingers, teases at Wei Ying's entrance, tests with just the tips to see how Wei Ying will take her and finds no resistance, finds Wei Ying open and ready, no wonder, no wonder she needs something inside her, something to feel there, to fill her.

Wei Ying shifts the vibe back and forth, tries pressures, angles. Beloved Wei Ying, systematic when motivated to solve a problem. Shivering and gasping. Lan Zhan shoves two fingers into her. Deep, all at once.

"Shit shit shit," Wei Ying says. "Fuck, shit, that's, yeah, yeah, oh, you're—"

"Behave," Lan Zhan tells her again. She wants to flip Wei Ying over, do the things she'd suggested. She doesn't want to strain Wei Ying's body unnecessarily. The latter will always win. "You're going to come, aren't you?"

Wei Ying nods jerkily.

Lan Zhan curls her fingers up inside Wei Ying. She presses hard.

"Long fingers," Wei Ying mumbles. Her hips are jerking erratically, making the vibrator slip. Lan Zhan puts her free hand on the arch of Wei Ying's hipbone and presses her down—forces her to stay where she is, forces her into the relentless rub of Lan Zhan's fingers against her g-spot.

Lan Zhan slides her thumb through the wet mess of lube and slick between Wei Ying's folds, traces the edge of her pussy, outlines it. Wei Ying sobs. She's clenching hard around Lan Zhan's fingers, hard jolts of pleasure. Sonic vibrators are in some ways more gentle than direct stimulation, and in other ways absolutely wrenching. Wei Ying's body is becoming a taut arch, and Lan Zhan allows it, twisting her hand lower to keep up the pressure against her g-spot. Her legs kick across the sheets. Her head slams back. She fumbles for a pillow and, laughing in a hiccuping way, drops it across her own messy face—wails into it, rough and shuddering, as her body tightens down harder and harder and everything snaps into place and she comes. A wet rush, over Lan Zhan's hand and wrist, the insides of her shaking thighs, the sheets—

"What," she gasps, into the pillow, and, faintly, "oh, okay, I guess that's—uhh—"

Lan Zhan lifts the vibrator away from her clit for her, strokes her slack fingers.

"G-spot pressure," she says.

"Yeah, I, I got that," Wei Ying mumbles. "I know about that. Wow. Okay. Made a mess. That's fun. Don't, um, don't take your fingers out yet, jiejie."

She drags the pillow slowly off her face. Her cheeks are flushed, her eyes red. She blinks up at Lan Zhan.

"You're still dressed," she says, as though she's only just realised.

Lan Zhan quirks her mouth slightly, and Wei Ying blinks rapidly.

"You smiled," she says, baffled. "Jiejie, jiejie, oh, come here, you can take your fingers out, just come here."

Lan Zhan slides her fingers out, taking a shaky breath. She feels, absurdly, a vague sort of loss at leaving Wei Ying's body—lifts her hand to her face without thinking about it, breathes in the sex-smell body-smell of Wei Ying, licks it into her mouth, holds it there, sharp and clean.

"Come here," Wei Ying says again, plaintive, and Lan Zhan goes to her—only fully understands how shaky and overwhelmed she feels as she moves, as she falls back into herself. All that has held her together is an overwhelming focus on Wei Ying. She is so painfully grateful for the taste of Wei Ying in her mouth. Her clit is so swollen and neglected that it's taken on a tight sort of ache, an almost constricted feeling. Her nipples are hard, even the soft flannel of her pyjamas feeling rough against them, chafing.

Wei Ying kisses her hungrily, sloppily. She angles her body against Lan Zhan's. Her top is gone, shed somewhere in the process of them rearranging themselves, and the entire bare length of her presses close. Her breasts slide against Lan Zhan's, and Lan Zhan whines in her throat, a desperate little noise which she can't even find embarrassing now.

"Sweetheart," Wei Ying murmurs. "You're so good, you're too good, I'm still feeling it, I swear I'm going to be feeling it for hours."

"Behave," Lan Zhan murmurs, reflexive.

"No lie," Wei Ying says. Holds her hand up beside her face in a salute. Squirms against Lan Zhan so their breasts drag together again. "Jiejie, won't you let me make you feel good too?"

Lan Zhan nods helplessly, whines again when Wei Ying sinks back—a loss of contact. But Wei Ying's hands are on the buttons of her pyjama shirt, fumbling them open—the artificially cool air of the bedroom prickles across her sweaty skin— her breasts are bare, and then her stomach, and then Wei Ying's hands are on her skin, on her breasts, squeezing them, dragging across them. She pushes them together, thumbs at both nipples at once. Lan Zhan has to screw her eyes shut—opens them to see Wei Ying licking her own fingers, and then there's a wet drag against her nipple, a sharp tug, and she bucks into it, desperate. No restraint for her now. The dizziness is back, the wild need—to consume Wei Ying or be consumed—to let Wei Ying burn her up, use her up, all of her, down to the marrow. Wei Ying, who taught her ways of seeing and being, who even in her awful absence held the pieces of Lan Zhan together. She can rip Lan Zhan apart along those seams if she likes. She can do anything at all.

Wei Ying sinks down her body, nips at her skin. Takes one nipple between her teeth, bites at it—not gently. Her hands are pushing at Lan Zhan's waistband, loosening ties—she pushes one hand inside, into Lan Zhan's underwear—Lan Zhan nearly screams at the brush of fingers across her clit, curls herself down into Wei Ying's shoulder to contain it, kisses her skin gracelessly, gasps and gasps. She still feels so heavy, in her pussy, in her breasts, at the buzzing base of her skull. She feels overfull.

"Jiejie," Wei Ying breathes. "I thought I was wet—sweetheart, sweetheart, you're so good—"

Her pulse is quick in her neck, against Lan Zhan's temple. Lan Zhan looks down the length of her, her dark nipples, her scarred flank. Looks, dazed, at the movement of Wei Ying's wrist, the twist of it as she explores Lan Zhan's pussy, unseen below fabric. Her fingers slip further than she means them to, press a little too hard—Lan Zhan really is so wet, she's so wet, it's been gathering all this time. Wei Ying pushes against her entrance, slides one finger slowly in—one finger is such a diffuse feeling, like nothing much, no stretch at all, but it still does something, shifts something. Wei Ying inside her. The heel of Wei Ying's palm grinds against her clit. Lan Zhan is going to come humiliatingly fast. She comes.

"Don't stop, don't stop, don't stop," she's saying—she is half-aware she's saying—her nails are digging harsh crescents into Wei Ying's shoulders—her body is shuddering—out of her control. It isn't enough. Wei Ying kisses her cheek, her nose, her eyelid. Kisses her mouth. Lan Zhan can't even kiss back. She has wanted Wei Ying too much for too long to remember how to kiss back now.

"You got a toy out we haven't used," Wei Ying says into her hair. "You want to, jiejie? Want to fuck me with it? Want me to fuck you?"

"Want to fuck you," Lan Zhan manages.

"Okay," Wei Ying says. "Okay. You can fuck me. Ah, you're so—you think it'll really stay in?"

The dildo is bulbous on one end, made to be held firmly inside the body. The other is a conventional shape, curved like a stylised cock with the suggestion of a head. It isn't as stable as a strap-on harness, and in fact Lan Zhan often uses it with one, fits it through the ring as well as inserting it into her body to feel more in control. But it works.

"It'll stay in," she says.

She lifts herself a little to let Wei Ying undress her. She watches Wei Ying dutifully spread lube on the toy, even though she clearly still thinks it's a little funny, thinks it's funnier when she drops the toy because it's so slippery. She's cute, Lan Zhan thinks. I love her, Lan Zhan thinks. My Wei Ying. My Wei Ying.

Wei Ying pushes her back into the mattress—lies on her side, a little propped up, looking down at her. She really is more confident like this, confident in pleasing someone else. Smiles a self-satisfied smile as she rubs the dildo back and forth over Lan Zhan's pussy, rubs it against her oversensitive clit, over her hungry entrance—pushes it in a little and eases up, pushes a little—it's large, this rounded end. A stretch, despite Wei Ying's concerns. Wei Ying pushes it in a little further, hand wrapped around the long shaft. Tugs it back and forth so that it catches at Lan Zhan's entrance, stretches it, but only at the very edge. Lan Zhan feels as empty as after she's removed a dildo from herself. She feels needy and weird.

"Please," she says.

"Sorry, sorry," Wei Ying says. "You're just really hot. Here."

The stretch of it, almost-painful and perfect. Wei Ying's look of concentration as she works it in. She bends and kisses Lan Zhan's breast, hums quietly to herself—Lan Zhan focuses on relaxing her body, sinking into that stretch—they both gasp together as it slips all the way in, jerking out of Wei Ying's grip as Lan Zhan's body takes it. The clenching of Lan Zhan's body makes it move as though it's a part of her. It's nearly like having a cock, sensitive to the touch. She doesn't want a cock, but the game of it—she likes that. She likes the idea of this thing taking root in her just for a while.

"Really hot," Wei Ying says. She rubs her palm over Lan Zhan's stomach where it rounds out softly below her navel, and Lan Zhan gasps again, pushes up into it. The shaft of the dildo grazes across the back of Wei Ying's hand, and Wei Ying shifts to grasp it instead, tilting it so that it rocks inside Lan Zhan, not deep but huge-feeling. "If my hip would let me I'd ride you so hard, jiejie. This'd go so deep. How do you want me?"

"I have a pillow," Lan Zhan says—slightly nonsensical. She bats Wei Ying's hand away from the dildo so that she can try and find the entirety of the thought. "On your front," she says, and sits up, biting her lip at the way the dildo moves, bobs with gravity. Wei Ying is watching it with fascination. The way it curves up from between Lan Zhan's legs. Deep blue silicone.

"All your toys are so pretty," Wei Ying says. "Of course you're a tastefully horny weirdo."

Lan Zhan ignores her—which is to say, holds her in the corner of her vision rather than climbing on top of her and shutting her up—and clambers less than elegantly to the edge of the bed. Every movement is a little shockwave. Her hair is coming loose. There is a pillow, in fact—she drags it out from under the bed.

"Here," she says. "On your front."

"You have a sex pillow," Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan taps her leg, prompting, and she scrambles over, the wedge of the pillow under her hips, her breasts pressed to the mattress. "Oh, comfy. Exposed. Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you're staring at my ass, aren't you?"

Lan Zhan is. She squeezes it by way of confirmation, spreads it, digs her thumbs into both cheeks and watches Wei Ying's asshole clench briefly under her attention. She'd like to fuck Wei Ying there, too—some time—if Wei Ying likes that—if Wei Ying gives her more times. But not tonight, not with this toy. She has a different sort of double dildo, for a single person to use, that fits into the ass and the pussy together—it's several kinds of nuisance, but it's hot—that would be something. To put an anal plug in Wei Ying and fuck her pussy would be something.

She slides her hands lower instead, to the backs of Wei Ying's thighs. She keeps her thumbs out, spreads Wei Ying's pussy like she spread her ass. Slides her thumbs in, so that they meet over Wei Ying's entrance. Push in slightly.

"Oh my god," Wei Ying says into the sheets.

Lan Zhan tries to breathe normally, looking at soft dark pink skin parting for her. The way Wei Ying is trying so hard not to squirm, again.

Lan Zhan gathers lube on her palm, strokes it onto the dildo. It takes a moment to line it up, she has to hold Wei Ying still again, hold the shaft steady. She finds her angle. Rolls her hips forward in one steady thrust, and bites back a moan as the dildo rocks into her at the same time.

They rest together like that, breathless. Lan Zhan bows herself forward, slides her sticky hand up the length of Wei Ying's spine. Presses down, for a moment, between her shoulderblades.

She isn't going to be able to fuck Wei Ying hard, roughly. That's fine. She grinds her hips down slowly, shallow movements that tug the dildo back and forth between them. It's good to have come once already, to feel the aftermath of it in her limbs, making her slower and more sensitive. She still feels a kind of frantic, but she can hold it, for the moment, below the surface. It feels good inside her, twisting and sparking. There are ways of being too full that are like desire.

The dildo sits heavily against her g-spot. This, also, is a too-full feeling. Wei Ying is stretched open. Lan Zhan sits back enough to watch the dildo as it moves in her. To play with her pussy around it, to pull at the lips of her half-cruelly, rub between them. Wei Ying breathes raggedly.

"Need," she says. "Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, I need—"

"What do you need?" Lan Zhan asks. Sounds, this time, as wrecked as she feels.

There is a satisfaction to that.

Wei Ying pushes herself up a little—tries to reach down between her own legs, finds the pillow in the way. Twists to the side, hisses in discomfort at some muscle movement or the angle of the dildo—subsides. Grabs instead after the wand, tucks it around the pillow until she has the head of it where she wants it. Lan Zhan feels, in a hazy way, unspeakably proud of her; and then she is crying out right along with Wei Ying as the heavy vibration shocks up through the dildo, leaves her clutching at Wei Ying's back and side, thrusting in sharp jerks.

"Yeah, jiejie," Wei Ying gasps. "Yeah, yeah, that's—yeah—oh, I'm gonna—you should touch yourself—"

Lan Zhan obeys, all the frantic energy bursting to the surface of her again, fingers brutal on her own clit, making it painful, making it too much. Wei Ying has one hand on the wand and the other tucked under her chest—playing with her breast, maybe—making no effort to support herself, to push back—just taking it and taking it—Lan Zhan is so proud of her, so proud of her—she is unravelling—she bows over Wei Ying as she comes, mouth open and barely able to make a sound. A thin twisting whine.

Wei Ying breathes in gasping grunts—spasms under Lan Zhan—keeps jerking down against the pillow, uses it to keep the wand in place, grinds down on it the way Lan Zhan imagined she might. Pushes herself through orgasm and keeps going, keeps going, until her cries turn sob-like—Lan Zhan rests over her, in her, strokes her sides— waits for her, shivering through little shocks of her own, wrecked, so wrecked—until Wei Ying groans and yanks the wand away, turns it off—takes several tries to turn it off—they're both trembling. Slide apart and roll sideways onto the bed together, Wei Ying making a tiny noise which probably means soreness but laughing it off. They reach between them at the same time, fingers tangling on the dildo—Lan Zhan whines weakly as they pull it out of her. Half-laughs, surprised, as Wei Ying strokes knuckles over her pussy, a strange affectionate little gesture, like greeting or soothing, absurd and much-needed. A reassurance for the part of her which feels empty.

"You laughed," Wei Ying whispers. Swallows. "You're crying."

Lan Zhan wipes distractedly at her face with an already-messy hand and finds that it's true.

"Mm," she says.

"Sweet Lan Zhan," Wei Ying says. "You alright?"

Lan Zhan isn't even sure.

"Hey," Wei Ying says—wipes at her face too, wriggles close, throws an arm around her. "I've got you. Hey. Too much?"

A thread of fear in her voice—which isn't alright, Wei Ying isn't allowed to be afraid any more, not because of Lan Zhan.

"Not enough," Lan Zhan says. "Not enough. Don't go."

"I'm not going," Wei Ying says. She sounds confused, but she holds Lan Zhan tighter, and Lan Zhan clings back. She wants to be held so tightly she can't breathe. "Hey, hey, I'm not going. Don't cry."

It's absurd, she is being absurd. Wei Ying is here in her arms, or she is in Wei Ying's.

"Oh," Wei Ying murmurs. Sighs, noses against Lan Zhan's face, drops kisses on it.

"Mm," Lan Zhan says.

They breathe together, both unsteady.

"Can I tell you another secret, Lan Zhan?" Wei Ying murmurs into her cheek at last. She waits for Lan Zhan's jerky nod, rubbing her back for her. "I said all those things, I meant them—but—Lan Zhan, ah—I wanted to sleep with you. I just really wanted to sleep with you. I really like you."

Lan Zhan has to kiss her. Biting and urgent. She loves Wei Ying. Wei Ying wanted her. Wants her.

"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan," Wei Ying says. Cups Lan Zhan's face between her hands, holding her to create enough space for words between kisses. "I really—I really like you so much."

I really like you so much.

It's half light, and the world will, somewhere, be waking. The bed is a ruin, they are a ruin. Lan Zhan wants to sleep, to never sleep, to shower and to keep the smell of sex and of Wei Ying on her forever. She is not likely to sleep, she thinks. Sex can leave her very drowsy, but there is Wei Ying, Wei Ying, bright, radiating energy. Of course sex wouldn't slow her mind down, or her body—not in that lethargic lingering way.

We'll shower, Lan Zhan thinks. I'll make us tea. I will ignore my inbox and my phone. I will spend my morning with Wei Ying. The slow fog of missed sleep won't matter.

She really likes me so much.