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neck deep with no way out

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It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in late autumn when Wei Ying’s entire life turns upside down.

The morning had been deceptively smooth sailing: no mishaps on the way to class, no meteors falling from the sky—everything as it should be. So when he walks into the usual lecture hall for his History of Architecture class at the usual time and finds his usual spot next to his friend Lan Zhan at the long table in the front of the room, Wei Ying is expecting everything to be, you know, the usual.

Today, instead of keeping his hair down, Lan Zhan has it swept up into a bun. He’s wearing a simple blue button-down—a change from the turtleneck sweaters he typically favours—and at present is bent over his messenger bag to retrieve his notebook.

“Hey, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying greets him as he slides into his chair. Their professor for this course is staunchly anti-computer, so Wei Ying only ever shows up to class with a notebook and sometimes a pen. Since today is one of the days when he doesn’t have the latter, he turns his most pleading eyes to Lan Zhan and asks, “Can I borrow a pen?”

He sees more than hears the responding sigh, but Lan Zhan spends a few extra moments rummaging around in his bag before returning upright and silently handing Wei Ying one of the nice ballpoints he’s always got tucked away.

Wei Ying goes to take it. Really, he does, except that he has just been made aware of two facts in quick succession and feels like he’s been sucker-punched by both of them. The first fact is that, without a turtleneck on, Lan Zhan’s neck is visible. It’s a very nice neck. Wei Ying didn’t even know until this moment he had opinions about necks, but Lan Zhan always seems to stir up surprising opinions (among other things) in Wei Ying. The second fact, keeping to the theme, is that Lan Zhan, on his very nice neck, has a hickey. 

Objectively, Wei Ying knows that Lan Zhan has, like, other people he knows outside of their little friend group. Other acquaintances. Probably even other friends! He has plans sometimes that don’t involve Wei Ying (or their friends), which is a little bit disappointing, but also normal. Healthy. Wei Ying is glad for him.

What Wei Ying hadn’t known until this moment, however—and he seems to be learning a lot of new information! Class hasn’t even started yet!—is that Lan Zhan, apparently, fucks. 

Or, at the very least, has intense makeout sessions with someone, or multiple someones. And, crucially, none of these someones is Wei Ying.

Which really throws a wrench into his whole Plan. It’s a very detailed Plan; it has fifteen steps. But he might have to add a few now, which is daunting, given he’s only on step six.

“...Wei Ying?”

Oh, right.

Landing harshly back in reality, Wei Ying snatches the pen from Lan Zhan’s hand, tearing his gaze away from the hickey to look him in the eye. “Thanks,” he says in a perfectly even tone of voice. Not high-pitched at all.

“No need,” says Lan Zhan, turning to face front as the professor takes the lectern.

The second Lan Zhan looks away, all of Wei Ying’s one million and five thoughts simultaneously stop holding their breaths, and all hell breaks loose. Questions, concerns, musings, and inferences all clamor for his attention, but foremost among them is this: Who the hell gets the privilege of touching Lan Zhan—a man with a famed-across-campus aversion to touch—with their mouth? Wei Ying would like to meet this person. He has so many questions. 

He also has no idea what to do with this newfound appreciation for Lan Zhan’s neck. Or the fact that other people seem to be appreciating it, too. He does, however, know that he is required by both his own nature and the nature of his friends to process his meltdown in the safest, most supportive place he knows: the group chat.

*

direct message: tri-street allstars 

Wei Ying: hello friends

Jiang Cheng: yikes what the fuck is that

Nie Huaisang: what do you want


*

...okay. Maybe not the most supportive place.

*

Wei Ying: wow rude
Wei Ying: i come to u in my hour of need,
Wei Ying: a time of true desperation,,,

Jiang Cheng: i hate this already

Wen Ning: oh no, how can we help??

Jiang Cheng: don’t enable him

Nie Huaisang: be nice, jiang cheng. let the man make his poor choices in peace

Wei Ying: i can't tell if u mean me or wen ning but neither of us deserves your attitude so i will simply ignore you
Wei Ying: except when u give me advice that i like

Jiang Cheng: i’m not enabling u. i refuse

Wei Ying: AS I WAS SAYING,

Jiang Cheng: no

Wei Ying: okay, so, lan zhan, right? you all know him?

Jiang Cheng: stop saying things

Nie Huaisang: who?

Jiang Cheng: obvs we do bc u never shut up about him

Nie Huaisang: never heard of him
Nie Huaisang: this is an entire mystery to me
Nie Huaisang: who is this individual of whom you speak

Jiang Cheng: and because for some reason he agrees to come out with us every week? and we live in the same dorm? and are otherwise around each other all the time?

Wen Ning: yeah i think we all know who he is
Wen Ning: but now i feel left out because i still haven’t met him 💔
Wen Ning: the woes of being stuck in high school :( @graduation pls come sooner thx

Nie Huaisang: no clue who this so-called “lan zhan” is

Wei Ying: so u know how he always wears those really nice, probably VERY expensive sweaters

Nie Huaisang: they cost more than u make in like, a month, yes (¬‿¬)

Wei Ying: i think they’re cashmere. they’ve got the turtlenecks

Nie Huaisang: an unfortunate feature of them :\
Nie Huaisang: a man like that should NOT be covering up </3

Wen Ning: you’ve yet to show me any pictures wei gege :(

Jiang Cheng: i WISH i didn’t know this, but unforch i do 🙄

Wei Ying: why did i think any of u would be helpful

Wei Ying: except u wen ning <3 i’ll get u a picture one day <3
>>Wen Ning reacted with 🥰

Nie Huaisang: you didn’t think that

Wei Ying: ANYWAY. back to lan zhan’s neck

Nie Huaisang: is that where we were

Wei Ying: it is now
Wei Ying: so first of all, he HAS one, which i didn’t even realize????

Wen Ning: i told you to pay more attention in your anatomy and physiology class
Wen Ning: and this is why

Wei Ying: wow et tu, wen ning? the betrayal!!!

Wen Ning: 😇😇😇

Wen Ning: for the record, i would try to save you from the senators 😔
>>Wei Ying reacted with 💓

Jiang Cheng: i wouldn’t, but u know that already

Wei Ying: NECKS
Wei Ying: are the topic of conversation right now
Wei Ying: pay attention, people!

Nie Huaisang: are they

Wei Ying: YES. so lan zhan’s neck

Jiang Cheng: exists, i presume?

Wei Ying: EXACtly, thank u for finally siding w me

Jiang Cheng: i literally am not

Wei Ying: and guess what he HAS. on his neck.

Nie Huaisang: skin, i hope

Jiang Cheng: i could not care less

Wen Ning: a tattoo?

Jiang Cheng: i refuse to acknowledge that as a possibility

Wen Ning: jewelry? a necklace? did u buy him something? that would be so sweet

Jiang Cheng: it would not

Nie Huaisang: thnx for the idea, wen ning. gonna mail lan zhan a necklace now with a card that says it’s from wei ying

Wei Ying: see i know ur not gonna do that
Wei Ying: bc if u were, u wouldn’t have told me

Nie Huaisang: perhaps i am attempting to cultivate plausible deniability around this

Jiang Cheng: can this convo be over yet
Jiang Cheng: don’t u all have classes rn

Wei Ying: A HICKEY

Jiang Cheng: lmao what

Wen Ning: oh interesting

Nie Huaisang: .....

Wei Ying: LAN ZHAN. A HICKEY.

Wen Ning: are you jealous or something?

Jiang Cheng: do u really want the answer to that
Jiang Cheng: have u seen his stupid manifesto?

Wei Ying: idk HOW to PROCESS this???? like what??? how! who! why!

Nie Huaisang: yeah he’s jealous

Wen Ning: what manifesto

Nie Huaisang: can u remind me what his major is? what program is he in?

Wei Ying: music. so i guess i can maybe narrow it down to that??

Jiang Cheng: narrow what down

Nie Huaisang: what instrument does he play

Wen Ning: guys? what manifesto???

Wei Ying: violin
Wei Ying: but that’s not the point

Nie Huaisang: idk i feel like it might be relevant

Wen Ning: oh yeah didn’t u say u were in orchestra with him?
Wen Ning: do you know who it might have been?

Nie Huaisang: no, i don’t think i have a name for you

Jiang Cheng: how do u not know what instrument he plays if ur in orchestra w him

Nie Huaisang: i don’t know things!!! ever!
Nie Huaisang: until i do
Nie Huaisang: which i don’t!

Wen Ning: are u gonna ask him about it wei gege? :O
Wen Ning: (also what manifestooo please tell meeee)
>>Nie Huaisang reacted with 👀

Wei Ying: i want to... would that be weird???

Jiang Cheng: it would obviously be weird

Nie Huaisang: you totally should :) :) :)

Wen Ning: you’re good enough friends, right? it’s prob fine

Wei Ying: i mean. idk!!! we ARE friends, im p sure, but what does friends mean? how might lan zhan friend?
Wei Ying: does lan zhan is friend?

Jiang Cheng: wow get a hold of urself pls

Nie Huaisang: 😏😘

Jiang Cheng: NOT LIKE THAT, GROSS

Wen Ning: i thought lan zhan was already in your friend group?

Nie Huaisang: you think correctly

Jiang Cheng: “i’m p sure lan zhan and i are friends” is the most ridiculous thing i have ever heard wei ying say
Jiang Cheng: and that’s saying a lot

Wei Ying: i mean YEAH he’s in our friend group, but
Wei Ying: we have yet to fully absorb him

Jiang Cheng: ew

Wei Ying: into our level of CHAOS, not as a PERSON, don’t be weird

Jiang Cheng: i am by no means the person making this weird

Wei Ying: probs a good thing tbh. he’s our grounding force. a lawfully aligned beacon among agents of chaos
Wei Ying: our token straight-edge
Wei Ying: (can i call him that if he’s not actually straight? like do u think he’d be offended)
Wei Ying: (our token stick in the mud? but like in a nice way)
Wei Ying: anyway he tolerates us <3 and we are happy to be in his presence

Nie Huaisang: what a glorious speech, wei xiong

Jiang Cheng: well u are at least.
Jiang Cheng: happy to be in his presence, that is.

Wen Ning: sooo what i’m hearing is that you’re already friends
Wen Ning: and therefore ur anxiety is around something beyond that

Wei Ying: wow no??? i did not sign up to be Perceived today

Wen Ning: is it to do with your 15 step plan to get lan zhan to fall in love with you 👀
Wen Ning: which i now have a copy of, as of ten seconds ago

Wei Ying: NIE HUAISANG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
>>Nie Huaisang reacted with 😇
Wei Ying: see, here is the problem.
Wei Ying: when i think of “friends,” i think of you assholes

Wen Ning: awww! i’m so honoured!

Wei Ying: and you are terrible models for friendship with p much any other human

Wen Ning: 💖🥰👯♂️💔😧😒😑
Wen Ning: a depiction of my emotional journey just now

Wei Ying: not u, ur perfect

Wen Ning: 💞
Wen Ning: maybe think about what u want to say to him. what direction u want ur conversation to go
Wen Ning: so ur emotionally prepared
Wen Ning: and don’t have another meltdown 😬
Wen Ning: since i didn’t see that on your list

Jiang Cheng: LMAOOO meltdown is happening no matter what. only a matter of time

Wei Ying: i take back every compliment i have ever paid you

Nie Huaisang: i agree with wen ning’s wisdom

Wei Ying: ok ok ok ok i’ll do it.
Wei Ying: i’m gonna ask him about the hickey

Jiang Cheng: can u get someone to take video to send us?
Jiang Cheng: i am suddenly wildly invested in this disaster.

Wen Ning: we’ll be cheering you on!
Wen Ning: ...huaisang gege and i will be cheering you on!

Jiang Cheng: wise correction, kid.

Nie Huaisang: i also find myself invested
Nie Huaisang: i am v much looking forward to hearing what information you learn. keep us updated :)

Wei Ying: i will. even if you don’t deserve it. 😔

Nie Huaisang: 😌

*

Wei Ying finally looks up from his very important support group conversation and realizes he’s missed, like, ten slides on the projector. He glances over at Lan Zhan and is met with a flinty stare, eyes sparking with heat under the ancient fluorescents. Lan Zhan glances down at Wei Ying’s phone, then back to his face. His mouth twists into a slight frown when Wei Ying grins brightly and waves, and he turns away. Well, it was worth a shot. Getting reactions out of Lan Zhan can be extremely hit or miss.

The professor continues droning on about Baroque-era something or other as Wei Ying flips to a new page in his notebook. He scribbles out a quick message, eyeing Lan Zhan every so often to see his gaze fixed resolutely on the prof.

Get a latte with me after class?

He adds a heart at the end and slides it down the table, catching the eye of the student on the other side of Lan Zhan. Like all their classmates in this class, she is by now used to Wei Ying’s Lan Zhan-focused shenanigans and thus only rolls her eyes at him. Wei Ying grins sheepishly and taps the note to pull Lan Zhan’s attention away from the front.

Lan Zhan looks at the note from the corner of his eye before returning his gaze to the new projector slide and starting a new line in his own notebook. His face gives nothing away.

Wei Ying smiles and pulls the note back to add a follow-up thought.

If you don’t look at me, I’m going to assume it’s a no :(

Wei Ying’s heart leaps into his throat—it’s brief, but Lan Zhan does look at him! That counts as a yes! Or at least a solid maybe! Score.

But then Lan Zhan takes the note—an unexpected turn of events!—and writes his reply. He passes it back to Wei Ying, keeping an eye on the professor as he does. Not like it matters. The professor doesn’t seem to notice anything that goes on, even at the front of the classroom. Unless somebody has snuck in a forbidden computer, he remains in All Architecture, All The Time mode. It’s like he’s never even heard of texting.

Busy today, Lan Zhan’s note says.

Wei Ying tries not to deflate. It’s not a no, after all. He writes in response, That’s fine. I have ~plans~ later this evening anyway. After class on Friday instead?

Before pushing it down the table, he adds a quick stick figure doodle of the two of them side by side, holding lattes and smiling at each other. Or, Wei Ying’s stick man is smiling. Lan Zhan’s has a flat mouth.

Lan Zhan turns toward him fully, fixing Wei Ying in that intense stare of his. A delighted shiver runs down Wei Ying’s spine as Lan Zhan blinks slowly—like a cat—raises an eyebrow (which is incredibly sexy), and turns back toward his own notes once more.

Wei Ying passes one final note—I’ll text you :) abyss 2moro?—and receives a negatory, then redirects focus to his phone. He already knows he can ace every test by reading the textbook later, so he doesn’t even bother listening to the lecture. Even if Lan Zhan will silently judge him for it.

Besides, informing his friends of this latest development is much more important.

*

direct message: tri-street allstars

Wei Ying: the plan has been set in motion
Wei Ying: i asked him to grab a latte after class but he wrote back that he’s busy today so i asked about friday instead and!!!! he just *looked* at me and didn’t respond

Wen Ning: that’s not a no!

Wei Ying: that’s not a no.

Nie Huaisang: hm but it’s also not a yes

Wei Ying: there is only room for one dream-crusher in this chat and that spot is reserved for jiang cheng and only jiang cheng
Wei Ying: but i’m pretty sure it is MOST LIKELY a yes.

Jiang Cheng: it’s a crown i wear with pride.

Wei Ying: ❤️

Jiang Cheng: ❤️

Nie Huaisang: just trying to be a realist
Nie Huaisang: well i guess we will just wait for friday and see
Nie Huaisang: lol don’t worry a-cheng u can keep ur crown

Jiang Cheng: -_-

Wei Ying: you bet we will!
Wei Ying: oh btw do u guys wanna go to the Abyss tomorrow? (a-ning don’t worry, we will take you there once ur 19 <3)

Wen Ning: or i could get a fake id like huaisang
Wen Ning: just saying

Wei Ying: you absolutely Will Not

Wen Ning: yeah i won’t, dw

Wei Ying: good. u are not ready for that wretched hive of scum and villainy

Wen Ning: oh? i heard it was pretty nice actually

Wei Ying: SCUM. AND. VILLAINY. until ur 19. and then it’s nice.
>>Wen Ning reacted with 😂
Wei Ying: ANYWAY. for those of us who are legal and/or criminals: abyss?

Nie Huaisang: do u even have to ask. we go literally every week lol

Wei Ying: idk! lots of assignments due lately!!! just thought i’d ask!!

Jiang Cheng: sure. guess SOMEone has to keep an eye on you 🙄

Wei Ying: 💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖

*

At the end of class, Wei Ying catches Lan Zhan sliding the page with their passed notes and the doodle of the two of them carefully into his binder, but he doesn’t comment on it.

---

The Waterborne Abyss is something of a landmark near campus, straddling the border between the student district and the really nice part of town. Wei Ying wouldn’t call it a bar—it’s more of a lounge—but it’s where university students go, and it serves alcohol, which is all that really matters. It also has a whole stockpile of board games in the back room, which is where their friend group usually ends up despite the insistence that they’re going out partying. Every single week.

Whatever. Nie Huaisang likes to say it’s always a party when he’s around, and he’s right, so it’s not like they don’t have fun.

As they approach on foot, Wei Ying crows about crossing Step Ten off his list while simultaneously lamenting that he might have to add extra steps once he susses out Lan Zhan’s hickey-giver. The bouncer at the door waves them through, and they discover it’s a lot more crowded than usual, even for a Thirsty Thursday.

Thankfully, Nie Huaisang has always had a special talent for clearing a path ahead of himself. He leads the way as they make a beeline for the back room where “their” table resides—large, wooden, and with the most comfortable benches in the establishment. Somehow they manage to claim it every time they come.

“I don’t see why you can’t ask him point blank,” Jiang Cheng says over his shoulder to Wei Ying as they weave through the dark, crowded front lounge. “Or are you jealous because he’s getting some, and you’re getting none?”

Wei Ying, as always, ignores the dig. “Why would I be jealous?” he snarks, fully aware that jealousy is the reason he has added five steps to his Plan instead of doing what his brother suggests. (At least he can admit it to himself, if no one else.) “I simply want to know what sort of person Lan Zhan would date. He’s so”—he waves his hand around vaguely—“you know, him. A stick in the mud,” he adds fondly, remembering their text conversation from yesterday.

“From what I understand, some people consider that a bonus,” Nie Huaisang yells from in front of them. Wei Ying isn’t even sure how he heard any of that.

“I didn’t say it was a bad thing!” Wei Ying yells back.

“He’s a stick in the mud who frequents a known party lounge,” Jiang Cheng points out. “And need I remind you that you want to date him?”

“Yeah, he frequents a party lounge because I invite him. He doesn’t come here on his own, and he doesn’t drink,” Wei Ying says, shaking his head dismissively. “So, definitely not a partier.”

“Did you invite him tonight?” asks Jiang Cheng, casually stepping a little to the side.

“Yeah, but he said he was busy. Besides, can’t have him at the planning meeting for how I’m going to win his aff—ections,” Wei Ying says, as Jiang Cheng brings his attention to their usual spot. Which is currently occupied. By Lan Zhan.

Who may have possibly heard everything Wei Ying just said.

“Ohhhh, this should be good,” Nie Huaisang says as they approach. He doesn’t even bother to lower his voice. “You were saying, Wei-xiong?”

“Aaand I’m going to get us drinks,” Jiang Cheng says, resigned to his fate for the night. He pivots on his heel and makes himself scarce.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying greets, an octave higher than his usual, obviously very sexy speaking voice. “What are you doing here? Weren’t you busy?”

Lan Zhan lifts his head from the book he’s reading (despite the terrible light) and blinks at them, which is a good sign. He seems newly aware of their presence and not like he overheard talk about Wei Ying’s grand scheme. He’s wearing a turtleneck sweater again, which is definitely a crime, but perhaps he doesn’t want to put out an aura of “already taken.” Wei Ying can appreciate that.

“I am meeting my brother,” says Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying tugs absently at the collar of his own high-necked blouse; Lan Zhan’s eyes drop from his, seeming momentarily distracted by it.

“Fun! I’m here with my brother, too!” Wei Ying says, sweeping his hair back. He can’t quite remember how conversation is supposed to work, but this feels like a good start.

Lan Zhan resumes his signature Intense Gaze™. Wei Ying swallows, shuffling his weight to the other foot.

“I know,” Lan Zhan replies. “I can see him.” He nods toward the front of the room, where Jiang Cheng is trying fruitlessly to push through a group of loud frat boys.

“Wei-xiong is also here with me!” Nie Huaisang interjects, sounding far more gleeful than he needs to.

“Mn. Hello, Huaisang,” Lan Zhan says evenly. He doesn’t take his eyes off Wei Ying, though. So that’s nice. Probably. Wei Ying is pretty sure that’s what this feeling is.

Wei Ying plops down on the bench next to Lan Zhan and scoots closer to him before he can overthink it. After all, this is their spot. Lan Zhan knows this is their spot, and he knew they were going to be here tonight. So really the invitation is implicit—he can’t very well expect them to find a different table, can he? Wei Ying leans in, which is definitely to look at the book and not at all to get a closer peek at Lan Zhan’s sadly sweater-adorned neck.

“What’re you reading?” he asks.

“I am studying a score,” Lan Zhan replies, tilting the book so Wei Ying can see that there is, in fact, musical notation rather than words on the page. “In preparation for my recital at the end of the term.”

“Ah yes, you must be practicing a lot,” Nie Huaisang says as he slides into the spot across from them and fixes his eyes on Wei Ying, raising his eyebrows significantly.

What does that look mean? Wei Ying raises his eyebrows back.

Lan Zhan replies, “Yes,” and doesn’t say anything else. He looks kind of uncomfortable, actually. Wei Ying immediately feels bad. Maybe he hadn’t wanted them to sit there for some reason? Or—worse—maybe he had overheard Wei Ying after all. Maybe Wei Ying will now have to add a few more steps to the Plan just to make up for his own carelessness and disregard for Lan Zhan’s comfort. Fantastic.

“Sorry, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says. “We won’t bother you if you’re studying. I hope you have a good time with your brother!” He tries to stand, but suddenly Lan Zhan is holding his wrist. Wei Ying isn’t even sure how it happened. One second his wrist was surrounded by nothing but air, as wrists so often are, and the next it was surrounded by Lan Zhan’s hand. Lan Zhan’s palm and fingers are dry and cool, while Wei Ying is, overall, extremely sweaty. For no particular reason. No… reason… at all.

“Whaaaaaat?” he says, drawing out the word primarily because he is so confused by this turn of events.

“You can stay,” Lan Zhan says. He’s not quite looking at Wei Ying but doesn’t loosen his grip, either. Wei Ying sits back down. Lan Zhan continues not loosening his grip. “There is no need to go.”

“Can I stay, too?” Nie Huaisang asks like a man who’s going to stay put no matter the answer. Wei Ying had almost forgotten he was there.

“If you must,” says Lan Zhan.

“Cool,” says Nie Huaisang, who then props his chin on his hands and looks back and forth between Lan Zhan and Wei Ying.

Wei Ying leans over and whispers, as if Nie Huaisang isn’t listening intently anyway, “Lan Zhan.”

“Mn.”

“Are we holding hands?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says, still not letting go of Wei Ying’s wrist.

Nie Huaisang raises his eyebrows. “It kinda looks like you are.”

“We are not,” says Lan Zhan, who is definitely kind of maybe holding Wei Ying’s hand. Wei Ying is thoroughly confused by how this entire interaction, as a whole, is going.

Finally, Jiang Cheng arrives, carrying two beers. “You can get your own,” he tells Wei Ying as he sits down next to Nie Huaisang, “as punishment for who you are as a person.” He squints across the table. “What the fuck, are you holding hands?” He turns indignantly to Nie Huaisang. “Are they holding hands?”

“No,” says Lan Zhan at the same time Nie Huaisang says, “Yes,” and Wei Ying says, “I’m kind of confused about that, actually.”

“Huaisang, we are finding another table,” Jiang Cheng informs his friend. When he sees Nie Huaisang begin to protest, he adds, “The one over there is open. You can eavesdrop from there if you absolutely have to.”

Nie Huaisang pouts, but gets up and follows Jiang Cheng across the room. “Have fun, be safe,” he yells as he goes because he is a terrible friend.

Wei Ying is pretty sure the room is loud enough that it will be impossible to eavesdrop, but he learned long ago not to underestimate Nie Huaisang. When he sees them reach the other table, he sighs and bumps Lan Zhan with his shoulder. Rather than tensing up as Wei Ying kind of expected, Lan Zhan seems to relax a bit.

“Sorry about them. You know they’re kind of weird,” Wei Ying says, turning to face Lan Zhan a little more. “But I’m happy to keep you company until your brother gets here.”

“It’s fine,” Lan Zhan says. He pauses. “It’s good to see you, Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying’s mind and heart are conspiring to destroy him with all the internal screaming that is happening right now. “It’s always good to see you, too,” he manages. “How were your classes today? How was… uh, rehearsal?” He doesn’t actually know Lan Zhan’s schedule, but rehearsal is always a pretty good bet.

“Everything went well,” Lan Zhan answers. “How was your day?”

“It was good!” Wei Ying says. His day had been unremarkable until he’d seen Lan Zhan, actually. But he can’t very well say as much, so he falls silent while he attempts to collect himself.

Lan Zhan, unsurprisingly, is also silent. It is vaguely awkward, particularly because they are still not-quite holding hands. Wei Ying is suddenly keenly aware that they have not actually spent much time alone together; they’ve generally been pretty limited to the classroom or group hangouts. He’s not usually at a loss for words, but his mind must be racing a little too fast to allow him to verbalize complete thoughts.

“I hate small talk,” Lan Zhan finally admits just as Wei Ying is about to open his mouth to say—well, probably something far too embarrassing.

Instead, Wei Ying lets out a loud breath. “Oh, thank god,” he says. “That was getting painful. Like, I could feel myself in actual, physical pain. Clearly we need to hang out more often outside of group stuff so we don’t have to deal with small talk ever again. I saw you literally yesterday, and absolutely nothing new has happened in my life since then.”

“You didn’t have your… plans?” Lan Zhan asks slowly.

“I mean, yeah. But they weren’t anything, uh, new. Or interesting.” Lan Zhan would probably find it sad, wouldn’t he, if Wei Ying said his ‘plans’ had consisted of tracking down everyone in the music program—and there weren’t nearly as many as he’d thought—before summarily dismissing every single one from hickey-giving candidacy. He can’t quite remember why he dismissed them all so fast, but he’s sure he had good reasons for each one. Anyway, he’s not about to elaborate on that to Lan Zhan. “But whatever, who cares about that! I would ask how your assignment for the Gen Ed requirement from hell is going, but I imagine the answer is ‘perfectly,’ ah? Ugh. I’m so sick of that class.”

“It is not my favorite either,” says Lan Zhan, “but I suppose some suffering is necessary if we are to earn degrees.”

“Absolutely not!” Wei Ying declares. “If I’m going to suffer for a degree, it should at least be suffering I care about. This class inflicts only the extremely boring kind of suffering upon us, and I will not abide it.”

“It is insufferable.” Lan Zhan’s mouth curves in what might actually be a smile. “Perhaps you are correct.”

Wei Ying’s whole body tingles at the sight of that smile, his fingertips burning where they’re brushing against Lan Zhan’s wrist. His heart feels like it’s in his throat, but he manages to speak through it. “Yes! See, you get me. Wouldn’t you rather save all your allotted agony for something like practicing or studying your, uh, music books or whatever those are? Then it can be for a good cause.” He honestly has no clue what he’s saying at this point. He’s mainly wondering to himself whether he can shift his hand so that he is actually holding Lan Zhan’s hand, or if that would be pushing it.

“I enjoy practicing,” Lan Zhan replies. When Wei Ying eyes him doubtfully, he amends: “But sometimes rehearsals are time consuming.”

“Aiyah, tell me about it. When I was younger, Yu-ayi used to make me practice flute for an hour every night. I hated it.”

Lan Zhan’s hand shifts minutely. “I did not know you played. Do you still?”

“Ah, only a little. Enough to stay sharp. Or, in tune, I guess.” He immediately winces at his own bad pun but then is startled by a small huff of laughter. “Lan Zhan?” he asks incredulously, turning to stare at his friend. “Oh my god, are you laughing?

Lan Zhan doesn’t actually reply, but his eyes sparkle with the tiniest hint of amusement. It sets free a whole swarm of butterflies in Wei Ying’s stomach.

Wei Ying almost sways forward, closer to Lan Zhan’s face, but catches himself, chuckles, and looks away. “Who’d have thought,” he murmurs. His gaze sweeps the room, noting that Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng are thankfully now preoccupied with their own conversation. After a moment, his eyes fall on a tall man wearing loose, flowing blue pants and a form-fitting white tank top. He’s scanning the room as he makes his way through the writhing mass of bodies, though he’s nearly a head taller than most everyone around him and probably barely needs to stretch to see. He carries himself in a very familiar way.

Now, Wei Ying has never met Lan Zhan’s brother, but he’d bet Jiang Cheng’s eventual undergraduate degree that this is him. He nudges Lan Zhan. “You never told me you had a clone, so I’m guessing that’s your brother.”

Lan Zhan exhales in a way that Wei Ying is pretty sure is the auditory equivalent of rolling his eyes. “We do not look that much alike.”

Delighted, Wei Ying shakes the arm in Lan Zhan’s grasp. “Ah, this is a sensitive point for you, isn’t it? You dislike having a twin?”

“We are not twins,” Lan Zhan mutters. “He is two years older. The resemblance is not that strong.”

“Were you always dressed the same as kids?” Wei Ying presses. “Did you have cute little matching outfits? Did you hate it? I bet you hated it.”

Lan Zhan relents. “No,” he sighs. “I didn’t mind when we were young.”

Wei Ying, to his own shame, squeals a little. “You did have matching outfits! I desperately need to see pictures. Please find some pictures for me, pretty please?”

“Over here, ge,” Lan Zhan says a little more loudly, most likely attempting to put a stop to Wei Ying’s teasing before his brother overhears. He raises his free hand to catch the man’s attention.

Wei Ying looks up. Sure enough, Lan Zhan’s carbon copy is approaching them. As he nears, it becomes clear that he and Lan Zhan do not actually look as similar as they did from a distance in the dark, but Wei Ying still wants to see those childhood pictures.

“Hello, Lan Zhan’s brother,” he says brightly as the older Lan slides onto the opposite bench.

“Well, hello,” he responds, addressing Wei Ying but then shooting some sort of look at Lan Zhan. “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I’m Lan Huan.” He offers his hand.

“I’m Wei Ying,” says Wei Ying, shaking it with his free hand. He nudges Lan Zhan again, who seems to be sinking a little into the bench but still hasn’t let go of Wei Ying’s wrist nor adjusted his grip. He might be gunning for some sort of world record, here. “Lan Zhan and I have a class together.”

Do you,” Lan Huan says, clearly trying to hold back a smile. It doesn’t sound like it’s a question, but Lan Zhan answers anyway.

“Yes, we do,” he grinds out from between clenched teeth.

Wei Ying has no idea what is causing Lan Zhan’s apparent frustration, but he is very much amused. “It’s History of Architecture,” he informs Lan Huan. “It’s horrible. Lan Zhan is my only bright spot in the terrible void of that class. I’m sure I’m his, too. Right, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan slouches a little more—if his miniscule change in posture can be called a slouch—and his ears turn pink. It’s hilarious but also really cute, and okay, maybe Wei Ying feels a little bad for teasing him like this. Not bad enough not to tease further though.

“Tell him, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying bats his eyelashes at his friend. “Tell him how much joy we bring to each other’s lives!”

“Yes,” Lan Huan says. He looks like he’s enjoying every second of this. “Please, do tell me.”

“A lot of joy,” Lan Zhan finally says, staring determinedly at the ceiling.

“So much joy,” Wei Ying finishes triumphantly. “See, that wasn’t too hard. Good boy, Lan Zhan.” He lifts up both hands to applaud, briefly forgetting (somehow) that Lan Zhan still has a firm grip on his wrist. As soon as their arms lift above table level, Lan Zhan snatches his hand away, dropping Wei Ying’s wrist in a tragic turn of events. Wei Ying pouts at him.

“Fascinating,” says Lan Huan.

Lan Zhan presses his lips together. Now he’s not looking at Lan Huan or Wei Ying or the ceiling but at a little furl in the wood on the table, which appears to have earned one hundred percent of his attention.

“So, Wei Ying, Lan Zhan didn’t tell me he’d have a friend with him tonight.” There’s more of that very pleasant smile on Lan Huan’s face as he leans forward on the table, hands clasped in front of him.

Wei Ying can’t help but drop his pout and beam back. “He didn’t know either! It was pure serendipity.” Well, except for the part where Lan Zhan definitely knew Wei Ying and their friends were going to be here at some point tonight, but Wei Ying decides not to think too much about that just yet. “I’m here with my brother and our friend,” he says, pointing at where Jiang Cheng is now looking-but-not-looking and Nie Huaisang is—sigh—openly gawking at them with a huge grin on his face. They wave at each other.

Lan Huan waves as well. “Do they want to join us?” he asks.

Glancing over at Lan Zhan to gauge his feelings about that idea, Wei Ying finds his mouth set into an adorable, tiny pout. “They don’t have to,” Wei Ying says. “In fact, I’m already encroaching on your time together—”

The brothers speak simultaneously.

“Please stay,” says Lan Zhan, while Lan Huan says, “Not at all.”

Apparently having decided on the best course of action, Lan Huan turns back to Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng and gestures for them to come over.

“It is truly the most genuine of pleasures to meet you,” Nie Huaisang tells Lan Huan after they’ve been introduced. He is clearly trying to hold back laughter at Lan Zhan’s obvious embarrassment.

“Stop saying ‘pleasures’ like a weirdo,” Jiang Cheng mutters as he slides in on Wei Ying’s other side. He rolls his eyes but is polite enough to nod in acknowledgement at Lan Huan.

“It’s so great to see that my didi has so many good friends,” Lan Huan says in a tone of voice that Wei Ying recognizes from personal experience as “definitely trying to embarrass my younger brother.”

“Please stop,” Lan Zhan says under his breath so only Wei Ying, who is crammed even closer to him now, and Lan Huan, who is directly across from him next to Nie Huaisang, can hear him.

Lan Huan smiles cheerfully at Lan Zhan and proceeds to ignore him. “You know, I was worried for him when he started university,” he adds.

Lan Zhan rolls his eyes skyward in a motion that Wei Ying recognizes as “definitely embarrassed by my older brother.” Wei Ying pats his thigh and then decides to leave his hand there, just to see what happens.

“I know what that’s like,” Wei Ying tells Lan Huan. “I was worried for my didi when he started university, too.” Jiang Cheng elbows him hard in the side, but that couldn’t possibly stop the Let’s Fuck With Jiang Cheng Express. “It’s so moving to watch someone you’ve seen grow up start a new stage of life,” he continues. “It really brings tears to my—ow, Jiang Cheng!”

Jiang Cheng, having just smacked Wei Ying over the head, leans over him to tell Lan Zhan seriously, “Lan Zhan, I have never related more to you than I do right now.”

“Hm,” says Lan Zhan, who has never particularly warmed to Jiang Cheng.

“Ah, are you two brothers?” Lan Huan asks, pointing between Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying.

“Unfortunately,” says Jiang Cheng.

“We sure are,” says Wei Ying. He grabs Jiang Cheng’s head with both hands and pulls it down so he can smack a kiss on the top. “We just couldn’t bear to be separated from each other at university. It’s tragic enough that we have to live away from our jiejie.” As Jiang Cheng wriggles out of Wei Ying’s grip, Wei Ying hesitates for a moment before putting his hand back on Lan Zhan’s thigh. Lan Zhan twitches but doesn’t shake him off, which is a huge win in Wei Ying’s book.

“What about you?” Lan Huan asks Nie Huaisang. “Do you have any siblings?”

“Yeah, I have an older brother,” Nie Huaisang says mournfully. “Sadly, I will never live up to his expectations, as I am a mere art major instead of doing whatever it is he wants me to do. Muscles or Knives or something.”

“Shut up. He spoils you an embarrassing amount.” Wei Ying turns to Lan Huan. “Huaisang’s brother is a hunk,” he explains, ignoring Jiang Cheng’s “ew, who says that anymore?” “But also he babysat all of us as kids and is a total softie, so we forgive him for his good looks. Hey, how is Mingjue doing?” he asks Nie Huaisang.

“He’s fine, I guess,” Nie Huaisang says. “He has, like, a thirst trap Instagram now. It’s entirely gym selfies. It’s hilarious.”

“Well, you obviously have to show us,” Wei Ying says, patting Lan Zhan’s thigh again when he feels him tense under Wei Ying’s palm.

Nie Huaisang is already pulling up the app on his phone. He scrolls through a few photos before stopping at one and passing his phone across the table. “Here,” he says. “The most ridiculous ones are the ones where he’s trying to make eye contact with the camera. He’s such a dork.”

Jiang Cheng makes a face and pushes the phone away. Wei Ying cackles at the picture, in which Nie Mingjue is holding a weight in one hand, bringing it up toward his shoulder to show off his enormous arm muscles, while his other hand is holding up his phone. He appears to be standing in front of a wall-length mirror and, sure enough, is glaring at the phone camera through the mirror.

“This is amazing,” Wei Ying informs Nie Huaisang. He passes the phone to Lan Zhan, who shakes his head and passes it to Lan Huan.

“Oh,” says Lan Huan. “Hm. Wow. These are some, um, pretty great selfies.” He scrolls slowly through the feed. “Hm,” he says again.

“Oh my god,” Wei Ying hisses at Lan Zhan. He leans in even more so his mouth is practically touching Lan Zhan’s ear, which perhaps isn’t strictly necessary. “I think your brother is hitting on Huaisang’s brother.”

Lan Zhan looks sideways at him. He doesn’t move any closer to Wei Ying, but he doesn’t move away either. “I do not think you can ‘hit on’ someone who is not physically present or part of the interaction,” he says.

“Well, it sure seems like he would love for Mingjue to be physically present right about now.” Wei Ying looks back at Lan Huan and takes the opportunity to slide his head down a little so it’s practically on Lan Zhan’s shoulder.

Lan Zhan’s sweater is so soft. He still isn’t pushing Wei Ying away, which is kind of incredible. Maybe he was never as touch averse as Wei Ying had originally thought. That might explain why someone… Wei Ying suppresses a sigh. It might explain why someone who was very much not Wei Ying was able to get even more up close and personal with Lan Zhan that Wei Ying currently is. If that person is a significant other, Wei Ying should perhaps not be sticking quite so closely to Lan Zhan, but since he hasn’t yet been shoved away, he’s pretty sure it’s fine. Maybe Lan Zhan and his hypothetical partner or partners are more casual hookups than anything else, or maybe they don’t consider friendly wrist holding and thigh touching to be a big deal. Wei Ying decides not to think about it anymore and instead focuses on how he is making physical contact with Lan Zhan in multiple different places. He squeezes Lan Zhan’s thigh a little, experimentally. Lan Zhan shifts slightly but doesn’t otherwise move.

“Can I have my phone back?” Nie Huaisang asks, his voice cutting through Wei Ying’s contemplations.

Wei Ying looks up; sure enough, Lan Huan is still scrolling back and forth through Nie Mingjue’s profile. Wei Ying is pretty sure, based on his brief glances, that Nie Mingjue doesn’t even have that many pictures up.

“How are things going with that guy Mingjue was seeing?” Wei Ying asks Nie Huaisang, trying to make pointed eye contact. Lan Huan freezes and looks up.

“What guy—” Jiang Cheng begins, but Wei Ying stomps on his foot, prompting a sulky little “oww” from his brother.

Nie Huaisang, as Wei Ying can always count on him to do, picks up Wei Ying’s point immediately. He darts a quick glance at Lan Huan and smirks a little. “Oh, it’s too bad, really,” he says. “I don’t think that worked out. He’s definitely interested in dating, though. Just hasn’t found the right person.”

“Interesting,” Wei Ying says. “That’s right, I think I remember him saying that. He hasn’t found the right man. Because your brother dates men. Wow, I really hope your hot, single, gay brother is able to find someone he likes.” He feels Lan Zhan heave a long-suffering sigh.

“Well,” says Lan Huan. “I, uh, wish him luck! Maybe I’ll follow his account. I’m trying to find a new workout routine, you know.”

“Sure,” Nie Huaisang says.

“I think this might be even more painful to sit through than our class is,” Lan Zhan says under his breath, to Wei Ying’s sheer delight.

“How could you say that?” he whispers back, faking a gasp. “How dare you insult your brother like that! This is truly a beautiful moment we are all experiencing together.”

“You are entitled to your opinion,” says Lan Zhan, and Wei Ying bursts out laughing.

Lan Huan, who now has his own phone out and is clearly looking up Nie Mingjue’s profile, glances up at them and smiles. “I’m really happy you all could join us,” he says, finally passing Nie Huaisang’s phone back. “This is much more interesting than the usual coffee date we have most weeks.”

“Awww, what made you come here instead?” Wei Ying asks.

“A-Zhan suggested it, actually,” says Lan Huan, “and now I see why. It seems like you all really have a lot of fun here.”

Well. Wei Ying sits up straight and turns fully to look at Lan Zhan, who has a look of utter betrayal on his face.

“Did you change your plans to come here? I didn’t know you liked spending time with us so much, Lan Zhan.” He means for it to be teasing, but it comes out completely sincere. “We’ll have to drag you along with us more often.”

You can do that,” Jiang Cheng says. “Huaisang and I will stay home so we don’t have to deal with this”—he waves his hand toward Wei Ying and Lan Zhan—“more than we have to.”

“Ah, well,” Wei Ying says, trying to recalibrate a little. “We have our coffee thing tomorrow anyway, right? Can that be our next quality time?” He summons some more bravery and moves his hand up to squeeze Lan Zhan’s hand. Immediately, he knows it’s a mistake. “Whoops, sorry, my hand is all sweaty.”

What is your hand—you know what, I need to stop asking questions I don’t want to know the answer to,” Jiang Cheng says, rolling his eyes again. Wei Ying takes a moment to wonder if it counts as eye rolling if Jiang Cheng’s eyes are pretty much permanently stuck in that position.

“You will have to tell me all about your date later, didi,” Lan Huan says, eyes twinkling. He looks like he’s about to say more, but Lan Zhan interrupts. Wei Ying assumes the interruption is to correct Lan Huan’s usage of the word “date,” but instead—

“Why don’t we play something,” Lan Zhan suggests, sounding somewhat desperate. Wei Ying can relate; his own face feels like it must be bright red. “There are many games here. Many.”

Nie Huaisang, thank goodness, takes pity on them. “Okay, okay,” he says. “What do you all want to play?”

It turns out that Lan Huan is the undisputed Lan family Catan champion, so after grabbing the base game and an expansion from a shelf of games on the back wall, the five of them spend the rest of their evening together until closing time. At some point, Lan Huan orders a round for everyone—and an Italian soda for his brother, who doesn’t even have to ask. Wei Ying drinks a responsible amount, probably. He does end the evening with his arm draped casually over Lan Zhan’s shoulder, talking his ear off about his latest projects, so maybe he’s not entirely sober. Maybe.

---

“Wow,” says Wen Ning. “I can’t believe I’m the most responsible person in this conversation right now.”

Wei Ying, Jiang Cheng, and Nie Huaisang are all lying on the floor in Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang’s room, each vying for the best spot in the laptop camera’s view. The wi-fi’s not the best, and the image is all pixely, but nobody seems to care.

“This is what you have to look forward to in a year’s time, A-Ning,” Wei Ying says, nodding sagely as though he has just imparted some great wisdom like a modern-day Confucius.

“Oh my god,” sobs Nie Huaisang. “A year! I can’t believe it. Our xiao Ning is going to university next year. Oh god, I’m so old.”

“Maybe a little young to be having a crisis about it, though,” Wen Ning says. “Um, have you guys eaten since you were at the Abyss? Why don’t you order pizza or something?”

“You’re the smartest person in this room,” Jiang Cheng informs him solemnly. “And you’re not even physically present.”

Wen Ning beams. “I try. Jiejie says she believes in my potential.”

“So do we!” Wei Ying says. “Huaisang, go order pizza.”

Flopping his head onto Jiang Cheng’s shoulder with an exaggerated pout, Nie Huaisang whines, “Why do I have to? It’s your turn!”

“Since when do we take turns?” Wei Ying huffs. “You’re the one who doesn't have to pay their own credit card bills, so you get to buy. It’s really your brother’s treat, anyway.”

“Ugh. Fine,” Nie Huaisang grumbles. He has their favourite late-night pizza place on speed dial anyway; it even delivers to their dorm, so it’s not too long before they’re all stuffing their faces while crying over Wen Ning’s inevitable ascent into adulthood.

“I am a single grade below you,” Wen Ning says for the millionth time, somehow not losing his patience with them. He never does. What a gem. “Also, I have school in the morning, since I am still forced to be in class all day by the laws of this land. So, I’m gonna go to bed. But first, Wei-gege, you need to give me your latest Lan Zhan update!”

“He absolutely does not!” Jiang Cheng yells, trying to push Wei Ying out of view of the camera while Nie Huaisang drapes himself over both of their laps and says, “So much happened. It was great.”

“Nothing really happened,” Wei Ying insists, forcing his way back in front of the lens. “We all played games for a while. Lan Zhan’s brother was there.”

“They were holding hands,” Jiang Cheng bemoans, “and it was awful.”

“They were holding hands, and it was hilarious,” counters Nie Huaisang.

“Who was holding hands?” Wen Ning asks, bewildered. “Lan Zhan’s brother? With whom?”

Jiang Cheng groans dramatically. “No, Wei Ying and Lan Zhan were, obviously. It’s too much. Save me from them, Wen Ning.”

“Sorry, I can’t do anything,” Wen Ning says primly. “You probably need actual adults to solve your adult problems, since apparently I am too much of a Youth for you lot.”

“Fine, fine! I take it back!” Jiang Cheng shoves both Nie Huaisang and Wei Ying away from him. “You are the only one who can help me. Please talk some sense into him.”

“I don’t know,” Wen Ning muses. “It sounds like they are being perfectly reasonable grown-up individuals who are figuring out the early stages of a relationship.”

“We’re not in a—” Wei Ying starts to say, but Nie Huaisang clamps a hand over his mouth before he can finish. Wei Ying tries to bite him.

“They’re doing their best,” Nie Huaisang says, which Wei Ying feels is a little condescending and also inaccurate. Unfortunately, he can’t say as much since Nie Huaisang’s hand is apparently made of iron and isn’t going anywhere. This is much less sexy than Lan Zhan’s iron grip was.

“Well, you’ll have to keep me updated.” Wen Ning looks backwards over his shoulder for a moment, then turns back to the camera. “I’m pretty sure Granny is going to turn off the wi-fi if she hears me talking, so I really should get to bed. Good luck not being hungover tomorrow! Stay hydrated!”

“Sleep well!” Nie Huaisang says cheerfully, while Jiang Cheng wails, “Don’t abandon me!” and Wei Ying tries futilely to get any sort of message across with the muffled noises he’s been limited to.

“Bye!” says Wen Ning as he ends the call.

Nie Huaisang finally removes his hand from Wei Ying’s face. “I now have pizza and your saliva on my hand,” he says, “so I am going to go wash up. You should take the rest of the pizza to your room. Our fridge is too full.”

“Yeah, only because you have way too much LaCroix,” Jiang Cheng grumbles. “Anyway, what he’s saying, Wei Ying, is that you need to fuck off and take your weird Lan Zhan emotions with you.”

“Hey!” Wei Ying protests. “I was expressing zero emotions just now.”

“Yes, and that’s your problem,” says Nie Huaisang. “But yeah, get outta here. Jiang Cheng and I have class in the morning.”

“Okay, okay, fine.” Wei Ying stands and grabs the pizza box. “I can see I’m not wanted. Goodbye,” he says, aiming a loving kick in the side at first Jiang Cheng and then Nie Huaisang. “See you tomorrow.”

“Byeeeeeeeee,” Nie Huaisang says. Jiang Cheng punches Wei Ying in the shin, which is basically his equivalent of a hug.

Wei Ying snorts, shuffles mostly into his shoes—he doesn’t bother putting them on all the way since his room is just down the hall—and fucks off.

---

direct message: tri-street allstars

Wei Ying: goooood MORNING~
Wei Ying: the sun is SHINING
Wei Ying: the birds are CHIRPING
Wei Ying: i am DYING!!! :) but at least i don’t have an 8am 😌

Jiang Cheng: oh fuck off 😒

Wei Ying: it is not my fault you chose to torture yourself this way <3

Nie Huaisang: remember how high school started at 6 in the morning

Wei Ying: it definitely did not

Nie Huaisang: it did on a spiritual level

Wen Ning: i know exactly what u mean

Nie Huaisang: wen ning! stop texting during class!

Jiang Cheng: you are literally doing the exact same thing

Wen Ning: i KNOW you two are sitting next to each other, you hypocrites

Nie Huaisang: yeah well SOME of us know how to hydrate properly before we go to bed. BOYS. smdh you do this to yourselves literally every damn time and wen ning even TOLD you!!!

Wei Ying: im too young to be getting hangovers
Wei Ying: what happened to invincible youth?

Wen Ning: that’s me
Wen Ning: i stole all the invincible energy
Wen Ning: i will live forever :)

Wei Ying: until someone younger and prettier comes along. it happened to us. it’ll happen to you.

Wen Ning: awwww you think i’m pretty! thank you!

Wei Ying: wen ning, you are SO pretty. don’t you ever forget it.

Jiang Cheng: shut up wei ying, you already have a boyfriend

Wei Ying: um no i don’t?
Wei Ying: also i’m allowed to spout facts!!!
Wei Ying: I’d say you’re pretty too but I’ve recently sworn off dishonesty

Nie Huaisang: i am just fine with moral ambiguity so i’ll be the one to say it: you’re all pretty
Nie Huaisang: also, stop lying to yourself, wei ying

Wei Ying: trust me, if i had a boyfriend you would ALL know about it

Jiang Cheng: yes
Jiang Cheng: exactly
Jiang Cheng: that’s the problem
Jiang Cheng: we know too much

Wen Ning: please do tell me more
Wen Ning: we had to end our conversation far too early last night
Wen Ning: there wasn’t even enough time for wei-gege to hydrate properly :\

Nie Huaisang: 😔
Nie Huaisang: wei xiong has himself an entire Man and refuses to see it :\ it’s a shame

Jiang Cheng: rip wei ying’s liver
Jiang Cheng: rip wei ying’s brain
>>Wen Ning reacted with 💀

Wei Ying: i do NOT have an entire man!! or any part of a man!!
Wei Ying: he’s clearly involved with somebody else in some way shape or form

Jiang Cheng: you sure had SOME part of him last night. it was gross

Wen Ning: ohhhh which part?
Wen Ning: his heart? :D

Nie Huaisang: they held...
Nie Huaisang: hmm. cover ur eyes, wen ning

Wen Ning: :O!!
Wen Ning: DID THEY HOLD HANDS

Nie Huaisang: THEY HELD HANDS

Wen Ning: i know u told me this last night, but it feels fresh and beautiful to hear it again on this miserable morning

Wei Ying: you are all mistaken. he held my wrist.

Jiang Cheng: lmao

Nie Huaisang: you SAID. you said you were holding hands. right to lan zhan’s face. he was so embarrassed lol

Wei Ying: i ASKED him
Wei Ying: also how could u even see his face
Wei Ying: was it not like staring straight into the sun

Nie Huaisang: I wear my sunglasses at night, wei xiong
Nie Huaisang: so i can have a perfectly objective view of all things at all times.

Wen Ning: wow this sounds like a lot. how are you holding up?

Wei Ying: it is a true trial

Wen Ning: oh i was talking to huaisang
Wen Ning: and jiang cheng

Wei Ying: have I no true comrades left in this world. no bosom brothers who will remain to comfort my weary soul?

Nie Huaisang: i see you’ve reached the “dramatics” stage of your hangover

Wen Qing: drink water. all of you.

Wei Ying: WEN QING jESus CHrist i forgot you were in this gc

Wen Qing: someone has to keep an eye on you all
Wen Qing: that’s all i have to say. goodbye for now.

Wen Ning: text me jiejie <3 I have test results to show you!!!!
>>Wen Qing reacted with 💚

Wei Ying: well she’s terrifying
Wei Ying: a-ning you can show US your test results too :( i’ll still be proud of you even if you do betray me on a daily basis these days 😢they did say teenagers *do* rebel...

Wen Ning: we are all teenagers
Wen Ning: except jiejie obv

Wei Ying: we’re basically 20 so it’s different

Nie Huaisang: 👉👉 sure are... :)

Jiang Cheng: huaisang did you even catch anything the prof has said in the past 10 minutes

Nie Huaisang: yes look at my notes

Wei Ying: does he have notes

Jiang Cheng: holy shit he has like three pages
Jiang Cheng: wtf how did u do that

Wei Ying: Nie Huaisang glow-up of the year?
Wei Ying: gone are the days of barely passing classes and begging me for test answers. i’m so p...proud?

Nie Huaisang: nah i bought these off a junior

Wei Ying: WHY do i even bother

Nie Huaisang: this class barely has anything to do with my major what do you expect of me!!!!!

Wei Ying: speaking of geniuses

Jiang Cheng: no

Wei Ying: i have my coffee date with lan zhan after class!!!!!!

Jiang Cheng: what does “genius” have to do with that

Wei Ying: Lan Zhan is very smart. He has excellent grades.

Nie Huaisang: and you on the other hand

Wei Ying: also have excellent grades!! so obviously he is the other side of my coin or however the saying goes

Jiang Cheng: “two halves of a whole idiot”

Wei Ying: nah that’s me and huaisang

Jiang Cheng: but you JUST SAID

Wei Ying: yes, and i contain multitudes, what of it

Wen Ning: oh hey we covered that in Lit12 last week nice

Jiang Cheng: i truly do not understand how you manage straight As

Wei Ying: black magic
Wei Ying: demonic cultivation

Jiang Cheng: straight As and still time to watch way too many xianxia dramas

Wei Ying: gotta make good on Huaisang’s monthly subscription price somehow :)

Wen Ning: don’t you mean...
Wen Ning: demoneck cultivation
Wen Ning: :3c

Nie Huaisang: everyone thought he wanted to use dark sorcery to get good grades
Nie Huaisang: but really it was to get good d***

Wen Ning: dill?

Wei Ying: dimes

Wen Ning: it’s only 4 letters

Wei Ying: i don’t know how to count and it’s biphobic of you to expect me to

Nie Huaisang: someone should inform the engineering degree ur attempting to get
Nie Huaisang: that u can’t count

Wei Ying: DUAL
Wei Ying: that’s a number

Nie Huaisang: it is not

Wen Ning: data

Jiang Cheng: dead

Wei Ying: I don’t need to count for it. i can just vibe and it works. it’s good. don’t question my methods.
Wei Ying: that doesn’t even make grammatical sense jiang cheng
Wei Ying: dental care

Jiang Cheng: now who isn’t making sense

Wen Ning: wei gege you were literally valedictorian
Wen Ning: r u ok

Nie Huaisang: you are all so bad at this

Wei Ying: honestly though i’d consider dark magic to get good dental care
Wei Ying: shit’s expensive
Wei Ying: ah huaisang we’re so good at being bad at stuff though <3

Nie Huaisang: <3

---

By the time Friday afternoon rolls around, Wei Ying feels marginally better than he had that morning. He feels a lot better when he sees Lan Zhan, already seated, and wearing a different—but still blue—shirt. This one is made of a lighter, looser material, has clouds all over it, and, perhaps most crucially: it has a lower neckline than usual.

He stops in his tracks when Lan Zhan, face set in an unreadable expression, turns toward him. Ah. That seems like a downgrade from last night. Maybe Wei Ying did go a little overboard and too far outside of Lan Zhan’s comfort zone. He smiles sheepishly, waves, and takes his usual seat. Aiyah. He’ll apologize—later.

Hopefully Lan Zhan will still agree to a latte with him after class. It’s not like Wei Ying did anything out of line, per se, and Lan Zhan hadn’t acted nearly as uncomfortable as Wei Ying would have expected. Actually, Lan Zhan was the one to initiate the weird wrist-holding situation in the first place, so maybe Wei Ying wasn’t even the shameless one for once.

Lan Zhan calls his name quietly, and Wei Ying snaps out of his thoughts to find his friend offering him a pen. Oh. Oh, okay. Maybe things are normal.

“Do you truly have no faith in me?” Wei Ying whispers as the last few students trickle into the classroom. “Maybe I have a whole box of pens in my bag.”

“Do you, though?” Lan Zhan asks dryly.

“No,” says Wei Ying, who had forgotten his single remaining writing utensil in his mildly hungover rush to get to class on time. “But that’s not the point! Friendships are built on trust, Lan Zhan.”

“I agree,” says Lan Zhan. “That is why I am trusting you with this pen.”

Wei Ying sputters. “Well, now that feels like too much responsibility! Am I even capable of taking good enough care of such a precious object? What if I break it? I will be devastated at breaking your heart along with the pen.”

“You can keep it. My heart will be just fine.” Lan Zhan turns away from Wei Ying in order to reach into his bag for his notebook.

Wei Ying gapes at him. Well, okay, then. He’s a little too flustered to respond so instead takes out his own notebook. Even though he could simply whisper, he writes, latte after class today, right? and passes the paper to Lan Zhan.

Although Lan Zhan reads it, he doesn’t respond, his writing hand already flying across the page as the professor begins speaking. Wei Ying has no idea how he multitasks like that. Lan Zhan’s other hand, though, drops from his lap just the smallest amount until it’s barely brushing Wei Ying’s thigh. Wei Ying briefly considers throwing his entire human body physically into Lan Zhan’s lap but settles instead for pressing his thigh up against Lan Zhan’s. He’s not quite brave enough to try entwining their fingers; he can’t be sure that Lan Zhan actually knows he’s practically groping Wei Ying. Instead, he resigns himself to the agony of uncertainty—he doesn’t even know if Lan Zhan is single, for crying out loud. Hopefully he can find that out for sure today. His Plan is not progressing especially well.

For almost the entire lecture, Wei Ying doesn’t hear a word the professor says—though that’s nothing new—but he is hyper aware of how close he and Lan Zhan are sitting. His whole body feels like it’s on fire, which is probably a safety hazard in an old, stuffy classroom like this. He can’t seem to forget the feeling of Lan Zhan’s hand on his wrist, of his own hand on Lan Zhan’s thigh, of his cheek against Lan Zhan’s shoulder. Every time he even looks over and sees Lan Zhan’s long fingers loosely holding his pen, he shivers a tiny amount and feels a sort of buzz on his wrist where Lan Zhan had held it last night. This is definitely not sustainable.

Wei Ying can’t even focus enough to swipe through his phone, plus he doesn’t want to risk Lan Zhan seeing any of Wei Ying’s many texts about him. So he spends the rest of the class bouncing his other leg up and down and doodling with the pen Lan Zhan lent–gave—to him. It’s the longest class he’s ever had to sit through.

After it’s finally, finally over, Wei Ying gathers up his courage and tugs on Lan Zhan’s fingers.

“So which coffee shop do you wanna go to?” he asks. “There’s one on campus, but I like the one a few blocks away that uses really good matcha, if you don’t mind the walk.”

“I have rehearsal.”

“So the one on campus then?”

Lan Zhan doesn’t answer. Although he thankfully still seems undeterred by Wei Ying being entirely in his personal bubble, he gently pulls his hand away and finishes packing up his things. He makes for the exit, still without responding, but waits for Wei Ying at the door.

“My treat,” Wei Ying says, following after him. Still no response, but Lan Zhan at least appears to be considering the offer.

They walk side by side for a while, their path leading them out into the crisp autumn air toward the quad. Wei Ying zips up his coat over his scarf. Lan Zhan is… wearing no coat at all, leaving his uncharacteristically revealing shirt (and his behickeyed neck!) on full display.

“By the way, is this shirt new?” Wei Ying asks, reaching over to pinch the fabric between his index and middle finger and giving it a tug. It’s even softer than it looks. For a moment, he’s too caught up in the sensation of it to realize Lan Zhan is looking at him.

“It is,” he says, making no effort to pull away.

Wei Ying lets his hand drop regardless and grins. “It’s nice! Not your usual style. I liked the one from the other day, too. Decided it was time for a change?”

“Mn. They were gifts.”

Wei Ying almost trips. A gift! …From a particularly special person in his life, perhaps? A lover? He gags internally at the word. Sweetheart? Companion? Beau? None of them sound right in Wei Ying’s head. “Oh, nice,” he says. “Somebody must care about you very much.”

“Mn,” agrees Lan Zhan. He walks with a steady, even stride. His legs are longer than Wei Ying’s, even if they’re around the same height, so it’s a struggle to keep up sometimes. They should walk together more. So Wei Ying can practice keeping up. Obviously.

“I’m not sure what’s up with the espresso at the campus cafe. It always tastes kind of burnt, and their pours are a little too long for my liking, so I usually get a black coffee and—Lan Zhan, it’s that way,” Wei Ying says, pointing in the opposite direction from where they’ve just turned.

“I have rehearsal,” Lan Zhan says again.

“Oh. Now?”

“Shortly.”

But our daaaate, Wei Ying thinks to himself but manages to keep from whining out loud. “Aw, but what will your brother say when he finds out you stood me up?” he says instead, which isn’t much better and is still definitely a whine. “After we told him all about our extensive plans?”

“My brother will know not to pry into my personal life.” Lan Zhan makes it sound more like a threat than a statement of confidence.

“I hate to break it to you, but that’s not the way of older siblings,” Wei Ying tells him. “Except for my jiejie because she’s perfect. He will pry, and then where will you be? Forced to admit that you broke my heart like this?”

“I imagine that the state of your heart will not be overly affected by missing a single date,” Lan Zhan says smoothly.

Wei Ying is so caught up in the way Lan Zhan didn’t even hesitate before the word “date” that he nearly fails to pick up on the preceding words. When he does register them, he perks up. “Wait, missing a single date? We can have another one? Is that what you’re saying?”

“We can go out for coffee whenever you want, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, which both is and isn’t an answer.

Wei Ying responds accordingly. “Oh? Oh! Okay! Okay, yeah! Okay, yeah, let’s do that!” He tries not to think too hard about what “go out” and “whenever” mean, especially in the context of someone whose relationship status is as confusing to Wei Ying as Lan Zhan’s is. He will save that meltdown for later. That can be a problem for Future Jiang Cheng and Future Nie Huaisang.

At this point, they’ve nearly reached the music building. Lan Zhan stops when they reach the corner of it. He makes eye contact with Wei Ying, which is the best, but also the worst? No, no, it’s the best. Definitely the best.

Wei Ying looks right back, his smile growing and growing. “It’s probably good that you have rehearsal now,” he says. “It gives me time to process how nice you’re being to me. And also all the one-on-one time we get to have now! So many gifts you’ve given me today.”

“I have only given you a pen,” says Lan Zhan.

“Oh, shit, I forgot to give that back,” Wei Ying realizes. “I can—”

“No. It was a gift.” Lan Zhan smirks. That’s a smirk on his face. That’s a thing that Lan Zhan can do with his face. Wei Ying never wants to stop looking at Lan Zhan’s face; he can’t let himself ever miss something like this.

“What am I going to do with you, Lan Zhan?” he asks, then is hit by another realization. “Wait, so we can’t get coffee today, but what about something else? Uh, the cafes will be closed by the time you’re done, I think, so do you wanna come over later instead? We can… study. In my dorm. And have leftover pizza for dinner.”

Lan Zhan blinks at him skeptically—to be expected, perhaps, since Wei Ying is (unfairly, he thinks) not known for his stellar study habits—before nodding. “I will be finished at seven thirty.”

“Great! So uhh… is that a yes? For real this time?”

With an exhale Wei Ying can’t quite interpret, Lan Zhan nods again. “Mn.”

“All right! All right, cool. Cool. I’ll, uh, see you then, okay?” Before he can second guess himself, Wei Ying reaches out and squeezes Lan Zhan’s arm, since physical affection is a thing they apparently do now.

Lan Zhan looks down at Wei Ying’s hand but only says, “Yes. I will see you then.” Right before he turns away, his lips curve into a smile that makes Wei Ying ache with fondness down to his bones.

---

direct message: tri-street allstars

Wei Ying: okay so he has rehearsal, so latte’s a no go
Wei Ying: for today anyway, bc apparently he’s fine with more maybe-dates in the future???
Wei Ying: so instead i have invited him over to my room for studying and leftover pizza and i will accost him then with QUESTIONS

Wen Ning: ok i don’t know much about this sort of thing
Wen Ning: but i don’t think leftover pizza is particularly romantic??

Nie Huaisang: you are young and inexperienced in the ways of love, xiao ning. sharing your leftover pizza is incredibly romantic because that shit’s like gold

Jiang Cheng: none of you should date, ever

Wen Qing: gotta say i agree

Wei Ying: oh hey wen qing
Wei Ying: imagine seeing you here

Wen Qing: showing up where it counts✌️

Jiang Cheng: I hate all of this

Wei Ying: awwww jiang cheng that’s so sweet
Wei Ying: but back to Me

Jiang Cheng: no thanks

Nie Huaisang: no thanks

Wei Ying: what questions should i lead with when lan zhan is here

Wen Qing: no thanks

Wen Ning: maybe first ask him what kind of pizza he likes

Wei Ying: it’s leftovers he doesn’t have a choice
Wei Ying: also thanks guys i’m truly feeling the love in this group chat tonight

Wen Ning: he has the choice to leave if he doesn’t like it

Wei Ying: ok srsly wen ning WHERE is this COMING from
Wei Ying: the attitude???

Wen Qing: me

Wen Ning: i’m in high school it’s my job to have an attitude now that none of you are here :)

Wen Qing: it also comes from me
Wen Qing: years of hard work

Nie Huaisang: are you sure it’s not genetic
Nie Huaisang: lol isn’t ur cousin like the biggest douchebag to ever douche
Nie Huaisang: he’s worse than a douchecanoe. He’s
Nie Huaisang: a douchecraft carrier
>>Wen Ning reacted with 😂

Wei Ying: why are you making me think about WEN CHAO when i have a DATE

Jiang Cheng: is it rly a date tho

Wen Ning: did you tell him it’s a date? you both have to agree that it’s a date for it to count

Wei Ying: HE DID. HE SAID IT. WITH HIS WORDS! HIS OWN MOUTH WORDS!
Wei Ying: or like, he used the word “date” in BASICALLY the same context
Wei Ying: and said we can “go out” “whenever” so brb gonna scream into a pillow about that until he gets here

Wen Ning: whoa that does sound like a pretty big deal! i think u have a pretty good shot

Jiang Cheng: i think ur about to make a fool out of yourself

Wen Qing: why not both

Nie Huaisang: i think the two of you have to figure out some basic word definitions together

Wen Ning: yeah like i’m pretty sure “go” and “out” and “whenever” are easy words to define on their own
Wen Ning: but sounds like you need some context

Jiang Cheng: they’re being too nice. let me summarize: have a fucking conversation

Wei Ying: never thought i’d see the day where my a-cheng tried to teach me how to communicate, yet here we are
Wei Ying: but yeah that’s the plan! Conversation!!!!

Wen Ning: good because you prob need to get on the same page asap
Wen Ning: dare I say you need better
Wen Ning: communeckation

Nie Huaisang: i second this wisdom. use ur words

Wei Ying: what the fuck
Wei Ying: since when do you ppl give good advice

Jiang Cheng: are we just going to ignore that completely unasked for pun

Wei Ying: yes

Nie Huaisang: yes

Wen Ning: 😊 you’re welcome

Wen Qing: i can’t speak to the timeline of their maturity, but
Wen Qing: the youths are correct

Jiang Cheng: you’re like TWO YEARS older than us

Wen Qing: i’m 25

Wei Ying: wait what??

Wen Ning: no she’s not

Wen Qing: no i’m not, but you believed me for a second didn’t you

Wei Ying: okay i was gonna say I REMEMBER when u graduated hs so that can’t be right
Wei Ying: but i have been known to miss crucial details before
Wei Ying: rude of you to misuse my trust in you this way

Wen Qing: it is the older sister prerogative :)

Nie Huaisang: wei ying you’ve known her since you were twelve wtf

Wei Ying: ok this judgement is truly unnecessary???
Wei Ying: idk how ages work. math is hard.

Jiang Cheng: again, you’re an engineering major

Wei Ying: exactly! all my brainpower is already in use
Wei Ying: also i’m double majoring lol u know that

Jiang Cheng: your single brain cell

Wei Ying: yu ayi said it’s MY turn with the brain cell (lol jk it’s never my turn)

Wen Ning: jie and i never have this problem
Wen Ning: just saying

Wei Ying: since you’re putting up so much attitude i’m AFRAID i’m going to have to inform you
Wei Ying: that the reason you never had problems with your qing jiejie is because you are too babie
Wei Ying: im sorry u had to find out this way :/

Wen Qing: i’m also extremely generous in sharing my myriad brain cells with him

Nie Huaisang: one big word doesn’t mean lots of brain cells

Wen Ning: she’s right tho 😊

Wen Qing: except that myriad *does* mean…
Wen Qing: you know what? never mind. it’s not my job to educate you buffoons
Wen Qing: that is literally what you are going to school for

Wei Ying: ANYWAY. MOVING ON. QUESTIONS FOR LAN ZHAN. I.E.
Wei Ying: “hey, lan zhan!”
Wei Ying: “get up to anything fun recently with anybody?”

Jiang Cheng: you disgust me

Wei Ying: maybe i should ask him some more getting-to-know-you questions in order to cause his Full Absorption into our friend group

Jiang Cheng: plz stop saying that

Wei Ying: so we don’t stray too far into the sad state we were in a couple months ago
Wei Ying: saying what, absorption? does it bother you? :)
Wei Ying: a b s o r p t i o n
Wei Ying: ANYWAY
Wei Ying: you know which sad, pre-absorption state i mean
Wei Ying: the “at least you don’t walk away from me when we talk” phase
Wei Ying: the “only occasional eye contact during study group” phrase
Wei Ying: …...guys? u still here?

Wen Ning: :) yeah

Jiang Cheng: i have nothing to say in response to “occasional eye contact”
Jiang Cheng: is that what the kids are calling it these days

Wei Ying: i said A FEW MONTHS AGO, not NOW. we’re way past “occasional” NOW

Jiang Cheng: literally my point

Nie Huaisang: v odd that u can be so disgusting about eye contact yet also have to rely on getting-to-know-you questions
Nie Huaisang: i can guarantee ur not going to regress to anywhere near those olden days

Wei Ying: ok that’s weirdly encouraging?

Nie Huaisang: oh i still think this is going to be a disaster tho
>>Jiang Cheng reacted with ☝️

Wei Ying: wow i take it all back. ok wens, i’m counting on u both. ur my only support.

Wen Qing: sorry I was just making popcorn to eat while I watch you crash and burn

Wei Ying: wtf im not some zoo attraction! i will simply have my crisis without you all! >:(
Wei Ying: guess i’ll have to call jiejie to complain

Wen Ning: text me if u need 2 chat still <3

Wei Ying: a-ning, my main man, my ride-or-die, the only person from this godforsaken group chat whomst i will be naming in my last will and testament <333

---

There’s a knock at Wei Ying’s door at precisely 7:50. Wei Ying finishes hiding his hotplate (he’s not sure that Lan Zhan would report him to his RA, but he doesn’t want to take any chances, just in case) and opens the door as casually as possible.

“Lan Zhan, hi!” he says as if he’s surprised about having company that he himself invited and as if he hasn’t been nervously pacing for the past forty-five minutes at the notion of having perfect, immaculate Lan Zhan in his room, which is decidedly neither of those things.

“Hello.”

Wei Ying is so busy staring at Lan Zhan’s… Lan Zhan-ness, he doesn’t notice at first the bag of Hot Cheetos being thrust in his general direction.

“Oh, I didn’t know you like spicy things!” he says when he finally snaps out of his probably rude staring, taking the bag and placing it on one of the clear spots on his desk next to some scattered laundry and abandoned tinkering projects. He moves some pillows off the end of his bed to make room for them to sit. “So, how has your week been?”

Lan Zhan sets down his messenger bag beside the bed. “You have seen me multiple times this week, Wei Ying.”

“Yeah, but just in case I missed anything else!”

“I thought we already agreed to avoid small talk,” says Lan Zhan. When Wei Ying looks over, he sees another one of those tiny smiles playing at the corner of Lan Zhan’s mouth.

“Ugh, stop teasing me! I’m trying,” Wei Ying whines. “It could be worse! I could be embarrassing you like your brother kept doing last night.”

“You could not,” says Lan Zhan.

“Uh, why not? Are you doubting my abilities?”

“Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow at him. “You are very talented, Wei Ying—”

Thank you.”

“—but you do not possess the contextual information necessary to embarrass me like my brother can.”

Wei Ying tilts his head to the side. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“Language,” Lan Zhan says.

“Psh, nice try.” Wei Ying smirks at him. “It’ll take a lot more than that to shut me up.” Wow, he is rapidly losing control of this conversation. He clears his throat. “So! Get up to anything fun? Anything exciting after classes? Other than, you know, the things I’ve seen you doing?”

“I worked on a composition.” Lan Zhan looks around the room. “May I plug in my laptop?”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says. Straight to work it is, then. Dragging answers out of Lan Zhan is going to be even more difficult than he expected. “Uh, yes.”

There’s an available plug-in… somewhere, he’s pretty sure. Probably behind one of his rolling storage things. He shoves one aside with his foot to reveal that yes, there is indeed an outlet there. He waves at it with a grin. “All yours!”

“Thank you.” Lan Zhan pulls out his laptop, carefully uncoils the cord, and plugs it in. Everything he does has a subtle rhythm to it that makes even the routine of booting up his computer fascinating. Hell, even sitting down on Wei Ying’s awkwardly high bed looks graceful when Lan Zhan does it.

Wei Ying doesn’t realize he’s staring—again—until Lan Zhan looks over and catches his eye. “Ah, that’s right, I promised you pizza!” Wen Ning’s words echo in his head, and suddenly he wishes he had shelled out for takeout or something.

“What kind do you have?” Lan Zhan asks, turning back to his laptop.

“Supreme. It’s got, like, everything on it. I usually eat it cold because it’s still really good, but I can take it to the communal kitchen to heat it up. If you want.”

“No need. Cold is fine, thank you.”

“Great! Great. Okay.” Wei Ying stands there, hands on his hips, staring at him for several long beats before Lan Zhan glances at him again, and he remembers that the next step is actually getting the pizza. Right. Wei Ying knows how to be a good host. And how to act like a functional human being. Definitely.

Speaking of being a good host, he should probably offer a Lan Zhan a beverage, too. He crouches next to the little mini-fridge situated at the foot of his cryptid roommate’s bed—Wei Ying is the one who uses it the most anyway since his roommate is never actually here—and retrieves a cherry-lime vodka cooler. It occurs to him that if Lan Zhan were the type to report a contraband hotplate to the RA, then he’d definitely say something about having contraband alcohol, which is ostensibly worse. Holding it up with a little wiggle, he asks, “Do you mind if I…”

Lan Zhan shakes his head and clicks through a few tabs on his laptop and opens up a document. Apparently, he is determined to actually study during this, well, study session. Wei Ying probably should have expected that.

“Okay, Cool.” Wei Ying clears his throat and remembers the reason he had opened the fridge in the first place. “Do you want a Coke or something?”

Lan Zhan begins typing. “I brought water. Thank you.”

“Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan. You’re so formal. ‘Thank you,’ this, ‘thank you,’ that. It’s fine! No need to be so polite! We’re friends!” Wei Ying chuckles, cracking open his drink and taking a sip.

This time, Lan Zhan does briefly stop typing, looks up, and meets Wei Ying’s eyes. With a tiny smile, he nods once and says, “Mn.”

Something bursts in Wei Ying’s chest. It’s probably just his ventricles, unable to handle how adorable Lan Zhan is when he smiles. Or it could be an Alien baby. He looks down, but there’s no tell-tale blood on his shirt or hole in his solar plexus, so only time will tell.

He takes out a slice of pizza from the fridge and brings it over on a little paper plate left over from one of the care packages Jiejie sent, bowing as he offers it and saying, “Your pizza, good sir.”

“There is no need to be so formal,” Lan Zhan says, which is definitely teasing. He’s totally teasing Wei Ying.

Wei Ying is so distracted by the reality of a Lan Zhan who teases, it takes him a minute to realize Lan Zhan is plucking the bits of sausage off the pizza. When he asks about it, he learns Lan Zhan is vegetarian.

“I could have ordered something else,” he grouses, climbing up onto the bed and sitting cross-legged so that he’s partially facing Lan Zhan. “I didn’t know you don’t eat meat.” Somehow. He’s kind of annoyed with himself for not knowing, actually.

“It is fine,” Lan Zhan says. He contemplates the small pile he has made on his napkin. “Would you like to eat these so they don’t go to waste?”

Because Wei Ying has absolutely no brain-mouth filter, he replies, “Yeah, but only if you feed them to me.”

And because Lan Zhan is absolutely full of surprises today, he picks up a piece of sausage and holds it up to Wei Ying’s lips, looking him right in the eyes.

…Well. At least Wei Ying didn’t make the obvious Sausage Joke, so score one for him?

He opens wide and sticks out his tongue, holding Lan Zhan’s gaze while the morsel is placed into his mouth. When he closes his lips around it, he catches Lan Zhan’s fingers too, which jerk a little at the touch. He swears Lan Zhan inhales a little more audibly than normal, and maybe his eyes widen a little bit too—they’re still making eye contact, after all.

He chews and swallows, and Lan Zhan looks away—finally—to pick up another piece, giving Wei Ying the chance to have an entire crisis in the span of two seconds.

This time when he feeds Wei Ying, Lan Zhan holds the bite a little further away so that Wei Yitng has to lean forward and take it between his teeth. His tongue flicks out when he does, brushing against Lan Zhan’s forefinger, and Lan Zhan tears his gaze away from Wei Ying’s mouth to meet his eyes again.

And for the third bite, he doesn’t look away at all. Wei Ying closes his lips around the tip and almost—almost—sucks on it, and Lan Zhan’s mouth drops open a little.

Holy shit, he’s so hot—it’s like something snaps insider Wei Ying. He starts laughing and doesn't (can’t) stop.

Lan Zhan looks momentarily confused before retracting his hand and settling his features into their usual neutral expression.

“Sorry, sorry, Lan Zhan—thank you, I was just—I was kidding, I can’t believe you actually…!” Wei Ying tries but still can’t get out all the words to make a proper sentence between his giggles. “Thank you,” he finally manages. He tries to take a page out of Lan Zhan’s handbook and schools his features into something resembling seriousness. “That was very sweet of you.”

Lan Zhan turns his head down and to the side, giving Wei Ying full view of the way his ears have turned red. “One should never waste food,” he says. He picks up his de-sausaged pizza and takes a bite, pointedly avoiding Wei Ying’s gaze.

Wei Ying takes a long drink from his can and tries not to think of the way his heart is clamoring to escape his chest. He briefly reconsiders the Alien baby possibility. Can a person be inseminated via sausage mouth fingering? Is he going to have to visit the campus nurse’s office?

Automatically, he picks up his phone and opens a browser—and then realizes that is a completely ridiculous thing to Google. Embarrassed, he locks his phone and places it facedown on his pillow, mostly out of arm’s reach.

“Sorry, sorry,” he murmurs, smiling up at Lan Zhan. “That was rude of me! No more phone for this Wei Ying while Lan Zhan is here.”

“You should study free of distractions,” Lan Zhan murmurs after a pause, like he’s reciting something. Probably a household rule; there are still some of those bouncing around Wei Ying’s noggin, so he gets it. Yu-ayi had always been very “not while you’re under my roof!” with Wei Ying up until the moment he moved out.

“Failed step one,” says Wei Ying. “Lan Zhan is a huge distraction!”

Lan Zhan glances up at him, and briefly, very briefly, Wei Ying is terrified he’s going to agree and leave for the sake of focus because that seems like something he’d do. But he simply blinks and says, slowly, “I am sure you will manage with practice.”

Wei Ying can’t help but giggle at him, doing his best not to think aloud about the potential implications. Practice. As in doing this more than once. He will get to practice having Lan Zhan around. Sure, they talked about hanging out more, even about maybe-dates, but… “So funny, Lan Zhan,” he says inanely.

Somehow, Lan Zhan winds up being right. Wei Ying mirrors his posture and opens his books in a semi-circle around him. He opens the lecture slides on his phone and props it up against the back of Lan Zhan’s laptop, and they settle into a comfortable quiet, eating their pizza and absorbing knowledge or whatever. Lan Zhan seems to relax more and more, which Wei Ying feels torn about. On the one hand, he’s glad if Lan Zhan feels comfortable around him. On the other hand, he wishes Lan Zhan had felt this comfortable around him before now!

He tries to think through options for maintaining this level of Comfortable Friendship That Perhaps May Lead To Something More. Maybe if he doesn’t laugh his ass off when Lan Zhan does nice (and arguably Very Sexy!) things for him, that will be a good start.

There’s a lot of pizza. Wei Ying makes another two trips to the fridge until he finally brings out the last of it. Each time, Lan Zhan carefully picks off all the meat, and each time, Wei Ying studiously avoids watching Lan Zhan’s fingers. Once he’s settled in with his final slice, Wei Ying plasters a smile on his face. They have been silent for far too long, and Wei Ying has some investigating to do.

“So, tell me about this composition of yours. Is it… for someone?” Wiggling his eyebrows suggestively, he leans forward into Lan Zhan’s space like he’s ready to hear a secret—and like he’s not going to be devastated if Lan Zhan replies with a long, romantic response about his one, true, monogamous love. (In which case, should Wei Ying really be referring to this as a date, even jokingly? Now he feels bad. Shit.)

Lan Zhan presses his mouth into a thin line and declines to answer by pointedly taking the last bite of his pizza. He very delicately wipes his fingers on a napkin, dabbing a little bit of water onto it for good measure. Wei Ying can’t imagine why—grease probably can’t even stay on Lan Zhan’s body. His perfect skin would reject it immediately.

Wei Ying does his best not to stare at Lan Zhan’s neck again. He really does. Except that Lan Zhan takes a long swig from his bottle directly after he swallows, and—oh, wow. There is the hickey on full display—a darkened spot stark against Lan Zhan’s flawless neck. Wei Ying’s mouth goes dry. He licks his lips and tries to think how to best bring up the topic of dating.

“So, I have a hot date tomorrow night,” he says because his mouth apparently wants to say words before he can consciously register them. Heat floods to his cheeks at the same moment Lan Zhan chokes on his water.

“I see,” Lan Zhan says once he has his coughing under control. He sets his water bottle aside and proceeds not to ask any follow-up questions about Wei Ying’s personal life. Wei Ying isn’t sure if this is a good or bad thing.

“Guess it’s my turn for all the fun!” Wei Ying adds, deciding he might as well commit to this as a means of squeezing out date talk from Lan Zhan. He’s already doubting this life choice, but at least it’s a choice. “Hey, Lan Zhan, when you go on dates, do you—”

“No,” says Lan Zhan, staring intently at his computer screen.

“You didn’t even let me finish!” Wei Ying pouts. “I just thought that maybe since we’re finally getting close to each other—”

Lan Zhan looks up at that. “Finally?” he asks.

“Yeah, at least I hope so! Wouldn’t you agree? Especially after the Abyss?”

“I would.” Lan Zhan eyes him. “You did not think we were close before?”

Wei Ying sputters a bit. “Well, I mean… I thought—at least, I certainly hoped... but we had to establish ‘no small talk’, even!”

“People who are friends still engage in small talk,” Lan Zhan points out.

“Yeah, sure, but—anyway, we’re friends then? Definitely?”

“Of course.” Lan Zhan looks almost hurt, which is not allowed to happen.

“No, no, Lan Zhan, don’t worry! I knew we were friends by my definition! I just wasn’t sure if you considered us friends. And if you didn’t, I guess that would make us not friends after all. But everyone thought I was silly for worrying, so I guess they were right—”

“They were.”

“Well. Apparently so.” Wei Ying is positive his face is flaming red, though he’s not sure if it’s more from embarrassment or excitement. “I’ve been telling them this for ages, anyway, that we just needed to absorb you!”

“Absorb me?” Now Lan Zhan just looks baffled. Maybe Jiang Cheng was right about the word choice.

“Into our group of friends!” Wei Ying clarifies. “Like, fully. If you wanted to. I just couldn’t tell if, you know, you liked us that much. So not ‘absorb’ in a creepy way.”

“What would a creepy absorption look like?” Lan Zhan asks. “I find myself curious.”

“Oh, there are so many ways for things to be creepy,” Wei Ying informs him. “I probably wouldn’t even be able to think of most of them. Maybe mind control? Or some science experiment where we transformed your physical body into, like, a liquid and then—” Bad idea. Now he’s thinking about Lan Zhan’s physical body. “Or if we somehow sucked out all of your personality—” Another bad idea. Now he’s thinking about sucking Lan Zhan. “And that’s not even getting into all the possible weird sex stuff!” Even worse idea. Wei Ying is not doing great at this.

Lan Zhan arches an eyebrow.

“No, I’m not going to elaborate, shut up,” Wei Ying says in a meager attempt at damage control.

Lan Zhan hums.

Anyway,” Wei Ying continues loudly. “My point is that you can tell me about your dating life or whatever.”

“I can tell you about my dating life because you aren’t going to elaborate on ‘weird sex stuff?’” Lan Zhan asks. His ears are red again.

“No?” Wei Ying squeaks. “Yes? What?”

“What if I’m into…” Lan Zhan pauses. Wei Ying is going to die. “...weird sex stuff,” Lan Zhan finishes, enunciating each syllable way too clearly for Wei Ying’s delicate sensibilities to handle. He does not know how he is going to handle knowing what Lan Zhan sounds like when he says “weird sex stuff.” Holy fuck.

Wei Ying stares at him. Lan Zhan stares back. After a moment, Wei Ying tries to look away before he gets too distracted by Lan Zhan’s mouth. Unfortunately, his glance falls on Lan Zhan’s neck again, where the hickey reminds him that Lan Zhan is, apparently, engaging in activities that may possibly approach “weird sex stuff” with other people who are not Wei Ying. Right. Wei Ying clears his throat.

His shirt and hoodie suddenly feel far too close to his neck. Sharp rays of heat prickle down his back. He weighs his options and makes a decision.

“Wow, is it hot in here? It’s totally hot in here,” he says. “I’m just gonna shed some layers real quick, okay? Don’t worry, haha, I won’t take off all my clothes.”

“I am not worried,” Lan Zhan says serenely.

“Uh, great. Awesome.” Wei Ying knows he is absolutely not capable of being as coolly graceful as he’d like, so he gives up all pretense and awkwardly twists his torso and arms until he manages to pull his hoodie over his head. Unfortunately, due to everything being sticky and sweaty, his shirt comes up with it. When he glances over at Lan Zhan after freeing his head and most of his arms from the sweatshirt, he finds him watching closely.

“Sorry, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying struggles a bit more with his T-shirt, which keeps riding up more and has somehow gotten even more twisted. Where is this sudden self-consciousness coming from? Wei Ying spends practically his entire summer shirtless every year, but of course his body has to pick now to flush red absolutely everywhere.

“You do not need to apologize,” says Lan Zhan, continuing to watch.

“Ugh, I didn’t mean to actually strip for you,” Wei Ying laments. “...This time,” he adds. Best to cover all his bases.

Lan Zhan hums again. “No need to stop on my behalf,” he says.

Wei Ying very determinedly does not think about that statement and instead focuses on getting the rest of his sweatshirt off. When he finally pulls his arms free of the sleeves, he discovers his ordeal is far from over. Now he’s trapped inside his twisted-up shirt, and he’s flashing his nipples at Lan Zhan. And, even if Wei Ying can’t see him very well anymore, he’s 98% positive Lan Zhan is still looking.

Wei Ying gives up. “Ah, Lan Zhan,” he says weakly, muffled slightly by the cloth. “Would you mind helping me get unstuck?”

“Of course.” Setting his laptop on the bed, Lan Zhan slides to his feet and moves until he is standing in front of Wei Ying. His fingers skim across Wei Ying’s bare sides in the process of going for the hem of the shirt.

“Sorry. Ticklish,” Wei Ying lies, his voice a little hoarse, when he fails to suppress a shiver. He shifts a little so both his legs are dangling off the side of the bed.

“Hmm,” says Lan Zhan, looking down at Wei Ying with dark eyes. His eyelashes are so long. It’s totally unfair. Wei Ying wants to kiss them, but that would be weird. Who kisses eyelashes?

“You’re really taking your time, aren’t you?” Wei Ying asks, a hysterical note in his voice.

Lan Zhan squeezes his side, which can’t possibly be an accident. “All right,” he says and, in one smooth motion, pulls the shirt over Wei Ying’s head and completely off. “There.” He nods firmly, looking satisfied. “You are no longer stuck.”

“Uhhhhh,” Wei Ying says before his brain manages to kick back online. “I meant for you to help pull the shirt down.”

“You said you intended to shed some layers,” Lan Zhan counters. “Plural.”

“Well.” Wei Ying doesn’t know what else to say to that. He huffs a little breath out through his nose.

“Would you like me to put it back on for you?”

What a ridiculous question. Of course Wei Ying would love for Lan Zhan to spend as much of their free time together as possible dressing and undressing him. “No,” he says instead. He has some sense of self-preservation.

Before Wei Ying can reach for the shirt to put it back on, Lan Zhan has grabbed it and tossed it across the room into the closet in a shockingly fierce manner. When Wei Ying looks at him, speechless, Lan Zhan simply says, “Since you don’t need it,” and steps back, still facing Wei Ying.

What the fuck.

“Do you prefer all your study partners to be shirtless?” Wei Ying quips. “Oh my god, is this a gateway activity to weird sex things? Is there something we should be talking about, Lan Zhan?”

Wei Ying really does intend to come off as teasing, but his face is too red, and his voice is all wrong, and—and he’s pretty sure he’s only playing himself. He can’t help leaning forward into Lan Zhan’s space, and Lan Zhan doesn’t move to pick up his laptop again. And he keeps looking at Wei Ying’s mouth. And Wei Ying keeps looking at his mouth.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying breathes.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan replies, and oh, he’s actually coming closer again. Oh. Oh. This is actually happening. He reaches down and rests his palm on Wei Ying’s cheek, guiding him forward, and—

“We should probably study,” Wei Ying blurts out, in what is probably the worst move of his life.

Lan Zhan pauses, his hand still on Wei Ying’s face. “Should we?”

“Yes?” Wei Ying is not at all confident in this decision. He undercuts his own words by putting his hand over Lan Zhan’s and pressing it closer to his cheek. “Probably?”

“I am good at multitasking,” Lan Zhan says. He steps even closer, nudging Wei Ying’s legs farther apart and standing between them. Even though the bed is elevated, Wei Ying has to tilt his head up to maintain eye contact.

“Well, I’m a terrible student,” Wei Ying rambles. “You’ve seen me in class, never paying attention. I need every bit of studying I can get.”

“Hm,” says Lan Zhan, sliding his hand down until he’s cupping the back of Wei Ying’s neck. His thumb pushes gently against Wei Ying’s jugular; he seems lost in thought for a moment until Wei Ying lets his own hand fall to Lan Zhan’s wrist, lightly circling it. “Strange, then,” Lan Zhan continues, thumb, now absently caressing the soft underside of Wei Ying’s jaw, “that you still maintain such high grades.”

“Uhhh, is that a compliment? Are you complimenting me?”

Lan Zhan slides his other hand into Wei Ying’s hair. “One might almost think,” he says conversationally, ignoring the question, “that studying was not your primary reason for wanting to spend time together.” Wei Ying blinks owlishly up at him, and Lan Zhan tugs on a small handful of hair. He seems surprised when Wei Ying’s head tilts back so easily, eyelashes fluttering a couple of times as his mouth parts. Like he’s experimenting, he yanks Wei Ying’s hair next, tilting his head back even more.

“Holy shit,” Wei Ying says faintly. Where did this version of Lan Zhan come from? He looks a little closer and finds the slightest hint of… something in Lan Zhan’s eyes—hesitation? Nervousness?—which, along with Lan Zhan’s red ears, at least kind of alleviates his concerns that his friend has been replaced by an alien sex god.

“You may take a minute to decide how you wish to spend the rest of our evening together,” says Lan Zhan, tone deceptively light. He presses up against Wei Ying’s bare chest, hands remaining in Wei Ying’s hair and on his neck. “I will wait.”

Wei Ying revises his opinion for the millionth time this evening: maybe he needs to be concerned about that Alien baby after all.

He has no idea what is happening. On the one hand, he’s pretty sure that Lan Zhan just propositioned him, which is an absolute dream come true. On the other hand, maybe he should try to use his words and attempt to figure out where the fuck this is coming from. Abruptly, Wei Ying realizes that Lan Zhan’s hickey makes a whole lot more sense if he’s been hiding this confidence all along.

He does still want to clarify the hickey situation, though. If this is going to happen, Wei Ying would at least like to know where he stands and what type of relationship (oh my god, he thinks, this is a legitimately relevant question now) Lan Zhan might actually be interested in. He takes a moment to formulate his thoughts, then opens his mouth.

“Lan Zhan, what the fuck,” he breathes, then immediately winces. More like Wei Ying, what the fuck. That is nowhere near what he intended to say.

“We don’t have to,” Lan Zhan murmurs. He is very close to Wei Ying, practically speaking directly into his mouth. “I thought maybe—you seemed—” He cuts himself off. “If you don’t want to… ”

Wei Ying has Lan Zhan’s shirt bunched in his fists and their lips pressed together before his brain can issue an executive override. Lan Zhan gasps, but before he can react and do something like deepen the kiss, the dial-up noises in Wei Ying’s head cut out and he realizes what he’s doing.

Lan Zhan’s eyes widen as they pull away from each other—Wei Ying’s thoughts exactly.

“Uh, homework?” he manages, the hysterics from earlier threatening to make a reappearance. “Shall we?”

Lan Zhan runs his hands down Wei Ying’s chest and rests them on Wei Ying’s sides again briefly. Wei Ying sways toward him automatically but then remembers himself and stops. “Okay,” Lan Zhan says finally.

Wei Ying clears his throat. “So much homework!” he says, too loudly. “Wow, this weekend is going to be so busy. Guess I’ll have to buckle down and have study parties all weekend!”

Lan Zhan looks amused. “Study parties like this one?”

Wei Ying flushes. “No, of course—wait, uh, what are your plans for the weekend?”

“I will be visiting my brother,” says Lan Zhan. He sounds almost regretful, but then again, Wei Ying could easily be projecting his own hopes and dreams onto every miniscule shift in Lan Zhan’s tone and expression.

“For the whole weekend?”

“Yes.” Lan Zhan removes his hands from Wei Ying and moves to sit next to him on the bed again. “I will be back on Monday morning.

“Awww, that’s too bad,” Wei Ying says before he can stop himself. “I’ll miss you.”

“It sounds like you will be kept busy enough.”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying sighs. “All that studying.”

“And your date,” Lan Zhan prompts.

Scratching at his neck, Wei Ying tilts his head. “My what? Oh! Oh, yeah, and my date. Obviously,” he says, rolling his eyes at himself in what he hopes is a convincing cover for his slip-up. “That is a thing that is happening, yes. Me and my date and perchance some sex stuff that may or may not be weird, as one does on dates. You know how it is.” Wow, he really needs to stop bringing up weird sex stuff as a concept. Actually, he realizes, it’s awfully silly of him to be going on about this fake date after… that. He opens his mouth to say something reasonable, like, “Haha, just kidding, I made that up because I wanted to find out about your dating life, but now I realize I could have just asked, especially considering that we have now kissed!” Unfortunately, nothing comes out.

“Hm,” says Lan Zhan. “You will have to tell me about it next week.”

“... What?” Coherent thoughts are hard sometimes, okay? “Why would you want—” His eyes snap once again to Lan Zhan’s hickey, and he sighs. Ah, fine. He can put this off for a few more days. “I mean. Sure,” he says instead. “We can… compare stories?” It makes no sense to him why Lan Zhan would want to do this, but that’s one way to get his answers. Make it topical.

“Stories?” Lan Zhan asks.

“Oh, you know.” Wei Ying waves a hand.  “I update you about my date, you update me about your brother, I update you about my brother, you update me about your dates.”

“I have no dates planned,” says Lan Zhan.

“Right, because you’re with your brother. Of course.” It’s a good thing Wei Ying is putting off this conversation a little more. He needs to come up with better segues. “Anyway. Monday? We can hang out again?”

“Okay,” Lan Zhan says. “Monday. Do not forget we have an assignment due.”

Oh, shit. All this talk about homework and successful studying, and Wei Ying had still managed to file “History of Architecture essay” at the very bottom of his priorities. “Of course I wouldn’t forget,” he scoffs. “It’s basically done anyway.”

It’s not done. It’s not even started, but he has a vague idea of what he needs to do. He can envision it, and that’s certainly something.

With that settled, they return to studying for a while, Wei Ying sneaking across the room to grab his shirt again. He eyes Lan Zhan to see if he can sense any disappointment, but Lan Zhan is once again staring intently at his laptop. Surprisingly, Wei Ying proceeds to actually get work done that evening, despite Lan Zhan and his beautiful neck and his hickey and his definitely, provably kissable lips right in front of him.

When Lan Zhan finally packs up to leave, Wei Ying fidgets by the door, watching him. “Say hi to your brother for me!” he bursts out as Lan Zhan slides his laptop back into his bag. “He seems nice.”

“He is,” says Lan Zhan darkly. It’s odd; Wei Ying wouldn’t have pegged Lan Zhan as someone to have resentment toward a sibling he clearly cares about, but that’s twice now that he has used this tone about his brother. What must Lan Huan be doing to make Lan Zhan so annoyed?

“Huh,” says Wei Ying. “Well, you’ll have fun with your brother, and I’ll have fun on my, uh, date, and then it will be the week again!”

“Yes, that is generally how weekends work,” says Lan Zhan.

“Thank you for coming over,” Wei Ying says. “It was nice to hang out”—he very specifically tries to avoid anything approaching the word “date” this time; his nerves can’t handle it—“without, uh, so many other people around.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan does something with his face that Wei Ying could probably parse as approaching a smile if his brain were capable of parsing anything at the moment. He’s too distracted by the eye contact. Before he can manage to pull himself together, Lan Zhan volunteers (!) another sentence. “It is sometimes… difficult for me to know how to spend time with people. Thank you for inviting me.”

Wei Ying feels completely and utterly flustered. “Of course,” he says after a moment. “You make it easy.”

Lan Zhan flushes a bit, just on the tip of his nose. A new, more charged silence hovers between them. Eventually, Lan Zhan reaches out and squeezes his hand.

Wei Ying’s brain shuts down again. “Your hand is so big,” he says helplessly. He quickly turns his over and squeezes Lan Zhan’s hand back. “It covers my whole hand, oh no. Oh, no.” He should definitely not be speaking any of this out loud.

“Is that bad?” Lan Zhan asks, shifting his hand a little but not pulling away yet. He sounds smug, the asshole.

“Definitely not!” Wei Ying can never let Nie Huaisang find out about this conversation. “It’s just. Nice. It’s nice.” It’s also weird because what are they doing? Holding hands, kissing, doing weird unintentional strip teases, whatever that thing with the sausage was? And yet Wei Ying still can’t muster up the courage to ask the extremely basic question, Are you seeing anyone right now? Whatever. He will find a way to start that conversation on Monday.

Lan Zhan does the almost-smiling thing with his face again. “Good.” He squeezes Wei Ying’s hand one more time, then—tragically—pulls away and picks up his backpack. “I’ll see you Monday.” He’s gone before Wei Ying can manage so much as another word.

“Now my hand is cold,” Wei Ying whimpers as the door closes. He can’t tell if Lan Zhan hears him.

Alone in his room again, Wei Ying does some mental math and assesses his situation. He has two full days before he sees Lan Zhan again. That’s two full days to either come up with an elaborate fake date story or figure out how to tell Lan Zhan he was just making shit up in hopes of finding out more about Lan Zhan’s dating life. Either option should be able to lead him to the end result of finding out more about Lan Zhan’s dating life. He contemplates his options for conversation starters. Dates… fake dates… Lan Zhan’s hickey… aha!

It’s the perfect plan. It will give him a lead into the conversation, will allow him more time to come up with a way to ask Lan Zhan about the mysterious hickey giver, is relatively neutral if he chickens out at the last second again, and may, in fact, lead to Lan Zhan asking some questions of his own. There couldn’t possibly be an easier way to approach the situation. Wei Ying needs to fake a hickey.

---

direct message: tri-street allstars

Nie Huaisang: so how did it go

Wei Ying: uh
Wei Ying: so
Wei Ying: here’s the thing

Jiang Cheng: oh god

Wei Ying: you know snakes

Nie Huaisang: snek
Nie Huaisang: wait no
Nie Huaisang: *sneck

Jiang Cheng: sneck

Wen Ning: sneck

Wen Qing: sneck

Wei Ying: wow wen qing, you too

Wen Qing: yes.

Wen Ning: what about snecks?

Wei Ying: you know how they shed

Jiang Cheng: you did NOT

Wei Ying: 👉👉

Jiang Cheng: 🤦♂️

Wen Ning: 😳

Nie Huaisang: deets, PLEASE

Wei Ying: so there i was, bbq sauce on my tiddies
>>Nie Huaisang reacted with 😂
Wei Ying: jk jk but he DID hand-feed me sausage from his cold pizza because he doesn’t eat meat. no progress on the investigation though

Nie Huaisang: …………
Nie Huaisang: “investigation”
Nie Huaisang: sure, wei xiong, if u want to tell urself that’s what ur doing

Wei Ying: it is thanks :)
Wei Ying: i also learned he doesn’t drink and that he types, like, WAY too fast
Wei Ying: seriously. lightspeed typing. i am in awe.

Nie Huaisang: talented fingers

Wei Ying: you don’t even KNOW

Wen Ning: do YOU?

Wei Ying: wELL
Wei Ying: Jiang Cheng i see you typing and it’s not what you think

Jiang Cheng: is there a way we can know LESS?
Jiang Cheng: im trying not to think at all, tyvm

Wei Ying: shut up 😤
Wei Ying: oh yeah we know you’re good at that anyway

Wen Ning: so just to do a quick summary
Wen Ning: snecks. shedding. sausage. fingers.
Wen Ning: am i missing anything
Wen Ning: i feel like i’m missing some key points

Wei Ying: ok so like. it was warm, right, so i was trying 2 take off my sweater. and i got... stuck

Nie Huaisang: “stuck”

Wei Ying: i did. and he helped me out of it

Nie Huaisang: “helped”

Wei Ying: and his Hands.
Wei Ying: they’re just.
Wei Ying: hhhhrgh

Wen Ning: mood

Wei Ying: EXCUSE??? what kinds of moods are YOU having???? you infant!

Nie Huaisang: wei xiong wasn’t ‘take off clothes in front of lan zhan’ like, way down at point 14 of your plan? a last resort situation??

Jiang Cheng: huaisang how do you know this off the top of ur head. i am concerned
Jiang Cheng: i’m making my concerned face at u

Wei Ying: the really constipated one?
>> Jiang Cheng reacted with 😡

Nie Huaisang: I have the annotated doc on my phone :))))))

Wei Ying: nah I moved it up the list after I groped his thigh at the abyss

Jiang Cheng: you WHAT

Wei Ying: i thot u wanted to know less

Wen Ning: oooooooo get some, wei gege
Wen Ning: but also make sure u ask him soon!!!!! which was the whole point of that exercise wasn’t it

Wei Ying: i will i will

Jiang Cheng: *narrator voice* he won’t.
>> Wei Ying reacted with 😡

Wei Ying: ok we DID also kiss tho

Nie Huaisang: ohhhhh shitttttt!!!!!!

Jiang Cheng: 🤢

Wen Ning: wow congrats!!

Wei Ying: YEAH! congrats to me indeed!!!

Wen Qing: please practice safe sex

Wei Ying: wen qing i stg

Wen Ning: so he IS available!

Wei Ying: available! how dare you! he’s not a library book!

Jiang Cheng: that may be the nerdiest thing you’ve ever said

Nie Huaisang: i bet it’d get lan zhan all hot & heavy tho

Jiang Cheng: must we?

Wei Ying: we must

Wen Ning: i’m glad u finally had that convo!
Wen Ning: i’m proud of u 🥰

Wei Ying: well

Jiang Cheng: no way

Wei Ying: here’s the thing

Jiang Cheng: are u fucking kidding me

Nie Huaisang: lmaoooooo

Wei Ying: we haven’t had a conversation, per se

Nie Huaisang: of course not

Wei Ying: i still gotta work my way up to it! that’s a lot of context i might be missing!

Wen Ning: i feel like the part of the context where you KISSED might be relevant

Wei Ying: maybe! probably? idk! I just don’t wanna be too weird about it

Jiang Cheng: trying not to be weird about things has never gone well for you

Wei Ying: it’s ok, i’ve just readjusted the Plan a bit
Wei Ying: which reminds me
Wei Ying: hey nie xiong

Nie Huaisang: that’s my name

Wei Ying: i need u for a top secret mission
>> Jiang Cheng, Wen Ning, and Wen Qing reacted with 👀

Nie Huaisang: now?

Wei Ying: nah get ur beauty sleep
Wei Ying: but
Wei Ying: We Shall Be In Touch

Nie Huaisang: 👌

Wen Ning: oooooo tell us about it later!

Jiang Cheng: 🙄 you know you guys have like. direct messages for this sort of thing, right

Wei Ying: :) yeah

---

By Sunday evening, Wei Ying has not made much progress on the hickey front. Before dinner, he finally gives in and texts Nie Huaisang, secret mission time now 👀 come over? Then he sits alone in his room and contemplates how best to go about the process of giving himself a hickey. Which is, he reassures himself for the umpteenth time, a totally normal thing to be doing. However, hickey-giving is typically a two-person job, so this whole “attempting it solo” thing has not been going well.

Wei Ying is a flexible guy, yes, but even he can’t reach his own neck with his mouth. In the unfortunate absence of any superhero-level elasticity, he tries for his shoulder instead—without much success. Big surprise. He has enough time for one more last-ditch effort before Nie Huaisang arrives, so he pulls off his shirt for easier access and goes for it.

Even his shoulder is a little hard to reach, but Wei Ying trusts in the power of hard work and believing in himself. He moves his arm around, seeking the best angle and finally settling on sticking his elbow out in front of him as he turns his head to the side. Okay. Positioning achieved.

It soon becomes clear that Wei Ying has no idea how to give a hickey. He bites tentatively, but only manages to scrape his teeth along the skin. The red marks fade in moments—exactly the opposite of what he wants. There should be some sort of suction involved in the hickey creation process, right? Unfortunately, sucking shoulder skin into your mouth is harder than it looks. Several failed attempts only leave him with a few tooth marks, a weird, drooly red spot, and a lot of thoroughly embarrassing noises. Perhaps not his finest hour.

He tries one more time, culminating in yet another gross popping sound, and groans loudly—just in time to hear a knock at the door. He quickly wipes down his shoulder with a shirt that should really be in his laundry basket and goes to open it.

It’s Nie Huaisang. “What was that noise?” he asks without preamble. “Were you jerking off again?”

“That was one time,” Wei Ying whines as he stands aside to let him in. “You walk in on me one time, and suddenly it’s all you ever talk about? Stop being so obsessed with me.”

“Once was enough to be permanently scarring,” Nie Huaisang informs him with a haunted look in his eyes.

“Well, I wasn’t. Come on, does it look like that’s what i was doing?”

Nie Huaisang inspects him. Wei Ying is suddenly conscious of the fact that he is not wearing a shirt. “Kind of,” Nie Huaisang says. “What’s that on your shoulder?”

Of course he would notice without any prompting.

“That,” says Wei Ying, “is your secret mission, should you choose to accept it. I need you to help give me a hickey, agent.”

Nie Huaisang’s eyebrows shoot up. He pushes past Wei Ying into the room and toes off his shoes. “First of all, we are definitely not having this conversation by an open door,” he says, kicking the door shut. “Second of all… what?”

“Are you going to accept the mission or not?” Sometimes the most effective way to get Nie Huaisang to do something is to give him as little information as possible, and this is a perfect opportunity to provide zero context. The group chat is already going to be insufferable.

“You need me to help give you a hickey,” Nie Huaisang repeats. “You need me to help give you a hickey. You need me to help give you a hickey. You need me to help give you—”

“Yeah, yeah, sounds like you get it,” Wei Ying interrupts.

Nie Huaisang walks over to Wei Ying’s bed and sits down with a whumpf. “Any reason for this? Perhaps related to that study date you had right before you said you had a mission for me?”

“No,” Wei Ying lies. He knows Nie Huaisang knows he’s lying, but that’s no reason to tell him the full truth.

“Sure,” Nie Huaisang agrees amiably. “Seems legit.”

“So you’ll do it?”

“My dude,” says Nie Huaisang, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees and giving Wei Ying his most long-suffering look. “You know you can just use a plastic bottle, right?”

“Yeah,” says Wei Ying, who definitely did not know that. “Obviously. But I don’t have one of those lying around. I’m too environmentally conscious. Responsible. A role model for our A-Ning. And like, our generation too, I guess.”

“Okay, then why don’t you just use makeup? I know you have eyeshadow lying around somewhere.”

“Yeah, but it’s all glittery. I’m not trying to fake a hickey from, like, a sparkle vampire.”

“Once again,” Nie Huaisang says, “I would like to give you the opportunity to explain why you are trying to fake a hickey.”

“Once again, I will decline this opportunity.” Wei Ying could give a few details about the making out and discussion of Weird Sex Things, but it’s not crucial to the current state of the mission.

“Alright,” Nie Huaisang says, as if he’s done prying for once in his life. (He’s definitely not. Wei Ying refuses to let his guard down.) “Makeup probably isn’t the best idea, anyway. It’s too easy to smudge, especially if someone is examining it closely. Perhaps with their own mouth.”

“Why are you like this?” Before Nie Huaisang can give him any sort of smartass answer, Wei Ying continues, “Anyway, yeah, I’ve considered all the options”—he absolutely has not—“and I really want it to be as realistic as possible. Like, fully able to convince anyone.”

“Anyone, huh?” Nie Huaisang really does not know how to let anything go. “No one in particular? No one who, say, has been known to take off your clothes?”

“I never said anything about that!” Wei Ying protests, even though Nie Huaisang is technically correct.

“No one who, as a hypothetical example, might spend a large amount of time near your face while feeding you sausage?”

“You’re really extrapolating a lot from only a few pieces of information.” Wei Ying should have known better than to get into a battle of information with Nie Huaisang. Rule number one of being Nie Huaisang’s friend: never underestimate him when gossip is on the line.

“I just want to make sure I know my audience.” Nie Huaisang gives him the puppy-dog eyes that always make Nie Mingjue capitulate in moments and give him whatever he wants. Wei Ying knows better.

Anyone,” he says firmly. “Now be a bro and give me a hickey, please.”

“Well, since you’re asking nicely,” Nie Huaisang grumbles. He points next to him on the bed. “Sit down. You’re too tall. As an artist, I need to have proper access to my canvas.”

“Stop objectifying me,” Wei Ying replies automatically, but sits down anyway. He straightens his back and folds his hands in his lap. “This is weird.”

Nie Huaisang shuffles onto his knees and investigates Wei Ying’s neck from multiple angles, pushing aside a few stray hairs which have escaped the messy ponytail, and hops off the bed. “Very weird,” he agrees. “I’m going to try it this way, okay?” He leans in, get a few inches away from Wei Ying, and then pulls back. “Nope,” he says. “You’re breathing on me. It’s freaking me out.”

Wei Ying rolls his eyes. “What, am I supposed to hold my breath this whole time?”

“If you wouldn’t mind,” Nie Huaisang says sweetly.

“Fine.” Wei Ying grumbles under his breath before inhaling deeply. He closes his eyes and tries not to move. After a few seconds, something brushes the skin on his neck, and he jerks backward. “Aghh!” he yells. “What was that? Are you trying to tickle me or something? Gross.” He opens his eyes.

Nie Huaisang has pulled back again and is standing in front of him, arms folded. “That was my nose. Which was touching your neck because it is necessary for my face to make contact with your skin if I’m gonna give you a hickey.”

Wei Ying drags his hand down his face. “This was a bad idea.”

“Sure was,” Nie Huaisang agrees. “I’m pretty sure I’ve been saying that from the beginning.”

“Okay, okay.” Wei Ying takes another deep breath. “Let’s try one more time.”

“Fine. Here, how about this time I’ll hold onto your head so my mouth isn’t coming out of nowhere.”

“What, like a vampire?”

“If that’s what you’re into. You’ve brought them up, like, twice now.”

“Because it’s contextually relevant.”

“I’m just saying. No judgement.”

“That’s part of the problem. Anything you’re not judging me for is probably not a good idea. You’re making me second guess everything.” Wei Ying shifts on the bed, adjusting his posture. “Stop stalling.”

Nie Huaisang, as promised, places one hand firmly on Wei Ying’s shoulder and the other toward the top of his neck, tilting Wei Ying’s head sideways. He leans in, then pauses, straightens a little, and says, “You know, Wei-xiong, you’re really… sticking your neck out for this idea.”

“Oh my god, shut up,” Wei Ying groans.

Nie Huaisang cackles and leans back in. He bites Wei Ying’s neck lightly. Far too lightly.

“Come on,” Wei Ying whines. “You gotta, like, use your lips. For suction.”

“I am aware of how suction works,” says Nie Huaisang. “Okay. Fine.” He takes a breath.

Wei Ying does the same, scrunching up his face in preparation.

Of course, Jiang Cheng chooses this exact moment to unceremoniously shove open the door and invite himself in. He takes one look at the scene, blinks, and slams the door shut on his way out.

Off the bed like a shot, Wei Ying narrowly avoids smacking Nie Huaisang in the face. “Wait, Jiang Cheng! Wait! It’s not what it lo—” He can’t even get the full phrase out of his mouth before he dissolves into a fit of giggles over the absurdity of this whole thing. He pokes his head out into the hallway and nearly collides with his brother’s chest. “Hi. It’s not what it looks like. Come in, I’m almost ready for dinner.”

“How is that not—never mind, I don’t even want to know,” Jiang Cheng mutters, shoving past into the dorm with a plastic water bottle in hand.

“Oh—” Wei Ying begins, but Nie Huaisang apparently has the same idea and plucks the bottle from Jiang Cheng’s hand, opens the cap, and dumps the remaining contents onto Wei Ying’s dirty laundry. “Huaisang! Now I have to wash those or they’re going to get musty.”

Jiang Cheng looks like he’s about two seconds from dragging his hand down his entire face in exasperation. “Yes, that’s what laundry is about. When was the last time you did any?” he asks, wrinkling his nose. It must be mostly for show because Wei Ying did his laundry only last week and there’s no way it smells that bad in here already.

“I dunno, a month ago maybe?” Wei Ying lies. “How did you get in here anyway?”

“Your door was open.” Jiang Cheng pushes the door closed until it shuts with a click. “Next time you’re being embarrassing, maybe make sure it’s closed all the way.”

“If I’m so embarrassing all the time, you should know to knock,” Wei Ying retorts. He looks over to Nie Huaisang, who is shaking the last of the water from the bottle.

“All right, the technology is ready,” Nie Huaisang announces, advancing on Wei Ying with ominous intent and pushing him back down onto the bed. He squeezes the midsection of the bottle, holds the mouth to Wei Ying’s neck, and lets physics do its work.

Jiang Cheng watches all of this in baffled silence. “Yeah, I definitely don’t want to know. I’m going to need a lot of alcohol to block all of this out.”

“Uh, aren’t we going to the cafeteria to eat?” Wei Ying says. “Pretty sure there’s no alcohol there.”

“Ugh, let me have my hypothetical drunkenness,” Jiang Cheng complains.

“Plus, don’t you have class in the morning?” Nie Huaisang asks, still casually administering fake bottle-hickeys to Wei Ying’s neck before examining his handiwork while Jiang Cheng grumbles unintelligibly by the door.

Nie Huaisang pulls out his phone and opens the front camera so Wei Ying can see. The bruises spread across his lower jawline and dip down to his pulse point. Surprisingly, they look incredibly realistic.

Wei Ying laughs. “Very nice. Thanks, Huaisang. Why can’t my own didi be this helpful?”

“Not on your fucking life,” says Jiang Cheng.

---

direct message: tri-street allstars

Wen Ning: it’s the middle of the afternoon and i haven’t heard any complaining from any of you about it being monday
Wen Ning: are you all okay?

Nie Huaisang: i can’t find my phone
Nie Huaisang: how am i supposed to contact anyone in the outside world without a phone

Wen Qing: you are literally messaging us right now

Jiang Cheng: he’s just trying to come up with an excuse for why he slept in again and missed two classes today
Jiang Cheng: two. whole. classes.

Nie Huaisang: i need my beauty sleep 💁

Jiang Cheng: not thru 1pm you dont

Wen Ning: you slept until 1pm???
Wen Ning: that takes skill tbh. i’m impressed

Nie Huaisang: ty i work hard for this recognition

Wen Qing: i can’t believe i haven’t blocked all of you by now

Wen Ning: where’s wei gege? it’s not like him to miss out on an opportunity to clown on you

Jiang Cheng: class, i think

Wen Ning: that’s never stopped him before

Nie Huaisang: he’s been stressing all weekend over what bad life choices he can make to get lan zhan’s attention
Nie Huaisang: it’s prob better for all of us if he’s not checking his phone

Wei Ying: exCUSE
Wei Ying: you dare slander me so??

Jiang Cheng: it’s not slander if it’s true

Wen Qing: or if it’s in writing

Jiang Cheng: it’s not libel if it’s true

Wen Ning: hi wei gege!
Wen Ning: how’s lan zhan today?

Jiang Cheng: wen ning you traitor

Wen Qing: welp

Wei Ying: IM SO GLAD YOU ASKED

Wen Qing: here we go

Nie Huaisang: maybe i should just go back to sleep

Wei Ying: we had our glorious reunion today in class
Wei Ying: by which i mean we said a few words to each other before he started ignoring me to pay attention to class, but that’s just how he is

Wen Qing: you have never in your life been capable of saying only a few words at a time

Wei Ying: WOW wen qing, the ONE time you deign to join our conversation
Wei Ying: it’s really just to say such cruel things about me?

Wen Qing: that is correct

Jiang Cheng: im loving this anti wei ying energy tbh

Wei Ying: well ok fine i maybe said a lot more words than he did
Wei Ying: but he still LOOKED at me
Wei Ying: u know
Wei Ying: how he does

Nie Huaisang: there are CHILDREN present

Wen Ning: i can’t say i know how he looks at you since i still haven’t met him, but i feel like i have a general impression

Jiang Cheng: trust me, however bad u think it is, it’s worse

Wei Ying: so anyway
Wei Ying: as some of you know
Wei Ying: i have been preparing for this reunion by working on, let’s say, an art project
Wei Ying: (im the art, obv)

Jiang Cheng: not this again

Wei Ying: and sure enough, he gave me an especially weird look today
Wei Ying: he ran (strode, upon his long and powerful legs) out of class before i could talk to him, but we’re gonna hang out later
Wei Ying: maybe his curiosity will finally get the better of him and he’ll finally be willing to give up information in exchange for my own kiss and tell~

Wen Ning: what?

Wei Ying: im gonna tell him it was huaisang lol

Nie Huaisang: :) i’d rather not die today, thanks

Wen Qing: do i even want to know what this is about

Wen Ning: just as an educated guess, probably not

Wei Ying: yes! Huaisang gave me hickeys on my neck :)
Wei Ying: [Attachment: img4002.jpeg]
Wei Ying: see? :)

Wen Qing: yeah, you were right, this is not information i needed

Jiang Cheng: i already had to see this once, why the fuck are you forcing this upon my eyes again

Wen Ning: wait hold on
Wen Ning: wait it
Wen Ning: it actually happened? what
Wen Ning: was this your secret mission
Wen Ning: wei gege what the fuck

Wei Ying: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wei Ying: WHO TAUGHT HIM THAT WORD

Wen Ning: i looked it up in the dictionary

Wei Ying: i am absolutely anti-censorship but we need 2 round up all the dictionaries in the world and burn them immediately :\
Wei Ying: you can’t know that word! It’s illegal!!!!! you’re 12!!!!!

Wen Qing: ah yes, “fuck,” a word that historically no 12yo has ever heard in their life

Wen Ning: plus, you know, i’m not actually 12

Wei Ying: i repeat, numbers are confusing and i don’t understand them. and u are babie

Nie Huaisang: can we get back to admiring my art

Wen Ning: yes, no one has answered my question

Nie Huaisang: i think it’s my best work yet

Jiang Cheng: i truly do not want to know who else you’ve been “working” on

Wei Ying: that means he’s desperate to know
Wei Ying: hey jiang cheng i’m sure if you asked nicely…..

Jiang Cheng: how do i block people irl

Nie Huaisang: [Attachment: restrainingorder.jpeg]
Nie Huaisang: there are other ways but they all involve prison

Jiang Cheng: god fucking damn it

Wen Ning: :O jiang ge didn’t you know that word is illegal??

*

Wei Ying is about to chirp in with, Yeah, Jiang Cheng, don’t fucking swear around the literal child when someone taps him on the shoulder, and he almost launches his phone halfway to Jupiter. He whips around, and whatever he was about to say dies on the tip of his tongue.

“… Lan Zhan!”

“Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan seems stiff, which is saying a lot because… it’s Lan Zhan. Even at his most casual, he has the most pristine posture Wei Ying has ever seen on someone of their generation. And his eyes are all… intense.

For a moment, Wei Ying feels like he has been physically shoved back into the version of himself from a few days ago, right before they kissed. It looks a whole lot like Lan Zhan wants to kiss him again. Wei Ying feels a whole lot like he wants to kiss Lan Zhan again. He wonders if that’s something he can just do now.

Instead of throwing himself at Lan Zhan, Wei Ying giggles nervously and decides to hold off for now. “Ah, yup, that’s me! What can I do for Lan-er-gege today?”

Lan Zhan swallows, and his eyes narrow. He opens his mouth, closes it, searches Wei Ying’s face. Blinks. Opens his mouth again. “Would you like to study together again?”

A grin breaks out across Wei Ying’s face. “Obviously!” he says. “We agreed, didn’t we? Should we order food this time, or—”

“No need,” Lan Zhan says. “I will take care of it.”

“Cool!” says Wei Ying. “I’ll try to actually clean my room a little more this time, even!”

“My room is available,” says Lan Zhan.

Oh. Wei Ying tilts his head to the side to make sure his ears aren’t plugged and that he did, in fact, hear that correctly. Just to be extra positive, he echoes, “Your room?”

Somehow, Lan Zhan’s gaze gets even more intense. His brows furrow, and he nods once. “Mn.”

“Yeah, uh, yeah. That sounds... good,” Wei Ying replies, mouth dry. Had he not had any water today? Had Lan Zhan evaporated the liquid from Wei Ying’s body with the sheer force of his presence? Who’s to say. Wei Ying has new problems now, such as the fact that Lan Zhan’s room is not familiar turf. It’s not even neutral turf. It’s. It’s Lan Zhan’s. And he’s inviting Wei Ying to come over. “I. Um. When?”

The line of Lan Zhan’s mouth pitches to one side—neither a smile nor a frown, but incredibly adorable, whatever it is. “I have an errand to run. It won’t take long.”

“Sooo, like, an hour? Forty-five minutes?” Wei Ying says. Forty-five minutes should be plenty of time to have a mini crisis and put himself back together with help from his loving friends and family.

“Forty-five,” Lan Zhan agrees, but doesn’t make to leave. His eyes keep dropping to Wei Ying’s mouth, the muscle in his jaw flexing periodically like he’s clenching it.

Wei Ying could kiss Lan Zhan right now. It certainly looks like he’d be agreeable, but then it would be a whole Thing and Wei Ying wouldn’t be able to work in a good way to ask about Lan Zhan’s hickey without coming off all jealous. “Cool,” he breathes, pulling his phone from his pocket and pretending to check the time. “Well, I’ll see you then!” Backing away, he waves at Lan Zhan’s unmoving form before whirling around—just in time to avoid running into another student—and speed walking to a safe place to have his aforementioned crisis. Maybe he’ll even have two, as a treat.

He unlocks his phone the moment he’s out of Lan Zhan’s line of sight to find so many messages waiting in the group chat. They’re talking about music, apparently, but that’s not important. How had they managed to be so lively without him there to keep the party going? Parking himself at his favorite shady spot near the parking lot, he takes a deep lungful of air and begins to type.

*

Wei Ying: GUYS
Wei Ying: GUESS WHAT

Jiang Cheng: is it too much to guess that you’ve decided to travel the world free of all your worldly possessions (which you have conveniently decided to give to me) so i don’t have to see you yelling in here all the time?

Wei Ying: LAN ZHAN INVITED ME OVER TO STUDY AT HIS PLACE AND SAID HE’D TAKE CARE OF DINNER AND NOW I’M JUST WAITING FOR HIM TO BE DONE WITH AN ERRAND AND I’LL SEE HIM IN FORTY FIVE MINUTES AND AHHHH
Wei Ying: wow jiang cheng rude
Wei Ying: if anyone i’d give all my stuff to wen ning

Jiang Cheng: why must you shout

Wei Ying: why must *I* shout???

Jiang Cheng: do u know how difficult it is to read a solid paragraph of all caps when you’ve had an 8 am and not enough coffee

Wei Ying: sorry sorry im still stuck on, why must *I* shout? i’m not the one who made a freshman cry in my senior year of high school with my obnoxiously loud voice
>>Jiang Cheng reacted with 😡

Jiang Cheng: LISTEN HERE YOU LITTLE SHIT

Wei Ying: jiang cheng ah jiang cheng, why must you shout?

Wen Ning: 🍿🍿🍿

Wei Ying: oh thank god. a-ning, save me

Jiang Cheng: turn on ur location wei ying i just wanna talk

Wen Ning: 🤷♂️ sorry wei gege, i’m stuck at theatre rehearsal
Wen Ning: but i wanted to say congratulations on dinner :)

Wei Ying: THANK YOU.

Wen Ning: and good luck with lan zhan’s neck

Jiang Cheng: ......excuse

Wei Ying: see, a-cheng? you should be more like our a-ning for he is a prime example of how a good didi should act
Wei Ying: hey wait a minute
Wei Ying: wen ning, no
>>Jiang Cheng reacted with 👆
Wei Ying: i am being personally attacked by mine own son

Nie Huaisang: i think you mean wen ning YES

Wen Ning: so what comes after studying then? neckflix and chill? :)
>>Nie Huaisang reacted with 😂

Jiang Cheng: seriously tho ur not in ur room. where’d u go

Wen Ning: what are you gonna watch? maybe titaneck?

Nie Huaisang: a fine piece of cinema

Wen Ning: or perhaps star trek: the neckst generation

Wei Ying: ok ur really reaching here

Wen Ning: thankfully i don’t have to reach too far, i’m quite tall now :)

Wei Ying: you have become an absolute snake, i’m so disappointed in you
Wei Ying: my sweet a-ning... lost to us forever...
Wei Ying: i’m changing my will, huaisang gets all my stuff if i go travelling

Nie Huaisang: score
Nie Huaisang: wait that’s not how wills work
>>Wei Ying reacted with 🤷♂️

Wen Ning: you know what’s funny if you think about it. snakes are almost entirely neck
Wen Ning: sneck strikes again

Jiang Cheng: wow do i need to turn against all of u?

Wei Ying: aww are you saying you cared enough to even be capable of turning against us?

Jiang Cheng: wtf does that mean

Wei Ying: that you loooooove us 😍

Jiang Cheng: i will personally strangle you
Jiang Cheng: with a snake

Wen Ning: a neck around his neck?

Nie Huaisang: a snake noose, or snoose

Jiang Cheng: i’m going 2 find u all and i’m going 2 break your legs
Jiang Cheng: starting with wei ying because i’m already on his trail

Wen Qing: what have i returned to

Wen Ning: love. affection. humour.

Wei Ying: bullying :(

Jiang Cheng: a disaster

Nie Huaisang: the best thing to happen to me all week
Nie Huaisang: wen ning we should hang out more. i think we’ll get along swimmingly, u and i

Wen Qing: we grew up next door to each other
Wen Qing: you babysat him

Nie Huaisang: what is “next door” when you think about it?
Nie Huaisang: what is this concept of “location”?
Nie Huaisang: of “place”?
Nie Huaisang: what is this concept of “sitting on babies”

Jiang Cheng: location. adverb. definition: what wei ying won’t share with me, the fucker

Wen Qing: please do not tell me
Wen Qing: that you actually think “location” is an adverb

Nie Huaisang: having shared many an english class with him
Nie Huaisang: i can attest that he almost definitely thinks location is an adverb

Jiang Cheng: stfu i was obviously being ironic

Wen Ning: sure, jan

Wen Qing: i have not had enough coffee for this.

Wei Ying: another zinger from wen ning-er

Wen Ning: jie, it’s after 4pm

Wen Qing: i have never had enough coffee to deal with this chat
Wen Qing: wei ying please take some career advice from this old lady and don’t ever become a poet

Wei Ying: yet u are still here 💖💞
Wei Ying: you’re not old~

Wen Qing: once again, somebody has to keep an eye on you ingrates even though you have aged me 70 years
Wen Qing: 💖

Wei Ying: a HEART??? we’ve peaked, fellas
Wei Ying: it no longer matters how cruelly jiang cheng attacks me
Wei Ying: i am invincible tonight

Wen Ning: again, it’s like 4pm

Jiang Cheng: >:) found u
Jiang Cheng: [Attachment: image252.jpeg]
>>Wei Ying reacted with 😨

Wei Ying: wait that’s a picture of me where are u how did u find me so fast!!!

Nie Huaisang: photos taken seconds before disaster

Wen Ning: [Attachment: tobecontinued.jpeg]

Nie Huaisang: i’ll start planning the funeral 😔

---

Rubbing the sore spot on his neck and wincing, Wei Ying nods gratefully as Lan Zhan opens the front door of the dorm building.

“Are you alright?” Lan Zhan intones.

“Yeah, Jiang Cheng just—ow—thwacked me on the neck with the side of his hand, the jerk. It keeps throbbing.”

“Hmm.”

“It’s okay. I got him back.” Right in the stomach, in fact, which Wei Ying is particularly proud of. Jiang Cheng never was the best at defensive maneuvers. As they ascend the stairs, Wei Ying calls over his shoulder, “I bet you never beat up your older brother when you disagree, hey, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan shrugs. “Not physically.”

As Wei Ying mulls over what the heck that means, Lan Zhan lets them into his dorm. Which is, of course, immaculate. And not even in the tidied hastily, dishes-under-the-bed sort of way, either. It’s exactly like the rest of him: tidy, put-together, straddling the line of minimalist if it weren’t for the hints of personality dotted around the place. It has flair. Plus, he has chairs, and he offers one to Wei Ying.

So they get settled.

Or, Lan Zhan gets settled, pulling his chair close to Wei Ying’s.

Wei Ying can’t decide which leg he’d like to tuck underneath himself, or how artfully he wants to drape his body, or how he’d like to segue into this whole hickey conversation. Most importantly, he needs to figure out how to make Lan Zhan realize that Wei Ying is an entire snack and that Wei Ying would like that talented mouth on other areas of his person.

“Sooo,” he begins. Very smooth. Like butter. “How was Huan-ge? Did you guys have fun?”

Lan Zhan looks over at him, eyes travelling from Wei Ying’s crossed ankles (he’d decided to forgo leg-tucking and focus on the artful draping), up his long legs, over his... hips. And abdomen. And neck. Definitely a not-insignificant amount of time spent staring at Wei Ying’s neck, right there. “Yes,” Lan Zhan replies at least, finally looking Wei Ying in the eye.

“Good! Good. I hope he didn’t, um, get in the way of. Ha, you know.”

Squinting at him, Lan Zhan tilts his head slowly. “Get in the way of what?”

“You know,” Wei Ying says, flushing. He gestures at Lan Zhan’s neck and raises his eyebrows, hoping Lan Zhan will get the picture so he doesn’t have to say ‘hooking up and having somebody’s mouth on your neck’ and die inside any more than he already has.

Understanding appears on Lan Zhan’s face. He shrugs. “Ge works around my schedule. It’s fine.”

Schedule. Fine!? How far in advance does Lan Zhan schedule his hook-ups? Does he set aside a specific future date for them, or does he go the spontaneous route? Most importantly, how can Wei Ying get on said schedule?

“Oh,” Wei Ying says after what must have been an awkwardly long silence. “That’s good of him.”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan’s gaze drops to Wei Ying’s neck again, so Wei Ying leans back, generously providing him a better view of Huaisang’s masterpiece.

“I had, um, fun this weekend. No absorption happened, thankfully. Haha.” Lan Zhan only lifts an eyebrow, which is good; Wei Ying can work with that. Now to gently steer the conversation to Lan Zhan’s neck, and the hickey on Lan Zhan’s neck, and perhaps even the identity of the hickey-giver, if Lan Zhan is willing to share such information. So Wei Ying knows what he’s working with. Scoping out the competition, if you will. “So, who are you seeing?” he asks. And then shuts his mouth, his teeth clacking audibly and painfully. He stares, wide-eyed.

Lan Zhan stares back. “What?”

Had Wei Ying’s mouth been this dry two seconds ago? It feels like cotton balls in his mouth when he tries swallowing. He licks his lips. “Who are you seeing?” he repeats.

Lan Zhan blinks twice in quick succession. “What are you talking about?” he replies with possibly the most inflection Wei Ying has ever heard from him.

“You clearly hooked up with someone recently,” Wei Ying says, exasperated and absolutely not whining.

Eyebrows furrowing and lips parting in dismay, Lan Zhan’s mouth works around several false starts before he says finally, “You’re the one who said you had a date.” He sounds... disappointed? Maybe? Wei Ying is projecting, definitely, but it’s not like he’s emitting a steady stream of photons here. There’s something in Lan Zhan’s voice.

“And you’re the one with hickeys all over your neck!” Wei Ying retorts. His exaggeration is definitely excusable, considering the seriousness of the conversation. “Are you... okay, maybe not ‘seeing’ someone, then. Maybe it’s more casual?” He hopes it’s more casual, considering the fact that they kissed the other day. Wei Ying is many things, but he is NOT a home wrecker.

Lan Zhan hasn’t stopped staring at Wei Ying like he’s grown a second head. “Wei Ying,” he says slowly. “I play violin. You know that.”

There is a single caffeine-deprived brain cell in Wei Ying’s head. He has not had enough coffee to comprehend words. Or language in general. Or anything of the sort, really. “What the entire fuck does violin have to do with this?” he asks. Whines. Whatever.

“The mark on my neck,” says Lan Zhan even more slowly, “is a violin hickey.”

“Violin hickey,” Wei Ying repeats.

“Yes.”

“What is your violin doing to you?”

Lan Zhan’s eyebrows go up; a pained, possibly exasperated expression flits across his features.

“I do not remember learning about this in third-grade music class,” says Wei Ying, “which is where most of my knowledge about instruments other than the flute comes from. Would you. Would you mind explaining. Um. Please.”

Lan Zhan drags a finger over the splotches on his neck—Wei Ying is going to have an aneurysm—and says, “This is where the violin sits. It causes bruising.”

“Oh.”

“You thought”—Lan Zhan’s lips twitch a bit—“that I was seeing someone. Because of the hickey.”

Burying his face in his hands, face so bright he could be Gondor calling for aid, Wei Ying lets out a long groan. “I can’t do this,” he tells his palms. “Oh my god, I can’t believe... Lan Zhan.

“Mn.”

“I can’t believe I thought you had someone... hah, sucking on your neck. I mean.” He looks up abruptly. Lan Zhan has leaned even closer. “Unless you... do...?”

Lan Zhan’s eyes are fixed on Wei Ying’s neck. “Not at the moment.”

“Oh good,” Wei Ying breathes. “Me neither.”

With a single long finger, Lan Zhan traces down Wei Ying’s neck, which is even worse than when he was doing it to himself. “Is that so.”

“Mmhmm,” Wei Ying says, since words are difficult at the moment.

Lan Zhan presses down on one of Wei Ying’s bottle-inflicted hickeys, hard enough that it feels like it might bruise again. “Then what is this?”

Even with his brain nearly entirely shut down, Wei Ying knows better than to bring up Nie Huaisang at this moment in time. He would probably be murdered by three different people. It’s likely best to tell the truth, so he opens his mouth to explain the water bottle situation, but all that comes out is “I recycle?”

“Hm,” says Lan Zhan. “That is not an explanation.” He presses down on another hickey.

Wei Ying feels like he’s going to shiver out of his own skin. “Water bottles,” he manages. “They’re fake. Fake hickeys. No humans involved. Mostly. I’ve never”—he gasps a little when Lan Zhan’s fingernail scrapes slightly against his skin—“never had an actual hickey before.”

“I can fix that. If you want.” Lan Zhan’s eyes land on his. “But I have never given a hickey before.”

“So you wanna try? For… for science?”

Lan Zhan’s eyes darken, and without even realizing he’s doing it, Wei Ying tilts his head to the side to allow him better access. When he swallows, his throat flexes under Lan Zhan’s fingertips. Nothing like this had been anywhere near his Plan. Clearly Wei Ying’s imagination needs to be more fully developed. 

“Mhm,” Wei Ying says, quieter this time. He lets his head fall to the side. “Ok. Yup. Here you go.”

“Hm.” Lan Zhan cups Wei Ying’s jaw and tilts his head to a different angle. “Like this,” he says. Like he’s some kind of hickey-giving expert.

There’s no way he can’t feel Wei Ying’s pulse as it—Wei Ying doesn’t even know. As it does metaphorical things, like kicking into overdrive or attempting to win some kind of record. Sure. That.  

Wei Ying swallows. “Yeah, o-okay. You should, um, let me, uh, ‘fix it’ for you, too. Do the same thing. To make sure we’re—” His breath hitches. “To make sure we’re even. With the. With the fixing.”

“Mn,” says Lan Zhan, who doesn’t appear to have registered a word Wei Ying just said. Which is fair. Wei Ying isn’t even sure what nonsense is spilling from his mouth right now. He’s too focused on Lan Zhan’s mouth. Which is now on his skin. And. And his tongue, which is touching Wei Ying’s neck, as in licking Wei Ying’s neck, as in—

Wei Ying suppresses a shudder. He’s about to say something—he’s not sure what, but he can’t not say words at a time like this because his brain won’t allow it—when Lan Zhan seals his lips over the wet spot he just made and attaches himself to Wei Ying with his teeth. Like a lamprey, but way sexier and maybe with fewer rows of sharp, circular fangs. It hurts at first. Definitely different from the bottle, which didn’t have teeth, but was still circular.

It starts as a sharp pinprick at the tender skin where Wei Ying’s neck and jaw meet just below his ear. He gasps as Lan Zhan laps at the sore spot before moving down further, sucking and biting and, oh. It feels good. Like, really good. Having Lan Zhan so close, having his mouth on him. Wei Ying draws a breath and does his best not to moan on the exhale, even though he really wants to. He had never seen the appeal of this before, but now—

When Lan Zhan draws back for a split second, Wei Ying nearly falls forward trying to follow after him. He scrambles upright, taking advantage of the break to try pulling himself together and stop his heart from going absolutely haywire. “Ah, um. Uh,” he stammers. “Wow. Wow, I think. You’re very good. At that. What a. What a fast learner.” Lan Zhan leans in again, but Wei Ying takes his shoulders and holds him in place. “So, um. Is it. Is it my turn yet?”

Lan Zhan’s eyes—which Wei Ying has been delighted to learn are about the same color as the half-drunk bottle of Maker’s Mark hidden in his closet—are still fixed on the line of. Of. Oh, fuck, the line of real, actual hickeys he has just placed on Wei Ying’s neck.

“No,” he says after a moment, touching one of the bruises and examining it closely. His eyes flick up to meet Wei Ying’s for a short, intense moment. “I want to make sure I get this right. I need more practice.”

“Hnngghh,” Wei Ying says. “Right. Okay.” He lowers his arms, letting Lan Zhan fall toward him again.

Lan Zhan focuses his attention on the soft spot just above Wei Ying’s collarbone. He starts lowering his mouth to Wei Ying’s skin again, but Wei Ying, with a sudden burst of realization that they have been going about this all wrong, sinks his hands into Lan Zhan’s hair and draws Lan Zhan’s head back up. “Wait, wait, wait,” he says, breathless. “Lan Zhan. Lan Zhaaan, this is not how this is supposed to go! You have to kiss me first!”

“...I have kissed you.”

“I mean. I mean—” What does Wei Ying mean?

“You want me to kiss you again?” Lan Zhan’s eyes flick down to Wei Ying’s mouth and back.

“I—” Oh, fuck this. Wei Ying launches himself forward, crawls into Lan Zhan’s lap, cups his face with both hands, and kisses him. Like, really kisses him, to the point where maybe his brain stops working for a bit.

When it reboots and comes back online, Lan Zhan is sucking on Wei Ying’s lower lip, biting at it and soothing it with his tongue in equal measure. Wei Ying caresses Lan Zhan’s upper lip with his own tongue, and this time he doesn’t hold back the little moan that slips out.

In normal circumstances, he might have been mortified at this lack of self-control. These are not normal circumstances.

Lan Zhan gasps against his mouth, so Wei Ying moans again, experimentally, and Lan Zhan’s hands slide right down his flanks before coming to rest on his hips. He digs his fingers into Wei Ying’s sides.

With a gasp, Wei Ying breaks the kiss to take an even deeper breath. His lips are all tingly. Beneath him, Lan Zhan looks kind of dazed.

He blinks slowly, focusing on Wei Ying’s mouth, swaying forward like he’s going to keep kissing him before catching himself and holding position so they can look each other in the eye. He shifts.

And Wei Ying becomes acutely aware of the, ah, side effects of his straddling Lan Zhan’s lap like this. Too far gone to be embarrassed about it, he huffs out a short laugh and leans down to rest his forehead against Lan Zhan’s. He bites his lip and rolls his hips a little, just to see what it’s like, and receives for his effort a punched-out gasp and a tighter grip on his waist.

“Tilt your head,” Lan Zhan rumbles.

“Hm?”

One hand slides up his body again, up his back, his neck, working its way into Wei Ying’s hair before grabbing a fistful near the roots. “Tilt your head,” Lan Zhan repeats, giving a short, insistent tug. “Like this.”

A shiver runs through Wei Ying and he complies, baring for Lan Zhan’s scrutiny the side of his neck which isn’t all marked up. His hands drop down to Lan Zhan’s very broad, very delicious shoulders. “Okay,” he says once he’s already in position.

Lan Zhan’s bourbon-gold eyes darken to the color of—fuck it, Wei Ying can’t think of another liquor, and screw the alcohol metaphors, anyway. Lan Zhan’s eyes darken because he is obviously into this, and he holds Wei Ying’s gaze for a moment longer before glancing back down to his mouth. Which he kisses. And his chin, which he also kisses. He presses even more chaste little kisses up Wei Ying’s jaw, trailing down his neck until he reaches the juncture at his shoulder.

“Ah! Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying gasps when Lan Zhan bites him almost hard enough to break skin. His hips push forward involuntarily, earning him a throaty growl and the first of many lovebites which will cover this side of his neck. He is going to be littered with them. And most of them will be Lan Zhan’s fault.

Lan Zhan leans back to inspect his work. The sting of the last hickey fades into a dull ache as he tilts Wei Ying’s head this way and that before nodding, apparently satisfied. “Wei Ying,” he says, voice rough.

“Mhm?” Wei Ying’s head lolls forward to rest against Lan Zhan’s again.

An amused twitch pulls at Lan Zhan’s mouth. “Were you jealous of my violin?”

Biting his lip, Wei Ying hums. “Mm. That depends.”

“On what?”

Wei Ying trails his fingers sheepishly along his own neck. “Were you jealous of a water bottle?”

Lan Zhan laughs. It’s quiet, and Wei Ying only catches it in the brief shaking of his entire body, but it’s there. “Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan admonishes.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying replies with as much pout as he can muster. “Is it my turn yet?”

“Hm.” Lan Zhan tilts his head thoughtfully. “Not yet. Further research is required,” he says and attaches himself to Wei Ying’s neck again like some sort of cuddly vampire. Maybe Nie Huaisang wasn’t wrong about Wei Ying having a thing about vampires.

Whatever the deal is, Wei Ying isn’t complaining. Lan Zhan can research for as long as he wants. And after that? After that, it’s Wei Ying’s turn.

---

direct message: tri-street allstars

Nie Huaisang: that’s a nice scarf you were wearing at lunch today wei xiong :)
Nie Huaisang: anything you’d like to share with the class?

Wei Ying: thank you, I got it at that shop you told me about out on the peninsula :)

Wen Ning: ooh i’d like to see!

Jiang Cheng: i’d prefer if he does NOT share with the class
Jiang Cheng: in fact, if he doesn’t share any details with us ever again i might be able to die a happy man

Wen Ning: 👀👀👀
Wen Ning: wei gege

Wei Ying: yes my sweet son-child a-ning
Wei Ying: [Attachment: img4032.jpeg]
Wei Ying: voila, scarf

Wen Ning: oh very nice!!
Wen Ning: uhhh wei gege did you and lan zhan, by chance, do more than study at your study night last night?

Wei Ying: why yes!

Jiang Cheng: oh no. no no no. no.
Jiang Cheng: say no more

Wei Ying: we also ate dinner! and demonstrated a keen understanding of the scientific method

Jiang Cheng: i think i’m gonna be sick 🤢

Wen Qing: having been unfortunately individually briefed on the nuances of your love life, i will simply offer this advice: use arnica

Wen Ning: isn’t that for bruises, jie?

Wen Qing: a-cheng, go take a gravol and pass the fuck out! Then you won’t have to think about it anymore 😊

Nie Huaisang: it SURE is, xiao ning

Wei Ying: let’s just say lan zhan has acquired additional knowledge which will be put to excellent use
Wei Ying: i can’t say anything else because there are CHILDREN in this chat and that would be NSFWN (not safe for wen ning)

Wen Ning: ………..put to necksellent use
Wen Ning: while appreciated, your precautions are entirely unneckessary
Wen Ning: i’m a senior! you can tell me these things, wei gege
Wen Ning: (•_•) ( •_•)>⌐■-■ (⌐■_■)

Jiang Cheng: more like NSFA (not safe for anyone) jfc i think i WILL take dr. wen’s advice actually -_-

Wei Ying: oh jiang cheng <3 just say you’re happy for me and go <3
Wei Ying: anyway a-ning, don’t you have exams coming up?
Wei Ying: don’t wanna get neckligent in your studies

Wen Ning: 🙊could it be? gege has finally gotten on board the Pun Neckspress??

Wei Ying: don’t push ur luck kid

Wen Ning: :D whatever you say <3
Wen Ning: i’ll have you know i’m RIGHT on schedule for my studies tyvm

Wei Ying: hmm then i won’t feel so guilty about corrupting the Youth if i host another video game night soon. whaddya say

Wen Ning: ooooh

Nie Huaisang: hmmmm…

Wen Ning: can we play crypt of the neckrodancer :)
Wen Ning: or no, wait. Something multiplayer so we can go neck and neck

Jiang Cheng: ugh i almost got so desensitized by all the neck jokes that i forgot the reason you’re all making them in the first place 😑

Nie Huaisang: hm guess we’d better change the chat rating
Nie Huaisang: content warning for necks and violins

Wei Ying: ……………..
Wei Ying: i just realized something, nie xiong

Nie Huaisang: what is it, wei xiong

Wei Ying: you’ve been in orchestra with lan zhan for some time

Nie Huaisang: this is indeed true

Wei Ying: have you perhaps had a chance to see him without a turtleneck sweater

Nie Huaisang: many chances in fact, yes

Wei Ying: did you give him that shirt. u know the one

Nie Huaisang: oh, no, huan ge gave him that :)
Nie Huaisang: i think it suits him, no?

Wei Ying: hm. ok. so you’ve ALSO had opportunities to perhaps learn about the concept of violin hickeys

Jiang Cheng: the WHAT

Nie Huaisang: i have to go suddenly! good talk! bye!

Wei Ying: nie xiong you FIEND!!! you knew all along!!!!!!!!! why didn’t you say something!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jiang Cheng: he wants me to pass on a message
Jiang Cheng: “you’re welcome”
Jiang Cheng: “send the cute smiley face emoji”
Jiang Cheng: i will not send the emoji as i don’t want that shit tainting my recents but u get the idea

Wen Qing: i don’t think we do get the idea
Wen Qing: please clarify by sending the cute smiley face emoji
Wen Qing: i need it for my screenshot folder

Nie Huaisang: dare i ask what else is in that folder

Wei Ying: oh wow look who’s back so soon
Wei Ying: sniffing around for new gossip
Wei Ying: i see how it is. i see how you use us
Wei Ying: isn’t there anybody here for me ;-;

Jiang Cheng: there is nobody here for you

Wen Ning: i’m here for you, wei gege!

Jiang Cheng: there is one person here for you

Wei Ying: little siblings don’t have rights except for wen ning. he has all the rights
Wei Ying: sorry i don’t make the rules
Wei Ying: jiang cheng is just shit out of luck

Jiang Cheng: WEI YING
Jiang Cheng: TURN ON UR LOCATION I JUST WANNA TALK

Wei Ying: sorry can’t, too busy with the new boyfriend 🤗

Jiang Cheng: wait i know what will piss you off
Jiang Cheng: so huaisang and i were at the mall the other day
Jiang Cheng: and i passed a jewelry store that had this ad out front
Jiang Cheng: [Attachment: image377.jpeg]
Jiang Cheng: heh, get it, “neck”lace
Jiang Cheng: oh wait
Jiang Cheng: no

Nie Huaisang: ….jiang xiong

Jiang Cheng: shut up pretend u didn’t see that

Nie Huaisang: JIANG CHENG
>>Jiang Cheng reacted with 😡

Wen Ning: jiang ge. did. did u forget that necklace is a real word, or…
>>Jiang Cheng reacted with 😡

Jiang Cheng: I SAID SHUT UP 😤

Wen Qing: yeah that tracks

Nie Huaisang: he DEFINITELY forgot that necklace is a real word
>>Jiang Cheng reacted with 😡

Jiang Cheng: CAN YOU NOT READ

Nie Huaisang: can YOU?! “neck”lace omg qing jie please tell me you got a screenshot
>>Jiang Cheng reacted with 😡
Nie Huaisang: I can’t believe i was RIGHT THERE with u and u didn’t run this joke by me first
>>Jiang Cheng reacted with 😡

Wen Qing: [Attachment: unknown.jpeg]
Wen Qing: you bet your ass I got a screenshot

Wen Ning: wei gege come back
Wen Ning: ur gonna love this
Wen Ning: where r u

Jiang Cheng: don’t ask that cuz i do NOT want to know

Wei Ying: i’m around but i’m at lan zhan’s rn!!!
Wei Ying: [Attachment: image4036.jpeg]

Wen Ning: OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS ARE SO CUTE!!!!!!!!!

Nie Huaisang: aw :)

Wen Qing: nice job wei ying 👍 he’s a catch 🤗

Jiang Cheng: wait wait wait
Jiang Cheng: lan zhan knows how to SMILE?! what the FUCK