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*

You can't leave the water;
you live, you bathe in the water
as if to relive
the lovely scenery of your home
in the fog and mist,
where music floats out at every turn.
Homesick,
you taste the river in your tea.

From "Tea" by Jing Qiufeng; translated by Wang Meifu & Michael Soper

*

Lan Zhan makes his way through the Family Mart entrance. The clerk behind the counter sends him a bored look, then looks back down at her phone. Lan Zhan ignores her as well and goes in search of water. His flight got in an hour ago and he's still parched, his throat dry-clicking every time he swallows. He can feel himself shriveling up from the dry, recycled airplane air like a piece of ginger that's been left out a little bit too long. Next time, he'll take the train instead.

He passes the candy aisle, heads through the snacks aisle, and he's just about to make his way towards the cooler section when he stops dead at the sound of an achingly familiar voice.

"Well, what do you want, then?"

A child's voice answers, "I want that one!"

"I thought you said you didn't like soy milk?"

"I want that one," the child repeats stubbornly, and Lan Zhan risks peering around the display stand to look. It feels like a physical blow, despite knowing what he will find.

Wei Ying's back is to him, but Lan Zhan would know him anywhere. His hair is tied into a low ponytail, messy, as always. It's longer now than it was three years ago, snaking down his back, ending just above his shoulder blades. With him is a child—a boy—who's holding onto his hand and looking up at him with his eyebrows furrowed, one finger stuck in his mouth.

Lan Zhan feels utterly foolish peeking from behind a display case at them, but he's rooted to the spot. He cannot move.

"Well, I'll get you the soy milk, but I don't want to hear about how much you hate it. And you'll have to drink it, because I won't be getting you another drink." Wei Ying sounds...authoritative. Not as though he is babysitting. He sounds...like a parent. Lan Zhan calculates very quickly in his head. The child looks to be approximately four years old, but the last time they saw each other three years ago, Wei Ying had very much been childless.

Perhaps this is his sister's child. Yes, of course. That has to be it. Lan Zhan remembers when she gave birth. It doesn't feel that long ago, but time does have a tendency to warp itself in one's memories.

He watches, helpless, as Wei Ying slides open the glass door and grabs a container of soy milk, then hands it to the boy, who takes it with a look of satisfaction on his face.

"All right, are we done here?"

"Mn!" Wei Ying's nephew nods with enthusiasm and clutches his prize to his chest. Lan Zhan wonders if he can feel the cold of the drink through his thin shirt. During summer in Shanghai, the sweltering air wraps around you as soon as you leave the coolness of the A/C, but even so that container must be freezing.

Wei Ying begins to turn and Lan Zhan ducks back, making his quick way down the snack aisle and keeping his back to them. If he's very still, perhaps they won't notice him. Once again he feels foolish, as though he were a rabbit evading a predator. He once saw a rabbit freeze in exactly the same fashion when a nearby dog had lunged for it. The remarkable thing had been that it had worked. As soon as the rabbit froze, the dog lost track of it, and left it alone.

Lan Zhan thinks he has just gotten away with it, looking at row upon neat row of various kinds of chips and snacks on the shelves without really seeing any of them, when he hears a quiet intake of breath, and the familiar voice comes from right behind him.

"Lan Zhan?"

Lan Zhan squeezes his eyes shut. His breath stutters when he lets it out, his heart pounding hollow in his chest. It feels like regret.

He schools his features as much as he can, then turns around. It is lucky that he has always had a difficult to read countenance. He is certain, however, that Wei Ying still remembers how to do it.

"Wei Ying." His voice has given him away. Too warm, too full of...something.

Wei Ying is staring at him with a strange expression that Lan Zhan doesn't quite know how to read. He looks—good. But Wei Ying has always looked good, even as an eighteen-year old who'd just stopped having regular breakouts. Wei Ying has always lit up every room he has ever been in. He has always commanded Lan Zhan's attention, even when it had been unwanted.

The little boy is looking up at Wei Ying in confusion and he is the first one to break the awful silence that has descended on them. "Baba?"

It slices through Lan Zhan. He feels that word tear at his insides, feels the truth of it bleeding through his intestines. So, Wei Ying really is a father. Lan Zhan's mind runs through the possibilities: Wei Ying found out he was a father and did the honorable thing, and now he is married to the child's mother… No, that can't be right. They were together by the time this child would have been conceived. Then, he married somebody who already had a child and has adopted him. Wei Ying, married. He must be, Lan Zhan tells himself. Perhaps, a small voice tells him, he is divorced. But no, divorce...doesn't seem like Wei Ying. Once he commits, he commits wholly.

It hadn't been Wei Ying who had left.

Lan Zhan takes a ragged breath, and says, "You have a child."

Wei Ying's nod is slightly jerky. He's still watching Lan Zhan with an unreadable gaze, where once there was openness and trust. But he is no longer Lan Zhan's.

"Yeah. Yeah, this is A-Yuan. A-Yuan, this is a former acquaintance. Lan Zhan."

Lan Zhan wants to bend over and retch. It's cruel, but it is fair. He forces himself to look at the child and says, "Hello."

A-Yuan once again clutches the soy milk to his chest and doesn't say anything as he clings to his father's hand, almost hiding behind his leg.

Wei Ying laughs, looking down. "Don't be scared, A-Yuan. Be polite. Say hello back."

"Hello," A-Yuan says mulishly.

"Good boy." Whatever light there had been in Wei Ying's eyes as he had looked at his son disappears as soon as he turns his gaze back on Lan Zhan. "Well. I guess you're back."

"Temporarily. On business," Lan Zhan grinds out. His throat is sore, feeling both disused and abused all at once. He needs that drink desperately.

"Ah. Of course." Wei Ying takes a visible breath in and lets it out. "Well, we're in a hurry. Sorry. Good to see you." It sounds...impersonal. Too fast. Too polite. It's what Lan Zhan deserves.

"Yes, of course. Don't let me keep you." Lan Zhan feels about half a meter tall. It hurts. It hurts.

Wei Ying turns on his heel abruptly and A-Yuan has to run to keep up with his long legs as the two of them make their quick way to the register. Lan Zhan turns away and stands there, frozen, until he knows that Wei Ying and his son have gone. Then he walks automatically towards the cooler with the drinks, grabs an iced tea and a water—it will be cold, but it will have to do—and goes to pay.

He doesn't have time to dwell on what just happened. He has a job to do.

*

Wei Ying never blocked him on WeChat; he simply stopped responding. It was both a mercy and a curse. If Lan Zhan were blocked, he wouldn't have the temptation to attempt to restart communication between them. He could, he supposes, have deleted Wei Ying from his contacts list, but every time his finger hovered over the button, he'd click away instead. It was the last reminder he had of Wei Ying having existed; having been with him. It was the last connection they shared and Lan Zhan felt it like a physical thing, this anchor dragging him through the waters of all that had happened, not letting him forget for even a minute.

He has lived with regret for three years now. It has become almost like a second home to him. He has decorated it with sadness and tenderness, has reinforced its walls with self-loathing.

He had been a coward, and he deserves to feel like one.

Later that night as he's lying on his hotel bed, the room having grown dark around him, he looks at Wei Ying's name in his contacts list. It must mean something that Wei Ying never blocked him, but perhaps he had simply not thought Lan Zhan worth it.

Lan Zhan had hoped Wei Ying would understand. He had, after all, been simply doing his filial obligation. But he could have tried to fight it more. Could have gone to his uncle and said, "I will work in the headquarters; I will not run the Beijing branch." Could have fought for them.

Instead, after having tried weakly and gotten nowhere, he had said, "Yes, Uncle," and Wei Ying had looked at him as though Lan Zhan had slapped him. Lan Zhan himself had felt eviscerated as Wei Ying had said, "I guess we're done," and then taken a breath and bitten out, "So you should go. Just get lost. I can't...I can't fucking do this." And Lan Zhan had left, to at least honor Wei Ying's wish.

And now, this. What were the odds of this meeting? Of all the convenience stores in all of Shanghai, Lan Zhan had walked into the same one as Wei Ying. Does that mean that Wei Ying lives nearby? Last Lan Zhan knew, Wei Ying lived in People's Square, in a studio apartment in a dilapidated building that Lan Zhan had adored, because it had held the thing that had been most precious to him. But now that Wei Ying has a child, it seems impossible for him to live in such a place. Perhaps he moved into his wife's place. It's difficult to imagine Wei Ying married, but then again, it would have been difficult to imagine Wei Ying parenting, if he hadn't witnessed it with his own two eyes.

Wei Ying's life seems to have changed drastically in the last three years, whereas Lan Zhan's seems to have stood still. On paper, certainly, his life has been nothing but change. He left his home and now runs the Beijing branch of Cloud Recesses Instruments competently, earning himself a reputation as a tough but fair boss, as well as his uncle's approval. He has new friends now, friends he can trust. Well, one friend, who comes with others. Mianmian, a manager at the company, has become enough of a confidante that Lan Zhan has even trusted her with his past, memories and all. He has even gone on occasional dates with people, here and there. People who were so unlike Wei Ying, he barely thought of him as he fucked them.

But the specter of Wei Ying has felt like a constant presence in his life in Beijing. The echo of his voice, whether laughing or saying his name, the afterimage of his smile, his teasing eyes, the ghost of his touch.

Wei Ying's shadow has never been far from Lan Zhan's life.

He stares at the last few messages he had sent to Wei Ying before he'd given up:

Lan Zhan: I'd like to talk to you. May I come over?

Lan Zhan: Wei Ying, please allow me to explain. It would be better done in person.

Lan Zhan: Please let me know.

It goes on like that, until his last message, sent about a week into being in Beijing.

Lan Zhan: I miss you. I'm sorry.

Nothing from Wei Ying. Of course there was nothing from Wei Ying, what could Wei Ying have possibly said? Lan Zhan had hurt him. Possibly even broken his heart, although he is loath to give himself that much credit. It seems impossible that Wei Ying had loved him as fiercely as Lan Zhan loves Wei Ying; even when they had been happy, it had felt impossible. Nobody could love as much or as hard as Lan Zhan, and Lan Zhan had thrown it away. He had intended to have fought for them, had intended to try to convince Wei Ying that a long distance relationship would be worth it, but Wei Ying had never given him a chance.

Lan Zhan blinks, pulling himself out of his reverie. Then he blinks again when typing… appears under Wei Ying's name. His breath catches. His hand sweats where it's holding the phone. It can't be...is Wei Ying…

He watches typing… for so long, his eyes water, and then, it disappears. Reappears for a second. Then disappears again. This time, it doesn't come back.

Lan Zhan swallows, a rushing in his ears. Wei Ying...Wei Ying had been thinking about him. He had, in fact, almost written to him. What had he been planning on saying? What had stopped him?

Lan Zhan, hand shaky, thumbs over to his conversation with Mianmian and types out, I ran into Wei Ying. He hits send before he can second guess himself. He doesn't expect to hear from her anytime soon—Mianmian has a child, is always busy. Perhaps, in fact, she is already asleep. She has a tendency, Lan Zhan knows, to fall asleep while putting her daughter to bed.

However, not two minutes later, a reply comes in. Lan Zhan!! How did it happen? What did he say??

Lan Zhan tells her what happened, in halting words that probably make little sense. I have concluded he must be married.

Mianmian: oh, Lan Zhan, that's

He may not be.

Lan Zhan: He has a child. At the very least, he has moved on.

Here, he hesitates. Does he expose Wei Ying's secret? He supposes it doesn't really matter. Nothing happened. Wei Ying never said a thing.

Lan Zhan: I saw him typing on WeChat, but he never sent the message.

Mianmian: !! He's thinking about you, then!!

Lan Zhan bites his lip. Yes. He must be thinking about Lan Zhan, but what, is anybody's guess. Perhaps he had been about to tell him off somehow, but changed his mind.

Perhaps he had been thinking about mending their mangled friendship. They had been friends before anything else. Good friends. The best. He had mourned the loss of Wei Ying's friendship almost as much as the relationship.

I could not begin to guess what he is thinking, Lan Zhan writes, then thumbs over to Wei Ying's name once again. He places his thumb over the message box, starts the cursor blinking. What can he possibly say that Wei Ying would respond to? There is nothing that Lan Zhan can do to make it better. Not then, not now. But perhaps they can, at the very least, salvage what was left of their civility.

Heart in his throat, a slight ringing in his ears, Lan Zhan types out, Wei Ying, it was good to see you today. I apologize if I caused you any distress. He takes a deep breath, and writes, You have a beautiful son.

His finger hovers over the send button, but he can't make himself click. He deletes the last sentence, then rewrites it.

What is he doing? He can feel his heart beating in every single vein, in his fingers, his toes, his throat. Something close to giddy anticipation forms in his stomach, reckless and heady. What if he were to send the message? What then? Would Wei Ying find it in himself to respond? Would he ignore him? Lan Zhan supposes that, on a certain level, it doesn't matter. Things between them could not possibly get worse.

The last thing Lan Zhan had written to Wei Ying jumps in front of his eyes, and at first, he cannot comprehend what he is seeing, but there it is: a new message from Wei Ying.

Hi. I'm sorry.

Lan Zhan's heart feels like it's climbing its way out of his body, like it's throbbing somewhere outside of him, filling the quiet hotel room with its hollow thumping.

He deletes what he had been thinking of sending, and quickly types out, For what? You've done nothing wrong, before he can change his mind. He hits send.

Wei Ying begins to type immediately, and Lan Zhan watches the word shift, barely blinking.

Wei Ying: I was rude today. I feel bad.

Lan Zhan blinks. That isn't...what he had been anticipating. He licks his lips and types out, We were both caught by surprise. Please do not feel bad. You've done nothing wrong.

Wei Ying's next response takes longer to come. He types the entire time. Lan Zhan wants to look through his phone, wants to see what words he's writing and re-writing, what Wei Ying is thinking, he wants to know. Finally:

Wei Ying: Do you want to meet up? I know it's probably late for you.

Lan Zhan sits up, hands so numb he nearly drops the phone. With shaky fingers, he somehow manages to type out, Yes. Please. Where? He will go anywhere, anywhere as long as Wei Ying will see him.

Wei Ying: My kid's asleep, but we can be quiet. Come to my place.

And then, an address. Lan Zhan had been right: Wei Ying does live close to that Family Mart. It's in a nicer district than his previous one.

Belatedly, he wonders where Wei Ying's wife is. Perhaps on a trip? Or maybe she's home, and he just failed to mention her. In which case, Lan Zhan must prepare himself for not being able to really talk to Wei Ying about...anything of substance. As he rushes through preparations—brushing out his hair, putting it back into a bun, changing into a fresh shirt, then sliding his feet into his shoes—he talks himself through the possibilities.

He doesn't allow himself to hope for much.

The door whooshes closed behind him as he is already ordering a Didi. His throat is dry again, but there's nothing he can do about it. He can barely breathe. He gets to see Wei Ying. He gets to see Wei Ying.

He clutches his phone the entire ride over, just in case Wei Ying has changed his mind, but no other message comes. If Wei Ying is regretting his offer, he is not changing his mind, at least.

Lan Zhan sweats as he gets out of the car, then trembles as he finds the right button to press. The wait between that and when the door buzzes open is interminable and also happens in the blink of an eye.

There is an elevator, but Lan Zhan doesn't think he can wait. He finds the stairs and takes them to the eighth floor, two at a time, until he's almost out of breath and opening the door to the hallway. Somewhere on this floor is Wei Ying. Lan Zhan just has to get to him.

Belatedly, he realizes he never responded to Mianmian. Well, he will simply have to do it later.

There. Wei Ying's apartment. Lan Zhan stops dead in front of it and shivers. All that stands between him and Wei Ying are three years of heartache and a door.

He knocks as quietly as he can manage, then drops his hand to his side and looks down at his own feet. He strains to hear Wei Ying's footsteps, and then there they are, shuffling closer, until the lock snicks open and—

Wei Ying is loose-haired, wearing a worn t-shirt, shorts, and an expression wary enough that Lan Zhan falters as he opens his mouth to say hello. He swallows, clears his throat, and tries again. "Wei Ying."

"Lan Zhan." It sounds like a question in Wei Ying's mouth. "Come in," he adds after a silent moment, and steps back.

Lan Zhan walks in. Wei Ying's apartment smells like ginger and coffee. It smells like home. Lan Zhan does his best not to look around, but one thing is clear: they are very much alone.

Before he can stop himself, Lan Zhan turns to Wei Ying and says, "Where is your wife?"

Wei Ying blinks and bites his lower lip. "Here," he says, pointing to a pair of slippers. "These are for you. Come through to the living room."

Ah. Lan Zhan doesn't get to know the details of his life, not anymore. That is fair. He will take what he can get. He slips out of his shoes and into the guest slippers Wei Ying had indicated, then follows Wei Ying into the living room, where a single lamp glows softly, the corners of the room shrouded in shadows. A child clearly lives here—there are trucks and Lego and dolls strewn across the floor, cubbies with more toys in one corner. The few concessions to adulthood are the leather couch and chair, a dark coffee table with drawers, and a reproduction of Wu Guanzhong's "Water Village in Jiangnan" on the wall.

Wei Ying drops down onto the couch and Lan Zhan sits gingerly on the opposite side from him. He has no idea what he's doing here. He's stiff-backed and unnatural as he tries to get comfortable.

"Can I get you anything?" Wei Ying asks. "You still like that white tea?"

Lan Zhan, feeling parched, shakes his head. "I do, but I am all right. Thank you."

Wei Ying watches him with a careful, neutral gaze that somehow doesn't seem neutral at all, and says, "All right. I'm having a beer, if you don't mind."

"Of course." Lan Zhan never has. He can't stop looking at Wei Ying with a desperate sort of hunger as Wei Ying leans forward to grab the green bottle from the coffee table, then sits back and brings it to his lips.

Wei Ying hasn't changed all that much in three years, except for the way he looks at Lan Zhan. He's still lean, cheekbones high and sharp on his face. Something about him looks older—perhaps due to having lost the last of his puppy fat, perhaps something else, but Lan Zhan is having a terrible time looking away from him. He can't do it. He feels as though if he takes his eyes off of Wei Ying, all of this—the cozy, messy room with its soft lighting and homey smells—will disappear.

Wei Ying takes a long sip of his beer, lowers the bottle, and says, "What?" in a mulish tone close to that of his son.

Lan Zhan pulls out of his reverie and shakes his head. "Nothing, I simply...nothing. It is good to see you, Wei Ying."

A complicated look at that, and then a tiny, crooked grin and a shake of his head. "Lan Zhan, ah Lan Zhan. What are we doing?"

Lan Zhan feels his insides trembling from having Wei Ying's attention directed at him once again. "I don’t know," he says honestly, and then just as honestly adds, "I am glad you asked me to come over."

"I don't know why I did," Wei Ying says, honest as well, it seems. Brutally so. Lan Zhan waits. Finally, after a long moment, Wei Ying adds, "I...I didn't want to leave things the way we'd left them earlier." He takes a long sip of his beer, then gives a visible sigh as he lowers the bottle. "How long are you in town for?"

"A week, this time."

"This time?" His gaze sharpens.

Lan Zhan hesitates for a moment. "I come back a couple of times a year."

"So you've been back before," Wei Ying says flatly, his gaze on Lan Zhan heavy.

Slowly, Lan Zhan nods. "I didn't think contact would be welcome," he says quietly. Something about the intimacy of the room, the soft shadows in the corners where the single lamp doesn't reach, pulls honesty out of him. He can't stop saying true things.

Wei Ying huffs out a laugh and turns away, looking around the room. "I don't have a wife, Lan Zhan," he says abruptly, and Lan Zhan freezes. "I'm not married. Never have been. It's the twenty-first century, you don't have to be married to have a kid."

"Then—"

"How did I acquire a kid?" Wei Ying turns back to him and settles back more deeply against the arm of the couch. The leather creaks in the silence. "He's not mine, like, biologically. I adopted him."

Questions crowd Lan Zhan's mind, knocking against one another in confusion. "How?" And, why?

"He's...a friend's cousin. His parents died when he was two, then he was raised by his grandmother. Then she died, as well. This kid has been through it, you know?"

Lan Zhan nods silently, swallowing against his dry throat. He wishes he had said yes to that tea.

"Anyway, my friend, she's an ER doctor. Her schedule is unpredictable, she practically lives at work—there's no way she can provide A-Yuan with stability. And she's got a brother, but he's...he's pretty sick. ME, you know what that is?"

Lan Zhan does—a type of chronic fatigue. Mute, he nods.

"Yeah, well, he has constant flare-ups, so he also couldn't really take care of a kid on his own. But I knew A-Yuan by then, and he liked me. And I thought—hey. This kid could use someone he knows, we weren't about to throw him into the system. So, I took him on. The adoption went through six months ago, but he's been living with me for over a year now."

Lan Zhan unsticks his tongue from the roof of his mouth. "Wei Ying, that's...a big commitment to make. Raising a child by yourself."

Wei Ying shrugs and has more of his beer. "It was what I needed to do."

"That's very...admirable," Lan Zhan says carefully.

At that, Wei Ying cracks his first genuine smile all evening, and it takes Lan Zhan's breath away. To have that smile directed at him for the first time in three years feels like throwing open a window in a stuffy room. "Lan Zhan...it's not admirable," Wei Ying says with a shake of his head. "I couldn't just leave him, I love that kid."

"Of course. It's still a big commitment."

Wei Ying shakes his head, still smiling. "All right. Admire me."

"I do," Lan Zhan says seriously, and the smile drops off Wei Ying's face, to be replaced by a lost sort of expression. For a long moment, he doesn't say anything, and neither does Lan Zhan.

Then, "Yeah, well. Listen, you sure I can't get you something to drink?"

Lan Zhan dry-swallows and then gives a nod. "If you don't mind, I will take that tea."

Wei Ying looks relieved as he nods and gets off the couch. He heads for the kitchen and Lan Zhan watches him walk away.

What are they doing here? What is he doing here? What does he hope will come out of this?

Friendship, perhaps. Wei Ying is actually talking to him. Telling Lan Zhan about his life. Perhaps they can part with a promise of more, a tenuous connection that may strengthen over time. Or perhaps Wei Ying will realize that he truly no longer needs Lan Zhan nor enjoys his company, and this will simply stay a brief interlude, a punctuation mark at the end of a sentence.

It would, Lan Zhan supposes, be better than where they had left things last time.

Wei Ying comes back with a steaming cup and sets it down carefully on the coffee table. The porcelain clinks quietly against the table. Lan Zhan wonders if it means anything that Wei Ying still stocks his favorite tea.

"Thank you." Lan Zhan waits for Wei Ying to sit back down before picking the cup up and taking a sip. It's fragrant, warm. It feels good in his throat.

"What about you, Lan Zhan?" Wei Ying asks. "Are you seeing anyone?"

Lan Zhan almost chokes on his tea, but recovers swiftly. "No. Not at the moment."

"Ah." Wei Ying looks away and rubs his arms as though he were cold. "This is awkward as hell, isn't it?"

Despite everything, Lan Zhan feels his lips twitch. "I suppose it is. Which is...to be expected, I believe."

"Yeah. I guess." Wei Ying meets his gaze, then reaches for his beer and takes a long pull. "How's your tea?" he asks afterwards.

"Very good. Thank you." Wei Ying always made this tea well, steeping it for exactly the right amount of time.

"How's Beijing?"

Lan Zhan pauses with the cup halfway to his mouth and lowers it. "Fine. Work is going well."

"And your personal life?"

Lan Zhan hesitates. The truth is rather pathetic, and he is incapable of lying, particularly to Wei Ying. The answer sticks in his throat. "Fine, I suppose. I am largely busy with work."

Wei Ying nods. "Is that code for non-existent?" Then he shakes his head. "Sorry, that was...I didn't mean...ugh." He rubs a hand over his face and shakes his head again. "My personal life consists of running around after a kid, for the most part. Not a lot of takers of single dads, you know?"

Lan Zhan's heart is a hollow, thumping thing in his chest. The idea that anyone may not want Wei Ying is laughable, but the relief he feels is unbecoming. "Do you...wish things were different?" he asks carefully.

Wei Ying shrugs. "I mean, sure, I get lonely. Don't get me wrong, I've got friends, jiejie, Jiang Cheng, but...you know."

Lan Zhan nods. "Yes. You miss...company."

"Yeah, it's been a while." Then he scrunches up his face and says, quietly, almost as though to himself, "I can't believe we're talking about this."

Lan Zhan doesn't know what to say to that, so he stays silent.

"Lan Zhan," Wei Ying says abruptly, pinning him with his gaze. "Why did you come over tonight?"

Lan Zhan freezes, then carefully sets the tea cup down onto the coffee table. "I wanted to see you." Desperately.

"Why?"

Lan Zhan doesn't know how to answer that. Full honesty is unthinkable, a half-truth ungenerous. He settles on, "I also did not like how we left things earlier today."

"Is that the only reason?" Wei Ying demands, and Lan Zhan doesn't know what it is Wei Ying is searching for, what it is he wants to hear.

All he can do is give him the truth. "No."

"Then—"

"I've missed you," he says, not looking at him, his voice suddenly thick. He swallows. Let Wei Ying react to that however he will; Lan Zhan knows he's got no right to him.

When Lan Zhan raises his gaze to Wei Ying, Wei Ying looks—stricken. "Lan Zhan…"

"I'm sorry if that is...uncomfortable for you to hear."

Wei Ying scoffs and looks away, eyebrows drawing together. "That's not it."

Carefully, Lan Zhan asks, "What is it, then?"

Wei Ying shrugs. "I don't know. It's...you left, Lan Zhan."

There it is. They've been skirting it, carefully stepping around it as though it were an object marked do not touch, but Wei Ying took hold of it, anyway. "I know," Lan Zhan says quietly. "I realize I have no right to...say these things to you."

"Oh, who cares about right," Wei Ying snaps with a scowl. "It just, it sucked so much, Lan Zhan."

Lan Zhan hangs his head, wishes he were brave enough to look Wei Ying in the eye. "I'm sorry," he says, pathetically. Inadequately. He has to do better. "It...wasn't easy for me."

"I sure hope not," Wei Ying says, and there's a note in his voice, a certain warmth, amusement—Lan Zhan hasn't heard it in three years.

His heart picks up. He bites his lip, then takes a deep breath and says, "Wei Ying, what...what do you want me to do? I have always wanted to make things right, so tell me. Tell me what I can do."

Wei Ying watches him. It has always been a little odd, seeing a serious expression on his face. He's grown up, Lan Zhan thinks. He doesn't know how to feel about that. Then Wei Ying says quietly, "Come here, Lan Zhan," and Lan Zhan stops breathing altogether.

For a long moment, he's rooted to the spot, and then every muscle unlocks and he's barely aware of sliding towards Wei Ying until their knees are touching and he can smell him, his aftershave—he still uses the same one—and that particular scent that is all Wei Ying. He grows dizzy with it. He waits.

Wei Ying is still for a long moment, but his eyes are roving over Lan Zhan with a familiar, heart-stopping hunger. Lan Zhan thinks that surely Wei Ying can hear his heart beating, and then Wei Ying reaches out and lays a hand over Lan Zhan's chest, a hot touch that reverberates through Lan Zhan like an aftershock. Slowly, Lan Zhan lifts his hand and lays it directly over Wei Ying's. He presses down. Let him feel how hard his heart is beating.

"Lan Zhan…"

Lan Zhan doesn't think he can speak. Everything in him wants to close the distance between them, to take everything Wei Ying may want to give him, but there is a line and he cannot cross it. Wei Ying has to do it himself.

When he finally does, Lan Zhan moans low in his throat. Wei Ying's lips are soft, achingly, horribly familiar. His full lower lip that Lan Zhan used to catch between his teeth, the insistent press of his mouth. They stay like that, lips touching, for a long, suspended moment. Then Wei Ying opens his lips, and Lan Zhan presses closer, and then they're kissing. Deep, seeking kisses, as though searching for something. It's slow at first, and then Wei Ying leans forward and takes Lan Zhan's face between his hands, and then it isn't slow at all. Wei Ying shifts and the next moment, he's straddling Lan Zhan, pressing him back against the couch, his mouth hot and insistent, tongue soft and lovely, and Lan Zhan nearly loses his mind.

He's got a lapful of Wei Ying, and he doesn't know if he's allowed to touch him, but when his hands tentatively land on Wei Ying's hips, Wei Ying gives a jerk and moans, switching up angles on the kiss, diving back in for more. Lan Zhan can barely keep up. He's growing hard, and he tries to hide it, tries to press himself back against the couch as much as he can, only Wei Ying follows. When their hips touch, Lan Zhan can feel a hardness meet his own and relief floods through him, hot like lava.

Wei Ying breaks off, his forehead touching Lan Zhan's, panting. "Fuck. Fuck, what the fuck are we doing," he mutters, and Lan Zhan isn't sure if he's asking Lan Zhan or simply stating it, but he pulls Wei Ying in by the back of his neck and kisses him, and kisses him, and kisses him.

Wei Ying turns pliant in his arms, the hot press of his thighs against Lan Zhan's impossibly, strikingly good. Lan Zhan chances running his hands from Wei Ying's hips down to his ass, god, that feels incredible, and Wei Ying lets him, moans against him, pushes back in his hold, moves his hips in a way that makes Lan Zhan wish they weren't wearing clothes at all.

"Lan Zhan, fuck," Wei Ying says, breaking off the kiss. "This is so stupid, but I can't, it's been—it's been so fucking long—"

Of course. Wei Ying is lonely. He's said himself, there aren't many takers for a single father. Lan Zhan will give him all he wants, and won't ask for anything in return.

"What do you want, Wei Ying?" he whispers against his lips, hands still gripping his soft ass. "What can I do?"

"Bedroom, I—let's move to the bedroom. We just have to be super quiet."

Lan Zhan's nod is jerky. He can do that. He can do quiet.

Getting off the couch and stumbling down the unfamiliar hallway happens in the blink of an eye, Wei Ying's warm presence a guide. They kiss the whole way to the bedroom, Wei Ying's hands hot and shaky on his shoulders. They pass through the open doorway into the dark room, and Wei Ying doesn't turn on the light, only turns down the covers on his bed. Then they're stripping one another of their clothes—Wei Ying's shirt, Lan Zhan's, Wei Ying's shorts, Lan Zhan's trousers—until Lan Zhan is dropping to his knees in front of Wei Ying and burying his face against his stomach, the skin there warm and smooth, and his scent instantly sending Lan Zhan back three years. Memories crowd his mind in a way they haven't in many months. Wei Ying. Wei Ying is here, with him, allowing him this touch.

Wei Ying's fingers slide through Lan Zhan's hair and tug him closer, and the two of them stay like that for one long, stunning moment. Then Wei Ying releases him, says, "Lan Zhan…" and Lan Zhan doesn't waste any more time, simply slips his fingers underneath the waistband of Wei Ying's underwear and shoves them down until they hit the ground. He looks up right before he takes him in his mouth.

Wei Ying watches him with careful, guarded eyes, but doesn't move his hands from where they're resting on Lan Zhan's shoulders. He will allow Lan Zhan to do this. And Lan Zhan will do anything that Wei Ying will allow him.

Wei Ying—Wei Ying still tastes the same. Lan Zhan feels his breath get caught in his throat as he tastes him, his lips fitting around him the way they always had, before. Wei Ying fills his mouth and Lan Zhan closes his eyes and goes down, careful not to think beyond the moment.

It's only for tonight, he knows.

But he will take tonight.

He goes down on Wei Ying long enough for Wei Ying to begin to tremble. Lan Zhan can feel the tremor of him underneath his hands where they're fitted around Wei Ying's smooth hips, can feel it in the slight shakiness of Wei Ying's legs. He slows down, allows him to adjust, and then Wei Ying pulls him up and off, saying, "Here, come up here," and they are kissing once more.

"What do you want, Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan asks as quietly as he can manage, nearly stumbling in his haste to give him everything he might want.

"Just...come here," Wei Ying whispers, and pulls them down onto the bed.

They kiss. They kiss as they touch, they kiss as Wei Ying slots his legs in between Lan Zhan's and moves against him, cocks brushing; they kiss as Lan Zhan gasps against him and rolls them over until he's got Wei Ying pinned down, tongues sliding against one another, the contact between them electric, setting everything inside Lan Zhan alight.

He has, of course, had sex since the last time he and Wei Ying were together. It hasn't been bad sex. It has, from time to time, been very good sex.

It has never felt like this. Never felt as though his entire body were giving itself over to someone who would cherish it, someone who, at least, used to do so. Wei Ying had always treated Lan Zhan as though he were something precious. As though everything Lan Zhan was, was worthy of love, of touch and pleasure and supplication. Even now, Wei Ying's hands on him feel reverent, worshipful. Feel real.

"Lan Zhan, fuck—I won't last," Wei Ying whimpers as Lan Zhan slides their cocks together. The sheets whisper against their skin, the sound almost loud in the otherwise quiet room. Lan Zhan wonders how deep a sleeper Wei Ying's son is, determined not to give Wei Ying a single reason to regret this night.

"It is all right," he whispers back, sweeping loose hair from Wei Ying's forehead. "I simply want to make you feel good."

"Kiss me, then," and then they're kissing once more.

It is merely a fleeting moment in time, Lan Zhan knows. This is not a return but a quick, whirlwind visit. Wei Ying will come, and so will Lan Zhan, and then, like a reverse film, they will get off the bed, and put on their clothes, and Lan Zhan will make his way back down the hallway, and he will leave. A brief interlude in an otherwise regimented existence.

But he will take all that he can get—he is simply too selfish not to.

They kiss and kiss and kiss, and Wei Ying writhes beneath him, hooks one leg around his hips and brings them together again and again. His soft inner thigh is hot against Lan Zhan's hip, and when Lan Zhan reaches between them and runs a hand along the very top of it, feeling the soft, smooth give, Wei Ying whines low in his throat, tossing his head back. He's always been sensitive there.

Lan Zhan pulls back. If there is a way he can prolong this, he will.

"Let me," he says, but the rest of the words get stuck in his throat. Wei Ying watches him silently, the light through the open curtains enough to show his eyes, bright and watchful as Lan Zhan slides down and kisses what skin he can reach—his clavicle, his chest, a quick swipe of the tongue against a nipple—something that makes Wei Ying hiss; he's always been sensitive there, as well. He kisses Wei Ying everywhere he can, getting lost in a reverie. The bumps of his ribs, the smooth slide down to his hips. He runs his open lips up Wei Ying's shaft, Wei Ying gasping softly above him, then opens up Wei Ying's thighs and nips close to the apex, where Wei Ying feels it the most. This used to make him laugh, used to make him admonish Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you're such a beast, and Lan Zhan would bite down harder, suck on the spot until a bruise would bloom, dark and shaped like his mouth.

Wei Ying doesn't laugh, but he lays a gentle hand over Lan Zhan's head and inhales, the sound ragged in the quiet room.

Lan Zhan sucks a bruise into his skin before he can think better of it. Is it better or worse that Wei Ying will have a reminder? He should not have assumed; should have asked. But Wei Ying doesn't stop him, so Lan Zhan takes the liberty of doing it again, in a different spot. Give him an inch, he'll take the mile. Wei Ying whimpers at a particularly hard bite, hand tightening in Lan Zhan's hair. The sound of it pierces through the fog in Lan Zhan's mind, sweeping it away.

He no longer has the right to mark Wei Ying as his.

"I'm sorry," he whispers as he kisses the new bruise. "I'm sorry, I should have asked."

"Shut up, just...shut up," Wei Ying whispers back, hand tightening on Lan Zhan's skull even more. "Don't stop."

Lan Zhan licks a stripe all the way up his inner thigh then, kisses his way back down. He does the same to his other thigh, the vulnerable softness of the back of Wei Ying's knee under his fingers. Lan Zhan used to flip him over and bestow kiss after kiss on him, nuzzling the backs of those knees with his nose, kissing the softness, then biting down on the muscle of his thighs.

Wei Ying, still glorious, squeezes his head between his thighs and says, his voice a harsh whisper, "Gonna get me off, Lan Zhan?"

There is only one answer he can give. "How do you want me?"

A long pause in which Lan Zhan's heart thumps so hard, the room seems to throb with it, and then, "Fuck me. I want you to fuck me."

His breath catches once again. He had not been—he had not even been thinking of himself. Had been so intent on touching Wei Ying, on giving him pleasure, that he had forgotten his own potential involvement, and now— "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure, I wouldn't have—come on, Lan Zhan, fuck me, do you need me to beg?"

Lan Zhan pulls himself up until he's hovering over Wei Ying, attempting to make out his expression in the dark. It is elusive, but he thinks he notices the ghost of a grin. "No," he says. "I do not need you to beg." He leans down and catches Wei Ying's lips with his own. "You only had to ask."

They fuck with Wei Ying's face buried against Lan Zhan's neck, hands clutching at his back, spasming around him. Lan Zhan doesn't know which one of them is trembling. His arms feel like they're going to give out, but he doesn't stop as he fucks Wei Ying slow and deep, the clutch of him hot and familiar and driving whatever had been left of his sanity right out of his head. Here, in this unfamiliar room, in the dark, he feels entirely out of time, outside of reality. Wei Ying allowing this. Wei Ying, welcoming him.

The sheets smell like him, this whole room is suffused with him. He gets up here every morning, goes to sleep here every night. This room, this apartment, this is where Wei Ying is, all of him belonging here. Nothing of Lan Zhan belongs here, but he's been granted his time here, and perhaps—perhaps, for a little while, the sheets will smell of them both. Will smell like sex. Like Lan Zhan.

He wonders how long his scent will linger, how quickly Wei Ying will change the sheets to rid himself of the reminder.

He fucks Wei Ying as Wei Ying clings to him and he stops thinking altogether.

Wei Ying comes first, he always has. He buries his sob against Lan Zhan's shoulder, his mouth wet and panting and familiar. Lan Zhan fucks him harder, leaning back and gripping his hips as he does, and comes inside Wei Ying in a hot flush of pleasure. He vibrates with it, with everything unsaid.

It's over, it's done.

It takes him a long time to leave the clutch of Wei Ying's body. Wei Ying makes a face and squirms around a bit before grabbing a tissue and cleaning himself up a bit. In their haste, they hadn't used a condom.

Lan Zhan swallows hard. "I'm sorry for—" Lan Zhan starts and then tries again, "I haven't been with anyone since my last test."

Wei Ying's smile looks unnatural on his face. "I know you wouldn't be so irresponsible." It feels almost like an accusation. He watches as Wei Ying silently pads out of the room, still naked. Lan Zhan's heartbeat slowly returns to normal and his skin cools.

Wei Ying used to love to linger in bed afterwards, cuddling up to Lan Zhan and burying his face in his neck. It tickled, Lan Zhan remembers, whenever he laughed.

He doesn't know what he's meant to do now. Most likely, he should put on his clothes and bid Wei Ying goodbye. Strangely, all he can think about is the child next door, sleeping deeply. He hopes they hadn't woken him, though, in his limited experience with children, he thinks that the child would have called out for Wei Ying, if that had been the case. Lan Zhan used to when he was a child, when he would wake up in the middle of the night to a hushed argument.

Wei Ying returns to the room silently. If he is surprised to see Lan Zhan still here, he doesn't show it. Quietly, he picks up his clothes, one by one, and slips them on. Lan Zhan follows his cue. The room has grown chilly, and wrapping himself in layers feels good in a physical sense.

Lan Zhan is tired. He needs to get back; he has an early meeting tomorrow. He has his routine.

"Do you...want to...I mean, I could make you another cup of tea, that one's cold already," Wei Ying says quietly.

Lan Zhan pauses in buttoning up his shirt. "Do you want me to?" he asks as carefully as he can manage.

Wei Ying looks away. He is already dressed, his t-shirt and shorts the easiest things to slip on. He shrugs. "If you want. I'm just gonna finish my beer and then go to bed, probably. The monster wakes up at five thirty, usually." He turns back to Lan Zhan and leaves him breathless with the quirk of his lips. "Like you."

Lan Zhan should get back. "Thank you," he says. "I would like that."

*

He ends up staying another half an hour. For the most part, he listens to Wei Ying talk, and Wei Ying mostly talks about his son. It becomes clear that his entire life has changed since adopting A-Yuan: he is no longer carefree and silly in every aspect of his life. He is a father. It sits strangely in Lan Zhan's stomach, this idea. It's as though whenever he looks at Wei Ying, he sees an afterimage of what he used to be. Overlaying it is a new Wei Ying, one who no longer stays up until one in the morning playing video games or getting lost in a book, then crawls into bed with Lan Zhan and grumps when Lan Zhan gets up at five to go for his run. He has grown up, more so than Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan doesn't think he's changed much in the last three years, only grown more inward, perhaps a little bit sadder.

He doesn't think that Wei Ying will have noticed.

Wei Ying walks him to his door and silently watches him put on his shoes. Lan Zhan wants to kiss him. Desperately, his body trembling with it. He doesn't. He nods and says, "It was very good to see you, Wei Ying. Thank you for...the invitation."

Wei Ying huffs out a laugh and looks away. "Yeah, Lan Zhan. You're welcome. For the invitation."

The door shuts behind him with a hollow sound, and then he's pulling out his phone and ordering a Didi.

Despite going to bed far past his usual time, it takes him a long time to fall asleep that night.

*

Work in Shanghai is similar to work in Beijing, except it involves more meetings. His uncle greets him in the conference room at eight in the morning with a gruff, "Lan Zhan." Lan Zhan nods and greets him back.

He goes about his day. The new instrument roll-out planning is going well. Lan Huan, happy to see him as always, shows him the art for the ads, asking for Lan Zhan's opinion as though it matters. Then he shows him a prototype. "Come, look. Want to try it?"

It's an electronic piano that has the sound of a grand yet would fit into most homes. It's an exquisite piece of equipment, and for a stunning five minutes, Lan Zhan loses himself in the music as he plays a Beethoven sonata. The key action is smooth, and the piano sounds as if it would fill a concert hall. When he is done playing, Lan Zhan looks up at his beaming brother. "It's very good. I believe this will do very well."

"It will," Lan Huan agrees. Then he takes Lan Zhan out to lunch.

"Tell me, how are things really?" he asks over a bowl of noodles.

Lan Zhan frowns, maneuvering his chopsticks. "How do you mean?"

"On the phone, you sound...different," Lan Huan says, sounding careful. Too careful. "I simply want to make sure my little brother is happy."

Lan Zhan stares down at his noodles. "Of course. Everything is fine." Even he can hear the dullness in his voice.

"Are you...seeing anybody?"

Lan Huan has always wanted Lan Zhan to be happy. Lan Zhan cannot fault him for that—he wants the same for Lan Huan. Lan Zhan reminds himself of this through the wave of irritation. "I don't have the opportunity," he says through gritted teeth. "Work takes up a lot of my time."

"Well," Lan Huan says, then goes quiet for a moment. "You know, it takes up a lot of my time, too. But Mingjue and I still find—"

"It's fine," Lan Zhan cuts him off. It's unusual enough that Lan Huan's eyebrows shoot up in surprise. Lan Zhan shuts his eyes. "I'm sorry." He sags down, sets down his chopsticks, and leans back in his chair. "I had...an encounter yesterday."

Lan Huan has always been extremely perceptive, especially when it comes to Lan Zhan. "Wei Ying."

Lan Zhan nods, watching his own hand on the table. Less than twenty-four hours ago, that hand had been touching Wei Ying's skin.

"And...how did that go?"

Lan Zhan sighs and tells him everything. The chance meeting at the Family Mart, the texts, the visit. "We...should not have done what we did," he says of the sex. Lan Huan will pick up on it quickly enough. "I haven't heard from him since."

Lan Huan, eyebrows drawn in concern, says, "Do you want to?"

Desperately. Lan Zhan realizes that every moment his brain is not actively engaged in a task, he is waiting for his phone to buzz with a notification. It remains frustratingly inert in his pocket. He nods. "I would certainly like to see him again before I leave."

"And," Lan Huan says in his most careful voice, "what would that accomplish?"

Lan Zhan looks up at him sharply. "Nothing. I simply want to see him."

His brother is quiet for a long moment, clearly picking out the perfect words to bestow upon him. Sometimes Lan Zhan hates how careful his brother is, how he never stumbles into saying just anything. Sometimes Lan Zhan wishes he would simply say what's on his mind. Finally, Lan Huan says, "It seems as though seeing him has upset you."

Lan Zhan abruptly wants the conversation to end. He has no response to this, nothing he can explain. All he wants is to bathe in a little bit of Wei Ying's attention, to look into his eyes again and perhaps, if he is lucky, watch him smile. He shakes his head and picks up his chopsticks again, grabbing some noodles.

Lan Huan sighs but accepts that he will get nothing more out of Lan Zhan. They finish the rest of their meal in silence, as they were taught when they had been children.

*


Wei Ying:
This is stupid, I wasn't going to text you again, but are you still in town?

The notification comes after eight o'clock the next night, right as Lan Zhan had been about to brush his teeth. His mouth turns dry. He fumbles to respond, nearly deleting the message by accident in his haste.

Lan Zhan: I am.

He doesn't know what else to say, so he sends his response and sinks down onto the chair at the desk, phone in hand. Wei Ying starts typing almost immediately. As before, he types for a while, then the indicator goes away. Then it comes back again. Lan Zhan holds his breath.

Wei Ying: Do you want to come over? I have more of that tea.

Lan Zhan is out the door within two minutes, typing his response one-handed. The Didi comes gratifyingly quickly.

Wei Ying greets him at the door with an uncertain look, as though he himself doesn't quite know why he had extended the invitation. "Hey. Come in."

He has already pulled out a pair of guest slippers. Lan Zhan slips them on. Then he follows Wei Ying to the living room. This time, the mess has been picked up a little bit—the toys are no longer strewn across the floor, but piled high by the bins in the corner of the room. As the last time, the only light is a dim lamp by the couch. It gives everything a dreamy look, a diffuse sort of glow filling the cozy space.

"Sit, I'll bring you the tea."

Lan Zhan does so, taking up the same spot on the couch as last time. He does not allow himself to hope beyond a friendly conversation; however, after Wei Ying has come back with his tea and a beer for himself, after they have downed half of their drinks in near silence, Wei Ying swallows—Lan Zhan tracks the movement with his hungry eyes—and says, "Come here."

Lan Zhan obeys.

They don't make it to the bedroom.

It's desperate, at least for Lan Zhan. They barely ruck their clothes up out of the way, moving against one another in a single wave, and kiss for what feels like forever. Wei Ying holds onto Lan Zhan's face with trembling hands and doesn't let him move away even for a second. Lan Zhan wants to taste all of him, but he has never been able to deny Wei Ying his kisses.

Finally, after a while, he gently dislodges Wei Ying's hold and slips down. If he is prolonging the inevitable, nobody could blame him. He teases Wei Ying with his tongue, Wei Ying's muscles jumping under his touch, then takes him in his mouth. Wei Ying clutches the back of his head and muffles his cries against his hand.

Lan Zhan makes him come, swallows it down. Rests his forehead against his hip and simply breathes for a while. He is still painfully, desperately turned on.

Wei Ying fumbles with his back pocket and slaps a small packet of lube into his hand.

Just like last time, they don't bother with a condom.

Lan Zhan, breathing harshly against the back of Wei Ying's neck, knows he has to leave now that it's done. But perhaps Wei Ying will invite him to have another cup of tea. Perhaps he can stay here, in this cozy room that smells of all things Wei Ying, for just a little bit longer.

Wei Ying squirms beneath him and Lan Zhan pulls back, murmuring apologies. Wei Ying shakes his head silently. Lan Zhan pulls out as carefully as he can manage.

"Tissues?" he asks.

Wei Ying flaps his hand towards a set of shelves where a tissue box sits. Lan Zhan gets up, hiking up his underwear and pants, and grabs a handful. Wei Ying allows Lan Zhan the luxury of cleaning him up, and Lan Zhan does it carefully, thoroughly, until Wei Ying is able to get up without making a mess of the couch. Once again, he pads silently out of the room. Lan Zhan pulls himself together and sits on the couch, waiting. When Wei Ying comes back in, he stops a little short, as though he hadn't been expecting Lan Zhan to still be there.

Lan Zhan clears his throat. "Do you...would you like me to go?" he asks in the most neutral voice he can manage.

"I mean...if you want, I guess. I was gonna have another beer."

Lan Zhan nods slowly. He doesn't say I will stay as long as you'll let me. He says, "I can stay for a bit."

Wei Ying bites his lip, nods, then swivels on his heel and leaves once more.

They do this again two nights later. It's Lan Zhan's last night in Shanghai. They start off with their drinks on the couch, then Wei Ying sets down his beer, clears his throat, and beckons Lan Zhan over. It's a familiar dance by now, and the specter of Lan Zhan leaving hangs over them as they kiss. Once again, it's desperate, fast, Lan Zhan's hands bunching up Wei Ying's t-shirt as they kiss, Wei Ying's hands going to Lan Zhan's buttons and popping them open one by one.

"We should—bed, bed is easier—"

Lan Zhan nods, not moving away. "Yes, bed," he agrees, his lips a breath away from Wei Ying's. He closes the distance between them and the noise Wei Ying gives as their lips touch goes through Lan Zhan like thunder. They have always been good at this. Time hasn't taken it away from them the way it has everything else.

Wei Ying is writhing beneath Lan Zhan when a noise like footfall reaches Lan Zhan's ears, and then—

"Baba?"

Lan Zhan gasps as he's propelled backwards, hitting the arm of the couch. Wei Ying doesn't look at him as he sits up quickly, fixes his t-shirt, and opens his arms towards his son. Lan Zhan quickly buttons up his own shirt, ears burning.

"What is it, baobei? What happened?"

The child is rubbing an eye with one chubby hand as he pouts. "I woke up." Slowly he makes his way towards Wei Ying, throwing curious glances Lan Zhan's way. Lan Zhan is frozen in place. He's still hard, but attempts to hide it by crossing his legs. His heartbeat is too loud in his ears. He watches as Wei Ying envelops his son in a hug, then pulls him into his lap.

"Bad dream?"

The boy nods silently, falling against Wei Ying's chest, his face in his neck. It feels strange to think that only a few moments ago, Lan Zhan had been touching him there. With his child in his lap, Wei Ying looks untouchable. He doesn't look at Lan Zhan as he attempts to soothe his son.

"You know you're supposed to call out for me, right? And not get out of bed?"

The boy nods silently.

"No midnight wanderings, right?"

"Right," the boy sighs.

"Good. Do you want a bedtime story?" Wei Ying asks.

"Are you having friends over, baba?" A-Yuan says, instead of responding to the question. He's watching Lan Zhan with sleepy, but curious, eyes. "A party?"

Wei Ying snuffles out a laugh. "Not much of a party with just two people, is it?" He runs a hand over the boy's forehead, ruffling the hair fallen there. "It's just Lan Zhan, baobei. You met him the other day."

"I thought you didn't like him," the boy says. Lan Zhan flushes and looks down at his lap, where he is most certainly no longer hard. He has overstayed his welcome, he realizes. He shouldn’t be here.

Wei Ying doesn't say anything for a while, then murmurs, "I don't dislike Lan Zhan."

Lan Zhan takes even breaths in and out.

"But you need to go back to bed, all right?"

The boy lifts his head and looks Wei Ying in the eye. "Are you going to be having fun without me?"

"Well, Lan Zhan was just leaving, so no."

Ah. Yes. Lan Zhan knows his cue. He clears his throat and says, "Yes, A-Yuan. I'm sorry to have disturbed you. Wei Ying, it was...good to see you."

Wei Ying looks at him with his eyebrows furrowed. "Let me put him back to bed first, all right?"

Lan Zhan, halfway off the couch, pauses, then slowly sinks back down. "Very well."

Wei Ying says to A-Yuan, "Hold onto me," and A-Yuan instantly obeys, clasping his short arms around Wei Ying's neck. "Off we go." Wei Ying gets up, his son in his arms clinging to him like a little monkey. He shuffles out of the room with A-Yuan, leaving Lan Zhan to look at their unfinished drinks and regret their unfinished encounter.

His train leaves fairly early in the morning, and while he has already packed, he still feels unprepared for it, as though he's forgotten something. He's certain the feeling will dissipate in the morning. Lan Zhan never forgets anything important when he travels.

Wei Ying takes a while to come back. In that time, Lan Zhan grows restless and brings his tea cup into the kitchen. It's a small space, smaller than Lan Zhan's, and it's characteristically messy. There are dishes in the sink, some stains on the counter. Lan Zhan wonders what life with a young child is like. Wei Ying has never been a particularly neat person. Lan Zhan imagines that adding a child into the mix adds several layers of difficulty.

He returns to the living room and looks around. Wei Ying may be a while yet, so he starts to pick up toys and bring them to the corner with the cubbies. Lego, trucks, dolls—it seems as though all of it has its home, but has not been sorted for a while. Lan Zhan puts things away to the best of his ability, then, somewhat satisfied, returns to his vigil on the couch.

When Wei Ying finally makes an appearance, he stops dead in the doorway and looks around. "Did you clean my living room?"

Lan Zhan instantly feels foolish. "Yes. I'm sorry. I was simply...sitting here, and…"

Wei Ying shakes his head, one corner of his mouth lifting. "You haven't changed."

Lan Zhan's chest whines with it. "I will leave now," he says, like a promise.

Wei Ying chews on his lip. "I mean. If you want."

Lan Zhan frowns. "I thought...you said to A-Yuan that—"

"Just to get him back to sleep, Lan Zhan. You have to lie to kids sometimes, otherwise you'll never hear the end of it. He's asleep now. We're fine."

They go into Wei Ying's bedroom, shut the door. Their clothes strewn all over the floor, they kiss, entangled in one another, cocks sliding together, until Wei Ying comes. He trembles in Lan Zhan's arms, Lan Zhan kissing him through it. Wei Ying rolls over afterwards and Lan Zhan grinds against him, his cock slick from want, sliding in between Wei Ying's cheeks, and comes all over Wei Ying's back after too short a time.

His heartbeat is still returning to normal when Wei Ying says, his voice quiet, "You're leaving, right?"

For a moment, Lan Zhan wonders if that's an invitation to vacate the premises, but then hears the implication. "In the morning. Yes."

Wei Ying nods against the pillow. "Well."

Lan Zhan lies there and a wave of exhaustion so desperate, he can barely breathe, hits him. He doesn't want to clean up, he doesn't want to get dressed. He doesn't want to shuffle towards the front door, then kiss Wei Ying goodbye. He doesn't want to call a Didi, then return to his empty hotel room where all of his things, apart from an outfit for tomorrow and his toothbrush, have already been packed away.

He doesn't want to, but he must.

"Lan Zhan," Wei Ying whispers. "If I didn't have my kid...I'd want you to stay until morning."

Lan Zhan nearly whines. The hope fluttering in his belly is a dangerous, sharp feeling. He cannot allow himself to cultivate it. He has to snuff it out.

"I understand," he says. "I must go," he adds reluctantly. If he doesn't leave now…

They clean themselves up, then get dressed with their backs to one another, in silence. Once his last button is done up, Lan Zhan straightens and turns around. Wei Ying is watching him. They walk out of his bedroom, down the hall. Lan Zhan slips out of the guest slippers and slides his feet into his shoes, Wei Ying observing him with a shuttered gaze.

And then, just like that, it's time to go.

"Well," Wei Ying says. "I guess this is it."

Lan Zhan nods slowly, not trusting himself to speak.

"Yeah." Wei Ying laughs without much humor and runs a hand through his hair. "This was crazy. Stupid, probably."

Lan Zhan lowers his gaze. Wei Ying is barefoot, standing there in his shorts and t-shirt, and he feels as far away as the moon. "I'm...I am sorry."

"Are you?" His voice is sharp. "Well."

Lan Zhan forces his gaze upwards until he's looking Wei Ying in the eye. "I'm sorry to be leaving." Again. Always. "I'm not sorry about what we did."

Wei Ying looks away and chews on his lower lip. "All right. Well." He drops his hand. "Bye, Lan Zhan."

Lan Zhan wants to close the yawning space between them, wants to step over the chasm and grab him close and stay there. Wants to kiss his lips, his cheek, the tender spot behind his ear. Instead, he nods stiffly and says, "Goodbye, Wei Ying." He hesitates. "You seem to be a wonderful father. I hope...I hope that things are not too difficult for you."

Wei Ying shakes his head, lets out another humorless laugh. "Thanks, I guess. Don't really have a choice in the matter, but I do love that kid."

"I can see that."

Wei Ying is the one to close the distance between them, in the end. The one to step inside Lan Zhan's space and lay a hand over his chest. Lan Zhan catches his wrist and keeps it pinned there against himself. "Bye, Lan Zhan," Wei Ying whispers as he looks at his mouth.

"Goodbye, Wei Ying."

The kiss is soft. Lan Zhan, feeling painfully tender and raw, attempts to prolong it as much as he can, but it must end, and it does.

He doesn't recall the goodbye, doesn't pay attention to the way back down to the street. He calls the car on autopilot, and only wakes up halfway to the hotel, as the driver switches radio stations.

He watches the streets go by as he leans his head against the car window and tries not to think.

*

Getting back to his life back in Beijing should not be difficult. There is work to be done, his place to keep up. He tries to settle back into his routine as though Shanghai had never happened, but memories of Wei Ying tend to crowd in his mind in a way they haven't in over a year, fresh ones overtaking the Wei Ying of three years ago.

Lan Zhan finds himself zoning out, wondering what Wei Ying is doing at this very moment. Almost always, he pictures him with his son—spending time on the playground, playing on the messy floor of his living room, in the Family Mart, picking out a drink.

He wonders if Wei Ying thinks about him at all, or if their nights together had simply been a brief hiatus from his real life, no longer worthy of further consideration.

Lan Zhan stops being able to sleep.

It has its advantages—he can get more work done this way, for one—but he staggers through his mornings bone-tired in a way he doesn't remember feeling for a long time. He pushes himself, goes for a run after work in hopes of getting tired enough to sleep, and still, he finds it elusive, casting about for the release of oblivion while tossing and turning as though he'd had a cup of coffee with dinner.

"Lan Zhan, are you all right?" Mianmian asks a week after his return to Beijing. "You look kind of...wrecked."

They're standing by the noodle cart on the corner near work, and Lan Zhan feels sweat gathering at the small of his back. It's not nearly as hot or humid as Shanghai, but it's still summer. The steam from the cart is curling Mianmian's bangs. "It's the new launch," he evades. "Just work."

"Hmm." She narrows her eyes at him. "You sure it has nothing to do with what happened in Shanghai?"

He never told her the full story. All she knows is that they met at the Family Mart, then exchanged texts apologizing, then Lan Zhan went to see Wei Ying. She doesn't know what they did. Doesn't know how many times.

"No," he says decisively. "It's just work."

She doesn't push anymore, but he knows he hasn't managed to convince her.

His brother calls him on a Wednesday night, their usual time, and says after a while, "You sound different, A-Zhan. Is anything the matter?"

"Of course not. It's simply work. I'm a little bit tired."

Lan Huan doesn't believe him, either, but he also doesn't push. It's good to have developed a reputation as someone who won't talk about something he doesn't want to talk about no matter how far he's pushed. There is a freedom in being closed off.

And then, one day, he receives a message from Wei Ying. It's a voice message, and it comes through at eleven thirty at night. Lan Zhan sees it immediately, as he tosses and turns in bed.

Hey, it says. Hope it's all right that I'm sending this. Just...I don't honestly know why I'm sending this, or what I want to say. I don't have a lot to talk about. You don't have to respond. I...fuck. I don't know.

Before Wei Ying can recall the message, Lan Zhan sends a recording of his own.

"Wei Ying," he starts, then stops. He also doesn't quite know what to say. "Thank you for reaching out. How are...things? With you? How is A-Yuan?" It's inane, pointless, but he sends it, anyway, and doesn't recall it even when regret overtakes him.

Wei Ying responds almost right away. You’re awake? Why are you awake?

"I'm having a hard time sleeping," Lan Zhan says into the phone. "Work has been very busy with the new product launch."

The piano, right? It sounds cool, I've seen ads all over town. Do you have one? Is that a perk?

Lan Zhan wants to call him. Wants to press the button and have a conversation, not this stuttered back and forth they're engaged in, but he doesn't think he's got the right to change tacks on Wei Ying. Wei Ying has to be the one to take that step. So, he sends another message. "I don't have one, I just have my old piano. I suppose I could replace it."

Wei Ying doesn't respond for long enough that Lan Zhan thinks that's it, they're done. But then another message comes through. The one with the sticker in the corner?

Wei Ying had put that sticker on. It had all but enraged Lan Zhan's uncle, but Lan Zhan had stubbornly kept it. "Yes," he says into the phone. "Now that I think about it, the instrument is still good. Perhaps replacing it is unnecessary."

Hey, it's your piano. Do you still play?

"Yes. I still play."

Cool.

And then, after Lan Zhan's yes, there really is nothing more. He doesn't fall asleep until one in the morning and drags himself through his morning routine feeling like a zombie.

"Okay, this is more than just work. We've had busy periods before, and this is definitely more than that," Mianmian says at the end of the day on a Friday. "We're going out and you're telling me what's going on with you."

"Shouldn't you go home to your family?" he asks testily, the last of his self-control shredded from exhaustion.

She narrows her eyes at him. "It's the twenty-first century, my husband can take care of our kid for a bit."

Lan Zhan, too tired to argue, allows himself to be led across the street towards a sushi place they tend to frequent for lunch. At dinnertime, the lights have been dimmed, the atmosphere shifting to something more intimate, romantic. It's only six thirty, the place half-full. They're led to an out-of-the-way table towards the back and given menus.

Lan Zhan blinks down at his without really seeing and gets overwhelmed by choices.

Mianmian cuts him a look and when the waiter appears to take their order, orders for them both, taking into account Lan Zhan's eating habits. She always does.

She also orders them both sake.

"You know I don't drink," Lan Zhan tells her, frowning.

"Tonight, you'll have a drink with me."

"Mianmian…"

"I'll get you home, don't worry." When the drinks arrive, she slides a cup towards Lan Zhan. "Cheers."

Lan Zhan takes a careful sip. It burns on the way down. He makes a face as she laughs.

"Atta boy. Good work. Okay, you can have your tea now."

Grateful, Lan Zhan switches to the fragrant white tea they'd been served in the beginning. "Did you want me to get drunk?" he asks curiously.

"Nah, just thought you could use it. Now, tell me—what the hell happened in Shanghai?"

Lan Zhan falters. "What do you mean?" he asks carefully, not looking at her.

"You know what I mean. Something happened, and I think it has to do with Wei Ying."

Lan Zhan throws back the rest of the sake. Once again, it burns, and he winces as he swallows it down. "You know what happened," he says stubbornly. "I saw Wei Ying."

She watches him with narrowed eyes and slowly shakes her head. "No, I think there's more to it than that." A pause. "Did you sleep together?"

Lan Zhan swallows and looks away, an admission in itself. "That is none of anybody's business."

"You're right," she says gently. "But it clearly messed you up. Look at you: you've been dead on your feet for over a week. Are you sleeping at all?"

Lan Zhan, defenses lowered by exhaustion, sighs and feels himself slump over. He rests his elbows on the table and props his chin up on one hand. With the other, he twirls the empty sake cup. "No. I'm not sleeping."

"Lan Zhan…"

He shrugs. He feels woozy, maybe even slightly dizzy. He feels as though the air is thinner than usual and it won't hold him up. He realizes, suddenly and with absolute clarity, that he is about to fall asleep right here at this table. "Mianmian," he says carefully. "I am exceptionally tired."

Her gaze sharpens. "Are you all right? Are you about to pass out on me?"

Slowly, he nods, the movement jarring and unpleasant. "Yes. Yes, I believe I may."

"Oh shit. Uhm." She looks around, then flags down a waiter, who comes over almost right away. "He's not feeling well," she says in a low voice. "I'm going to get him a car, but I'll be back. Is that all right?" The waiter agrees and retreats.

"Mianmian," Lan Zhan starts, but she lays her hand down over his and squeezes. He stops talking. He should… "Let me pay, at least," he says, realizing with a start that he's slurring. Is he drunk? Is that what this feeling is?

"Don't be silly. You'll get me next time. Come on, Lan Zhan, up we go."

Lan Zhan staggers up. He wants—bed. He wants bed desperately, like he's never wanted anything in his whole life. He allows Mianmian to take his hand and lead him out into the fresh evening air, then an indeterminate amount of time later, he finds himself in a car without remembering how he got there. He gets dropped off in front of his building and makes his way up on autopilot. His apartment is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. He staggers to the bedroom and gets tangled in his own shirt and trousers, but eventually, he's down to underwear. His phone clatters—he'd left it in his pants pocket. He manages to bend down and retrieve it. There is a message from Mianmian. Drink water before you go to sleep!!! Tell me when you're home!

He can't possibly be expected to make water happen, but he does text back, home before falling gratefully onto his bed. He should have pulled back the covers, but too late now. Anyway, it's summer. It's warm. He can sleep like this.

Something compels him to look at his phone again, and he thinks, why not and swipes over to his conversation with Wei Ying. Types out a message. Satisfied, he puts the phone face down onto his bedside table, rolls over, and is asleep in seconds.

*

He wakes up in the middle of the night, shivering. He manages to stagger out of bed and pull back the covers. His head is pounding, which feels woefully unfair, considering he had only had a thimbleful of sake. Remembering Mianmian's advice, Lan Zhan makes his way to the kitchen and pours himself a cup of water. He drinks the entire thing in one go, then pours himself another one and walks back to the bedroom with it. He notices his phone isn't plugged in, so he goes to plug it in, and is hit with a memory of sending Wei Ying a message. There is no message back, so perhaps he had imagined it… Against all reason, he opens up WeChat to look and nearly drops the phone.

Lan Zhan: I miss you. I'm never not missing you.

Fuck. Fuck. That is so—inappropriate. Horrible. Brutally, terribly honest. He recalls the message, even knowing that Wei Ying has already seen it, plugs his phone in, and gets into bed, head still pounding.

He manages to fall asleep after a while, mind going blissfully blank as oblivion takes him.

*

They’d met at university. They had both been eighteen. Wei Ying had, unsurprisingly, been the loudest boy in their economics class, raising his hand and arguing with the professor in a way that would nearly send Lan Zhan into a paroxysm of horror. Lan Zhan hadn't liked Wei Ying. He had fallen in love with him nearly on sight.

Wei Ying had been a bright spark in an otherwise largely dull existence. He’d lit up every room he was in with his exuberance and energy. He was in constant motion, never ceasing. Wei Ying was mesmerizing, and Lan Zhan, with his strict and regimented life, began to yearn for him the way plants yearn for spring. He needed Wei Ying in order to come alive.

Wei Ying. Wei Ying had picked Lan Zhan out as someone to win over almost immediately, and for a while, Lan Zhan had refused to play along. He had felt mocked, made fun of. It had hurt—why would this bright boy, who could have his pick of anyone, work so hard to tease and mock Lan Zhan? As though he'd had nothing better to do.

Eventually, however, Wei Ying had managed to get past Lan Zhan's defenses. He had wormed his way into his life so easily, in the end. They had become friends. Close friends, confidantes. Lan Zhan had never had a close friend before and it intoxicated him. That it was Wei Ying made it all the sweeter.

Their first kiss. Their first kiss had been in the dark, under a tree on campus, their last year at university. Wei Ying had been tipsy, as he often had been on weekends. After a long moment of surprise, Lan Zhan had pushed him away, too aware of the sharp taste of alcohol on Wei Ying's lips. That had been his first kiss. It hadn't been Wei Ying's.

"Lan Zhaaan," Wei Ying had pouted. His hands had been fisted in Lan Zhan's shirt. "Why did you push me away? Don't you like me?"

Lan Zhan's heart had pounded hollow in his ears. Do you like me? he had wanted to ask. "Wei Ying, you're drunk," he had said carefully, gently.

Wei Ying's face had cleared. He'd poked Lan Zhan in the chest without letting go of his shirt. "Oh, that. You should know I have an extremely high alcohol tolerance, Lan Zhan. I'm barely tipsy."

Lan Zhan, with his ringing ears and dry mouth, had said, "Try me again when you're sober," and Wei Ying had, the following morning. They had been lying in Lan Zhan's narrow bed in his room, the sun slanting across the ceiling, reaching into every nook and cranny. Wei Ying had whispered, "I'm sober now, Lan Zhan," and fit their mouths together. This time, Lan Zhan had not pushed him away.

That had been their first time together. A whole new world of feeling had opened up for Lan Zhan, a world he had hungered for but never dreamed of having. They had become inseparable—more so even than before. Lan Zhan had wanted to spend every free moment he had with Wei Ying. He'd almost nearly done it. His uncle had not taken kindly to Wei Ying constantly being underfoot, referring to him as that boy in a dismissive voice. Lan Zhan had known his uncle understood the full truth of their relationship, but he never brought it up to Lan Zhan, for which Lan Zhan had been grateful.

The night Wei Ying had put that sticker of a pink heart in the corner of the piano, they had been entirely alone. Lan Zhan's uncle had gone out for the evening with his friends, and Wei Ying had stayed for dinner. Daringly, they had fucked on the living room floor, the thrill of possible discovery almost as exciting as the sex had been. That was the night Wei Ying had taken Lan Zhan's face between his hands and, his smile so brilliant, it was nearly blinding, had said, "You know I love you, right?"

And Lan Zhan, belly fluttering and every vein burning with desire, had said, "I do." Because he had, had become more and more sure of it over the past few months. Still, hearing it had been a thrill. Saying it back even more so. I am in love, he would think as he'd lie in bed at night, mind whirling.

He had been. He had been so in love.

*

Lan Zhan doesn't hear from Wei Ying after his message, but he does send a follow-up in apology. I was not in my right mind, and I am sorry. Please don't make note of it.

Forget I ever sent it, he thinks.

The humiliation of it burns off the last of the alcohol, and Lan Zhan spends the morning with his head full of cotton, disproportionately hungover. He manages to fix the situation with the judicial application of some greasy noodles, as directed by the internet after some searching on Baidu.

Mianmian sends him a sympathetic message, which he ignores in favor of stewing in his own embarrassment. Then he goes for a run.

It's forgotten. The message stares at him as he walks back up to his building, sweat clinging to every bit of skin he has. Having been hoping for a reply, Lan Zhan wishes now that it had never come.

They don't talk again for a week, not until Lan Zhan hears a notification come through while brushing his teeth one night. After the humiliation from the message, he had all but resigned himself to never hearing from Wei Ying again, but he had, at least, started sleeping again, as though one drunk night had reset his body. Assuming it was a message from his brother, Lan Zhan picks the phone up once he's done getting ready for bed.

Wei Ying: For what it's worth, I miss you too.

Even as he watches it, his fingers numb from shock, the message disappears. Wei Ying has recalled it. Lan Zhan hadn't even gotten a screenshot of it.

Lan Zhan, uncertain as to what to do, sits down on the bed and looks at the phone until it goes dark. He opens it up again, still doing nothing but staring. Wei Ying will know that he has seen it. To ignore it feels cruel, but to say something in response feels even more so.

Finally, after chewing it over and over in his mind, Lan Zhan types out, I don't know what to do. Lan Zhan has always been honest to a fault.

He can picture Wei Ying looking down at his phone. Perhaps he laughs in response, that slightly jaded, bitter laugh that he used to reserve for situations involving his adoptive parents. Perhaps he frowns and locks the phone.

Regardless, Lan Zhan doesn't get to know because he doesn't get a response, not until the morning.

That makes two of us, Wei Ying's message says. Not much to do, anyway. We both should move on.

Lan Zhan can't breathe. All the oxygen in the room has been sucked out by Wei Ying's words.

He doesn't want to. The thought comes, clear and sharp. He doesn't want to move on. He thought that he had, but three nights in Shanghai had shown him otherwise. He's never moved on, not with a single person he has dated since moving away from home.

Lan Zhan takes a deep breath and sets down his phone. He goes for his run, feet pounding the pavement in a punishing rhythm, pushing himself more than usual.

He doesn't want to move on, but he has to respect Wei Ying's wishes. He has to give him his space. Wei Ying has moved on already. He has a son, a life outside of Lan Zhan. There is no room for Lan Zhan in it anymore. Lan Zhan can make all the choices he wants for himself, but he can't make them for Wei Ying, so he won't foist himself on him.

And if ever Wei Ying wants to contact him again, he knows how to do it. Lan Zhan will extinguish any hope he may have been harboring and...move on. Because he's got no other choice.

*

"Another trip? So soon?" Lan Zhan frowns.

"Yes," his uncle says over the phone. "The Shanghai team could use your assistance during the launch."

"Won't the Beijing branch need me, as well?"

"Smaller scale—they can handle it. The full launch is happening in Shanghai, so that's where I need you."

He doesn't give Lan Zhan an idea of how long he'll be going for, but the launch is happening in two weeks. He supposes he's buying a one-way ticket for now.

Despite everything that's happened, his traitorous heart beats hard at the thought of being in the same city as Wei Ying again. He's been to Shanghai numerous times since their break-up, but he would never have dared to even hope for anything until the run-in at the store. Now, it's all he can think about.

We both should move on.

True to his promise to himself, Lan Zhan has not contacted Wei Ying again, and Wei Ying has not reached out. There is no way for Lan Zhan to break the ice, to say, I'm back in town for a bit. Can we meet up? I'd like to see you. He tries to imagine typing it out and sending it, the shamelessness of it, the assumption, the implication—no. No, he will not do it.

He does find himself going to the same Family Mart as soon as he's back in the city. The bored clerk is there again, but Wei Ying is not, which, of course, makes all the sense in the world. Still, Lan Zhan feels the disappointment of it deep in his belly. He buys an iced tea and leaves.

He goes to work with his luggage still in hand.

His brother greets him with a warm smile. "A-Zhan, I am happy to see you again so soon. Why don't I catch you up on what we need?"

They immerse themselves in the work and Lan Zhan finds himself relegating thoughts of Wei Ying into the recesses of his mind for the time being. It's good to be able to focus on work, his brother beside him. It's good to be back home.

However, as soon as the work day is done, he finds himself at loose ends. Lan Huan must notice because he invites Lan Zhan over for dinner. "Mingjue is cooking, and he's very good," he tells him with a knowing smile. "Why don't you join us?"

Lan Zhan has met Nie Mingjue on a handful of occasions—he and Lan Huan did not start dating until after Lan Zhan had moved away—and he likes him. Likes that he's largely quiet, and whenever he does have something to add, it's interesting and smart. He's gruff, a counterpoint to Lan Huan's open friendliness. He is a good man.

"I would like that," Lan Zhan says, and does not regret it. The evening is a pleasant one. Lan Huan still abides by their childhood rule, therefore dinner is a quiet affair, though very good, as promised. Then they retire to the living room, where Nie Mingjue drinks beer and they chat about nothing in particular. They don't discuss work, and since Lan Zhan has not much to offer outside of that, he mostly listens to the two of them talk. They're very comfortable together. Settled. Occasionally, Nie Mingjue will put a hand over Lan Huan's knee, or Lan Huan's knuckles will graze Nie Mingjue's side, and every time it happens, something in Lan Zhan's chest squeezes at the easy intimacy of it. An intimacy he has not experienced in over three years.

"You are welcome to join us tomorrow night, as well," Lan Huan offers as he walks Lan Zhan out.

"Thank you," Lan Zhan says, putting on his shoes. "I do not wish to be an imposition."

"Don't be silly, A-Zhan. You're family."

*

Lan Zhan receives a text once he's back from his morning run.

Wei Ying: You're back in town?

It's difficult to tell if Lan Zhan's heart is racing because of his run or the message. He stares at it dumbly, not comprehending, and thinks, it's so early, how is he up?

Of course. His son. He keeps the same schedule as Lan Zhan. Wei Ying has been forced to become a morning person.

How did he know about Lan Zhan being back in Shanghai?

He chews over his response as he makes his way back up to his hotel room and strips to take a shower. Finally, he types out, Yes, I am. I got in yesterday, and gets in the shower.

It's hot, his skin going immediately pink under the spray. He scrubs himself down, washes his hair. He might need a trim soon, it's getting quite long. He steps out of the shower and grabs a towel from the rack, then pads over to the vanity and looks down at where he'd left his phone. Wei Ying has sent a message in response. Got it.

And that's it. Once again, the disappointment of it sweeps through his whole body, sagging him down. He had thought...had hoped...well. Wei Ying has made himself clear. Lan Zhan has no right to push things further if Wei Ying doesn't want them to go any further than this.

It isn't until he's on his way to work, having gotten breakfast from a cart, that his phone pings with another alert.

Wei Ying: Look, A-Yuan is with his cousins tonight, it's their sleepover night. Do you want to get dinner?

Lan Zhan stops in the middle of the sidewalk, jostled by people on all sides. Yes. God, yes, a thousand times yes. He begins to analyze the message for hidden clues. Why would Wei Ying mention A-Yuan being away if he didn't think that perhaps they could—but then again, A-Yuan is his whole life, of course he would mention him. Lan Zhan would be questioning it if he hadn't.

Lan Zhan: Yes. I would like that.

In response, Wei Ying sends him a link to a restaurant. It's a Japanese place on Nanjing Road with plenty of vegetarian options. Something about the gesture makes Lan Zhan's insides churn.

Lan Zhan: What time would be convenient for you?

Wei Ying: Seven?

Lan Zhan: Perfect. I will meet you there at seven.

He goes through the work day in a bit of a daze. Declines his brother's offer of another dinner visit, citing wanting to revisit some old haunts. Lan Huan doesn't question it, merely gives him a serene look and nod. Lan Zhan doesn't leave work until well after six, which doesn't give him enough time to go home and change. All he manages to do to freshen up is re-do his bun.

He lingers at the mirror in the work bathroom. The bags under his eyes are not too terrible at the moment, but he looks haunted, somehow. He wonders if Wei Ying will see right through him. He'd always been able to, before. Always been too perceptive for Lan Zhan's good.

He gets to the restaurant first and gets seated. He drinks the warm tea and idly peruses the menu, tapping his toes the entire time. He doesn't realize he's doing it until a familiar figure walks through the door and he stops. Wei Ying's gaze catches on Lan Zhan's and Lan Zhan raises his hand in greeting, feeling immediately foolish. He drops his hand.

Wei Ying is led to his table and given a menu. "The server will be with you shortly," the hostess tells them and leaves.

Wei Ying reaches for the second cup and pours himself some tea without looking at Lan Zhan. He downs it as though it were liquor, then pours another cup. Lan Zhan watches his hands working, his gaze following the path of the veins there, wanting to lick in between them, wanting to take those fingers in his mouth.

"So. You're back soon," Wei Ying says in a careful voice. "Is everything all right?"

Lan Zhan snaps out of his reverie and lifts his gaze to Wei Ying's. "It's the launch. I was needed here."

"Ah. Well." Wei Ying twirls the tea cup between his hands. "Where are you staying?"

Lan Zhan tells him. "It's where I tend to stay whenever I'm here."

"Not with your brother or uncle?" A slight surprise at that.

"I like to give my brother privacy." And the yawning space between him and his uncle has widened with each year that Lan Zhan has been away. Of course his uncle had insisted Lan Zhan stay with him. Lan Zhan, however, had insisted otherwise. "I prefer to stay at the hotel. I see my uncle for dinner and such."

Wei Ying quirks an eyebrow at that, but doesn't say anything about it.

After a moment's pause, Lan Zhan asks carefully. "Wei Ying, how did you know I was back in Shanghai?"

Wei Ying exhales a laugh and looks down. "Nie Huaisang. I guess his brother mentioned having dinner with you, and he, you know. Informed me."

"Ah. I see." Lan Zhan finds himself surprisingly grateful to Nie Huaisang.

Changing the subject, Wei Ying says, "They've got a nice bar at that hotel. I've been there a few times."

Lan Zhan hadn't noticed. He hums in response, not really knowing what to say.

Wei Ying laughs and shakes his head, looking down at his hands on the cup. "Lan Zhan, I'm inviting myself over."

Lan Zhan straightens up. The hope in his belly, the anticipation, is nearly too much. "You are?" he asks dumbly, then presses his lips together.

Wei Ying lifts his gaze and says, "Yeah. I am. I'd like to have a drink at that bar. You can join me."

"I—"

"You don't have to drink, Lan Zhan. Just keep me company."

Is it just a drink? Is it more than a drink? Lan Zhan honestly can't tell. "Of course," he says.

That's when their waiter comes over and Wei Ying orders a sake. Lan Zhan shudders at the memory of his hangover. Then they order a boatload of sushi, Wei Ying leading, as he has been to the place before, and the waiter leaves.

"An adult evening," Wei Ying muses out loud. "I haven't had one of those in a while."

"Tell me about your life," Lan Zhan says, feeling desperate. Tell me everything.

Wei Ying cuts him a look, then returns to twirling the tea cup between his fingers. "What do you want to know?"

"Whatever you would like to share," Lan Zhan says honestly. "I simply...would like to know more. About your son, about...about everything."

Wei Ying narrows his eyes, then bites his lip. "Well, I don't know, Lan Zhan… I mean, my whole life is my son. I mean, I work, too, don't get me wrong, but my responsibilities are to him. You know?"

Lan Zhan nods, hoping it looks encouraging.

Wei Ying blows out a breath and leans back in his seat. "I guess it's just...a lot. It's so much, being a parent. I mean, I was lucky in that I didn't have to, like, potty train him. He was already done with that by the time I got him, which was good. But he's pretty traumatized from losing everyone. He gets nightmares sometimes. Gets sad sometimes. He is, by nature, a sweet and happy kid, but he has moments of, like...being sad and frustrated. He's a whole person. You know?"

Lan Zhan nods, feeling a strange longing. "He sounds...rather wonderful."

Wei Ying's face breaks into a smile, as though the clouds have parted. "He is. He really is. I couldn't do what I'm doing if I wasn't crazy about him."

Their waiter appears with the sake and two cups, which he sets down in front of them. "Your food will be out shortly," he lets them know. They thank him.

"I imagine," Lan Zhan says carefully, once he has gone, "that being a single father has many challenges."

Wei Ying huffs out a laugh. He pours himself some sake, not offering any to Lan Zhan since he knows better, and raises it to his lips. There is a pause in which he looks into the distance as though unseeing, and then he throws the liquor back in one move. He makes a face, then sets the cup back down. "Well," he says, "I didn't really have much of a choice. I mean, I did—I could have just not taken him on. But I couldn't leave him. I guess I had already...I don't know. I had started thinking of him as mine." He shrugs and pours himself another drink. "It's not easy, but it's worth it. And he'll grow up eventually. He won't always be solely reliant on me."

Lan Zhan supposes that is true. Still… "That will take some time," he notes.

"You trying to freak me out?" Wei Ying asks before throwing back the sake.

"Oh! No, of course not, I'm—"

"I'm kidding, Lan Zhan. Of course I know that," he says without bite. "I just have to tell myself he won't always be throwing cranky tantrums when he's tired or I'll go insane."

Lan Zhan digests this. "Does it happen...often?"

Wei Ying shrugs. "Enough, I guess."

Their food arrives and for a while, they're busy eating. Lan Zhan feels as though everything he has eaten since the last time he was in Shanghai has been devoid of taste, often turning to ash in his mouth. He finds himself ravenous.

"Here," Wei Ying says of a veggie roll. "Try this, this is really good."

"Thank you." Lan Zhan tries it. "That's delicious," he says once he's swallowed his bite. "You should try this." He offers Wei Ying a cucumber roll.

It goes like that for the rest of the meal, until Wei Ying falls back against his chair and laughs. "I am totally stuffed. Man, that was good."

"Mn. Thank you for picking this place."

Wei Ying cuts him a look that Lan Zhan cannot quite interpret, then says, "A date brought me here once. Also a vegetarian."

Lan Zhan's stomach sours. He tells himself firmly he has no claim on Wei Ying, no right to feel any sort of jealousy. He doesn't know what to say in response, so he stays quiet.

Wei Ying says, "He turned out to be kind of an idiot, unfortunately. Talked about himself a whole lot, too." He shakes his head. "I went out on a few desperation dates back in the day. This was before A-Yuan."

Lan Zhan swallows and clears his throat. "What about since then?"

"Like I said, not a lot of takers." Wei Ying plays with his chopsticks, tapping them gently against their holder, something that used to make Lan Zhan's uncle crazy back in the day. He doesn't look at Lan Zhan. "And it's not like I have time, anyway, you know? So, it's really...I mean, it's fine."

"You must," Lan Zhan says, not knowing why he's saying it, "get lonely."

"What about you?" Wei Ying says sharply. "You don't seem to be with anyone. And you don't have a kid."

Lan Zhan looks away. "No. I am not with anyone."

"Don't you get lonely?"

Lan Zhan turns back to him. "Yes."

Wei Ying watches him for a long moment, then drops his gaze. His cheeks have gone pink, which could be the alcohol. It could be something else, too. "I'll be right back," he says, and gets up, walking in the direction of the bathroom.

Lan Zhan sits frozen in place, not comprehending what, exactly, is happening. They're talking around something, though what Wei Ying is thinking is beyond Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan wonders if he should not have brought up the topic of dating or relationships. Most likely, he should not have. Perhaps they can change the subject once Wei Ying is back.

It takes him some time to come back, and Lan Zhan spends the entire time tapping his toes and trying not to think.

"Well," Wei Ying says as he drops back down to his seat. Lan Zhan startles—he had zoned out. "Want to get out of here? That hotel bar sounds good. If," he adds more quietly, "you're still up for company."

"Of course," he says automatically, then frowns. "We haven't paid the bill."

Wei Ying gives him a grin so sly, it takes Lan Zhan's breath away. He looks entirely like himself. He looks the way he'd looked before, as though no time has passed. "It's taken care of."

"Wei Ying!" he says in dismay. "Why?"

"You're a guest," Wei Ying says, shrugging. "My restaurant choice, my treat. Let's go."

"Thank you," Lan Zhan says quietly and gets up.

"Don't mention it."

Lan Zhan gets them a Didi back to the hotel. It's a short ride—in fact, they probably could have walked, it would only have taken twenty minutes, but Lan Zhan hadn't wanted to waste the time, and Wei Ying hadn't protested.

The place is half-empty when they get there, so they find two spots at the bar to perch at. Wei Ying orders a whisky cocktail; Lan Zhan gets a soda water.

"I can't believe I'm at a bar," Wei Ying muses aloud. "It's seriously been a while."

"Do you not get to go out at all?"

Wei Ying shrugs. "I mean, occasionally Huaisang will drag me out, when A-Yuan is with the Wens. His cousins," he clarifies. "But I haven't been to a proper bar in ages. This is a nice treat."

Lan Zhan props his chin on his hand and, watching Wei Ying looking around the place, says, "Yes."

Wei Ying turns back to him and tilts his head. "You look tired, Lan Zhan. Should I let you be?"

"No," he says immediately, then lowers his gaze. "No, I am...happy we are doing this." He just manages to stop himself from saying, I've missed you.

"Are you," Wei Ying asks, watching him intently.

Lan Zhan flushes all down his body, a wave of embarrassment at having been so unguarded, but it's done, so he may as well lean in. He doesn't have much more to lose. "Yes," he says, not dropping Wei Ying's gaze.

Wei Ying slides a bit in his chair until their knees are touching. "Good," he says quietly, and then the bartender places their drinks in front of them.

"Please charge these to the room," Lan Zhan says before she can ask. "Thank you."

"Room number?"

"914."

She nods and retreats.

Wei Ying doesn't move away. Lan Zhan is almost afraid to breathe, in case it shifts them apart again. "Well, thank you. This is a treat," Wei Ying says quietly.

They talk. Wei Ying tells him more about A-Yuan—his favorite activities ("Lego. I'm drowning in Lego.") and his favorite snacks ("The kid is crazy about carrots. He's gonna turn into a rabbit soon.") and in everything he says, his love shines through. Wei Ying has never been able to hide his love for anything, has always worn his heart on his sleeve. Lan Zhan could never understand how it was possible to be so unguarded, so open. Lan Zhan has always hidden his love and vulnerability away, so no prying eyes could touch it, so nobody could taint it with judgment. Wei Ying has never had such fears.

Finally, once Wei Ying's cocktail is gone, he stands up decisively and Lan Zhan's heart plummets. This is it, he tells himself. He's going home. He must be tired.

"Ninth floor, huh?" Wei Ying says, stepping towards Lan Zhan. They are a breath away. Lan Zhan swallows and doesn't look around to see if anybody has noticed their close proximity.

"Yes," he says quietly. Does he dare—

"Will you invite me up?" Wei Ying breathes. Lan Zhan can smell the whisky on his breath, but he knows—Wei Ying is largely sober. He's always been able to hold his liquor.

"Yes. Come up with me."

"Okay." A quirk of his lips. "Let's go."

They leave the bar in silence, and just as silently walk towards the elevator. A man and a woman are waiting for the elevator, as well, and they all pile on. The other couple gets off on the fourth floor. After that, they are alone. Wei Ying puts his hands on the railing behind them and bounces off of it a couple of times, watching the numbers go up on the display. Lan Zhan watches Wei Ying.

The doors ding open. Lan Zhan indicates for Wei Ying to go first, then follows him out. He leads them down the hall to his room, unlocks the door, opens it. Wei Ying is quiet beside him the whole time.

The door closes behind them with a slow whoosh.

Wei Ying backs him up against the entryway wall and then they're kissing. He tastes like whisky and sugar, a taste Lan Zhan has never acquired but devours now, licking it from his lips and tongue with hunger. Wei Ying fists his hands in Lan Zhan's shirt and gives an aborted sort of moan as he yanks it up and out of Lan Zhan's trousers. "You okay with this?" he whispers.

"Yes." Lan Zhan nips at his lower lip, then dips lower until he's kissing beneath his jaw. "Wei Ying, yes. Are you?" His heart is hammering inside his chest. Wei Ying's hands have found his skin and they're so hot against him.

"Yes. I shouldn't be, I'm still—yes."

Lan Zhan almost asks him what he still is, but cowardice and arousal stop him. Later, that's for later. Right now is for this—for Wei Ying to throw his head back and allow Lan Zhan room to kiss him everywhere, bite and lick all the places he has always loved so much. Behind his ear, at the juncture of his neck, the knot at his throat. It's for Wei Ying to grab him and keep him close even as they move into the room, backing up towards the bed.

Wei Ying lands on the bed with a bounce and opens up his arms. "C'mere," he murmurs.

Lan Zhan shucks his shoes, then his socks. He slips out of his shirt and then drops his trousers right there on the floor. He sinks down to his knees and gives Wei Ying a questioning look, can I? At Wei Ying's nod, he goes for his shoes, as well. He uncovers Wei Ying's feet, then obeys an impulse and kisses their arches—one and then the other. Wei Ying breathes quietly above him.

Between the two of them, they manage to get entirely naked. Lan Zhan turns down the covers, and they kiss, entangled in one another, for what feels like hours. It can't possibly be, but it feels like forever. It is a liminal space, one that will be over too soon, as most lovely moments often are, but he will take everything that he can get from it, store it away in his mind to be picked through later.

Wei Ying's breath is hot in his ear as he strokes them both with one hand, their cocks nestled against one another, slick with precome. Wei Ying has always gotten very wet when aroused. Lan Zhan struggles for breath, largely unsuccessfully. He's dizzy with it, desperate. Wei Ying's skin is hot and smooth under his hands—his back, chest, hips, his ass. Wei Ying breathes against him, mouths nearly touching, and comes with a whimper, trembles under his hold. Lan Zhan rolls them over and thrusts up against Wei Ying until he finishes, as well, face buried in the crook of Wei Ying's neck.

They lie there, afterwards, and do not speak.

Eventually, Lan Zhan gets up and pads to the bathroom, where he gets a washcloth, wets it, and comes back with it. He cleans them both up, taking care with Wei Ying, swiping somewhat effectively at himself, as well.

"I don't have to be anywhere until tomorrow morning to pick up A-Yuan," Wei Ying says quietly.

Lan Zhan looks at him in the hazy darkness of the room. "Then stay."

*

He wakes up naturally, as he always does, at five. He doesn't want to—he's warm, content, though he doesn't quite know why, at first. Then he feels Wei Ying shifting in his arms and knows. Wei Ying's back is pressed up against his front, and Lan Zhan's hard cock is nestled against his ass. They're still naked, and Wei Ying feels absolutely incredible in his arms. He feels like he belongs there. The light coming through the curtains is hazy, already dawn.

Another shift, and he knows—Wei Ying is awake.

As carefully as he can manage, Lan Zhan gives his shoulder a kiss. It's a liberty. He doesn't know where they stand this morning. It's up to Wei Ying to show him, the way Wei Ying had shown him last night.

Wei Ying moves and turns over until he's facing Lan Zhan. He doesn't leave the clasp of his arms. "Hey," he says, blinking slowly, lazy like a cat.

"Good morning," Lan Zhan says quietly. "How did you sleep?"

"Like nobody needs me to make them breakfast at six in the morning." He grins briefly. Then the grin drops off, and he's leaning forward, and then they're kissing. They both taste like sleep, and the kiss is warm, and soft. Wei Ying's tongue slides against his lazily, and Lan Zhan moans and rolls them over. He discovers that Wei Ying is hard, too, and they rut against one another until they're panting, no longer able to kiss. Lan Zhan buries his face against Wei Ying's neck where his scent is strong and comes first for once, unable to hold back. Wei Ying follows, a small sob smothered against Lan Zhan's clavicle. Somewhere along the way they've clasped their hands together and Lan Zhan brings Wei Ying's hand up to his mouth and kisses each knuckle, slowly, unwilling to let go just yet.

Afterwards, Wei Ying watches him as they lie facing one another. He's resting his cheek on his hand, the way—the way he used to, a long time ago. He takes Lan Zhan's breath away with how right he looks in Lan Zhan's bed.

"I have to get going soon, I have to get home first and change."

Lan Zhan's heartbeat is a hollow thing inside him. "Yes. I understand."

"How long are you in town for?"

Attempting to squash the hope blooming in his veins is impossible. Carefully, he says, "At least two weeks, through the launch. My uncle hasn't specified how long he will need me for."

"Two weeks, huh?"

"Mn."

Wei Ying sighs and turns over onto his back. They're both still covered in each other's come. Lan Zhan hopes Wei Ying stays long enough for a shower. Perhaps they can take one together. They can kiss under the spray, prolonging the inevitable.

"I shouldn't do this," Wei Ying says, promptly throwing Lan Zhan back into reality. "I really shouldn't."

Lan Zhan, not knowing what to say and being uncertain that he would even be able to, stays silent.

"I've got a kid, it's not just about me anymore. Do you get that?" He turns to Lan Zhan, eyebrows drawn.

Slowly, Lan Zhan nods.

"Yeah, so." He looks back up at the ceiling. Lan Zhan studies his profile, so achingly familiar with its pouty lips and sloping brow bone. He's got lovely eyelashes, too. He looks beautiful in the hazy light of morning. "But I can't just...know you're here and not see you. Even though it's stupid."

This is more than either of them has said about it. Lan Zhan desperately doesn't want any of it made text, lest it disappear. The more of what they're doing they expose to sunlight, the less space there will be for doing things in the dark. He swallows and continues to stay mute. He has no words for this.

"Lan Zhan...say something, come on."

Lan Zhan clears his throat and when he finally speaks, his voice is a rasp, feeling unused. "I understand that this is...ill-advised." He's careful, so careful about the words he chooses, spooning them out like sugar, making sure not to spill by accident. "But I also...would like to continue seeing you. Only if you are comfortable. In whatever way you're comfortable."

Wei Ying turns abruptly onto his side and says, "What do you want, Lan Zhan? And don't say it's to make me comfortable, I want to know what it is you want."

Lan Zhan doesn't know if he can be that honest. The full truth, if spoken, will be selfish, almost cruel. He wants as much of Wei Ying as he can get before leaving again. Then he wants them to continue talking. He wants—he wants them to stay friends. To stay in touch. He wants to hear from Wei Ying, wants to get pictures from him—selfies, pictures of his son, snapshots of his life that Lan Zhan hasn't had access to in three years.

"I—" he croaks, then clears his throat. "I want...a lot of things, Wei Ying. I do not expect to get them."

Wei Ying narrows his eyes, then abruptly sits up and throws off the covers, making as though to get out of bed. Then he stops, his back to Lan Zhan, and turns just enough that Lan Zhan can see the pinching of his lips. "Why can't you just say what it is you want? Why don't you ever just tell me? Who are you trying to protect here?"

Lan Zhan's heart is thump-thump-thumping in his chest, reverberating in his ears. He swallows against his dry throat and sits up, as well. He really needs a shower. "I want...selfish things, Wei Ying," he says finally. "I want things that are not good for either of us."

Wei Ying says, "Just say it."

Lan Zhan gathers his courage, wondering which part will make Wei Ying most upset. "I want as much of you as I can get while I am here. I want so many things, Wei Ying. I want to see you, I don't want to not speak, I don't… My life without you, it's..." Unbearable. "It's difficult."

I feel as though I can only breathe when you're around.

It turns out, all I've ever wanted was you.

Wei Ying huffs out a laugh and twists until he's facing Lan Zhan. "Was that so hard?" he asks, then shakes his head. "It's not—we can't do that." He looks down and squeezes the sheets between his hands. "I want—I want selfish things, too, but they're bad for me. Bad for my kid. I can't be selfish, not anymore." He looks conflicted, a match for the tangle of feelings scraping at Lan Zhan's insides. He looks as though he's trying to convince himself, as well.

Through his dry throat, Lan Zhan manages to say, "I understand." He doesn't, not really. He wishes he knew what was happening inside of Wei Ying, what he is thinking. He wishes for so many things.

Wei Ying laughs—scoffs, really. "I bet you do. You've always...well, anyway." He looks away, then takes a breath. "I should go."

"Would you like to take a shower?" Lan Zhan asks desperately.

Wei Ying looks down at his stomach, then reaches for the bedside table and grabs a handful of tissues, wiping at himself. "Nah, I'll shower when I get home. Thanks, though." He gets up, throws the tissues in the trash by the desk.

Lan Zhan watches in silence as Wei Ying picks up his clothes one by one and begins to cover himself up. There goes his cock and hips, then his legs disappear beneath denim. The last of his body gets covered up by his shirt until all Lan Zhan can see are his hands, his neck, his face, which he turns towards Lan Zhan. He goes soft around the edges, shaking his head in a way that could almost be considered fond if Lan Zhan didn't know better. "Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan…" He walks over to Lan Zhan's side of the bed, says, "No, don't get up, I'll see myself out," and leans down. This kiss feels like goodbye. Lan Zhan thinks his heart will crack open and bleed out into the rest of him any moment now. Wei Ying's lips disappear too soon, and Lan Zhan opens his eyes, knowing that in them is all the desperation that he feels.

In Wei Ying's, there is calm, an acceptance. He has made his choice. It does not include Lan Zhan.

"Bye, Lan Zhan. Take care of yourself." He gives Lan Zhan's hand a squeeze and gently lets it go. Lan Zhan watches him slip on his shoes, then walk out of the room. Hears the locking mechanism engage on the door, then the gentle whoosh as it opens and closes behind him.

He sits on the bed, feeling not much of anything at all, and then he gets up and goes to take a shower.

*

He goes through the next two days in a daze, getting ready for the launch, attempting to drown himself in work so he doesn't have to think about anything else. If his brother and uncle notice, they have the mercy not to mention it. Everybody benefits—the work gets done, and Lan Zhan almost doesn't think about Wei Ying at all.

He thinks about him every waking moment.

His scent, his laugh, his touch—all of it playing in the background of his mind, like a film reel. Anytime he's walking down the street, he's looking for him instinctively. In the evening, his feet want to take him to Wei Ying's district, to his doorstep. It's dangerous knowledge, knowing where he lives. It tempts him too strongly.

On day four after their night together, his phone pings with an alert. Believing it to be Mianmian, who's holding down the fort in Beijing, Lan Zhan doesn't look as he swipes his phone open and goes to WeChat.

Wei Ying: hi

Wei Ying: I know I'm the one who said we shouldn't do this, but you're still in town, right?

Lan Zhan's ears are ringing. His gut churns to the tune of please, please, please even as he knows it's all a terrible idea. Perhaps Wei Ying will want to see him for dinner. Just to be in his presence would be enough.

Lan Zhan: I am.

He starts to type out more, starts to write out would you like to—, then backspaces. Wei Ying has to be the one to decide this.

Wei Ying: I have a free evening, my sister's taking A-Yuan for a sleepover with his cousin.

Lan Zhan waits for more, but nothing else comes. It's up to him to infer the meaning here. Carefully, he writes, Would you like to see each other?

Wei Ying: Yes. Come over to mine.

Wei Ying:: If that's all right.

With shaky fingers, Lan Zhan writes out, Of course. What time?

Wei Ying: I'm free after six. We can order dinner.

Then, after a moment, You can stay the night if you want.

Lan Zhan has a very difficult time concentrating on work after that.

*

"This is a bad idea," Wei Ying murmurs as they're kissing on the couch. They've nibbled on their dinner, but the dishes largely sit forgotten on the coffee table, chopsticks resting haphazardly on their bowls. "This is such a bad idea."

Lan Zhan nods, even as he's holding Wei Ying underneath his jaw and kissing his cheek, his closed eyelid, his forehead, then back to his lips. When they're kissing, nobody can talk. Not talking makes everything else easier.

They fuck right there on the couch, Wei Ying panting harshly against Lan Zhan's neck, gripping him tight around the shoulders as Lan Zhan slides inside him again and again, feeling the tight, hot clutch of him that never fails to drive him right out of his mind. They never finish dinner.

Instead, they leave everything where it is and move to the bedroom where Wei Ying sucks Lan Zhan back to hardness and fingerfucks him until he comes, crying out, down Wei Ying's throat.

They don't stop until three in the morning, as though a night here and there can make up for three years of absence.

Lan Zhan attempts to commit everything to memory: every touch, every whisper, every moment that he can pretend that Wei Ying is his to have. The feel of Wei Ying's hips beneath his hands as he rides Lan Zhan, head thrown back, a trickle of sweat sliding down his throat.

In the morning, Wei Ying feeds him breakfast—"I've had to learn how to cook, with a kid around. Don't worry, he's not big into spicy food, either."—and Lan Zhan continues to pretend as though this couldn't all be taken away with a single word. Won't be taken away the moment he gets on that train back home.

Wei Ying doesn't look at him as he walks Lan Zhan to the door. "Well."

"Mn."

Wei Ying laughs, a self-deprecating sound, and shakes his head. "I'd say we shouldn't do this again, but I know that won't happen. When are you leaving?"

"I don't know yet. It hasn't been made clear when I'm to return to Beijing."

Wei Ying appears to digest this. "All right. Well. I'll text you."

"Please," he says before he can stop himself. Feeling emboldened, he leans in, and Wei Ying meets him halfway for a kiss.

Next time they see each other, A-Yuan is home, but already asleep. Despite Wei Ying's assurances that he does sleep very soundly unless he has a nightmare, they're nearly silent as they get each other off in Wei Ying's bedroom, having dispensed with the pretense of dinner or drinks.

They talk afterwards, ensconced on the couch, Wei Ying nursing a beer.

"How is Beijing?"

Lan Zhan pauses, thinking. "It's...different. Fine. Less…" He tries to think of a good way of putting it. "Less interesting, I suppose."

"Huh."

"Mn."

Wei Ying chuckles into his beer. "You're still a man of few words," he murmurs, not looking at Lan Zhan. "How's the job?"

Lan Zhan shrugs. "Fine. It keeps me busy. More responsibility than what I was doing here."

Wei Ying is giving the impression of someone who doesn't really care all that much, but Lan Zhan can see the sharpness of his gaze. "I see." He seems to take a breath, then opens his mouth to say something else, when there's a creek of a door opening, followed by soft footsteps. Wei Ying sits up and makes to get off the couch, when A-Yuan shuffles into the room, holding onto a stuffed bear with one arm, while rubbing his eyes with his free hand. "Baba?"

"A-Yuan. What did we talk about?" Despite the stern words and tone, Wei Ying opens up his arms and A-Yuan all but throws himself into them, burying his face against Wei Ying's chest. "You can't go wandering in the middle of the night, just call for me. All right?" A-Yuan gives an obedient nod. "Another nightmare?"

"Mn." He doesn't sound upset as much as tired.

Lan Zhan watches as Wei Ying easily picks him up and sets him down on his lap. He kisses the top of A-Yuan's head, then rests his cheek on it. He meets Lan Zhan's eye, and he looks—conflicted, maybe. Lan Zhan gets the feeling he shouldn't be here, but doesn't know how to extricate himself.

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

A-Yuan, cheek resting against Wei Ying's sternum, mumbles, "I was at a store and you weren't there. I couldn't find you."

"Oh, baobei. I'm right here. I'll always be here."

A-Yuan takes in a shuddering breath and seems to sag against him. His gaze finally focuses on Lan Zhan and he pulls back to look at Wei Ying. "Are you having another party, baba?"

"What kind of a party is it with just two people? We were just talking. Boring adult stuff." He sweeps some hair back from A-Yuan sweaty forehead. "Say hi to Uncle Lan."

"Hi, Uncle Lan," A-Yuan says dutifully, and then he cocks his head and says, "Are you my baba's friend?"

Lan Zhan, cheeks flushing, makes himself nod. "I am."

"Does that mean that you're my friend, too?"

"I—" Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying. Wei Ying shrugs and gives him a bit of a grin, like, you're on your own. "Yes. That means I'm your friend, too," Lan Zhan says seriously. He doesn't have much experience with children, but Wei Ying seems to treat A-Yuan very seriously, so Lan Zhan will take his cue from him.

"Will you play with me?" A-Yuan asks, his face no longer looking quite as haunted as when he'd first walked into the room. "Do you like Lego? Baba and I once built a tower that was so tall, I couldn't reach the top!"

"That sounds like a very large tower," Lan Zhan says weakly.

"What playing?" Wei Ying asks. "It's the middle of the night, baobei. You need to go back to sleep."

"Noooo," A-Yuan whines. "Not sleepy. I wanna play with Uncle Lan."

"Uncle Lan is busy right now, A-Yuan, you'll have to wait."

"Will you be here in the morning?" A-Yuan asks, perking up. "Will you play with me then? It's going to be Saturday and baba and I are home on Saturdays and that's when we play with Lego. And with my trucks, they go through the Lego. We build cities and stuff and the trucks drive around. Do you like congee? I like congee. Baba makes the best congee. Will you stay? Will you be here? Baba, can Uncle Lan stay for a sleepover?"

Helplessly, Lan Zhan looks at Wei Ying, who looks—odd. Unreadable. Lan Zhan focuses on A-Yuan instead, watching as the boy cranes his neck to look Wei Ying in the eye. Wei Ying looks down at him and sweeps more hair from his forehead. "Uncle Lan has his own place where he sleeps, baobei. Where would he sleep here?"

Despite himself, Lan Zhan can feel the disappointment of it. He had thought, maybe…

"Nooooo, but maybe he can sleep on the couch! Cousin Wen has slept on the couch before! People sleep on the couch!"

"It's not terribly comfortable, though. That wouldn't be nice to Uncle Lan to make him sleep on it."

"Maybe he can sleep with you, in your room! Like Jingyi and me when he stays over!"

Wei Ying bites his lip and shakes his head. "Best not, A-Yuan."

A-Yuan's face all but crumples. "But I wanna play with Uncle Lan! He wants to play Lego with me! Right, Uncle Lan?"

Lan Zhan opens his mouth, afraid to misstep and upset either of them, when Wei Ying sighs and says, "All right, all right. How about this? Uncle Lan will go sleep at his own place tonight, but then he'll come back to play with you in the morning. Only if he's free." He says the last part to Lan Zhan. It comes out as a question.

Lan Zhan swallows, wishing he had tea or something to soothe his dry throat, and nods. His heart beats heavily in his chest. "I would like that." He looks at A-Yuan. "We can build cities together, if you'd like."

A-Yuan breaks out into the sunniest smile, then clambers off Wei Ying's lap and crawls over to Lan Zhan, bear still in hand, and plants himself on his lap. "Yay!" And then he's wrapping his arms around Lan Zhan's neck and clinging to him, and Lan Zhan's arms automatically close around his form. He's solid, small but so present, and he smells like sleep and a little bit like sweat. Lan Zhan swallows and meets Wei Ying's eye, feeling desperately, horribly tender.

Wei Ying looks like—like somebody has slapped him. Helpless, shocked, conflicted. Lan Zhan's heart picks up. He doesn't want to push A-Yuan away and he wants that haunted look to leave Wei Ying. He has no idea what to do.

And then Wei Ying shakes his head, huffs out a laugh, and looks away. "All right, A-Yuan," he says without looking over at them. "It's time for sleep. You'll see Uncle Lan tomorrow, all right?"

A-Yuan pulls back and beams at Lan Zhan. "Lego!!"

Lan Zhan can't help the smile that grows on his face at the look on the boy's face. "Lego," he confirms. "But it's time for bed now, right?"

A-Yuan sighs and just as easily as he had come, clambers down off of his lap. "Good boys sleep at night," he mumbles, clearly parroting someone. "Baba, will you read to me?"

"Sure, baobei, I'll read to you. Come on." He stands up and extends his hand for A-Yuan to take, which he does almost immediately. He squeezes himself in between the couch and the coffee table and then he looks up at Wei Ying and says, "Up?" and Wei Ying sighs but leans down and grabs him around the middle, hoisting him up. A-Yuan looks peaceful as he lays his head against his shoulder, and Wei Ying turns and walks out of the room.

Lan Zhan's heart is pounding heavily in his chest. Any moment now, it will crack open and bleed out into the rest of him. He feels scraped raw; he wants to run away and hide. He doesn't want Wei Ying to see him like this, feeling as though his every emotion is written clearly on his face.

His chest whines with it all.

He gets to come back. He gets to come back and build Lego towers with A-Yuan while Wei Ying looks on, and for a few hours, Lan Zhan can pretend that this life could be his, as well. This cozy room with its comfortable clutter, the milky-sleepy scent of a little boy, and the gentle caress of Wei Ying's gaze on him.

No. This isn't his life at all. His life is back in Beijing, with his utilitarian apartment that he has never gotten around to decorating properly, and his deliberately regimented lifestyle.

It takes a while for Wei Ying to return. Lan Zhan is scrolling through the news when he does, and when he looks up, Wei Ying is watching him from the doorway with another unreadable expression. He leans against the doorway. He looks tired.

Lan Zhan should let him be.

"Would you like me to let you rest?" he asks, rising from the couch.

Wei Ying doesn't move, only tracks his movement with his eyes. "It's probably a good idea. He'll be up way too soon."

"Of course." Lan Zhan takes the few steps that separate them. Wei Ying doesn't move from the doorway, so he pauses, unsure as to what to do next.

"You get why I couldn't have you stay, don't you?" Wei Ying asks quietly. This close up, and having sagged against the doorway, he has to look up at Lan Zhan a little bit. Lan Zhan wants desperately to kiss him.

"Yes."

Wei Ying nods. "Good. He's just a kid, he...really, I shouldn't be letting this happen at all." It's harsh. A stark reminder of everything they aren't. Lan Zhan had been starting to forget. "But I can't deny him anything. So, you'll come and play with him, won't you?"

"Of course." He says it fiercely, as though promising something else entirely.

Wei Ying nods and finally unfreezes, standing up straight. He still doesn't move out of the doorway. "Nine sound okay?"

"Of course." That will give Lan Zhan plenty of time to do his run and have breakfast.

Wei Ying bites his lip and leans in. Lan Zhan closes the distance between them. It isn't a particularly deep kiss, but he imbues it with promise. I'll come back.

He feels the ghost of Wei Ying's lips all the way back to the hotel.

*

As promised, A-Yuan immediately sits Lan Zhan down in the morning and hands him Lego pieces. "Here, this will be the foundation, okay?"

Lan Zhan nods and starts to put the pieces together. A-Yuan directs him, huffing as he puts together piece after piece by himself, as well. Wei Ying is on the couch, watching them, occasionally glancing down at his phone.

It's sunny in this room in the mornings—east-facing windows. It's warm, the a/c running on low.

"Are you building, Uncle Lan?"

Lan Zhan tears his gaze away from Wei Ying and looks down at where Lego pieces are strewn all over the floor. "Yes, my apologies."

Wei Ying snorts on the couch. "Don't let him bully you, Lan Zhan, you're allowed to take breaks, you know. Company rules."

"Babaaaaa, Uncle Lan and I have a lot of towers to build! Why aren't you building with us?"

Wei Ying sighs and puts away his phone. "Not a lot of room for me down there, baobei. You two seem to have everything in hand."

Lan Zhan wonders if this isn't a bit of a break for Wei Ying. If so, he is happy to provide. "I think we should build this for your baba, to impress him," he tells A-Yuan, who instantly nods and grins.

"Yeah, baba, watch us!"

"I'm watching you, don't worry."

Wei Ying's phone rings in that moment, a melody that sounds like a children's song. A-Yuan immediately starts singing it as Wei Ying picks up. "Jiejie, what's up?" He walks out of the room as he listens to the reply. Lan Zhan can hear Wei Ying's voice up until a door closes, and then it's just him and A-Yuan, who's still singing the song under his breath as he studiously puts piece after piece together.

It's almost meditative, this playing. A-Yuan chatters away when he isn't singing, but he doesn't appear to need a response to much. Occasionally he grabs pieces from Lan Zhan and puts them together differently, then, satisfied, gives them back. Lan Zhan, feeling a slight ache in his back, watches him and thinks, this is what Wei Ying's life is. No wonder he doesn't date—A-Yuan appears to require constant stimuli and supervision. There is no room in this life for anything else.

"Uncle Lan!" A-Yuan says and shows Lan Zhan a car he just put together, wheels and all. "Do you like it? Did I do a good job?"

Lan Zhan takes the car to examine it, turning it this way and that in a demonstrative way. "That's very good, A-Yuan." He puts it down and wheels it towards him. "Should we build an arch for it to go through?"

"Yeah!" A-Yuan begins gathering blocks immediately, his tongue sticking out in effort. Lan Zhan watches him and barely blinks.

They're still playing when Wei Ying comes back with a plate of snacks and sets it down on the floor beside them. "Here, sustenance. A-Yuan, have some carrots."

A-Yuan doesn't need to be told twice and digs in immediately, crunching away. Lan Zhan looks up at Wei Ying.

"Lan Zhan, you too. There's enough for both of you."

"What about yourself?"

"I munched a bit while I was making this," Wei Ying assures him, then finally drops down to the floor, sweeping pieces away to make room for himself. "How is it going?" he murmurs in a low voice. "Do you need rescuing yet?"

"Not at all," Lan Zhan tells him honestly. "I'm enjoying this." He picks up a carrot and bites into it, self-conscious of the crunch it makes.

Wei Ying's smile is a complicated thing. "All right. Well, you just let me know. He could do this for hours. I told you—kid's obsessed."

"I will."

Wei Ying sighs and then gingerly lowers himself until he's fully lying on the ground, head pillowed on his clasped hands. Lan Zhan contemplates his supine form and then picks up a few pieces and begins slotting them together.

*

They don't see each other for the rest of the weekend—Wei Ying is busy with family. Lan Zhan, not knowing when he will get to see him next, but fairly certain that he will, spends the time with his brother and Nie Mingjue. He has missed the sort of quiet his brother can provide—unobtrusive, and without pressure. He finds it calming and restorative. He's missed being together.

He doesn't hear from Wei Ying until Tuesday, by which point the work has become nonstop and he doesn't even notice the message until hours later. If you wanted to, you could come over for dinner tonight. A-Yuan's been asking after you.

It is now four pm, and Lan Zhan has at least three more hours' worth of work to do. He exhales shakily and types out, I would love to, but I won't be free until after seven. Is that too late?

It will be, at least for A-Yuan and his early bedtime. In truth, it's too late for Lan Zhan, if he were still following his routine. But his routine has been disrupted by his evenings with Wei Ying.

Wei Ying's response comes sometime later. Lan Zhan fumbles for his phone when he feels it vibrating. A-Yuan will be going to bed then. If you want, you can come over at 8, but I know that's late for you.

If Wei Ying told him midnight, Lan Zhan would stay awake. I will be there.

*

They're kissing almost as soon as Lan Zhan has walked through the door. Wei Ying tastes a little bit like beer, a lot like himself. They stumble down the hall to his bedroom, they fall into bed. Afterwards, they lie facing each other, some distance apart, and Wei Ying's eyes look bright in the light coming in from the street.

"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan…" Wei Ying sighs. "How is the launch going?"

Lan Zhan blinks slowly, not expecting the subject. "Well, I believe. Everything is on track. My uncle seems happy."

Wei Ying's face shutters for a moment, then softens as he turns over onto his back and stares at the ceiling. He is unashamedly nude, the covers pulled down. His stomach is painted in Lan Zhan's come, in his own. Lan Zhan studies the dips and slopes of his body, visible thanks to the street lights, and nearly whimpers with want.

"How is A-Yuan?" he asks, changing the subject.

Wei Ying doesn't turn towards him, but he does smile. "Good. He's good. He's run me ragged, I mean, I'm absolutely exhausted. He's started learning to play soccer, thank you, Jiang Cheng, and that means constant running around after him, making sure he doesn't, like, break his nose. But he loves it, what am I gonna do, say no?" He shakes his head. "It's not an easy gig, that's for sure."

"I can't imagine that it is," Lan Zhan says quietly. "You're doing an amazing job being a father."

Wei Ying shrugs, pulls up his knee. It shifts the shadows on his body, something new for Lan Zhan to look at. "I'm all right. I mean, I think I'm making lots of mistakes, you know? Missteps or whatever. Who knows how he will turn out because of me."

"You're a steady presence in his life. He seems like a happy, well-adjusted child."

"Yeah, who's still terrified of losing everyone he loves."

"That is not your fault," Lan Zhan reminds him. "You did not cause his family to die, Wei Ying. You're giving him a secure life."

Wei Ying sighs and shifts, turns back over onto his side. Lan Zhan wants to bury his face against his chest. Wants Wei Ying's fingers back in his hair, tugging it free until it all spills out and covers them both. "I'm trying," he says.

"That is all any parent can do."

Wei Ying looks like another retort is ready on his tongue, but he holds it in, reaching for Lan Zhan, instead. "Come here," he breathes, and Lan Zhan goes.

*

Lan Zhan can't sleep. One a.m. comes, one thirty. Two. He gets up and pours himself some water, stands at the window where he didn't bother to draw the curtains closed, and looks out at the city he grew up in. A city that still feels like home, even after a three year absence. If the windows faced north, he might almost be able to see his old apartment building.

He is a stranger here now, living out of a suitcase where he could be sleeping in his own bed. What used to be his own bed.

He's very tired, but even after he gets back into bed, his thoughts continue to swirl somewhere above him, keeping him from dropping off to sleep. They're mostly shaped like Wei Ying, and occasionally, A-Yuan. The two of them together.

When Lan Zhan returns to Beijing, he will have no reason to come back here for a long while, not until the Lunar New Year, to spend time with family. Without the product launch, his life will return to normal.

When his uncle had first told him that he'd be taking over the Beijing branch, Lan Zhan had felt like an anvil had hit him. "Leave Shanghai?" he'd asked.

"Well, you couldn't run it from here, Lan Zhan."

Wei Ying had been the first thing on his mind, but when he'd said, "Uncle, I really don't think I'm the right person—" "You are. I have already put in for the transfer to HR. The company needs you." "What about—my friends—" "Your friends will stay your friends, A-Zhan, isn't that what friends do?"

He had meant to say to Wei Ying, "Let's try it this way. I'll always love you, I will always be yours, will you wait for me?" But he never got the chance. Wei Ying had paled when Lan Zhan had told he would be moving, had said, "Can't you fight this, Lan Zhan? Can't you change his mind?" Lan Zhan, who had tried, had said, "I know him. It won't be possible," and Wei Ying had said, "Then I guess we're done," and then they were.

It had been difficult to convince him about how much Lan Zhan had wanted him even when they had been together. Occasionally, Wei Ying would get drunk and melancholy, and say, "Someday you'll get bored with me, Lan Zhan. Why do you love me?" And Lan Zhan, utterly dismayed, would say, "I love you because you're you. I will never get bored of you."

And then he'd left.

He turns over and over in bed, attempting to find a comfortable position, but the thoughts continue to swirl. At the memory of that time, his body flushes—from shame, from sadness—then goes cold, cold enough that he needs the covers again, despite the relative warmth of the room. The cycle repeats itself until the sky begins to lighten with dawn, the sun starting off hazy in the distance, then beginning to bathe the city in its brilliant light. Lan Zhan's head pounds, but he has no choice—he must get up.

He brushes his teeth, puts on his workout clothes, goes downstairs. He runs, punishingly fast, runs block after block until he finds himself in the next district, then turns and runs back, just as fast. By the time he's back at the hotel, he's parched, his entire body vibrating, and he is no longer tired. His headache remains. He downs glass after glass of water, then once he has managed to cool off, goes to take a shower. Afterwards, he catches his own reflection in the mirror. He is red-faced with bags under his eyes. His lips are cracked. He looks away and finishes drying himself, then goes to get dressed.

When he's done, he looks at his phone. A message from his brother. The launch party is a plus one event. Please feel free to invite someone.

His brother isn't being subtle.

Lan Zhan cannot imagine that Wei Ying would want to go. What reason could Lan Zhan possibly invent for asking him? That sort of liberty is no longer his to take. He would gladly skip the party altogether, but it would disappoint his uncle.

An intrusive thought lodges itself in his mind. So what.

So what. So what if he disappoints his uncle? All his life Lan Zhan has spent doing exactly what had been asked of him. Excellent grades, studying music, a university degree, then: the family company. He has taken every step expected of him, and he is twenty-six years old. He is tired of doing what's expected of him. Doing what's expected of him is not worth it if his life is to feel this hollow, this bleak. For once, he wants to do what he wants to do. For once, he wants to be selfish.

He takes in a deep breath, then it shudders out of him.

He types out, I don't know that I will be attending the launch.

Then he switches over to his conversation with Wei Ying and, after a moment's thought, begins to type.

I would like to see you and A-Yuan, if you were amenable. Is there a good time this weekend?

He nearly recalls the message once it's sent, but allows it to stay. It would be more incriminating to let Wei Ying see that there had been a message he is no longer privy to.

Wei Ying's response comes just as Lan Zhan is having breakfast on the go, on his way to work.

Wei Ying: Maybe. Let me look at what we've got going on.

Lan Zhan does not allow disappointment to take over, reminding himself he's got no right to Wei Ying and he most certainly does not have any right to his son.

Wei Ying couldn't possibly know what Lan Zhan is thinking. What it is he's considering. And even if he knew, who's to say what he would think of it.

Lan Zhan tells himself, it's not for Wei Ying. It's for himself. He wants to do this for himself.

*

His brother expresses surprise at Lan Zhan not wishing to attend the launch party. "You were a big part of why it's been so successful," he says carefully. "Are you sure you do not wish to go and celebrate? You've worked hard."

Lan Zhan, who would much rather spend the time in Wei Ying's small apartment surrounded by Lego, shakes his head. "You know I am not fond of large gatherings," he says reasonably. "It would not be a good time for me."

"At least put in an appearance." His brother sounds urgent. "It would mean so much to Uncle."

Lan Zhan falters. "An appearance?"

"Just for an hour, at most. Stay through the speeches. It would...appease him."

Lan Zhan sighs. "Very well. I will attend for an hour, for the formality of it."

Lan Huan smiles, relieved. "Thank you, A-Zhan. I appreciate that."

Then it's all hands on deck, the final push. Lan Zhan feels like he doesn't come up for air for days. Wei Ying doesn't write back until the day of the launch.

Wei Ying: sorry, it's been busy around here. I'll let you know, okay?

Lan Zhan sags down. It's been several days, and his time in Shanghai is running out. Wei Ying surely knows this. He must have his reasons for not wishing to see Lan Zhan. Reasons Lan Zhan must respect. Reasons that Lan Zhan himself must have caused.

He had come on too strong, too much. He had let his feelings be known. Wei Ying has become a cautious person since becoming a father. Lan Zhan cannot blame him.

An irrational part of him, a part he does not allow free rein very often, feels the disappointment of it keenly, deep down in his belly, threatening to take over.

There's nothing to be done for it. He will simply have to wait and hope.

*

The launch is an unqualified success. They sell out within an hour, get spectacular reviews and testimonials. The back orders are processed almost immediately. The factory doesn't cease production. Everything is joyful chaos, but stops for a few hours for the party.

It is a black tie event, something Lan Zhan had prepared for. He looks at himself in the mirror and thinks that the bags under his eyes have not been so bad recently. His hair is pulled back into a braid instead of his usual bun, a concession to the celebratory nature of the event.

His brother meets him at the entrance, Mingjue standing unobtrusively next to him. It's remarkable, Lan Zhan thinks, how a man of his build can be unassuming when he wants to be.

"Ge," Lan Zhan says, nodding. "Mingjue."

Mingjue gives him a restrained smile and raises his glass in greeting. "Lan Zhan. Good to see you. You look great."

"You really do," his brother says with a smile. They are all wearing more or less the same thing. He returns the compliments.

They enter the fray. Women are dressed to the nines in beautiful, colorful dresses, the men all blend together in black. The ballroom is lit up by chandeliers, the tables are groaning under the weight of canapes and champagne. Lan Zhan doesn't want to be here.

"When do the speeches start?" he asks his brother, looking for at least a sparkling water.

"About half an hour or so. Come, let's say hello to Uncle."

Lan Huan leads him to where their uncle is talking to the CFO and COO, among others. Everybody turns towards them, giving them polite smiles and head nods. Uncle beams at the two of them, inviting them to join in with a gesture and a hearty, "Lan Huan, Lan Zhan."

The circle widens to include them. Uncle is rarely this effusive, but he turns to the men and says, "These boys worked very hard." This is greeted with head nods. "Lan Zhan, thank you for dropping everything to come out and help us. It was instrumental."

"Thank you, Uncle." His feet are getting pinched inside his dress shoes, and the collar feels tight. He desperately wants out of these clothes.

He stands among the circle of his colleagues and counts the minutes. In his desperation, he grabs a champagne flute when a waiter passes by with a tray. It fizzes inside him, the tartness of it, the strangeness. He slumps against the wall.

"A-Zhan?" His brother's voice in his ear. Lan Zhan turns his head and watches him steadily. "Are you all right? Is it really so bad?" The last question comes out with an echo of disappointment.

Lan Zhan attempts to rally. "No. No, of course not." Yes. It's tedious, odiously so. He has no wish for small talk, nor to be patted on the back and congratulated for doing his job. He is content with their success. He has no wish to celebrate it.

The speeches begin once he's halfway into his champagne glass. He nurses it, but it does its job. Soon enough, he's mellowed out, stopped paying attention altogether. He thinks his uncle mentions him and his brother at one point, as many heads turn towards them and acknowledge them with nods. Lan Zhan swallows down another sip of champagne and on slightly unsteady legs, weaves his way through the throng, towards the exit.

He doesn't quite know what he's doing. He finishes off his glass, then manages to set it down onto an empty tray. He takes out his phone—it only tells him the time and date. He swipes it open. He calls up the car service.

He's in the car headed towards Wei Ying's before he's fully conscious of making the decision, like waking from a stupor. He almost tells the driver to turn around, but stops himself. Steels himself. He wants to do this. Needs to.

He gets out of the car, grateful for the breeze on his face. He's still hot, though, and he shoves his jacket off of himself, undoes his tie so it hangs down, unbuttons the top button of his shirt. There, he can breathe again. He hoists the jacket over his shoulder and makes it to the front door. He looks at the time again. A-Yuan will be asleep, and Wei Ying won't be expecting company. Perhaps he should...he's pressing the button before he can talk himself out of it. The sound of the buzzer sometime later sounds startled, and it startles him in turn. He manages to catch the door and swing it open before the buzzing stops. He doesn't wait for the elevator—he hasn't managed to yet. He takes the stairs, steps echoing in the close space. He stops to look up, the coiled snake of the railing going up into infinity. What is he doing? He leans against the railing and closes his eyes.

Wei Ying is waiting for him. He can't stop now, he has already started this.

He opens his eyes and runs up the last four flights without thinking of anything apart from the next step, and the next. Then he is on Wei Ying's floor. A few moments later, he's at his door, raising his hand to knock, then dropping it uselessly by his side. He stands there, staring at the only thing standing between him and Wei Ying and he breathes. The run up the stairs has managed to wind him. He licks his dry lips and catches his breath. He's still holding the stupid jacket over his shoulder and sweats where it lays heavy against his back.

He turns around, his toes protesting the movement, protesting everything he's just put them through. He can't, he—he shouldn't. He starts to walk away, then stops when he hears the snick of a lock, and then, "Lan Zhan."

He trembles, a little, as he turns around. Inside his head is a cacophony. Wei Ying stands in the doorway, watching him with distant caution. He's not happy to see him, but he isn't surprised, either.

"Are you gonna stand there or are you going to come in?" he asks after a long silent moment.

Lan Zhan gives a jerky nod and Wei Ying steps back, allows him inside. Lan Zhan doesn't move further than the doormat, once the door is shut. His heart is a trapped thing, beating its wings against his ribcage.

"What is it?" Wei Ying asks. His hair is loose, messy around his face. He's got a crease down his cheek, and his face is flushed, as though—

"Were you asleep?" Lan Zhan asks dumbly. It's not even past his own bedtime, much less Wei Ying's.

Wei Ying wrinkles his nose. "Fell asleep putting the kid to bed. It's fine."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't...why are you here, Lan Zhan?"

Lan Zhan doesn't know, until he does. He steels himself again, drops the jacket—it crumples to the ground. "You stopped messaging."

Wei Ying looks away, and rubs his arms, as though he were cold. The apartment is warm, too warm—he must not be running the a/c. Lan Zhan feels itchy under his dress shirt. "Yeah, well…" Wei Ying sighs and runs a hand through his hair. Lan Zhan follows each movement with hunger. "I don't know what else to do, Lan Zhan. I've got...you're leaving. I don't know what else there is to say."

"What if I didn't." He sways slightly on his feet, his gaze heavy. Oh. He's drunk—that's what that feeling is. The fuzzy, hazy remove from reality, the lost time.

Wei Ying seems to freeze. "What?"

Lan Zhan leans against the door and feels the slide of sweat against the material of his shirt. "What if I didn't. Leave."

"Lan Zhan, are you—are you drunk?"

Lan Zhan nods and shrugs. "A little. There was—thing, party. Launch. Champagne."

"Okay?"

"And I—didn't want to be there. I wanted to be here, instead."

"Why?" Wei Ying's tone is hard to parse, in his state. It doesn't sound too welcoming.

"Because you're where I want to be."

Wei Ying's face shutters, and he looks away. "Go home, Lan Zhan. Sober up."

"Don't have a home," Lan Zhan says, sounding mournful to his own ears. He is only half-aware of what he is doing. He's sweltering, so he goes for his shirt and starts to unbutton it.

"Whoa, hey, what—" Wei Ying reaches out and stops his hands moving. "What are you doing?"

"Hot," he explains. "Too warm. I'm sorry."

Wei Ying drops his hands and steps back once more. "It's...fine, just...what are you doing here, really?"

Lan Zhan swallows and marshals all of his wits. "I want to...stay," he says. "Want...you."

Wei Ying's eyebrows twitch, and for a moment, he looks lost, unguarded. Then his gaze shutters once more, a door swinging shut. "That's nice for you. What am I supposed to do with that?"

"Wei Ying—"

"Lan Zhan." Lan Zhan shuts his mouth. "You have a home. In Beijing."

Lan Zhan feels the pout of it as he says, "It doesn't feel like home."

Wei Ying shrugs and looks away.

"This feels like home," Lan Zhan continues stubbornly.

Wei Ying turns on him again. His nostrils flare the way they do when he's upset. Lan Zhan wants to make it better, but has no idea how. "Yeah, well, it's not."

"Wei Ying…" He sags down further against the door. What he really wants to do is slide down until his ass hits the ground and maybe go to sleep, for a little while. He makes his legs hold him up. "What if I—"

"You're drunk, Lan Zhan," Wei Ying sighs. "You can't possibly know what you're saying. Go back to the party, or to the hotel. Sober up."

Lan Zhan has to make him understand. "I wanted to say this when I was sober, too—"

"I'm guessing there was a good reason why you didn't," Wei Ying interrupts, eyeing him with distrust. "Listen, my kid's asleep, I'm tired, I can't do this right now."

"We were good together," Lan Zhan whispers, then feels something hot and prickly against his eyes. Oh. Shit.

"That was a long time ago," Wei Ying says quietly. "Water under the bridge."

"Is it?" Lan Zhan asks. No, demands. "What about last week? What about—"

"A mistake I have to live with. We can't repeat it."

"Can't we? Wei Ying, didn't you—didn't you feel it, didn't you—"

"Yeah, Lan Zhan," he says, voice hard and unrelenting. "I felt it. It doesn't matter."

"It does, I know it does—"

"Lan Zhan." Lan Zhan snaps his mouth shut. "Lan Zhan, I can't. You have to go."

Lan Zhan swallows. There is no give in Wei Ying's voice, no room for wheedling or arguments. No room for anything that Lan Zhan could offer. "Okay. Okay." He manages to push himself off of the door. His fingers are numb. Most of him is numb. He can't look at Wei Ying, so he looks at Wei Ying's bare feet, instead. He used to kiss the arches sometimes, whenever Wei Ying would demand foot rubs by wiggling his toes in Lan Zhan's lap. He would raise them, one foot at a time, to his lips, and kiss a trail up to the ankle, then further up his shin, then kiss his calf, and then—

"Lan Zhan. You have to go."

Lan Zhan blinks back to awareness. Right. Of course. He has to go. "I'm sorry." It's a sad offering.

"Don't," Wei Ying bites off quietly. Then, more gently, he says, "Look. Go sleep it off. Come back...come back when you're sober, then maybe we can talk."

Lan Zhan's gaze flies back up to his face. "Do you mean it?"

Wei Ying turns away. "Sure."

Lan Zhan makes an aborted move towards him, then stops himself. He leans down and picks up his crumpled jacket, dusts it off. "I'm going now," he says quietly. "I'm sorry for intruding."

Wei Ying is silent as Lan Zhan goes for the handle and opens the door. Lan Zhan throws him a look over his shoulder. Wei Ying is watching him, an unreadable expression on his face.

"Good night, Wei Ying."

"Bye, Lan Zhan."

Lan Zhan grits his teeth and walks through the door, shutting it carefully behind himself. He takes the stairs down, one step at a time. He orders a car. He makes it back to the hotel. He strips, leaving his clothes strewn across the room, then falls onto the bed and thinks, tomorrow. I'll talk to him tomorrow, and then he is asleep.

*

He has a text from his brother waiting for him when he wakes up.

Lan Huan: I hope everything is all right, Lan Zhan. Please give me a call when you can.

A wave of humiliation rocks him, his entire body flushing hot, as the previous night comes back to him in a flash. Leaving the launch party...Wei Ying…

A mistake I have to live with.

Lan Zhan drops his phone and buries his face in the pillow. He lets out a long, horrible groan, which makes his tender brain rattle inside his skull. He's both humiliated and hungover, and he has no idea how to deal with either.

To his brother, he writes out, I'm fine, thank you. We can talk later.

He should get up. He should get up, brush his teeth, put on his workout clothes, and go out for his morning run.

He stays in bed, attempting to do the impossible: fall back asleep again so he doesn't have to think.

He can't, of course. Years of conditioning cannot be undone, not even by a misguided glass of champagne. Instead, he marshals all the strength that he has and composes a text to Wei Ying.

Lan Zhan: I apologize profusely for my inappropriate behavior last night. I should never have intruded, and I hope you can forgive me. I will understand it if you don't. It won't happen again.

He stares at the unsent message for so long, the screen goes dark, then swipes his phone open again, and continues to stare. He looks at his promise, written out starkly in black and white, and he knows that he will have to keep it.

No matter what decisions he makes about his own future, it will have to be a future in which Wei Ying does not exist. Not for Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying has made himself clear. As before, Lan Zhan must respect his decision.

He doesn't want to. He doesn't want to leave Wei Ying alone, he doesn't want to respect his decision. He wants, still, desperately, horribly, to run to his house and pound on the door, and beg him to take Lan Zhan back. The very image of this makes his chest cave in, makes him feel peeled open like a grape, all of him that is not meant to be seen revealed for inspection.

He has already peeled himself open for Wei Ying. There can be nothing new to reveal, not anymore.

As Lan Zhan stares at his own unsent message, something starts blinking on the screen. Typing…

Wei Ying is…

Wei Ying is writing to him. Before he can accidentally send it, Lan Zhan deletes his entire message and closes the phone. He stares at it dumbly, head pounding, then opens it back up. The blinker has gone away, and there is no new message.

Then, typing… appears again. Lan Zhan holds his breath, not wanting to look away, as though looking away will somehow make it disappear. As though he has any control over that.

And then—a message. Hi.

That's all. That's the entire message, after a full minute of typing, but it sparks something inside Lan Zhan. Makes the headache recede into the background as a mere nuisance and not a whole new state for his body that has begun to take over.

Before he can second guess himself, he sends his own Hi.

Wei Ying begins to type immediately. Lan Zhan waits.

Finally, Did you mean that you wanted to talk?

Lan Zhan sucks in his breath and sits up, as though that will make thinking easier. Yes. Only if you would be willing to listen.

Wei Ying: I'm willing. When?

Lan Zhan: When is good for you?

A longer time in between messages this time. Then: Tonight. I can ask my jiejie to take him on a sleepover. I can come out to you.

Lan Zhan doesn't know what it means that Wei Ying doesn't want him in his space, but he will make this as comfortable for Wei Ying as he possibly can. Please. What time?

Wei Ying: Six. Tell me your room number.

Lan Zhan does. The conversation wraps up on Lan Zhan's Thank you for agreeing to talk.—Wei Ying does not respond. That's all right.

Lan Zhan gets up. He goes to splash cold water on his face, to brush his teeth. He picks up his strewn clothes from the previous night, then pulls on his running outfit. He will sweat this hangover out by sheer will alone.

The run is awful. He's sluggish, slow with it, head pounding with every step. He completes his circuit, and buys himself a large tea and a scallion flatbread as a reward for getting through it.

The shower he takes is hot, punishing, and that, more than anything else, sucks the headache out of him. He's exhausted, but feeling better.

He dries himself, puts on fresh clothes. Then he sits down at the desk and calls his brother. The talk is brief, his brother's concern evident but tamped down. He has always protected Lan Zhan's feelings, whenever he could.

He goes about his day. There is no work to be done on a Saturday, so on a whim, he goes to the Shanghai Museum. He spends hours wandering the exhibitions, getting lost in ancient art, attempting not to think ahead to tonight and what it might mean. What might happen. What he will be able to hold onto, and what will be taken away.

Six o'clock takes a long time to come. By the time it does, he has been nearly driven out of his mind by anticipation, all the ways in which he wants to express himself clamoring inside his head and second-guessing everything he plans to say.

At 6:04, there is a soft knock on his door and Lan Zhan turns from where he's standing at the window and stares at the door for a long moment before striding over and opening it.

Wei Ying is wearing a red t-shirt with black jeans, which must be uncomfortable in the heat. His hair is tied into a messy ponytail, tendrils escaping the front, framing his guarded face. He is the most beautiful thing Lan Zhan has ever seen.

"Wei Ying. Please, come in." He allows Wei Ying to pass through the door. Something about it echoes of last night, reversed. He feels as though Wei Ying is here to pass on some final judgment. He has no idea what it might be.

Silently, Wei Ying walks into the room, then stops, as though uncertain how to proceed. Lan Zhan walks up behind him. His fingers itch to touch—to take hold of his shoulders, run his hands down his arms. Link their fingers together. He wants to kiss the vulnerable back of his neck, right over the collar of his t-shirt. That spot was always sensitive for Wei Ying. It used to drive him absolutely wild to be kissed there. Lan Zhan's entire body wants.

"Please, sit." He walks around Wei Ying and indicates the armchair, which he has divested of his clothing. He had spent the last twenty minutes picking up items and putting them away, until the room looked as though he hasn't spent the last two weeks living in it.

Wei Ying nods and sits. He hasn't said a word, Lan Zhan realizes. Gingerly, Lan Zhan lowers himself onto the desk chair and just as carefully says, "Thank you for coming to see me. I...I appreciate your willingness to do so."

Wei Ying's facade cracks, for just a moment—he looks annoyed. Then he schools his features and finally says, "Stop sounding like I'm here to spank you, Lan Zhan. We need to talk, so I'm here."

Lan Zhan flushes. "Of course."

"Yeah, so…" Wei Ying looks down at his own lap where his fingers are white-knuckled where they interlink. Then he looks up and pins Lan Zhan with his dark gaze. He looks—lost. Confused. Upset. "What was last night all about?" he demands.

Lan Zhan swallows, heart picking up, and holds his gaze. "I really am sorry for intruding the way I did." Wei Ying waves it off, not looking away. "I wanted to...tell you. First. You are the first person I am telling. I am moving back to Shanghai."

Wei Ying's breath visibly catches. He, too, swallows. "You meant that?" he asks quietly. Lan Zhan wants to know what's behind his question, wants to know what it is he will be moving back to.

He nods, making sure to hold Wei Ying's gaze. "Yes. Yes, I meant that."

"But you...haven't asked your uncle yet?"

Lan Zhan looks away, out the window, where the setting sun is burnishing everything gold. "I have not." He clears his throat. "If there is no position for me here in Cloud Recesses, I will look for work elsewhere."

Wei Ying huffs out a disbelieving breath. "You'd leave your family's company? Why?"

Lan Zhan looks back at him. Time moves by the beat of his heart. "I think you probably know why."

Wei Ying doesn't look away. His eyebrows twitch, and in his eyes is a question. His mouth is slack and he presses his lips together, a hard bloodless line. "You should tell me," he says after a long moment.

"It's you, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan tells him quietly. It feels good, as though somebody has shifted a boulder off his chest. The release of pressure feels almost wild, as though he's been unable to breathe for years and finally has the freedom to. He feels like a young tree in spring, leaves sprouting from every limb, released from winter captivity. His heart beats wildly in his chest. "I want to stay here for you, and I don't care how I manage to do it."

Wei Ying breaks off eye contact, looks away. He runs a shaky hand through his hair, undoing his ponytail. His hair tumbles down around his face, obscuring his flushed cheeks. His profile, too, is burnished by the sun, a golden line tracing down the slope of his brow, his nose, the softness of his lips, the stubborn jut of his chin. He is the only thing Lan Zhan has ever wanted.

"Me, huh? That's a lot to assume," Wei Ying says finally.

Lan Zhan had braced for this, and still, it smarts. It won't change his mind—Beijing has never felt right to him, he has never belonged there. He will stay in Shanghai even if it means never seeing Wei Ying again. But still. It smarts.

"I do not...expect you to want me back," he makes himself say. "I've made my choice, but I will respect yours."

"And what is your choice?" Wei Ying asks abruptly, turning back to him, his face now half in shadow.

"You. My choice is you."

"Why wasn't it me last time?"

Lan Zhan has no answer for that. Not one that would satisfy Wei Ying. The truth is that he had been young, naive. His choice had been selfish—he had wanted them to stay together, even long-distance. Wei Ying had not allowed for the possibility. Lan Zhan simply hadn't known what life without him would entail. He knows now. "I felt like I owed my uncle many things," he says carefully. "I did not know I could have a choice."

"So why do you have the choice now?"

"Because I know now what life without you is like," he says with a sigh.

What he can see of Wei Ying's face looks lost. It makes him look younger. "Lan Zhan…"

"You don't have to accept me," Lan Zhan rushes on. "I simply wanted to say...I wanted to say...that I am yours, if you wish it. But I am staying in Shanghai whether you will accept me back or not."

Wei Ying drops his face into his hands and takes in a shuddering breath. For a long, trembling moment, there is no sound in the room apart from the rattle of the air conditioner. Finally, after what feels like a small eternity, Wei Ying lifts his face. "It's not—Lan Zhan, it's not that easy."

Lan Zhan moves—he doesn't make a conscious choice to, it's just that one moment he's sitting in the chair, and the next he's on his knees in front of Wei Ying, taking his hands in his own and pressing them together, linking their fingers. Wei Ying watches him in startled silence. "I know," Lan Zhan croaks. "I know it isn't. I've hurt you. I've hurt us both."

Wei Ying shakes his head slowly. "It's not just that. I've got a kid, Lan Zhan. I can't—my life is different. I can't be fucking around with this stuff. Why do you think I don't date?"

Lan Zhan frowns. "Didn't you say that there are not a lot of takers for a single parent?"

"That's part of it, yes. But that's not the whole reason." Wei Ying bites his lip. He does not, Lan Zhan notices with a flutter through his veins, pull his hands away. "My first responsibility is to my kid. I can't be—I can't bring someone into his life only for them to leave again when it doesn't work out. It'll devastate him."

"I won't leave—"

"Lan Zhan, you don't know that. You can't promise that."

Lan Zhan thinks he might float away on the possibilities unspooling in his mind. If Wei Ying agrees—if he believes him— Lan Zhan will simply have to make him believe.

"I can," he says now, giving Wei Ying's hands a shake. "I left you once, and I'm sorry. I'm more sorry than I can say or apologize for." He takes in a breath and lets it out slowly. "I hurt you, and I...I don't blame you for not believing in me. Not believing me." Wei Ying is watching their hands, head lowered so that Lan Zhan can see every single one of his lashes, fluttering a bit as he blinks. "But if you—if you give me another chance, I can tell you that it will not happen again. Wei Ying…" Wei Ying lifts his head, finally, and Lan Zhan notices with a start that his eyes are red-rimmed, and a little bit glassy. He squeezes their hands together tighter. "Wei Ying, you're the only one that I will ever love," he says quietly, willing him to believe. "I couldn't leave you, not again."

"I have a kid," Wei Ying repeats, sounding helpless. "You going to tell me that you'd be willing to take that on?"

"Yes." He feels no hesitation, only a deep, whining ache for what it is he could have, if only Wei Ying will believe him. If only he would take him back.

"You'd willingly become a parent to a four-year old who demands all of your attention."

"You did."

Wei Ying scoffs. "Yeah, but I already loved him. It was different."

Lan Zhan thinks back to that sunny morning of sitting on Wei Ying's floor, surrounded by Lego, A-Yuan bossily pulling pieces from his hands and industriously putting them together. He thinks about A-Yuan's heavy head against his chest after he'd crawled into Lan Zhan's lap. Does that mean you're my friend too?

"I think he's wonderful," he says quietly. "I could love him very easily."

"Say that again when he's a teenager," Wei Ying says, with an echo of a laugh in his voice. "Lan Zhan, you can't—you'd be taking on two people, not one. We're part and parcel."

Wei Ying hasn't pulled his hands away yet, and where the two of them are touching is damp with sweat, either Wei Ying's or his own. All Lan Zhan has to do is lean forward and their foreheads touch. Wei Ying gives an almost imperceptible sigh. It spurs Lan Zhan on. "Wei Ying, I can't think of anything more wonderful. To have you both in my life would make me the happiest man on Earth. If only you'll allow it."

Wei Ying whimpers. It sounds ripped out of him, a noise Lan Zhan is certain he didn't mean to make. After a moment, he whispers, "Lan Zhan, you left. Do you know how long I believed that you just hadn't loved me enough? That I hadn't been...hadn't been worth it, hadn't been enough to make you stay?"

Horrified, Lan Zhan pulls back. "Wei Ying—that isn't—you are, you are more than enough—"

"What did you expect me to think? You just left."

The atmosphere has shifted once more, hardened. Here is the real impediment, the real reason why Wei Ying wouldn't want to let Lan Zhan back into his life.

Carefully measuring his words, Lan Zhan says, "I did what I believed I had to do for my family. It hurt me...deeply...to leave you. I hadn't wanted to. Believe me." Wei Ying still looks distrustful, wary. "I know that words may mean nothing at this moment, but I am so sorry I hurt you. You did not deserve that."

"I thought you would...would fight for us," Wei Ying whispers. Lan Zhan has the feeling that if he hadn't whispered, his voice would have broken. He squeezes his hands tighter.

"I tried." It sounds hollow, an empty confession. He realizes that now may be the time for full honesty. "Wei Ying...I had tried, and I also...when it didn't work, I hoped we could stay together, anyway. Despite my being in Beijing. I wanted to have both—you and my uncle's approval."

Wei Ying appears to freeze. "What?" Wei Ying's eyes grow huge, boring into his own. "Why didn't—why didn't you say anything?"

"I—you became upset. You said…" He doesn't repeat what Wei Ying had said. They both know. "I did not believe it would be an option."

Wei Ying laughs. It's hurt, disbelieving. "Lan Zhan."

"I know now," Lan Zhan continues, as carefully as he can manage, "that I should have said it anyway. I should have tried to convince you, or at least tell you what I wanted. I know that."

Wei Ying is shaking his head in disbelief. "I can't believe—I thought you didn't care enough. Didn't want me enough."

"I did. Wei Ying, I cared so much. I have always cared for you in ways that have scared me." Full honesty means this: flaying himself open so Wei Ying can see him, all of him, in the light. "I should have communicated that to you. I know that now."

Wei Ying lets out a breath and shakes his head. "I didn't give you a chance," he says quietly. "I was—I tried to protect myself, so I didn't...I didn't want to hear about how I wasn't enough for you to stay. I thought—I thought it would be easier just to cut it off completely."

Lan Zhan feels like whining, letting out the frustration and the feeling of impotence, knowing how close they had come to trying, and how certain assumptions had made it impossible.

"Why did you never ask me to come with you?" Wei Ying asks abruptly.

Lan Zhan blinks. "I—"

"I might have come with you. But you never asked."

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan catches his eye, squeezing their damp hands together. "Wei Ying, I couldn't—I couldn't have asked that of you. To leave your whole life behind? Your family, your friends? I—"

"I might have done it," Wei Ying says quietly. "I might have come."

It had never even occurred to Lan Zhan to hope for, much less ask that of Wei Ying. Not for this. Not for him.

He sags down. What would have happened had he tried?

"Well. What's done is done." Wei Ying lets out a quiet laugh and turns away. "What if we break up again? It just doesn't work out? What do I tell my kid?"

Lan Zhan marshals every bit of strength he has, his brain working overtime. He has to say exactly the right thing, say it in a way that will make Wei Ying understand, will make him believe. Wei Ying feels like a skittish bird, only held down because his hands are tied up with Lan Zhan's. He could flutter away at any moment—Lan Zhan would never catch him again. "I will never stop loving you. I never have," he says carefully. "There is no circumstance under which I would not want to be with you. I cannot imagine ever leaving you again." If they ever broke up, he thinks, it would be because Wei Ying got tired of him. And nothing says that would not happen. But Lan Zhan now knows what he can to prevent that. He swallows hard and adds, "I won't assume that just because you know me better than anyone else ever has, I don't need to tell you how I'm feeling. No matter how...difficult it is to say." He doesn't know if Wei Ying will believe him, or should believe him—he has been too rigid, too regimented, pedantic and closed-off. He has lived with himself for twenty-six years. He is well aware of his own tendencies.

And still, Wei Ying scoffs and drops his head, sets their hands in his lap, and then looks back up at Lan Zhan. His eyes are bright. Lan Zhan is transported to the first time he'd seen Wei Ying across a lecture hall, raising his hand and daring to argue with a professor. Bright-eyed and clever, he had scandalized Lan Zhan from the get-go. Intrigued him. Reeled him in until Lan Zhan was helpless before him. He had always been Wei Ying's, from the very beginning. He thinks he might have been born Wei Ying's, simply waiting for the time the two of them would meet. When they had, it felt like exhaling for the first time.

Wei Ying looks at him for a long moment. There is a flicker of something in his eyes, a bright spark that's been missing the entire time they've been talking. Finally, he says slowly, "If you don't fully mean it, just tell me now, all right? Save us both a lot of trouble."

Lan Zhan blinks. Hadn't he just been—and then the meaning behind the words catches up with him. His heart pounds almost painfully in his chest and he knows he must look ridiculous, all but gaping at Wei Ying. "Does that—do you mean—"

Wei Ying sighs and looks up at the ceiling. "I don't know if I'll regret it," he says slowly, "but when have I ever been able to say no to you? It's you, Lan Zhan. It's always been you."

Lan Zhan surges up and catches Wei Ying's lips with his own. The kiss is brief, but strong. Lan Zhan feels dizzy with it. When he pulls back, Wei Ying looks glazed over, a little lost. "Wei Ying, I know there are no absolutes in the world. I know that what I am promising may feel...impossible. That I haven't given you reason to trust me."

Wei Ying watches him, not blinking.

"I love you," Lan Zhan whispers, scared that if he says it too loudly, Wei Ying will somehow disappear. "I want to be with you. For as long as you'll have me."

Wei Ying bites his lip and his eyelashes flutter as he blinks rapidly. His lips are pressed tightly together, his jaw working. Lan Zhan both wants to give him privacy and never look away from him again. "Okay, Lan Zhan," Wei Ying whispers back. "We can...we can start off slow. If," he adds, pinning him with his watery gaze, "you mean it."

"I mean it."

Wei Ying nods. "What if your uncle gets upset? What if he—"

"I will work on my uncle. He is not a wholly unreasonable man, Wei Ying. He will understand." Or not—but that no longer matters to Lan Zhan. "My brother will assist." Lan Zhan knows this. They haven't talked about it, but his brother has always understood what Lan Zhan needs. He will help him with this.

Wei Ying swallows visibly, the knot at his throat working. "You should—you should kiss me again," he rasps. "To make it official."

Lan Zhan is kissing him before the sentence is fully out of his mouth.

*

The hotel bed has never felt this warm, the room always just a touch chilly with a/c. No part of Lan Zhan is cold at the moment, not with the way Wei Ying is surging against him, thighs clamped around his hips, pressing Lan Zhan down onto the bed, catching his mouth in kiss after hot kiss. They haven't let go of each other's hands and Lan Zhan feels the grind of it where Wei Ying's fingers press in between his own. Wei Ying feels incredible as he rides Lan Zhan. He pulls off from time to time in his rush to kiss and has to fit them back together, and nothing has ever felt more perfect, felt more right. With Wei Ying's tongue against his own, Lan Zhan feels powerful, feels the sort of freedom he hasn't felt in over three years.

Eventually, he heaves himself up and flips them over, sliding home again and almost sobbing with how good it feels. Wei Ying buries his face against Lan Zhan's neck, his mouth open and damp, and gasps on every thrust. Lan Zhan's skin feels too tight for his body, feels like it's working overtime to contain all of him inside. He barely feels like a body anymore, he is a gale, a storm, a being made of power. Wei Ying meets him on every thrust, intensely real. They fuck for so long, Lan Zhan starts to believe they'll simply never stop, will stay just like this as the world crumbles around them. He finds he doesn't care if it does.

They lie together afterwards, sticky with sweat and come, and Wei Ying laughs. It's soft and disbelieving. Lan Zhan presses them closer together and feels an answering smile grow on his face that he doesn't attempt to hide, not anymore. Let Wei Ying see it, let him see everything. Lan Zhan won't hold himself back, won't cringe away from being seen so completely. The feeling of being known—he has never considered how powerful it could be. A knowledge so intimate, it's part of their bones. He knows every single part of Wei Ying in turn, knows the twists and turns of his mind, knows his body nearly as well as his own.

They will grow old together, the knowledge between them only deepening, and the comfort of it soothes and excites in equal measure. Lan Zhan presses a kiss to the top of Wei Ying's head and floats.

*

It's morning once again. Lan Zhan wakes up to a pair of sleepy eyes watching him in the diffuse light, the sun rising stubbornly in the sky behind the clouds.

This is the first morning of the rest of his life.

"Hi," Wei Ying whispers.

"Hello."

They watch one another, Lan Zhan with hunger, taking him in. Wei Ying is burrowed under the covers, only one smooth shoulder showing. It's covered in goosebumps. Lan Zhan doesn't think before sliding his hand over the cool skin there. Wei Ying leans into the touch, then cranes his neck a little bit and Lan Zhan is meeting him halfway. They kiss as they touch, Wei Ying's hands finding Lan Zhan's hips under the covers, pressing up close, hard dicks touching, sliding against one another.

It's aimless, touching simply for the pleasure of touch. Wei Ying burrows up against Lan Zhan and every memory of him doing that before floods Lan Zhan's mind. A giddy feeling begins to swirl in his stomach, joy gathering like a prelude to a symphony. Wei Ying. Wei Ying is really here with him, Wei Ying had really said—

Wei Ying breaks off the kiss and taps him on the forehead. "Where did you go just now?"

Lan Zhan blinks. He's not aware that he had gone anywhere, but… "Simply thinking. I apologize."

Wei Ying shakes his head slowly. "Don't apologize. Just tell me. You have to tell me these things, I feel like you're too far away."

Lan Zhan catches his hand in his own. "I'm right here, Wei Ying. I'll always be right here."

Wei Ying's expression is complicated, but he doesn't say anything.

Lan Zhan shuts his eyes for a moment and brings Wei Ying's hand up to his lips. He gives him a kiss, then says, "I was simply thinking about you. About us."

"Yeah?"

"Mn. I was simply...happy."

"Are you?" Wei Ying bites his lip. His cheeks are flushed—from the warmth, maybe arousal. They should probably do something about that. Lan Zhan sidles up close beneath the covers, bumps their hips together. Wei Ying snuffles out a laugh. "Happy to see me?"

"Very happy," Lan Zhan says gravely. "Always happy to see you."

"Even at the Family Mart?"

Lan Zhan pauses. "Especially at the Family Mart."

Wei Ying's hum is doubtful sounding, but he lowers their hands enough from their mouths that they are able to kiss.

Lan Zhan rolls them over. Wei Ying sinks into the bed beneath him and grins.

*

"Lan Zhan?"

Uncle is standing by the huge windows, with the city sprawled behind him. From here, Lan Zhan can see the Pearl Tower. It's always oriented him to home.

"I'm sorry to have sprung this on you so suddenly. I thought perhaps a straight-forward approach would be best."

"You wish to leave the company?" There is surprise in his voice, and hurt.

"No." Lan Zhan watches him carefully. "I do not. I simply wish to return to Shanghai. If there is a place for me here, I would love to stay." He means it. "But if there isn't, I will have to seek employment elsewhere."

"But...why? Has something happened in Beijing?"

Lan Zhan hesitates. His uncle has never truly approved of Wei Ying, seeing him as a frivolous young man with frivolous flights of ideas, but Lan Zhan owes him the truth. "I have reunited with Wei Ying. We have decided...to be together. And I cannot do that from Beijing."

Uncle's surprise is not surprising. "Wei Ying? That boy from a while back?"

"Yes."

"Lan Zhan, you would throw away an advancement for—"

"Beijing has never felt like home, Uncle. I would wish to return even without Wei Ying's involvement. It's my decision. I understand that it is difficult for you."

Uncle seems to unfreeze and begins to pace the length of the glass wall, his goatee moving in agitation. "Lan Zhan," he says and stops. "Who would you have run the Beijing branch? You would simply leave that for others to decide?"

"Luo Qingyang," Lan Zhan says immediately. "I've had a chance to observe her in my time in Beijing. She is wholly competent and capable. I have no doubt she would do an admirable job."

Uncle frowns, but Lan Zhan can see he is considering it. He feels his shoulders loosen just the tiniest bit.

"Does your brother know about this?"

Lan Zhan hesitates. Then, "Yes. I told him this morning."

"And what does he think about it?"

"He is happy for me. He knows I have been deeply unhappy in Beijing."

"Unhappy. Lan Zhan." Uncle watches him with his eyebrows drawn. "This is your duty, what you owe to the family business."

Lan Zhan lowers his gaze, clasps his hands behind his back. "I understand that."

"Do you?" His voice is hard.

Lan Zhan looks back up at his uncle and straightens up even more. "I do. However, my decision is final."

Uncle scoffs and resumes his pacing. "What happened to my good nephew, who never allowed his feelings to interfere with his duty?"

Lan Zhan hesitates. "I understand that you are surprised, Uncle. And...upset."

His uncle stops and looks out the window, his back to Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan doesn't know the right words here, so he allows himself not to think as he speaks. "Uncle, I hope that, with time, you will understand my decision. I realize that it comes as a shock, but I would never do anything to upset you on purpose. If there is a role for me here at Cloud Recesses, I—"

"There will be."

Lan Zhan's mouth snaps shut. After a moment, he manages to ask, "Really?"

Uncle swivels on his heel. His face is stormy, conflicted. "Of course. This is a family business."

Lan Zhan watches him carefully, afraid to misstep now that he's got a foothold. "Thank you."

Uncle shakes his head and sighs, pulling out his desk chair and slumping into it. "I know you, Lan Zhan. Once you've made up your mind, there is no moving you." He clasps his hands together and looks down. "I can't lose you to a competitor. I will always need you here. After all, the two of you will take over for me someday."

Lan Zhan is quiet. His heart thumps heavily in his chest.

Uncle sighs again and looks up at him. "I don't yet know what you will do. But if this is your decision, I suppose...I have no other choice."

Again, Lan Zhan hesitates at first. Then, "Thank you, Uncle."

Uncle scoffs and looks up. "I suppose I will be seeing more of that boy again."

Lan Zhan can't help the twitch of his lips at that. "Yes. You will."

His sigh this time is explosive. "Fine. I will discuss this with the board. Let your brother know I want to see him." Lan Zhan nods. "And Lan Zhan…"

Lan Zhan meets his gaze silently.

"I wish you had given me some warning."

Lan Zhan looks down at the ground, nodding. "I apologize."

"What's done is done. Please shut the door on your way out."

"Yes, Uncle." Lan Zhan hesitates. "And thank you. Again."

Uncle waves him off, already looking down at the papers on his desk. Lan Zhan turns slowly and walks out, being sure to shut the door behind himself.

*

In order to stay in Shanghai, he must leave it first. Wei Ying says goodbye to him with a mixture of excitement and regret. Lan Zhan feels the same.

"We're taking this slow," Wei Ying had said before Lan Zhan left. "For A-Yuan's sake."

Lan Zhan, who had, perhaps, been entertaining vague ideas of finding an apartment big enough for three, had had no choice but to agree. "Of course."

Now, he wraps up three years' worth of a life. He hasn't accumulated much, and most things, he gives away. All he needs are two suitcases and a bag. The rest he can acquire in Shanghai.

"I can't believe you're leaving," Mianmian tells him on his last day. "I can't believe I've been promoted!" She whacks him on the arm. For someone her size, she is surprisingly strong. "What happened in Shanghai, exactly?"

Lan Zhan gives her a small smile. "Wei Ying forgave me."

She beams in return. "I'm so happy for you. I've never seen you look like this. It's sickening."

He attempts to school his features.

"Nah, you can't do it. You're glowing. You can't tamp that down."

They say goodbye, with promises to be in touch. "Hey, does that mean I'll get to travel to Shanghai from time to time?"

"Absolutely."

"You better introduce us, then. I want to meet that little boy of his."

"A-Yuan. Of course."

"You ready for it?" she asks curiously, before they part.

Lan Zhan takes a breath. "Yes. I think I am."

*

He finds an apartment well-suited to one, but also big enough for, say, a child to sleep comfortably in, if necessary. It isn't as close to Wei Ying as Lan Zhan would have preferred, but it will more than do for now.

He invites Wei Ying over the first chance he gets.

"Please forgive the state of it, I haven't had a chance to acquire much yet." His piano is traveling separately, on its way back to him.

Wei Ying waves him off as he walks curiously around the mostly empty space. "Obviously. Nice north-facing windows. Lucky, that."

Lan Zhan nods.

"I was thinking," Wei Ying says, turning around. "I was thinking maybe you'd come over for dinner. With A-Yuan and me."

The way Lan Zhan's heart picks up, you would think Wei Ying had proposed. "I would like that."

Wei Ying nods, looking uncertain. Then, "We're still taking it slow. You get that, right? It's important."

"I understand." He does. Lan Zhan closes the distance between them, says, "I will wait, Wei Ying. However long it takes."

Wei Ying bites his lip and carefully, shyly, wraps his arms around Lan Zhan's middle. His eyes are bright. "Okay."

"Good." A kiss. Another.

"You can stay over on the nights he's on sleepovers," Wei Ying offers in a whisper. "I'll even make you breakfast in the morning."

Lan Zhan gives him a small smile. "I could do the same."

"You could, couldn't you? Oh man, it would be nice for someone else to cook for once."

I will cook for you as much as you wish for the rest of our lives, he doesn't say. But when they kiss, he attempts to communicate it anyway. "You could also come here, if you wanted to," Lan Zhan tells him, their foreheads resting against one another. "I will have furniture very soon."

"Fancy."

Lan Zhan's laugh is surprised out of him. "Very. A couch—extremely fancy."

"I bet you'll have a really nice one, though, all firm and supportive."

Lan Zhan doesn't argue. Wei Ying is right.

"Would you like to stay for a while?" A-Yuan is out with his family at the park.

Wei Ying wrinkles his nose. "Yeah, but. I shouldn't. Wen Qing will want to bring him back soon."

A slight disappointment he doesn't allow to take root. "Of course."

"But maybe dinner? Tonight?"

"Please."

"Good."

They look at one another. Between them, a promise. Tonight. And then, another night. More days and evenings together until Wei Ying deems it appropriate to mesh their two households. Lan Zhan will wait. He will wait as long as it takes, because he won't be the only one waiting.

A-Yuan had been happy to see him again, had demanded Lan Zhan come over to play Lego. Laughing, Wei Ying had allowed it. That's what the weekends are for, he had said. "You know, you'll be seeing a lot more of Lan Zhan from now on. Would you like that?"

A-Yuan had. "He's almost as good as you are at Lego, baba!"

For now, Lan Zhan will continue to furnish his new place. He will take up a new position created for him at Cloud Recesses. He will spend time with his brother and, by extension, Nie Mingjue. He will live a life with people in it—people who are important to him, people without whom his life had felt as though it were all behind glass, separate from him and distant.

He will wait for Wei Ying, a shallow river waiting for its tide, and he will anticipate. He will wake up alone, and he will wake up with someone else in his bed, and he will do all of these things with patience and joy. He will fill his life with meaning. He will live.

***